Film Music Event

MMP 2012

FILM MUSIC TODAY: the Craft & the Business

Co-production effort often forces film music to the bottom of the shopping list. 

Many projects arrive on the table at MMP with a despairingly low allocation for music. Without a clear rationale, such maltreatment alone can be enough to make a producer immediately suspect among reasonable co-producers.

How & Why Film Music Changed - what changes do we notice to film music that was scored before the 90s?

George Christopoulos

“Today YouTube supplies the temp tracks – before it was the classical composers” so started George Christopoulos his effort to make producers more aware of music in the (co-) production process last November 14th in Mannheim. He identified major change factors as being:

1. Pop Music development in the later 80ties/early 90ties, and especially the role of TV channels playing clips 24/7,

2. Technology: everyone could have their own “home studio”, create tracks and share them via  Internet

3. Music Libraries followed on with royalty-free music and Trailer Music Libraries emerged, little of this output coming from the creative minds of professional composers...

Indeed today directors will often look for an imitative sound, or fall in love with their temp tracks, even if – as sometimes happens -  these cost a million dollars to produce (and, as must follow, are thus unlicensable). 

Composers graduating from “Composing for Media” courses number over 15,000 a year worldwide at the moment.  Half of these attempt to make a living from composing, Add to them the thousands of “home study” enthusiasts that teach themselves. 

However, few modern media institutions offer in-depth study of music in film, which leaves most would-be film directors without ideas how to manage the labour involved in its application. This lack of knowledge implies a lack of control of one’s medium.  And there is an enormous gap of understanding from both ends.

Active film production companies in the world number 13,000 +. If these make one film every two years, there is a huge over-supply of people willing to “make music for a film”. Thus simple ads looking for film composers for hire  spread throughout the Internet, especially for US indie production.  Such ads will often add that such work is for film credit only, and candidates should know they have enough money.

Today high-demand composers are making most of their money at the top  while many more indeed work for credit, using the advantages of cheap technology and self-promotion, at the bottom.  What often happens is imitation, producing a large volume of clichés – “the Sound” of the moment.

So how to pick the right Composer for the right Project regardless of Budget?

First, a producer’s goals are usually uniform – to have music that fits his/her film for money well spent that fits his/her pocket.

How & When to Seek & Involve a Composer? Here is a  Producer’s “Checklist” for study before Post-production:

Start thinking music very near to the beginning of pre-production.

Where there is a script there can be an assessment of the importance of music in the director’s vision and where you start to define the expected music style.

This allows an estimate of the size of the music package scene by scene: 15 minutes will be very much different to 45 minutes in budget terms, especially when starting to count up licensing fees.

A relaxed search for a composer is best – one can go to music agents, music supervisors, music editors, come back with suggestions, and then move to hire the composer that understands the film’s vision.

Giving a rough cut to a composer in post-production is very often the worst choice – sending him home with a script and a feeling of understanding and a request for a short demo is a far better idea. Then, if you feel team work will gel, you can negotiate and sign an agreement.

All these points encourage accuracy of idea and cost and a smoother post production process with more high-quality time available. The final spotting session works much more easily, too, and most composers welcome the chance to work from a (fairly final) script draft early than raw footage under pressure.

Not to forget that high-end composers are not automatically too expensive. Approach them with enough time, and with the right pitch, and you take your shot. Composers need good material too. Also, a good name attached securely does not hurt the funding process either. 

It is thus useful to know how far a composer has his own production capacity – a permanent team of musicians and technicians and easy access will help.

Finally, work with a composer early enough will help the film stylistically – there  will be  time to define a style, even if instructed to rip off someone else’s (or the composer’s own)  work. Imitation is easy – while a good composer’s work in the right place will shine through in a finished film.

It is worth reflecting that any film reviewer worth his/her salt will review a film’s music, and the composer will be  included in the film’s  data in any  professional journal – so then why should music end up so often at the bottom of the shopping list?

Models for Valuing/Budgeting Film Music

The composer’s fee is above the line and separate from the performance and recording process.

It includes: time, talent, education, technical infrastructure (studio and tools).

The time includes the actual composing, spotting and creative meetings, orchestration (sometimes) conducting, programming and supervising performance, recording and mixing.

For a cost model: a feature film can use 40 minutes of music.

A composer will compose an average of 2 minutes a day working up to 10 hours  a day.

Drafting and orchestration, spotting, mixing will take another 7-8 days. – thus anything up to 300 hours of labour. A fair fee for a solid composer doing what you want him to do will mean around 12,000 euros upwards.

On the production side, you will need  musicians, copyists for score sheets, tape,  equipment and extra instrument rentals, studios and studio  time for recording mixing and transferring, mixing editor  and assistants, (and the piano tuner (@ 60 euros).

Recording sessions take 3 hours and a maximum of music that can be recorded in such a session will normally not go over 12 minutes. (so for 40 minutes 3 sessions are needed if you push).

Performance: a chamber orchestra of 30 musicians at 200 euros a head is 6000 euros. Copyists 4000 euros.  Ca. 3500 euros studio and associated costs, mixing editor: 1000 euros, - so  modestly around 15,000 euros.

So around 27,000 euros will get you originally composed film music that you like with true body. (then don’t forget to add any licensed works on top).

What to Offer to Composers to Agree Working for a Lower Fee?

 You can: offer a composer a full 100% revenue stream for public performance,

 all rights to produce and sell a CD of the music, or incorporate it in a compilation, (including artwork from the film for a CD sleeve, if unencumbered)

 income participation down the line (DVD releases, etc)

 even more time to compose can be a negotiation factor,

 inclusion in festival delegations, and 

 if you are really happy with the relationship, a multiple picture deal.

For minimalists, a string quintet can sound much larger given a good sound engineer, and, given a willing and well-equipped composer, one or two soloists, and a minimal studio crew, then yes,  totals can be sunk. However team spirit and willingness, capped by personal satisfaction, are key there.  No ambitious professional wants to be stigmatized as a “cheap” composer, or have to finish more than 5 scores a year just to survive.

Contact of George Christopoulos:
George Christopoulos
OTICONS GbR Film Composers Agency
Agency Director
email: christopoulosg[at]
Skype: panagathos

Handwerkerpark 5
83093 Bad Endorf

mobile: (TR): +90 532 387 7515
               (DE): +49 174 77 81 587