How to Get the Most From Your Composer

For Film Directors: How to Hire and Utilize Your Composer

A composer is a very important member of your film’s team. By channeling moods and emotions, an amazing film score can dramatically change the impact that your film, game, or advertisement has on the audience. In order to best execute your artistic vision as a director, you should have a clear idea of what you want your audience to be feeling. Once you know that, it’s time to find a music composer. Hiring a composer for your film is an important decision, and here are key things to consider for finding the right composer and getting the most out of their expertise.

The Role of a Film Composer

Everything in a film score is about the story and how you want your audience to feel, so the best 

way to articulate your vision to a composer is to talk about feelings and emotions rather than music terminology. It’s the composer’s job to translate the feelings you describe into music, so give them material to translate. Treat them like a psychiatrist. Use descriptive, emotional phrases instead of explaining the sounds in your head. Words that describe the emotions are better than words describing the music. As a bonus, this will convey what you want without the risk of misusing musical terms.

Before Engaging the Composer

Before you engage your composer on the details of your project, you should try to have the project as close as possible to the finished edit so the composer can experience the story as a whole. At this stage you may wish to hold off on discussing creative specifics. Allow your composer to experience your film first. Besides scoring music for your project, the composer is also a fresh perspective. By now most everyone else has already been working on the project for months or longer, so take advantage of having a new member of the team by allowing them to experience it without predisposing them to your opinions.

Hiring and Budgeting for a Composer

For projects big and small, budgeting is still a challenge for many film directors and producers. It simply isn’t the most fun part of the film-making process, and for directors it isn’t what you want to focus on when there is a film to be made! However, it’s very important to set money aside early on to budget for your film’s music. Be realistic and don’t expect an epic Hans Zimmer or John Williams score for a couple thousand dollars. Your budget should allow your composer to cover their costs and time as well as funds to hire musicians and audio engineers if necessary. A savvy composer will be able to work within budget limits, but in the end you will get what you paid for. An underpaid music department is creatively stifled, and if too many sacrifices are made, the project will miss out on the heightened emotional experience that higher-quality audio brings to the visuals you and your crew have worked so hard to achieve.

When it comes to selecting a composer for your film, do some research ahead of time and listen to projects that the composer has scored previously. By listening to their portfolio, you can refer back to previous projects they’ve done as examples of what might work for your project. It will be a compliment to the composer that you took the time to listen to their music, and you will have a better idea of what your composer is capable of doing, too.

Hiring a composer for your project can sometimes be an afterthought. But if you plan right you can be well prepared for when it’s time to hire a composer, saving you time and money.

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