The Ultimate Question:
The question “How do I find work?” is one that can baffle even the most successful artists. The music industry has become extremely diverse and the work is spread out extremely widely, so Guerrilla tactics are needed more than ever before. Any industry relating to the arts is whimsical. Styles change, tastes change, the personalities of the creators and consumers change, and the arts themselves change. It can be very difficult to pinpoint a need and position yourself to fill that need. Even if you’re able to do that, it can still be difficult to monetize what you have done. The methods of finding work are constantly changing, and the type of music that sells is changing even faster. No matter how long your music career lasts, the difficulty of finding work will persist throughout for all but a lucky few.
At least half of a composer’s job is simply finding work, and finding work can be harder than doing it. Jobs will come and go. At times you will be busy beyond belief. At other times you won’t have any projects and you will need to create work for yourself. It is a volatile industry and you usually will not be able to choose when those times come upon you. If you want a career as a composer you need to be prepared to spend considerable energy finding work, and you’ll have to do most of it Guerrilla style.
Build A Network That Endorses You
If the director of a film, television show, or video game needs a composer and doesn’t have the right one, they will almost certainly begin their search by asking their colleagues for recommendations. It’s very rare that people will begin by cold-calling agents or putting up advertisements. People seek personal recommendations because their options are vast. There are tens of thousands of composers to choose from, the process of starting a composer search from scratch is daunting, and nobody has the time for it.
For directors, asking friends and colleagues for recommendations does two things. First, it reduces their options from infinite to numbers that they can probably count on their fingers. Second, their colleagues act as a trusted filter and they can be confident that the short list is a good one. When somebody can simply ask around, follow up on some recommendations, and get exactly the right composer for the job, then that is the approach they will take every time. Only if that doesn’t work will they begin to approach agents or place notices in industry publications.
That moment of personal recommendation is gold to a composer. If you can be the name on the top of somebody’s mind, the website they happen to remember first, or the inspired genius that somebody raves about, you will be head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. It doesn’t mean you’ll get the job by any means, but it opens a door for you in the most flattering of ways. When you were recommended to somebody, your first interactions will be preceded by a benefit of the doubt and you will have their full attention. The moment in which your friend recommended you is the moment in which your art is monetized, or at least gains the potential for it.
Networking That WORKS
Those recommendations will never come if you actively try to sell yourself all the time, nor will they come from “networking” in the common sense of self promotion and handshaking for the sake of furthering your own needs. Using your relationships for active marketing strains them and diminishes them. It doesn’t matter if somebody has your contact information and knows your work. What matters is that they like and respect you, and that they know of your abilities. The best way to monetize the relationships you have is to consciously not try to monetize them at all, because genuine relationships are, without fail, the most reliable conduit to work opportunities.
The kind of networking that works most reliably is drawing connections for other people, not for yourself. If you know one person who has a need and another person who can fill that need, connect them with each other purely for the sake of helping two of your friends. When you are the voice giving the personal recommendation, you are strengthening your relationships with those individuals, building your community, and forming new bonds that hold it together. Your contribution to the success of others will not be forgotten. Your thoughtfulness and good intentions will leave an impression — one of gratitude and trust. The trust and connection that is built out of those actions will eventually come back to you at some unknown time in the future. The absolute best way to propel your career forward is by pouring yourself generously into your community.
Composer careers grow organically. The growth may be fast or slow, but it is never random. New growth and opportunity springs out of what is already there. If the music stands on its own and speaks well for itself, and if the composer does the same, then opportunities and relationships grow naturally. Over time a career increases in size and substance. At some point a snowball effect begins and it can begin to roll on its own, picking up size and speed without too much effort. The key to the growth and the snowball effect is that the core has to be strong, because it can’t hold together otherwise.
The key to finding work as a composer is unquestionably the relationships you have with people. You can not take them for granted nor draw on them in a way that makes the give-and-take unbalanced. The relationships that will lead to the most long term success are loyal ones based on mutual respect, generosity, common interests, and shared passions. When you build a real community around yourself and pour yourself into it you will find yourself in fertile soil where your career can grow freely and with support.