There are many routes that can be taken to define a career as a composer in the music industry, in this article I will discuss the pros and cons of being a composer’s assistant.
Why would you want to be a composer’s assistant?
The job of a composer is unique and diverse, and because of this, there isn’t a way to learn all the skills needed as part of a traditional education. So, working with someone who has been in the music industry for a while is the best way to learn.
There are different people that are involved in projects, which means that there is not a perfect workflow that suits everyone, and experiential knowledge is defiantly a skill that is needed, and one that can’t be taught in a classroom.
In addition, as you work on real-world projects as a composer’s assistant you learn a lot of tips, tricks, and creative processes that are symbiotic to projects.
I think that it’s also worth noting that being an in-house assistant composer, is also similar to working as a freelance composer’s assistant. Many of the projects that I work on are collaborations, and I regularly support composers on their projects. But for me the notion is the same, if you do good work and are easy to work with, then you will definitely have recommendations for future projects.
One of the dangers of working in-house as a composer’s assistant is becoming stuck as an assistant for a long time. It’s always advisable to be perceptive and spot opportunities for yourself and your career. There are often opportunities where you might be able to score a small project on the side – providing that you’re allowed.
As a composer’s assistant, it’s very important to acknowledge that you’re there to make the composer’s life easier and to learn. Although you will have some opportunities, you shouldn’t expect to be writing music as an assistant.
What jobs would you be doing as a composer’s assistant?
Many tasks that you would be doing as an assistant composer are supporting the composer, and often the ones that are less creative in terms of writing music.
Some of the most common jobs that you would be doing are:
- Preparing the DAW. Which means you would be importing the film, aligning the timecode, and making sure that tracks imported are split.
- Creating tempo maps.
- Cleaning up the MIDI information, and generally tidying up the cue the composer has composed during his working time.
- Checking file naming is correct and backups are completed.
- Re-aligning cues that have gone out of sync.
- Assisting with smaller (usually in house) recording sessions.
- Making sure everything in the studio is functioning.
- Preparing files for an orchestrator.
- Prepare the DAW for the recording sessions, and everything is synced to the visuals.
- Install & test sample libraries.
- Making tea and coffee.
- Assist with taking notes in spotting sessions.
- If you can play an instrument you might be required to contribute.
- Record samples.
- Write additional music.
How do you become a composer’s assistant?
There is no right answer to find a job as an assistant composer. But I’ve found by being open to new opportunities you will find yourself in good situations, and doors will open.
There are some things that you can do:
- Build a portfolio website and a short showreel – spend your own time outside coursework building a portfolio. Just sending coursework isn’t good enough to secure a job.
- Send emails and reach out to people.
- Attend events where you might meet composers.
- Ring composers and speak to them. Invite people for a coffee and a chat. The worst outcome is a “no”, the best is that you get a job. But if they can’t give you a job, then usually the composer will offer advice to help you.
- Be clear about the work you’re looking for.
- Keep on making music and working on projects.
What are the key skills needed to be an assistant composer?
You obviously don’t have to be “the finished package”, but you will need to have a range of skills. It is essential that you are musical and have a good understanding of music technology.
A lot of composers I know also look for someone who has good social skills, is positive, and remains calm under pressure. You will be dealing with directors, orchestrators, engineers, and, agents. So, you need to be easy to work with, attentive, and be prepared to work hard.
Your music production skills need to be of a high standard, and you need to know the composer’s preferred DAW inside out. Knowing recording techniques, and equipment is also a vital skill that a composer would be looking for.
There are also things that can go wrong, such as technology, so you have to be quick to fix issues because the deadlines don’t change.
Some tips and tricks that are useful for graduates and aspiring composers
Keep reaching out and keep talking to as many people as you can. More often than not it’s about the timing and building long lasting relationships.
Do the best job you can once you get a job; the industry is small, and people will work with you again if you’re good and easy to work with and reliable. This isn’t just limited to composers, but also other professions in the industry like editors, orchestrators, and directors.
Keep making music and building your TV and film portfolio and if can help others do it… it will always come back.
Take advice and learn from others. But, when sharing your portfolio, but don’t let the opinions of other people determine your future or stop you. There are many people that seem to find it easier to criticise than add something valuable. Where they have given up, you will succeed.