The Emerging Film Composer: An Introduction to the People, Problems and Psychology of the Film Music Business/Music and Mythmaking in Film: Genre and the Role of the Composer

By Lock, Brian | Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Emerging Film Composer: An Introduction to the People, Problems and Psychology of the Film Music Business/Music and Mythmaking in Film: Genre and the Role of the Composer


Lock, Brian, Music, Sound and the Moving Image


Richard Bellis, The Emerging Film Composer: An Introduction to the People, Problems and Psychology of the Film Music Business (BookSurge Publishing, 2007), 158pp.

Timothy E. Scheurer, Music and Mythmaking in Film: Genre and the Role of the Composer (McFarland & Company, 2008), 273pp.

review by Brian Lock

Richard Bellis's book is straight out of the 'how-to-do something' school of publishing and it will undoubtedly be a good book - a practical manual - for composers finishing music college and starting out on the professional path. Bellis makes it clear to would-be composers that there is a lot more to being a film composer than sitting in a studio and composing. Writing this review as a professional media composer, but one who also teaches, I believe this book is useful in that it goes some way towards filling the usual gap between higher education training, which places a premium on the composition and production of the music, and the reality of working in film and media, which often doesn't.

This is a concise volume of 158 pages divided into nine chapters, each dealing with practical aspects of being a film composer, from preparation through to the delivery of a score and the dub. It is written in a very chatty style, more a set of notes than a narrative, and although explained entirely from the author's own perspective, it presents information for its target audience that is more widely applicable. Chapter One discusses basic ideas about how to prepare for a film scoring career including such topics as whether it's worth becoming an established composer's assistant, and why a would-be composer should know a little about other people's jobs: scoring mixer, copyist, etc. Chapter Two jumps in with 'Pricing Your Work'. Interestingly, it discusses exactly how much beginners in the field realistically need to earn, and tackles the age-old question for composers at the outset of their careers: should you work for nothing? This is followed by 'How Much Are You Worth', which is an intriguing discussion of how a composer might price up a score, and the issues involved. It sets out a model for establishing a bottom line for those starting out in film scoring, the first time I've seen such a chapter and very welcome. Other books deal with basic techniques and how composers should market their work, but none goes to this level of guiding a composer in this surprisingly murky area. Chapter Three is titled 'Getting Work' and has surprisingly little to say on the matter, which is a pity as this may be one of the main motivations for a student composer to buy the book. There is nothing here that isn't covered in the older books directed at this audience, such as Jeff Rona's The Reel World and Jeffrey P. Fisher's How to Make Money Scoring Soundtracks and Jingles.

One aspect of film scoring of central concern to the composer is the spotting session which Bellis deals with in Chapter Four, and he treats this from the point of view of the politics and personalities involved, giving tips for young composers on how to present themselves in the best possible light during the session. The practical tips range from general information on topics such as how to inspire confidence in film makers, to concrete advice such as taking notes with a recorder running for later reference, as you are unlikely to hear everything the director says. Chapter Five is concerned with the writing process and talks about how to work with an assistant, the writing method itself (including discussion of how composers divide their time among different sorts of cues), and how to present the work. The proposed working strategy and tips are spot-on, and come from Bellis's long professional experience. For example, he writes that everyone who hears the music will need to have an opinion about it, and the composer should prepare for that eventuality: film professionals are going to criticise - they have to, they must contribute to the discussion. …

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