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“Never Give Your Work Away for Free” — Advice from a Freelance Composer

by Dakota Kim

“Never Give Your Work Away for Free” — Advice from a Freelance Composer

Lauren Buchter is a composer whose orchestral and electronic melodies span diverse media, from the 2014 Student Academy Award-winning film Above the Sea to TV shows like Dateline and 20/20. Buchter also composes music for orchestras and dance companies, and was named an ASCAP “2014 Composer To Watch.” We asked her recently for her thoughts on working in her field. 

What are the challenges of working as a freelance composer?

As a composer, you are working with many different types of media, and so the expectations are different depending on what kind of media. If you’re working with a film director, it’s very different from working with a video game designer or a choreographer or even just an editor who wants to use your music in a TV show or film.

Composing is a hard field to break into. Any advice?

Work on your craft and let people know when you meet them that you’re a composer. You don’t know who might have a sibling, friend or partner who works within the industry that you want to be in.

Never give your work away for free. It comes up for any artist in any field. I firmly believe in bartering. Maybe the person you’re writing music for is also a web designer and would be willing to design your website. They should give you something in return.

Never give your work away for free. It comes up for any artist in any field. I firmly believe in bartering. Maybe the person you’re writing music for is also a web designer and would be willing to design your website. They should give you something in return.

How do composers pitch a TV show like Dateline or 20/20

A lot of times a composer will pitch to individuals. You’re essentially sending your music to people who are going to act on your behalf. Music supervisors and editors are great people to get to know. There are production libraries that already have this in place. My advice would be to seek out those production houses and find out if they’re open to submissions right now. If they answer yes, you go ahead and send your music; you never know what people are looking for.

Even though it’s highly competitive, there’s so much variety. If they’re looking for something that’s a Katy Perry pop track and you do music in that style, then that’s great, that’s going to help you land that project. There’s so much variety that there’s room for you if you want to pursue it.

Do you use contracts in your work?

I generally use contracts. Sometimes when I draw up contracts, there’s a little bit of resistance. It works if you’re able to explain that it’s protecting both parties, saying, “These are the things we want to do together, to make sure we’re on the same page.” When you’re working creatively, the nature of that kind of work is that there are a lot of ideas that float around, and it’s good to have the practical things written down because there may be confusion later on. It creates a better working relationship.

When you’re working creatively, the nature of that kind of work is that there are a lot of ideas that float around, and it’s good to have the practical things written down because there may be confusion later on. It creates a better working relationship.

I had one instance where I was working with people who I knew in more of a personal way, that they were friends, but I still felt it was really important that we had that contract in place so we could continue on our work and feel like we were on solid ground about it.

In music composition, I think it’s particularly important that your contract be clear about who owns the work. Decide if the contract is going to be exclusive or non-exclusive. Even though I’m creating work specifically for projects, I don’t want the client to have sole ownership. Later, I may decide to use the music for something else, and I also want to protect myself so that person won’t reuse my music in future projects.

Visit Lauren laurenbuchter.com.

Dakota Kim is a freelance journalist covering the arts, style, business, food and travel. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Huffington Post, Bedford + Bowery, The Wall Street Transcript, and various in-flight magazines. Tweet her at @dakotakim1.