ASCAP Workshop, Day 1

Welcome to Hollywood, Kid

With some contest winners fresh off the plane, workshop director Richard Bellis greeted them with the cold, hard cash realities of being a newbie composer in Hollywood – namely, that you will be fighting to get a wage that lies somewhere between a housecleaner and a plumber.

Because so much of a film’s music budget is quickly eaten by hard costs (music editors, musicians, recording costs, etc.), a composer’s services for those 70 minutes of music is extremely undervalued.

Given that composing four to five minutes of music a day is quite ambitious, just getting paid for those 20 days a composer is actually composing, not to mention all the ancillary tasks he will likely garner on a small indie film, is an uphill battle.

Bellis educated the composers on some of the tools required to get your worth – mainly, educating many of the tyro helmers. Fresh out of film school, directors often haven’t spent a lot of time on music and their understanding of what it takes — and what a composer can do — can be a bargaining wedge. Encourage their artistic impulses to raise the level of the art, Bellis said, and discourage their capitalistic urges to lower the level of the composer’s salary.

Along with a financial slap-in-the-face, contest winners were also informed that they would have just 16 minutes on the podium to conduct their three-minute music piece. Given that big-time Hollywood composers often require a three-hour rehearsal for a three-minute cue, this is a significant hurdle. Also in the admonitions was the need to orchestrate the piece yourself – that is, literally write the music. There’s no more dirty word in composer country than a “hummer,” or someone who is perceived to be unable to notate what he articulates.

Despite the tough-love speeches, it was a genially jovial atmosphere around the room at ASCAP’s offices in the DGA building Tuesday evening. Two finalists (Sascha Peres and Gerrit Wunder) are both from Vienna, Austria, and knew each other, and yet neither knew either had entered the contest until they saw the winner’s list.

Jaebon Hwang and Jeff Kryka were both finalists in the same Turner Classic Movie’s composing contest. Ireland’s Anna Rice earned her MA in ethnomusicology, which makes her knowledgeable in both Irish music culture and Chinese opera. Sascha Peres currently makes his living writing for video games and, as he put it, “winning music for gambling machines.” Marc Baril has written a piece for another kind of game – the Olympic Games, as commissioned by Canada.

Eric Hachikian plays sousaphone, tuba and is a second tenor. Adam Langston of London is teaching music technology at the college level. Luke Richards from London won the Sibelius competition. (Sibelius is a music-notating computer software).

Gloomy talk will be unlikely at Wednesday’s session, which consists of a cocktail party at Hollywood & Highlands for ASCAP staff, workshop members and workshop alumni.

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