ASCAP workshop focuses on business of film music

Smart film composers keep one hand on the keyboard and the other on the address book.

The 21st annual ASCAP Television & Film Scoring Workshop, which dedicated its July 15th session to the business of film music, outlined a number of harsh realities facing today’s scorers. Chief among them: While a composer may need an agent to secure a job, to secure an agent composers will first need at least one strong credit. That means, when it comes earning that first meaningful credit, most developing composers are on their own.

“If someone calls us about a film, we have to, as an agency, put up some people who might actually get the job,” said Roxanne Lippel, a partner in Soundtrack Music Associates, a Santa Monica-based talent agency with clients who include Alf Clausen, Tyler Bates and Bear McCreary. “We have to look at people we represent who have the strongest credits or have worked with that producer before…To have an agent help you, you have to have something they can point to.”

That “something,” however, could be a short film or viral video. “It doesn’t have to be a $100 million film,” said John Tempereau, Lippel’s partner at SMA. “It just has to be so cool, so interesting, [that] everyone goes, ‘that was so cool.’ ”

Tempereau and Lippel both stressed the need for the young composers to constantly develop relationships that can lead to work. Suggestions included apprenticing for major composers and casting your lot with an aspiring director in hopes you two can develop into the next Steven Spielberg/John Williams. Most composers allow junior scorers to write some cues and take on smaller projects. Three of this year’s participants are already assisting major composers.

However, Lippel and Tempereau also delivered some cautionary words. An increasingly common practice is for more established composers to use ghostwriters to help them with the workload. “The gentlemanly ones are giving credits,” Lippel says. “Some of the composers are really ethical. If you’re really lucky, they’ll eventually turn their show over to you.” Others, she warned, may not be quite so generous. In that case, Lippel said “do it for the money if you have to, but do it for as little time as you can.”

Another prevailing concern is the trend to ask composers to work for free because the project’s budget doesn’t allow them to pay for music. Even though no money changes hands, a composer may still need a lawyer to wade through the murky legal waters to protect his rights.

“Even if you’re working for free, the copyright is an asset,” said attorney Steve Winogradsky, a partner in Winogradsky/Sobel, who ran down a series of legal and publishing terms that the composers should know. If a composer negotiates to retain rights to his work in to return for providing it at no charge, “You now have music that you own that you could license to someone else.”

Winogradsky then listed a litany of ways that composers could end up losing out on money they’re owed if they aren’t business savvy. “Some indie producers get told they have to own the publishing, but they don’t know what that means,” he said. “They don’t know how to file a cue sheet… most have no idea about overseas licensing. They know how to point a camera and say, ‘Action.’ “

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