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  • Writer's pictureJoe Chris

How to Get More Work as a Composer: I - Prospecting, Finding Leads, & Initial Contact

Getting gigs as a composer, especially when starting out, might be one of the most common questions ask online. How do I get work if I have nothing to show? Who do I reach out to? Where do I find these people? Once I have work, how do I leverage that into more work? etc


These are all questions we’ve asked ourselves at some point in time. For me, I started finding work towards the end of my time at Berklee - at the very beginning of the covid pandemic when everything was remote and the entire industry shut down. It was quite the feat looking back on it, but many of those relationships I built then are still growing and developing today.


Since then, I read almost every book I could on sales, business, etc. When the Hollywood strike happened last year, I ended up finding work in a real sales job for a rapidly growing brewery in New York. This allowed me to fully put into practice many of the ideas I read about, and completely changed my perspective on the sales process for music. I have learned more here (and continue to do so everyday) than I did in all of the books combined. Trial by fire - practice is always necessary. 


A couple things to say straight out of the gate: business and sales is a relationship game. There is no way around it. If they don’t like you, it will be hard for them to like your product - especially if this is a service based product or one where ongoing communication (such as working closely with a director) is required. Besides having “rizz”, being personable, and having a decent personality - don’t overlook your visual appeal! Dress well for the audience you want to work with, groom yourself, practice good hygiene etc. Especially with things regarding odor - humans remember odor stronger than any other sense and an off putting odor can be quite a bad impression! Lastly, always remember you are a business. You are a brand. You are selling a product. So treat it like a business & a brand, and be intentional with the work you do.


I had a professor at Berklee who used to say that a job takes place between two phone calls: the one where you initially call to talk about the gig & the one where your mom calls you to congratulate you after watching your movie. This is a very macro way to look at the sales cycle, and it is very important to remember that everything that happens in between is just as important as everything leading up to that first phone call.


Enough philosophy, let’s talk business: prospecting clients & finding leads.


You will often hear the terms cold, warm, or hot in sales. These describe how familiar a potential client is with your product & how motivated they are to buy. A cold lead may not even know you exist whereas a hot one may already be trying to get in contact with you with the intent to close a deal. As a composer, especially one just starting out, your primary goal is to create as many warm leads as possible. But to make a warm lead, you must first find a cold one. 


The reason we want to have warm leads is they are someone who is interested in or already has a relationship with us or our music, and that makes it a lot easier to close a deal. In short, it is much easier to take someone from 50 or even 10% to 100% than it is to take them from 0-100. This is a key reason why relationships are so important to build rather than just offering your services to everyone and their brothers. This is also why many composers feel inclined to start posting their work on social media - even if they can not explain exactly how it helps them.


So the goal is we want to take cold leads to warm. With that in mind, there are a couple steps we need to figure out.


  1. Where do we find cold leads and what do they look like?

  2. How do I approach cold leads and how can I make myself stand out?

  3. What can I do directly and indirectly to find more cold leads?

  4. How can I convert cold leads into warm ones, if not a closed deal?


A quick note: I default to “filmmaker” often in this post because that’s the field I primarily work in. However, all of these ideas are applicable to any and all fields of sales, even outside of music.


What do leads look like?


While prospecting, there are a variety of channels you can use to find leads - and these can be pretty much anywhere you meet people who might need your music. Since filmmakers and game devs are people too, this can be literally everywhere! I’ve gotten gigs off of tinder dates, from my baristas, instagram, facebook, a friend of a friend & more. That being said, there are always stronger and more efficient options than constantly running around and asking people if they have any work for you.


Before we get to that though, we should identify what our ideal client looks like and what they may need.


  1. Identify who will be using your services.

  2. Identify who already uses a service similar to yours

  3. Identify people who work with people you want to work with

  4. Identify what type of other “niche” areas you might find your work used in - adjacent industries etc.


Obviously the first answer is going to be generic for most of us. Something basic like “film makers” or “game developers”. But that is not good enough. Get specific. “Directors in NY”, “Student Game Developers”, etc. Maybe even “editors in the horror genre based in LA”. Make a list of all the potential people you want to work with with this level of specificity. Don’t be afraid to include people like actors or actresses - they may work with many people a year and if you have a good relationship with a few of them or other non-decision makers - they may recommend you for a gig in the future.


If you are open to it, also consider alternative areas you may write music for. Maybe theater, dance, advertisements etc. If you’re just looking for work to do music for, there are so many possibilities! And why limit yourself to just “film”? You’re a composer: film or video game is just an adjective. For example, I started a whole project writing original scores for beer & alcoholic beverage tastings, which opened a whole new set of potential prospects for me and recently started conversations with restaurants too. The sky is the limit here.


You can use this list to narrow your searches on websites or for trying to find meet-up events & mixers in that particular niche. For example, if I want to work with student filmmakers I might reach out to local colleges and see if they can connect me with their film students. With all the changes since the pandemic, you can pretty much work anywhere in the world via zooom so take advantage of that too, but definitely start small and local if you have the ability to.


How do I approach cold leads and how can I make myself stand out?


Almost every person in whatever industry you are trying to write for will tell you that composers are desperate for work. They get absolutely inundated with emails from composers all over the spectrum whenever they make a post regarding any position at all. Established composers even “apologize” and don’t recommend new composers do this. This all falls into cold calling and many say don’t waste your time.


I hard disagree. You are a business doing business to business (B2B) sales. Business owners don’t want to waste their time searching for things they need. In fact, many will actively put it off! Think of it this way: wouldn’t it be great if you were just on your couch and suddenly the love of your life, someone who is everything you always wanted in a partner but could never figure out how to find, just called you out of the blue and introduced themselves? Yes, the odds of that happening are unlikely but game developers and filmmakers do want that sort of things too - they don’t want to waste their time looking for the right composer, or worse - hiring the wrong one and needing to replace them down the line. Showing up on their door and being their project’s ideal musical soulmate might totally be a real possibility so shoot your shot.


So in that line, it is always important to believe in your work and yourself, this makes it so much easier to sell the product and transfer that confidence to your client. Dating is going to continue to be a great metaphor since a majority of us have all had experience in it (and quite honestly, it’s a metaphor some of my mentors have used extensively and just made so much sense to me). 


When dating, you don’t walk up to somebody and say, “hey, it’s my first time. I have 0 confidence in myself, I barely like myself, & I’m super desperate. I’ll do anything to be with somebody, I don’t care if it's you or that person across the room.” None of this sounds attractive to a majority of people. However, “I am confident enough to know I can have anybody I want, but I would like to be with you” is a very different scenario.  In short - you don’t want the other person to feel like they are doing you a favor by hiring you. You want them to feel like it is mutually beneficial and you’re both going to have a great time and come out of this with something special. Have confidence in yourself, love the quality of your work, & know your worth. That alone will give you a huge huge boost in your communications with new people. 


There was an interview with Austin Wintory on “Score: the Podcast” where they were discussing how many times a composer takes on the role of therapist for the filmmaker. After all, we are the last ones to work on a film. The director is watching the film and tweaking and editing it bit by bit each day. It may be an absolute disaster when it first comes to you, and at this point there are only a handful of possible changes they can make and a super small team might be left on this project. The ability for the director to trust you is a huge factor in getting on the team - not just your creative abilities, but your intuition and your knowledge of what makes or breaks a movie. So for the guys just starting out, remember that it is not just about the music you write but how easily the director can come around to trust your judgment in what you do and your confidence plays a major role in that trust.


Doing door to door B2B sales for the brewery, I learned just how lonely rejection can feel and then immediately learned to get over it. There were entire weeks where I’d try to be involved with ridiculous amounts of businesses only to be told flat out no. In comparison, a cold call is a dream come true. It’s (basically) free, doesn’t waste any of your time, and allows you to move on to the next prospect without having to sit in your own stew of rejection. But what was great about this job is the product was objectively hands down fantastic. So it was essentially a “Sales bootcamp”. I had no personal stakes to lose, had a fantastic product and support system, & didn’t have to do anything besides actually going through the sales process and closing deals and this really highlighted how much confidence and excitement can make or break a deal.


Also, it is important to note that rejection is not failure. A rejection is a success, because even if they say “no” they may recommend you for another gig, come back to you later on, or at the very least they now know who you are and you can try building a relationship with them at this point.


Going back to not being desperate - personalization of messages rather than a “Do you need music? Here’s my reel” is also super helpful. Reelcrafter is a fantastic resource for sending personalized reels for each project and targeting what they are going for. You can also make a separate password protected page on your site with your pitch on it. Regardless of how you do it, the idea is you want to make each person you reach out to feel as if you are reaching out to them specifically and not just spamming everybody trying to find work.


For example, I once saw a director post his log line looking for an editor in a facebook group. I loved the story and wanted to be a part of it. I cold messaged him with a “Hey, your project sounds really cool - here are some ways I’d handle the music based on your logline if you are interested” and sent a small pitch. I gave detailed descriptions of choices I’d make, why, and how it would stand out over a generic horror score. Over a year later he messaged me saying he fired the other composer because he just couldn’t stop thinking about my pitch and we now work together all the time! 


I could have easily just sent a link to my reel along with a copy & pasted message, but the fact that I went ahead and tried to understand his story and crafted a pitch specifically for it rather than a generic one set me apart from everybody else.


Finding cold leads and converting them to warm ones


This is perhaps the most fun I have in any of the sales work I do. I believe in the importance of sales much stronger than I believe in marketing, but without marketing I don’t believe sales would ever be efficient. Good marketing leads to better sales and there is no way around that. Marketing strategies will take people from maybe a 0 to a 1 or 2%, but that tiny amount of name recognition alone can get your foot in the door and make your sales cycle a million times easier. 


I like to consider two main methods of converting prospects from cold to warm: direct & indirect


I consider “direct warming” to be any touch point where you have direct communication with somebody. That could be meeting them at a conference, a game jam, communicating in online forums, meet-ups, sending them a message off of fundraising sites like kickstarter, etc. You get the idea. The intention is to communicate with them as a peer and start building a relationship. You may start by sending a sales pitch right away, but it is also an equally viable strategy to just DM them or comment on their posts from time to time and get to know each other as online friends. It’s totally a judgment thing and varies from case to case, but remember the relationship building is the most important element here. 


Some ideas for meeting & directly warming clients:

  • Conferences such as GDC

  • Film festivals

  • Theaters

  • Open Mics

  • Open Screening

  • Social Media

  • Fundraising Campaigns

  • PA’ing on set

  • Game Jams

  • Online Forums


Meeting people directly is by far the best method for meeting potential clients. They get so much more of a read on who you are in person than over an email, and a majority of composers tend to avoid these types of events because they are too shy or think it won't be worth it. Even in NYC, I am often the only composer when I show up to many of these sorts of things, and this also makes me one of the "more interesting people in the room" and builds relationships very quickly for me. If you do nothing else, I can not stress enough how much just showing up to something can help your career.


Indirectly, I consider things like social media, youtube videos, spotify releases or even a blog like this to be a great way to get your name out. Anything where you are not directly communicating with someone, but they may find you and learn about you is this method. This is more in line with “marketing”, however it can be incredibly powerful for if and when you do make the approach with somebody. 


This blog for instance has gotten me a lot of assistantships. People have shared some of my posts with other composers who were looking (or other assistants!) and I get recommended or hired for projects based on this alone. Not only does this demonstrate my ability in our field, but it’s working as a great marketing tactic and networking device. Filmmakers may not care too much about this, but it gives the impression that I am active in our community and know deeply about what I am talking about - potentially building the trust in me and my services from their POV. I highly recommend finding whatever works for you and exploring options besides the traditional tik tok reel to get your name out there and demonstrate your knowledge and ability beyond just the musical elements. 


Some ideas for indirectly warming clients:

  • Social media posts demonstrating ability & knowledge

  • Releasing music on spotify

  • Starting a blog

  • Starting a newsletter

  • Writing a book

  • Public performances of your work (short film being released for example)

  • Youtube videos


Whichever method you go with, try to find areas where your ideal prospect from above would be a part of and try to find a way to insert yourself into that space be it virtual or in-person. 


Qualifying Prospects & Getting your early career credits


When I started my sales job for this brand new brewery, our strategy was “let’s get all of the low hanging fruit out of the way first”. This accomplished two things: Firstly, we just got our product moving. The smaller companies can move a lot faster than larger and giant chains. Secondly, it built my confidence and public confidence in our product. And thirdly, the more people that see or tried our beer, the more brand recognition we got and the easier it was to get into larger places. In short, we were proving ourselves with the smaller shops, bars, & restaurants before the larger ones would feel enough trust in us and our product to take us on. So where can we find “low-hanging fruit” in the scoring industry? (and please, don’t ever call them that directly!)


Well these types of gigs are going to be low-budget “for credit only” type work. It may not be “film scoring” exactly, but there are many adjacent spaces you may be able to write for as you build up your portfolio & credits. A fantastic area I recommend a lot of students to check out is audio dramas. These are almost always low budget passion projects, and a majority of them would love an original score but don’t even consider hiring because there is literally 0 budget. These also have the added benefit of being a linear story (usually) without visuals, so you can have a little more freedom in what you write. In addition, student films are always a great way to build your first few credits and start building relationships in a film making or game dev community. These will hardly ever be good, but the relationships that come from them can be quite long lasting. If you are having difficulty finding opportunities - make your own! For instance, offer to write a custom theme track for an entertainment company hosting a bingo night or maybe you make up a fake scenario and write music for it. Your goal should just be to have something to show at the bare minimum so people can have trust in your ability to write, create, & produce results. 


My very last piece of advice is don’t be that composer that says “they can write in any style for any type of film.” You may very well be able to, but have an identifiable brand and a reason for people to hire you. Define your music in words that can be an elevator pitch and try to be an non-generic as possible. Give your music an identity, and let it add character to people’s films rather than be a generic wallpaper. You don’t need to lock yourself into a genre or timbrel palette, but give a description of why you as an artist are unique and then write the music as required for the project. 


That’s all for now - feel free to reach out via email (below) or instagram (@Joe_Chris) if you have any questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.


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If you haven’t noticed yet, this isn’t exactly a “tech” post. At the moment, I just want to get the foundations out business out of the way. Eventually we will look at lots of “business software” like CRMs, project management, invoice management, book keeping, etc. We’re pretty much open to anything that can be helpful so if you have anything you’d like to see us write about, please reach out! joe@scoringtech.net 

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