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  • Writer's pictureJoe Chris

How to Get more Work as a Composer II: Service vs Craft

After you make the initial contact with a potential client, the real fun of selling begins. How do you close the deal and actually get the gig? 

There are a million different methods to use here, and I am only speaking from personal experience so take what I say with a grain of salt, but there are two main categories that go hand in hand here: Pitching - making the prospect aware and understanding of your product and Selling - helping them to see why they need it. 

The two are very intermingled with each other, but I’ll try to separate them out as much as I can. In the context I am using here, pitching is used to describe “the what”, as in what are you selling? Are you offering your services as a composer? Are you pitching your playing ability to a producer to include you in their session? Whatever it is, you need to position it as “why” they might need it or “how” it could benefit them - that is the “selling”.

This is as much of an artform unto itself as music can be. Consider all of the details - how you position yourself, what you say to your prospect, how you say it, how you handle what they say in response etc. There are so many variables that composers often get quite overwhelmed when learning this process for the first time.

Before we get into any of that, I’d like to forget the prospect for a moment and focus on you. What makes you special? Why are you unique? What benefit would the prospect gain from going with you over somebody else?

All of this relates to a key point salespeople often use in the service/trades industry regarding service vs craft. Clients are not just hiring you to do a service for them and get it done. They want to hire you as an expert to help them in a field in which they are not. People are looking to hire you not just to get the job done, but for the knowledge and experience you bring to the table. 

There is an old parable that goes:

The Graybeard engineer retired and a few weeks later the Big Machine broke down, which was essential to the company’s revenue.

The Manager couldn’t get the machine to work again so the company called in Graybeard as an independent consultant.

Graybeard agrees. He walks into the factory, takes a look at the Big Machine, grabs a sledge hammer, and whacks the machine once whereupon the machine starts right up.

Graybeard leaves and the company is making money again.

The next day Manager receives a bill from Graybeard for $5,000.

Manager is furious at the price and refuses to pay.

Graybeard assures him that it’s a fair price.

Manager retorts that if it’s a fair price Graybeard won’t mind itemizing the bill.

Graybeard agrees that this is a fair request and complies.

The new, itemized bill reads….

Hammer:  $5 

Knowing where to hit the machine with hammer: $4995

In this story, we can clearly see the importance of a craftsman’s knowledge and wisdom for what otherwise may be an “easy” job. Putting this in media scoring terms, a director or game developer might easily be able to compose a track themselves, but are they bringing all the emotional and technical nuance that an experienced composer might to fully enhance the immersive experience?

What’s awesome, artistically speaking, is there is only one you. There are many people who can perform the service of composing for media, but only one person who can do it the exact way you do. By focusing in on your special qualities and developing your musical style around that, you can get to a point where you can charge almost anything you want because people are no longer paying you for your service but rather your craft. 

So that’s all nice, but how do we apply this in a pitch?

Well, first off let’s focus on what makes your music special in the eyes of a potential client. What elements of your craft are characteristics of “X composer brand” (X = you!). Do you work quick, cheap, & safe (a totally useful and practical strategy by the way) or is your music more on the cutting edge and experimental? When they hire you, what are they getting that stands out and more importantly how can you adapt what you do to suit their current needs? 

Oftentimes online, I see young composers pitching wild claims like “I can compose in any style of music and will transform your project into something extraordinary by use of sound”. This approach screams desperation as well as a bit of naivete and even a little narcissism. They often post this in various groups & forms and it is their standard pitch for any circumstance. That all being said, there is one good element here and that is that it focuses on results

Many composers get caught up in the technical details of what they do or how it’s made and aren’t focusing on the actual outcomes of their work. Outside of fun banter and nerdy curiosity, prospects really don’t care about how your music is made if it isn’t doing the thing it needs to do in context. And audiences especially don’t care either. Can your scores thrill an audience and further raise the stakes? Does the subtlety of the music bring a new dimension of subtext to the characters and writing or perhaps will you sweep the audience off their feet and make them fall in love too? 

All of these are as generic as the initial pitch line, but by being more specific and focusing on the results it can achieve through the eyes of the client, I personally believe that these are stronger if not at least a step in the right direction. Once you get this though, understand that pitching becomes a little more intensive now - as you need to tailor your pitch to suit the clients needs. If they post a call for a composer, READ THE DAMN DESCRIPTION and tailor your pitch based on the potential needs of the project and not just a copy/pasted form letter you send to everyone with your portfolio.

As you negotiate and work your way towards the close, the idea of value becomes more and more important. The two main ways you can add value to a product are by making it better or making it cheaper. If you value yourself and the work you do and/or don’t want to work for cheaper (or free), the only other option for bringing value to the table is to make your product/service better. By understanding your clients needs and showing you have a unique expertise that qualifies you to solve it (potentially even you alone), you make your service better and put yourself in a position where you are much more likely to land the gig by nature of bringing more value to the team over another generic composer.

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