Running a successful music business involves much more than composing music. Without healthy work habits, you will burnout, become uninspired, and dislike your career. Here are five work habits to establish a successful career as a music composer:
1. Daily Deep Work
Deep Work is focused work without distractions. Deep Work is usually considered three or more hours of time dedicated to one task and multiple periods of Deep Work in a week is crucial for developing a successful work week. This kind of work has an exponential return on time invested when compared with common smaller time periods spread across multiple tasks. Deep Work will rarely occur naturally in our busy culture – it must be intentionally set aside.
2. Maintain All Rights to Music
Most composers neglect music rights discussions because they consider contracts to be too complicated or time-consuming. This neglect usually results in sticky agreements or lack of clarity about music rights. If you’re composing for an indie project that is paying less than $20,000, you should never trade your music rights. The purpose of owning 100% of your music rights is so you can sell your music in other arenas later, such as a soundtrack or streaming services. Projects with low compensation (less than $1,000) should never be given exclusive rights to the music. Exclusive rights allow a company full usage of the music, in exclusive association with their brand. Non-exclusive rights allow the composer to resell and re-license the music to other buyers for use in other projects. Most development teams desire exclusive rights to your music to establish their own sonic identity, but you should charge a premium for this customization.
If you’re scoring music for a large, premium project paying over $20,000, you should consider exchanging your music rights for the higher pay. Larger companies usually have tight control over their Intellectual Property (IP) and require both exclusivity and all rights to your music – this is considered a Work for Hire agreement. Since these premium projects are less frequent than the smaller ones, I encourage you to retain your rights whenever possible. You never know when the next indie project you score will become a smash hit...your soundtrack sales will thank you when that happens. Even if you never experience that level of spontaneity, soundtrack sales and stream revenue usually exceed the commission of scoring the soundtrack itself.
3. Be Pleasant to Work With
Successful projects are a result of tightly-knit creative teams. If there is one weak link or rotten attitude in the team, the entire project suffers. Being a music composer within a team dynamic has far less to do with your talent level or production skills and more to do with the energy you bring to the team. If you’re a mediocre composer, but deliver music before deadlines, encourage other team members, and work diligently without needing any reminders, you are valuable to the team. You will attract more jobs by being a team player. On the contrary, if you’re an incredibly talented composer, but are a pain to work with, your name will spread quickly within our tiny industry and you will likely be blacklisted. Bad attitudes repel job opportunities. When you’re part of a team, you are working towards the vision of the team, never your own vision.
4. Set Realistic Deadlines
Meeting deadlines is a vital skill for building trust within a team and paving a long-term successful career. Project deadlines wait for no one, so it’s wise to expect unexpected life events. We certainly can’t know what the future holds, so we should reduce risk however possible when planning our calendars. One of my practices is to schedule all project deadlines 1.5 times later than my intentions. If I’m scoring five tracks for a project and I expect to finish within three weeks, I will negotiate a deadline of five weeks to account for any complications, life events, or additional project requests and communications. This buffer allows me to breathe, knowing that I have the freedom to make mistakes. No one can perform at full efficiency every work day. There will be times that I compose slower than anticipated. There will be times that I’m utterly uninspired to compose. There will be family emergencies, last-minute invitations to important events, and in my case as a foster parent – constant rescheduling within my calendar. Why live a stressed and rushed life? You can prevent this (and consequently prevent dropping the ball) by simply expanding your deadlines.
Additionally, whenever I agree to a deadline with a client, I schedule my own internal deadlines a week or two sooner. In the best-case scenario, this allows me to turn in work early or get feedback from trusted friends before submitting. Worst-case scenario, I meet all deadlines and my integrity is unscathed, regardless of how many hardships I had to overcome to complete the project on time. In every project, my goal is to under-promise and over-deliver.
5. Always Be Learning
The most successful people in the world are lifelong learners. They read books every day. They practice every day. They serve others every day. They intentionally make every day count.
As a composer, it’s easy to get in a rut and develop debilitating Creative Burnout (addressed in a future chapter). Surrounding yourself with inspiration and environments for learning causes healthy growth. Integrating regular learning into your daily work life will develop great success as you continue to grow.
What is my strongest work habit today?
What is my weakest work habit today?
What is one work habit that I can add or improve today?