By Stuart Ridgway
Getting Your Name Around: You have probably figured out that, "Build it and they will come" is not a viable business strategy. What often terminates a composer's success is the lack of consistent work. As I said before, the fact that you are a good composer is not enough on its own. It is just the bare minimum. Now you have to develop good business acumen. By being very efficient with your time, you will have more resources to do networking and marketing. This is where you will succeed or fail. There are three skills that you need to cultivate in order to turn potential clients into repeat, paying clients: spreading your name around, nurturing your relationships with producers, and being a dependable expert.
When you have to hire a singer or a horn player for a gig, the first people you call are the people that you know can get the job done. That is the same strategy a producer will use. When she needs to hire a composer, she will first call the composers that have done good work for her in the past. Nevertheless, if you have yet to work with her you are not out of luck. She may need to get bids from several composers or she may never have worked with any composer before. These are the opportunities you are looking for.
The people who you want to have hire you are producers. Sometimes they work for production companies, TV stations, or cable companies. They may also be freelance. It is possible to get the local production guide and start cold calling. However, that takes a huge amount of time and effort for very little pay-off. If you have no immediate need for a vocalist and some singer randomly calls you for a gig, how likely are you to hire her?
Film and Television Associations: It is more effective to find the film and video associations that producers frequent. These associations are set up to help producers hone their craft, continue their education, learn about gigs for themselves, and network. This is where they are most receptive to your advances.
For example, the two local associations to which I belong have weekly meetings covering everything from HD cameras to lighting tips to dealing with difficult clients. I go to these meetings to get to know names and faces in the industry and to learn the topic of the evening (you never know when it might come in handy).
Often there is a "meet and greet" hour that is free or very cheap. Five dollars gets you some cheese, crackers, and a coke. I put on my name tag, "Stuart Ridgway — Composer," and start wandering around. Often I am the only composer in a room full of producers. Wow, what a great place to be! Once you are in this room, you need to make the big leap: go ahead and introduce yourself. This is why you are here. I find walking up to someone and asking him what he is working on is a great way to break the ice. It shows that you are willing to listen and that you interested in his work. Most people like to talk about their projects, good or bad.
Give people time to talk. You will have plenty of time to sell yourself. Even if he is not a producer or does not have a current project take some time and listen to him. Eventually you will get a chance to tell him that you are a great composer and can talk up your latest project. He may surprise you and tell you that he knows someone who is looking for a composer. He may not. Either way, be sure to exchange business cards. You will need it later, guaranteed.
My expectation for an evening like this is to get one business card from a serious, working producer. That's it. I may also have met another five people and learned something from the presentation. These will help down the road. Nonetheless, my goal for the night is to meet the right person whom I can work with soon. Her business card will be my connection to her. I often write on the back of her card what we discussed before I forget. I will transfer that information to my client database.
Other reasons to belong to producer associations are the benefits that the association provides its membership. For example, they might have an online listserv. By watching the postings, you will see what jobs are available in the production world, which names keep appearing, and what film and video events you should add to your calendar. Once in a while you will read a listing from a producer who is looking for a composer. This is an invitation to make contact. Producer associations often have professional development seminars. Again, here are more opportunities to find out about the people who produce programs in your area.
Lastly, do not ignore your friends and family who know people in the film and television business. Get their business cards and make sure they have yours. As you build your client database you will have opportunities to connect with them and find out if they are or know producers with whom you can work. You have to network to be successful in this business. Be creative and find opportunities to meet the right people.
Making the Connection: Once you have met a prospective client and you have exchanged business cards it is time to add her to your database. I mentioned before a program called File Maker Pro for the Macintosh. You do not need software this complex, but the more flexible it is, the more time it will save you down the road. That will become important. Minimally, the database must store all of the contact information and have a large "Notes" section where you will enter the information on the interactions you have with this person.
When you have 10 or 20 prospective clients, it is not too difficult to remember the last time you contacted them. It is very difficult when you have several hundred. Here is an example of some of the information that you will need to enter into your database:
6/1 met Donna at Washington Film Conference. We spoke about her project on the Chesapeake Bay. 6/2 checked out her Web site and read that she has done several of these shows for PBS. 6/3 I sent e-mail saying that it was nice to meet her and that I would like to speak to her further about her project. I asked if I could send my demo reel. 6/8 she emailed back saying yes I can send demo. 6/10 sent demo. 6/29 emailed asking if she had reviewed reel. 7/8 she e-mailed back saying she enjoyed it and will let me know when she needs a composer.
Many of my potential clients are at this stage. I have made the connection, she knows who I am, and I know that I have sent her my demo (it is pretty embarrassing to ask to send a demo to someone who just got one from me two months ago). I now have to lightly prod her so she does not forget about me.
Nurturing the Relationships: I gingerly remind her who I am by doing several things. If I have big news such as finishing a great project, winning an award, or having something broadcast, then I will include her in a mass e-mail that briefly describes my news. I do not need to anything more for a month. I have just put my name in front of her in connection with a successful production.
Alternately, I will send a personal email asking about her current project (which we discussed when we met). I will include a little information about my current project as well. I am a working composer, so I must be good. Since all of my e-mails have a signature at the bottom with my company name, phone number, and Web site, she has all of my important information.
When I have not heard from a potential client in a long time, I will call and ask if he has any projects coming up that need music. If I get his voice mail and he does not call me right back, I don't worry. He knows I still exist and might call me later. If I do get him on the phone, I ask him about what he is working on. The same rules apply as when we first met. I will have ample opportunity to sell myself, so I just listen.
It is important to gauge whether or not my call is welcome. If he is happy to tell me what he is working on then I can find out if he might need my services. If I get the feeling he is too busy to talk, no harm no foul. I thank him for keeping me in mind and I get off the phone. I have done what I needed to do: remind him that I exist. I log all of these communications in the database so I know how often I am contacting him. You will eventually develop your own voice and method for keeping in touch.
Keeping On Top Of It: This is an ongoing process. I used to check my database everyday to make sure I was making timely contact with all of my producers. Now that I am consistently working, I only check once a week. Nonetheless, when I am going through my contact list I am very diligent about making solid connections with these potential clients.
The same goes for my existing clients. I need to continue to make connections with them so they do not forget about me. The earlier I can get in on their decision process the more likely they are to hire me. It takes an incredible amount of time for a project to get off the ground and I will not always know what roadblocks my client is up against. Patience is very important.
Often, I will find that I have tried to make contact for years and have gotten no commitments from them. There are only so many updated demos I can send and only so many e-mails I can write. I will include them in my mass e-mails, but I will stop making the effort to connect. There are other potential clients on whom I would prefer to spend my energy.
By spreading your net as widely as possible, you are more likely to get hired for a composing gig. However, your resources, time, and willpower are not limitless. Therefore, you will need to be extremely efficient in how you manage contacting your potential clients. Go to where they meet, get their information, have a good plan for keeping your name in front of them, and do not waste your time on dead ends.
Remember, when you are not working on a specific project, you have several opportunities available to you. Update your website. Update your demo with your latest great projects. Make a few extra phone calls and send a few extra e-mails. Back up your hard drive. Update your software. Fix your equipment. Clean your studio. Read the latest industry books or magazines. It is easy to get stressed when you do not have a paying client. By staying on top of the networking, marketing, and maintenance, you will be in a better position when the jobs do start coming in again.