This Article Originally Published June 1999
by Terry Wollman
As musicians we work, or at least hope to, in a business that is based on contacts, opportunities, and one's reputation. In most cases, the ones who are successful get there by working hard and developing lasting relationships.
Many major producers hire the same people to work on their big budget recordings as they hired on their earlier low budget demos. It is so important to do your best work always, regardless of the pay. You just never know who is going to be the next big time recording artist or film/television producer.
Be "open" to work possibilities. I have lost count of how many times something that initially seemed like a bad deal has led to major work opportunities. Consider other factors besides the money. We are in a service business and certainly should be compensated fairly for our time. The problem is there will always be another musician willing to do the job for less money than you and your clients will not hesitate to let you know this.
I have seen many a composer walk away from an opportunity to get their music heard just because the contract wasn't exactly right or the money was too low. I am not suggesting you give your music away, just that you stay flexible in your decision making process. Although it is crucial to thoroughly review all contracts and legal agreements, it's also important to consider the other benefits of accepting a job. Keep in mind, the more your work is out there, the more momentum and income your catalog will generate.
Set a standard of excellence in whatever you do. Be dedicated in your writing and humble about the work you create. Composing with this work ethic will raise the quality of your music, benefit everyone involved, and will propel your career forward. Don't just look at the individual situation . . . stand back and try to see the larger picture. Remember, there is no room for arrogance in our business, just confidence. You might think that your work is as good as everyone else's, but until your work is out there nobody will ever know your talent.
There are many ways to create income as a composer and the fees can range from low to quite high. It is important to remember that this is not your first and will certainly not be the last song you will ever write. An experienced composer knows that there are more songs where that one came from. As much as you might love the song you're holding on to, it is wiser to get it out there than to keep it on the shelf. I know many talented writers sitting on great songs that might never be heard.
Remember, there is no shortage of composers who are capable of sitting down and completing a well crafted song in a single afternoon. They are able to do this because they have studied their craft and because they are constantly composing and creating new music. These writers have built up a catalog of songs that have found there way on to films, television shows, and CD's. Their deals have ranged from work for hire, keeping/splitting/or giving away publishing, and collecting or waiving sync license fees.
Every deal is different. Some good, some great, and some disappointing. The important thing is to keep writing and to actually find ways of "releasing" your music. Try to keep in mind the act of releasing implies a certain degree of letting go. Having a long career requires dedication and flexibility, both in your ability to compose and in your willingness to take a broader look at your business options. So, next time, when opportunity knocks . . . remember to open the door.