Samantha van der Sluis of Pulse College writes:
Good read, Andy. It's an interesting point you make - I recently had a debate with a fellow composer over the importance of having a presentable website and overall representation of yourself. It's reasons why Giacchino (who doesn't have a website), J. Williams (website not updated) and Zimmer (mad site as if it was designed when the internet first came out) are getting the gigs - they focus on the music and not their presentation. Some would argue they don't need to anyhow. But if we spent that hour looking at a DAW tutorial, listening to various music styles or studying counterpoint instead of updating our websites, it would be much better use of our time. I've learnt over the winter break that studying is not always the answer. (This is good, I swear!!) Studying is good, yes, but it's not EVERYTHING. You learn this -especially creative work- hands on, when you're on the job. I had my nose stuck in books too much but when I went to my DAW and just wrote, did mock-ups, etc, I learnt so much within a few hours than a few weeks reading a book. Then again, how does one who may have the skills get the recognition and appreciation they deserve? The easy way out is marketing, websites and all that business jazz. I think most composers, including myself, have been prone to watching our virtual "brand" online - keeping Facebook clean, constantly updated our website, etc. As much fun as business is, (cough), and watching how many people in which country have viewed my piece, I think I will go back to writing any and every day!!
Hi, Sam. I think it’s commendable that you’re giving this matter serious thought. After all, for any real composer, writing music isn’t just a “career goal,” it’s a vocation. A “calling,” i.e., something you’d do even if it wasn’t putting money in your pocket. And you can be sure that there will be years when it won’t. You have to ask yourself what it is that will get you through those years.
I don’t mean to say that self-promotion isn’t important, or that composers who hope to break into the crowded and competitive marketplace these days don’t need to develop a “brand” (though I strongly dislike that word and would prefer to say “identity” or “signature”). You have to put your music, and increasingly, yourself “out there” for people to hear and see, because when they do hire you, they’ll be hiring a complete package: writer, producer, co-dramatist, collaborator and “personality.”
What prompted my response to Richard Kraft’s comments on the Deniz Hughes page was the suggestion that (at least as regards students enrolled in scoring programs) the ability to write well was somehow ancillary to a constellation of other qualities—all of which fall under the heading of business development or “enterprise.” The point I hoped to make was that students like yourself are not, at the early stage of a career, supposed to be developing a business. You’re supposed to be developing a craft that is finely tuned enough to become a livelihood. You’re there to experiment with sounds and colors and expression, and to allow everything musical inside you to be drawn out by great teachers and challenging assignments. At the end of that process, an identity emerges, and yes—that identity can be marketed and “branded” (though preferably not by you, but by people skilled in those areas).
Undoubtedly, some will read these words and conclude that I’m behind the curve—that I’m ignoring the reality of things like the DIY trend, the “gig economy,” tech startups, disruptive innovation, etc., etc. But it pays to bear in mind that “the curve,” by its nature, is constantly changing. If you can see it, you’re not on it. Barely a dozen years ago, no film composer had a website, and yet, they found work. How? By taking their talents directly to people who could make use of them. Websites are like business cards: they make us feel legitimate and they stroke our vanity. They’re a useful substitute for reels and headshots in an age when no one wants to carry CD’s or 8x10’s around. But I’m not sure that any composer has ever gotten a project on the strength of his or her website, just as I’m not sure anyone has ever really gotten a job through LinkedIn! Rather than thinking of yourself as a young marketeer with a product pitch, think of yourself as an Olympian athlete in training, and when the gun goes off, be ready to run.