The TV landscape is in upheaval. For talented composers, the changes offer more new opportunities than at any time in the last twenty years.
The continuing success of television series is also having an impact on the work of TV composers. Until a few years ago, as a musician, you wanted to musically underscore feature films with your soundtrack.
Today, if you want to be on top of your game and make good money, you’re better off betting on TV series. I’ll explain why in this post.
You want to know
- The TV industry is growing. In a few weeks, Disney and Apple will also start streaming their own series content. This means that the future volume of work for composers is also growing.
- At the same time, players like Netflix have already completely changed the business of musical soundtracks for series content.
- Unlike in the past, music from series is no longer licensed to individual territories.
How the music business has worked for composers up to now
Because TV series were usually only broadcast in their own country before the triumph of Netflix & Co, music was only ever licensed for their own country. Contracts with composers were easy to draw up for this purpose because there was little to regulate.
The licensing of music has also been facilitated by blanket arrangements between TV broadcasters and the representatives of the rights holders (GEMA, AMK, SACEM, SUISA, etc.), which still exist today.
If, contrary to expectations, a TV series managed to be sold abroad, things quickly became very complicated. In this case, the music rights had to be clarified and negotiated with the composer. This was not a problem for the industry. But only because in the past hardly any series managed to make the leap beyond the national border!
And if it did, it was no cause for celebration for composers and the owner of the music rights.
In order to keep the risk low when negotiating, and to save costs, the composer’s original music was usually replaced in no time at all by royalty-free canned goods abroad for use in the third country. As a result, the quality of the series sold suffered. This in turn reduced success in the foreign market – and led to series being considered fundamentally unsuitable for foreign sales. The composer had to watch this powerlessly.
The success of Netflix has successfully turned this fatal pattern on its head!
This is how successful composers do business today
Because today the goal is to be able to sell a multi-part TV series anywhere in the world from the very beginning, the easiest way to do this is to acquire all music rights from the composer right from the start of the music production. Or at least secure them with an acquisition option. Both mean additional income for the composer.
The previously common practice of accessing existing music from the archive through lump-sum settlements with copyright societies is a problem here. That is because these licenses have always been valid for only one market.
Netflix is investing $1 billion in European productions in 2019 and plans to release 221 owned and co-produced European series this year.
The Hollywood Reporter, 5/1/2019
That’s why the producer of series such as the German Netflix original docu-series “Rohwedder – A Perfect Crime“ today secures from the composer from the very beginning the possibility to sell the TV series produced by him along with the original music anywhere. For this purpose, commissioned compositions for series, created by composers, are suddenly the better option. For the work, for all those involved and for the viewer.
At the same time, in many cases this also opened up a new field of work in the TV landscape, which was in a state of upheaval. Not only for composers, but also for songwriters. The power to strengthen (or in isolated cases, save) a scene with a self-contained song is one of the secrets to the success of good series today.
Sing My Song?
Series need both: music by composers as a continuous, dramaturgical design element. But also stand alone songs.
Both, score and song, are composed separately. However, a song that is specially complicated for a scene has a different task from music composition. True, both illustrate the plot musically. But at key moments in the plot, the song goes further: this is where the song lyrics and the series plot can definitely intertwine. And complement each other in terms of content. Of course, this only works if the text is understandable to the foreign audience. But hey, that’s the basis on which the entire American entertainment and music industry operates.
Of course, at least theoretically, existing hit songs by well-known artists can also be incorporated into series in this way. In practice, however, people tend to prefer unfamiliar pieces of music. First, because they can be licensed by the composer at a lower price. Secondly, because unknown songs do not shape the character of the series with the image of the artist. Because regardless of the series content, Lady Gaga will always be Lady Gaga. Conversely, it is absolutely possible for an unknown musical composition to become a hit worldwide by being included in a series.
And of course you can do both: you compose soundtrack and songs. Then you’ve reached the pinnacle as a composer.
These are the artistic requirements you must meet as a composer
As a series composer, you’re expected to work quickly and accurately. Solid dramaturgical knowledge is required. Much like the camera work, your compositions need to carry the series.
Likewise, must meet the expectations of the director and the producer. The composer for a series is usually chosen by the music supervisor on behalf of the production company.
Music composers are back in vogue for TV series. ZDF alone plans to invest over €200 million in series production. This is accompanied by the need to be able to use original music anywhere in the world without legal risks.
You still need talent as a composer. Plus flexibility and a knowledge that goes beyond the mere craft of music. If you can meet these points, the prospects for your professional life are far more attractive than they have been for the last 20 years.
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