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music The Scoring Apocalypse

Times change. It takes years to be great at something, and the faster times change the more we run into a problem, that the world we prepared for is no longer there by the time we finish preparing for it.

They said that in the 70's and 80's, there were a lot of courtroom dramas on tv. A generation of people watched those shows, and impressed with the exciting and lucrative lives of the attorneys portrayed on those shows, made it a priority to get their kids into law school, intending to guarantee a prosperous future filled with moving speeches and heroic moments. 20 years later, I read an article that said that in the US, there were about four times as many lawyers as the market actually needed, and many of those kids ended up as public defenders, making terrible wages and living trite, underappreciated lives.

Similarly, many of us grew up watching some pretty average musicians bank millions and go on global tours, often simply playing grade school power chords and occasionally yelling "yeah" at carefully timed moments. Guitar and keyboard stores have been full of bright eyed kids for decades, one brand name flanger away from international stardom, but with the advent of myspace, the dye was in the water, and we started to see what was happening. For every signed band making 200k a night, there were 100 bands making nothing. Then 1000, then 10,000.

Running a new project for the last year, I had to really take a look at how to effectively provide a good score for a film in development. I researched hundreds of potential sources, balancing quality of product, time spent finding it, cost, and production grade. And because of emerging music services, I found that it was getting very difficult for indie musicians to find a path forward, or even get paid at all.

I could buy a hundred finished orchestral scores played by actual orchestras, for 20 dollars. I could browse through over 100,000 polished, professional grade tracks and use them in a movie, and the full broadcast license cost less than I've seen a waiter tipped for carrying a pizza across a 20 ft room.

Having played in bands and composed soundtrack music for most of my life, I'm keenly aware of the time, effort, and expense that goes into producing these tracks. Producers in the modern era can get by with a laptop and a daw, but it's still easy to spend 20-30k if you are trying to compete seriously and play real instruments. I've probably dropped 50k on music gear, and I've seen people drop 5x that.

So what does the new music economy look like for indie composers in the future. Not good. You can buy a Stradivari violin, and study at Yale, and best case scenario, you can maybe get 50k a year salary. Composers are now commonly selling AAA scoring tracks for the price of a Styrofoam cup. Virtuoso guitarists on YouTube are racking up 10c a year from videos that would have been globally famous if released in the mid 80s.

What's going on here is a simple supply and demand issue, where literally tens of millions of people have piled onto a job market with very limited opportunities. This has driven down the price to the point where when you combine the investment in time and equipment, almost every composer, regardless of quality, is getting paid cents on the dollar in ROI.

For other musicians reading this, I'm not any happier about this situation than you are, but I thought someone should probably post a disaster warning about the scoring industry. You can buy bulk Zippo lighters for 50c, and resell them for 3 dollars. You can buy a 3400 dollar Les Paul, spend 8 years learning to play better than the actual Les Paul, and end up literally working extra hours in a failed attempt to give away your music for free. It's not a great situation for any of us, but it is what it is.

I'd suggest that anyone who enjoys composing music as much as I do consider learning to integrate it into a larger skillset, something that pays at least as well as unskilled labor. It's certainly not fair that the next Chopin might make less than a truck driver, but that's what it looks like is happening. You don't have to tell me how much more difficult one is than the other, I know firsthand.
 
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This is not the same topic, but close enough to be reminded of it and to take the opportunity to recommend it to you. Recording studios are in similar straits. I'm a sucker for entertainment documentaries.

 
Thinking about movie scores and soundtracks. It is a sad fact, for me as a writer, that just because something exists doesn't mean it's good. And just because something is good, doesn't mean it, I don't know, works.

There is something kind of magical when music and film, together, transcends each; a whole more than the sum.

A few for me: The Graduate, The Sting, Jaws, 2001, The Exorcist, Midnight Cowboy.
 
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I'd suggest that anyone who enjoys composing music as much as I do consider learning to integrate it into a larger skillset, something that pays at least as well as unskilled labor. It's certainly not fair that the next Chopin might make less than a truck driver, but that's what it looks like is happening. You don't have to tell me how much more difficult one is than the other, I know firsthand.

Compensation, especially in the entertainment business, is absurd but is a fact of life. Bill Maher, for example, gets a salary of 10 million / year for a handful of obvious, not funny, jokes, written by a staff of 17 people, and for his dope-addled "opinions." (I'm on a F*** Bill Maher kick, now, lol). Anyway.
 
Interesting observation Nate about parallels between law school and musicians.
Seems like the Manual (HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE THE EASY WAY).l by KLF is till relevant.
 
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wow, it's 5 grand for a paperback of it.


Is this what Front 242 used to become famous?
I dont know. lots of groups followed this manuel and indeed succeeded in making a number one or getting to the top 40's. Its a very sarcastic book that understands that what the big audience wants is not new tings or talent. KLF had a free version online because of there philosophies on capitalism....

 
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