11 Tips to Get Into Film Scoring That Actually Work

thomas leypoldt, editor of Andyax Music

The other day, I was asked by a fellow musician how I got to score feature films, documentaries, and video games. I realized that I couldn’t reply with one definite answer. It was, in fact, a combination of a lot of different things that led me into my first film scoring job. 

When trying to make it as a film composer, you will quickly realize that there are quite a few other people who are trying to do the same. 

But there is an even bigger problem.

Most directors, producers (or whoever is in charge of hiring the composer) are looking for experience. But what if you don’t have any experience? 

So, I have compiled a helpful list, based on my years in the film industry, which hopefully will give you some motivation and insight on your film scoring path. 

In this post, we will get into how you can get started with film scoring. I will provide a couple of solutions for you, either if you are struggling to obtain experience in the first place or if you are unsure of where to even begin, and how you can grow your presence online in order to stand out of the crowd.

These are my top 11 tips for getting started with a film scoring career:

  1. Create a Showreel and a Composer CV
  2. Keep up with the Latest Trends
  3. Build an Online Presence 
  4. …But Don’t Forget Face-to-Face Meetings
  5. Learn to do Realistic Orchestral mock-ups
  6. Reach out to Other People in the Industry 
  7. Learn Other People’s Jobs
  8. Don’t Limit Yourself to Movies
  9. Find a Mentor
  10. Consider Formal Education
  11. See Things Through

So, let’s have an in-depth look at them, shall we?

Create a Showreel and a Composer CV

No doubt, having your credentials ready at every opportunity could drastically boost your chances of being seen (or heard, for that matter). Most people would take you even more seriously if you could provide a composer CV (and a composer reel) after you have introduced yourself and your work.

You might think that you haven’t done any significant work yet, or that the work you have done is not enough to put on a composer CV, but this is the same for everyone that starts out with film scoring. In the beginning, you will have to put on mostly student shorts – and that is okay.

So, what could you do to get more professional projects on your composer CV?

Get to work. Say yes to basically all kinds of projects, and don’t be afraid to connect with people. You will get more tips on this further in this article.

How could a composer showreel look?
Ideally, if you have access and permission to use a video clip from a scene that you’ve scored, I would always focus on using moving images. If you for some reason can’t use video in your showreel, a still image from the projects you showcase would also be acceptable.

After all, you having a composer reel with your best work is more important than not having a reel at all.

How do I write a composer CV?
A composer CV should be easy to navigate for the reader, with your work in chronologic order. Include a picture of yourself, your education, a short bio etc.

I have put together a professional-looking composer CV for you. Just click the image to read more about the free template.

Keep up with the Latest Trends 

Chances are, that since you are reading this and considering becoming a film composer – that you are a huge movie buff as well. 

…and that would be the ultimate dream, right? To combine your passion for film and your passion for music? 

Just like a scriptwriter needs to watch tons of movies to pick up new storytelling techniques and the latest trends, a film composer should also do this. 

Directors will undoubtedly ask you to compose music very similar to something they have heard somewhere else. 

There is no way around that. They have their preferences, and you as the composer must be able to give them what they want. 

So, get to it and watch some movies! You need to practice the sound that is popular right now. 

In addition, you need to make your music available for the whole world to listen, which brings me to the next step. 

Build an Online Presence 

First of all – create a website with your portfolio on it.

People will eventually google your name, whether it is because you have messaged them, or if you are getting more recognition. Then you should be searchable in google, don’t you agree?

Having an official, easy to navigate, professional looking website would make decisions easier for a director or a producer to hire you.

It does not need to cost you a great deal of money to have this done either. I will write an in-depth tutorial about this eventually.

Today, you can actually show off your skills to the whole world. And the number of different social media out there can make it hard to know what exactly to do.

You don’t need to be on every social media.

The one social media I would focus on is YouTube. 

Here is why: On our YouTube channel Andyax, we publish informative content on both film and music, and with around 300.000 subscribers, it sends a great signal to other people (and even companies) that we have competence in our fields. 

So, if you want to start a YouTube channel, make sure your competence as a film composer will show through. 

Here is how I would do it:

  1. Create a YouTube channel
  2. Get a nice, professional logo and channel art (either do it yourself or visit places like upwork or fiver)
  3. Develop a list of potential videos. If you play piano, guitar or any other instrument for that matter, make sure you get some cover songs in the mix. 
  4. Record and publish the cover songs that are trending right now. For example, when the popularity of Game of Thrones was at its highest, a lot of piano covers from the series hit millions of views on YouTube.
  5. When you have established your channel and built a subscriber base, publish your own compositions. 

In order to get the maximum out of YouTube, you need to publish videos consistently – at least once a week.

On YouTube, you will be able to display your competence, and if someone is considering to hire you, they do not have to think long and hard to make a decision if you have something to show them.

…But Don’t Forget Face-to-Face Meetings

The best way to make a lasting impression on people is to get them to know you in person.

So, when you contact directors regarding scoring their movie, make sure you ask for a meeting.

After all, there are so many things the director doesn’t know about you, which he or she is more likely to find out if they meet you in person:

  • How fast do you work?
  • What is your personality like?
  • Will you fit the team?
  • Are you a good team player?
  • What is your background? 
  • What do you think about the story, and do we like the same movies?
  • Did you really create the music you sent me?
  • How are you with deadlines?
  • Can you create a cue based on my thoughts on a specific scene?

They might not find out everything about you in just that one meeting, but they will definitely be more comfortable making a decision that could be in your favor. 

Also, just like with friendships and dating, chemistry is really the key. If you and the director have good chemistry, you are golden.

Learn to do Realistic Orchestral Mock-ups

In film music, you will sooner or later be working with other instrumentalists, so learning to put together a realistic orchestral mockup in your DAW is key. 

Even though they are most often used as temporary scores, a reference for the director and musicians, the mock-ups could – depending on a movie’s budget – even be ending up in the final cut. 

Then you need to be able to understand how an orchestra is put together and how each instrument in an orchestra behaves. 

In most cases, the violins are on your left side, while the cellos and double basses are on your right.

A quick tip: listen carefully to how your personal film composer heroes have set up their orchestra, and try to emulate their positioning. 

But I actually mean realistic in two very different ways. And you need to focus on both ways.

This is the second way: when you are working on a movie, make sure that you calculate what is realistically possible to pull off. 

If you present the director with full-sized orchestra mock-up, be aware that this will drastically increase the costs of renting both a music studio that is large enough, as well as the amount of instrumentalist needed. 

Here are some questions I want you to ask yourself when creating orchestral mock-ups.

  • How do I make my orchestra mock-up sound real?
  • What are the limitations of different instruments?
  • Can a cellist really play in the fast tempo I’ve written?
  • Is the amount of instrumentalists okay, when I think of the budget of the movie?

Making sure you know how to create realistic orchestral mock-ups is key, and is a very clever thing to practice now, before you suddenly get your dream job.

Reach out to Other People in the Film Industry 

This is how I personally got into film scoring myself.

I messaged the director of the first feature film I scored on LinkedIn.  The director replied that he was in talks with this Belgian film composer, but he had checked out my music, and really liked what he heard. 

Turns out, I got the job. 

And I was finally out of the “you need to have the experience to get experience”- wheel. 

Even though reaching out to people you don’t know can be scary, you have to do it. Expanding your network is crucial in order to get jobs as a film composer. 

I have got scoring jobs through all sorts of social media channels. A friend of mine recommended my work to a video game company, that led me into scoring my first video game.

I got my first feature film scoring job through LinkedIn.

…and I got to create music to a couple of commercials through my email attempts.

Even though that sound designer you met through a friend is not directly involved in hiring film composers, he might end up recommending you to someone who is responsible for it.

The best channels for contacting people;

  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • Release parties
  • Phone
  • Through a friend

In the next step, I reveal what I think you should do in order to maximize the possibility of being recommended.

PS: I could have sent a ton of private messages across all social media without getting as much as a single response if it wasn’t for me having something to show for. So, remember your showreel and CV!

Learn Other People’s Jobs

When I was hired as the film composer on my debut feature film, I was working all alone. You see, that movie was as low budget as you can get. 

Sending the director a simple direct message with an attached YouTube link to my work was enough to do the trick.

On movies with higher budgets however, you may expect to be working closely with other staff, like the music editor, the scoring mixer, the instrumentalists and the copyist.

And the entrance barrier is higher as well.

I have found learning how to write scripts, practicing several instruments, operating cameras, acting and working with sound extremely helpful to not only understand their language – it also gives you the tools the be able to help those around you to do their best.

After all, the people you work with are actually working towards you getting the best results possible. I think it’s only fair that you help their results as well.

There are several benefits of learning other people’s jobs:

  • You will be able to talk their language. Don’t expect a director to talk music theory with you. He will most likely be thinking of an Am chord as “that sad chord” or something. 
  • You will understand what they do and can even come with valuable input on a scene. Which again strengthens your competence in the eyes of the ones you work with. 
  • People like to work with – and want to help people they like. In other words, this might prove to be helpful when trying to get more jobs.

This is why I also write about all kinds of different roles in the film and the music industry. In this article, you can learn and understand what a music editor does, if you are interested.

Don’t Limit Yourself

When I started out, there was only one thing on my mind. I wanted to compose music to movies. Nothing else. Only movies. 

Ouch. I quickly realized that this is more of a dream state than anything else. You will need to say yes and take on other scoring jobs.

I remember I read somewhere that even the most ambitious aspiring film composer might just as well end up doing only animated family movies.

Like it was a bad thing.

Do you know what the best projects I have ever worked on were? Let me give you a hint: it was not the feature film.

It was a video game and a documentary about Mount Everest. They paid really well, and the people I worked with were brilliant. 

Plus, I got so much creative freedom on those projects. That is why I mostly will prioritise doing corporate videos, documentaries and video games.

So even though you may dream of becoming the next Hans Zimmer, John Williams or Alan Silvestri, remember that they too have done a lot of different things.

There are lots of other fun areas that will earn you a decent income of composing music to media:

  • Infomercials
  • Commercials
  • corporate videos
  • Documentaries
  • video games
  • YouTube videos

In addition, you can upload your music to stock music sites like Epidemic Sound to earn some extra income.

But most importantly, by doing a lot of different things, you show potential directors and producers that you are able to master various projects of different sizes. 

Find a Mentor

This is probably your best and fastest way into scoring a feature film.

Do your research, and try to find out if there are established film composers in your area. 

If you can, try to apply for becoming a composer’s assistant. Many will agree that this is the best education you will get. 

You will be there, see everything, learn new things, without having the responsibility that the composer has. 

In addition, the composer can recommend you to his network of directors and producers and let you take on projects he or she doesn’t have the time to do themselves.

How I would do this:
1. I would contact the composer on LinkedIn. That is what I did when I got to be mentored by established Norwegian composer Henrik Skram.

2. Let them know that you intend to send them an email as well a couple of days later, to follow-up on your query. In case they are not spending too much time on LinkedIn.

3. Ask (politely) for a meeting, without pushing too much of your music in the very first mail. Ask if he or she wants to listen to some of your work and respect their answer, regardless of what they respond.

Remember: if you manage to get a meeting, your chances of success have drastically increased.

Consider a Formal Education

We can’t deny that having a formal music education will help you massively on your way to becoming a film composer. 

In addition to learning about film scoring from very competent teachers, you will get to know people who might influence your career going forward: teachers, fellow students, and guest teachers. 

Ramin Djawadi, which you surely have heard on Game of Thrones, Westworld and a lot more, was actually noticed by Hans Zimmer right after he graduated Berklee College of Music.

So, education is definitely a way to increase your chances of getting into the film industry.

For your information: I studied Creative Industries at BI Norwegian Business School, so you don’t necessarily need a degree in film scoring per se.  

But you should absolutely consider educating yourself within a niche or field in which allows you to grow your network in the right industry.

See Things Through

At the end of the day, it is all about your ability to see things through that eventually will land you the dream job.

You need to be able to create quite a huge amount of music on every scoring project you get your hands on.

You also need to create a lot of music which you should publish on YouTube. Again, showing directors and producers that you are capable of producing lots of music is a good thing.

For example, on the TV documentary, Everest – The Dream, I created one and a half hours worth of music. In a 40 minute documentary or something.

In other words, a lot of the tracks never even made the final cut.

But that is one of the most sought-after qualities in every successful person. They have the ability to see things through, which means that when they start on something, you can be sure that they will finish it as well.

Key Takeaway

I’ve read so many weird things about this topic online. The most common thing I see is that they all write like you have got the gig already. I think it’s safe to say that most of us wonder how the heck you can get that job in the first place.

Another thing I have both read, heard and experienced, is people telling you that “this is the only way to become a film composer,” when the truth is that there is no single, correct answer to this question.

This post was hopefully of help to you who have struggled to even get your hands on an actual film scoring job.

Now you know what to do. Use these tips as a guide for how you should approach film scoring going forward.

Oh, and by the way! If you want to have a complete, simple introduction to building a music studio, you should definitely download my pretty awesome free infographic checklist on how to put together a music studio. In there, you will find a list of free stuff to improve your film scoring setup.

Bonus tip

Oh, and always remember: in order to get good at anything, you must practice. But just like a weightlifter needs variation in both training and diet, it is equally important that you practice the right way and plan ahead to maximize your results.

Here is an example of a “Film Composer Work Week:

  • Try to re-score scenes from well-known movies on Monday and Thursday
  • Practice business meetings on Wednesday
  • Practice spotting sessions on Wednesday 
  • Research different film scoring techniques on Friday. For example, focus on tempo variations one week and orchestration the other week.
  • Watch info videos on Cubase, on Tuesday
  • Read books on film scoring and stay updated (general task).

That way, you will experience how it’s like to already work as film composers do. And you will be prepared and ready for tackling a real-life project.

Just make sure you make a continuous effort to learn new things and stay updated.

Suggested Further Reading:

How to make MIDI strings sound realistic

13 ways to make money as a musician

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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