“How do I become a composer?” is a question that is often sent to me by young people who would like to make a living at creating music. I am honored that these aspiring composers look to me for advice, but there is no easy answer to this question. There are no magical shortcuts to achieving success as a composer.
So let’s begin at the very beginning: Study the basics of music in school. Regardless of the instrument(s) you play, the more you play, the more you will understand and appreciate the complexity of musical composition.
And know that there is a good reason why your teachers select a number of very old, classical compositions for your school band or orchestra to perform, along with the occasional fun, contemporary themes from a Disney movie or a video game. The creators of those movie and game themes learned from the “old masters,” too.
For music students, aspiring composers, or for anyone who enjoys film scores, I highly recommend CDs from the Varese Sarabande catalog:
Varese Sarabande is a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in film and TV scores and soundtracks. I had the great fortune of working with record producer Robert Townson, the fearless leader of Varese Sarabande, when his label released my “MechWarrior 4: Vengeance” video game soundtrack in the year 2000.
And I’ve listened to, and learned from, many of Varese Sarabande’s compilation CDs saluting great film composers. Just yesterday, in fact, I listened to “Themes from ‘The Phantom Menace’ and Other Film Hits,” a Varese Sarabande release from 1999.
The liner notes for this CD, written by Paul Tonks, explained that the summer of 1999 was epic at the box office, thanks to a number of blockbuster films that remain popular to this day.
The CD opens with music written by John Williams for “Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace.” It also features memorable compositions from “The Mummy” (Jerry Goldsmith), “The Wild, Wild West” (Elmer Bernstein), “The Matrix” (Don Davis), “The Sixth Sense” (James Newton Howard) and more.
Tonks concluded in his liner notes, “It’s intriguing to note that at the dawn of the new millennium, even Hollywood realizes that what’s new is not necessarily better and what’s young is not necessarily fresh.”
He went on to say that a “triumvirate of veteran composers” (Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) were responsible for a bumper crop of the best-known movie themes over a course of several decades.
An up-and-coming composer might view such comments as discouraging: “If the same old guys score all the films, where is there room for me in this business?” But stubbornness and a passion to create new music will help you to push past those obstacles and to make your mark as a musician or composer.
Here’s an interesting article about Robert Townson and his role at Varese Sarabande:
And if your budget prevents you from purchasing CDs of film and TV soundtracks, check to see what’s available at your local public library. Most have excellent collections of music CDs that you can borrow and use for inspiration.