A producer at a major Advertising firm once taught me a lesson about composing for ads.
I had dropped by to give her a demo tape of my music, in the hope I might get some jingles from her. Trying to be clever, I provided a smorgasbord of different styles and genres on the tape, showing my broad range. She escorted me to corner of the office, where she stored all the demo tapes she receives from composers. She pointed at various tapes and indicated that one was reggae, one was acoustic guitar, and another was orchestral. She explained that when discussing with her clients the creative side of producing their TV commercials, they will reach for the composer that specialises in the type of music they want. They would never reach for the clever “all styles” guy. That was the early nineties, and it seems that this is how successful composers worked. They found a niche.
However, these days I personally think that this idea of specialising no longer works on it’s own. By all means, try and forge a reputation in a certain genre, but don’t restrict yourself either!
Running a small studio and producing music for a living has it’s challenges. This industry is not seasonal, predictable nor dependable. The way I continue to stay busy is by diversifying. Providing recording and audio-editing services alongside my music production helps to fill in the gaps between larger projects.
I suppose in other parts of the world it may be possible to specialise in a specific area, like musical genre or engineering style. This would also have to depend on your level of skill, reputation and exposure.
But here in Australia, specialising is not really possible, nor would it necessarily be a good idea.
Much like our film industry here, those of us in the biz take on multiple roles in order to make the dollar stretch. Music composers and producers are usually expected to also record and mix, score and copy, orchestrate and coordinate the orchestras and recording sessions. In Hollywood a film score production like this would be coordinated by 15 people or more.
I’m not bragging by the way, nor am I complaining. I don’t pretend to be as good an orchestrator as somebody who specialises in that field, nor as efficient at a mixing console as a seasoned engineer. But through necessity, I’ve become proficient enough in these areas to be able to deliver a product within the modest budget that comes with most Australian productions.
That said, I often wonder how it might feel to be charged with the single task of composing a piece of music, leaving the technicalities up to others, and focussing solely on the notes and expression. Ahhhhh bliss!
Alas this is not a reality at this point in time for me, and for most other producers I know in Australia. We need to be “Jacks of Many Trades”. Does it affect the quality of our work? I think yes, but it also enables us to work.