The Other Side Of The Fence

This advice will help you retain those hard won clients and make sure you don’t get fired!

I have recently been hiring an illustrator for an educational project and it has turned out to be a major revelation – not about illustrators, but about what it is like to commission a composer. Sitting here, trying to explain what I want to the designer is exactly what my clients go through commissioning me to write music for them. Only by sitting on the other side of the table for a change to do I really understand the full horror of where they are coming from.

So what have I learnt? Most clients don’t really know what they want. They give you a brief which is most accurate in outlining what they don’t want and less accurate in spelling out what they do. It’s a bit like going out to dinner and telling your host in advance “I don’t eat fish” – that helps and I have clients who hate certain instruments and styles of music. Listen to that – that isn’t going to change however clever you are. On the other hand, what they want? That’s much harder and most clients are half hoping that you – the creative person – has some blinding moment of inspiration that brings something fresh and exciting to the project. That’s what they’re paying for.

Examples? Yup all the illustrators ask for examples of what I had in mind and I could do that, to an extent, but I didn’t want slavish adherence to that. I want them to take certain aspects of the example but not the whole thing. So examples are very useful and a starting point but not as a model to be copied.

Responding to notes. The killer for me has been asking designers to make changes. We all hate making changes to our work and nobody likes doing notes but it is vital you do them whole-heartedly and cheerfully. Some people do it well and others just stick to Plan A with some minor tweaks. Not implementing notes very effectively and sticking to your comfort zone is the quickest route to getting fired. To work with a fellow creative individual you have to appreciate where you are in the food chain. If they’re paying you, then you give them what they ask for.

It takes a lot to find a new client but that client is your best shot at continuing work. Most composers build careers on regular clients and their recommendations. Think Spielberg and Williams, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman and many others. Forming and keeping that relationship alive is dependent largely on your ability to understand their needs, and to evolve and grow creatively with them. So before you pull your hair out and start giving the client a hard time, put yourself in their position and imagine what it’s like to sit on their side of the table.

About the Author
Guy Michelmore

Guy Michelmore

Course Director Guy Michelmore is an award winning film composer. He has scored over 8 animated films for Marvel and over 200 episodes of TV for networks all over the world. He also has a detailed knowledge of sampled orchestration and contemporary techniques in film scoring.

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