composing jobs

The Quickest Way to get Fired

Nobody wants to get fired. Hey – it can sometimes be hard enough to land that gig in the first place. At ThinkSpace Education, we understand how important it is that composers and sound designers get more business savvy, which is why we decided to shed some light on how not to get yourself fired.

How to stop yourself from getting fired…

Basically, it all boils down to this: if a composer is asked to do something or to change an aspect of their music and they fail to do so—surprise, surprise, there is every chance that the director will not be happy. If they have to ask you twice, it is very unlikely they’ll ask you a third time.

Composers and film directors are not on the same level. You work for the film direction, film producer and the film company. The truth of the matter is it is not an equal relationship. You have to work inside the film director’s creative bubble. It is their project, their vision, and your vision has to fit within that ethos.

If it doesn’t then the director may well choose to part company with the composer and find somebody else to do the work. Many film schools will put directors and composers together. In the context of film studies, they are very much two artistic, independent people who work together. It is a spirit of collaboration and in the real commercial world that is something which everybody aspires to.

Directors love working with the composers who understand them and vice-versa. The very best experience is when you have a true collaboration and people spark ideas off each other. However, it is important at all times to remember that the production company employs you. You do not employ them. If they are not happy, they will fire you.

This happens more often than not, is when they ask you to change something. You then either argue the toss or you do not fully implement the note. They ask you again. You still don’t do it, and then they get rid of you.

Another common scenario is the composer is engaged and fails fully to embrace the modernity of the project. The composer misses the mark and the production feels it won’t help, so they offload the composer.

Note: It’s not always the composer’s fault when the composer gets fired.

What frequently happens is a film is shot and the music gets written. It’s all edited. They present the film to a focus group or a test audience and it goes exceptionally bad. At this point, there is very little they can do to change the film. More often than not, they can’t re-shoot great chunks of it, however they can afford to re-edit and the easiest way to alter the whole direction of the film is to change the music.

Even if the first composer had done nothing wrong and had done exactly what the director wanted him or her to do, there’s every chance that the composer will be the first one up the steps to the guillotine when things go badly. Then, a different composer is brought in, comes up with a completely different slant and makes things more exciting, funnier, more moving, more whatever that was lacking, and then with any luck this will save the day and the composer can obtain some credit having rescued this film from oblivion and financial loss.

Composers are getting fired more often than they used to. It appears that production companies are taking composers slightly for granted and therefore think slightly less of firing their composer mid-way through a project, not always for good creative reasons. More often than not, composers are standing their ground and arguing the toss. Most production companies, even though they’re very nice to you, expect you to do exactly what they say.

If you get a gig, the best way to get more work is to do the first job extremely well and to stay best friends with the producers and the director. Hopefully, they will ask you back to do their next project. However, if you part your project on bad terms, then you’ve lost a major source of income. It is so much easier to get work from somebody you already know than to constantly be trying to get work from new people. Looking after your existing clients is a very, very important thing to do.

Sometimes, there can be much more complicated situations where there will be a conflict of opinion between multiple co-producers. Many big television and film productions are made by several companies often in different countries coming together, and they often will have very different views of what should be the direction of the score. If they fail to agree, it can put the composer in an almost impossible position.

What you really want is a strong central producer who effectively directs traffic and is able to negotiate with the different stakeholders to come up with an agreed path forward. If this fails and you have two production companies or two creative interested parties asking for different things, it is almost impossible for the composer to do a good job.

Often the only way through that is to produce something which is so wishy-washy vanilla and insipid that nobody can possibly be offended by it. Equally, that is definitely not in the best interest of the film as a whole.

One other problem which sometimes crops up is directors feel very strongly about something but don’t always express it in those terms. It might be easy to think that they have a mild preference for, for example, a slightly more contemporary sound. When they say, “wouldn’t it be nice if it had a slightly more 2017 sound about it?”, they really mean “let’s make this more contemporary.”

If you fail to do that, then suddenly the tone of the conversation can shift very quickly. This can be a problem is you are both conversing via email, because there is as we all know no tone of voice in emails and it sometimes means you have to read in-between the lines. Since you can’t always tell how passionately they feel about something, it is always worth clarifying anything you are uncertain about in a phone call to the director or producer.

If you can visit them you should, as often they will be more straightforward and honest with you face to face. Failing that, Skype or a telephone call will certainly suffice.

Increasingly, composers who work remotely from producers and directors will find these kind of communication issues and they will crop up more and more frequently. Unfortunately, the outcome is that the composer gets fired from the project.

Once you have a gig, you have to do everything you can to make sure that your client is not just satisfied but actually delighted with your work, because you want them to come back to you again for another job in the future. If you are interested in learning more about how to handle your your work like a business, take a look at our range of premium courses in film, TV and games scoring.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

P.S. If you’re a newbie to the world of film composing, why not download your FREE guide on how to write film music? Grab it here.

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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