Being a composer’s assistant is one possible path you can take early in your career in order to become a successful composer down the line. Many of the top composers today have begun their careers as assistants to a senior composer. It’s the old “guild” system of craftsmen where the craftsmanship is passed on from the older generation to the younger generation via apprenticing and learning on the job. However, keep in mind that this “apprentice” path does not automatically guarantee upward mobility or career. You could get stuck as an assistant or additional composer for a decade. This is a topic for another blog – Patterns of Cultivating a Career.
When you are working as a Composer Assistant or Score Technical Assistant, your job is to make the life of your composer boss easier. It’s not an easy job. Assistants work endless, grueling hours and nights. Your ability to focus, pace yourself, be in optimal health, and not get burned is paramount. To become a Composer’s Assistant, you must possess a package of qualities that busy professionals seek. This package includes exceptional character, personality, can-do attitude (in the first place), and then, fantastic skills in various areas of music and technology.
You must be someone who is reliable and will not flake out under extreme pressure, as there is always extreme pressure in our business. You must have passion, dedication, and commitment to whatever the task is. The composer’s career is on the line, the stakes are always extremely high. There are always tight deadlines, temperamental producers and tons of money on the line. Composers are always spending someone else’s money. There are creative problems to be solved, budgetary problems to be solved, new picture cuts, revisions, shifting deadlines, chaos, stress, and an endless list of technical tasks to be done by the assistant. You should be able to think on your feet, yet able to follow direction.
In this business, you will work with trade secrets and proprietary materials, so being trustworthy is a must. Your boss must trust that you will respect the Non-Disclosure Agreement they are legally bound by. Lastly, you must be honest, humble, and hard working.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROLE
Make sure to respect the ranks and know your place – schmoozing your boss’ supervisors and approaching them behind his back for your own composer’s agenda is the surest way to get fired on the spot! As is: not showing up after making a commitment, losing a hard drive with data, not setting up a recording session properly, not backing up data religiously, arguing with your boss (the boss is always right!), leaking NDA information on Social Media, and other similar acts of breach of trust and lack of supreme professionalism and technical savvy.
Working as a composer’s assistant requires you to possess many different technical and professional skills. Your music production skills must be top notch because you will be asked to do a variety of tasks, such as mock-ups, synth programming, orchestration, notation, take-downs (transcriptions), etc. All composers delegate menial tech tasks to their assistants so they can focus on being creative and on their relationships with the director and studio. The composer’s mind must be free of technical problems, To-Do lists, score production minutiae and “noise” so it’s fully focused instead on creativity, revisions, deliverables, pleasing the director & studio and watching his back like a hawk for studio politics and curveballs.
So you, as his/her Score Technical Assistant must be fluent in every aspect of technology and be able to carry the daily load of grunt work – all technical and workflow tasks (sequencing, fleshing out the mock-ups for presentations, setting up files, editing files after endless new picture cuts and picture changes, backing up data, installing new sample libraries, dubbing music cues to picture for playback meetings with the director, and never-ending similar tech tasks).
You must also have a well-developed ear and well-rounded musicality. The more talented, musically sophisticated and skilled you are, the more valuable and indispensible you would be to your boss. They will throw at you ANY and EVERY task in testing the limits of your knowledge and skills. Where you fail, the task will instantly be given to someone else to do.
To be a great assistant, develop excellent problem-solving skills. Be resourceful, flexible, and accommodating. And finally, have an insatiable desire to learn, grow, and acquire new musical skills daily. Listen to one soundtrack CD every day, so that when your boss mentions a score, or style, or specific reference, you will know what they are talking about.
HOW TO GET HIRED
90% of the good hires happen via internal connections and referrals. If you have no direct connection with the composer, you will need to be vetted in by a colleague, organization, teacher, or any other referral.
When applying to become a composer’s assistant, keep these questions in mind:
Am I proficient in technology?
Am I a team player?
How refined are my collaborative and people skills?
Am I reliable and professional?
Am I self-motivated, organized, and super-attentive to detail?
Am I enterprising, curious, and willing to go outside my comfort zone?
Do I have an insatiable desire to learn?
Am I talented and committed to continuous development of my talent and skills?
Can I handle stress, put out fires, and roll with the punches with a smile on my face and never-ending sense of humor?
Am I defensive and insecure, or am I able to turn everything into a positive, learning experience, no matter how harsh it may feel at the time?
If you answer “yes” to all of these questions, you will have a long and successful career in entertainment and media scoring.