Two personal stories of composing for free: a parable full of survivorship bias, other buckets, and Maslow’s pyramid, but maybe useful anyway

A few years ago, I was composing a lot for music libraries. The pay was all deferred. I worked hard, made a lot of music, saw my cues on TV. When I got my ASCAP checks, (more than a year after composing the cues), they very small, compared to the amount of time I put in. I felt ripped-off and unhappy. I know that several fine members of Perspective make good livings composing for libraries. I didn’t, and wasn’t having enough success or fun to keep going down the library path. There were some other great buckets I got out of it, though. I made some great friends, was motivated to make my studio more professional, became a far better composer, and joined the Television Academy because I had enough minutes of music on TV.

When I joined the Academy, I met a producer and scored his feature for free. I had a lot of fun, met a ton of directors, saw the award-winning (yes) film in a real theater at the Burbank Film Fest. I scored some shorts for free, too. And then people started to pay me to score their films. I felt satisfied, creative, appreciated. Thanks to RK, I started to see myself as an entrepreneur, instead of an employee. This is working for me (yay!), and I want to keep going down this path in 2018.

The thing I get from RK about working for free is this: if you’re getting something out of it–a stepping stone–it’s the right thing to do. It has everything to do with your mindset. It’s a gamble. If you score a student film for free, you’re gambling that you’re going to get something worthwhile out of it.

Last thing: personally, I only gamble when I’ve got the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid covered.