While it seems like a modern phenomenon , there has always been a murky “bottom” in the low-end of the media music industry. Scoring bargain-basement media projects has been around since there has been media to score.
As a result, there have always been composers working for little or nothing upfront while toiling on an almost endless sea of Z-level film cheapies, public access television, local radio spots, knock-off games and a sea of ultra-lower-end stuff.
(Additionally, the history of composers competing with tracked and/or library music also dates back to the beginning of sound movies.)
Thousands of composers around the globe have been struggling for to get their foot in the door, build careers and pay rent by writing music for cheap-o media since the beginning of radio, talking pictures, the dawn of television, direct-to-VHS tapes, and 8-bit video. That universe has now expanded into YouTube videos, podcasts, phone apps and more.
While working on lower-end product can potentially be a place to carve one’s teeth, gain experience and build relationships, it is also a REALLY tall order to try to pull that off AND to also make a living in those shallow waters.
That is a reality now. And it has always been.
While I would personally love all composers to make decent livings from composing, historically, expecting that to occur in the basement of tiny productions has never been a reality.
Because of that, if one wants to discuss the compensation of composers on ultra-low-budget faire, it really helps to start within a historic context.