Film Scoring and Movie Music
Writing songs and music for movies can be a good living. If you manage to do it without ever seeing the words “work for hire” in your contract, it can be a
Music written especially for a movie is called the “score.” Though scores are mostly comprised of background music to accentuate the moods of different scenes, sometimes the theme song (which usually plays under the credits) is part of the score. Every now and then a score, or the theme from a score, will become a hit, as happened for John Williams when his theme for
Theaters in the United States don't pay performance royalties, so scoring work pays fairly well up front to compensate. An established film composer working for a major studio may earn in excess of half a million dollars per film. A new writer working for an independent studio might make 5 percent of that, but it beats a kick in the head. Most scoring jobs for major studios pay at least $100,000.
Film scoring used to be dominated by classically trained composers with theory and composition degrees. These days, a decked-out MIDI-studio can be enough to score a movie and then, if live musicians are needed, an orchestrator writes out the parts for the musicians.
Extra cash can be made if you can orchestrate, conduct the musicians, and produce the recording, so a degree and/or practical experience in these areas still comes in handy. As a scorer, you only get mechanicals on the soundtrack record if you negotiate for them. There are lots of other deal points and tricks to watch for. If you go into scoring, find an attorney who specializes in this kind of deal.How to Win Without Scoring
When it comes to writing a song for a particular movie, you'll usually get an up-front fee of anywhere from zilch (for those starting out) to over $50,000 (for big-name writers). Although you don't get performance royalties from U.S. theaters, you will get them from European theaters and TV use. Also, you can usually negotiate for about the same sheet music royalty you'd get from a publisher. Some studios, for obvious reasons, prefer to do a spec deal in which they pay a small fee for a demo of the song, then decide if they like it before paying more. In most cases, the main fee you are paid is a “buyout”; the movie studio owns the copyright.
Unlike a publishing deal, where you may be expected to pay for half of demo recording costs, or a record deal, where recording costs are recoupable, the movie studio should pay for all recording costs, including studio time, musicians, mixing, and mastering. If you do any work on the recording, you should get paid extra.