“It’s not the sort of thing you’d do as a hobby”

AN UNLIKELY STORY

In a parallel dimension, somewhere in east London…

My mate John’s a builder. He loves it. I mean, I like DIY, but he does it for a living. Imagine that! Doing what you love for a living!

Every time John’s asked to build a house, he builds an entire wall for free.  He renders it, he paints it. Sometimes he has to get his mate Bob in to help, and he has to pay Bob the going rate out of his own pocket.  Usually it takes him a couple of days, sometimes more.

Then three other builders build, render and paint the other three walls.  Also for free.

At the end of the month, the woman whose house it’s going to be decides which wall she likes the best. Sometimes it’s just based on which builder she knows already, or the fact that John happened to choose her favourite colour paint. There’s a degree of luck involved. The brief’s often so open that it’s anyone’s guess what’s required.

If the client doesn’t choose John – which three out of four times they don’t – he goes home, out of work, and out of pocket.  And the next day he starts building, rendering, and painting another wall for another house.  Sometimes half a dozen times a month.

It can cost John hundreds of pounds for every free wall he builds.  But, come on, he blimmin LOVES building!  You could hardly call it a job, right?

A TRUE STORY

I’m a TV composer.  I love it.  I mean, my mate John likes writing songs, but I do it for a living.  Imagine that!  Doing what you love for a living!

Every time I’m asked to pitch for a TV show, I compose an entire TV theme – sometimes stings, beds, extra songs – for free.  I record it, I mix it.  Sometimes I have to get a professional instrumentalist or vocalist in to help, and I have to pay them the going rate out of my own pocket.  Usually it takes me a couple of days, sometimes more.

Then three (or more) other composers compose, record and mix their own pitches.  Also for free.

At the end of the month, the person whose programme it’s going to be decides which pitch they like the best.  Sometimes it’s just based on who they know already, or the fact that I happened to reference their favourite track.  There’s a degree of luck involved.  The brief’s often so open that it’s anyone’s guess what’s required.

If the client doesn’t choose me – which three out of four times they don’t – I go back to the studio, out of work, and out of pocket.  And the next day I start composing, recording, mixing another pitch for another show.  Sometimes half a dozen times a month.

It can cost me hundreds of pounds for every pitch I write.  But come on, I blimmin LOVE music!  You could hardly call it a job, right?

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I’ve been doing this job for over ten years, and there’s never been any payment for any pitch requested – not even to cover expenses.

Us composers are very lucky to be doing a job we are passionate about; a job that many others do as a hobby, for free.  I’m not asking for sympathy.  I’m asking for an understanding – a realization – that it is unreasonable to ask any professional in any field to do their job for many days a month without pay – or even worse, at a loss.

Composers strive to deliver the best possible sounding music in a world of shrinking budgets and deadlines.  It’s not for the faint-hearted.  It’s not a walk in the park.  It’s not the sort of thing you’d do as a hobby.

It’s work – not play.