Thanks ASCAP, But Do We Really Need More Concert Composers Competing For Films?

By • December 11, 2009

ASCAP’s latest PR event “Why Concert Composers Should Write For Film”, a seminar featuring concert and film composer Paul Chihara, urges concert composers to become film composers. As if there aren’t enough issues with existing, experienced film composers trying to scratch out a living in a marketplace completely over-saturated with actual film composers not to mention songwriters and others calling themselves “composers”, the last thing we need is the organization that we pay to collect and pay us our royalties to be encouraging more people from other musical areas to become film composers when the marketplace for existing film composers is in such bad shape.

First, they encourage songwriters to “become” composers, and now it’s concert composers. This, from the organization that values a one-minute score cue in television or film at only 20% of what a one-minute song cue is paid. Thanks, ASCAP – it’s bad enough that you and your ruling songwriter cabal devalue our music, but now you want to encourage more people from other musical areas to enter the disastrously overcrowded film composer marketplace? I wonder how Paul Chihara and his concert composer colleagues would react if the massive numbers of unemployed and under-employed film composers decided to enter the concert music marketplace and compete for the limited number of grants and giveaways that fund those projects!

I don’t want to sound like a protectionist here, and don’t want to overlook the benefit of more orchestrally-trained composers existing in a marketplace where formal instrumental writing skills, and even being able to read music, have ceased to be requirements for being a film composer (even an A-list composer!), but there are some simple economics to be considered that affect every film composer working or trying to work today.

Simply put, we already have too many people competing as composers in this marketplace, and libraries continue to eat up an increasing portion of the instrumental score market. Colleges are dumping hundreds of film scoring graduates every year into a marketplace where most don’t stand a chance of earning a decent full-time living from film scoring for many years, a fact that often comes as a big shock to the graduates after they arrive in Los Angeles full of composing skills and student loans but utterly lacking in real-world “finding work” skills and unaware of the terrible condition of the marketplace for composers today – something I hold the music schools directly responsible for.

Economics dictates that whenever there is an oversupply (more suppliers than jobs or demand for product), prices will fall, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen over the last 15 years or so. Composer fees have dropped substantially, licensing fees are zero in many cases thanks to libraries dumping thousands of free tracks onto the marketplace, and score composers are having serious issues surviving, not to mention trying to make a decent living as a composer. And with ASCAP”s massive devaluation of score music, it only makes things that more difficult for score composers and their families to survive.

Here’s a message for the good folks at ASCAP, including new President (songwriter) Paul Williams and our score composer board members Doug Wood, Bruce Broughton, Dan Foliart and Richard Bellis: If you want to encourage more musicians from other areas to compete with film composers with events like this, fine, but at least stop devaluing score music and reform the weighting formula so music is paid based on usage, not on whether it’s a song or not. A one-minute background vocal cue on television or in film should be paid the same as a one-minute background instrumental (score) cue – it’s the same usage – background – so the pay should be the same. Is that simple, fair concept so difficult for you folks to understand and implement?

And will ASCAP’s current financial penalties in the royalty payment formulas aimed at score composers be featured, or even mentioned at Mr. Chihara’s seminar? I think we can all guess the answer to that question…


By Kentaro Sato on December 28th, 2009 at 1:32 am

>>In the end, we need music organizations and people running them who
>>truly respect and value score music

I think we all agree with you on this!!! 🙂
And this idea should apply to not only PROs but also to film and tv productions and companies, directors and producers, and music and media consumers.

By Mark Northam on December 28th, 2009 at 1:41 am

Agreed. At least with the PROs there are only 3 organizations, and we choose and pay them – it should be far easier to change their “tune” regarding the worth of custom score music than an entire industry full of production companies, to many of whom we’re little more than vendors to be gotten at the lowest cost currently.

The big question: if we cannot even change the perception of those WE PAY to collect our royalties (like ASCAP), what realistic chance to we have to change the perception of those who PAY US?

By Matthew Kajcienski on January 21st, 2010 at 9:06 am

I completely disagree with what you said. Please see my response at

By Joseph Renzetti on March 12th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I noticed that ASCAP is moving more of it’s operations to Nashville, the “Hot-Bed” of film composing, good luck with that. Get your spurs and big black hats ready.

Joe Renzetti -member BMI

By Sylvester Wager on September 7th, 2010 at 11:47 am

Music schools are at fault: for 100 years now, composers should have been told that they were obtaining a philosophical degree, and not a practical one.

Most mainstream filmscorers today are beaten into submission – and so they have a similar sound. Being able to predict the action is not the hallmark of a great score.

The concert composers aren’t elucidating the classical music experience much better. There is no call for a concert at the New York Philharmonic of nothing but new, living composers. We know what to expect: sound & fury…

The fascinating novelty filmscores that ran from the late 1950s through the 1970s have passed into antiquity; the new music-order requires a good ear for film-sales. And that’s that.

Concert composers won’t be a great challenge to existing filmscore composers (mostly men) whom most of the world never will recognize. Film is not sacred: it is not a not-for-profit enterprise. A good film does not require music.

A new definition of what music actually is may be a place to start in deciding royalty percentages.

The article you wrote remains interesting, months after press.

By Ryan Shaffer on February 20th, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Sure, concentrate all the composers that aren’t like you into one job facet and let us die out in this overcrowded corner of composing. I am a composer, and I need to carve out prospects for myself if I am going to make a liveable career out of composing. I think that by entering this field of work, you are accepting that there are substantial risks of utter failure and a whole lot of competition, and automatically surrendering the privilege of complaining about either.
Finally, if you knew anything about ASCAP, it’s that it began as a way to ensure royalties for composers, before songwriters were introduced into the mix (and there are separate economic plans for composers and songwriters, by the way). However, by disparaging songwriters and their ambition to become composers, you seem to be squandering the creative arts all for yourself, when more people need to tap into the gift.
I rather think you get off on sounding like a protectionist.


Leave a Comment