New Composer Census Shows Profession Expanding To Over 25,000 Composers With Music On The Air on Film/TV

Film Music Magazine • December 12, 2010

The Composer Census Group has released The 2011 Film & Television Composer Census, highlighting music on the air today in film and TV in the United States. The census lists over 54,000 film and television titles including the music of 25,723 composers and songwriters represented by 55 performing rights organizations worldwide.

The Film & TV Composer Census was coordinated by composer and journalist Mark Holden overseeing a team of 40 research volunteers. The census is distributed by Film Music Magazine.

Said Holden, “Industrially speaking, film & television composers are so dumbed-down, we’ve not even had a count of the profession. The census was created to alleviate that portion of the data void.”

Over the last 25 years, the prevalence of affordable digital audio technology has enabled composers around the world to create high quality, professional music and has opened up opportunities to compose music for film and television far beyond the confines of Hollywood.The rapid adoption of broadband internet over the last 10 years now enables directors and producers to work real-time with composers around the world, and digital links to orchestral recording studios in different countries has made possible international recording sessions run directly from a composer’s studio in the USA.

American composers represent the only primary non-unionized work force in the film and television industry. The geographical diversity and sheer numbers of composers paint a picture of an expanding national industry, as opposed to what used to be a local industry in Hollywood in previous decades. These results are significant, given local unionization efforts by composers in Southern California with Local 399 of the Teamsters.

“There’s this mythology that most of the music on American television is written by a few hundred guys in southern California,” said Holden. “This census dispels that myth.”

The Composer Census was created using online Google Docs collaboration tools that enabled the census researchers, working from various locations, to work together on the project.

“We executed the entire project online using Google Docs,” stated Holden. “Their protocol features controlled document access for the researchers while our monitors could oversee but not edit. Google Docs with their suite of collaboration tools is one of the most elegant systems I’ve ever seen.”

The Composer Census is distributed by Film Music Magazine and is a free download for the industry. To download a copy, visit:


By Brian Lee Corber on December 27th, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Actually more of a useful tool than just to look up composers, it is a list of shows broadcast during the time frame. But the amazing thing: when you actually listen to TV shows and movies on TV, the sound of the music is getting more and more similar with rap genre and hip hop dominating. Even a supposed orchestral score as in Transformers was just more Zimmer cloning off his score to Gladiator. I hate to say this, but there would be no place for Bernard Herrmann in today’s scoring world, Dimitri Tiomking wrote more notes in one score than 25 composers together on 25 The original score has almost completeley vanished altogether. Look back at the magnificent efforts of Frontiere on the Outer Limits first season, the efforts on Twilight Zone and the Irwin Allen series. Very few shows even have a developed main title in favor of a few seconds (check Castle and the Mentalist). The dumb licensed songs for the CSI series are well favored, but they’re lame. And what’s worse than rap? Ersatz rap for a TV show. Stargat SG-1 appears to contain orchestral music, but then when you know about all the ghosting on the show, you have to wonder if Jerry is tossing in his grave over his son. Has there been one anthology with scores by the greats since Amazing Stories? I think not. As a 40+ year vet of collecting LPs and CDs of scores I can say with certainty that if I started now I wouldn’t start at all. And it’s only going to get worse as the competition for the bottom on fees escalates and every guitar hero teen thinks he can make a buck licensing his latest noise pollution to some TV show supervisor. And you can expect rates as low as a buck so long as you let the amateurs in the door and cater to some cheap producer just to get the gig and another notch on imdb. You want to know why rates get low? You compete with each other for the bottom. The purported union may have raised standards but there are some in the biz who think every guitar hero musician should have a shot. Well, screw that. I only listen to quality music and I don’t give just anyone s shot–I live in a rap free zone: no snoop doggs, biebers. rihannas or p anything. So long as noise pollution rules and many think it’s a quick way to make a buck witrhout any knowledge of how to write something that will survive the next 15 years. In the late 970s, I’m told, th Knack came along and vanquished disco. When comes such another to vanquish kindergarten school level poems against 3 second endless sound loops. Yep, I think Herrmann would puke his guts out today and Albert Glasser along with him. In a world where the score to “War of the Collasal Beast” sounds like Mozart compared to “whoops dare it is” And those who contribute to this noise pollution ought to be executed for the death of music. Call it what it is: fecal. Today, the deaf are not handicapped, they’re blessed.

By Michael A. Levine on February 2nd, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Mark & Mark – I would be very curious what your criteria was as to defining someone as a film composer. The 25,000 mark may be accurate if you include everyone who ever sold a track to a library, or scored a local commercial, or made a video for their band and put it on YouTube. But if you limited the list to, say, people who score network and national cable TV shows and films that gross over a million dollars, I suspect the number would be substantially lower. It may be a myth that everyone who does this work lives in LA, but I think that if you’re talking pros who make their living scoring to picture, “300 guys” is a lot closer to the truth than 25,000.

By Mark Holden on February 2nd, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Hi Michael– thanks for your comments. The Composer Census Group defined no one specifically as a “film composer,” as you suggest. The criteria for inclusion was composers and songwriters with music in nationally exhibited television programming as detailed on page 2 of the census. This was overwhelmingly comprised of TV shows and movies.

While many shows may utilize library music in some capacity, there was NO INCLUSION of music for advertising in our census data. Nor promos, logos, trailers, PSAs or Internet-originated content as you intimate. Perhaps you misunderstood the scope of our project, as you listed categories the census does not include.

As for establishing an accurate number of writers who earn their living solely or primarily from the post scoring of films and television programming– I’m afraid we’ll never get that count. I doubt you’d appreciate getting a call from a census volunteer inquiring about percentages of your income. Quite rightly, you would not disclose such information to a stranger on the telephone. Plus, I’d catch hell for authorizing such inappropriate calls, even if we had the manpower for such an endeavor.

Our count of 25,723 composers and songwriters on national TV is actually LOW. Were we able to include the promos, trailers, and other forms of music for advertising on the air, the count of music authors would be much higher. Exponentially so, I believe, if we could count programming and spots originated on 1400 local television stations nationwide.

“300 guys” remains a dispelled myth. The count has been demonstratively proven to be vastly higher.

Mark Holden

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