What advice do you have for composers who think they have what it takes to make it in the commercial marketplace? Stephen Arnold



Stephen Arnold

WATCH a short demo in which Stephen Arnold illustrates the creation of the Weather Channel‘s sound logo, that “John Hancock of music.”

I guess the biggest piece of advice I can give is that it’s not how great of a composer you are as much as it is how you’re able to communicate with clients, adapt to deadlines, be creative under the gun, and be flexible.

There’s a tendency for people to want to get from point A to point B in their careers and immediately be a great composer. They may have all that talent but there are so many elements that you have to understand that can complicate the creative process because you’re dealing with clients. When you’re working for a well-established successful company you get that experience and you develop a gut instinct as to how to handle situations.

I’ve got two guys in my production department. They were both students. They had a lot of technical knowledge but they had no real hands-on experience working with clients and deadlines. They came in willing to sweep the floors and basically just do what I call audio grunt work even though they were extremely talented. But when I’m having conference calls with clients I get them to listen in so they can hear how clients describe what they want…you know, I want this music to be “red” but it needs to look like it’s “blue” kind of thing.

Learn the process of how you present your music. When you create a first rough cut and present it to a client, that often can make or break a good idea. You don’t want to get a good idea snuffed out just because it isn’t produced properly and have to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.

Every client is a little bit different depending on how many cooks are in the kitchen on the decision. There have been so many times where I’ve worked on a project…we do a lot of stuff for CNN and Headline. I’ll spend several days working on a project with the art director and all of the sudden they play it for the boss and he hates it. Now, you don’t want to step on anybody’s toes because it is pretty political, but you have to get some experience reading between the lines and knowing who’s really the one who’s pulling the trigger and who you have to present your ideas to. For example, we just finished this project for a new show for Tucker Carlson, he has his own show now on PBS that airs each week, and there were a lot of people involved in the musical decision. It’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t have to do with how great the music is but with the process of how it’s presented and signed off on.

You need to look at it like it’s continuing education. I think you really can’t be too anxious and think that you’re just going to immediately start composing. It’s a matter of not getting discouraged and realizing that, like anything else it, takes time.

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Stephen Arnold Music is a Dallas-based music production company serving networks, television stations, film houses, and advertising agencies worldwide. The company is a leading provider of original and syndicated music to the broadcasting industry, with its musical compositions heard daily in over 100-million American homes on 280 television stations and numerous broadcast and cable TV networks. Stephen Arnold is a recent Emmy Award winner for his work on behalf of Comcast Cable.