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Composing 101

Media composers Andrea Posse, Victoria Wijeratne, Marie-Anne Fischer, and Roma Yagnik discuss the creative challenges and rewards of their craft.

Last updated: 27 October 2020

Media composers Andrea PosseVictoria WijeratneMarie-Anne Fischer, and Roma Yagnik spoke at the MU panel at Underwire Festival's Wired Women about the creative challenges and rewards of their craft. Plus they share their experiences working with directors across film and TV. 

There are fewer women working in the field of media composition than men. However, the panel commented that the statistics improve if you look at orchestrators, arrangers, copyists and assistants which are all crucial jobs in their own right. Women are writing music, but don’t seem to get the same recognition or publicity as men.

More recognition for female composers is essential for things to change. Everyone on the panel agrees they do not want to be thought of as female composers, but great composers in their own right. Roma hasn't had problems finding work, possibly because people who find her via her online presence don't necessarily know she's a woman and therefore judge her by her work. Victoria feels the solution is to just get out there and do it.

Composers get involved at any stage. Victoria has worked with the same director on a few short films, and their existing relationship makes the process more collaborative. She is sent the script and gets involved early in the process. But sometimes music is the last consideration, says Andrea.

What the director wants can vary. Often the visuals are still subject to change when composers get involved. Roma says it can be a challenge to do your job when the visuals keep changing but that’s a challenge she likes. Sometimes the director may not know music so the brief could be just emotions or an atmosphere they want to capture, says Andrea. Or they may have specific things they don't want, like “I hate piano”! Part of the challenge is to communicate your ideas so they can envisage your music with the visuals.

Your creative freedom varies according to the project. The director might have a very set idea of what they want. Or they might reference other scores or composers they like. It can be helpful to know what they’re looking for, says Maria Anne, but you have to be honest if it's something you can achieve within budget. Andrea agrees - they may like the sound if a rich orchestral score but have a small budget!

Temp scores provided by a director can help or hinder. Marie-Anne finds a temp score helpful as it tells her what a director wants. Agency briefs for library music, for example, can be very prescriptive. But Andrea says there's so much library music out there, it's a challenge to produce something original.

Networking and making connections are important. It’s often how you find work. Make use of your Musicians’ Union (MU) membership. Marie-Anne suggests looking at Women in Film & Television, BAFTA and BASCA. Victoria highlights the Nautilus Collective, which she set up as a network of female composers. Writing music can be solitary so go to events and join networks. All the composers on our panel also use Skype for meetings, so they can discuss projects face to face with the director, even if they are far away.

Andrea, Victoria, Maria Ann and Roma have all been asked to work for free. And they all agree it’s very frustrating. Andrea says she would never work for free. She can't believe people track her down online, see she's a professional, like her work, but then approach her with no budget. Hiring a studio, musicians, equipment and buying samples costs money - composers can't afford to work for free!