Now, don’t get me wrong. The concept of working for free can be an interesting one. It can help build up your skills, your show reel and help develop your career. I’m not here to rant about the idea in general – in certain situations it makes sense, and can benefit both composers and film makers alike (or other categories of artists). I’ve undertaken a number of unpaid commissions, which I’ll discuss later. However, I’m not so impressed by the number of people who expect musicians in general – including composers – to go out of their way to do things for free.
This isn’t limited to just composers. I am shocked, for example, by the number of unpaid internships that pass through my inbox every day. Gaining experience in any one of those areas would surely be an interesting thing – but a six month internship? Where you’re only going to pay expenses (and normally capped)?
A similar issue arises with compositions. If I am interested in a project, I may consider working for free. However, it seems that a large number of people are now expecting composers to do just that. Screened Musicoutlined a similar problem in advertising almost exactly two years ago, where composers were expected to pitch for adverts with no payment whatsoever, whilst being expected to shell out for vocals and recordings in some cases. Surely they must realise that these things take time and do cost some money – and, when that’s the case, it often makes it even harder for younger composers to find their way into the profession.
There are good and bad experiences of working for free. One company I recently worked with wanted music for an advert. They were creating several different versions of the advert with different composers, which I thought was an interesting concept. I was also deeply passionate about the subject and content on the advert – so I decided to accept the work. I enjoyed the project, and am pleased with the results (hopefully I’ll be linking to them here in the very near future!). In comparison, I also undertook a collaboration with another ‘client’, where they requested dozens of rewrites and allowed me no creative freedom – when working for free. This I found to be unacceptable, and so ended the collaboration. Another pet peeve of mine is when people working in other forms of art think their knowledge is automatically superior, and refuse to even acknowledge other artists’ thoughts and opinions – but that’s another topic for another day!
These are hard times for everyone in the arts, but there still needs to be some respect between artists. Unpaid agreements can work in favour of both parties – and can give composers greater creative freedom than can often be sought in paid commissions. Collaborations between composers and performers are often unpaid, yet can be highly fruitful (I know some of mine have). However, all those who want a commissioned piece of music for free, take note – please treat us composers with respect, or we won’t be happy!