What does a composer do?
Composers write original music for an animation. They write music to reflect and communicate the atmosphere, character's emotions, and the story. A film score has to work with the film, rather than as a standalone piece of music.
Composers for animation are usually given a brief at the start of the project, at the stage where storyboards are edited in time with the soundtrack (animatics) are being created. They create some demo recordings, which can be used in the animatic edit. In animation, music can really affect the timing of the edit so it’s important to get the composer involved early on. Then they can create a full score for the final film. Composers rewrite their score according to feedback from the director, producer and editor. A section of music might need to be a different length, highlight a different onscreen moment, or have a different feel to it.
Animation composers need to be aware of the genre they are composing for. Music for cartoon TV shows will often be quite clichéd and over the top, in keeping with the style of the animation and storytelling. For animations which include songs, like feature-length musicals, or TV shows with a theme song, the composer might be involved with writing these. Or this might fall to a different musician, with the composer sometimes scoring the backing for the songs.
On big-budget productions, composers prepare the score, usually on midi files, for the orchestrator and copyist. In most TV and lower budget films, composers do their own orchestrating. They also prepare the score's electronic aspects for the recording sessions and deliver the score to the producer, together with all recordable media. Composers often need strong music production, recording and performance skills in order to realise their works for projects as music budgets are generally tight. They are freelancers and usually work from their own home or office.
What's a composer good at?
- Music: have a high level of technical musical skill and be able to compose and notate original, high-quality scores with interesting and distinctive musical ideas that fit the style of the animation
- Storytelling: be able to communicate a story and reflect its themes through music
- Music production: have good recording and production skills to create demos and professional-level scores, be able to use music composition software such as Cubase and Logic and notation software such as Sibelius or Musescore, and work with different audio file types
- Communication: be able to work to a brief, act on constructive feedback, and compose music to contribute to the director's overall vision, build extensive contacts with musicians who can contribute to your work
- Business management skills: understand legal and contractual aspects of the job as a freelancer contributing your work to a different project