Budgets, and music is the red haired stepchild

By Kelly Mahan Jaramillo, Oct. 2nd, 2007

I don’t want to complain (well, I DO, but….), as this business – writing music for films – is what Tomas chose to do and has been doing for many years, so I’ll keep the whining to a minimum. However…..

For years, when looking for films that need a score, or responding to someone contacting Tomas after hearing his work on the web page, we have met with people, spent time discussing what they want, only to hear that there is no money for the music. Tomas has done a few of these because he really liked the films, but we finally agreed – NO MORE FREE WORK!

A composer on ‘CraigsList’ was appealing to other composers to take a stand and not write for free, and he made a very good point concerning up and coming filmmakers. If they get free music for their films, they will never know how to properly budget a film. Most of them have money during production, but if they get into the habit of spending it all up front, with no money for post production, we will soon be finding or being offered only free work. And that is just not acceptable.

So, as music co-producer, I am the one who gets to ask the awkward question, “What have you budgeted out for music?” After the first few times it is easy to do, but that first time……..yikes! It felt so rude.

But, I have found that the filmmaker is generally up for talking about it, and more often than not, a good agreement is reached by all. The ones to look out for are the ones who answer your question with this question:
“Well, how much do you think it will cost?”

DO NOT fall into that little trap. Generally, we have found that when the filmmaker won’t answer, just keeps asking you what you will charge him, he either has no money for music, or plenty of money, and is hoping you will underbid yourself.

Tomas and I came up with a solid response, explaining that there are many ways to approach a score, and each one varies in price. So, until the filmmaker coughs up a figure, you just have to stay firmly in your chair and sweat it out.

We have learned this the hard way, by making every mistake in the book. A good friend sent us a one page budget negotiations list with six mandatory questions to ask – we were really pleased to see that we had been asking five out of the six, but I wish we had done this long ago, and not been such wimps! Yes, talking money is difficult, but it has to be done, and if you wimp out, writing music will end up becoming a hobby, not a career.
The mantra for the week:

“Work Hard, Get Paid”

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