Thanks ASCAP, But Do We Really Need More Concert Composers Competing For Films?

Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Archives) > Final Note (Archive) > Thanks ASCAP, But Do We Really Need More Concert Composers Competing For Films?

ASCAP’s latest PR event “Why Concert Composers Should Write For Film”, a seminar featuring concert and film composer Paul Chihara, urges concert composers to become film composers. As if there aren’t enough issues with existing, experienced film composers trying to scratch out a living in a marketplace completely over-saturated with actual film composers not to mention songwriters and others calling themselves “composers”, the last thing we need is the organization that we pay to collect and pay us our royalties to be encouraging more people from other musical areas to become film composers when the marketplace for existing film composers is in such bad shape.

First, they encourage songwriters to “become” composers, and now it’s concert composers. This, from the organization that values a one-minute score cue in television or film at only 20% of what a one-minute song cue is paid. Thanks, ASCAP – it’s bad enough that you and your ruling songwriter cabal devalue our music, but now you want to encourage more people from other musical areas to enter the disastrously overcrowded film composer marketplace? I wonder how Paul Chihara and his concert composer colleagues would react if the massive numbers of unemployed and under-employed film composers decided to enter the concert music marketplace and compete for the limited number of grants and giveaways that fund those projects!

I don’t want to sound like a protectionist here, and don’t want to overlook the benefit of more orchestrally-trained composers existing in a marketplace where formal instrumental writing skills, and even being able to read music, have ceased to be requirements for being a film composer (even an A-list composer!), but there are some simple economics to be considered that affect every film composer working or trying to work today.

Simply put, we already have too many people competing as composers in this marketplace, and libraries continue to eat up an increasing portion of the instrumental score market. Colleges are dumping hundreds of film scoring graduates every year into a marketplace where most don’t stand a chance of earning a decent full-time living from film scoring for many years, a fact that often comes as a big shock to the graduates after they arrive in Los Angeles full of composing skills and student loans but utterly lacking in real-world “finding work” skills and unaware of the terrible condition of the marketplace for composers today – something I hold the music schools directly responsible for.

Economics dictates that whenever there is an oversupply (more suppliers than jobs or demand for product), prices will fall, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen over the last 15 years or so. Composer fees have dropped substantially, licensing fees are zero in many cases thanks to libraries dumping thousands of free tracks onto the marketplace, and score composers are having serious issues surviving, not to mention trying to make a decent living as a composer. And with ASCAP”s massive devaluation of score music, it only makes things that more difficult for score composers and their families to survive.

Here’s a message for the good folks at ASCAP, including new President (songwriter) Paul Williams and our score composer board members Doug Wood, Bruce Broughton, Dan Foliart and Richard Bellis: If you want to encourage more musicians from other areas to compete with film composers with events like this, fine, but at least stop devaluing score music and reform the weighting formula so music is paid based on usage, not on whether it’s a song or not. A one-minute background vocal cue on television or in film should be paid the same as a one-minute background instrumental (score) cue – it’s the same usage – background – so the pay should be the same. Is that simple, fair concept so difficult for you folks to understand and implement?

And will ASCAP’s current financial penalties in the royalty payment formulas aimed at score composers be featured, or even mentioned at Mr. Chihara’s seminar? I think we can all guess the answer to that question…


  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 11, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    We definitelly need more concert composers writing for film. I’m only saying this from the point of view of cinema as an artform, not as making a living as a composer. Anyone succesfully working in film industry should consider films sacred. Cinema needs people who read and write music, have a formidable knowledge (palette) of music from past 400 years, orchestration skills, etc.. You maybe don’t want to sound like a protectionist, but that is exactly what you are describing.

    There will never be oversupply of composers who are truly outstanding. Mediocre, yes.

  • Mark Northam
    December 11, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    Hi Hequin –

    You make some very good points regarding the art form of film music. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the harsh business realities. Other than in the academic/concert world where grants and gifts are the accepted form of payment, in the film scoring world, there is very, very tough competition for films and prices have gone through the floor as a result.

    Also, I think it’s only fair to say that while many films should be sacred, there are also a lot of films that are crap and, after a short and unremarkable run on direct-to-DVD, end up in the scrap heap of bad films.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  • Vincent
    December 12, 2009 @ 4:23 am

    I don’t see why film scoring shouldn’t be opened to concert composers. I actually think it’d be a good thing for the film music itself. This will bring something new to the hollywood formatted soundtracks. Yes it will bring more competition but music shouldn’t be closed to so-called elites just for a business argument.

    The selection will be made by itself and the business will adjust accordingly. It might be a hard time right now but the future is bright. It’s only a matter of time to get a new direction with upcoming filmmakers.

    Not to be harsh but I feel like your post is somewhat conservative and snobish. I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just arguing :)

  • Vincent
    December 12, 2009 @ 4:26 am

    One more note: if you think the industry is profiting from the situation you’re absolutely right but your website job postings is helping them in a big way.

    I don’t use your services for that exact reason: I should be able to know who I’m pitching for, have their exact location and credits, have some background history about their company, etc. But then again, that means fewer profits to you.

    Everybody is playing its own selfish game and that’s where the problem is.

  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 12, 2009 @ 5:11 am

    Any composer with fear of tough competitive environment should rethink their career again. Fighting against natural laws of supply and demand is pointless. I’d rather have great film music with low price tags, than crappy film music with high price tags.

  • Mark Northam
    December 12, 2009 @ 5:15 am

    Hi Vincent –

    Thanks for the feedback. We actually used to publish job poster names and contact info when we first started the JobWire and job posters were often swamped with 100s, sometimes over 1000 submissions, often of music that wasn’t even asked for. Composers hounded job posters with phone calls, emails,and sometimes unscheduled visit, asking or demanding to know whether their music had been listened to yet, why they weren’t hired, etc and the job posters quickly stopped posting jobs with us. It’s not about profits for us – it’s the fact that many if not most job posters are small companies that simply don’t have the resources to handle hundreds of calls from composers inquiring about submissions, hence why they don’t publish contact info. They need a system where they can review music submissions and spend their communication time contacting the composers they are interested in based on music submitted, and that’s what we provide. We always publish all contact info they will allow us to publish, but the simple numbers involved (many composers interested in a relatively small number of jobs) combined with the rude tactics of a few composers have ruined it for many more.

    With no industry organization to provide a framework for composer deals and pay, it’s the wild west out there in a vastly oversupplied marketplace. Our goal is to try and open up more opportunities for composers in film & television projects, and I completely understand that our system is not for everyone. We try to do our best to provide the job opportunities and post as much info as we can within the limits of what the job poster will allow us to post.

  • Mark Northam
    December 12, 2009 @ 5:19 am

    Hi Hequin –

    Re: competition, I agree with your statement. Problem is, many academic film scoring programs are woefully negligent in terms of educating their students about the harsh competitive realities of the current film scoring marketplace, including the fact that most graduates will not be able to earn a decent living scoring films for many years after graduation. If students are fully informed of the lousy economic situation for film scoring and they still want to make a go of it, great, I have no complaints. My problem is with schools and academic programs that fail to disclose these important aspects of the profession, hungry to keep tuition coming in that might not if students and prospective students knew about the realities of the economic situation for composers.

  • Mark Northam
    December 12, 2009 @ 5:23 am

    Also, Hequin, if I may ask: you say film music is “sacred” and I certainly won’t argue that point with you. ASCAP has made it policy to pay a one minute film instrumental cue only 20% of what a one minute background song is paid. Given your feeling about custom film score, do you think this is fair? If not, what have you done (or would you do) to create positive change for composers in terms of this important source of compensation? Just wondering.

  • Michael
    December 12, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    I wonder how a concert composer would react to a Director asking them to “take the oboe down half an octave”.

  • December 12, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    It’s not like concert composers never heard of writing music for films until ASCAP pointed it out. No matter what business you’re in, you can’t close the door behind you. I’m sure somebody wasn’t thrilled when I showed up wet behind the ears twenty years ago either.

  • December 12, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Hey Mark,
    Thanks for the great article – I couldn’t agree with you more. I often run into songwriters, and composers that say they would love to give Filmscoring a try. But, they often don’t realize the incredible amount of time it takes to make a living at this…the thousands of emails and phone calls. Getting your first real credit. And let’s not forget the art of actually writing to picture. There are many gifted composers in the world, but very few understand what it means to augment a film with music.
    I would say though, that getting formal university training is not the only way to develop orchestral chops. I would have to stress the importance of apprenticeships, and finding a mentor…

  • Mark Northam
    December 12, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

    Great point, Charles. So many people who haven’t scored a film consider film score to be little more than “a song without the words” – reflective of how ASCAP values film score music. But if you really dig into the art and craft of writing music for film, it’s an incredibly deep and specialized art form if done well. “Well” doesn’t necessarily mean orchestrally, but it means done with a high aesthetic quality that reflects a deep understanding of how music works to enhance and work with picture. Those whose understanding of music doesn’t go much deeper than verse, chorus and bridge have a long way to go before they can successfully understand and create the highly complex, sophisticated relationship between custom score and the picture that it’s written for.

  • December 12, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

    Well said Mark…

  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 12, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

    Oh come on, this suddenly turned into “we are just worried about the concert composers, because they have no idea how hard and demanding this profession is”, rather than “we are afraid more competent composers might end up fighting for the same jobs”.

  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 12, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    Mark: I don’t have anything against the fact that background songs get more money than instrumental cues. I’ve received money both ways.

  • Mark Northam
    December 13, 2009 @ 2:03 am

    Hi Hequin – re: ASCAP’s choice to pay a one minute background song 500% more than a one minute custom score cue… you have no problem with this? Even though there is NO DIFFERENCE in what the broadcaster pays into ASCAP for different types of music? Even though the ASCAP Board hasn’t offered an ounce of justification for this whopping penalty targeting “sacred” (as you call it) score music that costs composers everywhere millions of dollars every year (since more paid out for song leaves less for composers – it’s a zero sum game at ASCAP)?

    Sorry, but I guess I had you figured wrong – you sounded like a real champion for custom film score music. Instead, you (along with ASCAP) apparently believe it’s second class music, since that’s exactly how ASCAP pays it and you’re just fine with that policy. As far as “competent” composers go, once someone has experience in the intricacies of creating custom score music goes, that’s what makes him or her a competent FILM composer. Being a competent CONCERT composer is another skill set – some overlap in the technical skills (orchestration, etc), but the creative skills are quite different.

  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 13, 2009 @ 5:30 am

    As I said, if I get 500% more money by doing the same amount of work, why should I complain?

    As for concert composers, they are very welcome to come and challenge geeks who only know how to push the “gran cassa”-button.

  • December 13, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

    I think it’s best to let this one go…
    They’ll figure it out when they realize that this business is built on more than a demo reel. I was looking up some of the IMDB credits of some of the people commenting on the article, funny, couldn’t find any…

  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 14, 2009 @ 12:22 am

    Does Hequin O’Mas sound like a real name? :) Anyways, I have presumably stepped on some big shoes here. My phallic IMDB credit list is obviously lot smaller than “some of the other people commenting on the article” . Let us all pray the God the concert composers will never learn about these things called “movies” and “film scores”. And woe is me for having dissent in the comment section of an article.

    *walks away with his lousy demoreel career*



  • December 15, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    I say, let’s bar composers from writing questionable news magazines.

    Joe R

  • Mark Northam
    December 15, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    Thanks for the kind thoughts, Joe :-) – actually, if there was another trade magazine that properly covered business, legal and financial information that affects score composers, I’d be more than happy to let them do it! But for better or for worse, very few people out there are writing about and exposing exploitative treatment of composers by various industry entities and covering important business, financial and legal developments in the score composer industry.

    Having been exploited myself as a composer and having learned a lot as a result, I believe I have a duty to help others become informed and provide a forum for the discussion of current issues affecting composers. On editorials such as this article, there is lots of room for agreement and disagreement – that’s why it’s called an editorial, and it’s why we allow comments, even critical comments.

  • Antony
    December 15, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    Mark made very clever and pertinent remarks in his article. Shame some people with a hidden agenda (I’d be ashamed to use my real name as well) are desperately trying to get up on a soapbox and preach.

    We definitelly need more concert composers writing for film. I’m only saying this from the point of view of cinema as an artform,

    Yes. Non-concert composers like Carter Burwell must be stopped.
    I’d be surprised if you knew what art is.

    not as making a living as a composer.

    Over-privileged kids have this problem. Don’t worry. It’ll pass.

    Anyone succesfully working in film industry should consider films sacred.

    Sacred??? What bubble do you live in?
    Doctors working in developing countries or people who dare to speak up against dictatorships putting their lives on danger. Their work who should consider sacred.

    Cinema needs people who read and write music, have a formidable knowledge (palette) of music from past 400 years, orchestration skills, etc..

    The film industry, like any other, needs valid and competent professionals.
    Only losers (who can’t even write properly) hide behind formulas.
    David Holmes produces amazing stuff. Lets ban him before he gets another commission.

    There will never be oversupply of composers who are truly outstanding. Mediocre, yes

    You should print this on a T-shirt.
    But do yourself a favour and print just the last phrase

    J R

  • Antony
    December 15, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    posting this from my cell phone made me mess up the signature.
    Its not J R but


  • December 15, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

    There are many trade magazines that cover business, legal and financial information affecting, composers,
    I just question the sincerity of this one.

    Joe R

  • Mark Northam
    December 15, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

    OK, Joe, I’ll bite… name one other magazine that has the in-depth coverage of how score composers are disadvantaged by the current performing rights organizations in the US, complete with detailed figures comparing composer royalty rates to songwriter royalty rates, in-depth coverage of royalty organization election issues, in-depth coverage of composer rip-offs like when the PAX network tried to grab composer writer royalties, etc. Since the royalty organizations advertise in all the other trade mags, you’ll find little or no objective coverage of these important composer issues.

    But going further, you “question the sincerity” of Film Music Magazine…? Informing composers about current issues and raising composer issues is insincere? Please, explain… We have a long, established track record over the 12 years we’ve been publishing for passionate composer education and advocacy – I’d be interested to hear how you believe that is somehow “insincere”…?

  • Oscar J.
    December 16, 2009 @ 11:43 pm

    Hello Mark. I will have to say that I am nothing but angry about this whole 20% deal. I do welcome composers of all schools to the competition but I do feel sorry for the misinformed. I personally come from a “classical/academic/concert (what ever you want to call it) background and studied film scoring picking up courses here and there. I was lucky to have certain teachers that explained so well the difficulties of making a career out of it. My opinion is that, our work should be valued highly. We invested so many years to learn what we do. And we all know that it is not easy to deal with directors and producers.
    My students often ask me why I never submit for libraries. My answer is always that “I do not want to compete with myself”. I look forward to write cue by cue and would hate to have lost a project because it was cheaper to compile music from a library. But this is just me. I often support their submissions and some have found a bit of success doing so. It is true that we are crowded when it comes to competitors (hell, I produced a few myself), but I do believe that, just like in any other field of work, some will climb, some will fall, and others will stay.
    I always enjoy reading your articles, Mark!

  • December 17, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    I agree with the point that difference in royalties rates is totally BS, but the idea that we are in “danger” by “cluing in” concert composers to the world of film is somewhat hilarious to me. I was part of a Chihara lecture as a composition student (traditional, not film music focused) at a university. Many of my peers were “potentially interested” in scoring for film, but have absolutely no idea how the business works. It took about 15 minutes of lecture time before the majority of my peers squarely decided that film music was NOT a form of composition they were interested in.

    The fact is that the level of talent that influxes into our industry has nothing to do with the fact that our industry is saturated. There will never be enough work, and since film composition happens AFTER the film is made, highly talented film composers will NOT inspire better films to be made. Infact its worth pointing out that 99.99999% of all commercial media made today could never support the kind of intricate orchestral writing that a concert composer would want to write. There might be more opportunity in games, but mainstream film just doesn’t call for the kind of orchestral scores that would interest a budding concert composer.

    And my final, perhaps most down to earth point is this – film music, and the movie business in general, is about relationships over talent. Yes, there is a certain ability bar that we all must meet if we’re going to deliver on an opportunity, but that bar is pretty low compared to the talent that is out there. You get hired not because you’ve got the most impressive sounding orchestral demo, but because the director fights for you. Because you scored a similar film that did well at the box office. Because you’re dating the producer, or the director hit your car on the 405 and rather then you reporting it to his insurance company he offers you a chance to submit for his film (true story).

    Anyways, rant over. I just wish there were more opportunities for us music folk out there!

  • December 18, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    For names of magazines/sites that discuss composers problems, please use Google. [No biting required]

    Question of sincerity: How much does this rag bill on “FILM & TV MUSIC JOB LISTINGS” a year? Are these “jobs” ever filled? Are they even real? Care to show some transparency here?

    And saving the best for last:

    { the following is sarcasm}

    Sure, take a whole sector of composers, composes who actually study, actual know lots about music and ban them from the glorious business of film-composing. That good.
    Deny good, qualified, trained, knowledgeable composers from the film business. Yes, keep it for the purview of the “sample players” only.

    Good for ASCAP.

    BTW – Most of the “A-list” composers are well schooled and experienced.


  • December 18, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    True dat. I’m not impressed with ASCAP or BMI at the moment. The union is our last hope!

  • Mark Northam
    December 18, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    Joe, you’ll be interested in our new testimonials section where people who have achieved success through our JobWire post their comments – it’s coming soon with the update of our Film Music Network website coming in a few weeks – stay tuned! Here’s one we received recently:

    “Hi Mark,

    I thought you might like to hear that one of your listings in 2008 resulted in my being signed to create music for 6 CDs for the company. From that I got placements this year on 3 major national commercial campaigns, the latest being the Mastercard Priceless Christmas campaign with Peyton Manning. Needless to say, I am very happy with your service!

    Thank you for providing these kinds of opportunities for the composing community.

    Hope you have wonderful Holidays.


    As far as your apparent bitterness about those who utilize samples, those comments speak for themselves, I have nothing to add. As far as concert composers go, I think you’re so busy attacking me that you’ve lost sight of the point of my editorial – that film composing is an entirely different business than concert composing, and that if concert composers are going to be encouraged to compete for the dwindling number of custom film scoring gigs, they should be properly trained in FILM composing and be fully aware of the BUSINESS aspects of the business since, unfortunately, talent is hardly the #1 reason why film composers get hired today.

    As far as other magazines go, I’ve never seen any of them cover composer issues to the detail we do. Show me one decent article on ASCAP’s “20 cents on the dollar” policy for score music vs. song and I’ll reconsider. If you want to complain about policies that are not good for composers, how about directing your anger that way a bit? Unless, that is, you agree with ASCAP that a one-minute custom score music cue should be paid only 20% of what a one-minute generic song is paid for film/TV? That’s an across-the-board 80% penalty aimed squarely at score composers. Can you imagine how much that policy has cost composers, especially because the more songs are paid, the less is left over for composers to be paid – it’s a zero-sum game.

  • December 18, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

    I wouldn’t worry about concert composers taking away our work. Once they realize what film-scoring is really about they’ll most likely be uninterested. I think Greg made some good points in this direction.

    Concert music is foreground music. Film music is background (for the most part). Film music is supposed to be supportive, not to call attention to itself. Concert music demands your attention. Ever try to temp a film with concert music? It rarely works. Yes, it worked in Kubrick’s 2001 but that was the exception and there was no dialogue.

    Also, concert composers most likely wouldn’t take kindly to some director or producer telling them to “make the music more upbeat” or saying “can’t you make it sound like ______? or “It’s not quite right, try some different.”

  • December 18, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

    I would love it if ASCAP paid equally for film music and songs. That’s why I keep voting for Doug Woods, Bruce Broughton, etc. Please let me know if there’s anything else that I can do.

  • Mark Northam
    December 18, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Very good points, John. Being told to make your music sound like an existing composer is commonplace in film scoring, yet it’s probably the most objectionable think you could ask an academic/concert composer to do since they make their living creating music that creates their unique sound/musical signature.

    As another commenter here pointed out, just wait until the filmmaker (or worse, the producer or a relative of either) starts requesting certain instruments be used or not, etc. I’ll bet more than a few concert composers will be running back to the hallowed halls of academia where their music is cherished and respected, not sliced and diced by non-musicians, salesmen and other various “suits”.

  • Mark Northam
    December 18, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    John Kusiak – an important question is to ask WHY ASCAP doesn’t pay for them equally, by usage. In other words, background music is background music, whether it’s a song or score.

    I wish Wood, Broughton, and Bellis were able to get some things accomplished in this area, but we’ve heard very little and no changes yet. If they can’t get the job done, then it’s time we elect others who can. At a minimum, they should be informing our community of the progress they are making on our behalf, assuming they are making any. Problem is, to make any real progress, you’ve got to not be afraid of offending the ruling songwriter cabal at ASCAP who have lined up these royalty payment rules so nicely for themselves to the detriment of composers. I’m just not sure that these guys are ready to risk their “social” standing by really acting aggressively against the ruling songwriter interests that have instituted these policies that are so damaging to composers and their families. If these guys are ready to fight and fight hard for composers, I and I truly hope they are, let’s hear about it! Instead, silence.

    Sadly, the Board created election rules that allow the board’s nominating committee to handpick “opponents” for the Board elections who, by some amazing coincidence, always lose, leaving every board member who runs for re-election a winner. It only happens every time, and makes me wonder whether these guys are more concerned about keeping themselves elected and enjoying whatever perks that may provide, social and otherwise, rather than fighting hard for our community and getting reform accomplished.

  • Andrew Chukerman
    December 18, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

    I suggest you all read this article that just appeared in Variety (12/18/09):

    It makes solid points about how the crisscrossing of film and concert composers is nothing new, and if anything has set groundbreaking standards. These are not necessarily distinctive breeds of composers. Korngold’s score to “Robin Hood” revolutionized how film functioned against picture. Aaron Copland won an Oscar. Bernstein’s score to “On the Waterfront” is legendary. John Corigliano, known primarily as a concert composer, gave us one of the most beautiful Oscar-winning scores in recent years with “The Red Violin”.

    We currently have a major influx of composers known primarily for their film work being welcome with open arms into the concert world. Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal, and James Newton Howard, but to name a few. Should they have instead been shunned by the concert music world? With so few major commission opportunities, should the concert world feel threatened by their presence? Quite the contrary. Their marquee value is an added plus.

    Mark- as for your concern about so-called “film music academia” not adequately preparing students for how tough it is to get film work, all the more reason we should welcome and encourage ASCAP and Paul Chihara to fill in that void, where I’m sure that very issue regarding the realities of working in film will be heavily covered, where academia alone indeed may be lacking. That’s precisely the point of offering a seminar- to educate. Anyway, I encourage all to read the Variety article. Thanks- Andy

  • Andrew Chukerman
    December 19, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    (Correction to typo above. Should read: <>

  • Andrew Chukerman
    December 19, 2009 @ 12:58 am

    “Korngold’s score to “Robin Hood” revolutionized how film functioned against picture.”

  • Andrew Chukerman
    December 19, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    Should read: “Korngold’s score to “Robin Hood” revolutionized how music functioned against picture.”

  • Mark C
    December 19, 2009 @ 2:02 am

    Well, I can certainly understand your sentiment, Mark. I felt the same way in the 90’s. Then later I became a game-composer at a time when THAT field was less crowded. Know what? Now FILM COMPOSERS have flocked into that arena. So old game composers like me are in the same situation as film composers are in their overcrowded industry. Bottom line is: you can’t control which composers get hired or are in demand for ANY particular project. The music community – or for that matter the artist community in general is just that – a community. And as such, artists meet one another and collaborate according to their mutual artistic interests. You are trying to control something that you cannot. Oh yeah, I’d love for my post-graduate compositional music study, decades of professional composing, arranging and orchestration experience, hundreds of recorded tracks to get me to the top of the list and qualify for the best work out there. But as you probably are aware, it’s all about relationships and business. We all get to compose as much as we want to; but the business side is not based on entitlement. That’s just the way it is, bro.

  • Richard Bellis
    December 19, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

    Mark writes:”Problem is, to make any real progress, you’ve got to not be afraid of offending the ruling songwriter cabal at ASCAP ”

    Gee, Mark, it never occurred to me that the way to get one’s fellow board members to vote for something is to offend them. Maybe that’ll work.

  • Mark Northam
    December 19, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

    Richard, my point was not that you MUST offend them, it was that you need to NOT BE AFRAID of offending them. Big difference.

    We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars per year in royalties and a MASSIVE 80% penalty applied to a one minute custom score cue vs. a one minute song cue in film and TV. Maybe you can help myself and our fellow readers here understand exactly what is the justification for that whopping penalty aimed at custom score music? In what other industry is custom product penalized and generic product paid much, much more? In what other country is score music so massively penalized? None that I know of.

    And before we get into a debate about whether ASCAP actually inflicts this penalty or not, let’s be reminded of the testimony of ASCAP top legal rep Richard Reimer before the ASCAP Hearing Board:

    “Mr.Reimer, on behalf of ASCAP, conceded that when ASCAP receives cue sheets containing the designation “background vocal” it presumes that such work contains lyrics and should receive feature credit.”

    Very clear: background vocal cue = feature performance payment by default at ASCAP

    And of course, more feature performances means less money left for other types of music, such as custom score music. Every ASCAP composer is penalized by this, yet what do we hear from the board, especially the board members who represent score music? The doors on your secret board meetings remain locked tight, and we as ASCAP members aren’t even allowed to know who showed up for the meetings, much less anything about what you discussed or accomplished.

    So where do composers stand? The 80% penalty on a one-minute custom score cue still stands. The independent candidate petition process has been rendered virtually unusable (much to the benefit of incumbent board members, historically), composers still have no online access to cue sheets at ASCAP despite the fact your “competitors” at BMI can look them up on their computers. Gee, Richard, how is it that BMI employees who have no financial interest in our music have better access to our own cue sheets than we as ASCAP composers do?

    I hope you and your friends on the Board are able to accomplish some serious reform for score composers, Richard. By the same token, battling the ASCAP songwriter cabal is not easy work, I realize. Hence why I believe that more composers need to speak up loudly and publicly about the economic injustices we and our music face at ASCAP in order to create some real, significant reform at ASCAP and put an end to the kind of outdated thinking that has produced such a massive institutionalized difference in the way score and song are treated at ASCAP. Music is music.

  • Richard Bellis
    December 19, 2009 @ 6:18 pm


    You and I have years of historical correspondence in which I have adequately demonstrated that I am not “afraid” to offend.

  • Mark Northam
    December 19, 2009 @ 6:44 pm


    I don’t want to make this “personal”, but from where I sit, for years you’ve demonstrated yourself to be a consistent and ardent supporter and defender of all things ASCAP. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all – ASCAP does some very good things, but when you are so firmly entrenched in the ASCAP system, politically and socially, sometimes seeing things in perspective may be difficult.

    But this is not about you or me or personalities or style, it’s about money. Hundreds of millions of dollars of money every year, and a system that penalizes score composers massively as compared to songwriters. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the passionate defense of the rights of score composers to be paid on a level playing field with songwriters?

    Working behind the scenes at ASCAP’s secret board meetings has resulted in very little, if you measure the public results regarding score composer reform to date. By comparison, Doug Wood’s loud, public demonstration in LA against ASCAP’s attempt to cap CPA payments at 10% resulted in a very quick reversal of this financially damaging policy. If history is to be the judge, it would appear that loud, public protests may be more effective at reversing discriminatory ASCAP policy than secret, back-room negotiations where members are utterly and completely shut out of the process.

    I hope you’re able to accomplish what you want to on the Board, Richard, and I know you’re passionate about score composing as evidenced by your work with the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop and your book. At the same time, I think the job of fighting the kind of thinking that has produced and maintains the 80% score composer penalty at ASCAP will take a great deal of effort, not just by Board members, but by our community, loudly and publicly.

  • Richard Bellis
    December 19, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

    Any implication that Doug, Bruce, Dan and I have been distracted from our mission on behalf of, not only our community, but the overall health of ASCAP is offensive. AND NOT PROGRESSIVE.
    I’m not sure what you mean by “entrenched in the ASCAP system, politically and socially”. Politically, yes. Socially, where do you get that? How would you know and, BTW, you’re wrong.

    There is no perceptible exodus from ASCAP including yourself. Does this indicate there is no better place to be?
    We are working hard for the appropriate updating of ASCAP. We will report to you as frequently as the BMI board does on our progress.

  • Mark Northam
    December 19, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

    Richard, sorry but you’re being so politically correct… a massive 80% penalty targeted squarely against score composers is fixed by “appropriate updating”? You couldn’t minimize the problem more if you tried. You’re talking of this massive inequity as if it were a parking ticket. That’s what I mean about perspective. Massive, huge numbers staring you squarely in the face, yet the language you choose is designed to minimize and downplay, rather than acknowledge and proportionately address the problem. My point is not that you’ve been distracted from your “mission”, it’s that we don’t even know what your mission is. What specific goals and policies are you trying to get enacted? Do you think a minute of background vocal should be paid more than a minute of custom score on film/TV? If not, what are you willing to do to end that policy that has cost composers so much?

    BMI has no reason to pay more or be better than ASCAP, since BMI is funded by the same people who pay license fees – it’s a competitive counterbalance, nothing more.

    You’re working hard? Great! Please let us know your accomplishments, in detail. Your specific goals and proposals would be nice to know as well, excluding confidential personnel matters, etc that would be inappropriate for discussion. Involving the membership in your mission through online town halls/chats, etc – now THAT would truly be progressive – instead, we only hear about the Board’s pronouncements after the deals have been struck in your secret meetings.

    And gee, thanks for updating us “as frequently as the BMI board does” – since the BMI board rarely if ever does that, I guess you see that as your mandate to be just as poor as they are at updating their members? A pity you see a negative like that as something to match, not something to do better than.

    ASCAP leads the industry, by its own admission (and boast). Now it’s time for ASCAP to lead the industry in ending the massive financial prejudice and discrimination in royalty policy aimed at custom score composers by ASCAP. It’s unacceptable that U.S. score composers, arguably among the best and most talented in the world, are subjected to these kinds of financial penalties to a degree unlike anywhere else in the world. If you really want to be “progressive”, then start creating some real reform instead of taking offense when someone points out the problems. You 4 guys – yourself, Bruce Broughton, Dan Foliart and Doug Wood have the responsibility of representing score composers and their music on the ASCAP Board. You asked for that responsibility when you asked for our votes, and now it’s time to deliver. At this point, it’s results that count, and I truly hope you and the other composer representatives on the board can deliver.

  • Michael L
    December 22, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    The discussion seemed to go off point, a bit. I think Mark’s issue is that ASCAP improperly weights film cues v. songs used in films. From there, things segued into how bad the economic climate is for film composers, and what a difficult and over-crowded business it is…

    ASCAP”S formulas have always been a mystery to me. At one time, I had a CD that reached #45 on national radio charts — getting hundreds of plays. My total royalties were $9 — yes nine dollars. ASCAP’s explanation was that most of the airplay was on college stations — outside their survey! So, who knows the logic behind ASCAP”S song v. film cue formula?

    I understand Joe R’s frustration. You are telling us how bad the business is, and how music schools are cranking out film composers, while at the same time, you are selling numerous how to make as a film composer publications on the Film Music Store page. Complaining about how crowded the business is while “encouraging” the dreamers?
    Combine that with the constant pitch from sample folks, selling “must have” sounds for any “serious film composer,” and one does get a bit jaded.

    I do think ASCAP needs to rethink its policies and procedures. I also think that if the business is so over-crowded, as to make getting work nearly impossible, that perhaps composers should look very cautiously at those who feed on their dreams.


  • Hequin O'Mas
    December 23, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Michael L: Amen

  • December 27, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

    I think the royalty situation should be seriously reevaluated. However, I do feel that the idea of “there are too many people already” is a bit too much.

    I believe that composers with skills, abilities, good taste and manner will always be needed. And I do hope that situation for those people to work well and comfortably will maintain a certain standard. However, even if that standard was to be deteriorated, I don’t think it was due to “competition” but structural issues which is nothing to do with music or composers.

    By the way, there are tremendous need for great concert composers who can create music which fit now and forever!

  • Mark Northam
    December 27, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

    Hi Kentaro –

    I agree with you, from a purely musical point of view – certainly there is a need – perhaps more today than in a long time – for more talented music to offset some of the lower quality music that is becoming all too common. But I guess that’s my point – I see many film scoring students graduating from colleges today with lots of dreams of becoming the next Horner, Goldsmith, etc but who are utterly unprepared by their schools for the harsh business realities that will govern their economic success or failure.

    But a huge oversupply in composers combined with a massive number of library tracks dumped onto the marketplace has caused a huge drop in composer fees for all but the very, very top A-list people, and that has made it harder than ever for composers to make a decent living writing music for film and television. Combine this with the US royalty society’s outrageous 80% penalty for a one minute score cue (as compared to a one minute song cue) on television and it makes it that much harder for composers to make a living.

    In the end, we need music organizations and people running them who truly respect and value score music – not just in word, but by their actions. Those in authority who devalue score music and treat it as second-class music are no friend to composers and should be recognized as such. If it is to survive and be more than “background instrumental” music, our art form desperately needs support, quality and integrity – not devaluation, depreciation, and economic suppression coming from the very people we hire and pay handsome salaries to allegedly maintain and protect the value of our music.

    But in the end, too many composers sit idly by and hope others will do the “dirty work” of fighting for better pay, eliminating massive royalty penalties, etc, hoping to benefit from that work without having to get their hands dirty and, heaven forbid, “offend” anyone. And so the work doesn’t get done, the penalties continue, and great score music and those who write it are treated and paid as “background music”, one step above perhaps what one might hear on an elevator.

    I think we can do better, if we dare to actually stand up and publicly fight for the value of the music we care about so much and have invested our lives and livelihoods in writing.

  • December 28, 2009 @ 1:32 am

    >>In the end, we need music organizations and people running them who
    >>truly respect and value score music

    I think we all agree with you on this!!! :)
    And this idea should apply to not only PROs but also to film and tv productions and companies, directors and producers, and music and media consumers.

  • Mark Northam
    December 28, 2009 @ 1:41 am

    Agreed. At least with the PROs there are only 3 organizations, and we choose and pay them – it should be far easier to change their “tune” regarding the worth of custom score music than an entire industry full of production companies, to many of whom we’re little more than vendors to be gotten at the lowest cost currently.

    The big question: if we cannot even change the perception of those WE PAY to collect our royalties (like ASCAP), what realistic chance to we have to change the perception of those who PAY US?

  • […] peaked our interest was the Film Music Magazine (FMM) article “Thanks ASCAP, But Do We Really Need More Concert Composers Competing For Films?” (December 2009). The piece weakly argued that concert composers are “diluting the already […]

  • January 21, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    I completely disagree with what you said. Please see my response at

  • March 12, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    I noticed that ASCAP is moving more of it’s operations to Nashville, the “Hot-Bed” of film composing, good luck with that. Get your spurs and big black hats ready.

    Joe Renzetti -member BMI

  • September 7, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    Music schools are at fault: for 100 years now, composers should have been told that they were obtaining a philosophical degree, and not a practical one.

    Most mainstream filmscorers today are beaten into submission – and so they have a similar sound. Being able to predict the action is not the hallmark of a great score.

    The concert composers aren’t elucidating the classical music experience much better. There is no call for a concert at the New York Philharmonic of nothing but new, living composers. We know what to expect: sound & fury…

    The fascinating novelty filmscores that ran from the late 1950s through the 1970s have passed into antiquity; the new music-order requires a good ear for film-sales. And that’s that.

    Concert composers won’t be a great challenge to existing filmscore composers (mostly men) whom most of the world never will recognize. Film is not sacred: it is not a not-for-profit enterprise. A good film does not require music.

    A new definition of what music actually is may be a place to start in deciding royalty percentages.

    The article you wrote remains interesting, months after press.

  • Ryan Shaffer
    February 20, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    Sure, concentrate all the composers that aren’t like you into one job facet and let us die out in this overcrowded corner of composing. I am a composer, and I need to carve out prospects for myself if I am going to make a liveable career out of composing. I think that by entering this field of work, you are accepting that there are substantial risks of utter failure and a whole lot of competition, and automatically surrendering the privilege of complaining about either.
    Finally, if you knew anything about ASCAP, it’s that it began as a way to ensure royalties for composers, before songwriters were introduced into the mix (and there are separate economic plans for composers and songwriters, by the way). However, by disparaging songwriters and their ambition to become composers, you seem to be squandering the creative arts all for yourself, when more people need to tap into the gift.
    I rather think you get off on sounding like a protectionist.

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