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.
Watch and read
- How to become a film, tv, and video game music composer
- How Pixar uses music to make you cry
- James Horner’s TED Talk on composing film scores
- Hans Zimmer The Lion King roundtable
- How to write music for television: animation
- Career spotlight: composer for screen - dBs | The sound & music institute
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
Who does a composer work with?
How do I become a composer?
Composers get jobs based on their portfolio. You need a high level of musical knowledge and technical skill, so generally all composers are formally trained in music. Some have specific degrees in composing for film and television. Access to kit for recording your music is very helpful. The most important thing, however, is that you have a strong body of work to demonstrate your skill and personal style. You also need to make connections with filmmakers and musicians. You might want to try to get a place on ScreenSkills' Trainee Finder scheme in the edit department. Even if you are working on live-action films rather than animations, it will give you invaluable experience insights into the process of adding sound to film.
At school or college:
A-levels or Highers in music will equip you for this role. If you can do film studies too, it will contribute to your understanding of writing music for film.
Or you might want to take any of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Performing Arts
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Performing Arts
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Performance and Production
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Performing and Production Arts
If you want to go straight into a job or become self-employed, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications might help you:
- BTEC National Extended Diploma in Music
- BTEC National Diploma in Sound Production
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Technology
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
- RSL Subsidiary Diploma for Music Practitioners (Composition)
- RSL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative and Performing Arts
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
Watch a lot of films and listen to the music:
Watch as many films and television shows as you can and pay attention to how the music is scored. Get a feel for how music interacts with the film and musical styles vary between genres.
Build a portfolio:
Start writing your own music. Learn music composition and notation software. Find filmmakers who need someone to write the music for their film and collaborate with them, or you can practise and add to your portfolio by writing your own new scores for existing films. Building your portfolio is essential. Go to build your music portfolio to learn how.
Get a degree:
Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in composing. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the animation industry.
Look outside the industry:
Composers are needed in lots of industries outside of animation. As well as live-action film and TV and games, there are also composing jobs in advertising and theatre. See if you can get a job in one of these fields and gain experience that you can later use to compose for animation.
Take a short course:
Hone your skills and improve your knowledge of creating music for film by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills and see if there is one in sound or music.
Get to know people in the animation industry by attending events. Meet producers, music editors and composers and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.
Become a trainee:
Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. Get the skills, make contacts and start working as a sound trainee.
Search for jobs:
Research animation companies that you’d like to work for. Animation UK has a directory of animation companies. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for composers for their projects. You can also send in a speculative CV and link to your portfolio and ask employers to keep it on file so they can consider you if any suitable jobs come up. Search job websites for composer roles and apply for positions.
You might also be interested in...
Being a sound designer in the animation industry or being a sound designer or a composer in the games industry. You might also be interested in being a music editor in the film and TV drama industries.
- Film Scoring Masterclass with Logic Pro X
- The Hollywood Reporter Film Composers Roundtable
- The Hans Zimmer Composer Round Table
- ThinkSpace Education - videos on composing for film
- CG Spectrum – Free Resources
- Bloop Animation – Video Tutorials
- Understand Disney's 12 principles of animation
- Cartoon Brew
- Skwigly Online Animation Magazine
- CGI Dreamworks Animation Studio Pipeline | CGMeetup
- Any-Mation (video essays) – YouTube
- ScreenSkills resources directory