Today I want to talk to you about how much it costs to be a soundtrack composer and, as you will soon see, it is a nice dive into reality because we are talking about a profession that is not only a source of income but is also accompanied by a whole series of costs that must be supported.
To clarify the topic, I will talk to you specifically about the more or less fixed or recurring expenses which are strictly related to the various digital services necessary for the profession.
The first of these tools is Google One. Google One is Google’s paid suite that allows you to get more storage space to store your data on Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos compared to the 15 GB of storage offered free by Google to all its users. Google Oneit costs €1.99/month (€24/year) and offers 100 GB of storage space. Why did I personally decide to buy this expansion? Not so much to have more space on Google Drive but to have more dedicated to emails which are the main tool I use for work when exchanging files with directors, producers and editors. So you understand that it is necessary for me to also have an archive of the online history of the conversations that took place as well as all the attachments.
Cubase is added to Google One , a software for composers that covers all phases of music production: from composition to mastering. The basic cost of Cubase is €570 but it is a cost that I don’t put in my budget because once purchased it remains yours for life. The cost to budget, however, is that relating to its upgrades which usually come out once a year and cost around €100. So it must be taken into account that to have the latest version of Cubase every year we have to spend €100 and we must have it because each upgrade brings notable improvements that simplify and speed up our work. So to the €24/year of Google One we add the €100/year of Cubase and we have a total cost of €124/year.
Another program to purchase is Dorico , a musical notation program that I use a lot when I compose. Here too the situation is the same, the purchase base is €570 with annual updates of €100 which, added to the previous calculated costs, give us an annual total of €224.
Now let’s get to SoundCloudwhich is the platform (free or paid) that allows us to upload our musical creations and stream them. Even if it’s not exactly cheap, I think it’s very useful because many Music Supervisors frequent it and can create playlists in which to include our songs and embed them (which they couldn’t do if they were only uploaded to our site). This way our music has the chance to reach many more people and in key places in film production and recording, so I recommend it. You can also create your own playlists where you can add/delete songs, see which are the most listened to and have other options such as 3-4 mastering of songs carried out per month. Mainly I use this platform to upload my archive to listen to or to create playlists for directors to send the link to so they can listen to them anywhere. Service basic SoundCloud is free and allows you to upload a total of 2 hours of music, but you understand that for those who are not just starting out but have a broader repertoire, these are insufficient . To overcome the problem, the paid version is available which offers unlimited playing time at a cost of €8.25/month (€99/year), so our total costs reach €324/year.
To manage the website, then, we will need WordPress whose basic version (which is a blog ” name”.wordpress.com ) is free, but by spending €4/month (€48/year) you can get a domain personal (“name”.com ). I advise you to always have your own personalized site and I believe that WordPress is the most economical and practical solution you can have available. And so our overall costs rise to €372/year. WordPress is obviously the cheapest solution but there are also others . Personally, I switched from WordPress to Aruba(always a WordPress system), then I uploaded the WordPress software to Aruba servers. Why did I make this choice?
- In this way I obtained an additional personal email ( info @ kristiansensini.com ) which gives a certain professionalism.
- On the WordPress blog I couldn’t upload very large files since there is a size limit which is no longer applicable with Aruba .
Let’s then talk about IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base ) whose Pro version costs € 135 / year. It’s the place you need to be! abroad if you are not on IMDB you don’t exist, you are not cinema professionals! So try to work first of all to get credits on IMDB , make sure that the small or large works you do are listed on this site which is the absolute container of especially American cinema. The annual fee of €135/year for IMBD Proit allows you to manage your account by posting photos, to be able to freely update your CV and everything related to your business, to insert short showreels (even if not of very high quality). Adding this amount too we arrive at a total cost of €507/year.
Other costs are (for italian composers) those connected to the SIAE in which it is essential to be present because it is a collecting society that collects copyright royalties for us. The cost of annual membership to the SIAE is €150, a cost which, however, could also be eliminated when the royalties collected equal it in amount. If this were not the case, however, this cost would be added to all the previous ones, reaching a total of €657/year.
Furthermore, I am part of at least a couple of associations, one of which is the Acmf (Association of film music composers ) whose cost of registration as a supporting member is €150. You can go to their website (http://www.acmf.it/ ) to check the various fees available since you can also participate in the association as members with different costs. I highly recommend you take part in it because it helps us fight small battles that as composers are fundamental for us.
Another American association to which I am a member is the Scl ( S ociety of C omposers & L yricists ) whose cost is €58 (€208/year) which added to the previous costs leads to a total total of €865/year .
We now come to the costs associated with the accountant , taking into account that the figures I will tell you about may vary based on the place where you live and where the accountant closest to you is located, as well as the type of procedures he has to carry out, etc. Taking into account my management (for a composer an accountant doesn’t have to do much in reality, the necessary procedures don’t require long times) I calculate around €600/year which, added to the other costs, brings us to €1465/year.
Another fundamental component is the energy necessary for the functioning of our machines, for the tools and especially for the workstation which also consumes a lot. Yes, we composers consume a lot of energy for all our equipment! Keeping low, I calculated a cost of €180/month (€2160/year) which, added to the costs already seen, brings us to €3625/year.
Let’s now talk about Spotify , a tool that we can choose to have or not since it is not essential for our work as composers. Personally, I use Spotify but ” I hate it ” because I don’t like the company’s policy, I don’t like how much musicians are paid for each stream since it takes more than a thousand per record to get the same amount you would get from sales. of a single CD! But for us film music composers, Spotify is, alas, a necessary evil. This is because many supervisors and directors frequent it and make playlists there, then publish on Spotifyit is useful for this as it is for us too because it allows us to: – create our own personal playlists divided into thematic areas in which to collect the songs that interest us most – create playlists where we can upload the music we produce to listen to. Spotify is available in a free version (so with all the advertising we can still enjoy the music) but I consider it a gesture of good will to choose the paid version because at least that €99/year subscription is distributed among the musicians who go there. to listen. So now our overall cost is €3724/year.
We come to CrashPlan , an online backup system where we can upload our entire music archive protectedly and not on a dedicated server. The cost is just €108/year and I consider it a fundamental thing. Personally, I spend €100/year much more willingly on CrashPlan than on Spotify or IMDB precisely because it allows me to keep all the material that I could always use even if I had a monstrous crash in my studio that blew up my NAS and all my hard drives! Therefore, adding CrashPlan to the overall costs we arrive at €3832/year.
Another expense to bear is the rent/mortgage with an expense of €6000/year (I kept it very low, then it depends on where you live). This is because if we don’t live at mum and dad’s house, the rent/mortgage is something we have to take into consideration, it’s a figure to enter whether you work from home or rent a special space to make it your studio. And we are at €9832/year of expenses.
Then there is Internet connection since clearly one cannot do without it having to work with files to send to fellow composers, directors and producers. Here it depends on what your managers’ offers are and therefore I generally quantify this expense in €30/month (€360/year) which brings us to €10,198/year of expenses.
Then again there is Distrokid , the system I use to publish on Spotify and all digital stores. With €32/year all included Distrokid allows us to publish everything we want at any time. It’s clear that the earnings from streaming and digital distribution are truly paltry, but it’s important to be there, it’s important that our name is on: iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, because it means we work.
We thus arrive at a final total of € 10,230 /year and here I stop.
So what does all this mean?
Considering that a composer for a project such as an independent film earns around €10,000 as a score bonus in Italy, one might think that by making a film a year one can live comfortably by covering the costs calculated above… In reality, not that’s how it is! This is not the case because then you will also have to live, eat, pay for the costs of the car for example or other expenses not necessarily connected to the activity of a composer. So making one film a year is not enough! Also because I have to invoice that €10,000 and therefore I have to pay a series of taxes. So if I make a film for €10,000 due to Italian tax legislation I actually earn about half of it. Then it is clear that we must organize ourselves to earn more to be safe, and here a huge parenthesis opens up: having to have earnings that are alternative to those deriving from writing and publishing a soundtrack. I must have SIAE earnings, I must have royalties earnings (therefore publish and provide songs to music libraries), have a whole series of so-called “passive” income, that is, which comes in monthly or annually without you doing “anything” (the right to the author is one of these).
If you want to be a freelancer (we composers are such) my fundamental advice is to still have a second job that allows you to have some income allowing you to live your work as a composer in peace and away from small problems that may arise (a film that was promised to you but then skips, for example). I myself combine the activity of a part-time music teacher in school with that of a composer and having this fixed salary allows me to feel comfortable, to be able to manage my activity as a composer by working as I say, in my own time and refusing jobs which in the past I would never have been able to refuse because I would only have had expenses. I honestly tell you that I currently earn more as a composer than as a teacher, however, if a series of studio commitments or projects were to be missed for the most varied reasons (see the recent pandemic years or the current world war upon us) I would still have a sort of “parachute” to protect me. Much also depends on your tax regime. If you have a traditional VAT number you can download some of the expenses mentioned, but if you are in the minimum regime (get advice from your accountant…) no. Of course, if you are just starting out, consider that it will take some time before you start earning, you will have more expenses than earnings and then you will slowly settle down. In conclusion, do not take what is said here as a way to discourage you but rather as a reality check!
I hope that the advice deriving from my personal experience that I wanted to share with you can be useful to you in managing the annual or recurring expenses resulting from your activity as composers.