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Composer/songwriter For Film And Television: Composer • Lyricist • Songwriter • Writer (film And Television)


Composers/songwriters for film and television compose music, write lyrics, or both, and often produce the music recording.


Many composers are adept at playing piano, sequencer, synthesizer, or a combination of the three, and most have the ability to produce the music they write. Success requires the ability to compose memorable melodies and lyrics.


“There are a lot of people that have a gift, but that don't have the innate common sense and the innate tenacity that it takes to be successful over a long period of time. Anybody can have a hit, but to succeed over and over and over again, over a 20- to 25-year period, requires that intangible thing that allows you to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you have bitter disappointments.”

“Stay grounded when you're having a tremendous cycle of success. Always have a couple of balls in the air at the same time. It's hard when you've only got one thing that you're doing, you finish it, and you have to get something else going. It's easier to always try and have something in the wings waiting to segue to.”

“I've spent a lot of time learning all facets of the business side of music. Take the time to read contracts and learn about what publishing and subpublishing is. You should know what you're getting into. Become a well-rounded, intelligent person about the business side of any field you're entering into.”

“Writing a score is a different skill than songwriting, where you come up with a melody and you either write a lyric yourself, or you collaborate with another person, and you write a song,” says Steve Dorff. “Writing a score for a film is an integral part of the post production process, where you're musicalizing every moment of the movie with orchestral or some kind of music, generally without lyrics, that underscores the action, whether it is romantic, action-adventure, scary, or exciting. The creative process is the same with television as it is with film. The only difference being, there is a much smaller budget for television than for film.”


“Having time on my hands, when I'm not busy. That's frustrating for me.”


“I love being busy. I love the actual going into the studio and recording with an orchestra. Hearing for the first time those things that I only heard in my head. When it works, that's my favorite part.”


Steve Dorff is usually in his studio by ten each morning. “I generally co-write, so I'll usually set up an appointment once or twice a week with a co-writer.” When not booked with a co-writer, he works on his own ideas or may demo out a song. “When I'm working on a film or television series, my time is much more scheduled. I'm usually writing and/or orchestrating, looking at the film, from nine in the morning until two or three in the afternoon, everyday. It generally takes six to eight weeks to complete a film score. I'll work four to five days a week, five to six hours a day, looking at the film and creating motifs for the different elements, orchestrating, or putting thematic ideas down on tape.”


To gain some experience composing songs or scoring for film, contact film schools and make yourself available to student filmmakers.

“Really try to understand the business. When you read books and manuals, know what the games are and know what the pitfalls are. Know that just writing a song is only half of it. Knowing what to do with a song after you've written it is maybe even more than half of it. You need to know how to demo it, how to pitch it, how to present it. I'm not going to open the hood of a car and try to fix a carburetor without knowing what I'm doing.”

The transition from songwriter to film composer for Will Jennings came through a request from his publisher to write a song for a movie. It took another two years and a change of publisher before he got another film opportunity. In the interim, he continued to write songs for various recording artists.


“I always wanted to do music for movies,” says Steve Dorff. He started playing the piano at age four and was composing little tunes soon after. He began writing songs in junior high school and formed a rock and roll band, emulating the Beatles. To appease his parents, he enrolled at the University of Georgia, getting a degree in journalism, but his real interest remained songwriting. After graduation, he traveled between Atlanta and Nashville trying to break into the music business, finally landing his first songwriting contract with Lowry Music in Atlanta. While he dreamed of writing music for films, it took about four and a half years before he made the move to California.

Arriving in Los Angeles in 1974 without any contacts, and just enough money to last for two weeks, Dorff began making the rounds. “I just knocked on doors.” A demo tape he left for producer Snuff Garrett resulted in an audition and a contract for $250 per week. Dorff cut his musical teeth writing for five of Clint Eastwood's movies (among them, Every Which Way But Loose and Bronco Billy), producing seven number one hits in a row.

In 1984, Dorff signed a co-publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music, scoring music for television shows that included Growing Pains, My Sister Sam, Murphy Brown, and Reba. With production partner and lyrist John Bettis, Dorff wrote the Broadway musical Say Goodnight, which is based on the life of George Burns and Gracie Allen. He continues to write for films (Blast from the Past, Michael, Tin Cup, Jake's Corner, Small Town Saturday Night, and many more), as well as write hit songs for artists such as Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, and George Strait. Dorff and lyrist Marty Panzer are recipients of an 8 million performance award from BMI for the Kenny Rogers hit “Through the Years.”

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessCOMPOSING—SONGWRITING - Songwriter For Recording Artists: Composer • Lyricist • Songwriter • Writer, Composer/songwriter For Film And Television: Composer • Lyricist • Songwriter • Writer (film And Television)