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SOUND AND MUSIC

Job Title: Composer

Job Overview

Compose music, write lyrics, or both, and often produce the music recording sessions.

Special Skills

Most 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.

“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 to write a song,” says composer Steve Dorff. “Writing a score for a film is an integral part of the postproduction process, where you're musical-izing 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.”

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

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,” says Dorff. “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.”

Professional Profile: Steve Dorff, Composer, Songwriter

“I always wanted to do music for movies,” says award-winning composer Steve Dorff. He began playing piano at age four and was composing little tunes soon after. While in junior high school, he began writing songs and formed a rock and roll band, emulating The Beatles.

What do you like least about your job?

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

What do you love most about your job?

“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

To appease his parents, he enrolled at the University of Georgia, earning a degree in journalism, but his real interest remained in 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.

CAREER TIPS

* “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. “Steve Dorff

* “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 doingyou 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.” -Steve Dorff

In 1984, Dorff signed a co-publishing deal with Warner Chapel Music, scoring music for television shows that included Growing Pains, My Sister Sam, and Murphy Brown.

Dorff has written hit songs for artists such as Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, and George Strait. He continues to compose for feature films (Blast from the Past, The Cactus Kid, Dudley Do-Right, Michael, Tin Cup, and many more) and is currently working on the television series Reba. Dorff is the father of actor Stephen Dorff.

Additional topics

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