How to Get A Job as a Composer's Assistant
Whether your dream has always been to work with a certain composer, or if you're looking for an experience the Outlier team can't provide you with right now; this is for those of you looking to find jobs at studios, with other composers, or just about any job in the music industry.
Really though, we can use this for any starter to mid-level job in any industry.
I've only ever been an assistant once in my life, and I got it through a mutual friend. It was a fantastic experience, I learned a lot, and I even got to work at John Powell's studio for a little bit.
Afterwards, I knew I didn't want to be an assistant to someone anymore, but I did want to work with people - with teammates. So the caveat is I don't have direct experience getting hired to be a composer's assistant.
That said, I do have a lot of knowledge and experience with getting hired for a job and hiring/working with people like teammates, interns, assistants, etc.
You'll notice a lot of what's in here is similar to the way we do everything - it's all about contributing value to the people we want to work with. Here's what I would do if I wanted to get a job with a composer...
Focus Your Efforts
I think the most important step for this is to not cold call every composer you can find, but instead be super focused and intentional about who you want to work with. That way, you're channeling all of your energy to presenting a very compelling proposal to the people you do contact.
Once you find the people you'd love to work with, figure out what they're all about. If they work in a team-based studio environment, figure out what the studio culture might be like.
Dig into what this composer has done, what they currently do, and what their goals are. You can learn a lot by looking them up online or asking a current/past employee about their experience with them.
Concurrently, write up and design (to the best of your ability) a resume - let me know if you'd like an extra set of eyeball on that. Would be fun to help out!
There are sites like CANVA (a free service with options for a subscription-based membership, which offers additional tools and design materials) that make it easy to create great-looking resumes. I used one of their templates as a jump-off point for one I recently made.
Check it out here (with placeholder text under the "Contact," "Clickable Links," and "Projects That've Prepared Me For..." sections):
Assemble a Proposal
In addition to your resume and cover letter, write up a one-page proposal regarding specific things you think you can help with (according to their goals).
If they're a company that sells products, write up a "Next Three Products" proposal. It doesn't matter if you don't initially have amazing ideas. The goal behind this is to show them you're in it for them - you're in it for their success.
If they're a team that supplies a service, figure out possible ways to make their processes more efficient. See if you can think outside the box - not knowing how a company operates and coming in with fresh eyes is sometimes the best way to introduce new ideas.
If you haven't been able to figure out what their goals or problems are - ask them. As an employer, finding someone who's actually interested in tackling these subjects is super desirable, and something any growing business would want.
Here's the email that's helped our team build a bunch of great relationships with the people we work with.
Again, I haven't tested this with composers I wanted to assist, but it's the kind of email I wish people would send me - it'd make hiring them a lot easier.
Include an introduction explaining how you heard of the composer and what you like about what they do.
Write about how you've served others in your potential employer's position - even if it's smaller scale work. This will take some "pre-work" a few months before contacting your future employer.
Pre-work can be something like helping your colleagues/friends with tasks you enjoy (and don't enjoy), or even creating something for yourself to use. It can be stuff like designing sounds on a synthesizer, making charts to promote efficiency on Google Sheets, transcribing your favorite score by ear, or anything that you find interesting.
A friend of mine literally programmed software meant to organize cues when he joined a team working on a Netflix series. Talk about a team player.
Do a lot of potentially valuable work - enough so that it feels substantial and noteworthy. If you've worked with us for a while, there's a good chance we'll have plenty of things to include in this section: working on thousands of sounds with Output, helping with the scores or trailers we're doing, etc.
Any larger-scale projects are worth mentioning in this section. Let me know if you're preparing for this process so we can get you on more projects that are valuable to wherever you're looking to go.
Ask your potential employer questions that show them you understand their goals. This can be a call-to-action that will jump start a conversation.
Lastly, length does matter - simple and short is preferred. But if there's potential value in it for the reader, it's worth saying more.
An Email Template
I'm a composer and sound designer, so if I wanted to work with an experienced full-on working composer, this is what I'd write...
(Again, take ideas from this and make them your own. There's nobody better at being you than you.)
SUBJECT LINE: Hey [Composer Name] - how can I contribute?
Hey [Composer Name],
My name's Daniel and I'm a composer and sound designer [hyperlink to your website on "I'm a composer and sound designer"]. I've been a long-time fan of the way you provide so much value to the people you work with - particularly with your film scores (something I love to do) [hyperlink to your IMDb (if you have one) on "something I love to do"]. You and your team have accomplished a lot of fantastic work and I'm really interested in your future goals.
In the past few months, I've helped 6 of my colleagues on their film scores by taking on sound design & additional music tasks at Outlier Studios [link to our work page on "Outlier Studios"]. This led to awesome workflows where we were able to establish a delivery system that made us super efficient for our filmmakers. [This is very much a placeholder... if you've done something notable, mention it!]
I did all that in preparation for my current goal (which my current team was enthusiastic about!); I want to find composers doing great things and explore possible ways to contribute to their success.
When you have a moment, I'd love to learn a few things about you [or "the team," if they have one]:
What could a composer or sound designer do to add value to you and your team? How can I help with your objectives?
From what I've seen, it looks like you already have a solid workflow, but I'm interested to know if you're looking to work with an additional assistant or sound designer. Maybe even as a supplemental team member that's on-call?
Thanks for your time, [Composer Name]. Really looking forward to hearing more about you!
[Sign off with contact info]
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THIS PROCESS
This isn't the only process we can use to get a job, but it's one that I've used for years with great results. Additionally, the people we've used it with really appreciated how much time we took to do the research and assemble materials. It's just hard to say "no" to someone that's so willing to make things happen.
My most memorable moments with it were talking and meeting with the creative guys at Output, the prolific team at 8dio, the hard-working folks at Umlaut Audio, and so many different filmmakers and collaborators. Fun, fulfilling, and meaningful relationships were built.
These extra steps we take to give people an awesome experience is what has helped us grow as a team. As you consider other opportunities within the team, or outside of it, go that extra step. People will remember you for it.
I hope this helps you the next time you're looking for your next job or position! Let me know if you've got questions on any of this. Would love to dig in and elaborate!