6 Ways to Spot a Bad Composer Before it's Too Late

By Ninichi | Contact | Follow

Working with the right composer is such an important part to any successful project – whether you’re producing a film (see my cinematic music), working on an artistic project or creating a new game (see my game music examples).

However knowing how to spot the difference between the great ones and the not so great ones can be challenging.  So here are a few pointers to help you along the way:

1. Being Late for Meetings

Whoever you are looking to hire whether it’s a composer, developer, cast member for your film or otherwise – it’s really important that they turn up on time.  If they don’t – how can you rely on them for anything else in your project? So, if they start of being late for your initial meetings or calls, take this as a warning sign. Find a composer who respects you and your project enough to make time for it.

Also see: 5 Top Tips for Hiring a Composer for the First Time

2. They’re a Bad Listener

Great composers should always be great listeners. They need to be able to fully understand what you want from them i.e. what the brief is, what you’re trying to achieve, what emotions are going on in the scene and how you want people to feel when watching your movie or playing your game. A talented composer will be able to listen to your feedback and decipher what this means for the music.

If a composer doesn’t listen to you – they will be very hard to work with.  I would also question how good they could possibly be at their art of composition – because in order to be truly talented at music, I believe one must have a good ear! So, if they aren’t using their ears – how can they be any good at composing!?

If you're a game developer, also check out: 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Music for Your Game

3. They Don’t Ask Questions

The best composers will want to find out as much as they can about the project. They will want to immerse themselves in it and to understand everything they can about your vision and the ‘world’ that this music is to be set in.  They will want to emotionally engage with it and really ‘feel’ it so that when they compose and create the music – it completely fits with the mood, the genre, the setting and the ‘world’.

Any good game music composer or film music composer will know that questions are key to understanding the vision for the whole project as well as for each individual piece of music.

4. Creativity & Energy

If you have decided to invest in the music for your movie or game – it is important that the composer you work with is bringing real creativity and value to the project. If you have to think about everything and to direct them in every aspect of their work – then I would say that you might as well be doing it yourself! 

I believe that if you find the right composer, they can become an incredibly valuable asset to your team. You will also appreciate their talent, skill and artistry in relation to the music and hopefully they will be able to bring your game or movie to life in a way that you wouldn’t be able to on your own.

If you're still debating whether or not to invest in hiring a composer and in your music, take a look at Why Game Music is So Important.

5. The Music Doesn’t Fit

This sounds like an obvious one but before deciding on which composer you want to work with – think about the mood and style that you like and want for your project. Whether you’re producing a video or developing a game – certain composers will be more suited to working with you depending on their style, how they compose, what tools and techniques they use, how they approach the music and so on. 

If you explore my various web pages (e.g. my game music page or film music section) you'll see that I've tried to include a range of examples of my music in different genres to give the listener an idea of what I've done on various projects and the styles I'm most comfortable with. This is the type of thing to look carefully at and spend some quality time on.

Have a listen to what the composer has written in the past. Do you like the sound of it? Does the style work for you? If you like what they’ve done in the past but require something a bit different for your film or game – why not ask them to create a sample in the style you’re looking for?  See if they can create something that you like in the style that you need. Then if it doesn’t seem like a good fit, you will have explored and identified this early on.

6. The Sounds Don't Balance or Blend Well

Composers need to be conscious of what they are writing for and what the music will be accompanying. When working with your composer, try to help them by indicating exactly how you want to use the music and where it fits within the greater scheme of things.  Will there be a voiceover or people speaking over the top of the music? What else is happening in the scene or during the game? Do you want the music to be the focus on the listener’s attention or do you want them focusing on something else?

Read next: How to Work Well with a Game Music Composer

About the authorNinichi is a freelance indie game music composer and film composer. She has composed the soundtracks and music to several indie games and films and is a great supporter of indie projects. 

Listen to examples of Ninichi's game music compositions and soundtracks & read more articles like this on the Ninichi music blog

Follow her @ninichimusic