Paul FarrerPaul Ferrer composer

There for each other - Paul Farrer, BASCA

Paul Farrer has created music for some of the biggest programmes on British television, including Dancing on Ice, The Gladiators, Ant and Dec’s Push the Button and The Weakest Link. Here, he gives insight into the life of a screen composer...

Paul Nichols headshot
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 6 Jul 2015
  • min read
Think of a composer. Now remove some of their credibility and throw random-sized lumps of money at them four times a year. This could be a mortgage-destroying more-dosh-than-their-parents-made-in-a-decade sized cheque or some dust-like micro pennies. Add some stress, a few cloth-eared clients, computer plug-ins that don’t work properly and simmer on a low heat in a pan of self doubt. Et voila! You have yourself a media composer.

We are a funny bunch. Balancing a high wire act over the chasm between art and commerce, a media composer has to be comfortable sitting with a documentary director who is asking how many Peruvian nose flautists we can find, and comfortable reading an email telling them the jingle they wrote for that yoghurt commercial needs a more catchy hook once the tap-dancing cow arrives on screen. It is, in short, a lonely, high pressure career which has dizzyingly large amounts of terror, silliness, joy and job insecurity. Little wonder then that there are far too many people doing it already and loads more desperate to have a go. And of course the free market dictates that the more suppliers there are, the worse our clients can treat us. Compare how many guitarists you know with how quickly you can get a plumber to come to your house on a Sunday evening.

We don’t have a union, we have BASCA. The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors is an island in a sea of piranhas helping to steer and guide writers (at all stages of their career) through the choppy waters of business, rights and protecting their interests. Media composers specifically are represented within BASCA by the Media Executive - a panel of up to 12 top-of-their-game media composers who regularly meet up to exchange information and concerns from their experiences at the front line of the business. We formulate campaigns to try and fight for our collective rights, we talk to broadcasters, we talk to other composer organisations around the world, we talk to PRS for Music and we listen to our members’ concerns. Problems with a publisher? We’re on it. Work-for-hire anxiety? We’ve all been there. In a world that is better off the more isolated you feel, BASCA lets you know that you are not alone.

BASCA also hosts the modest annual works’ outing, sandwich buffet and mingle known as the Ivor Novello Awards. Thye are universally regarded as the most credible and prestigious gong any writer can receive, because unlike any other mantlepiece hardware an Ivor celebrates and bestows on the recipient the warmest and most profound kind of recognition: the respect of one’s peers. Our Gold Badge Awards in the autumn celebrate the outstanding men and women who might not be headline grabbing household names (although many are) but more importantly have, within their own field, made a unique contribution to Britain’s music industry.

To BASCA members who ask what we are for, I say that we are simply for each other. I can assure you that the very best people are volunteering their time to carry the torch on issues that impact us all. A good number of the same people whose over-stuffed IMDB profiles and sexy showreels make you want to give up, the same people whose names you are sick of seeing at the end of programmes and films are, in fact, quietly contributing advice, influence, perspective and effort to protect us all and try and make the composing landscape a fairer, more stable place to be. We want your help, we want your continued membership and to those who aren’t members yet...we want you.

I am grateful to Dan McGrath, Nainita Desai, Richard Jaques, Michael Price and Mark Ayres for their contributions to this piece.

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