The Importance of Music Composers

Posted 19th March 2024


Written by William Philipson - Composer and Screen Music and Sound Guild Committee Member.

Getting a composer to join your 48Hours film might seem difficult- I can share some top secret secrets on how to trap a composer in the wild, and once your composer is in captivity, how to care for them.

Why Teams Should Include A Music Composer
To start at the beginning, music serves as a fundamental element of cinema, shaping the audience's emotional response and enhancing the overall viewing experience. Just as actors bring characters to life, a music composer breathes life into the film's atmosphere, narrative, and themes through carefully crafted melodies and harmonies. A well-composed score has the power to unlock a spectrum of emotions within the audience, from heart-wrenching sorrow to spine-tingling excitement. It elevates the entire film, intensifying key moments, and immersing viewers deeper into the story's world.
Imagine the final romantic kiss at the end of the film without that perfect score swelling—it would just be awkward mouth sounds.
While it may be tempting to utilise pre-existing music, you miss out on something truly unique. Doing so can lead to copyright issues if proper permissions are not obtained. By having a dedicated composer on the team, filmmakers can sidestep these legal complexities and ensure that their project remains legally sound.Instead of squeezing your film to fit existing music, a composer can craft an original bespoke score that is reacting authentically to the emotions and rhythms in your film. An original score breathes with your film; it doesn’t force it to conform to an already existing form.
48Hours can be the perfect opportunity to reach out and connect. It is also a fantastic opportunity for filmmakers who have maybe never worked with original music before to try that out.

Why A Composer Should Join A Team
While most of this article is encouraging filmmakers to reach out to composers, I briefly want to do the opposite and encourage composers to get out there and join a team. It really is a great initiative and a fantastic opportunity for a composer to cut their teeth in screen composition.
Joining a team for events like the 48 Hours film challenge provides an unparalleled training ground for aspiring composers. In the fast-paced world of filmmaking, there's no substitute for hands-on experience. The only way to learn how to write for film is to write for film—and here is that opportunity. It’s a quick crash course of a process that can sometimes take months (or even years). It's a sink-or-swim situation, but the growth and learning are undeniable. Sure, it's intense, but that's where the real learning happens.
That being said, at the end of the day, 48 Hours is a low stakes environment. There's no pressure to create a flawless masterpiece—every shoot is bound to make a few mistakes along the way. But that's all part of the fun. It's a chance to experiment, try new things, and see what works and what doesn't.
48 Hours can be the perfect opportunity to reach out and connect. For composers, it's a golden opportunity to meet and work with filmmakers and other industry professionals. You never know who you might meet or what doors might open as a result. Plus, collaborating with other creatives can spark new ideas, push you out of your comfort zone, and ultimately make you a better composer.

Working With Your Music Composer
It’s important to remember that your composer is a key creative member of your team, and not just an afterthought at the end.
Early involvement is key to maximising the impact of the composer's work. Invite them to join your initial meetings and discussions so they can gain a thorough understanding of the film's themes, characters, and overall tone. This early involvement allows the composer to begin brainstorming musical ideas and motifs that align with the film's vision from the outset. Additionally, the sooner they start composing, the more time they'll have to refine their work.
Effective communication and clear expectations are essential for a successful collaboration between filmmakers and composers. Take the time to discuss with your composer how they prefer to deliver and receive files. Establishing a streamlined workflow ensures that files are exchanged efficiently and without confusion, minimising delays in the production process. Furthermore, create a detailed schedule and timeline outlining when key milestones, such as starting and finishing compositions, need to be met. This helps both parties stay organised and accountable, ensuring that the music production stays on track and aligns with the film's production timeline.

How To Find A Music Composer
It is true many of us are solitary creatures, hiding away in home studios, but there are ways to track us down.
The most complete directory of NZ screen composers is the directory of the Screen Music & Sound Guild of New Zealand; even though many of these established composers may be too busy to work on your 48Hour film, they might be able to point you towards an emerging composer who is keen! You can also search this directory by region, and find composers in your area.
There are various ways you can find places where musicians congregate, but I would recommend starting on Facebook. Your first port of call would probably be the 48Hours - The Group page; many composers who are keen for 48Hours or have done 48Hours previously will be hanging out on this Facebook page.
Then there are also large groups where just musicians congregate, for example New Zealand Musicians Networking. There are also specific Facebook groups for each major city, and most University music programs have their own Facebook groups; for example Wellington Musicians Society is an active Facebook group with over 5000 members.
Good luck! The 48 Hours film challenge isn't just a great initiative—it's practically a rite of passage for screen workers in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

About Me
I am a committee member of the Screen Music and Sound Guild of New Zealand, an organisation dedicated to promoting the interests of screen composers and sound workers in this country. But for my day job, I write the music for the primetime soap opera Shortland Street. We do five episodes every week, so I would describe it like doing the 48-hour film festival every single day—but it’s been going on for three decades. 

 * Attention Filmmaking Teams & Composers! *

We have been lucky to have WestOne Music Group as our music sponsor for the past couple of years, however this year we are shifting focus to original composition in association with the Screen Music and Sound Guild of NZ (SMSG)!

So, whether you're a team on the hunt for the perfect film music composer, or a stray composer looking to join a team - we in association with SMSG are hosting a matching programme to pair the two parties up! Whether you're seasoned pros or first-time competitors, we want to help you out!

Send a message to  and  with the following info:

- Name

- Are you a team / Composer?

- Location/City

- Names of Team Members

- Email

- Phone Number

- Level/Experience

Tell us a bit about your team in a sentence or two - are you fresh-faced first-year uni students diving into the world of filmmaking, or seasoned veterans with multiple entries under your belt? We want to help you to collaborate and create something unforgettable together!