The objectives of this study are to document the professional environment of screen composers in Canada and to provide a baseline against which subsequent studies may be measured. Screen composers are professional creators and producers of original music scores and songs used in audio-visual productions viewed on screens in cinemas, on television, and on digital and wireless devices. The study is based on a survey of members of the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC) and an analysis of existing documentation and published statistics. Key findings of the study are presented below.
In 2013, it is estimated that there were 262 members of SCGC who were professional screen composers active in English-speaking productions in Canada; screen composers active in French-speaking productions are represented by the Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec (SPACQ). SOCAN data suggest that there are thousands more screen composers in Canada but SCGC regroups the bulk of the individuals who earn a living through full-time screen composing.
Over half of SCGC’s members are based in Ontario (57%). About one-fifth of SCGC members (19%) are aged 35 or less, and almost one-third (29%) are 56 or more. On average, SCGC members have accumulated 14 years of full-time screen composing experience and 7 years part-time.
SCGC members are involved in a wide variety of projects. About one-half of members are involved in projects of theatrical form of at least 75 minutes (49%) and the same proportion is involved in projects of theatrical form of less than 75 minutes (54%). Three-quarters of members work on television projects (76%). One-third of SCGC members work on games and on-line projects (35%), advertising (39%), and stock music (34%).
Eight out of ten SCGC members are owner-operators of a screen composing business with half of them running an incorporated entity. In 2013, 49% of gross revenues from screen composing were obtained through ownership of a company, 59% from self-employment as a screen composer, and 4% from salaried employment as a screen composer. Screen composing businesses are micro-enterprises: 81% of them have no employees other than the owner. Including owner-operators, it is estimated that 321 (full-time equivalent) individuals are employees of members of SCGC; some 210 of these are based in Ontario. In addition, it is estimated that the SCGC members hired 202 full-time equivalent contract employees in 2013; 120 of them were based in Ontario.
Of all SCGC members’ gross screen composing revenues in 2013, 91% were derived from “package deal” contracts where the composer assumes all costs involved in creating and recording music, delivers finished, produced music, and grants the producer authorization to use the music. Nine percent of SCGC members’ 2013 gross revenues were associated with “creative deal” contracts where the composer receives a separate creative fee for composition work only and the production company pays all associated costs involved with the production, recording and mixing of the music. Only 6% of SCGC members received a salary in 2013 for screen composition performed as an employee of a company other than their own.
SCGC members reported average gross revenues from screen composing in 2013 of $109,297. Screen composers with 10 or fewer years of experience bring in one-third the income earned by those with more than 10 years of experience. SCGC members involved in the gaming and online industries as well as advertising and library/production/stock music earn significantly less than those involved in film and television. It is estimated that the total industry revenues were $28.6 million. In 2013, 76% of gross earnings of SCGC members were from screen composing. Overall, 48% of screen composing revenues are front-end (e.g. commissioning, composing, initial use licensing, production fees) and 45% are back-end (e.g. royalties). Most 2013 screen composing revenues were from sources located in Canada (78%). Equal shares of revenues were obtained from sources located in the United States (13%) and outside Canada and the United States (12%).
Data from US sources suggest that screen composing fees have declined by about 20% between 2006 and 2011. This is corroborated by member survey data which document clear perceptions of decreasing fees for a given project in parallel with increased demands on screen composers’ time.
For screen composers running a business, average total business expenses amount to $50,749 in 2013. This is in comparison to 2013 gross revenues of $109,297 from screen composing. Therefore, expenses represent 46% of gross revenues. Overall, 65% of expenses go to overhead or fixed costs (27% to rent, 13% to studio equipment, 20% to salaries, and 5% to other overhead cost) and 31% of expenses are dedicated to production or variable costs (19% go to performers and musicians, and 12% to other production costs).
The most significant challenges to business growth are the value given by clients to screen composing and the level of demand for services – two factors that are basically outside the control of screen composers. Local competition and client demands are the next most important challenges. The last two significant obstacles to growth are management and sales expertise, and access to foreign markets. Screen composers who do not run an incorporated entity (essentially, self-employed individuals) sense significantly more challenge to growth than those running an incorporated business, as do screen composers located outside of Ontario.