Creating a financially and creatively lucrative space for oneself within the music industry has never been a tougher task to accomplish. For over a decade, artists as well as traditional record labels have experienced a dramatic drop in album sales given the availability of digital streaming and the prevalence of illegal music torrenting. As consequence, many successful musicians have had to effectively diversify the applications of their talents through media endeavors, commercial licensing, excessive touring, and learning how to produce and record music.
While the 21st century has seen the demise of the traditional music industry as well as the four to five piece pop band, the amount of media content both produced for and consumed by the mass public is at an all time high, giving modern musicians additional avenues to create opportunities and success. Easier said than done, however, with both the music and movie industry having reputations of being notoriously competitive and unorganized relative to other sectors. Los Angeles has for years served as the epicenter of opportunity for music and movies, attracting the brightest and most creative minds from not only around the country, but around the world. This culmination of global creativity is what largely fuels the highly competitive space musicians find themselves in as traditionally stable session musician jobs and overall album sales diminish.
With all this being said, how does a musician make it in this day and age given the pressures of not only being able to play and perform with the best talent in the world, but being able to network in order to create business opportunities in a highly subjective field? Readers needn’t look further than guitarist and composer Nicolas Salinardi. Inspired by the likes of legendary composers Hans Zimmer and John Williams, Salinardi has created a lucrative space for himself in L.A. through consistent collaboration, musical entrepreneurship, and most notably, applying his musical talents to a diverse range of film directors.
Many lessons can be learned from Salinardi in regard to networking, and as a immigrant to the United States, specifically Los Angeles, Salinardi had to start from the ground up, navigating the tumultuous movie and music industries among a sea of talented musicians all competing for job opportunities. While having a formal education in music definitely gives a musician expertise and extreme proficiency with a given instrument, the ability to strictly play well only goes so far in the real world. “Networking is very important not only in this business but in any business,” says Salinardi. “Having and harvesting social skills is something that we all need to pay attention to. Sometimes as musicians we tend to be introverted and just concentrate on creating music and trying to deliver the best possible product. What you always want to do in this business is try to become the go-to person for some people. The big directors in Hollywood usually have composers they work with constantly and are always their first option.” Salinardi recalls learning this lesson in collaboration early in his career after founding his own record studio BullSound when he was just 21 years old. Initially a frustrating experience due to the nearly two years it took to get the endeavor up-and-running, during this time Salinardi was able to consistently produce for and collaborate with bands such as Mingo and Inversa, all the while solidifying business relationships with the members of these bands. Soon, these bands recommended Salinardi’s talents to other artists due to his strong work ethic and welcoming personality, eventually leading him toward his dream of composing music for film. Reaping the rewards of business opportunities down the road largely comes from the time put into building relationships and collaborating with different artists due to the subjective nature of the industry.
When it comes to creating original material, being technically able to play a given instrument or write music flawlessly can only go so far. There has to be a spark of both inspiration and originality working together in order to create an emotionally engaging sonic atmosphere. With this being said, the job a composer has in building a proper sonic environment for every scene and event for a given movie is one of the most idiosyncratic roles in the music industry. Initially learning this job characteristic on-the-go, Salinardi recalls that when he landed his first composing gig to make the music for the recently released Old Knacks, he was only sent the script and other than that had nothing to base his music on. Although, this did not stop him from taking advantage of the business opportunity, “He sent me a script right after our call and I started composing that same night. I scored that project with no video,” says Salinardi.
Many movie audiences don’t realize this aspect of a film’s composition. Successful composers like Salinardi must learn to juggle a plethora of tangibles, from the vision and whim of the director to the precision of the musicians performing his compositions. “It is hard sometimes to understand some projects when you see the cuts or read the scripts for the first time,” says Salinardi. “The first time I watch a cut, I just watch the film start to finish as a regular viewer and try to get an idea of the story and characters. The second time is where I start taking notes and writing down specific timings where I think the music should change directions. I also write down why I think the music should do that.” Writing the ‘why’ in regard to a choice over the direction of a score is something a lot of musicians do not think to do, but given the nature of composers constant collaboration, this task proves to be hugely beneficial in being able to answer questions from the director as well as being able to add or subtract from those notes later when the recording takes place.
Learning how to adapt to a given situation or creative vision is what separates musicians and composers like Salinardi from the less prosperous ones. Collaboration means that sometimes as a musician one will have vast creative control, and in other cases the responsibility will be more fine-tuned. Being able to humbly and confidently apply one’s talents in all instances is how a musician goes from being unknown to making a living solely off of their talent. In Salnardi’s case, he has just taken on a more fine-tuned but unique role as a composer for director Stephen Garone in his recently shot short film Little Spoon. “He asked me to write only source music (music that the characters are actually listening to) and make it sound like the music was coming out of an old record player,” enthusiastically states Salinardi. “So the music should sound like smooth jazz people would listen back in the 50s. This involves not only having musical knowledge from that time but also knowing how the music was mixed back then. For this project I had to do some research and read old articles on how they approached a genre like this one.”
All in all, it’s safe to say that for the majority of musicians, the key to success comes from learning how to adapt and collaborate in a multitude of roles while using one’s ability to compose and perform across forms of media and genres. While the money in the music industry may not be consolidated in places it once was a couple of decades ago, lucrative opportunities are still there, it just takes a little more finesse and entrepreneurial spirit – the type of entrepreneurial ambition Salinardi has brought to the Los Angeles music and movie scene that will continue to inspire generations of musicians yet to come.