Control: ASCAP Composer Peter Fish on Keeping Your Music

By Peter Fish  •  June 6, 2012

I was recently asked by ASCAP (thanks guys) to write a piece for the ASCAP website about my "career shift" from composing into producing content, as was published in Sonic Scoop recently. And while that is a good and interesting story, I think a further and deeper story is the various reasons WHY I have done so.

After much thought, I have decided that it all comes down to one slightly dirty word: Control.

Slightly dirty? I say this because control has some nasty connotations these days. First off, there's the word "freak," as in "control freak." Then of course, there's the very nice opposite of control to consider, which is "collaboration." Yes, that's the buzzword these days. Collaborate with directors, other composers, video and graphic designers, what have you. And while of course no one, including me, is doubting the positive effectiveness of collaboration, a close look at any composer's career will tell you that control is all the more important.

First off, let's talk money. How do we as composers make it? By CONTROLLING as much as possible of our copyrights and publishing. We give up publishing reluctantly, and hopefully for good and just compensation that giving it up will allow us to have up front.

Second, let's talk about control over how, where and when we work. In most cases of course, we have NO control. Directors hire who they want, when they want. In times such as now, when sync licenses of 70's oldies rule the day, there is less and less jingle work to be had. So we as composers have little or no control. I'm sure we would all agree that for us, composers and songwriters, this is a major, seemingly unsolvable problem.

Then, of course, there is creative control. How many times have you done the PERFECT piece of music, nailed a scene right on the head, been brilliant in every regard, only to have the director shake his head and essentially say "nice try?" It happens all the time! It doesn't make him or her right and you wrong. Or make you right and them wrong. It just makes you shake your head in agony (especially when the movie comes out and certain scenes that you know you nailed fall flat as a pancake and no one, except you, knows why). So in the end, while collaboration is a beautiful thing, control is what makes the world sing.

So that's a long story to illustrate why at this stage of my career, I am determined to have as much control as possible. I have been blessed with longtime clients who understand that, by this time in my career, I may know a thing or two about the process of making TV and films. After all, we as composers have seen it all, from script to rough cut to fine cut to final, and have heard about every stage of the production process. Including the part where they say to us "Sorry your budget is so tiny, but cost overruns in production forced us to cut post-production dollars out of the budget." I am very fortunate that I have been asked by one of my clients to actually start a production company with him, and to help him produce content. After all, I have probably scored more TV than some people watch in a year, and seen more rough cuts of films turn into final cuts than the average bear. So, if only by osmosis, I have absorbed the lessons of production.

And budgeting? Well any composer who has done anything has had to budget for his piece of the production, so extrapolating that out to the bigger playing field of a full show or series is not that great a challenge.

I guess what I am saying is that there is an inner producer in all of us composers waiting to assert himself. And once you do, guess what you get?

You know it already…CONTROL!


Peter Fish is a multi-talented composer/arranger/producer/musician/sound designer with dozens of feature films, television scores, TV/radio themes and advertising clients to his name. He has won six Emmys for his work on All My Children and Sesame Street, and has produced legendary recording artists including Carly Simon and Tony Bennett. Peter is the owner of the boutique music and TV production company Sound Stories.

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