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You’re a Media Composer? What on earth is that??

When I meet someone new, the conversation normally goes like this:

Me: Hi, I am Michael and I am a Media Composer and I….

Other: Sorry….a what?

Me: A Media Composer.

Other: Oh….you’re a musician

Me: Err, yes, but no, I am a Media Composer.

Other: Oh, so you play in a band. Oh Cool

Me: Err, yes, but no, I am a Media Composer.

Other: Oh right, you write music on paper and give it to someone else to play

Me: Err…no….well….yes….but

It would seem the the job of a Media Composer is somewhat confusing, so I thought I’d try and explain it. And what better way to do it than from a Meme that was doing the rounds a few years ago.

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

What my Parents think I do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I just sit around watching films right?

Well, yes…..and no.

To compose music for use in the media requires an understanding of cinematography. I need to be aware of why the Director/Client has used a particular shot, video angle, colour pallet etc. After all, the Director/Client has used this for a reason.

Being aware of all this enables me to compose music that reflects and connects to the image on screen. If I didn’t do this, then there would be a disconnect between the music that I compose and the image on screen….and as a result the emotional connection between the story and viewer would be damaged.

But that’s not all.…this is all part of my CPD, my Continuous Professional Development. I’m not just watching the film….I’m listening to it…trying to understand why the music does what it does, what the arrangement is telling me, and how the instruments have been used. In short, I’m trying to be better by learning from others.

Watching films (or TV programmes) helps me to hone my craft to ensure that I deliver the emotional connection the client and projects needs.

Ok…Yes….that involves ‘watching’ films.

What my Friends think I do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I just lark around with my mates making music, right?? Err, yes…..but No.

To produce the music that I do requires the input of others. Contrary to popular belief, I cannot play the Violin! Well….thats not strictly true….I can play it, I just can’t do it in tune! So I get someone else to do it.

But, and here’s the important bit, as a Media Composer, I tell them what to play and how to play it. This is a bit like being the Conductor of an orchestra.

And yes, we have a laugh and a giggle in the process….it’s music after all…it’s meant to be fun…so stop being so serious!

What Society thinks I do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I just roll around in cash…a bit like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal (without Robert Redford I hasten to add!)

Society has a perception of extremes when it comes to music…..I either sleep on a bed of cash or I am living off The Musicians Allowance (aka Job Seekers Allowance/Universal Credit).

Here is the stark truth:

Making money in the music industry is notoriously difficult. Making a living is even harder.

Did you know that Spotify pay $0.003 per stream? That means you need 3330 streams to make the cover price of a CD. To make any sort of profit from streaming you need to have millions of streams.

To put this into context, my song, ‘Alone’ has 280,000 streams on Spotify. That means it is in the top 2% of the 80 million songs on Spotify, therefore 78,400,000 have less!

No one is getting paid unless you are Beyoncé or Ed Sherran! (Note: Others artists are available…like Taylor Swift).

Being a Media Composer is not just about the money. We are passionate people who love to bring a vision to life, to create something more than the sum of its parts.

But for some people it is all about the money. And this usually works in reverse. For some reason, there is a huge expectation that I will work for free. The reasons offered are normally a combination of:

  • It will be good for your career.

  • You can use it in your portfolio.

  • It will be good exposure for you.

  • I’ll give you a percentage of the Royalties (Note: 20% of nothing is still, well, err….nothing).

Now, there is merit in considering all of the above, but I can guarantee one thing….My bank will not accept any of those as payment for my mortgage. So for any of the above to be acceptable, the benefit of working for free needs to outweigh me paying my mortgage!

So, unless you’re the next Stephen Spielberg…or indeed you are Mr Spielberg (good evening, Mr Spielberg)….to get my music on your project is probably going to involve actual real money leaving your bank and arriving at mine.

How much of your money that does that is negotiable.

What my clients think I do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I am Gandaldf…..I work magic that no one understands.

Well yes, but…errr….No.

To quote one of my clients,

I have nicknamed him ‘Gandalf’, because of his wizardry at the mixing desk and ‘Babe Ruth’, because each time we finished and released a song he hit it out of the park

At the risk of sounding like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have a special set of skills that have been developed over numerous years. And I unleash those skills on your project to make your dream a reality.

It is not magic or wizardry, but skill, knowledge and passion. It’s the culmination of my 10,000 hours of practice to be skilled at what I do.

But, to the untrained eye, it looks and sounds like magic.

What I think I do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I am an artist, bleeding my heart and soul into my compositions, pouring out my emotions on paper for all to see, laid bare for public scrutiny….Darling!

Well, yes, but errr….No.

Yes, I am an artist, and yes I do pour my emotions into my compositions as I believe that makes for good music.

But, as a Media Composer I work to a brief. I have a task to do, which is to tell someone else’s story….above all else, I must meet the brief regardless of my artistic views and temperament.

Actually, whilst talking about artistic temperament, as a Media Composer I don’t have one.

My job is simple, tell the story in the way that meets the brief. And I do that whilst being kind, gentle, compassionate and good to work with.

There is no room for ‘Artistic Temperament’ as a Media Composer.

What I actually do:

Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

I spend hours sat in front of my computer and editing the fine details of music.

Well, yes actually.

I spend most of my day is sat in front of a computer and piano keyboard. These days, most music for the media is composed directly into a computer…not written on paper.

Such is the power of computers, I can have a 110 piece, real life symphonic orchestra stored in my computer and produce such quality productions that only the most highly trained classical musician will be able to tell the difference. Do you remember those awful synthetic sounds of the 90’s….yeah…’s not them!

‘But it’s not real’, I hear you cry.

Well…err….it is, actually.

It is as real as you playing a recording of an actual musician playing an actual musical instrument. Which is what you do every time you listen to music. I just happen to have that considerably up scaled, weaponised and stored on a computer that NASA would be proud of!

You have heard loads of music that has been produced like this…you just didn’t know it. In fact, your favourite TV shows and films probably had music produced like this….and you didn’t even notice, did you?

And the joy of this modern way of working is that I can make it sound exactly how I want it to sound and I don’t have to use words to explain it….I can just play it to the client to see if they like it. And it means they can provide exact feedback on any changes they want.

The computing power and software to do all this is not cheap…which is why getting paid with actual, real life money is important. But it is considerably cheaper than hiring Abbey Road and the London Symphony Orchestra to knock out some corporate library music for your next project.

Also, working in computers is incredibly quick….and I mean ridiculously quick! I can compose, produce, mix, master and send the track to the client in under 4 hours.

So, yes, what I actually do is sit in front of a computer most of the day.

In summary:

So now, the conversation should go something like this:

Me: Hi, I’m Michael and I am a Media Composer.

Other: Ah, you’re a professional musician who ensures their knowledge and techniques are up to date, who works with others, bringing all their music and production skills and experience to bear in a way that looks like magic and wizardry, whilst bleeding your heart and soul into new music, all captured on a super-computer, and in doing so you get to pay your mortgage. And you do all that so that I can really enjoy my favourite films, tv programmes, podcasts, radio programmes, YouTube and corporate videos??

Me: Yup, thats right.

Simple, right??

As a Media Composer, I compose emotion through the medium of music. My aim is to always amplify the intended emotion and the desired outcome of the project, by creating an emotion connection with the audience.

If you want to know more about building an emotional connection with your audience, give me a call or book an informal chat using the form below….and let's get emotional!

I’d love to hear from you.



Michael Coltham Media Composer at Black Lab Music

Michael Coltham is a Media Composer and Music Producer who specialises in composing emotion through the medium of music. He is a published Indie-classical/Neoclassical composer and artist and is the founder of Black Lab Music. You can find his personal work at or visit his website at


Why not book an informal chat and find out why building an emotional connection with your customers can help.



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