An In-depth Look at Cartoon Composers

IMG 3636 scaled - An In-depth Look at Cartoon Composers

The world of cartoons is something that can be enjoyed at any age from the smallest baby to the oldest grandparent. There are educational shows, ones that are just for fun, toons that teach social skills, and a whole universe of shows for adults and older teens only. However you feel about the drawings and animations, it is hard to deny the cultural impact that the music has on the world. Original scores, feature pieces, and more dominate this landscape, and there is a great opportunity that lies within for cartoon composers to make some real magic. Here’s what to expect from this role. [ez-toc]

Finding the Right Fit

Whether you are well established or just looking out for the first big break, there is value in holding out for the right opportunity to come along. A big part of composing and performing is connecting with a project, and if that passion isn’t there then you won’t be able to produce your best work. This could harm your professional reputation and make it harder to get nominated or shortlisted for projects in the future.

If you want to build prestige and experience, then you have tomove with the outlets that align with your particular branch of musicality. So, how do you know if it’s the one for you? Not only will it feel right, but it will also connect with your musical values. There will be a strong sense of creative respect that fuels your passion and lets you develop professionally.

The Process

Creating a lasting piece of music takes spirit. Whether that is for an opening theme, to follow characters about as they move through their various shenanigans, or even to be used as a song to highlight a key message or value, there are lots of expectations on you as a cartoon composer and performer. You will need to know that you are up for the challenge, and this means figuring out what your process is.

These projects will have timelines and guidelines to follow as well, which also dictate what you can do and how long you have to complete it by. Are you a software first, questions later kind of musician? Or do you prefer to sit down with some different instruments and figure it out organically? Do you need to know the characters first? There is lots to think about, and your answers will determine how realistic these opportunities are.


It is hard to create a whole musical picture for one show (or block of episodes) with just one instrument. While it will probably have been done somewhere, that is simply not the way of the modern cartoon arena. Therefore, if there are any areas or instruments you are not confident with, now is the time to try everything out and find your feet. The key to being a cartoon composer is embracing true variety and diversifying your experience and talent. So, if you are a dedicated strings player and that’s all you’ve ever known, try something completely different and explore piccolo instrument rental to broaden your mind.

High Project Demand

For any given series, you may be required to produce hundreds of scores and musical concoctions. Don’t be dismayed by this, as it is all a significant part of the creative process. You have to produce a whole scope for what the cartoon encompasses including affiliated melodies for main characters, transitional phrases, and episode climaxes. The biggest role is of course the theme music or opening sequence, but the scope of this role transcends just the first introduction. Make sure you keep that as the core focus when moving through your iterations and find a way to tie everything together with a distinct purpose.

Scrapped Work

Make some peace with the fact that a lot of your work will never see the screen in the final cut. This is just the way the cookie crumbles in the animated world, and something you must come to terms with fairly rapidly if you want to preserve your professional integrity and keep your sanity intact. It doesn’t mean that your work is bad, and this is important to remember as well. It just means that the episode went in a different direction, or they opted for a repeated theme instead of a changed melody, and any number of other factors. Your scrapped work may be recycled and used in future productions, or you can take it with you to the next role.

Staying Motivated

Given the high project demand, long hours, and potential for your work not to be used at all, how do you stay motivated? Well, the opportunity itself is a dream job for so many that this is all the motivation you need. You get to make music, something you know and love, and see it translated onto the screen in a really unique and cool way. Though sometimes this isn’t enough, it is smart to keep this as a core reminder of why you show up to work every day. Take the time to build your portfolio outside of the role as well and tell yourself every day that all the music you are making counts towards securing your future in this profession. Some people do their first cartoon and never go back, while others yearn for more.

Focusing on the Role

Cartoon composers are a very niche set of artists. They are hired for an exact purpose and utilize their musical abilities to enhance a show, as opposed to the other way around. While there is a lot of value in what they do, and it is a great way to boost your professional reputation and experience, the music has to be about the show and fit in with that agenda. Focus on the role and deliver on the task just like you would in any other professional setting.

Keeping Tabs

You will also need to remember exactly what happens when and why the music is needed at this particular interval. If you can’t create a clear link in your mind as to the relevance of this composition, then it won’t work. Cartoon composers need the full picture in order to make things fit, which means clear instructions and a little bit of creative discretion. It’s a great idea to keep a folder to hand with all of the recurring theme sounds and cues so that you can develop the rest of the score around it and make each episode both on theme and unique.

The Medium

Are you keen to be a part of children’s cartoons or adult animation? Do you care if your work is on the television or straight to a streaming service online? Think about where your work will be and whether you are comfortable with that and use that to shape your next move. For some artists, it is enough to know that their music is being used for something bigger, and this is amazing. Other musicians may want a little more and have certain goals like being a featured composer on a prime-time cartoon. For that to happen, you have to get the experience in your bag first. This can only be done through trial and error and taking on challenges.

Cartoon composers have a great job, but it’s not for everyone. There are long hours, big demands, and a high expectation regarding skill delivery. These projects are often time sensitive and depending on your ability to bring them to life properly, the role itself will be varied. Decide whether it’s right for you by thinking about what kind of musician you are and what you want to achieve.

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Written by Simon Cress

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