Amara Primero is one of Australia’s leading film and television composers whose compositions, as well as those of her production music library Primerchord, have featured in programs such as Making the Cut, Bondi Rescue, and Homicide: Ron Iddles.
Primero has an ongoing working relationship with the company Hello Sunshine, which is owned by Reese Witherspoon. “It’s a very, very cool contract,” Primero says, on the phone to Rolling Stone Australia.
To date, Primero’s work has predominantly featured in unscripted productions such as reality TV shows, docudramas and competition shows. But she’s now expanding her scope to include scripted productions as well. “[Hello Sunshine] do a lot of Apple TV kind of stuff,” Primero says.
Primero is originally from Western Australia, where she studied classical piano at university. After completing the degree, Primero couldn’t see an obvious route to a career in music, which prompted a move to Sydney to study music performance at JMC Academy.
“It was very different to the classical world that I come from,” Primero says of her JMC education. “The big difference between JMC and where I’d studied before was that they were really connected to the industry.
“It’s not just the case of getting a degree and being highly skilled but not knowing what direction to go in. They gave an insight into the real world, and the business side of music too.”
After finishing at JMC, Primero was gigging regularly—weddings, pub gigs, you name it. She also found work as a high school teacher, teaching HSC music at a Sydney girls’ school. All the while, she was still writing music.
“It was always the dream to write music and be a composer,” she says. And so, after climbing the ladder at the high school didn’t pan out, Primero put her full weight behind a career in composition.
“Since 2016, I’ve gone from teaching in a high school and writing music part-time to now having this full-blown business,” she says.
There are two facets to Primero’s business. On one side, she’s a solo composer who gets hired to write music for TV shows and films. Primerchord, meanwhile, is a production music library with a catalogue available for different production companies to license. The business comprises a team of 20 composers as well as an A&R assistant, who deliver music for a huge slate of unscripted shows.
“When I think of what we have achieved—because it takes a village—we’ve done really well,” Primero says. “I’m working harder than ever, but it doesn’t feel like work. I play every day.”
One of Primero’s most high-profile projects was the Shane Warne documentary, Shane, which was released via Amazon Prime a couple of months prior to Warne’s sudden death.
“It was a big one at the time, when he was alive. It was huge globally, especially with the UK and India. And of course, it turned bigger once he passed away,” says Primero.
Not only was Primero commissioned to write the original music for Shane, but all additional music was delivered by the Primerchord library.
“Normally what happens with productions, if they need any additional music on top of what the composer’s written, they’ll go to stock libraries for music,” Primero explains. “But the fact that I’ve got this library, they said, ‘Well, we may as well use you as well for that.’”
Writing original music for film and television yields ongoing benefits. As a composer, Primero works solo and accepts commissions with a pre-arranged fee. But the financial arrangement for the Primerchord library is different.
“We do charge a blanket license fee, which is usually a nominal amount; it’s so small,” she says. “And the reason for that is budgets don’t have any money—that’s why they come to production music libraries.”
TV budgets are often tight and so production companies aren’t willing to spend a great deal of money on music up-front. But the pay-off comes later.
“We receive royalty residuals every time something is aired on TV or every time somebody clicks on it, streams it—the composer earns money and then my company, as the publishing company, earns money as well.”
As Primero’s fortunes have blossomed, she’s taken on the role of APRA ambassador. In this capacity, she’s striving to have Australian composers’ music heard on an international scale.
“Australian composers, especially through the means of Australian production music libraries could potentially be a major international export product,” Primero says. “I am advocating for Australian TV productions to utilise more Australian music libraries and composers as a first stop, before diving into international libraries and composers.”
Primero’s goals as an APRA ambassador are a reflection of how her professional motivations have changed over the last half-dozen years. “My ‘why?’ used to just be to get a lot of music on TV shows,” she says.
These days, however, she’s determined to see other hardworking local composers succeed. “Now that I’ve got a team of composers, I have a responsibility to get their music placed on TV shows so that they can pursue their dreams,” she says.
For Primero, seeing the reaction of her colleagues when they hear their music on TV for the first time is just as satisfying as ticking off her own individual milestones. “I think, ‘Yeah, well, that’s why I do it,’” she says.