Recently I have been having a change of mindset towards the way I approach life in general. This is really stemming from two books that I am reading. The first book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, is making me relook what it means to be truly dedicated to something, and specifically what it takes to become a professional composer. The second book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, is making me rethink about what my autopilot responses are.
Here is a little thought experiment. Look back in history, and tell me your absolute favorite amateur composers. I am talking about the truly great ones, the household names. Times up! Which ones did you come up with? Thought so.
The main point of The War of Art, is that most people who are amateur, do not make the mental leap to becoming pro.
If you type into google, “Amateur Composer,” you’ll see some funny looking top hits:
- “Where does an amateur composer find a job? Or is he heard?”
- “Anyone want to help an amateur composer out?”
- “AMATEUR COMPOSER SEEKING LIBRETTIST”
Smacks of mediocrity. Who in their right mind would hire someone who calls themself “amateur.”
What they, you… all of us need, is to make the mental jump to turning pro.
I Compose for the Love of Music
Yeah, I get it. You love music. You love to compose. You don’t want to soil this pure desire to just create with dirty money. Get over yourself. Bach was a pro. He got paid to create music. Haydn was a pro. That is why they call him Kappelmeister. That basically means orchestra master. Mozart, yeah he made money too. Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Mahler. They were professionals. They continued to compose, money or not, as if their lively hoods depended on it, because they did.
Sometimes these composers didn’t make a lot of money, and sometimes they did. Sometimes they had day jobs other than composing, but they all sat down and knocked it out.
The main things that make you a pro versus an amateur are not if your music is good. They are:
- You composer everyday, like it is your job. You just do it.
- You learn about your craft. This means theory, instrumental technique, understanding yourself and how you work best. A lot goes into craft.
- You put your music out there for the public to hear it.
- You finish the pieces that are nagging you, because you know thats what you need to do. Don’t become too invested in the final product.
- After you finish, you start the next one, and you always improve.
There are more, but I think you get the point.
So Go Turn Pro
It doesn’t cost you any money to turn pro. You don’t have to have a degree. You just need to do it.
katrina hall [email protected]
hi im a music teacher (instrumental).I want to change career paths.I originally ddid a degree in composition but went into teaching cos i have children.I am now eager to pursue this dream.I am clearing my spare room out to bring in a home studio.I play 6 instruments (grade 8 on three and self taught on piano and flute gr8).I also play alto sax and write songs on guitar which i sing to also so im quite musically gifted i suppose you could say.I also know two composers persoonally in the uk.I would like to get into film composing…i am female (not sure if this matters but im not seeing many female composers) but i have passion (not many people teach themselves piano and flute from scratch and pass grade 8) but im not sure how to go about it..Do i put my music into music libraries?…My composer friends have given me a bit of advice but its a bit hush hush when it comes to making money.Im quite happy to start small maybe writing for music books but not sure how to go about that either.Any advice really welcomed.i would continue teaching privately until established cos i have daytime to create.My email is [email protected] if its easier to reply..thanks for your time.Katrina hall
I can really only speak of my personal experience, but earning money is about putting in the time to meet the right people, have high production value on the music you write, and being someone that others like to work with.
I have been pursuing film scoring as a career now for over two years, and just recently got hired to score a new soap opera. Along the way though, I scored many student short films, and drastically improved my production ability, so that I could put out a professional sounding product. I also met many directors and producers that have not hired me.
Yes, you can submit your music to libraries, and sell royalty free music, but both of those are quite saturated. There is still money in the music industry, you may just have to branch out and do some non-standard stuff.
There was actually a great podcast on this from Scorecast. I recommend listening to it. I know both Brian and Deane, and they have a lot of wisdom to share.
I’ve read your post here and am really interested in any feedback you might be able to give me. I’m a music composition major in college, and I have about a year or so to go before I get my degree. I’ve been told that my passion of composition isn’t a most popular choice; I’ve been drawn to the music of Bach and the Baroque era for close to a decade and have decided to dedicate my compositional output to bringing the music from the past into the current day. I’ve studied the rules, studied the theory, taken counterpoint classes yet I feel my passion and intuition matter more than going by the book. I’ve also been a substitute organist for many churches for seven years and study the harpsichord. Many professors urge me to find my own voice amid this style I’ve chosen, but I want to be concrete; I know I’ll never be close to Bach (but I can live with it; I’m imitating a style, not a composer) and I know I don’t want to sound like Poulenc or Schonberg or any composers of the twentieth century who sought the forms, but not the style. I promote my own music as often as I can—in school recitals, church services, and concerts. So I guess my question is this: How do you get noticed? Is it just an ‘easier said than done’ sort of situation where you just blink and suddenly you get paid to write and play notes? Or publish scores? I want to be dedicated full time (although not just to writing music).
Any advice you’ve got, I appreciate; I’m all ears.
I wish I had great advice for you, but the problem you face is the same problem every composer faces – a sea of noise. Everyone wants to get noticed. Just go on any facebook composition group, and you’ll see tons of composers all posting their pieces hoping to build an audience.
My first thought would be to think first of who your ideal audience would be. You may have been promoting your music, but the question is, are you promoting in the right place. A college is a very small ecosystem, but the world is very large. Are there other living composers that you think you may share an audience with?
I suppose it’s the 1000 true fans concept. Don’t worry about appealing to 6 billion people. If you find 1000 true fans, people who will pay to hear your music and the opportunity to meet you.
As far as being dedicated to composition full time, that is a great goal, but you also have to earn a living, and there is nothing wrong with having a job to support your true passion. Especially if that job is helping you move towards being supported by your passion. Since really pursuing composition as a career, I’ve also worked in construction, as a handyman, as a book consultant, web designer, IT, and mostly I’ve dedicated a huge amount of time to https://www.artofcomposing.com.
If I was in your position, I would spend some time learning the principles of running a business, marketing, and networking. Find a job that will allow you to continue composing a lot – preferably something that you don’t have to take home with you, or worry about when you’re not at the job. Find your audience, and bring them your music. It won’t happen overnight, but anything worth doing usually takes time.
My daughter is 16 and for the longest has always said she wants to be a composer, She would like to go to a conservatory, we live in England but the tuition is a lot for all the places I have looked up. How do I support her even though I know nothing about this field. She loves playing the piano and composing different pieces. They sound nice but I dont know classical from jazz or blues so how do I encourage her?
There are many things you can do to support her. Probably the best thing would be to find a composition teacher in the local area. Someone that can give her feedback on her compositions, and push her in the right direction.
On my site, I also have many resources for beginning composers:
Start Here – How to Compose Music 101
Free Beginner’s Composing Course
The Art of Composing Podcast
These are probably the top resources for beginners.
I would also recommend she come to the symposiums that I hold on the weekends. Symposiums alternate Friday evening and Saturday morning (Pacific Standard Time). You can check the symposium page for the next Symposium time.
Ultimately, it would be good to find other composers in the area that she can talk to, and get feedback on her music. Continuing to improve on piano is also very beneficial.
Nelson Cade III
I’m 22 soon to be 23. I began piano lessons at 6 and started teaching myself guitar around 17.. I attended OCHSA the Orange County School of the Arts for instrumental music from 7th grade until 10th grade. I have always been surrounded by great performers and musicians but unfortunately I was never in the company of other aspiring composers. I was deterred from getting a degree in music by my father who says it’s not lucrative career path. I have my GE’s out of the way but I’m torn with how I should proceed. I have a very strong background in music theory and songwriting techniques but, I want to learn orchestrate and use music software of any kind so I can materialize the music in my mind. I’m writing to you to ask advice on how I could most efficiently learn these concepts. I’m currently living with my fiancée on Huntington Beach we both work for school districts and we make ends meet but not much more. I would really appreciate any advice you could offer or any connections. Thank you for your time.
I can’t give you specific advice on which career path to choose. I know personally, I couldn’t see myself fully pursuing any other career besides composition. However, I did work other jobs for a long time that enabled me to save up and pursue this in a reasonable manner. It’s hard to get around the fact that we need money to live, but you don’t really need that much. Since you are young, and I assume you don’t have kids, don’t own a house, and generally don’t have that many responsibilities yet, the consequences for giving it a shot are going to be less. Especially if you fiancee is onboard with it, and has a job of her own. Don’t be fooled that money will be slim to none when you are starting out, but there are many ways to make money in this industry while still learning and perfecting your craft. If you become very skilled with the technical aspects and programs used by composers, you can always try to get a job as an assistant.
It also depends on the kinds of composing you want to do. If you want to become a film composer, at least at the beginning, you should be in Los Angeles – which is expensive. But if you want to do concert composing, you can really make a career from anywhere. And there are plenty of places that are cheaper to live in than Southern California. The key is building relationships – which really seems to be the key to any career.
I wish I could give better advice, but I don’t have all the answers yet. I do know, that you ultimately have to weigh the risks and take a leap of faith.