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Topic: Composition Education/ Job...

  1. #1

    Composition Education/ Job...

    Hello all!

    I'm currently in school right now for music comp and theory. I'm ready to transfer to a university soon. This university is about $18,000 a year and is top notch. I myself cannot afford it, BUT I will go and someone else will pay for it if I can prove that I can make a living somewhere as a composer with my degree.

    Now the reason I'm writing this and asking this question is because I know that a lot of you know about making a living at composing. Is there a place that I may get a job composing, enough to make a living with it? I know this is an odd question, but this is what I want to do and I will do whatever it takes to do it.

    I don't really care if I make a living with it, but to get this person to pay for it I need to prove that there is a place that might hire me if I do get my degree. Any info is appreciated!

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Hmmm, sounds like what I went through in the 80's. Is this a Rehab agency that will train you and pay you for the education to secure the degree?

  3. #3

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    A full-time career as a composer is a very tough nut to crack.

    Unless you are one of I would say about 15 or 20 people scoring the big motion pictures, I don't think you could exsist entirely off of composing.

    I think most people do it as a sideline to more reliable incomes.

    I am an instrumental music teacher in a small private school. It pays the bills, keeps my chops up by working with/hearing music everyday, and flexible enough to give me time to compose.

    I thought about going to school to get a PHD in composition, but was advised by many people to get a more practical degree like Education (most useful of all music degrees) or conducting.

    On the other hand, if you have the drive to do it, or have any connections in the business, GO FOR IT!

  4. #4

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    I think whether it's your parents, an institution or just a group of people giving out scholarships, asking what the "return on investment" is for your college education is perfectly fair and justified. I could happily spend decades in college for the sheer joy of learning, especially when it comes to music. However, since a college education costs money, it's typically done as a step towards a paying career. Unless you're prepared to pay back every penny of your educational costs, this is not an unreasonable question on the part of those who are footing the bills.

    When I graduated high school many years ago, I went to college because I was middle class and it was just "what you do". My mother asked what I wanted to major in and I said "music, of course." Her reply was "I don't think so." So, I did one semester of academics as a compromise and then quit college to go on the road with a rock & roll band. Music was my passion, and trust me, a college education isn't high on the requirements list to get a gig playing biker bars.

    Although a college education will be of immeasurable value if you're pursuing the life of a composer, making a living in music, or any aspect of the entertainment industry, is and always has been a gamble. And a bad one at that. It sounds like whoever is paying for college wants to know that when you're done, the money they spent will have prepared and enabled you to make a living. If they looked me in the eye and asked me if I thought it was a good idea strictly from a financial / career perspective, I'd answer "no", without hesitation. Sorry.

    If you want to be a composer, or musician of any description, I say go for it! However, you may have to wait tables and pay for college yourself if you want to be a music major. If that was the only way you could get the education, would you do it? It's useful to think from that perspective. Often the things we think are very important become not so important if we're the ones who have to pay for them.

    My advice? If someone wants to pay for a college education so that you're better prepared to get paying work, study business, marketing and promotion. Do I mean give up music? Absolutely not. But if showing career potential is the terms of engagement, these are skills worth studying. You can get virtually any kind of day job you want until you "make it" as a composer.

    More importantly, though, from a musician's point of view, is this. The world is full of absolutely brilliant creative people who can't afford to buy their own hamburgers. They're so wrapped up in their "art" that they completely dismiss business concerns as irrelevant, "commercial", and therefore beneath them. Which they are, until you want to get paid. Big on artistic arrogance, small on getting paid, that's your typical creative sort. Personally, I find that eating on a regular basis eliminates distractions to my creativity. If you can't manage the business aspects of the music world, you don't get paid, and if you don't get paid, well, it's not really a career then, is it?

    And if you study business / marketing / promotion, what of your music education? Go to the bookstore. Take night courses out of your own pocket. Do it yourself. There's great advantages to the college life, but that's not the only way to get an education. I spent 5 years writing air traffic control software, and I'm a completely self educated college dropout. I learned many other things in a similar manner. (In addition to music, I've had a number of other careers - I get bored easily. ) If it's important to you, you can learn on your own. It's a lot of work, but it can be done. However, this does point out a truism that you'll encounter all your life. When someone else is footing the bill, they get to call the shots. The ability to achieve your goals independantly means freedom.

    Apologies for telling you stuff I know you don't want to hear, but honor requires honesty, especially among the family of musicians.
    Christopher Duncan
    Author of
    Unite the Tribes and The Career Programmer

  5. #5

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Good points Chris.

  6. #6

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    I'd like to echo, maybe amplify some of Chris's points...

    When I graduated from high school I too went to college mostly because it was what one did after completing high school.

    And I too wanted to study music, something my parents were not too keen on<G>. I had an experience during my senior year in high school that changed my mind. I met an extremely proficient guitarist, but he was living in a rat hole, complete with cockroaches, and I thought at the time that was too much of a sacrifice to make.

    Fortunately/unfortunately for me I've always been a little schizo... in addition to music I was facscinated with medicine and electronics. So I went off to school to become a doctor.

    That's when things started going right for me! I discovered that while it would be cool to be a trauma surgeon and save lives every day, I didn't have what it took to get into medical school. It isn't that I am stupid so much as I disliked the cutthroat attitude many of my more successful classmates adopted. I also didn't think much of giving up music and theatre and intramural basketball. I just wasn't driven enough.

    So I switched to physics as a way to use my time wisely until I could transfer to a good engineering school. But somewhere along the way I grew fascinated with physics, and that's what I ended up studying. I was also fortunate to go to a liberal arts school... I am a real believer in a liberal arts education at the undergraduate level!!!

    Not that I ever planned on making a living as a physicist. No, by this time I understood that music, in one form or another, was the only way I could make a living and be happy. I just needed a job to pay the bills, and I had these skills that would help me do so!

    It has taken a long long time, but I am slowly rounding the bend. In the meantime I've made a decent living as an engineer working mostly in telecommunications. What a lucky break that the early audio engineers came largely from the telecommunications industry!!!

    All this to suggest that studying music theory and composition and arranging would be a blast. If I am ever financially able that is exactly what I will do.

    But in the meantime I have a day job that pays the bills, and in my off time I teach guitar (very rewarding spiritually, not so much financially), design circuits for audio devices (a long shot at best, not unlike composing<G>), design studios (too much fun really), record and produce demos for new artists (nearly as spiritually rewarding, a little better financially), and compose music for whatever purpose I can find, most often at this stage without any financial reward whatsoever!

    I enjoy all these tasks, but the telling thing for me (and my very perceptive wife) is which one will I forgo food and sleep for? Composing and sound design every time.

    Ah, but I do have a wife, three kids, the ubiquitous mortgage, and all the trappings that go with these things, so I will continue to compose for local community theatres, and arrange for the high school music program, and when there are proceeds I'll invest them in my studio.

    Because I learned something else along the way... I work to live, not the other way around (although my brief time reversing that rule was fun), and as long as I get to compose music and it gets heard I'll be quite happy.

    That's my route. It may not be yours. The drive to create is remarkably strong. While it can, I suppose, be ignored, I would expect that doing so invites some peril!

    Which means you have a decision to make, and one I can offer no real concrete solution for. If you go to music school you will enjoy learning all about music in the rarified world of the university, and many will be envious<G>! But there will be strings attached, not the least of which is demonstrating that you can make a living from this education. And there may be other strings not yet evident.

    If, on the other hand you opt for a more general education, or a business education, or whatever, you can probably still sneak in quite a few music electives. And you may be in better shape to earn a living.

    One last thought... the need for content to feed the ever growing dragon that is the internet/media delivery sphere is also ever growing. There are numerous companies creating library music, and they need composers. There are also game companies... they need soundtracks, but as a glamour industry they are probably more difficult to break into. There are also lots of gadget companies that need music... have you listened to a cell phone ring lately?

    So there are avenues, I'm just not sure how one gets onto them... but I wish you the best of luck no matter what route you choose.


  7. #7

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Wow, thank you all for the helpful advice! As of now my wife and I both have pretty good jobs in the medical field. We work part time and both go to school for music (no childeren yet). The job we have is something that we can always fall back on if needed, (thank God). I was thinking seriously about getting my music education degree and slipping in as many comp courses that I could.

    I do realize what I'm getting into here as far as the money situation and such. There is *NOTHING* else I would rather do than to compose. I've been working in the medical field (emergency) for 8 years now and I'm really tired of it. I never really wanted to do it, but I joined the military and things happened, a bit out of my control, and it all put me where I am now. I got out of the military 2 years ago, YIPEEEEE!!

    I guess that I'll transfer over for music education and then go from there. Everything will work out in time. One thing I know is that this music degree is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my entire life. I'm doing my best to keep up and it will happen in time and I will never give up. That's all I can and will do! Thanks again.

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  8. #8

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Quote Originally Posted by capt_hook
    Wow, thank you all for the helpful advice! ... I guess that I'll transfer over for music education and then go from there. Everything will work out in time. One thing I know is that this music degree is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my entire life. I'm doing my best to keep up and it will happen in time and I will never give up. That's all I can and will do! Thanks again.
    Excellent! I've been incredibly fortunate in that 3 times in my life (thus far), I've had careers doing something I love. There's nothing like chasing a dream and catching it. Go for it, man, and enjoy the experience!
    Christopher Duncan
    Author of
    Unite the Tribes and The Career Programmer

  9. #9

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Thanks for sharing the wealth of information. I read this last night but forgot to comment. Very interesting.

  10. #10

    Re: Composition Education/ Job...

    Hi Captain Hook,

    I have a good friend who struggled financially in music for over twenty-five years. A few years ago, he married a doctor. Now he gets all the toys he wants and a wonderful wife too. Wow!

    If you can't be like my friend, pay attention to those other guys.


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