Composer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons to becoming a composer? Check out real job descriptions to get the truth about career outlook to learn if becoming a composer is the right move for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Composer

The music you hear in movies, television shows and advertisements are all created by a composer. As you continue to read, you'll learn more about the pros and cons to becoming a composer.

Pros of a Composer Career
Do a job you are passionate about*
No specific educational requirements*
Opportunity to work at home*
Often times, you can set your own schedule*

Cons of a Composer Career
Relocation to entertainment cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago is common*
Composers who are self-employed or take contract work can have periods of unemployment*
Tough job competition is expected due to the popularity of the music industry*
You can experience hearing damage if you're working around loud music for extended periods of time*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Bands, singers and orchestras all count on composers to come up with music for them. You might write original pieces or you'll take existing songs to create new and different compositions out of them. Beyond the music, you might even be called upon to write the lyrics for a song. You'll need to work with whoever is commissioning the piece and determine what exactly he or she is looking for in terms of musical style. The music a composer creates might be used in operas, theatrical productions, musicals, movies or television. Even the jingles you hear on commercials are written by a composer.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, in 2014, composers earned about $26 an hour, which results in average yearly earnings of about $55,000. Illinois, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Nevada and New York were the states that paid the highest on average for composers. The top ten percent of composers earned about $91,000.

Requirements for Becoming a Composer

Necessary Education and Training

Musical skill is typically the defining quality for composers. Many spend their childhoods playing an instrument or learning how to sing. There are many post-secondary programs that offer coursework in music composition and music theory. These programs can be a formal way to develop your skills and learn about different styles of music. It is important to ensure that any prospective program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

What Do Employers Want?

Employers and agents want musically talented composers who are respectful and willing to work with people, which means being open to criticism. Continue reading job postings for composers from April 2012:

  • A sports organization in New Jersey is looking for a composer who is familiar with the Pro Tools computer software program. The employer wants applicants who have a bachelor's degree in music and 1-4 years of experience. Applicants must also be willing to travel and assist with administrative duties. Specific responsibilities include creating arrangements, managing musical archives and scheduling recording sessions.
  • In California, a video game company needs a composer capable of working with deadlines and implementing constructive feedback. Applicants need to send samples of their previous work to be considered for employment. The employer wants to hire someone who is able to evoke a wide range of emotions in their music and understand how to use computer software.
  • An employer in California was looking for a composer who was willing to work with a business that makes iPhone applications. The job calls for applicants who can make motivating, fun and exciting music for a dating program. Applicants need to like video games and be willing to submit samples.

How to Stand out

Participating in poetry and literature classes is one way to hone your writing skills as a composer. By learning rhyming techniques, you can develop your lyric crafting talents. In your spare time, you'll want to listen to all the music you can. The more you expose yourself to rhythms, beats and lyrics, the better you can learn what works and what doesn't. By dedicating yourself thoroughly to this career, you can stand apart from other composers who don't pursue self-improvement on the level that you do.

Alternative Vocational Paths

Musician

If you'd rather play music instead of compose it, consider becoming a musician. Musicians work in small bands or large orchestras, and typically, you'll specialize in working with a single instrument. After practicing certain songs, you give a performance in front of an audience or record your music.

Musicians were reported to earn about $32 an hour on average, according to the BLS in May 2011. The BLS reports that from 2010-2020, employment opportunities for musicians were expected to grow ten percent. As with composers, no formal education is required to work as a musician; however, it may be beneficial to improve your skills and abilities to play an instrument.

Director

If you're interested in expressing your creativity in a medium besides music, look into becoming a director. As a director, you'll help guide the production of a play, movie or television show; this includes giving instruction to the crew and cast. If you're working on a film, you'll participate in the editing phase to ensure that the final product is exactly how you want it.

In May 2011, directors were reported to make roughly $92,000 on average annually, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that employment opportunities for directors were expected to grow 11% from 2010-2020. While prospective directors often pursue a bachelor's degree in film and television production, it is not necessary to work in the field. Directing experience if often preferred over education.

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