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Become a Composer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a music composer. Explore the different career options, and find out what kind of education and training you'll need to start a career in music composition. View article »

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  • 0:00 Composers
  • 0:26 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:02 Step 1: Early Music Skills
  • 1:49 Step 2: Exucation
  • 3:11 Step 3: Career Counseling
  • 3:47 Step 4: Graduate Education

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Video Transcript

Composers

Composers create new music through the application of music theory and tonal harmonies. They may write songs for popular performers, write jingles for advertisements or arrange music for films and television programs. Composers may work in a particular genre, such as classical, jazz or rock. Many are self-employed and face keen competition in the field.

Career Skills and Info

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's recommended for advancement
Degree Field Music composition
Experience Composers typically train to work in the field beginning at a young age
Key Skills Discipline, communication, perseverance, and musical ability
Salary $49,820 (2015 median annual salary for music directors and composers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Key career skills for composers include discipline, musical ability (of course) and perseverance. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median yearly salary for music composers and directors in May 2015 was $49,820. Opportunities for employment were expected to increase by 3%, or slower than average, between 2014 and 2024. Although composing may take place in countless locations, opportunities might be the brightest near large metropolitan areas.

Step 1: Early Music Skills

To be able to create music, composers need to be familiar with music theory and understand how different instruments sound together. Aspiring composers may want to participate in choirs, concerts, bands, solo performances and musicals during their formative years to help them develop aural competency. Additionally, they may want to learn how to play instruments, like the piano or violin, so that they can use instrumental aids when composing music.

Success Tip:

  • Consider music camp. Camps designed for young people with musical ability can help foster music skills and usually provide classes and lessons for those at various levels. They may also provide aspiring composers with the opportunity to create original works for camp performances.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

Step 2: Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), composers typically need a bachelor's degree; however, those who wish to compose popular music typically do not need to meet specific education requirements. Aspiring composers may want to specialize in subjects like composition, songwriting or film scoring. Composition programs often include coursework in music analysis and history, compositional techniques, ear training and conducting.

Most colleges and conservatories require applicants to audition and interview with faculty members. Aspiring composers may also have to turn in their own compositions and scores for evaluation or even discuss their compositions while auditioning. Some conservatories do not require standardized test scores for admission, and many music schools accept students based on their musical skills and background rather than academic accomplishments.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in an internship. Due to the competitiveness of the field, aspiring composers might pursue internship programs offered by their universities or conservatories to gain experience working with composers and staff. Internships and temporary jobs may also help students build a network of contacts with music producers, record companies, advertising agencies and other industry professionals.

Step 3: Career Counseling

Composers may create music for films, television programs and advertisements; teach; or write songs for performers or musical productions. They might also supervise other composers during the recording process or contract with performers. Some composers might work as music marketers or therapists, producers, performers or conductors.

Because of the variety of career options open to composers, meeting with a career counselor can help students create a map for pursuing their careers. Some colleges and universities even provide career counseling to help students obtain a job upon graduation.

Step 4: Graduate Education

Composers interested in teaching or obtaining advanced training may pursue master's or doctoral degree programs in composition or related areas, which tend to focus on advanced research and analysis. Students in doctoral programs usually write and defend dissertations pertaining to their specialization.

Remember: You'll need an early exposure to music and a bachelor's degree in composition, songwriting, film scoring or another related major to work as a composer. Music composers and directors overall earn a median salary of $49,820, as of May 2015.

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