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Composer: Career Information and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a composer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and occupational information to find out if this is the career for you.

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If you are considering a career as a composer, you may need a bachelor's or master's degree. However, you will also need years of training and practice, performance experience, competence with at least one musical instrument and a broad background in music.

Essential Information

Composers create original pieces of music, including songs, symphonies, advertisement jingles and film scores. They are often self-employed. Composers can benefit from extensive knowledge of music history and theory that can be acquired through practice and formal training, as well as degree programs offered at multiple levels. Some employers require a bachelor's or master's degree.

Required Education None; some employers require a bachelor's or master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all music directors and composers
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $49,820 for all music directors and composers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Composers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were approximately 82,100 music directors and composers employed in 2014, 1 out of 4 of whom were self-employed. The BLS project employment in the field to increase 3% from 2014-2024, mainly due to the growing demand for original music.

In 2015, the median annual earnings of music directors and composers were $49,820, per BLS data. The BLS also reported that the highest number of music directors and composers worked for performing arts companies, with a median annual salary of $54,580. Jobs in the field are concentrated in cities with a high amount of entertainment industry activity, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

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Requirements to Become a Composer

There are typically no formal education requirements to become a composer except when seeking a teaching position. However, similar to musicians and singers, music composers require vast amounts of training and practice to learn and hone their craft. Composers can benefit from performance experience, especially with ensembles. They should also have a broad musical background and be competent with at least one instrument. Many basic skills can be developed with private lessons, including the ability to read music, sight-singing and ear training.

Formal education and training is provided by college music programs and music conservatories, which often require an audition as part of the admission process. The National Association of Schools of Music accredits over 600 undergraduate and graduate institutions, which offer degree programs in specific music genres, music composition, music history, musical theater, the music business and music recording.

Composers are expected to have an extensive knowledge of theory and history, as well as be familiar with music notation software and electronic music equipment. College music programs can be found at the associate's degree, bachelor's degree and graduate levels, with some schools offering specializations in composition.

Composers write original songs, symphonies, movie scores, or work in advertising; often, they are self-employed. Employers frequently require a degree from an accredited undergraduate or graduate program, which typically includes studies in music theory, history, notation software, equipment, composition, music business and recording. Job opportunities for composers and music directors is predicted to be slow, with only a 3% increase through the year 2024.

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