Filling the Gap: Teaching Young Composers How to Earn a Living

First, the good news.  University composition programs do a lot of admirable things for their students.  Upon completion, one certainly has a command of the craft itself, the history behind it and current trends, as well as the essential musicianship skills that graduates of any music program would have.  A good, solid, artistic foundation.

What is still frustratingly lacking, however, is a coherent, integrated curriculum explicitly laying out the different options composers have in today’s diverse marketplace for earning income.  This results in a sad situation wherein we send young composers out into the world with no clear sense of how to make a living out of their profession.  Yes, some newly-minted grads will have a keen entrepreneurial sense  and will almost instinctively know with whom to network (and how to do so fruitfully) and others will have been fortunate enough to have had an adviser on the faculty who proactively shepherded them through the maze of career options or assisted them in making good real-world connections.

But unless one aspires to earn a terminal degree and become a composition professor, it seems most collegiate programs aren’t much interested in teaching what other economically-viable paths exist for today’s composers.  Let me stop here and say, again, I believe our compositions programs do plenty of good things and the professors deserve much approbation, but clearly there’s a big problem here that isn’t being adequately addressed.

Read the rest of this (and much more) in my book Writing and Living in the Real World: Advice For Young Composers



  1. Hello I loved reading your blog and really like your style of writing! And I’ve followed yours so that I can read your next ones 🙂 I’m quite new to blogging and would really appreciate it if you could check out my page, and possibly give it a follow if you like it. Thank you xxx

  2. Teaching can be a logical avenue for exploration for the young and established composers. I think there are only a handful (less than 5?) composers in the U.S. that make their living exclusively from composition. Teaching seems to be a viable option for many to supplement their income…

    1. One of my points is that teaching (though certainly a fine option) is not the only path forward. Based on my experience in the greater compositional world, my number would be higher than 5, but I would be most interested to see an empirical study on the topic (rather than just anecdotal back-and-forth). Certainly most freelancers rely on more than one of the avenues I listed above to cobble together a living (as I also mentioned). Thanks for your thoughts, Dee!

  3. Great read! Thanks for writing and sharing!

    If I may submit a thought under the music for TV/Film/Theatre category: many folks in my peer group (young composer) seem to ascribe the meaning “Broadway-style musical” to the phrase “music for theatre.” However, composing incidental music for plays (or acting as sound designer creating original scoring) can be both artistically challenging and fulfilling (in addition to going towards rent). I highly recommend checking out local theatre job listings, as these positions are often not on traditional composition opportunity sights. If you are in Chicago, check out the League of Chicago Theatres — they have a comprehensive job posting board that often lists sound design/composition opportunities.

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