Written for and published by the ISM on 9th April 2018.
This is a fantastic time to be a composer. It’s never been easier to contact performers and collaborators, share ideas, find and listen to music, make good quality recordings and distribute them, produce scores, find an audience and contact them, track royalties, organise and ticket your own concert, make a website, receive payments and search for opportunities.
Institutions and society at large are becoming more aware of inequality, bias and privilege, and addressing these issues in many ways. There are many effective advocates for new music. It’s never been easier to put yourself out there.
Or to put it another way, there is a bewildering range of skills to learn outside composition; self-promotion and marketing demands are constant; if you don’t fit a profile you won’t get opportunities; it’s harder than ever to ‘be yourself’!
For me, developing as a composer is about exploring your own voice, drawing in techniques and ideas and experiences to create work which will be uniquely your own.
Developing a career as a composer can be approached in exactly the same way – explore, pursue and nurture your interests, draw in relevant extra tools and training and be prepared to tread your own path. There’s no need to ‘invent’ yourself – having the confidence to disagree with your peers will serve just as well. Don’t be swayed by the cynicism of those who aren’t doing what they expected. Don’t take on others’ markers of success and achievement. Be resilient.
In a specialised field like composition it can be easy to get stuck in a silo. This isn’t necessary or helpful for developing as a composer, and it can shut down possibilities for career development. The composer works in the context of the world. Explore it – don’t be afraid if your interest isn’t shared by friends, already mapped out, or covered by a university module. What really excites you?
Interrogate your work – whether composing or anything else. You aren’t easily satisfied when composing so don’t be easily satisfied whatever else you do. Don’t waste an opportunity to do something well, to learn. The composer by nature is creative and produces work to an exacting standard. The economy places high values on these properties.
Don’t take too much from the career models of previous generations, but do seek out people to learn from – they may not be a composer or have anything to do with music. Speak to them – maybe even ask them if they will mentor you for a few months. Share your work and ideas with them, find out the decisions they made, learn what they value.
Recognise that thousands might count themselves a composer – but none of them are you. Present your work and your self positively and truthfully. Reveal your uniqueness.
I’ve been involved in many areas of work but still, I amongst everything I do, it feels like composing is what makes my brain work hardest – and that’s how I want it to be.
Photo by Andreas Grieger