On Becoming a Composer

12:14:00 PM Kevin A. Ure 0 Comments

As I look back on all the different composition teachers I've had over the years, I've realized that many of them have a story that served as a defining moment for them, and made them realize that being a composer was their path.

Throughout college, I continually studied music, but I could never get away from that sense that maybe writing music wasn't the way I should try to make a living. Honestly, making a living as a composer is very difficult, and I don't need to convince anybody to go into music composition as a career choice. Composing is very much a calling, and you're either going to find a way to do it, or do something else with your life.

Composers often hear the advice that if you could do anything else with your life, you should definitely not choose composition as a career path. They are right. But, what they aren't telling you is that there is more to the story. This isn't really a conscious choice you have to make. If you truly want to be a composer, you'll find yourself naturally writing music at three in the morning, even though you have to work the next day. Even if nobody ever listens to a thing you write, you'll find yourself continually testing yourself against the challenges that a music composition career and the act of composing has to offer.

While I do believe that some composers may need to be encouraged to step out into the light and pursue their dreams of writing music, it's also important to let those that could be happy doing something else go on their merry way. There is a difference between the composer that fails to achieve due to a fear of failure or circumstances, and the composer that is only writing music because they like the attention, perceived fame, or association.

My advice to composers who want to succeed and make a living composing is to find a job that you can work in your spare time, and that isn't mentally draining (something I'll address in a moment). Avoid getting a job that ties you in to firm commitments, and develop the discipline to work at your own pace in your own way. There is too much glamour associated with working from home, and especially with music composition careers in general. I teach composers, write articles, compose music, and basically work from home. It's the most difficult job I have ever had in my life.

I've worked in jobs that required me to be on my feet all day. I've been a private school teacher, and I've worked all kinds of other jobs in between. The most difficult job I have ever had happened the day I decided to work from home. You keep telling yourself you can start an hour from now, or complete double the work the next day, but the reality is that rarely happens. In the beginning, it's actually pretty easy to work from home. As it becomes your day-to-day, that's when the real struggle begins to take hold. You don't have a manager watching you, there are no performance reviews, and if you dropped off the face of the earth, your "employer" wouldn't bat an eyelash.

As I said, working from home is the most demanding job I've ever had. It's often a sedentary job that can take a toll on your health if you don't take 'measures' to stay in shape. Composing music is also mentally and emotionally exhausting. Writing music takes a toll on you, mental work is underrated for how much energy it actually requires. If I'm tired, I can still perform physical tasks, but being tired while trying to solve a puzzle, or be creative isn't something that is going to come easily.

Finding ways to combat fatigue and increase your mental endurance is important in this line of work. If you start out being able to write for 30 minutes per day, then you should aim to do that everyday. You'll notice that with time, you're able to put in more hours without getting as fatigued. I recommend that my students work daily not because it takes daily work to excel, but because if you don't work daily, you won't develop the endurance to complete an entire symphony. 30 minutes at a time won't cut it when you're writing a 30 to 45-minute work for orchestra.

If you've made it through this entire post, and still want to be a composer, then congratulations, you're as crazy as the rest of us. But here's the thing, if you're composing music, even if you're not getting published, you're a composer. Keep writing, keep searching for was to get your music performed, and in the end, who knows, you just might find yourself sitting in a concert hall waiting to hear that premiere performance of your work. The 7-minute work you spent months and possibly years perfecting...

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