I have been reading many autobiographies and biographies of composers, plus a number of interviews, during the last few months and there is a common thread. They all have a need, desire and passion to write music, the assurance to persevere no matter what negative comments are directed at their music and the self-belief to keep learning, creating and producing works of music they have confidence in.
From these insights into how a composer can achieve success and financial independence, there are a number of other attributes that are also prevalent and need to be taken into consideration. Composers have to be aware of and use self-promotion as much as they can. This involves the cultivation of a large network of colleagues, friends, admirers, supporters and followers; the audience and sometimes the financial associate(s). The majority of composers I have been studying had performance careers in tandem with their efforts to establish themselves as active composers. The colleagues, managers and promoters that are used as contacts, advocates and benefactors to cultivate the career as a composer are most important. To be able to understand and respect the music business, including the people and roles within it, is a necessary talent in becoming a successful composer.
My philosophy has always been one of respect, be it the 2nd violinist, flautist, conductor, fixer, promoter, sound engineer, soloist or anyone who is part of the event. Each person has a unique role in creating the whole, the performance, so each person is equally important (this is not reflected in the remunerations given to the various people at an event but that is a different blog for the future). If you can strive to understand all the different skills, training, negotiation, practice, study, investment and creativity that go into every performance then you can begin to understand and respect each individual’s contribution to the complete experience. From this can grow the friendship, comprehension and mutual respect that is important in the development of a career as a musician and composer.
I have mentioned the passion needed to succeed in earlier blogs but the patience is a different part of the composer’s temperament. The appreciation of music is very subjective and music is not always heard by a sympathetic audience. The criticism has to be accepted as part of the composer’s journey but not always acknowledged or acted upon. Belief and self-confidence in the music is a very important part of creating the individual ‘voice’ or signature that is a composer’s identity. By being true to your imagination you will create music that has a distinct appeal, following a set of rules only produces an imitation or copy that has very little individuality.
Patience and persistence is needed to grow and retain an audience that is interested in your music. This can take months or years to realise but if you have the passion you will keep going until you gain the recognition. If the music can be distinguished by an individual signature or ‘voice’ then a speedier identification and acceptance of the composition may be achievable.
The list of points below have been gathered from recent research coupled with my own experience. They are in no particular order although the first point is very important, first impressions stay in the mind for a long time and your work should be the best quality it can possibly be. If that involves employing other people to perform for your recording(s) or proofread your written work then be prepared to make that investment, it may be the difference between getting the job or another rejection.
Make sure the product you create is of the best (professional) standard.
Be willing to take criticism.
Be yourself, unique and individual, this is the aspect that will appeal most.
Ask for help or collaborators when needed.
Target employers making sure you have an appropriate showreel with the three best works for the types of employment you would like to be part of [jingles (30 seconds or less), concert hall, drama, documentary, film, songwriting, dance…].
Do not be disheartened by rejection, be true to your convictions.
Believe in yourself and keep composing.
Never dismiss a contact, the work may take years to materialise.
Do not expect instant recognition.
Research the area you are composing for and contact all the people you can that are involved in that field.
If you have a specific idea for an individual or company, complete it and send it to them, you never know what will come of it and at least you have got it out of your system.
Keep promoting your work, do not give up, be true to yourself and your passion, respect your colleagues and most of all; enjoy your work. This is my philosophy on how to be a composer.