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Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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A composer is one of the most rewarding professions you can aspire to. From a young age, I was inspired by the greats of this art form, from Mozart to Duke Ellington.  So, I decided to delve into the intricate world of music composition.  Not an easy task when thinking of the greats that came before me.

Also, Music Composition can come off very rigid and mathematical when studying all the theory involved.  But as much as I get worried at the thought of not reaching the level I want when creating a piece, I find myself wanting to create more and more music.  Quieting myself and leaving all negative thoughts out of the equation, I can make a small musical idea into something meaningful.  That being said it doesn’t hurt every once in awhile to brush up on my theory and dictation.

Honing my craft and putting work in and out the industry can be an overwhelming experience. Where do I want to send it to? What kind of deal am I trying to obtain? Where can my work be heard?  So, what I did was list short-term manageable goals to help me focus on how I can make a first good impression in the industry, and eventually make a living as a working composer.  First, I asked myself as a composer…

What category do I fit in, is my demo radio ready?  Also, which music companies are looking for my genre of music?

As you may know, the working composer/musician can find many sources for viable income in the industry.  Some examples include writing for film/TVmusical artists/groups or even chamber/symphony collectives.  Once I’ve established whom I want to write for, I focus in on a genre I love playing/writing and stick with that niche. The three composer niches that I will break down are film, mainstream and chamber music.

Now first Film…

Within the film and television industry, dominated by celebrity heavy hitters like Hans Zimmerman and John Williams it felt like I would not be seen or heard.  But, I started small first working with student projects and small film companies to get a feel of what directors etc. want, and how I could convey the emotion of the project. After that, I realized I can write a lot of different genres, but the ones that gained traction and resonated with people were pieces I composed for horror/thriller, and sci-fi/fantasy films.  So I found my niche and saved hours just by knowing where my strengths lie.  Also, with my experience of work under my belt, I could now ask for the rate I wanted when doing these projects.


Writing for mainstream music can be lucrative as well. I find that sometimes it’s in my best interest to work with a songwriter and/or musical artist.  Seeking these people out for collaboration can be just the right concoction to make a hit!  Having one of your songs break through on the charts or iTunes, is one of the most coveted positions to be in, making serious coin and getting known globally.  Again knowing the genre(s) I want to write for is helpful.  For example, if my strength in mainstream music is pop, I’m going to seek out artists that sing pop and convince somehow to listen and perform my song.

Chamber Music…

For classical/chamber music, I seek out a music director, conductor or choir director.  These folks are always looking for new talent in the composing world and are more accessible than one might think.  These contract jobs will most likely pay a lower rate for unknown, inexperienced composers.  But, having written for chamber music before, I can set my own rate.  Notation of my piece has to be neat, legible and precise because conductors/musicians need to read and play from it.  This may not be the most lucrative stream of income, but one can gain notoriety (over time) and experience.  Sometimes working with a symphony, for example, they may put you up in their residency if they love your work.

How radio ready are you?…

Next, I must determine is my music radio-ready?  Is my music mixed and mastered to the perfection of (or the best of my ability).  These days it’s great to have the option of recording music at home.  Having proficient audio software like Pro Tools and notation software like Finale is paramount to a great recording.  It separates the amateur sounding recording to professional.  Sometimes I work with other producers when I want to take my recordings and especially mastering to another level.

Radio-ready demo in hand, I am ready to shop my work to various industry professionals.  Music Gateway is a great site that bridges the gap between the industry and the emerging composer/artist.  Another way to shop is to send my work to music companies directly. Writing for music artists, I would most likely contact the A&R department of Record Company that was accepting my genre of music.

Writing for film/TV I would contact a Music Supervisor or Publishers.  If I want to write for the chamber, choirs or a symphony, I would contact Music Director, Conductor, or maybe even an Orchestrator. The competition is stiff, so making sure my pitch and music must stand out is a must.  I also realize that it takes a bit of trial and error to get recognized, it won’t be instant.  Going to the company website and finding out exactly what kind of music they are looking for, and what requirements they have for sending music. For example, do they accept unsolicited material or even if they require Metadata embedded in audio.

As an emerging composer, every time I write is a gift.  Even though it can be overwhelming starting a song from scratch, it’s a rewarding and gratifying experience.  Although Music Composition Theory is complex, I believe composing is about throwing out all those rules; expressing and finding your true self in the music/noise.  Being able to know my strengths and style helps me convey a succinct emotion to the listener.  When entering the industry this is important because professionals want a specific sound for various projects and gives me a better chance of getting hired.  Having this insight separates the novice composer and the professional one.

Create, and be true to yourself, and depend only on your own good taste.

–Duke Ellington

Written by: Caren J

Caren has been a pianist, vocalist, and student of theory for over twenty years with a BA of Music Composition with qualifications in jazz music and theory. She has worked as a freelance music and vocal teacher and currently works for a private music school. Caren is now working on various projects such as compositions and choral arrangements.

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