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Music Composer: Career Info & Requirements

Music composers produce, arrange, and create music of all styles, from symphonies to rock to jingles. Read on to learn how to chase your dream of being a professional music composer.

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Career Definition

Music composers can do more than just create music for a large audience, as enviable as that sounds. Jobs are available conducting orchestras, composing soundtracks for films, writing songs for commercials, producing records, and teaching. Many music composers find work in media-centric cities such as New York or Los Angeles; however, music composers can find jobs all over the country since most cities (and even small towns) have local music groups and performance venues perfect for people to create and hone their art.

How to Become a Music Composer

Required Education

Many colleges and universities offer degrees such as a Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition, a Bachelor of Music in Music Composition, or a Bachelor of Science in Music Composition. Graduate degree possibilities include a Master of Arts in Music Composition, a Master of Music in Music Composition, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Composition. In most cases, an audition is required for students interested in pursuing these degrees; many schools also require students to perform their own compositions at a recital. Most bachelor's degree programs in music composition are rigorous and take four years or more to complete.

Skills Required

Being a naturally talented musician is the first key to unlocking a career as a music composer. Proficiency with multiple instruments, singing abilities, and an appreciation of music history are all helpful attributes. Patience, persistence, and the ability to network and market one's talents are also needed in this daunting profession.

Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reports that an estimated 24,940 people worked as music directors or music composers in May 2012. The median annual earnings for composers and music directors were $47,350 in that year. Job growth is expected to be slower than average, at 5% from 2012-2022, due in part to funding difficulties.

Alternate Career Options

Musician and Singer

Slower than average employment growth of 5% is also projected by the BLS for these performers who sing or play instruments for recordings or for live audiences. For most, formal education isn't required, although opera and classical music performers often earn bachelor's degrees in performance or music theory. In 2012, the BLS reported an hourly median wage of $23.50, with those working in performing arts companies earning the top salaries.

Dancer and Choreographer

Training for these careers varies with the dance type, but all dancers and choreographers spend many years in training; most choreographers start out as dancers. Dancers audition, learn dances, rehearse and often work with other dancers. Choreographers create dances, choose music, audition dancers, study new types of dances and often take care of some administrative duties. From 2012-2022, choreographers could expect much faster than average job growth of 24%, according to the BLS, while jobs for dancers were expected to increase at a slower than average pace of 6%. The median hourly wage for choreographers in 2012 was $18.33, the BLS said, while dancers made $14.16 per hour.

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    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • Tennessee (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Vanderbilt University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Performing
        • Piano and Organ
        • Stringed Instruments
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Cornell University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Boston University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Piano and Organ
        • Stringed Instruments
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Georgia (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Georgia include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Performing
      • Photography, Film, and Video
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    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Miami include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Pedagogy
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Piano and Organ
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Syracuse University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Michigan (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Michigan State University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Pedagogy
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
  • School locations:
    • Illinois (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Northwestern University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Piano and Organ
        • Stringed Instruments
        • Voice and Opera
  • School locations:
    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Temple University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Piano and Organ
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video

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