Music Composer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for music composers. Get the facts about degree requirements, job duties, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Music Composer?

Music composers create and arrange music for Broadway plays, ballet recitals or blockbuster films. They write music for bands, orchestras or other groups of musicians or singers. They may rearrange existing music, write lyrics and study other music for ideas. Music composers often meet with performers and work with them as they record the composed piece. They may specialize in a particular style of music, such as jazz, or in a particular form of media, such as theatrical productions. Music composers may use instruments or computer programs to assist them as they compose. Find out about some of the job duties and other useful information about this career by reviewing the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Conducting, music composition, music theory
Key Responsibilities Write lyrics for orchestras, theatrical productions, musical groups and bands; meet with individuals or groups who want music composed; rearrange existing compositions
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for all music directors and composers)*
Average Salary (2015) $59,040 (for all music directors and composers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do I Need to Study to Be a Music Composer?

Completing a degree program is not mandatory to work as a music composer, but it is recommended to develop your craft. Some music composers complete a bachelor's or master's degree program in music. Common bachelor's programs include those in instrumental performance, music theory and sound recording technology. These programs teach you about different genres of music, techniques for stage performance and working with an ensemble.

You may consider furthering your education through a master's degree program, such as a Master of Fine Arts in Composition for Screen or a Master of Arts in Theory Pedagogy. Master's program courses can help you learn advanced harmony and composition techniques.

What Skills Do I Need?

As a music composer, you need strong creative talents in writing original lyrics, harmonizing sounds and playing musical instruments. Being able to read music is also necessary for this career. Having good listening skills is vital to differentiate sounds and detect off-key notes.

Having strong leadership and coaching skills can help you direct an orchestra, inspiring and guiding musicians to give their best performances. Being self-disciplined and detailed-oriented is also important to perfect your craft and compose flawless arrangements.

What Jobs and Duties Might I Have?

As a music composer, you can perform film scoring for motion pictures or television shows, or you may compose pieces for an orchestra, jazz ensemble or theatrical production. In these functions, you create musical arrangements using harmonies, melodies, rhythms and tonal structures, coach musicians and use synthesizers and computer software to experiment with sounds.

Performing scoring for a film may involve dramatic underscoring, which utilizes sound to add drama to a scene. You may also write original lyrics and incorporate popular soundtracks. Composing for a symphony, jazz performance or musical play may involve conducting an orchestra and writing scores for instrumental and vocal artists.

What Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2015, music composers earned an average annual wage of $59,040 ( Your salary may vary according to your industry. For example, the BLS reported that music composers in the sound recording industry earned a mean annual wage of $63,690 during that same period, while music composers in the performance arts industry earned a mean annual salary of $69,250.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related positions that require at least a bachelor's degree, including middle school teachers, producers and directors and writers and authors. Middle school teachers specialize in educating children who are typically in the 6th-8th grades. They teach a variety of subjects to prepare the kids for high school work. Producers and directors create a variety of productions, such as movies, commercials and theater. Writers and authors similarly work in a variety of media, such as books, magazines and blogs, to create the written content for these items.

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