Careers in Composition
Composers create music, either as instrumental pieces or as pieces that include lyrics. In addition to stand-alone music, a composer might score music to accompany a film, television show, theatrical performance, commercial, video game, art installation, or other visual media, such as web content. This work may include scoring as well as songwriting. The composer’s role is often to provide a dramatic underscore, but composers have also created popular soundtracks that stand on their own. Required skills include music notation, sight-reading, active listening, critical thinking, creativity, and an awareness of both music history and current trends.
“Be ferocious with your creativity, fearless with your work, and always open to all styles of music.”
- Felipe Lara
The composer in the electronic field has a particular specialty in using computer and MIDI technology throughout the entire composing and arranging process. The electronic composer may compose for a specific recording situation—such as film/TV composers who score/compose to enhance visual media—or a live performance situation, such as composers who create for live theater, music, dance, or art. This work may include producing MIDI mock-ups, which allow a director or executive producer to hear the compositions before the recording or performance process commences. For the electronic composer, knowledge of audio editing software is a must, along with the ability to deliver results in fast-paced environments.
An arranger provides arrangements of a musical composition to be performed by an artist, band, orchestra, or electronic composer. The arranger determines the voicing, instrumentation, harmonic structure, rhythm, tempo, and other aspects of a song or composition based on the artist, producer, director, or conductor’s specifications. The arranger’s work may then surface as part of a live or recorded performance by an artist, band, orchestra, or electronic composer in settings such as concert halls, films, television shows, video games, commercials, art installations, web content, or other visual media. An arranger should be trained in music theory, orchestration, composition, and harmony, and should have experience as a copyist and as a composer or songwriter, as well as experience playing one or more instruments.
Performing songwriters create and perform their own music, while other songwriters create music to be performed by other parties. Songwriters typically write both music and lyrics, often working in collaboration with other composers and/or lyricists. Some songwriters work as a solo act or as the leader of a group featuring their original material, while some more often co-write in coordination with other songwriters. Successful songwriters exhibit creativity and knowledge in composition, music history, and market trends.
An orchestrator is responsible for writing or transposing music based on a composer’s work or draft such that an ensemble or individual can perform it. Often, an orchestrator will transpose music from one instrument, voice, or electronic sound to another in order to accommodate the needs of a particular instrument, musician, group, or style. In film music scoring sessions, the orchestrator may also be called upon to conduct.
A music copyist translates a complete score into written individual parts in order for the musicians who will be performing the score to be ready to perform and/or record the music. A music copyist must have strong notation and transposition skills and training in music theory. Successful copyists deliver neat and accurate work with painstaking attention to detail.
A conductor leads an orchestra or ensemble in performance. This may include selecting the repertoire, preparing the musicians via rehearsals, and all other business affairs related to leading an orchestra. In a film scoring setting, the conductor is typically able to hear comments from the studio control room and may incorporate that feedback into the session so as to best direct the musicians/orchestra, and the film score composer or orchestrator often occupies this conducting role as well. The conductor should have strong ability on an instrument (most often, piano), in-depth musical knowledge, the ability to sight-read, and great interpersonal and leadership skills in working with composers, players, editors, orchestrators, and copyists.
The composition teacher usually teaches in a higher-education setting, such as in a college, conservatory, or university. A composition teacher may also teach others privately, or teach other subjects in addition to composition, such as music theory, music arranging, music history, or vocal or instrumental conducting, or they may conduct chamber groups, choruses, or orchestras.
A transcriber notates musical performances onto a score from a recorded performance.
A music editor is responsible for mixing and synchronizing music with a visual counterpart, such as a film or video game. The music editor often provides a temporary track that is used as a stand-in for the final score until that score is ready. The music editor must be versatile and possess a great musical sensitivity, a keen ear for balance, and an awareness of how music can make or break a dramatic scene or sequence. In addition, the music editor must be familiar with the technology used to mix and synchronize music in conjunction with visual media.
The sound designer is employed to develop and/or utilize a sound library to implement sounds and effects for a variety of potential clients, including artists/bands; films, television shows, video games, and other visual media; live theater; production and multimedia companies; and manufacturers. The sound designer typically uses an array of sophisticated electronic equipment to find sonic solutions in their work. A sound designer must posses a creative mindset, the ability to record and edit audio, and the discipline to manage a multitude of audio files across various projects.
The programmer uses software to produce MIDI keyboard/synthesizer tracks for inclusion in a score for visual media such as film, TV, video games, and commercials, or for art installations, live performances, and more. A programmer may also sequence a composition so as to enable the composer, music editor, or others an opportunity to hear it—and identify any problematic areas—without having to hire a full orchestra before it reaches its final performance or recording stage. A programmer must possess strong skills with music sequencing software and notation software.