Music Composer

Music Production , Self-employed

- Los Angeles, California

- 10/15/20
Job/Career Demand
Positive Impact
Work-Life Balance
Compensation & Benefits
Work Environment
Years of experience
Recommended Education
Bachelor's Degree

What education would you recommend?

To work in the music industry you don't necessarily need a formal education beyond high school, especially on the creative side, but it can be beneficial! Hard work and attentiveness is extremely important. You got to want it!

Describe the path you took to become a music composer

When I first started to play around producing my own music, I went on the internet. Initially, I learned everything from YouTube and different production forums online. For the first three years, I'd just put stuff together, and it would sound terrible. I had no idea the tools you could use to shape the sound and make it sound better. By the time I moved to Los Angeles, I'd already been doing production for 7-8 years. I don't have any formal training, but I can go to a piano and when I hear a song, play it by ear. Somehow, my brain can process music a little easier than most people. I sing and haven't needed formal training, so I have some advantages with natural ability. However, a lot of it comes down to working really hard.

What's a day in the life of a music composer?

I produce music for music artists, television, film and write and sing my own songs. My home base is Los Angeles, and it's an extremely competitive market. To make it happen here, you've got to be working on it all the time, because there are so many people trying to achieve and get to the same spot where you are. 

There isn't a set schedule I follow, but there are certain things I try to focus on every day. The first is writing music. Most days I'm trying to create as much music as I possibly can. I might spend the day songwriting and producing my music, meeting up with an artist to work on current or potential projects or networking. Some artists may say, "Hey, I have an opportunity for you to provide some music for an 'Empire' episode, and this is the stuff we're looking for." So maybe I'll work on that for a couple of weeks. I occasionally work from home, but once you've established yourself, they'll want you to come into their studio and work on content. 

I also try to check out the latest videos posted on YouTube. Since the COVID pandemic artists and producers mostly work from home, they're finding different ways to stay connected with their audiences and share more of their songwriting and music creation process. I try to be a sponge and learn anywhere I can. 

What's the best part of being a music composer?

I love music, so it never feels like work. It's on my mind when I wake up and when I go to bed. I'll mull over little things, like how I might create a different sound over here or tweak some lyrics over there. I enjoy being my own boss. I'm free to take a break and hang out with friends, but I always look forward to getting back to work. 

What are some perks of your job?

I get to do what I love. Some people want to produce to meet famous artists, but they don't usually last long. The work is too hard. You've got to be there because you love music. Of course, you will occasionally meet famous artists you admire, but the perk is working on something you're passionate about. It can be long hours, but it's nice to be your own boss and set your schedule.

What's the downside of being a music composer? Words of caution?

There are a lot of talented people working in Los Angeles, so the market is highly competitive. If you move here to get jobs producing, you'll find out quickly - it's a grind. I've met so many people that have gone into production and couldn't make enough money to live in L.A. and stay with it. You have to do a lot of networking before you finally get any work. Sometimes it's about meeting the right person at the right time. It's possible to strike gold and be lucky, but it is so hard to get your music to those top people and have them release it. That's why I started to work in film and television.  I happened to meet some people that knew music supervisors, and then I realized there's a real paycheck there if you can get into the world of making songs for movies. 

There are so many jobs available in music. My specific realm is producing, but some people might choose to work in sound design or mixing. No matter what area you go into, you'll have to be grinding out the work. Unfortunately for newcomers, there is no entry-level job that sets you on the path to becoming a music producer. I've had years of experience, and I still feel like I'm at the beginning. 

What's the earning potential? Entry-level? Mid-level? Senior-level?

The top producers make millions, but it's many years of hard work and being in the right place at the right time. For most producers, you might make $20k-$30k when you start out after establishing a solid network and skill level, $50k when your career is getting more developed, and $100k when you're doing well. Initially, you'll make $0-$3500 per song; $3500-$7000 per song as you make a name for yourself; then $10,000 a song on productions

Advice on how to get started as a music composer

If you're starting, without any experience, you can get the software 'GarageBand,' and you'll also need some basic mixing equipment. It's never been easier to learn and access any information you're interested in with the internet and apps, particularly YouTube. Sometimes bands will even post the exact steps they took in producing certain songs. 

Pay attention all the time, learn from everything. Absorb as much as you can. Los Angeles is a tough place to be. Some of the best advice I've heard was, "People come and go in the industry, but if you want to make it, focus on outlasting everyone. If you love it, don't give up." The people I know that are killing it in the industry are working a hundred hours a week. 

There are several great programs at institutes and universities in music production. Formal education is useful but not necessary. I chose to get a regular degree and learn about business.

What skills are needed to be a music composer?

You need to be willing to work hard and put in the time it takes to learn your craft.

Any business knowledge is useful because a producer is an entrepreneur. 

It doesn't hurt to play an instrument. The top producers are often world-class musicians. If you don't play, then you'll need to know other musicians that can come in and help you out occasionally. You also need a fundamental understanding of music.  

What's the future outlook for a music composer?

Music is always going to be around. It's a healing agent, and it brings people together. It's not going anywhere. Music in films, commercials, and even video games helps shape our culture.


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