Concert composition is different from commercial composition in that the music is primarily written for mediums that aren’t film and television. The writing here typically falls into the genres of solo, chamber, opera, and orchestral music composition.
In the 21st century, the field of composition is incredibly diverse. Many composers have stayed on the traditional route of making income through university and conservatory professorships, which is an excellent and well-paying vocation for those who truly want that lifestyle. I explain more about that in my professor profession page.
Widely varies depending on status in the musical community as well as general fame/likeability/other recognized intangibles to a general audience. Very few employed opportunities exist for concert composers outside of academia. Some do exist, however, such as orchestral residencies.
Income Options: Concert composers have a variety of income options available to them.
- Commissions: Many individuals and ensembles champion new music, thus commissions from these ensembles are a large income source for many composers. It is impossible to name standardized commission fees in the field, but in my professional experience, you shouldn’t settle on anything less than $400 for a solo piece, $1,000 for a large chamber piece, and $2,500 for an orchestral piece after you have a few years of experience. Many commissions are far, far more lucrative than the aforementioned “starter” numbers, and once you are an in-demand composer, I recommend hiring a manager or a hybrid manager/agent to start negotiating your terms for you. These guys are experts at taking in top dollar for their clients since they will take a commission.
- Royalties: Every performance outside of an academic setting is subject to a royalty payment to the composer. Composers should submit their program notes or other documentation of a performance to the performing rights organization they are affiliated with (ASCAP or BMI). The organization later sends a check to the composer. Many young composers are unaware of this opportunity, but it is the lifeblood for many living composers.
- Orchestration & Arranging: Composers can professionally arrange music at an average yearly salary of approximately $30,000. Orchestration can actually be very lucrative, with composers charging as much as $75 or more per four measures of orchestrating a reduced piano score.
- Non-Profit Ensemble Performance and Management: Much like how the famed modern classical music ensemble Bang On a Can functions, developing a non-profit ensemble and making a living on government funds, ticket sales, recordings, royalties, and merchandising your brand can make a composer a good living. It just takes a great deal of hard work, connections, and an utterly complete commitment.
- Copyist: Many composers start their own professional music copying firms, in which they notate other composers’ works into software programs like Finale and Sibelius for a fee. Can be a very profitable career if you have high-end clients.
What You Need to Become a Professional Musical Composer:
It is essential that you have a notation program to write out your ideas, print parts, and submit scores to competitions, ensembles, conductors, colleges, etc. In 2014, handwritten scores and parts have become practically obsolete, although some composers do prefer to write things out for their own sake.
I personally have used Finale since 2006 and recommend it with complete satisfaction. Many other famous composers endorse Finale, including Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon. Its rival notation program, Sibelius 7.5, is also quite excellent and has many unique strengths. Still, the future of Sibelius is very unclear, as it was bought out in 2012 by Avid and has only been updated once since then. The program is still as powerful as ever, but the newest updates seemed quite underwhelming to me.
Check out Finale and see if it fits your needs: