Music directors (also called conductors) lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.

Duties

Music directors typically do the following:

  • Select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed for live audiences or recordings
  • Prepare for performances by reviewing and interpreting musical scores
  • Direct rehearsals to prepare for performances and recordings
  • Choose guest performers and soloists
  • Audition new performers or assist section leaders with auditions
  • Practice conducting to improve technique
  • Meet with potential donors and attend fundraisers

Music directors lead orchestras and other musical groups. They ensure that the musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, timing, rhythm, and volume. They also give feedback to musicians and section leaders so that they can achieve the sound and style they want for the piece.

Music directors may work with a variety of orchestras and musical groups, including church choirs, youth orchestras, and high school or college bands, choirs, or orchestras. Some work with orchestras that accompany dance and opera companies.

Composers typically do the following:

  • Write original music that orchestras, bands, and other musical groups perform
  • Arrange existing music into new compositions
  • Write lyrics for music or work with a lyricist
  • Meet with companies, orchestras, or other musical groups that are interested in commissioning a piece of music
  • Study and listen to music of various styles for inspiration
  • Work with musicians to record their music

Composers write music for a variety of musical groups and users. Some work in a particular style of music, such as classical or jazz. They also may write for musicals, operas, or other types of theatrical productions.

Some composers write scores for movies or television; others write jingles for commercials. Many songwriters focus on composing music for audiences of popular music.

Some composers use instruments to help them as they write music. Others use software that allows them to hear a piece without musicians.

For more information about careers in music, see the profile on musicians and singers. Some music directors and composers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others work as music teachers in elementary, middle, or high schools. For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

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Work Environment

Music directors and composers held about 77,600 jobs in 2012. About 23 percent were self-employed.

Jobs for music directors and composers are found all over the country. However, many jobs are located in cities in which entertainment activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Many music directors work for religious organizations, frequently as choir directors. They also work in concert halls and recording studios. Music directors may spend a lot of time traveling to different performances.

Composers can work in offices, recording studios, or their own homes.

Work Schedules

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

Education and Training

Educational and training requirements for music directors and composers vary. A conductor for a symphony orchestra typically needs a master’s degree, but a choir director may need a bachelor’s degree. There are no formal educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music. Music directors and composers typically begin their musical training at a young age by learning to play an instrument or singing.

Education

A degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting is generally preferred for those who want to work as a conductor or classical composer. To enter these programs, applicants are typically required to submit recordings, audition in person, or both.

These programs teach students about music history and styles, as well as composing and conducting techniques. Information on degree programs is available from the National Association of Schools of Music.

A bachelor’s degree is typically required for those who want to work as a choir director.

There are no specific educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music. These composers usually find employment by submitting recordings of their compositions to bands, singers, and music and movie studios. Composers may promote themselves through personal websites or through online video or audio of their musical work.

Training

Music directors and composers who are interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Often music directors and composers work as musicians or singers in a group, choir, or orchestra before they take on a leadership role. They use this time to master their instrument and gain an understanding of how the group functions.

Personality and Interests

Music directors and composers typically have an interest in the Creating, Helping and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Creating or Helping or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a music director and composer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Music directors and composers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Discipline. Talent is not enough for most music directors and composers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and seek to improve their technique and style.

Interpersonal skills. Music directors and composers need to work with agents, musicians, and recording studios. Being friendly, respectful, open to criticism as well as praise, and enjoying being with others can help music directors and composers work well with a variety of people.

Leadership. Music directors and composers must guide musicians and singers by preparing musical arrangements and helping them achieve the best possible sound.

Musical talent. To become a music director or composer, one must have musical talent.

Perseverance. Attending auditions and submitting compositions can be frustrating because it may take many different auditions and submissions to find a job. Music directors and composers need determination and perseverance to continue attending auditions and submitting work after receiving many rejections.

Promotional skills. Music directors and composers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media platforms. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base and getting more work opportunities.

Pay

The median annual wage for music directors and composers was $47,350 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,450, and the top 10 percent earned more than $86,110. 

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook

Employment of music directors and composers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

The number of people attending musical performances, such as symphonies and concerts, and theatrical performances, such as ballets and musical theater, is expected to increase moderately. Music directors will be needed to lead orchestras for concerts and musical theater performances. They will also conduct the music that accompanies ballet troupes and opera companies.

In addition, there will likely be a need for composers to write original music and arrange known works for performances. Composers are also expected to be needed to write film scores and music for television and commercials.

However, growth is expected to be limited because orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups can have difficulty getting funds. Some music groups are nonprofit organizations that rely on donations and corporate sponsorships, in addition to ticket sales, to fund their work. These organizations often have difficulty finding enough money to cover their expenses. In addition, growth may be limited for music directors who work for public schools because state and local governments continue to struggle with school budgets.

Job Prospects

Despite expected growth, tough competition for jobs is anticipated because of the large number of people who are interested in entering this field. In particular, there will be considerable competition for full-time positions. Those with exceptional musical talent and dedication should have the best opportunities. Many music directors and composers experience periods of having no work; during these times, they may work in other occupations, attend auditions, or write music.

For More Information

For information about music degree programs, visit

National Association of Schools of Music

For more information about careers in music, visit

Future of Music Coalition

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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