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Composer: Advice on pursuing a creative career

Balancing creativity and business is key for musicians. It's important to understand the financial aspects, like commissions and advertising. Overspending can set you back, so plan wisely. Hard work can lead to a successful career in music, even in classical music. Always pursue what you love.

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  • leafers tree style avatar for user ayemail18
    Is there a way to pursue a creative career even if you are not making enough money from it?
    (12 votes)
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  • winston default style avatar for user Prawns Guacamole
    How do you be a youtuber if you're parents are Indian and only care about my studies. All they accept out of me is an A. My life is just orbiting this one grade, this one letter. I haven't told them I want to be a youtuber yet, but they probably won't like the idea and tell me to be something else.
    (10 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Elayne Podolske
    What ballet was it? Being an aspiring professional dancer, I really appreciate his insight on creative career paths. I hope all of us, singers, songwriters, visual artists and performing artists alike can help one another to succeed and leave the world with more art in it than before, while still finding practical ways of financing our ambitions.
    (7 votes)
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  • spunky sam red style avatar for user bluemonkeybeef
    how do you get your music out there to the wrld?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user SarahLulu
    What resources would you recommend for a non-business major to develop their business sense? A lot of things may seem common sense, but putting them into practice can be tricky. What worked for you?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Mark
    Very informative video
    I get paid for commissions or leases for song or audio production, if anyone is interested in trying to peruse Music or artistic career.
    Bryan had some very good points on self awareness especially with the ballet show.
    i found physically writing down long term goals mixed in with short term goals alongside your current capabilities in your craft and how you want to further it. Not to be confused with ability, capability is your potential, work-lines like this breathe patience.
    From personal experience, anyone can do this, you don't have to be famous or headlining artist to have an income.
    I recently worked with a major label (one of the big 5) recently and all i can give advice is to try and get basic work experience in the field, i started at 15 leasing free productions for small bands/singers just so i got chances to work in environments and funnily after by chance got a part-time job working mixing radio mixes and then digital audio in a marketing agency (all without a degree). This job is very head-wrecking and as Bryan insinuated that you need to have the calculation and planning done out before you start a project or your own passion will control you and lead you blindly nowhere.
    patience, awareness & resilience are very strong things for me that i go by whenever i end up working on long or short term projects with music or for artistic projects.
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Alexis summers
    if your a musician is it a good idea to have another job like Dairy Queen or should I combine music and work for example a music teacher? Thank you.
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user Light Runner
      Hey Alexis!

      It totally depends on what your resources are. If you're qualified to teach music to younger teens then I would totally recommend you start something there because it's something you're passionate about. However, if you're not qualified to teach music, I would definitely say that taking on a side job is a great way to pay for things while also doing music on the side.

      Hope this helps!
      (2 votes)
  • ohnoes default style avatar for user aub_on_the_cob_25
    What are some good places/colleges for persuing music and songwriting?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Many colleges have music programs. If you have little money, start by looking at your local community college. The program may not be "songwriting", but almost any kind of "writing" class will give you help to make progress in that direction. The department may not be "composing", but participation in a college choir can help you musically. Both of those things helped me when I attended community college between 1972 and 1974.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Katherine Johnson
    What is it like being a composer.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user christopher.cazares
    did you find a way to figer it out how to do this?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

You get a lot of advice when you're studying a given field and specifically with music. There wasn't a really great conversation going on as to how one makes a living in music. People end up making a mistake, I think, when they leave school that by not having, by virtue of not having those conversations spend so much time trying to figure things out that they get themselves in trouble by the time they're 30. And if people had just had open discussions about what a commission is, what advertising is, what is performing for AFM or doing something with SAG-AFTRA, or all the variety of different things that we end up doing once we figure out what it is to have a career in music. If they had that conversation earlier on, you probably wouldn't be doggy-paddling in the ocean of the world, so to speak, that most of us do for those first years out of school. For me, living in New York just in general you know, people figure it out. You figure out where to get an apartment or sharing an apartment. As a musician though, it's tricky because typically you're forced to write at home. It was only until right before I left New York that I actually could afford-- I had an $1800 a month studio recording studio that I was working out of. But you know, $1800 studio, if that was your main apartment that would be too expensive. So it's tricky on that front, just figuring out where you're gonna be able to work is tricky as a musician. I think the reason why some of the most talented people aren't successful is because you need to balance that creative ambition with the practicalities of running a business, even if that business is just you. So for example, I'm working on a personal record right now, and part of my gut wants to have there be no limits. I'm going to hire anybody I want. I'm going to buy all the plug-ins I need. I'm going to expand my computer power. And that list goes on and on. And if I were to do that, obviously, I'd go broke, and this would be the most expensive project I've ever done. So you have to really kind of fine-tune what things you actually need, how much money you're capable of spending, and get creative not only with your music but on the business end of things to make sure you stay afloat. There is certainly some pitfalls composers should be wary of. One of them has to do with the business of music, for sure, which is that you have to be careful, obviously, not to overspend yourself because money is what allows you to be able to feel comfortable doing creative projects, I mean, unless you don't have that part of your mind that gets nervous. If you are concerned with having a stable financial life and maybe even having a family at one point, then you want to be careful not to dig yourself into a hole pursuing one music project that may or may not be a hail-Mary. My teacher, many teachers have said that music is something that you should do if it's the only thing you think you should do or the only thing you can do. And I think you can apply that to different projects. If you feel really compelled to do a record or to make a piece of classical music, you should do it. But at the same time you have to run the calculus in your mind to figure out what's the best way to go about doing that project. And sometimes there are huge projects that you have to wait to do, you know? For example, in my own life when I had gotten off the road, I was really inspired to do something theatrical like that when I got back to New York, and I had some savings at that moment in time. And I blew-- I don't want to say blew it, but I spent $20,000 putting up a ballet in New York City. And I was really really proud of that ballet, and it was really important for me as a person. But I was too young to understand at that time how the business of music worked in terms of putting up live shows and complicated shows like that. For example, a very simple example being when you put up a show like that, make sure you have somebody to review it. Make sure you have the press there because if you put up a show and you sell the whole show out and no press shows up, then it's almost like it didn't exist. It never happened. So anyway, I had done this show, really proud of it, was completely attended. Everyone loved it. Had no press. And the week after, I saw $20,000 disappear after paying all the musicians and paying artists to do to do all these video installations and for costumes designed for the dancers. And that $20,000 I honestly believe set me back probably five years financially. I was always thinking about where I would be with those $20,000. And of course, that's a huge exchange not only because it sets you back financially but let's say you really need a guitar for the next project or a piano for the next project. All of a sudden, this money that you used someplace you can't use in the next place, and maybe that's the money that you actually need to get the next job. One thing that I wish I knew about making money in the beginning before I started embarking upon this business career, music career, is that people had always told me and teachers had always talked to me about how difficult it is to make a living as a musician. And while that is true, the truth of the matter is if you work hard, you'll make a living as a musician. I mean, it's shocking. People say that there's no money in classical music. I know many composers who make a living in classical music. They teach, they write music, they get commissions. And all this is to say is that if you live in that kind of fear where you think it's so difficult to make a living doing what you want to do and then all of a sudden start hedging your bets from a career standpoint, then you end up with a career that you never wanted. You should be doing what you want. If you want to be a classical musician you should be writing classical music, and you should be doing it all the time. Obviously, you can do something else as you're growing in that profession to make money. But you will eventually create a career by putting yourself out there and by doing the work that you want to be doing. The same thing can be said regarding film. The same can be said regarding being a songwriter as well. So yeah, I guess I wish I knew that 10 years ago.