After 40 years of writing music I thought it about time I asked myself, am I a Composer?
Is a composer just someone who writes music? Today, I hear people call DJs composers, and in some respects they are. They do part of what composers do. They choose the best sounds possible to create a unique piece that transitions well.
We live in a post-genre world
We have done since around the year 2000. With the abandoning of genre descriptions for art in general, the title of composer has gone as well. We may still refer to people as composers, but what are they and what is a composer expected to do and know today?
Creator seems to be a more used and universal term for composers now, especially for Electronic Dance Music (EDM) makers. Most of the people who create EDM are much more than creators. They are producers, mixing and mastering technicians, graphic designers, advertising and marketing managers, PR and perform a host of other functions to get their music out there.
Many creators are writers now
They produce copy for a variety of mediums to discuss and review their style of music and influence others in their field. So many creators build music festivals, websites, music apps and various digital platforms to extend the reach of their music.
As a creator of music, the need to be almost entirely conversant in music tech and to be able to talk the talk of music technology, is as necessary as air today. After doing several courses in Ableton, mixing, and music production, I understand the music technology medium much better, but nothing like most young upcoming music creators. They were born into it; I wasn’t.
So what am I supposed to be as someone who still calls himself a composer?
Do I have to perform the functions of a complete company just to get my music out? Yes I do. Of course, knowing and doing all these things means I can get my music to a level of quality, and create the artwork for an album, and mix it, and promote it, and publish it, but that doesn’t mean I can get it heard.
Music publishers still exist, but try approaching them with something unique and see what happens. Their first question is, “Who do you sound like?” They want things that sell, not unique music. They are not all like that, but most are. So what’s the point of being a “composer” if no one will get to hear your music?
I know many composers. Their level of knowledge about music, their technical ability, and mostly, their performance skills are extraordinary. Most do not make enough money to support themselves through their music — most teach. That’s not uncommon for composers. But, to support yourself through teaching and not composing, sort of defeats the purpose of being a composer. At least, it’s not focusing on what you set out to be, or probably studied for.
As far as I can tell, composers have a vital position in society
Outside of one or two exceptions, have you ever been to a ballet, a movie, switched on the radio, (sorry, I’m old) the internet, the opera, a play, a concert or watched the TV and not heard music? I haven’t.
But today, even calling yourself a composer is seen as wacky. Why is that? Because music is not music anymore. It’s seen as just another commodity and an experience of something that happens while you’re doing something else. With almost all music that’s streamed, there is no mention of the piece or the composer. Is it any wonder people have no real interest in who created the music because they can’t find out.
Millions of people go to concerts to listen to music
But we all know the numbers are fewer as streaming takes hold. The sales numbers for downloads, CDs and records are nothing like what they used to be. Perhaps that’s the answer for composers to be heard. Stream everything. Every performance, every rehearsal and practice secession, even when you are at home creating your music, stream it. Just don’t do it like I do; in my pajamas. And don’t forget to charge for it.
Streaming is not the only answer to help get your music heard, but more composers need to move with technology and the ever-changing music industry. If I am a composer who wants my music heard, I need to change, not the world.