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How to Be a Composer TODAY: 3 Life-Changing Tips PART 1

3 TIps You REALLY Need to Know about How to Be a Composer TODAY Part 1

Recently I have been thinking about why I chose the profession that I have, that of being a composer. Now I wear many hats, like many composers do today. On any day I could be a composer, a teacher, a writer, a sound engineer, a video editor, an animator, most days...a parent and provider of questionably nutritious and strangely orange Mac-N-Cheese.

And I suppose that I am wondering about my role as a composer more and more each day as I realize that really composing is only a small part of the media universe that I occupy. I have been writing music since high school, yet my career took off when I decided to mix my classical training with bizarre animation and electroacoustic music. Maybe it was the kid inside of me that still gets excited when she hears the familiar melody from Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind or has her heart skip a beat when she hears John William's soaring brass in Star Wars. 

Expert Music Advice Today at Musicxray with Sabrina Pena Young

While a good part of my formative years were spent rehearsing or practicing excerpts in our family's attic room, my favorite use of music is when it is combined with the visual. Listen to Jaws without the soundtrack, and you just have a weird mechanical fish. So for me, combining the visual with the musical just made sense in some intangible way. 

This is where I stray from the strictly classical composer. Being a composer today involves so much more than writing string quartets or symphonies. Yes, there are purists that insist that their students only focus on atonal theory, harmonic structures, and writing for every instrument under the sun, including the English horn (which is a lovely instrument, by the way). In a world where anyone with a laptop can "compose" music, this training is absolutely necessary to succeed today. But here are three more tips to help you as a composer.

1) Knowledge is Your Weapon

When I was in college I racked up I believe around 180+ credits. I took everything from marimba ensemble to jazz composition to film and Photoshop. I delved into the honors program, learning about philosophy and science and literature. I interned with inner city ministry, studying social injustice and politics. I have learned pottery, stop motion animation, academic writing, teaching, and HTML. 

Recently I have spent time learning about cosmology and economics as I finish my first science fiction novel Libertaria: Genesis. All of this and more has informed my work, the projects I choose to explore, the questions I attempt to answer as an artist. This knowledge has also led to meaningful work that pays the bills. 

Knowledge is your weapon. Spend more time reading and creating and less time texting and tweeting. You cannot hope to inform society when you only echo someone else's thoughts.

2) You Must be Flexible to Survive

Ironically I just got off the phone with a fellow musician who is reevaluating life and career choices. The reality is that the music industry today is not what it was when I was in college, and it won't be what it is today in another decade. 

Technology is accelerating the rate of change exponentially in the music industry and we must adapt constantly to survive as musicians and creative individuals. 

What does this look like for you? This might mean that you pursue more than one avenue of study in college. I advise all serious musicians - performers, composers, audio techs, educators - to take courses in music business, marketing, and business in general. These classes will teach you how to earn a living with your art. Do you have a secondary pursuit that you enjoy? Then engage in that pursuit whether it is writing, technology, science, visual arts, or even the health industry. You never know when your other talents will help your music career. In my life, my experience in writing, website design, and visual arts has helped me immensely, as well as my love for teaching and mentoring. 

3) Redefine Success for You

The general populace has a very general narrowed definition of music success that centers on the handful of mega popular superstars that are supported by billion dollar industry giants. Anyone actually in the music industry knows that success is measured in a nearly infinite number of ways. 

I will go more into this topic of success in the second part of this articles. So be sure to subscribe to the blog to get the latest updates, or follow us on Twitter.

Young is the foremost expert on virtual opera production and online collaboration with the debut of
her machinima opera Libertaria: The Virtual Opera. Libertaria includes a live international cast and film crew, virtual choirs, sound synthesis, machinima, and contemporary choral writing, produced entirely online using crowdsourcing, social networking, and the Internet. Critics call Libertaria "Groundbreaking" and "Wagner 2.0". Works performed internationally at the Beijing Conservatory, the International Computer Music Conference, Miramax's Project Greenlight, the Athena Festival, the New York International Independent Film Festival, Art Basil Miami, Turkey's Cinema for Peace, Art Miami, and Pulsefield International Exhibition of Sound Art, the Holland Animation Film Festival, Australasian Computer Music Confetence, Buffalo's Women and Arts Festival, and countless venues worldwide. Young's recent projects include the social media opera The Village and a recent TED Talk on opera and the Internet at TEDxBuffalo.


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