Students across the country are getting ready to walk across stages and receive their diplomas. Shortly after, they will enter the first stages of their professional lives. I have four tips to help make the transition from student to professional:
1. Create a web presence.
In our ever-increasing digital age, composers have to establish a web presence. Social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) should account for some of your online activities; you can use SoundCloud and YouTube to post audio and video of your pieces. More importantly, however, you must have your own website. People need to be able to navigate to a site where they can listen to your music, browse your list of works, read your biography, and contact you. You might feel like you don’t have too much to put on a website yet, but you can get creative with the content. For instance, have a blog in which you share your musical adventures, post pictures of events you’re attending or of landscapes you find interesting, or list any performing that you’re doing in addition to your composition activities. Stephanie Boyd, Jonathan Hannau, and Ed Frazier Davis are recent students of mine have put together some very nice websites (click on their names to view).
2. Join a performance rights organization.
Getting paid for performances of your music will eventually become an important revenue stream for you, so start registering your pieces now. Performance organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC collect performance royalties on behalf of composers and send you royalty checks. All three organizations allow you to join as both a composer and as your own publisher, which will earn you twice as much in royalties. As long as you self-publish your works, you will retain the publishing portion of all royalties. Check out all three organizations, learn what their similarities and differences are, and then apply to join the organization that suits you best.
3. Get to know New Music USA and the American Composers Forum.
New Music USA and the American Composers Forum are organizations whose mission is to help composers further their music and careers. Both offer numerous resources and opportunities that are useful for composers. For instance, New Music USA annually awards $1 million in grants for a wide range of projects, from funding concerts, commissioning works, and making CDs to basically anything project that you can imagine. New Music USA also publishes a digital magazine called NewMusicBox that features interviews with composers, articles on topics relevant to our field, and news within the music industry. The American Composers Forum maintains a fantastic list of opportunities that keeps composers up to date on various competitions, grants, and residencies. There is a fee to join the American Composers Forum, but it is worth the price of membership to gain access to their offerings.
4. Kick up your in-person networking.
Last, but certainly not least, in-person networking and building long-term relationships are vital to crafting and maintaining a career. Just as you’re creating a virtual presence, you need to have a live presence too. Challenge yourself to get out to a concert every week or two, and after each concert, shake hands with a few new people before you leave. If you find that you’re drawn to a particular performer or artist, follow up with them after the event, ask them out for coffee (social media is great for connecting with people!), and start brainstorming how you can collaborate together on a future project.
In the beginning stages of your career, no one will be better at selling your music than yourself. So be your own salesperson! The more you let people know who you are and what your music sounds like, the better your chances are at building a lifelong, fulfilling career as a composer.