Do you want to learn How to Become a Professional Music Composer? How to take your skills, your knowledge and your experience in music, and make money to build a career as a composer.
Let me ask you this: Is this what you truly want? A successful career in music?
Well, then I have good news for you, because I will now share a complete guide to help you kickstart, develop, and level up your career as a composer.
I have made this guide for you, based on the very things that have helped me, on my professional journey in music.
My Story & Journey in Music
Hello, my name is Mike, and I am a composer.
Just. Like. You. 😃
I started composing and producing music back in 1998, but it took me many years before I decided to follow my dream, to work with music full time.
I’m probably not that different from you. I have had many boring jobs over the years, just to make a living, while always having the dream of a music career in the back of my mind, and in the core of my heart and soul. Do you have this dream as well?
You have to Choose your Dream
One day I simply decided to go all in. I made an active choice to follow my true dream, and don’t look back. I went straight to my boss, and quit my job. I did this without yet earning enough money from my music career.
Which means I actually lost money every month, and had to live cheap and take from my savings account.
Your Motivation is Everything
I don’t recommend doing what I did, but I tell you this story because I want to show how much your true passion and desire means for your success. I made my choice, because I could simply not keep pushing my true dream aside!
What will make you either succeed or fail, is in my humble opinion, based on your motivation, dedication, and your passion for making music, for working on your business, networking, marketing and everything else that goes into a career as a music composer…every day!
Define your Future in Music
Before you can become successful in music, you need to define what that truly means for you. What are your long term goals, and your dream destination as a music composer?
The best thing for you, is to sit down and think deeply about what your true dreams and goals are in music. This is not something you should take lightly, because it is Your Future we are talking about here.
Be Optimistic and Realistic
You should be both optimistic and realistic at the same time. This might sound contradictory, but I honestly believe you can be both.
Sure, if I say that I want to become as successful as Mozart, and have my music remembered and played for centuries, that’s not very realistic.
You have to find a balance that you both believe in, and still find a big challenge. Let me give you a practical example of this balance.
My Goals and Dreams in Music
My goals and dreams in music are: to make a full time income as a professional composer, both from custom music for projects, as well as music licensing and royalties.
I also want to make an income as a sound designer, both for sound design gigs, as well as selling my own sound collections and libraries.
Finally, I want to make an income as an artist as well, by building my artist brand and getting my music streamed by lots of people on all the major platforms.
All in all, I find my goals to be very challenging. But I also feel that I can achieve them by working hard every day to take steps forward, and get closer to my dream destination.
Take Action on your Dreams
Now it’s your turn. Take your time to truly imagine the future you want for yourself in music. And when you feel you have a clear vision, a picture in your head of the future you wish to work towards in music, write down that vision on a piece of paper.
Make sure to read your goals every day, to keep reminding yourself of what you work so hard to achieve. And also track your progress in all the most important parts of your professional journey, every week.
This will be your success motivation that will give you the energy to keep on moving forward.
Are you Ready to Go all in?
Now before you continue, I want you to ask yourself: are you ready to go all in? Are you ready to follow your dream of a professional career in music, as a composer, producer and artist? If you say yes: start your journey, right now! 😃
How to Make Money in Music?
How can you make money from your skills, experience and knowledge in music? Everything does not have to be about composing music. In fact, I’ve summarised 7 main fields you can make money from, but I’m sure you can find even more if you dive deeper. Here we go:
Field 1 – Music Composition
Composing music and doing various kinds of music composition work is of course the standard way of making money as a composer. Here are some examples:
- Compose Custom Music for Clients
- Compose for Music Libraries
- Orchestrating, notating, transcribing & arranging music
Field 2 – Music Production
Producing other artists’ music and doing various kinds of music production client work is another common path to make a living in music. Here are some examples:
- Music Producer: Mixing & Producing Music
- Recording Engineer: Record in a Studio or in the Field
- Mastering Engineer: Mastering Music Productions
Field 3 – Music Performance
Playing gigs and performing live as an artist for fans, is the classic revenue path in music that also builds your own personal brand from exposure. For example:
- Playing your own Live Shows
- Booked gigs and special events
- Contracted musician in an orchestra, band, club, restaurant etc.
- Studio Session Musician
- Live Streams: Performing your music and covers
Field 4 – Music Education
People will always need to learn, to evolve, to develop their knowledge and skills. That is why education is another great field in music. For example:
- Teach in a School
- Teach private lessons in Person
- Teach one-to-one Online
- Create Online Courses
- Write Books or E-Books
- Write for a Newspaper
- Write for an Online Magazine
- Write for a Blog
Field 5 – Sound Design
If you have the skills of recording, shaping and creating sounds: from recording sounds in the studio or in the field, to making them on a synthesizer or instrument…then sound design might be an interesting field for you. Here are some examples:
- Sound Design for Music
- Foley Sound Design for Media
- Sound Design for Sample Libraries & Sound Banks
- Sound Design for Instrument Presets
- Sound Design for Products and User Experience
Field 6 – Fan Support
If you have built a fanbase as a music artist, you have many ways to let your fans support your journey. For example:
- Distributing your Music on Online Streaming Platforms
- Video views on your YouTube Channel to get Ad income
- Get Fan Donations from Online Services
- Sell Merchandise to your Fans
Field 7 – Music Influencer
If you develop a presence online as an artist, with your own brand, and build a following…then you have great potential in making money as an influencer online. For example:
- Make money from Ads
- Make money from Sponsors
- Make money from Brand Deals
- Make money as an Affiliate
Those are 7 main fields you can make money in as a music composer, producer and artist. Let’s sum them all up:
- Music Composition
- Music Production
- Music Performance
- Music Education
- Sound Design
- Fan Support
- Music Influencer
Now take Action
Are you ready to level up your income in music? It’s time that you take advantage of all your experience, skills and knowledge as a composer, producer and artist.
Create many Income Streams
I have personally found the best way to make a living in music, is to create many streams of income. Because honestly, if you only focus on one of these main fields, you will find it very difficult to make enough money every month.
But it is also hard to keep up with every major field of income. So decide which fields you want to focus on, and create an action plan for each path.
Track your Income Streams
I have created a spreadsheet to track all my income streams, with a column for each individual income stream.
For example: one column for every music library you have your music on, another column for the royalties you get from your PRO, another column for your custom composing gigs, a column for your music distribution income, and so on.
And I do this on a monthly basis, meaning one row is one month. This makes it easy to track all individual streams of income, as well as the total income per month.
I find that tracking all your income streams like this is not only super motivational, but also pushes you forward, because you want to increase those numbers, and most importantly: the total income you make each month from your music career.
So go ahead and create your own income streams tracker right now, and make sure to check it regularly, and update it every month.
Again, I recommend using a spreadsheet for this. I personally use Google Sheets so that I can access it right in my web browser. Good luck, now let’s continue your epic adventure in music!
Build your Sound Palette
One thing I have learned as a composer and producer, is that it is essential to have complete and quick access to all the sounds you need, for all the types of music you want to compose. Otherwise you will simply get stuck in the middle of a production.
Build your Composer Toolkit
This means that you need to invest in instrument and effect plugins, sample libraries, preset banks, loops and sound samples. You need to cover every color of sound, to be able to compose music in all genres and styles you want.
Examples of Plugins & Sample Libraries:
- Acoustic Drum Kits
- Electronic Drum Kits
- Cinematic Percussion
- Ethnic Percussion
- Bass: Electric, Acoustic & Synth
- Keys: Pianos, Electric Pianos & Organs
- Guitars: Acoustic & Electric
- Orchestral Strings, Brass & Woodwinds
- Choirs & Vocals
Examples of Sample Collections:
- Percussion: Kicks, Snares, Hi-Hats & Cymbals
- Accents: Claps, Snaps & Stomps
- Hits: Booms, Thuds, Explosions & Impacts
- Transitions: Risers, Downers, Whooshes & Reverse Sounds
- Ambience: Soundscapes, Textures & Drones
Now it’s up to you to build your composer sound palette the way you want it. I recommend going for quality over quantity. Good luck and have fun building and expanding your sound palette.
Create your own System
It is essential that it is easy for you to find just the sound you need, in the very moment you need it. How? By creating your own system.
Because the only way that you personally will find your software instruments, sound libraries, presets, effects, loops and samples in an easy and quick way: is to create your own system where you categorize and structure everything to suit your personal workflow.
Your Sample Bank
I recommend that you create a folder on your computer and name it something like “My Sound Bank”.
Then you create subfolders for each category of sound, and name and structure all these sub folders in a way that you prefer.
Because your workflow needs to be synced with your way of thinking and working. Next you add each and every one of your sound samples in the appropriate sub folder inside your sample bank system.
If you use loops, you should repeat the same process, but for a different main folder called for example: “My Loop Bank”.
Your Preset Bank
Many DAWs have a way to organize your favorite presets for your plugins and sample libraries. This makes it so much easier to access them quickly, instead of searching for and opening up the specific plugin, and then go into its own preset manager.
For example: in Logic Pro X, I can save my favorite instrument presets in the Library, and the preset will include the specific plugin, the preset used inside the plugin, and even the complete channel chain with all insert effects.
That’s not only convenient and practical, but super efficient when you compose and produce your track.
The main point is to have quick and easy access to your complete composer sound palette. This means: the presets of your instrument plugins and sample libraries, as well as all your sound samples.
Now Build your Composer Sound Palette
Great! Now it’s time for you to take action, and start building your own composer sound palette. And make sure to also create your own personal system for your sound bank, with all samples and loops you own, as well as all your presets.
Develop your Composer Skills
Composing music will always be more about your skills compared to your tools. Let me clarify. If you want to become a professional composer it is of course important that you use high quality plugins, sample libraries, effects and sounds.
However, it is much more important that you improve your skills, knowledge and experience as a composer.
This means that you need to consistently level up your creative skills as a music maker. Here’s an overview of the fields I recommend you to focus on:
For example: Scales, Modes, Rhythm, Chords, Harmony, Intervals, Ear Training and Melody.
For example: Storytelling, Emotion, Expression, Energy, Orchestration and Arranging.
For example: Recording, Mixing, Automation and Mastering.
For example: Synthesis, Sound Shaping, Layering, Modulation and Automation.
For example: Your Piano & MIDI keyboard skills plus performing various instruments.
Now Level Up your Composer Skills
You need to make an active choice, to practice and improve in all these major fields, every day. They will all contribute to your professional career as a composer.
Basically: by mastering all these fields you will be able to tell your music stories exactly the way you hear the music in your head. And you will be able to express emotion, energy, action and mood with perfect precision.
Create your Professional Brand
What is branding, and why is it so incredibly important? A brand is basically like a person. It makes your business recognisable and memorable. A brand can also make people connect on a deeper level. Especially with a good slogan, a clear vision, your “why”, your story.
Your brand should make people remember, feel and care more about your business. A well designed and implemented brand will help you gain authority, increase the professional appearance, and in the end get you more projects and customers.
How to Create your Brand?
How do you create your own brand, as a composer and music artist? Basically it’s a 3 step process: The Vision, The Definition, The Creation.
You are in charge of the vision and definition of your complete brand and business. Finally it’s time for the creation step, the design and implementation of all individual branding elements.
Tips on Creating your Brand
Branding is such an important aspect of your business that I recommend getting help with the design. You should of course create the vision and definition for every branding element yourself, and also describe how you want to design your brand.
A graphic designer can help you create professional branding elements to go with your vision. Especially your color theme, your logotype, and your website, are crucial to get right.
You want to make sure that your brand is perceived as professional, that your designs are consistent with your brand, that you gain authority, and that your brand is memorable. This is what branding is all about.
Branding – 10 Powerful Guidelines
Here are my top 10 guidelines for creating your own professional brand as a music composer and artist.
- Design with Vision: All designs should be based on your vision and definition of your brand.
- Consistency is the Key: Your brand is like a character in a movie. Make sure to always stay “in character”.
- Less is More: Don’t add too much. Simplicity is powerful. Especially in design.
- Implement with Care: Don’t overdo your branding when you use it in practice.
- Be Unique: But don’t try to be original in every aspect. It’s the “whole image” that should be unique.
- Own your Name: Own your brand name on your website domain, all important social media accounts etc.
- Link back Home: All your online presence should link back to your website, the home of your brand.
- Change Slowly: Everything in life changes over time. Even your brand. But make it a slow, gradual process.
- Focus on How & Why: How you say something, and why…always have greater impact than what you say.
- Always Brand: Everywhere you represent your business and your music: make sure to use your branding.
Where to use Your Brand
Now where should you apply and use your brand in practice? Well, your brand is the personality, the character, the design, the style, and the representation of your business.
But where exactly? Basically everywhere that your business is present. But I want to give you some practical examples. Here are some of the most important places to apply and use your branding elements:
- Your Website
- Your Social Media
- Your Music Platforms
- Your Videos
- Your Graphics
- Your PDFs
- Your Prints
- Your Emails
Create all Your Branding Elements
Here is my complete quick guide to all the essential branding elements I recommend you to create and define for your own professional brand as a music composer, producer and artist:
- Brand Name = The actual name of your brand
- Brand Style = Brand personality and character. Describe the style of your brand.
- Brand Story = The start, the why, and the vision of your brand.
- Brand Slogan = A sentence that represents your brand. Ex: An idea, a vision, or a mission.
- Brand Sound = The signature sound of your brand. Essentially: The style(s) of music you want to be known for.
- Brand Colors = The color theme of your brand. Your color palette.
- Brand Font = The primary font of your brand.
- Brand Language = How you communicate, your style of language, and specific brand words.
- Brand Logotype = The visual representation of your brand in its most simple form.
- Brand Avatar = The small image that will represent your brand online, as your profile picture (avatar image).
- Brand Photos = The official photographs that will represent you, and your brand.
Create your Complete Professional Brand
Now the time has come, for you to take action. Go through the list of branding elements. Create your vision and mission for each one.
Finally design and define each branding element step by step. Either by yourself, or with the help of a graphic designer. The end result will become your own complete professional brand.
Save and Backup all Branding Elements
I recommend that you save everything in one master folder on your computer, plus on a cloud service for backup. Good luck creating your own brand. It will be essential for advancing your professional career and business, as a composer!
Market yourself as a Composer
Marketing is one of the most important aspects of any kind of business. And as a professional composer, you are running your own business. You are a freelancer, and basically an online entrepreneur.
But yet so many creative artists fail to focus on this incredibly important part of their professional music career. You should not make that mistake.
We live in an Online World
In the old days, long before the Internet, you simply had to set up your business in a good location where your potential customers and clients would come to you.
And the most remote aspect of marketing was advertising in old school media: like newspapers, radio and TV.
Today, we live in a global and connected world. An “Online World”. It’s no longer enough to simply be present in a good location.
You need to build online assets and platforms: to market your brand, business, products and services so that your potential customers and clients can learn about you.
Value Based Marketing
I consider free and organic marketing to be the best kind. This is where you provide enough value for people to want to hear from you. It can for example be to make videos on YouTube, write interesting blog posts, and so on.
Remember this important rule: Marketing is NOT spamming. So whenever you do any kind of marketing or promotional activities, make sure to always provide value to the audience.
Build your Marketing Assets
Here is a list of marketing platforms or channels I recommend:
- Your Website: Your website is your most important marketing asset. I recommend that you have a blog, your portfolio, testimonials, a contact form, and a media and press kit.
- Your Products: Whether you provide paid or free products, they are all marketing assets for you and your brand. Of course, your music is the first thing that might come to mind.But here I am referring to other kinds of products, that can build your authority and presence online. Like online courses, books, tutorials, PDF guides and so on.
- Your Email List: Let people sign up for free, to get bonus content, special gifts, your latest updates, and special offers.
- Your Social Media: Choose your favorite platforms and focus on sharing as much value as you can, and also engage with your fans and followers. Social Media can also be good for professional networking purposes.
- Your YouTube Channel: I consider YouTube to be separate from the standard social media platforms.Videos are the most powerful content you can provide, and YouTube in particular has the long term benefits of people being able to find your videos years after you uploaded them.
Working for Credit
I am personally not a fan of doing custom composing jobs for free. It’s not a bad thing to do, but you have to do it in a strategic way.
Every time you consider working for free I recommend you to think carefully about it, because it can easily become a habit, and it will not improve your chances of getting high paying jobs if you ride on this train too much.
If you do take on a custom composing gig for free: make sure to get as much value you can from it.
Get a nice written testimonial, including a professional photo of the client. Because testimonials is one of the most powerful forms of marketing, especially if you get a visual of the person who wrote it. Or better yet, ask for a video testimonial.
I also strongly recommend that you get a signed agreement first, where all your terms are met for doing all this work for free. Things like getting a good testimonial, full credits in the production, and if possible: a percentage of the revenue the project will bring in.
Creative Commons Music
Even if I am not personally a fan of doing custom composing jobs for free, I do appreciate the great power of providing value for free. But instead of doing free work for one single client, I rather create some tracks as creative commons, also called CC.
Creative commons is a license form that basically grants people permission to use your track for free in their project. There are several types of CC licenses, with different kinds of rights and permissions.
Personally I would recommend using a CC license that allows both commercial and personal use for free, but still requires attribution. Meaning when anyone uses your track they will have to credit you in the production.
The point of making some of your tracks available as creative commons, is that you will reach more people with your music compositions, and hopefully get credit and links back to your website or composer portfolio.
Some of the people that used your creative commons tracks, might even go to your website to contact you for a paid custom composing job.
Focus on your Online Home
Your website is the main location for your business. The online home for your brand, and your products and services as a composer and artist. Make sure that all your online marketing assets point to your home.
Your primary objective is to get people to go to your website, because that is the only place you have complete control.
On your website you should have your composer portfolio, and about page with your story and background, testimonials, success stories, contact form for potential clients, a media and press kit, and so on. Make sure it is professionally designed and easy to navigate.
Pay for Promotion
You should not dismiss the good old way of marketing, which is advertising your products and services.
In fact, you have incredible control and power of how you target your paid advertising today, because of the amount of data you can get online. For example on: Google Adwords, YouTube and Facebook.
Personally I prefer value based content marketing, which is free and wanted. But if you consider to pay for advertising, I recommend that you target a high quality group of people.
Meaning a very narrow target audience that is highly likely to be interested in the products and services you offer. Basically you only want to pay to reach potential clients and buyers.
Grow your Network
Networking is such a boring term, yet it is still one of the most important things you can focus on for your professional career in music.
Instead of seeing it as “networking”, which sounds like you wear a suit and tie every day, I rather see it as making friends and reaching out to get to know people.
Be a nice person
The best way to make friends and connections in any field, is to be a genuine and nice person. I personally believe in the power of kindness.
Never take advantage of people, and always give more to others than you ask for yourself. That is the way to make friends in all parts of life. And don’t worry about being liked by everyone, because no one is.
Simply be generous, be kind, and be yourself.
Now what can you do or provide, that is valuable to the person you want to connect with? Everyone that runs a business is bombarded with spam, trolls, freeloaders and wannabes all the time.
When you reach out to someone that you don’t have an established relationship with: consider how you can be of value to that person. Be professional, concise and respect the value of their time. Always focus on how you can help them.
Examples of Business Contacts
Now who are the people you should try to connect with as a professional composer. Well, basically anyone that works either in the music industry, or in an industry that needs music for their projects. Here are some examples:
- Fellow Professional Composers
- Performers (vocalists, instrumentalists)
- All your previous clients
- Music Licensing companies
- Music Supervisors
- Recording Studios
- Press and Media
I’m sure you can come up with many more categories. Make sure to keep a good record of all your business contacts, and organise the contact details in way so you can keep in touch with them easily and consistently.
Good luck making friends and connections on your professional journey as a composer!
Measure your Progress
I have created a master spreadsheet to track my professional journey in music, and I strongly recommend you to do the same. Because what you measure on a consistent basis in any business, is what you will focus on improving.
Track your Journey
In my spreadsheet, which I have named “My Success Journey”, I have created a tab for each type of tracker. The first tab is where I track all my income streams.
The second tab is where I keep a record on all my finished music productions, with various kinds of specifications for every track: like tempo, key, bpm, overall emotion, main genre and style, instrumentation, PRO-number and so on.
The third tab is where I have all my professional business contacts, basically my friends and connections in the music industry etc.
You should create a tab for every important aspect of your professional journey as a composer. And then you need to make sure you use this spreadsheet on a consistent basis. I recommend you look at it daily, and update it as soon as you have new data.
I have chosen to use Google Sheets, because then I can have this spreadsheet pinned in my web browser. This way I will see it every time I open up my web browser, which will constantly remind me to use it, and to work on my professional journey in music.
Create a Spreadsheet for Your Journey
Now take action, and create your own spreadsheet to keep track of all the important aspects of you professional career as a composer and artist.
Good luck, and make to use it on a daily basis: for motivation, for tracking your success, as well as a reminding you to keep working towards your dream destination.
Master your Workflow
What will make you successful in this industry, without burning yourself out in the process, is to optimize your workflow and productivity for maximum efficiency. You want to spend less time and less energy, to produce more results, right?
Examples of Workflow Tricks
This can be done in many ways, and it will probably be different for every person, but I do have some recommendations of things to consider for improving your workflow: in your business, and when you compose and produce music.
- Master your Skills: By this I mean all creative skills that you use as a music composer and producer. Such as your knowledge and practical use of music theory and composition techniques.Doing sound design, mixing and mastering your music. Improving your piano and MIDI keyboard performance skills, and so on.
- Master your Tools: By this I mean to fully master your DAW, your software instruments and effects, as well as all the hardware and gear you use in your studio.The goal is for you to be able to completely master all the technical sides of music production so that you can focus on the creative sides: making music.
- Master your Focus: I have found that being very focused on one single task when I work, is a great way to get more done in less time.This means removing all kinds of distractions like mobile notifications, browser tabs, and make sure to give your 100% focus on the task at hand.I have also found that scheduling and naming these “Focus Sessions” in my calendar has helped me by making it clear what to do, and when.
- Master your Energy: Trying to do work when your energy is low is very hard. Especially creative work that require a lot of mental energy.That’s why I schedule my work sessions on time slots during the day when I usually have the most energy and will power to complete certain tasks.For example: planning and writing in the morning, working in the studio after lunch, and filming and editing in the afternoon and evening.
Work Smart – Not Hard
The whole point of mastering your workflow as a composer and online entrepreneur, is to use your time and energy efficiently.
To work smarter, instead of harder. I have given you some examples from my personal experience, but I am sure you can come up with many more workflow tricks that you can use to become more productive and efficient.
Write your Workflow Improvement Guide
Now take action by writing your own workflow improvement guide. A list of all the things you want to focus on for improving your workflow and productivity: by working smarter. And be specific.
For example: Let’s say you write down “Master my Skills” as one main area. Then write a bullet list with all the skills you want to improve that will help you do all the creative work as a composer and producer.
And finally specify on each point, what actions you will take to actually improve in that area. Such as: reading a book, taking a course, doing daily or weekly practice sessions and so on. Good luck creating your workflow improvement guide.
Advance on your Professional Journey
Now it is time for you to take action on everything you have learned, so that you can move forward on your professional journey in music.
The point is to take steps every week, in every important field, to advance your career. Let me give you a quick guide and summary:
- Define your Future Career in Music: What fields will you make an income in? Make your vision vivid and clear, and write it down so that you can be reminded every day of what you work so hard to achieve. Your end goal.
- Set up your Home Music Studio: First get the essentials set up, then define an upgrade path, and expand your studio as your career moves forward.
- Build your Composer Sound Palette: Get all the sounds, samples and libraries you need. And create an organised system to help you access any sound you need, as soon as you need it for a track you work on.
- Develop your Composer Skills: Make a plan for advancing in all important fields like practical music theory, music storytelling skills, composition techniques, sound design, recording, producing, mixing, mastering and so on.
- Create your Professional Brand: Use your branding everywhere, and focus on getting people to your website, which is the online home for your business.
- Develop your Marketing Strategy: And make sure to market and promote your brand, business, products and services on a consistent basis.
- Grow your Network: Make friends and connections in the music industry, or other related industries. And keep all your business contacts organised in for example a spreadsheet, with several columns per contact where you can add important information that you want to remember.
- Measure your Progress: Create a spreadsheet to track all the important success factors on your professional journey, such as all income streams, your composer portfolio, all your completed projects and so on.
- Master your Workflow: Make a list of all the aspects that you want to improve your workflow and efficiency within. Your main goal is to work smarter, not harder.Get more done, in less time, with less stress and frustration in the process. Make an action guide for each field for how you can improve your workflow in that specific process.
My name is Mike, and I wish you good luck and great success, on your professional journey and adventure in music.
If you choose to follow your dream, make sure you do it with 100% dedication. There are no shortcuts to success. My final advice is simple: Learn every Day, Practice every Day and Create every Day! =)