…I am a habitual sulker on Twitter/Facebook. Composing is not one of those careers you go into because things go easily, and at times it can feel pretty damn bleak. Unless you’re one of, I dunno, ten individuals on the planet, you’re not really making money by doing it (that number may be higher or lower, depending on whom you’re asking!), and freelancing as a musician (even when cash is coming in) is a rough way to live. Still, that’s what day jobs are for: professor gigs if you can one, the (ugh!) service industry, or whatever.
Your friends and family don’t understand that your job as a composer is a job to you (or at least it would be, if you were making any money at it), and they might view it as some kind of eccentric hobby. They don’t understand that you’ve gotta work for however many hours per week and do this second job and do this job-that-makes-no-money-that-you-would-rather-be-doing on evenings and weekends. It’s a huge strain on your love life when you can’t hang out with your significant other because you “really need to get this one section down,” every night of the week. If you find someone who understands and respects that, like I have, hold onto them (thanks, baby!)! You have to become some kind of scheduling wizard to be a good composer, good at your day job, and a good partner. (I’m still working that out!)
The worst thing, for me, is that the work doesn’t give you regular feedback. There are few moments where someone will tell you “good job,” or you get some kind of reward for what you want to do. There’s no “winning” composing; believe me, I’ve tried. There are competitions, but they can be random and cruel, and if you care too much about them, you can become a conspiracy theorist, wondering how Person A won this contest when they only went to School B and studied with Teacher C. It’s like when your headphone blows, and you think that fidgeting with the plug makes the sound comes back briefly: you’re not fixing anything, but the coincidental movements feel like they’re affecting the random feedback.
It’s easy to become bitter as a composer. Bitterness can sometimes feel like strength as an artist. Every time you lose a competition, or are passed over in a score call, you say to yourself, “Fuck these people! I don’t need them.” It’s easy to think that because bitterness is such a strong emotion, that it’s something that your art can feed on. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite. Bitterness is a vacuum: it will devour anything you give to it, and eventually it will devour you, if you let it. You’re bitterness is weakness that feels like strength.
Through the years, I’ve been given the “Hang in there!” speech by several better-wiser-more-successful composers. I’ve boiled them down to the three things that actually matter in your life as a composer. They are the only things you can really control, which means that they are the only things you should really worry about:
1. Is your music being heard? Do you have an outlet to expose people to your music? If not, make one! Websites, Facebook, whatever. The internet has leveled the playing field in terms of potential exposure. Anybody can be heard.
2. Is your music being played? Do people play your music? If you can’t get an ensemble to play your music, start your own! You have no control whether people around the world will play your music, so just focus on your community. If your music is good, it’ll spread. But, don’t measure your worth in how far and wide you’re performed.
3. Are you still composing? The hardest thing about composing is to keep composing, even when life makes it difficult. It doesn’t matter whether you’re “good” or “bad” at composing, you simply need to endure. Put pencil to paper (or, um, fingers to computer?), and go to work.