Why bother composing?

Jeffrey Parola sounds kinda bummed in his latest blog post. He outlines the all too familiar plight of the contemporary concert music composer (no appreciation, money, and little hope of either). He then earnestly asks: Why do we bother?

In my mind the answer is simple. Creation of music that didn’t exist before HAS to be its own reward, devoid of compensation, recognition, or praise. If that drive for creation for its own sake doesn’t exist, I might humbly suggest that a composer should just stop.

Praise is nice, and earning a living doing something that you love is great, but just because you love something doesn’t mean you can make a living at it. And just because you wrote something doesn’t mean anyone should care. Money and acknowledgement have to be secondary concerns for a composer.

Of course we should try to capitalize on our work. Self-promote, market, try to get people to listen, care, and support . But that’s not WHY you should write. You write because no one else will create the things that you will create. And ideally you will love what you’ve written so much that promotion will be easy and enthusiasm will be contagious. But even if it’s not, you should like what you’ve created so much that even if no one else seems to care, it was worth the effort.

Perhaps that sounds kinda glib and self evident. But there’s a real nugget in there. A composer should think about the music they love and why they love it. They should think about how they feel when they listen to it. Then they should listen to their own music, and if they don’t feel similarly, maybe they’re doing something wrong. After all, if you don’t love listening to your own work passionately, why should anyone else?

And if you DO love listening to your own work, what else do you really need? Perhaps money and adulation will follow, perhaps it won’t. But you’ve made music that you love and that you love to hear. Strive for those things that we associate with success, but don’t let those goals ever be mistaken for the real reason you write music.

(By the way, you should listen Jeffrey’s work. It’s some really lovely stuff. All of it. And then maybe go write some of your own.)

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3 Responses to Why bother composing?

  1. Well said. I have to agree with you. Composing as a profession may, sadly, be diminishing in relevance, and perhaps permanently. Supply and Demand. But writing music will always be relevant to the writer. And if it isn’t then why write at all? If the music is in your head, the exercise of expelling it, writing it out, realizing it fully, hearing it realized, should be the greatest reward. Everything else is largely ego and (false) expectation.

  2. Alexander Frank says:

    Exactly right. I imagine people write music for many reasons, but there is an almost certain trade-off regardless of your motivation. If you compose for your own edification, for the pure joy that only musical creation can bring, you must accept that any fame or compensation will be incidental. A composer of talent who desires recognition or money would be better served writing music geared toward radio play or scoring for film.

    If I strove for many years, writing exactly the music I wanted and loved, and it failed to gain any sort of recognition, I would certainly be discouraged. But the frustration would be directed toward others; more of an incredulous sadness that they aren’t affected by my music the way I am. For me, a (amateur) composer who is at least capable of conceiving and writing out novel music that I genuinely enjoy, to merely be given a perfect recording of every piece I ever wrote, even if I had to listen each in solitude, would be enough. The music is its own reward.

  3. Ben Phelps says:

    Well said indeed. Couldn’t agree more. How many composers have I met who I strongly suspect don’t like listening to their own music? Most of them. I simply can’t understand it.

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