Music Directors and Composers

Career, Salary and Education Information

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a music director or composer with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Music Director Jobs

  • Concert Operations & Personnel Manager - York Symphony Orchestra - York, PA

    Work with the General Manager, Music Director, and concert venue staff to

  • Senior Staff Accountant - Black Ink Business Services - Brooklyn, NY

    This role will report to Senior Accounting & Finance Managers and

  • ENRICHMENT DIRECTOR - KIDTOWN USA - Schaumburg, IL

    Beautiful, flexible space needs very creative and energetic leader to develop this program immediately to begin in January. Also includes

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What Music Directors and Composers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Music directors, also called conductors, lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.

Duties of Music Directors and Composers

Music directors typically do the following:

  • Select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed for live audiences or recordings
  • Prepare for performances by reviewing and interpreting musical scores
  • Direct rehearsals to prepare for performances and recordings
  • Choose guest performers and soloists
  • Audition new performers or assist section leaders with auditions
  • Practice conducting to improve their technique
  • Meet with potential donors and attend fundraisers

Music directors lead orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups. They ensure that musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, timing, rhythm, and volume. They also give feedback to musicians and section leaders on sound and style.

Music directors may work with a variety of musical groups, including church choirs, youth orchestras, and high school or college bands, choirs, or orchestras. Some work with orchestras that accompany dance and opera companies.

Composers typically do the following:

  • Write original music that orchestras, bands, and other musical groups perform
  • Arrange existing music into new compositions
  • Write lyrics for music or work with a lyricist
  • Meet with orchestras, musical groups, and others who are interested in commissioning a piece of music
  • Study and listen to music of various styles for inspiration
  • Work with musicians to record their music

Composers write music for a variety of types of musical groups and users. Some work in a particular style of music, such as classical or jazz. They also may write for musicals, operas, or other types of theatrical productions.

Some composers write scores for movies or television; others write jingles for commercials. Many songwriters focus on composing music for audiences of popular music.

Some composers use instruments to help them as they write music. Others use software that allows them to hear a piece without musicians.

Some music directors and composers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others teach music in elementary, middle, or high schools. For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

For more information about careers in music, see the profile on musicians and singers.

Work Environment for Music Directors and Composers[About this section] [To Top]

Music directors and composers hold about 74,800 jobs. The largest employers of music directors and composers are as follows:

Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 56%
Self-employed workers 26
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 12
Performing arts companies 3

Music directors commonly work in concert halls and recording studios, and they may spend a lot of time traveling to different performances. Composers can work in offices, recording studios, or their own homes.

Jobs for music directors and composers are found all over the country. However, many jobs are located in cities in which entertainment activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Chicago.

Music Directors and Composer Work Schedules

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

How to Become a Music Director or Composer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Music Directors and Composers near you!

Educational and training requirements for music directors and composers vary, although most positions require related work experience. A conductor for a symphony orchestra typically needs a master's degree; a choir director may need a bachelor's degree. There are no formal educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music.

Education for Music Directors and Composers

Employers generally prefer candidates with a master's degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting for positions as a conductor or classical composer.

Applicants to postsecondary programs in music typically are required to submit recordings, audition in person, or both. These programs teach students about music history and styles, and educate them in composing and conducting techniques. Information on degree programs is available from the National Association of Schools of Music.

A bachelor's degree typically is required for those who want to work as a choir director. Those who work in public schools may need a teaching license or certification. For more information, see the profiles on teachers.

There are no specific educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music. These composers usually find employment by submitting recordings of their compositions to bands, singers, record companies, and movie studios. Composers may promote themselves through personal websites, social media, or online video or audio of their musical work.

Important Qualities for Music Directors and Composers

Discipline. Talent is not enough for most music directors and composers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and seek to improve their technique and style.

Interpersonal skills. Music directors and composers need to work with agents, musicians, and recording studio personnel. Being friendly, respectful, and open to criticism as well as praise, while enjoying being with others, can help music directors and composers work well with a variety of people.

Leadership. Music directors and composers must guide musicians and singers by preparing musical arrangements and helping them achieve the best possible sound.

Musical talent. To become a music director or composer, one must have musical talent.

Perseverance. Music directors and composers need determination to continue submitting their compositions after receiving rejections. Also, reviewing auditions can be frustrating because it may take many different auditions to find the best musicians.

Promotional skills. Music directors and composers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media platforms. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base and getting more work opportunities.

Music Directors and Composer Training

Music directors and composers typically begin their musical training at a young age by learning to play an instrument or singing, and perhaps performing as a musician or singer. Music directors and composers who are interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation for Music Directors and Composers

Music directors and composers often work as musicians or singers in a group, a choir, or an orchestra before they take on a leadership role. They use this time to master their instrument and gain an understanding of how the group functions. For more information, see the profile on musicians and singers.

Music Director and Composer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for music directors and composers is $50,110. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,700.

The median annual wages for music directors and composers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Performing arts companies $55,130
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 53,740
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 39,900

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook for Music Directors and Composers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of music directors and composers is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

The number of people attending musical performances, such as symphonies and concerts, and theatrical performances, such as ballets and musical theater, is expected to remain steady. Music directors will be needed to lead orchestras for concerts and musical theater performances. They also will conduct the music that accompanies ballet troupes and opera companies.

In addition, there will likely be a need for composers to write original music and arrange known works for performances. Composers will be needed as well to write film scores and music for television and commercials.

However, growth is expected to be limited because orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups can have difficulty getting funds. Some music groups are nonprofit organizations that rely on donations and corporate sponsorships, in addition to ticket sales, to fund their work. These organizations often have difficulty finding enough money to cover their expenses. In addition, growth may be limited for music directors in schools due to struggles with school funding, and music programs may be cut.

Job Prospects for Music Directors and Composers

Despite expected growth, tough competition for jobs is anticipated because of the large number of people interested in entering this field. In particular, there will be considerable competition for full-time music director and composer positions. Candidates with exceptional musical talent and dedication should have the best opportunities.

Music directors and composers may experience periods without work. During these times, they may work in other occupations, give music lessons, attend auditions, or write music.

Employment projections data for Music Directors and Composers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Music directors and composers 74,800 79,400 6 4,600


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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