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  • Writer's pictureJennifer E. Rose

The Reality of Life as a Composer

I used to have this dream that being a full time composer meant me sitting at my piano or my computer for hours of uninterrupted creativity, toiling away with amazing musical ideas, writing piece after piece after piece while offers for commissions came rolling in. After all, I saw other composers I admire, who I felt were successful, doing just that. At least, that's what I thought.

I began chasing this full-time composing dream by leaving education. The only way I could have enough time and energy to compose was if I was no longer a band director. Then, I started composing. I was blind to the inspiration surrounding me at the time, so I began searching for competitions to enter and commissions to win. Nothing was happening.

I had composed an electroacoustic piece for, what I called, an adaptable ensemble & fixed media, but I was afraid of putting it out in the band world. I was afraid that IF directors even listened to it, they wouldn't like it. After receiving some encouragement from three amazing female composer friends of mine, I decided to release it. I was surprised to find that there were directors out there that actually liked it. I was gaining a little momentum with a few sales here and there, but I still wasn't getting any requests for commissions. So I simply wrote more of what I really enjoyed composing...electroacoustic works for adaptable ensembles. And they were selling; I even sold some pieces in Canada, Germany, and Finland! I was pumped. Simultaneously, I also began pursuing composing for film (that has been a long time dream as well) by practicing with a variety of film clips and videos obtained through a friend.

I was no longer chasing the dream, I was actually living it!

Then reality set in and I woke up. Bills had to get paid and I wasn't earning enough through composing. I felt like I was failing as a composer. In my reality, things looked a bit different than what I imagined and because they looked different, I thought that I was failing. Even while self-publishing and selling my music, while being invited to speak with middle school and high school bands across the country, and even while being invited to present my music on a panel alongside esteemed composers like Frank Ticheli, Jeff Herwig, and Benjamin Taylor, I still felt like I was failing.

I was composing and selling music, but not enough. I wasn't gaining any momentum with film music. And then, the school year ended, my children were home for the summer, school ensembles didn't need music, and I certainly wasn't being asked to do any virtual clinics anytime soon. Then trying to find a balance of composing while the kids were home was seemingly impossible, at least it was for more than 15 minutes at a time. I couldn't find a balance.

You see, I struggled with the balance of being a composer, mom, wife, and band director for fifteen years. But before that, ever since childhood, I struggled with just being. No matter what I did, no matter how healthy and happy I looked on the surface, I felt like I wasn't good enough, wasn't pretty enough, wasn't talented enough...I just wasn't enough. Obviously, I was at one thing: self-sabotage. BUT, I just knew that I would be happy when I was a successful composer. I couldn't figure out what my problem was, so I did a lot of reflecting and eventually sought evaluation and treatment for ADD thinking that I was so scatterbrained and lacked focus that ADD had to be the problem. Then my results showed a different diagnosis: "Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder, in partial remission with obsessive-compulsive traits". Wow! I wasn't expecting that. But things began to make a lot more sense.

At the current moment, my reality looks quite different than what I imagined the life of a successful composer would look like. My schedule is completely off-track because my children are home for the summer. I am still finding time here and there during the day to work on music, developing my audio skills, and learning new techniques. But the summer is definitely my slow time to compose. However, I am able to spend a lot of time with my children. Definite perk!

I want to earn a living entirely from composing, sound design, and audio. And although it seems a bit difficult to stay the course sometimes, I have discovered that if I simply ask myself:

What can I do today to follow the composition path?

I am able to stay more motivated to pursue this dream and I don't fall into the self-sabotage mindset as often. And when I stumble or begin to doubt myself, I ask again: "What can I do today?"

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