Composers and Arrangers


Employment Prospects


Approximately 64,700 composers and music directors are employed in the United States.  Many composers are self-employed. They complete their work in their own studios and then try to sell their pieces to music publishers, film and television production companies, or recording companies. Once their work becomes well known, clients, such as film and television producers, dance companies, or musical theater producers, may commission original pieces from composers. In this case, the client provides a story line, time period, mood, and other specifications the composer must honor in the creation of a musical score.

Advertising agencies and studios that make commercials and film, television, and video production studios might have a few "house" composers on staff. Schools often underwrite a composer in residence, and many composers work as professors in college and university music departments while continuing to compose. For the most part, however, composers are on their own when creating and promoting their work.

Most arrangers work on a freelance basis for record companies, musical artists, music publishers, and film and television production companies.

Starting Out

In school, young composers should try to have their work performed either at school concerts or by local school or community ensembles. This will also most likely involve the composers in copying and scoring their work and possibly even directing. Student film projects can provide an opportunity for experience at film composing and scoring. Working in school or local musical theater companies can provide valuable experience. Personal connections made through these projects may be very helpful in the professional world. Developing a portfolio of work will be helpful as the composer enters a professional career.

Producers of public service announcements, or PSAs, for radio and television are frequently on the lookout for pro bono (volunteer) work that can provide opportunities for young, willing composers. Such opportunities may be listed in trade magazines, such as Variety ( and Show Business (

Joining the American Federation of Musicians; American Composers Alliance; Society of Composers; American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; and other musical societies and associations is another good move for aspiring composers. These organizations often have resources for young composers and offer leads on grants and awards.

Young composers, arrangers, songwriters, and jingle writers can also work their way into the commercial advertising business by doing some research and taking entry-level jobs with agencies that handle commercials involving music.

Advancement Prospects

The advancement path in the music-composition and arrangement world is very individualized. There is no hierarchical structure to climb, although in record companies a person with music writing talent might move into a producing or A&R (artist and repertoire) job and be able to exercise compositional skills in those capacities. Advancement is based on talent, determination, and luck. Some composers become well known for their work with film scores; John Williams, of Star Wars fame, is one example.

Advancement for composers and arrangers is dependent on talent and skill. They may progress through their careers to writing or transcribing music of greater complexity and in more challenging structures. They may develop a unique style and even develop new forms and traditions of music. One day, their names might be added to the list of the great composers and arrangers.

Tips for Entry

Listen to all types of music. Practice composing and arranging music in a variety of genres.

Compose and arrange music for local community productions, school plays, and other events.

Read industry publications such as Variety and Show Business to learn about the industry and access job listings.

Join professional associations to access training and networking opportunities, industry publications, and employment opportunities.