Updated: Apr 21
Starting your journey as a composer?
Know where to find the right opportunities!
Every career start is complicated. We already know this. But for music creators, the difficulty level of finding opportunities can be even greater. More than commitment, goodwill, talent, and knowledge is often needed.
In the beginning - in most cases - we depend on others: on being noticed and invited.
We want opportunities with established groups: bands, orchestras, or any other musical project. We would love to have a music godfather recognized in the market, someone to give us our first meaningful opportunities.
But, the reality is generally different. In general, this is rare to happen.
Many young music creators remain on the sidelines, collecting compositions and arrangements in a drawer - or, nowadays, in a digital folder that only some know exists - with no opportunities to showcase their work and gain experience.
Professional groups - especially large ones like symphony orchestras - rarely include original compositions by new composers in their repertoire. The few opportunities orchestras give to living composers are usually for professionals who already have a name in the scene, have built credibility, have a lot of experience, and - most likely - have some previous relationship with the ensemble.
So, how do you find opportunities as a starting music creator?
The secret is to have initiative! Know how to look at the scene and create your opportunities.
I've separated five tips for those who need north to get started!
1 - Small projects
Look for favorable situations to show your compositions and arrangements to your teachers and fellow musicians. A good example is to take every opportunity to include what you are writing as part of reading sessions at your music school, conservatory, or university. For example, composition, arrangement, instrumentation, and orchestration classes often provide students with reading sessions.
Another great alternative is to look for starting groups that need repertoire. Offer help free of charge. Chances are they'll be happy with your proposal and play something you've written (obviously, if your artistic vision converges with theirs and they like your work).
2 - Cultivate relationships
Invite other musicians and artists to participate in projects and events where they can learn about your music. Please do this in a natural way that adds value and positive experiences for THEM. When doing this, be careful not to appear self-promoting or spammy, especially in the way you invite. Understand that opportunities and invitations to future projects will primarily come from people who know you and admire your work.
3 - Each opportunity can generate others
Take advantage of small opportunities. A first commission accepted can open doors and generate new invitations, regardless of whether you were paid to do it first or did it simply for the experience and portfolio.
4 - Create your opportunities
Rather than simply waiting to be invited to compose or arrange for someone else, create your opportunities. Start projects where you will have artistic autonomy to choose the repertoire and perform your compositions and arrangements.
5 - Make it count; spare no effort
Surprise colleagues and contractors positively with the quality of your work and your dedication. The tendency is that a job well done will lead you to others, including more significant opportunities. The more you take advantage of your opportunities, the more invitations will come your way.
I am an example of someone who has tirelessly sought opportunities since the beginning of my career. By the way, when I was very young, I was already interested in composition and wrote my first pieces before starting college.
I took trumpet lessons and participated in the group of students of professor Clovis Beltrami in Campinas: the "Oficina Trompetando." I noticed that we presented the same pieces whenever we had a performance. Original compositions and arrangements for this particular formation - trumpet quartet or quintet - were rare. So I showed my teacher an arrangement I was working on and asked if we could play it in an upcoming rehearsal.
He accepted. With a grin from ear to ear, I took the sheet music to the next group meeting.
We play. It was one of my first experiences listening to an arrangement of mine played by a semi-professional group. At the time, I was about 15 years old, and I couldn't help but rejoice!
He analyzed it, liked it, and included the piece in the group's repertoire. In addition, he later commissioned new compositions and arrangements that he recorded as part of his upcoming album: "Caminhos Brasileiros - Estrada Minha" (Oficina Trompetando).
So, don't wait for the opportunity to knock on your door; create, and make it happen!
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Also, check out my online courses: “Creative Processes” and “Fundamentals of Audio and Video Production for Musicians”.
About the author
Rafael Piccolotto de Lima has been nominated for a Latin Grammy as the best classical composer. He holds a doctorate in jazz composition from the University of Miami and has multiple awards as an arranger, musical director, producer, and educator.
His works have been premiered and/or recorded by jazz legends such as Terence Blanchard, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau, renowned Brazilian artists such as Ivan Lins, Romero Lubambo, and Proveta, and orchestras such as the Brazilian Jazz Symphony, the Americas Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropole Orkest (Netherlands).