How do I get commissioned as a composer? This was a question I would often ask myself when I was younger – and honestly, at the age of 25 – and I know to some I may still seem like a baby, I wonder if some of my contemporaries have some magic secret I don’t know, given the number of pieces they are currently writing for commissions! In this article, I want to give you some ideas that have helped me secure commissions in the past which may be of help to you if you are scratching your head thinking the same thing. We’ll look at applying to composer development schemes and creative opportunities. There are many ways of going about making some money on the side as a composer. While it is possible, the reality of it is, you’re unlikely to make a comfortable living from writing alone, due to the niche that classical music is in, when compared to the pop and rock genres most listeners are familiar with. Artists working in these genres have just as small a chance of success as the rest of us. There are no guarantees in the Arts and it is a difficult but rewarding area two be active in. I hope that through sharing some ideas can give you some motivation and inspiration.
The first development commission I engaged with was Drake Music’s Legacy Commission, for which I devised and created Something From Nothing – an audience-led educational performance piece, which was created to prove that composition is an activity that anyone can pursue. Not only did this commission opened a number of doors later in my compositional journey, but it was also well paid (and that’s always a nice and very practical bonus!) Eventually this commission led to my inclusion in fellow composer, Ben Lunn’s collaboration with Drake Music Scotland and The Hebrides Ensemble – Diversions, as part of which my solo viola piece Monologue, was performed by the lead violist. My involvement in Diversions has led to a new collaboration – a piece for viola and piano. This collaboration is still in the very early days, however, I know with absolute certainty that this project would never have come about without my connections and the subsequent involvement in his project. The old adage of ‘it’s who you know’ springs to mind when working music.
Creative opportunities are a fantastic way to connect with performers, other composers and organisations and they are quite literally everywhere and are available all of the time due to the wonder that is the internet. Sites such as The Composer’s Site, and Sound and Music – among others are great places to seek out new commissions and opportunities, both for composers and performers alike. Furthermore, I am seeing a huge increase in reach and opportunities on social media platforms such as Facebook. A recent commission Reflection O the Hills, was commissioned by the Doric Board. Some time earlier, I had participated in a Composer Development Scheme run by Sound Festival. Through the scheme, the Red Note Ensemble for whom I composed Over the Far Horizon – for oboe and cello. Through this project, I developed a collaborative relationship with the oboist and we agreed that it would be interesting to collaborate again in the future. Our next collaboration was to be the Doric Board commission. Working remotely with the performer, I composed and rehearsed the piece with them, before digitally premiering the final recording on my YouTube channel. This project proved something important for me, that remote collaboration is the future of creative collaboration between composers and performers during these challenging times amid the COVID pandemic. Ultimately, I learned a great deal more than I did about remote collaboration as a composer, and it proved that you can still remain creative in isolation while also strengthening my creative partnerships.
In the end, there are opportunities all over the place for us as composers. Some are more obvious than others and some will require a little more thought and relational nurturing. When I began taking my career seriously, I had no idea how it would turn out. Some opportunities lead to others and some are more successful than others, but I am so heavily involved in music and the arts because I love creating, learning, teaching.
Perhaps the most obvious way for us to build our practice and bring in income, is through teaching. Teaching your instrument, theory or composition is a more secure means of building a solid base for your practice – as I have done. If you have a passion for your work and are proud of the work you create – both as an artist and collaboratively, more opportunities to get your music out there will come to you if you keep the creative fire burning.