You may not be John Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Beethoven or Hans Zimmer, but that doesn’t mean your compositional skills aren’t valuable! If you’re a self-proclaimed composer or have a degree in musical composition, then you know it’s not easy to find work in your field.

That’s why you have to create your own success.

We live in a DIY society as musicians – only about 5% of musicians who graduate with a music degree actually find work in their field…

…ouch.

It’s simply the law of economics: composers are in extremely low demand, dominating only in a few different industries and are crucial to their success. Luckily, below are listed some creative and uncommon ways you can earn a living through composing and achieve the dream of making money as a musician!

Sell Original Compositions

If you were formally trained to compose sheet music, then you already consider yourself a creative person. But, have you ever thought about composing your own music for a specific purpose? For practical use?

For instance, if you’re a religious individual, you could spend a year composing church music and turn it into a hymnal. Many churches love an opportunity to “change it up” once in a while, and many churches make music a priority to sing their praises to God.

If you’re not religious, that’s alright – there are many school orchestras and bands that would love to play new music instead of the same old boring tunes every year. Try it out by composing an original piece for concert band and contact your local middle school or high school to debut your piece.

You might be surprised at how well-received your piece is!

Sell Arrangements To Schools

Piggybacking off the idea of selling to secondary educational institutions, there are about 80,000 secondary schools in the U.S. alone (if you count both public and private schools). Elementary schools are more than this, as there are usually several elementary schools connected to one school district!

Now, consider this: many music teachers must purchase new music every year for their students, as sheet music gets lost, torn, or simply too old to use. If you were able to sell a single arrangement to even 1/10th of these schools (about 8,000) and your price point for the score and all of the parts was $200, you’ll have made around $160,000 just from one piece of music.

Of course, this is being overly optimistic considering that it takes a large amount of effort to not only license your arrangement through BMI or ASCAP, but also to market it directly to all of these schools. That being said, it’s going to take work on the front end to network with all of those schools and reach out with your compositional services.

If you can establish a good reputation as a composer, however, you may find yourself getting commissions for original work!

Work As A Composer-For-Hire

When you strike out on your own as a sole proprietor, you have unlimited opportunities to earn an income. This allows you to work in whatever industry and subcontract for any company you want to and get creative with your endeavors.

One of the most lucrative modern industries is the video game industry, garnering several billion dollars in revenue every year. This not only includes mainstream video game companies like EA Games, Bethesda, etc., but also “indie” companies like Midnight City, Serenity Forge, and others.

What’s one of the key components of the video game experience? You guessed it…

…original music.

You see, video games vary widely in both playing style, interactivity, and user experience. Storylines are different, the actions of your character are different, and sometimes the games don’t even have a character!

When you contract with a video game company, you could find yourself with almost more work than you would ever believe possible. This could be a contract that brings in $50,000 – $100,000 for one single game, and the faster you complete your compositions and edits, the more projects you’ll be able to take on.

Teach Private Lessons

While uncommon, teaching private lessons in composition can actually be just as lucrative as teaching as an instrumental or vocal teacher!

If you know how to compose different of music, it makes it easier to find private students – many wealthy parents would love to give their talented sons and daughters private lessons in composition, and because it’s such a rare skill these days, you should be able to charge anywhere from $50 to $70 per hour.

Not bad.

Establish An Online Store

One of the most lucrative, low-overhead ways to make money these days is to create a digital online store.

If you create an online store featuring your compositions for purchase and download, you have an opportunity to create passive income. What this means is you can keep the creative juices flowing, only compose a piece of music once and get it uploaded to your website, and your customers can download the same pieces again and again.

You don’t even have to ship them anything! They can just print the arrangements themselves.

To do this, you may want to get a little creative with the way your online store is set up. Many websites that sell sheet music only show the first half of a composition, cutting off access in the middle of a phrase somewhere to prevent digital piracy.

The second thing that you’ll want to think about in this regard – or with anything that you do online – is to have some kind of audio version of your compositions. You can do this in a number of ways, but the most common is to have a MIDI audio version with plugin instruments from a VST.

You could hire an ensemble to play your pieces for you if you want, but if you can get a band to debut the piece somewhere anyway you might be able to get a recording of the official performance!


Making a living as a music composer seems all but impossible these days. However, with some ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking, you have a pretty good shot making money as a musician with this rare skill!

Paul Cassarly
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