Music directors lead musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.
What they do
Music directors typically do the following:
- Select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed for live audiences or recordings
- Prepare for performances by reviewing and interpreting musical scores
- Direct rehearsals to prepare for performances and recordings
- Choose guest performers and soloists
- Audition new performers or assist section leaders with auditions
- Practice conducting to improve their technique
- Meet with potential donors and attend fundraisers
Music directors lead orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups. They ensure that musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, timing, rhythm, and volume. They also give feedback to musicians and section leaders on sound and style.
Music directors may work with a variety of musical groups, including church choirs, youth orchestras, and high school or college bands, choirs, or orchestras. Some work with orchestras that accompany dance and opera companies.
Composers typically do the following:
- Write original music that orchestras, bands, and other musical groups perform
- Arrange existing music into new compositions
- Write lyrics for music or work with a lyricist
- Meet with orchestras, musical groups, and others who are interested in commissioning a piece of music
- Study and listen to music of various styles for inspiration
- Work with musicians to record their music
Composers write music for a variety of types of musical groups and users. Some work in a particular style of music, such as classical or jazz. They also may write for musicals, operas, or other types of theatrical productions.
Some composers write scores for movies or television; others write jingles for commercials. Many songwriters focus on composing music for audiences of popular music.
Some composers use instruments to help them as they write music. Others use software that allows them to hear a piece without musicians.
Some music directors and composers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others teach music in elementary, middle, or high schools.
Music directors commonly work in concert halls and recording studios, and they may spend a lot of time traveling to different performances. Composers can work in offices, recording studios, or their own homes.
Jobs for music directors and composers are found all over the country. However, many jobs are located in cities in which entertainment activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Chicago.
How to become a Music Director and/or Composer
Educational and training requirements for music directors and composers vary, although most positions require related work experience. A conductor for a symphony orchestra typically needs a master’s degree; a choir director may need a bachelor’s degree. There are no formal educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music.
Employers generally prefer candidates with a master’s degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting for positions as a conductor or classical composer.
Applicants to postsecondary programs in music typically are required to submit recordings, audition in person, or both. These programs teach students about music history and styles, and educate them in composing and conducting techniques. Information on degree programs is available from the National Association of Schools of Music.
A bachelor’s degree typically is required for those who want to work as a choir director. Those who work in public schools may need a teaching license or certification. For more information, see the profiles on teachers.
There are no specific educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music. These composers usually find employment by submitting recordings of their compositions to bands, singers, record companies, and movie studios. Composers may promote themselves through personal websites, social media, or online video or audio of their musical work.
The median annual wage for music directors and composers was $51,670 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,200.
Employment of music directors and composers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations.
Music directors will be needed to lead orchestras for concerts and musical theater performances. They also will conduct the music that accompanies ballet troupes and opera companies.
In addition, there will likely be a need for composers to write original music and arrange known works for performances. Composers will be needed as well to write film scores and music for television and commercials.
Similar Job Titles
Artistic Director, Children's Choir Director, Choir Director, Conductor, Handbell Choir Director, Liturgical Music Director, Music Director, Music Minister, Music Ministries Director, Orchestra Director, Creative Director, Film Composer, Jingle Writer, Music Arranger, Music Composer, Music Producer, Songwriter
Multimedia Artist and Animator, Radio and Television Announcer, Copy Writers, Poets/Lyricist/Creative Writer, Film and Video Editor, Director-Religious Activities and Education, Art/Drama/Music Teacher-Postsecondary, Middle School Teacher (except Special and Career/Technical Education), Secondary School Teacher (except Special and Career/Technical Education)
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Choral Directors Association
- American Guild of Organists
- American String Teachers Association
- Association of Lutheran Church Musicians
- Choristers Guild
- Chorus America
- Conductors Guild
- League of American Orchestras
- National Association for Music Education
- National Association of Pastoral Musicians
- American Federation of Musicians
- American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers
- Broadcast Music, Incorporated
- Dramatists Guild
- Percussive Arts Society
- Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
- SESAC Performing Rights
- The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
Magazines and Publications
- Score It Magazine
- Film Music Magazine
- Downbeat Magazine
- Composer Magazine
- Sound On Sound
- Harmony Central
- Music Tech
The music that delights audiences at concerts, musicals, movies, or in recordings… is the product of composers’ and music directors’ hard work and talent. Music directors—also called conductors— lead orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. They select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed, and study musical scores to prepare for rehearsals. They ensure that musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, rhythm, and volume. Composers write original music that orchestras, bands, and other musical groups perform. They may also write lyrics. Composers often study different musical styles, though some focus on one genre, such as classical or hip hop. They also may write for musical theater, compose movie scores, or write commercial jingles. Most music directors work for schools and religious organizations, or are self-employed. Performances often require some travel and evening and weekend hours. Composers work in offices, recording studios, or at home. Though they may work anywhere in the country, many jobs are in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Chicago. Music directors need a master’s degree in music theory, composition, or conducting; choir directors may need only a bachelor’s degree. Popular music composers submit recordings of their music to bands, singers, record companies, or movie studios. They often post recordings of their music online on their own website, or social media.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org