Music Directors and Composers

Quick Facts: Music Directors and Composers
2017 Median Pay $50,590 per year 
$24.32 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 74,800
Job Outlook, 2016-26 6% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 4,300

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Music Directors and Composers Career, Salary and Education Information

What Music Directors and Composers Do

Music directors, also called conductors, lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.


music directors and composers

Duties of music directors and composers

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. For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachersmiddle school teachers, and high school teachers.

For more information about careers in music, see the profile on musicians and singers.

Work Environment for Music Directors and Composers

Music directors and composers held about 74,800 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of music directors and composers were as follows:

Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations: 56%

Self-employed workers: 26%

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private: 12%

Performing arts companies: 3%

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.

Work Schedules for Music Directors and Composers

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

How to Become a Music Directors and Composers

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.

Important Qualities

Discipline. Talent is not enough for most music directors and composers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and seek to improve their technique and style.

Interpersonal skills. Music directors and composers need to work with agents, musicians, and recording studio personnel. Being friendly, respectful, and open to criticism as well as praise, while enjoying being with others, can help music directors and composers work well with a variety of people.

Leadership. Music directors and composers must guide musicians and singers by preparing musical arrangements and helping them achieve the best possible sound.

Musical talent. To become a music director or composer, one must have musical talent.

Perseverance. Music directors and composers need determination to continue submitting their compositions after receiving rejections. Also, reviewing auditions can be frustrating because it may take many different auditions to find the best musicians.

Promotional skills. Music directors and composers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media platforms. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base and getting more work opportunities.


Music directors and composers typically begin their musical training at a young age by learning to play an instrument or singing, and perhaps performing as a musician or singer. Music directors and composers who are interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Music directors and composers often work as musicians or singers in a group, a choir, or an orchestra before they take on a leadership role. They use this time to master their instrument and gain an understanding of how the group functions. For more information, see the profile on musicians and singers.

salaries for Music Directors and Composers 

The median annual wage for music directors and composers was $50,590 in May 2017. 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 $21,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $109,300.


In May 2017, the median annual wages for music directors and composers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private: $54,690

Performing arts companies: $53,870

Religious, grant-making, civic, professional, and similar organizations: $40,560

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends. Because music writing is done primarily independently, composers may be able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook for music directors and composers

Employment of music directors and composers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The number of people attending musical performances, such as symphonies and concerts, and theatrical performances, such as ballets and musical theater, is expected to remain steady. 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.

However, growth is expected to be limited because orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups can have difficulty getting funds. Some music groups are nonprofit organizations that rely on donations and corporate sponsorships, in addition to ticket sales, to fund their work. These organizations often have difficulty finding enough money to cover their expenses. In addition, growth may be limited for music directors in schools due to struggles with school funding, and music programs may be cut.

Job Prospects for music directors and composers

Despite expected growth, tough competition for jobs is anticipated because of the large number of people interested in entering this field. In particular, there will be considerable competition for full-time music director and composer positions. Candidates with exceptional musical talent and dedication should have the best opportunities. Music directors and composers may experience periods without work. During these times, they may work in other occupations, give music lessons, attend auditions, or write music.

Employment projections data for Music Directors and Composers, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 74,800

Projected Employment, 2026: 79,100

Change, 2016-2026: +6%, +4,300

Careers Related music directors and composers


Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Dancers and Choreographers

Dancers and choreographers use dance performances to express ideas and stories. There are many types of dance, such as ballet, tango, modern dance, tap, and jazz.

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students, typically in sixth through eighth grades. They help students build on the fundamentals they learned in elementary school and prepare them for the more difficult curriculum they will face in high school.

Musicians and Singers

Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios.

Producers and Directors

Producers and directors create motion pictures, television shows, live theater, commercials, and other performing arts productions. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors develop written content for various types of media, including advertisements; books; magazines; movie, play, and television scripts; and blogs.

ActorsSome college, no degreeThe annual wage is not available.
Dancers and ChoreographersThe annual wage is not available.
High School TeachersBachelor's degree$59,170
Kindergarten and Elementary School TeachersBachelor's degree$56,900
Middle School TeachersBachelor's degree$57,720
Musicians and SingersNo formal educational credentialThe annual wage is not available.
Postsecondary Teachers$76,000
Producers and DirectorsBachelor's degree$71,620
Writers and AuthorsBachelor's degree$61,820


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Music Directors and Composers,
on the Internet at