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How Do You Justify Composing / What Do You Want Out Of Your Music?


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This topic is probably the main reason I joined this forum.

 

 

I don't mean this topic to be cynical or otherwise condescending in any way. It is intended to be a discussion on a few points related to the purpose behind your musical work. What do you intend on doing with it once it's written?

 

 

Consider:
1) There is more music...and more GOOD music available to the masses than anyone will have time to listen to, even if they stick to the genres of their choice.

What does the music consumer want that they can't already get from an existing composer?

 

2) Many composers who try to sell music probably take business and well-being away from another composer by "cannibalizing" their sales, due to limited demand (compared to supply).

 

 

Like many of you, I'm sure, I have not sold any of my musical work in any format (other than one lunch from one of my music teachers :P). Am I likely to do so? I don't know.

If I'm not likely to sell my work, what do I intend to do with it? What do you intend to do with your work?

 

Is your work going into a portfolio to help you get into a music program or land a job in the industry?

Who will listen to it? Just you? Family and friends? A few people here on YC? Maybe a handful on YouTube or SoundCloud? Is that enough motivation to drive you? Do you ever feel like all your hard work just doesn't get very far? Do you want it to extend further but is the market just too saturated? Do you hate promoting yourself and is that stopping you from spreading your word further?

 

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I've often struggled with motivation when it comes to composing. I feel like I want my work to have a purpose other than the enjoyment of composing, the satisfaction of listening to a finished piece and the comments from friends and family. It's a good start but it's not good enough to stick with it long-term for me. I can't stand business and marketing. I'm thinking of building a website for myself, but I haven't found the motivation to start working on it.

 

I don't quite know what I want from composing music. I like being known as a composer to my family and friends, but...Part of me feels like, almost a "Now what?" once a piece is completed. It doesn't do anything after that. It just exists. It feels rather anticlimactic.

 

On those same lines, will I post my music here? I'm not sure yet? A big part of me thinks "why would I?"
A small part of me wants to get my music more known, but another part of me feels it's just not any more satisfying than having just my immediate friends and family exposed to it.
I want more out of my music but I don't quite know what.
 

Edited by action9000
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Bah, people waste time with things they aren't competitive with all the time.  Having been on both the hiring, and the being hired, side of the equation, I can tell you, it's often just about showing

For me, the fact that no one else has written this music before I do is good enough a reason.

I guess you want to have it both ways, but the whole "impressing a large audience = justified" is what gets me. Consider that Van Gogh sold only a single painting in his life - Only one! He didn't kee

The fact that there is more old good music than I can possibly learn and perform out there already doesn't mean I don't want to hear your new music.  Learning and performing music is partly about the joy of discovering something new.  You are new.  And your music is a reaction, conscious or unconscious, to everything that has come before it.  That is interesting.  Your place in the long march of history is the same as mine, so what you have to say is interesting to me.  

 

Personally, I like composing for the same reason I like performing music.  It's a way to be personally involved with an act of creation. Everybody likes that, whether it's baking a cake or writing a sonnet.  

 

I'm not likely to ever get paid, but that's okay with me.  I can write some music, or I can watch TV.  I've got the time.  I might as well use it to do something interesting.  Death before TV.  What a boring life.

 

As for self-promotion, go hang out on the conductors forums.  Music directors are always looking for recommendations to fill specific slots on their concert programs.  (I need a piece about 5 minutes long for string quartet plus a trumpet to fit into program of modern work…)  If you offer them your piece, which happens to fit their need, you're self-promoting, but you're also solving a problem they have.  Which feels pretty nice, actually.  (:

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I think it's for a combination of the following: seeking and getting recognition for one's creativity and expressing oneself through music, seeking contact with an audience, communicating a musical message.

 

However, your question can be applied to almost anything. And you should never forget that there is an inherent pleasure to composing music, and in fact to any act of artistic creation.

 

As for sharing one's music, the self-expression would be meaningless if it is not shared in some way, or at least it would not be fulfilled to the fullest extent. If you have high aims for your music, you would like to share it with more than just family and friends (hence, posting it on a site like this). You would also hope to have it performed at a concert where you would not only receive greater recognition, but also the reward and satisfaction as well as immeasurable feedback of having your music actually performed at a concert. It is only such experiences that would motivate you to go further with your composing. We compose for that experience, and that experience spurs us to compose more and better works.

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The fact that there is more old good music than I can possibly learn and perform out there already doesn't mean I don't want to hear your new music.  Learning and performing music is partly about the joy of discovering something new.  You are new.  And your music is a reaction, conscious or unconscious, to everything that has come before it.  That is interesting.  Your place in the long march of history is the same as mine, so what you have to say is interesting to me.  

That relates closely to my first point, "What does the music consumer want that they can't already get from an existing composer?"

Thank you for your insight. It is probably safe to say that I, as a composer, have no right to question the value that my audience sees in my, or anyone else's, music. That is for the audience to decide, not the composer. If they see something interesting and valuable, so be it and I'm happy if somebody does indeed find value in my work.

 

 

Personally, I like composing for the same reason I like performing music.  It's a way to be personally involved with an act of creation. Everybody likes that, whether it's baking a cake or writing a sonnet.  

I can stand 100% behind that! Also I can't deny, I enjoy that I don't have any friends or family who compose music. I feel special in a silly kind of way. :P

 

 

I'm not likely to ever get paid, but that's okay with me.  I can write some music, or I can watch TV.  I've got the time.  I might as well use it to do something interesting.  Death before TV.  What a boring life.

Totally agreed! I have a few time-consuming hobbies, composing being one of them. Also on the list are programming/game design/web design as well as board game design/building.

unless I'm too tired to work on something, I'd much rather be involved in one of those projects than mindlessly watch TV as well.

 

 

As for self-promotion, go hang out on the conductors forums.  Music directors are always looking for recommendations to fill specific slots on their concert programs.  (I need a piece about 5 minutes long for string quartet plus a trumpet to fit into program of modern work…)  If you offer them your piece, which happens to fit their need, you're self-promoting, but you're also solving a problem they have.  Which feels pretty nice, actually.  (:

That's brilliant, I'll need to remember that! I haven't written much in a notation program in years because they produce rather poor results when working with MIDI-based music, but I can always export from FL Studio and make adjustments in Noteworthy Composer.

 

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I think for me, the problem is that I derive a significant amount of enjoyment by the *result* of my work, rather than the work itself. Composing, at the moment of working, can and does get a bit tedious, but I'm always to happy when something awesome comes of it that it makes the efforts worthwhile. Looking forward to success and getting excited when I discover something great in what I'm working on is a huge drive for me.

 

When I was younger, that used to be enough to keep me going. Now, as I get older, I suppose I see more purpose and reason behind what I do. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, but I think the kid part of me was on to something!

 

I suppose what I'm trying to figure out is, why can't I accept the fact that this enjoyment I mentioned in the last paragraph as "reward enough"? Why am I seeking some mysterious happiness from composing that I didn't used to? I think it comes down to the fact that I've noticed significant improvement in the quality of my work over the years. As quality has improved, my desire to see it do something concrete for me, almost like I feel like I'm "useful now", has also grown.

 

As for what defines "useful"? That is what I'm trying to figure out. haha

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As for sharing one's music, the self-expression would be meaningless if it is not shared in some way, or at least it would not be fulfilled to the fullest extent. If you have high aims for your music, you would like to share it with more than just family and friends (hence, posting it on a site like this). You would also hope to have it performed at a concert where you would not only receive greater recognition, but also the reward and satisfaction as well as immeasurable feedback of having your music actually performed at a concert. It is only such experiences that would motivate you to go further with your composing. We compose for that experience, and that experience spurs us to compose more and better works.

I think that says a lot right there. Part of what makes art "art" is its ability to reach out and touch others...and touch each audience member a slightly different, personal way. I'd like to take that concept and run with it with my music. Perhaps I just need a larger audience (such as posting here) rather than direct monetary compensation (which I really feel would take the joy out of it). :)

Edited by action9000
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the reason i make music (or learn how it works) is (silly): finding a universal language. the applications would be: speaking in interesting ways, dancing maybe :P and the applications are infinite as i saw. i mean just finding a musical part to a melody gave me some clear theories about our nutrition and god. so you would immagine how much all of this means to me.

 

on the music making, it's interesting how things develop over time. but this means i don't agree with trying to make classical music the way old composers did. that kind of music would be  allready dead before it got created. "i die" to try new things in music, but for the momment i'm focusing on knowing the musical language.

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Creating any work of art, regardless fo the actual "quality" is a great personal accomplishment.  I have no illusions that my music will outlast my lifetime, but I do feel it's an important part of who I am and am honored that others who have listened to some of it have derived enjoyment from it which is a greatest compliment of all. 

 

Most satisfying to me is that my two-year old daughter just adores a little piece I wrote for her (some simple variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) and insists on falling asleep to it every night.

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I don't feel any need to justify what I do. I create what I do because I have visions that need to be realized. There isn't a finite amount of music/art that the world can sustain, so the amount of 'great' works that have preceded me don't influence whether or not I feel compelled to do what I do. 

Edited by treyhunneddollas
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We each perceive music and create it in a different (if only slightly different) way. The patchwork of ideas that we bring together in our music is like the mixture of genes that form a new person. All of our genetic features are nothing new on their own. It is in one person that they are combined in such a way as to be a new person with their own personality. Just because so much has been done before, doesn't mean we can't produce something new and meaningful with the bits and pieces that we borrow from others. Of course there are some people that are incredibly similar to the point that you might say they are pretty much the same. The same is true of composers. But since when did we start saying that two people being alike is a waste? Why should we say that? If you were born looking just like your grandmother, then you should be proud to carry her memory on your face alongside your own personhood. Same thing with composing. You may compose music that is like something already being made or having been made, but that doesn't mean you should stop. To compose in whatever style is to carry on the tradition of human self-expression in your life, regardless of who may be listening. We compose because it is a part of our identity and it is how we take part in passing on human tradition. At the very least, every composer should be able to share their music with their friends and family. In that way, you enrich their lives (hopefully) and enrich your own. This, at least, is how I look at it. This is how I justify my compositions and to share it with others is the only thing I desire for my music.

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normally one (i) would be tempted to say that thru music we transmit some messages, ideas, something important. but now i think music is at a basic level and is just like that parenting situation where it doesn't matter what you are sayig to your child, because the child learns from your actions. it's yet another sort of module of the universe. the child cannot be taught all the theory parents know (it would be useless anyway), they only copy the behaviour (the practical applications of all their theories).

so, yeah, transmitting important messages is reserved for the speaking language. music is just sharing how you feel, and simply manifesting or being.. alive ..in an audio format.

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So give it up already.

 

If you have to justify your passion, you don't deserve it.

 

I disagree with you there. Doubt is a natural part of being human. Some of us are more prone to it than others. If he questions his passions, that means he isn't chasing them blindly. If he seeks a reason for it, then we should help him find one. Don't be so quick to deal out judgement like that. If he decides to abandon composition because he can't justify it, then that is his decision to make. If he decides that his compositions are not fulfilling to him without an acceptable justification, then he should be free to choose not to pursue it. If, however, one of us has helped him to justify his music and continue composing, then your suggestion is absolutely out of the question.

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the only justification for making actual music (if you're making it) is because its good enough to impress other people.

if it sucks, or there isn't a real audience (even in perspective, in the future), then there couldn't be enough reasons to justify a waste of time.

on the other hand, if you feel you have a real chance (of impressing a large audience) with your music, then you can't stop composing it even if you wish to, because you know it's one of your skills (and a rare one).

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the only justification for making actual music (if you're making it) is because its good enough to impress other people.

if it sucks, or there isn't a real audience (even in perspective, in the future), then there couldn't be enough reasons to justify a waste of time.

on the other hand, if you feel you have a real chance (of impressing a large audience) with your music, then you can't stop composing it even if you wish to, because you know it's one of your skills (and a rare one).

 

I guess you want to have it both ways, but the whole "impressing a large audience = justified" is what gets me. Consider that Van Gogh sold only a single painting in his life - Only one! He didn't keep painting because he sought to impress an audience during his lifetime or presume there would be one in the future. He simply must have found it rewarding. That's enough justification for any artist to keep going and I'm sure Van Gogh felt, as you said, like he couldn't stop even if he wanted too. That's all based on assumption and speculation in Van Gogh's case, but I can tell you first hand that's how I feel as a composer.

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the only justification for making actual music (if you're making it) is because its good enough to impress other people.

if it sucks, or there isn't a real audience (even in perspective, in the future), then there couldn't be enough reasons to justify a waste of time.

 

But of course, if you keep going you will get better.  The people I know who make a living in the arts weren't all necessarily the most gifted people to start with.  But they loved it enough to keep going when everyone else stopped.  Often, the things we have natural talent for don't interest us very much.  They come too easily.  The rewards feel that much greater when we finally begin to master something that is very difficult.  

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the only justification for making actual music (if you're making it) is because its good enough to impress other people.

if it sucks, or there isn't a real audience (even in perspective, in the future), then there couldn't be enough reasons to justify a waste of time.

on the other hand, if you feel you have a real chance (of impressing a large audience) with your music, then you can't stop composing it even if you wish to, because you know it's one of your skills (and a rare one).

 

I'd have to disagree with the idea that 'impressing' listeners (or being a well-known composer) makes what one composer does any more justified than another, nor do I feel a composer has wasted their time by default if neither of these traits is applicable to them. 

Edited by treyhunneddollas
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I guess you want to have it both ways, but the whole "impressing a large audience = justified" is what gets me. Consider that Van Gogh sold only a single painting in his life - Only one! He didn't keep painting because he sought to impress an audience during his lifetime or presume there would be one in the future. He simply must have found it rewarding. That's enough justification for any artist to keep going and I'm sure Van Gogh felt, as you said, like he couldn't stop even if he wanted too. That's all based on assumption and speculation in Van Gogh's case, but I can tell you first hand that's how I feel as a composer.

this raises so many deep questions and we live in the "Matrix" so it's v hard to answer. i have quick (maybe superficial) answers.

indeed i wrote music for a while before i thought about showing it to someone. why? well it was a sort of playing. why do we play and why did i play like that? i speculate children play because they have a complex brain but live in a limited enviroment like staying in a room. the mind probably has to invent a world to explore, so we play with what we have in the room. why do we have to explore? uhh.. maybe its a satisfaction of a lot of (animal) instincts plus the need to understand people (here i include ourselves).

so i speculate that at first people make "art" because of these reasons and they are more than enough. but as soon as we expand our territory (go more into the world) we use the brain for what its made to do, and we have a more powerful tool to understad people and ourselves, and that is real people (outside our home).

that's when we probably start to need social motivations for doing art. not to mention that as we grow older, other instincts get activated,  like the instinct of conservation (self-preservation) for example. if the context is in such a way, one could make art as a substitude (or alternative) for making children (the art acts as our child. it lives after we die). normally this is more "art" than a child's play (which is probably more creative but lacks a message, a point)

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But of course, if you keep going you will get better.  The people I know who make a living in the arts weren't all necessarily the most gifted people to start with.  But they loved it enough to keep going when everyone else stopped.  Often, the things we have natural talent for don't interest us very much.  They come too easily.  The rewards feel that much greater when we finally begin to master something that is very difficult.  

it's an interesting phenomenon. my point is that there's a (basic) part of life that has competition, and you cannot afford wasting time with something that you are not competitive with. but yeah, you may be right, 'cause the brain can adjust to all sorts of crazy situations that we put it thru.

 

I'd have to disagree with the idea that 'impressing' listeners (or being a well-known composer) makes what one composer does any more justified than another, nor do I feel a composer has wasted their time by default if neither of these traits is applicable to them. 

yeah, its an interesting problem. like if a painter makes a painting that has a white blank page as a graphic, and you also have with you a blank page. then what do you have? a copy of the masterpiece? is it a good copy? :)) is it your personal replica? an extended part of the painter's art piece? or do you even have an art piece? well, you don't have an art piece, you just have a blank page because it doesn't have a title, so it doesn't have a message, so its nothing. and of course a message is adressed to someone who views the art..

also i remember looking at a documentary where a few people had a condition that they couldn't stop drawing. and their mind was extremely creative, so why aren't those paintings the best art of our civilisation? because they lack a finite point/conclusion to the painting, its not made for a purpose or with an intention in mind. again i'm thinking of something social because they probably have an internal reason for painting, if we can call it a reason or its just a need for painting.

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yeah, its an interesting problem. like if a painter makes a painting that has a white blank page as a graphic, and you also have with you a blank page. then what do you have? a copy of the masterpiece? is it a good copy? :)) is it your personal replica? an extended part of the painter's art piece? or do you even have an art piece? well, you don't have an art piece, you just have a blank page because it doesn't have a title, so it doesn't have a message, so its nothing. and of course a message is adressed to someone who views the art..

also i remember looking at a documentary where a few people had a condition that they couldn't stop drawing. and their mind was extremely creative, so why aren't those paintings the best art of our civilisation? because they lack a finite point/conclusion to the painting, its not made for a purpose or with an intention in mind. again i'm thinking of something social because they probably have an internal reason for painting, if we can call it a reason or its just a need for painting.

 

Hmm, I wasn't able to follow your blank canvass scenario, it seems that it would better exemplify views having to do with a different matter. Relating music to something so functional as language is problematic, I mean, if you have something very specific you know you want to say, why not just say it? Write a book, blog, open-letter, etc. There is a difference between knowing what you want to say and knowing that you have something to say (while what this is exactly remains elusive, even to yourself). Art is the result of the latter.

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...there's a (basic) part of life that has competition, and you cannot afford wasting time with something that you are not competitive with. but yeah, you may be right, 'cause the brain can adjust to all sorts of crazy situations that we put it thru.

 

 

 

Bah, people waste time with things they aren't competitive with all the time.  Having been on both the hiring, and the being hired, side of the equation, I can tell you, it's often just about showing up and being pleasant to work with.  No one person I've ever worked with was ever perfect at all aspects of their job.  We are all good enough.  When the printer jams, we all try taking it apart and pushing random buttons together, and suddenly it miraculously works again, and we have no idea why.  

 

We don't live at risk of being eaten by tigers any more and the world isn't as dog-eat-dog as you seem to think.  (If it is that high-pressure where you are, go somewhere else and find some new friends!  Because it's not like that for most of us.)  It is entirely possible to be merely adequate at your job, whatever it may be, and do just fine.  You will not starve on the street or be ridiculed by your peers.

 

The modern problem seems to be one of too much choice.  All of us have so many possible paths open to us that will allow us to feed ourselves that it becomes difficult to decide on one.  Because we exist in such a fortunate era of history where we do have choices, we are encouraged to find our "passion."  There's some intense psychological pressure involved in that.  You aren't allowed to just enjoy the people you work with and do a decent job any more.  You have to be passionate!  But the world needs plumbers, and car washers, and accountants, and internal database managers, and not every moment of those people's days is going to be passionate.  It's all gotten a little out of hand.  

 

Bottom line, find something you can do and do it.  If you want to be a composer, be a composer.  If you want to be a plumber by day, and compose by night so that you don't have to worry about the bills, do that.  It's your life.  Do what you like.  Do what you need to.  Do a decent job.  But don't expect a lightening bolt out of the blue to suddenly illuminate what you are "supposed" to do with your life and don't get preachy about what other people choose to do with theirs.  Thousands of generations of hunter gatherers and farmers had no choice in how they spent their days, and they were happy enough.  

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Fundamentally you should be writing music for yourself first.  Do you derive any enjoyment from it?  If not, then why are you doing it?

 

Secondly, we are fortunate to live in a time with the technology where one's music, if not ever played live, can be realized with a good approximation of what it should sound like and thanks to the internet with forums like this one, you actually can have your music heard.  Undoubtedly, there are countless talented composers both professional and amateur in the past who likely wrote wonderful music that sadly is lost to us and never had these advantages.  I don't think the "quality" of the music, however that is determined, should be the justification.  No one writes "good" music in a vacuum right out of the gate; even among the greats, it took a long process of hard work, false starts, learning from mistakes, before they reached their potential.

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