wildkat pr

10 tips to help you succeed as a composer

Kathleen Alder, classical music expert and founder-director of Wildkat PR, gives us her 10 essential careers tips for composers in 2017.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 23 Jan 2017
  • min read
Whether you’re a student or an established composer, how do you best balance music as art and as a career?

As a freelance entity it can be more than a full-time job, with responsibility for your own project management, commission-sourcing, promotion, recording and more.

With that in mind, we speak to Kathleen Alder, founder and director of Wildkat PR, a classical and contemporary composition public relations agency, to glean her insight into what you should focus on to get ahead.

Kathleen is a classical music expert who’s worked with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of Berlin and Universal Music. She’s also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and trusted music industry voice.

Here are her essential careers tips for composers in 2017...

Be yourself 
It is easy to hear and feel if the composer is not true to one’s core and if they’re trying to be someone that they simply aren’t. Audiences and the industry want someone who feels unique and authentic.

Get paid
For some composers it may seem obvious, but make sure you join PRS for Music and collect your royalties. It is very important that when your work is performed, featured on television or the radio, you are rewarded for it. Also, only a few musicians are taught how to deal with freelance status, including organising taxes and pensions etc. Although these issues are being highlighted more in colleges and conservatoires now, it’s a crucial point that you need to be aware and in control of.

Freebies/know your worth
Don't do anything for free. I strongly believe that if you give away your work without payment, it is not setting a value to what you do. Of course, you might want to do a favour for your friend because they helped you in the past, but any professional project should be remunerated.

Create your brand
Your artist identity is one of the central points to establish yourself as a composer. It is important to build a recognisable image around you. First, invest some time in your online materials, such as your website, biography, online listening platforms, and exploring your brand values. The first place people will search for you is your website or your social media platforms. Make sure that your brand has continuity and your logo, colour scheme and tagline are visible across all assets.

Learn how to promote and PR yourself 
Be able to pitch yourself and any project/idea/composition to anyone in a unique and concise way, focusing on your brand values. Explore and pinpoint what are the most notable and interesting aspects of you and your work. Not only will this help with networking and building your brand, but it will also be a great practice for funding applications. Always have an up-to-date portfolio or CV ready to go, and be visible. Make sure that you are promoting yourself on your social media platforms and creating stories to send to your favourite blogs.

Build your community
Connect with your audience, share your music generously and keep your fans interested and engaged. When creating a brand, establish a tone of voice and use your bespoke pitch when speaking to your community (fans and professionals/industry). Don't get impatient with it, as building a community and fan base takes time.

Socials to suit
Building your community nowadays focuses on social media activity. However, don’t be fooled into thinking you need to be on ALL social media channels. Find the one that suits you best: if you like taking photos, use Instagram; if you like the direct contact, use Facebook; if you are glued to your phone and like interacting, use Twitter; if you love creating videos, get vlogging on YouTube.

Research and network
Look on LinkedIn, do extensive research on the right people, and be bold to contact and arrange meetings with whoever is relevant, such as conductors, artistic directors, or orchestras to collaborate with. Positioning yourself as a reliable, honest, high profile contact can sometimes be the key to more commissions, collaborations and partnerships. Make sure your approach is always kind and professional.

Especially in composition, it is all about continuity. Industry likes 'up and coming’ as a tag, but one can only use that for a limited amount of time. Be persistent. Attend networking events, gigs, concerts, and other industry events. Showing that you have stamina and an ambition, with an open mind for collaboration and projects. Remember, enthusiasm is infectious. People don’t like pushovers, but likewise, it is a fine balance just to let something go because someone hasn’t been in touch: you are allowed to chase.

Seek and ask for help
Research who is there for you, be it governmental bodies, foundations or awards. There are lots of organisations and charities that are committed to supporting composers, such as Sound and Music. Enter competitions, apply for bursaries and research crowd funding opportunities. Let structures work for you and be kind but persistent. Even obscure societies who only look after one composer's heritage might have an interest in you and can support you if it fits. Also, know when to hire a professional, especially for PR. If you have a big album release, a special performance, an award or a unique story, a PR can effectively help you with the story and make sure all journalist are informed in the right way.

Work with others  
Collaborate with an art college, an amateur orchestra or ensembles. Meet like-minded people and see how you can work together to create a project. Arrange a competition for your music for a video, for example. Olafur Arnalds had great success with some random people making a video for his music, still my favourite and hugely popular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYIfiQlfaas

He has a large, loyal fanbase. If you can engage your fans and invite them to create with you, it can have a great effect.