There was a recent piece on slate.com by composer Andrew Watts titled, What Kind of Stress Do Full-Time Composers Experience? The thing is, and this came up on a recent facebook discussion, the conditions in points number 1. and 4. have nothing to do with being a “full-time composer.” Here are the relevant excerpts from those points:
1) With national funding and commissioning for music in the state that it is, nearly all U.S. composers make their living (or the bulk of it) through organizational and institutional affiliation. This duality of purpose and focus is stressful by nature. How is one supposed to be an effective teacher/professor/director/conductor all day and then have enough time (or even motivation) to fit in composing at a consistently high level? Some composers find frustration in this system, dissatisfied that their craft of composition, which they value and devote so much time toward, is not financially self-sustaining.
4. As mentioned above, it is often necessary to have the support of an institution, such as a university or conservatory, in order to make a living in the U.S. as a contemporary classical composer.
As David Brynjar Franzson stated in that facebook discussion:
I am more just annoyed at the fact that the question / answer format of the article is misleading. The answer is about how a part-time composer…makes a living, not about the stress of a full-time composer.
I remember when I moved back to the Louisville area and discovered that the University of Louisville School of Music had slowly replaced Louisville Orchestra Musicians with non-orchestral musicians (i.e. musicians who are not playing in the Louisville Orchestra). The reasoning was that the Music school wanted to have teachers who would invest in building their studios because supposedly “full-time” orchestral musicians neither had the desire nor time to do such a thing.
Whether or not this is true, it’s the same sentiment as the composer example. What’s being discussed is having multiple income streams–and for most people, this is what it’s going to take to make a livable wage and seems to be what we’re seeing now given the 45.3% reduction of those reporting being a “full-time musician” (of course, I wonder what musicians were doing during the Depression when apparently 70% of musicians were unemployed–a far bleaker statistic than we have today).
I guess this goes back to the issue of the relevancy of music schools again. Do we need all the high level of musical training if that won’t get us a career in music? Or do we start training kids to cobble together their own careers via multiple revenue streams? The obvious question then is who’s going to be the best qualified to teach the latter and can an academic composer/musician be the best person to teach these non-academic skills? Also, a question that also came up in that facebook discussion was, would an active entrepreneurial composer/musician necessarily be a good teacher (and vice versa). So much of this also goes back to some issues brought up in an old discussion about Orientalism in Kill Bill several years ago.
I think Godin’s comment wraps up a lot of the concerns shared by people in the arts. Among those concerns are not only that people are creating things of little value and degrading their work by association, but that people would eventually be unable to discern what real quality was and seek out professionals when the time came as Godin suggests.
to describe the “insecure careerists,” who (referring to skills like typesetting, wedding photography, and graphic design)
[fight] off the amateurs at the gate, insisting that it was both a degradation of their art as well as a waste of time for the amateurs. The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment… professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.
None of which answers what a full-time composer or musician really is and neither does it negate the possibility of a part-timer being imminently professional and being able to create high quality work that even full-time amateurs at the craft may not be able to do.
But I think that’s beside the point here–if you’re able to be a full-time musician or composer, and have no need to hold down a “day job” (can we consider academic positions “day jobs?”) while making a livable wage for years, then the level of skill you might have is pretty much irrelevant.