As many of you are well aware, June 1 is a pretty significant date in the composing world because lots of grant application deadlines fall on that day. Like many other composers, I spent a good chunk of May writing proposals, updating all of my resume/CV/catalog of works documents, printing, binding, and assembling packages. At this point, I’m on a first-name basis with my local post office workers. Boy howdy, I’m glad all that stuff is finished! At least for a couple of months, until the application deadlines pile up yet again.
Having blown through an impressive amount of composer-y office supplies during this process (I maintain that half the battle of being a composer is having the ability to procure oddly sized and/or obscure office supplies), I made a trip last weekend to replenish my dwindling reserves of paper, CDRs, and padded envelopes. No matter how many times I run this errand, the final price at the register never fails to take my breath away. And the same thought always comes up:
“Damn, being a composer is expensive.”
I’m not talking about just office supplies. I mean pretty much everything about having a career as a composer—with the exception of the actual composing part, that is—costs money. Perhaps super-successful composers with major publishers are in a different position, but I suspect that even they are not immune to this phenomenon.
There are numerous “composer operating costs” (most of which apply to performers as well) that kick in during and/or after the largest expense of all, education. For instance, there is travel (to concerts, auditions, and other events), professional development (workshops, festivals, conferences), concert tickets, membership fees, self-promotional stuff (website hosting, etc.), and computer hardware and software, to name just a few items. And the more advanced the career, the more expensive it can become; a copyist to help manage the composing workload, or a publicist to assist in getting the word out about a new CD release can add up to big bucks. With increasing success, it seems as if rather than the expenses decreasing, they simply transform into different expenses. All of this is obviously above and beyond the basic human need for food, shelter, and clothing.
I am continually impressed with the resourcefulness and creativity of many composer colleagues regarding the ways they combat the potential “composer money pit.” There are composers who live in extremely low- or no-cost housing situations, some have armies of student interns to help with various tasks, and one composer I know is an absolute genius at scoring complementary music gear from manufacturing companies.
Throughout history, composers (and plenty of other types of artists) have received support in many different forms. Tchaikovsky had a benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, who sent regular infusions of cash, for example. Whether it is the generosity of a mysterious sponsor, an inheritance from a well-to-do auntie, or the help of a spouse, an institution, or an entire Kickstarter campaign, every one of us has received financial or in-kind support of one form or another (and probably in many forms) at different points in our careers. I think it’s important to remember all of the people who have played a part in helping us get to wherever we are in our creative paths, and to recognize that behind every artist who “makes it” is most likely a sea of individuals who provided support along the way.