What Music Directors and Composers Do
Music directors lead musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.
Most music directors work for religious organizations and schools, or are self-employed. Music directors may spend a lot of time traveling to different performances. Composers can work in offices, recording studios, or their own homes.
How to Become a Music Director or Composer
Educational and training requirements for music directors and composers vary, although most positions require related work experience. A music director or 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.
The median annual wage for music directors and composers was $51,670 in May 2019.
Employment of music directors and composers is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than 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. Tough competition for jobs is anticipated because of the large number of people interested in entering this field.
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 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 teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.
For more information about careers in music, see the profile on musicians and singers.
Music directors and composers held about 58,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of music directors and composers were as follows:
|Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations||61%|
|Performing arts companies||5|
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||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.
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.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of music directors and composers.
For more information about music degree programs, visit
For more information about careers in music, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Music Directors and Composers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/music-directors-and-composers.htm (visited ).