The Composer as an Expensive Hobby

Are we selling ourselves out?


I've written music since about 1979. I did not know anyone else who did it: I had no support. Paper and pencil & an upright piano that cost $75. Things got more expensive, but always within thrifty reason. Music was cheaper than painting, in those days.


Then, in the 1990s, I purchased Finale, and a digital harpsichord, and a Proteus Orchestral sequencer. All consternating, and a waste of money. I wrote stuff - which now sits in a box. It will never be looked at again. The entire set-up (with PC) came to over $2,000.


After 1999, I have had no more of high technology in music. But I paid attention enough to see that all that I bought was worthless. I went underground for a while.


In 2007, I decided to have fun with video. It started as an exhilerating hobby. I found YouTube, and made lots of dumb vloggy things: few survived my mood swings. I'm hot on the delete button.


I decided that I had a new use for music: I could play in "public" - and I could play my own compositions. If I got 100 views that might be more than a real concert attendance. In a way, that strategy worked. YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo are all free. The cost was in the cameras, and some editing software. My ambition led me to spend $1000, at least. Over 3 years, it has really been more like $3000 for video/recording stuff.


So I have decent mics, and a good prosumer HD camcorder. A good laptop. And then, I discovered composers on the Internet. Digital orchestras still sound horrible, for the most part. But those who spend a little extra, or have the latest, and spend time tweaking the scores: the sound is almost useful for a personal filmscore. I became enchanted.


[I almost don't notice that I pay $50 per month for cable Internet.]


If I choose to "upgrade" and buy notation software and the rest, I will be spending a lot of time and money. And it makes me awfully nervous. Part of me pulls away - and I fantasize about going Offline. Just check my email at the public library, a few times a week.


More important to me than whether I buy anything: who benefits from the expense? And how creative is it really, after all? Using someone else's algorithms... 


Why do I need to write for orchestra? Who seduced me into that fantasy?


The costs will never end: and they will remain at the top shelf of what we can afford - we, the average. Upgrades are a must.  But worse: I am annoyed that so few composers, videographers, photographers, musicians have even noticed that they are in perpetual debt.  


Finale, Sibelius, Garritan, Adobe, Windows, Apple - they don't care a fig for my produce. They care that I remain addicted to their product. And addicted to a dream. Costly - unnecessarily costly.


There are cheaper ways to do this. For now, I write for piano, or organ, with paper/pencil. I play my own works. I use free publishers, like YouTube. If I was so wonderful, I would have been discovered 20 years ago. I lost some money: corporations won it. But they will not get everything.


How expensive is composition supposed to be?


You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • Hello Sylvester, very interesting discussion indeed. At the end of the day, what do you want to get out of your compositions? Apparently, it seems that it has worked out for you that you may NOT require all of the bells and whistles, but the simplest of compositional gear (mind, piano, pencil & paper).

    Personally, I spend my money on all things related to music and new gear because even though I am a hobbyist (with no real desire to score a film, or land any composing related gigs) I ACTUALLY enjoy the aspect and practice of trying out new gear and sounds.

    In many cases, an actual new piece of music was inspired by the new sound itself and quite possibly would not have occured with only piano, pen and paper. Out of practice, however, I keep pen and paper next to my bed because most of my ideas come in the middle of the night or as soon as I wake up. I also keep and treasure Rimsky-Korsakov's book on Composition and Orchestration as my "bible" of sorts.

    In my specific case, as I cannot comment on the compositional techniques and requirements of others, I enjoy all related aspects of gear: researching and listening to audio demos of new gear, trying them out with previous compositions and being able to hear the difference and life new sounds can give old compositions, new inspiration and putting everything together in the final mix.

    I can see and appreciate all of the other contrasting points indicated by the other composers, but at the end of the day, FOR ME, new gear is part of my composition process, especially because my forte rests in the composition and not the performance.
    See related links to what you are looking for.
  • Thanks for the lively discussion. It's helpful to take a reading of how content composers are, in 2010. There are myriad possibilities for the process. The performance of work: well, we know that can be frustrating.

    I'd like to close this thread, now. Anyone is free to take up any of the ideas - and there are lots of them! peace to all.
This reply was deleted.