Vast Majority of Composers Don’t Earn a Living off Work

Alex Ross points to the results of a recent survey of American composers. One bit in particular caught my attention:

They have a median total income of $45,000, and, on average, they derive 19% of that amount from composition. Yet they spend twenty-seven hours a week on composing-related activities. Eighty-five respondents — 6.4% of the total — make a living entirely from writing music.

Obviously classical music composers and authors isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but I do think it’s instructive that only 6.4% of them earn a living off their work. As with classical music, so with writing: you don’t need to live off your art to be a "professional."

Or to put it another way:

It is true that there are writers of the kind Gessen described, people like Maxine Hong Kingston, an emeritus professor of English at UC Berkeley, or the late David Foster Wallace, who after working a succession of odd jobs taught at Pomona College until his death. “Literary author” did eventually become their vocation, although they held other jobs along the way. It’s true, many great American authors do eventually end up here. But few start out here.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Living Composers Cool stuff, if you’re into classical music composed by people still alive. In my last column, "Stop Playing With Your Ticket", I suggested that one...
  2. The Rest Is Noise “Glossary” One of the things I most liked about Alex Ross’s survey of 20th century classical were his readings of the music. In many cases, he...
  3. Friday Classical Music: Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians I’m a little late to this story, but this is the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, a group of undergrate musicians, doing a...
  4. Steve Jobs Kindle The NYT decides to catch up to what everyone’s already more or less thought: So despite all the criticism Mr. Jobs has taken for impugning...
  5. Alex Ross: Year's Best Alex Ross, the classical music critic for The new Yorker, breaks down the best things he’s heard this year, with links to New Yorker articles,...

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