Here on the Dorico blog, we’ve already discussed some of the ways that an aspiring composer can supplement their income and find ways to break into the highly competitive world of professional music.

In this blog, we’ll explore one of these avenues in greater detail – working as an assistant to a senior composer. What does this type of role require from someone, and how can musicians ensure that they learn as much as possible from the experience?

What the role requires

It should go without saying that one of the primary requirements for an assistant composer is a considerable level of musical talent and understanding. This type of role is a perfect opportunity to broaden your musical awareness and further develop your own compositional skills, but it is important that you come to the role with the necessary basic skills to support the senior composer in their work.

In addition to a well-rounded musical talent, you will also be required to demonstrate a strong proficiency with technology. The profound impact that technology has had upon the work of composers is one of our most frequent topics of discussion, and the role of a composer’s assistant now involves working extensively with composing software, and various other tech tools and programs for composing music. Many of the tasks you’ll encounter in such a position involve dealing with technology, from preparing the DAW and editing MIDI information, to importing that MIDI into a music notation software. It’s therefore important that you have as broad of an understanding of these technologies as possible.

If musical competence and technical proficiency are two of the core attributes necessary to excel as a composer’s assistant, then so is the ability to appreciate what you can learn and gain from the experience – beyond it being simply a useful foot in the door of the professional music world. It can also offer invaluable insights into everything from how composers hone their ideas, to how they organise and prioritise their workflow.

Finding a role

You’re unlikely to find these types of roles advertised widely, so it will almost certainly be necessary to take proactive steps and reach directly out to composers whose work you admire, and who you wish to work with. Sending ‘blind’ email requests for consideration will usually be considered perfectly acceptable as long as they are professional, courteous, and carefully outline the skills and experience that you believe make you an ideal composer’s assistant.

However, a large number of these roles are still filled via referrals and personal recommendations, so remaining engaged and connected within the field of professional music can prove decisive. In this regard, developing a credible reputation that will attract enough attention to put you into consideration for a position is very similar to promoting your own work. Building and maintaining a strong portfolio website, entering your own music into competitions, and methodically putting together an address book of industry contacts, can all ensure that you’re top of mind when composers are soliciting recommendations for new hires.

The world of professional music can be a difficult one to break into, with fierce competition along the way. Working as a composer’s assistant has the combined benefits of practical experience, industry access and insight into the day-to-day working style of talented musicians.