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Do Grades Matter If I Want To Go Into Music Composition/Arrangement?

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Depends on where you want to go next.  Were you planning on being a composition major at a university?  If so maintaining a high GPA is a must for both financial and academic reasons. Keeping a high GPA will give you a lot more opportunities than an average one will.  Music majors tend to have higher than average grades and if you don't fall into that category it will reflect poorly on you and probably affect you socially as well.

As far as freelancing goes, probably not...?  People who are looking to employ your skills are more likely to judge you by your portfolio/past work experience/social network since it requires a number of hoops to obtain your transcript in the first place.  


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48 minutes ago, Garpocalypse said:

As far as freelancing goes, probably not...?  People who are looking to employ your skills are more likely to judge you by your portfolio/past work experience/social network since it requires a number of hoops to obtain your transcript in the first place.  


Can confirm.

Outside of schools, grades really don't mean anything to employers in creative types of industries. If you'll allow me to name-drop for a moment, I was up at Bioware in Edmonton last month for this local game development thing they were hosting and afterwards everyone went over to the pub next door. Dave Chan (sound designer on KOTOR, Mass Effect etc.) was sitting at the same table as I and one of the first conversations was about education. I quote to the best of my memory:

"You can have a degree, but everything in this industry is a trial by fire." I think people in the film and TV industries will tell you the same thing. 

If you aspire to become a media composer, being able to compose good music ("good" can depend greatly on who you ask though) having a professional work ethic and good networking/people skills is the key. How or where you learned to do it and what your grades were is irrelevant. 

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If you plan to study composition at a university level, your prospects will be better if you have good grades. Most music programs will also require proficiency on a musical instrument, and learning anything you can right now about music theory will be beneficial as well, because a lot of new college students get blindsided by the music theory classes.

Professionally, though, no one cares about about a composer's grades (unless maybe you intend to teach). That said, if you do intend to do university-level composition study, school will likely to be the last time in your life that you will be able to focus on such a wide variety of music topics in depth and all at the same time, so you should make the most of it -- it will be your knowledge itself and not the degree that serves you as a composer. Piano skills, music theory, applied composition lessons, and tech-related subjects (recording, Finale/Sibelius, DAWs, etc.) will probably the most important areas of study.

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As a professional musician, I can let you know that I don't ask for a composer/arranger's transcript before I employ their services.  I only care that they can write for my group.

As a teacher, I can let you know that grades are an indication of someone's understanding of content taught by the instructor.  AKA - poor academic performance is supposed to be synonymous with a lack of knowledge after the class is over.  For professional composers, the real thing that matters is your portfolio/catalog and your influences, so I would say the content side is more important than the grades side.  Grades get you into school, though.  I know that if you make a C or lower in some classes at the undergraduate level, it is basically a failing grade - you have to retake the course often with the same professor.  This can be a death sentence.  It makes some undergrads change their major, or worse, eternal students.

All that aside, the most important things to have as a music major is a rock star private lessons teacher on your primary instrument, the relationships you form at the university level, and opportunities to have your stuff heard.  If your stuff doesn't get performed, what good are you as a composer?

If people want to play and hear your stuff, you are set.  You can make a decent living if you are self-published and are business-minded.  But then, how are you going to pay for insurance and everything?  Having benefits with an employer can go a long way towards both your health, retirement, and general mental sanity.

TLDR: Just get a great theory/composition teacher and get your music played.  Before the first project is over start the next.  Freelance  = no down time.

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Grades show that you can follow directions and please other peoples' arbitrary standards of what your art/design should end up like.

So they don't actually matter from a standpoint of resume-style evaluation, but learning how to please instructors is good practice for learning how to please clients, and far easier because when you argue with an instructor they'll know what the hell you're talking about.

So it's not important to show other people how good your grades are, but it is important to be able to get them. A common rationalization of slacking grades is it's for stuff you don't like, and doing stuff you like will turn out better.

It's a rare case where your work doing what you love will only ever be doing it for things you like. Professionally speaking, you're going to end up working on some crappy stuff time to time, or working for crappy people. Learn to put up with it and excel despite it now -- this is coming from experience.

Another important thing to note is that grades at the right school under the right instructors ensure you're actually learning industry standard skills. Again, clients don't care, but you should. You're not gonna find those skills outside of learning them from people.

tl;dr learning how to earn good grades is good practice for learning how to deal with other peoples' standards they set for you

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The funny thing about music is that everyone approaches it differently. A lot of people in the music industry don't really have the koalafications for writing music, and yet they still make money with it. Other people actually have a lot of knowledge about their field, but they don't manage to make enough money to feed themselves. 

You say you have all the tools to compose, but I personally find that a bit of an odd thing to say. All you need to compose is your mind. And if you also want to pass it along to other people you might need a pencil and some paper as well. In the current time and age that could also mean you've got sibelius, or finale or an account on Noteflight. 

But, in the current time and age it could also mean you've got a recording device and a piano, and you're composing your own piano compositions. 

It could also mean you've downloaded fruity loops, and are making some beats.

Or maybe you bought a guitar and are now singing your own songs at the local pub every Friday night. 

Naturally ,it could also be something entirely else...

Now, to come back to your original question, it greatly depends on the kind of music you want to compose. 

If you want to compose orchestral pieces, and have them played by real orchestra's, then I'd definitely say that grades matter. Because having a teacher who has experience with such things is crucial to such a complicated and time-consuming project. Schools that teach such things also have the connections and facilities to have your yet to be made orchestral pieces played, which is, as mentioned before, a must for starting composers. 

On the other hand, if you make your orchestral pieces yourself, in some kind of Daw and a midi keyboard, then you don't really need to have your pieces played, as you kind of play them yourself. It's the same with self played piano pieces, sing and songwriter love songs and generally everything that doesn't require other people to get the sound you want. But... it's quite complicated to determine if you need to follow some kind of education in order to make such music. Besides music being a very subjective and personal thing, it is still somewhat possible to see if music is 'good' or not. Some people do not have any education in music, and yet produce some very cool stuff. Other people do not have any education in music, and produce some very uncool stuff. It depends on the person. And, as I mentioned earlier, your music doesn't have to be 'good' in order to make money out of it. 

Something however which is kind of certain, is that, if you follow an education in music, it really improves your music. So, if you're not sure if you're a musical genius, and you want to make 'good' music, then I'd say that grades matter. Because that allows you to follow an education in music. Which doesn't immediately mean that you have to compose orchestral pieces. There are lots of music educations focused on electronic music, pop music, rock music and other such things.

If you're already confident that the music you're composing is sure to sell well, and you know how get it to the general public, then you don't really need a teacher or a certificate or anything else school related. But, even then there is a difference between thinking that you're making 'good' music and actually making 'good' music. And the people who can tell the difference between those two things and help you in crossing that bridge are music teachers, working at conservatories and music schools. 

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