Self-mastery is the supreme victory‚Äď–
much more to be valued
than winning control over others.
It is a victory
that no other being whatsoever
can distort or take away.

The Dhammapada
(attr. to SiddhńĀrtha Gautama aka Buddha)

What constitutes success in music and musical composition? High profile popular artists like Robin Thicke are considered runaway successes. But their claims to off-the-cuff songwriting processes—which feed the creativity myth by the way—have been challenged in court. Plagiarism seems the most likely route to success he and his cohort used in the case of the¬†song Blurred Lines. Whichever way the court case¬†goes, Thicke has freely¬†admitted¬†that 75% of the song was made before he even started contributing.

So what we have above are two starkly contrasted views of success. The one being the invisible, personal success of the meditating recluse achieving victory over his own mind; the other being a highly visible success which appears hollow at the core (and indeed offensive to many).

What then, as composers, do you consider to be success? Is widespread recognition essential? If so, how widespread? Do you need to be a household name or just respected amongst your peers?

Are performances essential to your concept of success? If so, how high-profile must they be? Consider, for instance, the difference between a hastily-rehearsed, inadequately performed orchestral commission in front of 3000 people, and the presentation of a detailed collaboration between yourself and a highly-dedicated pianist at a house concert of 15 people. Now that‚Äôs a leading question of course, but consider nonetheless which is most successful and in what terms—artistic, musical, technical, career progression, kudos, publicity, etc.?

Is financial gain essential to your concept of success or is Bourdieu’s sense of cultural capital more apt, with a diverse range of assets such as education, social standing, hipness, youtube hits, Facebook followers, etc.?

How is success achieved? Is it more networking than hard technical work? More social than solitary? What ratio of promotion to composition hours should you be aiming for?


Posts in this¬†composition seminars category¬†are discussion points from the blog I maintain at the University of Edinburgh to support postgraduate composers’ work. They are loosely based on the Socratic method, using questions to interrogate and help develop individual compositional approaches and to stimulate critical thinking.

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