A composer works as a freelance musician and crates pieces of music on commission for a variety of people and organisations. They may be writing for an institution such as an orchestra or university, providing music for a television programme or advert, or writing the music for popular singers to record. In order to be recognised as a composer it is helpful to have a formal qualification from a university or conservatoire before gaining a reputation as you create your own works.
Depending on which style of music you feel most comfortable, and want to write for, you should choose a course which will help you develop your skills the most. The two main types are classical or orchestral music; usually called BA Music and are offered by universities and conservatoires, and popular music courses; usually called BA Popular Music or something similar. There are also courses offered in jazz studies which offer the opportunity to perform jazz music while still maintaining a strong emphasis on the theoretical aspects of music. You should research which course and institution you are thinking about in detail to see what you will be taught.
In order to qualify for a university course you should hold at least five GCSEs graded A*-C, including maths, English and science, and usually one in music as well. After this you should either study A levels or a B-TEC in music. Depending on where you study, it is more usual to study A level music as opposed to B-TEC, especially for orchestral music, as there will be a stronger emphasis on music theory which will help you understand the concepts involved in composition. It may also be worthwhile to take an external exam in music theory to help you during the admission process as well as throughout your career.
It will be helpful to gain experience in all aspects of music. While you may already be writing compositions for yourself, it will give you a better understanding if you also play in bands and orchestras. This could be with some friends or in a local orchestra for whom you could offer some of your compositions for performance.
Career pathways after graduation
While at university you will most likely have made connections with your fellow students as well as with companies who may require your services. You will have to find work wherever you can and have to act in the capacity of your own marketing agent and accountant as well as writing your compositions. Many composers supplement their composing with teaching jobs and performing contracts which both allow you to make more contacts with people who may require work.