A Category of Our Own

A Category of Our Own

Several weeks ago, an article ran in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog entitled “Five facts about professional artists in the United States.” Among those five facts were that California ranked as the highest state and New York City as the highest city for their numbers of resident “artists” (a term which embraced everyone from performing and fine artists to writers and authors, photographers, directors and producers, architects, and designers). Other facts noted the high number of designers compared to the rest of the country’s artistic workforce and the low number of females in the architectural profession.

The article’s author, Katherine Boyle, had gleaned these facts from a recently-published study, “Equal Opportunity Data Mining: National Statistics about Working Artists” by the National Endowment for the Arts. This study, comprising data from 2006 through 2010, looks at a number of aspects around the subset of “artists” within the United States, how these numbers relate to the overall workforce, and it provides a relatively detailed view of the artistic population in this country from a national scale at the macro level to specific cities at the micro level. In its introduction, the study states:

There are 2,081,735 million artists in the United States, identified by the occupation to which they which devoted the most hours in a given week. These artists fall into one of 11 occupations, and together they compose 1.35 percent of the total workforce.

When I happened upon this study at the end of June, I flipped to the page that listed the 11 occupational categories, as I was curious to see if it made any delineations for composers, orchestrators, etc. To my amazement, composers weren’t listed at all; the definition of musicians (which I assumed would include composers) read as such:

Musicians, singers, and related workers, SOC 27-2040. Play one or more musical instruments or sing. Perform on stage, for on-air broadcasting, or for sound or video recording.

I posted the original link on Facebook and commented on this discrepancy, pointing to the fact that individuals under each category were “identified by the occupation to which they which devoted the most hours in a given week.” Ian David Moss, no stranger to NewMusicBox, also seemed surprised, since (as he put it) “it looks like there is actually a separate government code for ‘music directors and composers’ (27-2041) and for some reason they left it out of this analysis.”

Not long after that exchange, Moss posted about the discrepancy on his own blog, Createquity, and soon got some results. In a nice demonstration of his blog’s readership, Moss was contacted by Sunil Iyengar, director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis. Iyengar wrote, “As it turns out, we DID include composers and music directors in our data for all musicians, but, inexplicably, we neglected to list the relevant code (27-2041) on the part of the web page that lists all the artist codes.” Moss was thanked for the heads-up and the listing for musicians now reads:

Musicians, singers, and related workers, SOC 27-2040. Includes arrangers, composers, choral directors, conductors, music directors, musicians, and singers.

While I was happy to see that this small, overlooked detail was fixed, I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to get a sense of who and where those people who listed themselves as “composers” were, but the governmental category – 27-2041- within which that occupation resides also includes “music directors.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines both sub-categories of musicians thusly:

27-2041 Music Directors and Composers
Conduct, direct, plan, and lead instrumental or vocal performances by musical groups, such as orchestras, bands, choirs, and glee clubs. Includes arrangers, composers, choral directors, and orchestrators.

Illustrative examples: Choirmaster, Jingle Writer, Orchestra Conductor, Songwriter

27-2042 Musicians and Singers
Play one or more musical instruments or sing. May perform on stage, for on-air broadcasting, or for sound or video recording.

Illustrative examples: Instrumentalist, Oboist, Rapper

I can see why the Bureau of Labor Statistics might combine music directors and composers, since neither occupation performs (at least for public consumption) on an instrument or sings in the execution of their occupation. That being said, there are many reasons why this conflation of composers and music directors is inappropriate, and I feel that our occupation deserves its own category for future studies.

First, let’s look at how our “creator” colleagues in other artistic categories fare. Fine artists (painters, sculptors, illustrators, etc.) have their own subset under a broader category of “Art and Design Workers” (27-1000), alongside art directors, craft artists, multimedia artists and animators, and the ubiquitous “others” (which include calligraphers and tattoo artists). Poets and authors fall under the heading of “Writers and Authors” (27-3043) with the description “Originate and prepare written material, such as scripts, stories, advertisements, and other material.” Playwrights and screenwriters also fall under this heading, with their performing and directing collaborators each getting their own categories of “Actors” (27-2011) and “Directors and Producers” (27-2012). Choreographers are described separately from “Dancers” under their own category (27-2032) as those that “Create new dance routines. Rehearse performance of routines. May direct and stage presentations.”

With these delineations in mind, it is troubling that our form of artistic creativity—creating musical works—is not seen as an occupation that stands on its own. There is a vast difference between being a music director or conductor and being a composer. While there are composers who conduct just as there are composers who perform, the activity and necessary training for these vocations are dissimilar in many ways. I challenge anyone to say that their definitions are close enough to be combined in such a report. By equating these two drastically different occupations within these bureaucratic categories, any research or claims made about the state of either occupation within specific cities, states, or the entire country can’t be seen as valid because of the lack of separation in the data between the two.

Last week, I made these arguments to Sunil Iyengar, director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis. He was quick to respond, referring my query to Bonnie Nichols, one of the research analysts with the NEA. My questions to her were as follows:

1) Why are Composers (those who write music) and Music Directors (those who conduct and/or administrate performing musicians) conflated within the same category? I understand that in certain circumstances that some individuals may do both, but it makes sense to keep those two distinct categories separate. Any research done on the scope of either occupation in our society today is made weak, if not useless, with the combination of the other. Could these two categories be separated?

2) That being said, is it possible to acquire the specific data from that category (27-2041) from the study?

She explained that the EEO tables combined all of the music categories, so pulling out any specific information on the Composer/Music Director subset was impossible. She did, however, point me to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Survey (OES), which provides employment, locational, and salary information on the Composer/Music Director category. The maps alone are quite telling as far as where these occupations are located and what the average salaries are in each region. (I’m not sure why, but there are no numbers for Alaska, Nevada, North and South Dakota, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine.)

Employment of Composers and Music Directors by Area in 2012
Mean Wage of Music Directors and Composers by State in 2012

Nichols was also helpful in pointing out an important additional caveat to these numbers; not only do they combine composers and music directors, but they do not include self-employed workers. Put together, it makes the OES report practically useless for anyone trying to do research in this area.

When I pressed her on the question of separating the two categories out of 27-2041, she responded that “the number of workers in a particular occupation would have to meet a threshold before they are tallied in a specific occupation,” and then she referred me to the U.S. Census Bureau for more information. Down the rabbit hole I went…

After a bit of digging around in the Census Bureau website, I discovered a document entitled “Revising the Standard Occupational Classification system for 2010” that took me through the process by which the latest versions of the SOC occupational categories were edited. It turns out that the process started in 2005 with proposals being made and vetted over the next four years, and the final version being solidified in 2009. Only 7 percent of the previous system had been overhauled (most of it hadn’t been touched or sustained only editorial changes) and the majority of the content changes seem to have gone in the other direction, with related occupations being combined into fewer categories. If a proposal were made to split the Composer and Music Director category, now’s the time; the next SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) Manual revision will begin this year with the result coming out in 2018.

And that’s where things stand so far. I’ll continue digging to see what needs to be done to put together a proposal for this seemingly important change. I have no idea if an endeavor like this is the bureaucratic equivalent of tilting at windmills, but as we strive to educate the public about the existence of composers, and ensure that the art of composing music is not lost and forgotten, something as simple as a government classification stating for the record that this is indeed an occupation worthy of its own merits is an appropriate measure for which to hope.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

7 thoughts on “A Category of Our Own

  1. Steve Layton

    If they’re only gig to do a couple different categories, I’d think music directors, conductors etc. would go into the performance group, while you’d lump composers with songwriters, like the ASCAPs of the world have always done.

  2. Lawton Hall

    Interesting research. If these statistics do not include self-employed composers or music directors, where is one employed that you could list composer as a primary occupation (besides Hollywood)? Wouldn’t composers in academia be primarily categorized as educators (assuming that’s where most of their income came from)?

    The self-employment caveat seems to me to be the biggest hiccup of all with these numbers. All of the creative work I do (the majority of my time) is as a self-employed creative artist.

  3. Bill Doerrfeld

    For those curious on how compensation differs between composers and music directors, here’s something to chew on.

    Based on a report on music director compensation (http://www.adaptistration.com/blog/2013/08/15/2013-compensation-reports-music-directors/) U.S. conductors in the 2010/2011 season earned on average $480k annually as an orchestra’s music director. This does not include other income they may have earned by association with other organizations and activities.

    Contrast this with a 2009 report on composer compensation (http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/Taking-Note-of-Composers-and-New-Music-Activity-in-the-United-States/) where composer’s total annual income based on ALL activities, not just through the act of composing, yields on a median basis just $45k.

    The fact that composers earn over 10 times less than what music directors earn is an alarming statistic and one which I don’t believe represents a healthy musical eco-system.

    Maybe it’s high time to better reward the creators of music?

    1. Mark N. Grant

      Agreed, Bill, but I would add that maybe it’s also high time for composers to realize that in matters of income they have hoist themselves on their own petards by wholeheartedly embracing piracy and free access to intellectual property, viz., their OWN intellectual property. How many thousands of dollars in royalties go uncollected because commercial produced recordings still under copyright are uploaded onto YouTube every second? Does it ever occur to anyone that this is theft, outright, pure and simple? It’s legitimized shoplifting.

      “Creative commons” and kindred concepts like the “gift market” of Lewis Hyde are fine and dandy until you realize that they guarantee the nullification of ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, PRS, etc. etc. All of which were founded to help creators earn something from their endeavors. Why has that suddenly become an antiquated concept?

      One could argue that nonpop (and some pop) composers are the greatest business chumps in the world today because they have voluntarily expanded the always-present role of unearned subsidy from a part of the pie to the whole pie. The composer pays for, or finds someone else to pay for, the production of his effort, and then it is given away for free on the web in one manner or another, no matter how exorbitant its costs of production.

      Arguments about “well, the sources of income have changed” etc. do not alter my point. The fact that royalty income is small or insignificant anyway for most composers isn’t the point, either. We have allowed ourselves to be totally screwed over by the new giveaway “business model” for intellectual property. Can one imagine a J.K. Rowling allowing her work to be freely uploaded? Do the heirs of Milton Avery or Willem de Kooning give their paintings away for nothing?

  4. Pingback: Around the Horn: Marian McPartland edition | Createquity.

  5. Bob Peskin

    “Musicians and singers.” Arrrrrrgh! Hate this terminology, which implies that those who sing are not musicians; what the hell are we then? We go to the same conservatories, are educated in the same music departments, perform as soloists or in ensembles, just as those who play an instrument. Does none of that count as being a musician, just because we use our voices? Should be “instrumentalists and singers.”


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