Burbank Convention Center
Burbank, CA & Online
Game Music and Sound Design Conference
USA Today Reports Composers Third-fastest Growing Job in US: But they got the reason wrong.
As was reported by USA Today, Music Directors and Composers have had a great decade, with 10 year job growth of 178%. The paper listed them as the having the third largest percentage gain in employment over the past decade according to data taken from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Composers were behind only “Petroleum Engineers” and “Service Unit Operators for Oil, Gas and Mining” in a study that considered hundreds of occupations over a 10 year period. The newspaper further speculated that a “factor driving job growth for this occupation” is a greater need for original music used in “commercials and movies.”
The speculation that commercials and movies were responsible for driving growth seemed suspect, so we decided to take a closer look. Although there has been a moderate increase in the number of movies released from 2003 to 2012, there certainly wasn’t the kind of growth that would match the increase in composers’ employment. In fact, although the number Indy movies has increased, there was a 31% decrease in the number of films from the big 6 studios. And with similar mild growth in media advertising, even combined with other traditional media, that couldn’t account for the large uptick in employment.
Perhaps it was Music Directors (Conductors of orchestras and bands). The BLS lumps that job together with composers when compiling its statistics (don’t ask us why!). Given the trouble many orchestras seem to be having, we feel pretty confident that 15,000 new orchestras didn’t pop into existence while we weren’t looking…
So where are all the new composer jobs coming from? A deeper analysis of the BLS data shows a different and far more likely source than USA reported/speculated.
The USA today article based its findings by comparing employment for different job categories in 2002 and comparing it with employment figures for 2012, a decade’s worth of growth. And indeed, the number of Music Directors and Composers jumped significantly during that time from approximately 9,000 in 2002 to 25,000 in 2012. That 178% increase over the decade put the category right up there with Oil Engineers and Language Translators, which is why it made it into the USA today article.
But a more thorough analysis of the data shows something significant. For that analysis, we went to the same source as USA Today, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (bls.gov), specifically the Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. There, we didn’t look at just the endpoint years of 2002 and 2012, but at each individual year in that 11 year period. What we found was stunning:
From 2002 to 2008, the number of composing jobs remained relatively flat, with just a slight uptick from 2002 (8,980 jobs) to 2008 (9,120 jobs). 2009, however was a huge inflection point, with employment increasing 57% over 2008 to 14,330 followed by similar growth in 2010 and 2011, culminating in nearly 25,000 Music Director/Composer jobs in 2012.
So what could explain such a dramatic, steep increase? What would have suddenly caused such a large demand for composers? The answer may be largely due to what happened in on July 10, 2008 and to a lesser extent May 2007. Those events? The launch of the launch of Apple’s AppStore and the Facebook Application Developer Program, which began the ascent in casual, mobile and social video gaming.
It’s hard to believe, but just a few years ago, no one had ever heard of an “app.” 2008/2009 was the beginning of an explosive growth in casual and social gaming facilitated largely by two entirely new platforms, the smartphone and the social network site. These phenomena greatly expanded the player base, as video games grew from a ‘hard core’ fan base of console and PC gamers to the hundreds of millions of casual players on their smartphones, tablets and on social media. Apple’s iOS platform, supported by the App Store, disrupted the hard-core, publisher-centric console and PC gaming space by opening up the platform to tens of thousands of game developers of all sizes.
And build games they did. Of the more than 800,000 apps on the app store, over 150,000 are games, ranging from immensely popular, well-funded games like Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies to small, little-known games like Super Hexagon or Ear Monsters from small developers. Virtually every one of those games requires music, which is more often than not supplied by a composer writing specifically for that particular game. Although some of the games on the App Store (and by proxy on Google’s Play store) are done by hobbyists unlikely to hire a professional composer, 60% of people who develop apps work full-time developing those apps, according to AppDevelopersAlliance; these aren’t weekend hobbyists. And there are a lot of them.
The Facebook Application Developer Program was also greeted with huge enthusiasm by the gaming community. Zynga, one of the first to jump on the fledgling platform, popularized an entirely new genre of game, the casual, social game with its hit, FarmVille. According to the web site techcrunch a full 25% of Facebook users play games—over 250 Million people. Those players need games to play. The games need developers to make them and the developers need composers to write music for them.
A conservative estimate of only 50% of games on the app store requiring the services of a professional composer still means that some 75,000 games would have needed to hire the services of video game composers (and game sound designers). Add to that the growth in social games on platforms such as facebook, and several thousand more games are added to the mix.
Ok, so there are lot of new jobs for composers. But perhaps all those new Composer jobs are really bad— after all, composing a few jingles and fanfares for Angry Birds hardly pays as much as scoring Call of Duty or Halo. But according to the same BLS data, the median salary for composers from 2008-2012 remained relatively flat, slipping just slightly from $54,840 to $53,420. What composers are losing in budget looks like it’s being made up in quantity; over the past half dozen years, composing music for video games has been a growth field.
Of course correlation is not necessarily causation, and it is possible something else caused the sudden, hockey-stick like uptick in Composer and Music Director Employment. But the timing of the rise of mobile, casual and social gaming and the increase in Composers and Music Directors employment presents a strong case for causation, and, frankly, it makes perfect sense. As thousands upon thousands of new game developers began to create tens of thousands of new video games for millions of new players, they needed thousands of new composers to create music for them.
Will this trend continue? As the data shows, there seems to be a recent leveling off in demand. And of course competition is fierce, notwithstanding the increasing opportunities. However, the BLS still forecasts that over 32,000 new Music Director or Composer job “openings due to growth and replacement needs” will need to be filled over the next decade.
So the next time you use plants to defend against zombies, or work to manage your tiny towers, or tend to your dragons, you’re not killing time or procrastinating. You’re merely doing your part to contribute to the economy and full employment.