Is it worth becoming a composer in Australia?

Michael Bakrnčev speaks candidly about musical careers

BY MICHAEL BAKRNČEV

Melbourne composer Michael Bakrnčev recently settled in for a candid chat with our editor Stephanie Eslake about some of the obstacles faced by composers living in Australia. Michael opens up to share his personal side of the story with CutCommon readers, aiming to continue the conversation. Are you a composer in Australia? We’d love to hear from you: editor@cutcommon.com.

 

I’m going to be completely honest with you.

I compose new music in Australia. And when it comes to my future, I feel pessimistic.

Just the other day, I had an epiphany. Given that I’m 27, engaged, and already have both honours and masters degrees, I probably should have questioned this earlier: is going to university a scam that I have been taught to believe?

My grandfather came here from Macedonia in the ‘60s. He doesn’t understand that I can’t get a job as a composer. He was taught to believe that an education is the single most important thing anyone can have, and once you achieve high levels, you’re simply given work in high paying academic fields. He, as a migrant who still speaks broken English, worked incredibly hard like so many did and still do. And financially speaking, he is a million miles better off than my colleagues and I are. It’s just about impossible to explain to him what the reality is. I think if he did fully understand, he would have told me never to go to uni; to study music, at least.

Some days, I wish I just took music as a serious hobby. I see too many colleagues sacrificing things like marriage, having children, or a home loan, so they can continue being students. They have hopes that they will, at some point, be given a full-time job as a composer, either by receiving huge regular commissions or high-paying steady teaching jobs at universities.

When I was on study allowances, the government didn’t understand that I made money as an artist. They just wanted me to get a job, any job. I don’t want to live in poverty, and I know I cannot achieve what I want in my life by being solely a composer. And I don’t want to leave Australia to try to find work. This is my home, and as the ‘lucky country’, it should be lucky for composers, too.

I strongly feel that composers deserve financial services from the government. I believe that once you prove you have a strong track record as a composer, have a qualification, can show that you are continuously doing things to strive for success, then you should be entitled to an artist pension. The Swedish government has formulated proposals to give all of its citizens a basic monthly income, acknowledging that people will still want to pursue their work. Ours doesn’t need to be much – but an amount that means we can focus on our music. After all, that’s our work.

I wish all artists banded together to work to achieve this. But then, I think if it were to go to parliament for a vote, the ‘normal’ Aussie would prefer the money go into sports pensions, instead.

I’m not giving up, that’s for sure. But I am looking to be successful in my own way. I am not going to let my view of success determine my final outcome as a composer. I am on the path of having a wife, kids and house, whilst setting myself up to be in a position where I can write music more freely. It’s one of the reasons why I found myself an agent. I am also running the Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta, and have dreams of this being a fully functioning business in the future. I understand the value in creating our own opportunities – when I take a step back and look at my life, I am quick to realise that everything I do is based around being able to write music successfully.

Despite the pessimism and constant obstacles, we push through it all and we continue to write music and create. We are musicians: we should never feel guilty for being so; nor should we ever have to defend the fact. We deserve far more respect from the government and broader population than we currently receive, that is certain. So we must continue to compose. Because it is our gift, and we know that it is a worthy profession that deserves our time and effort.

I don’t yet feel brave about my future as a composer in Australia. But I’m hoping for the best.

 

Do you feel positive about a composition career in Australia? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

 


Image supplied. Credit Matthew Rigby Photography.

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