A survey by The Ivors Academy to mark 20 years of The Ivors Composer Awards has shown the importance of music education at every stage of the careers of acclaimed classical, jazz and sound art composers. The majority studied music at school, had opportunities to learn an instrument, the chance to perform music when growing up and many now teach as part of their career.

The survey reveals that of 319 composers who have won or been nominated for an Ivor Novello Award96% learned one or more instruments as a child and 94% had opportunities to perform music when young. Of those that did perform, over 50 composers had opportunities at school or in their local area.

64% of respondents attended a state-funded school and 21% had a bursary to go to an independent school. Demonstrating the importance of music education in all schools, 83% studied music to A Level. There has been a long-term decline in the number of A Level Music entrants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in 2012 there were 7,655 compared to 5,916 in 2022.

Ivor Novello Award winning composer Charlotte Harding said, “As we celebrate 20 years of achievements by composers in the UK, this survey is a reminder that composers benefit hugely from sustained support throughout their careers. Alongside a healthy cultural sector, opportunities to learn, play and discover a love of music at school and in local areas can lead to a lifetime of creative expression, and should be encouraged, enhanced and protected.”

Composers rely heavily on commissions and over 60% had received at least one commission from the BBC or one of its ensembles44% of respondents said that commissions have decreased in frequency since the start of their career and 46% that per-minute commission fees had either decreased or stayed the same.

Arts Council EnglandPRS Foundation and the Vaughan Williams Foundation were the top 3 sources of funding.

Graham Davies, Chief Executive of The Ivors Academy said, “Composers are voicing concerns about the impact of changes to funding and the long-term decline of music education in state schools. We need to bring music back into every school and community, and ensure stable, long-term funding for the UK’s enviable cultural institutions and venues.” 

Composers report having ‘portfolio careers’, splitting their time between composing, teaching, performing, arranging workshops and administration. Some say they can spend more time composing as their careers develop, but the need for more support and opportunities for mid-career and later-starting composers is clear.

Even though a third of respondents said it had become harder to start a career as a composer, 75% said they would still become a composer if they were starting out today. The survey starts a conversation from The Ivors Academy, Composers Under Pressure?, to look at the opportunities and difficulties facing composers in the UK throughout their careers.

The anonymous survey was sent to past winners and nominees of The Ivors Composer Awards, which were formerly known as The British Composer Awards. Over the past twenty years the Awards have celebrated and recognised the craft and achievements of some the UK’s most talented composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Tansy Davies, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Sir John Tavener, Yazz Ahmed, Jonny Greenwood, Sally Beamish, Anna Meredith, Errollyn Wallen, Roderick Williams, Jason Yarde and many more.