How Can I Become A Musical Theater Composer?

Michael Bihovsky talks about how to become a musical theater composer and the challenges he faced along the way.

ABOUT MICHAEL BIHOVSKY

Michael Bihovsky is a Philadelphia-based musical theater composer, writer, performer, and director. He has written four original musicals, and is best known for the viral YouTube Les Mis food allergy parody “One Grain More,” which won the “Best of Faux: Audience Award” and “Best Short” in Portland’s Faux Film Festival, and has been hailed as “The funniest nutrition video ever made!” and “…a must, must, must watch!”

Most recently, Michael directed and performed in “Paperweight”, an original music video capturing the COVID-19 experience through the lens of disability, and exploring a troubled relationship during the age of social distancing. As of September 2021, Paperweight has been featured in 11 film festivals around the world, winning accolades from six of them.

Most of Michael’s writing centers around various themes of medical advocacy, in particular the concept of “invisible illnesses.” Michael has the connective tissue Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and he is a prominent health advocate for EDS and for chronic illness in general. These experiences have greatly informed Michael’s work and mission as an artist.

Visit Michael’s Speaker Page

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COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to our Cartne video titled How Can I Become a Musical Theater Composer? Our guest today is Michael Bihovsky.

Hi. My name is Michael Bihovsky. I am a musical theater composer, lyricist, playwright, director, and I am also a medical advocate. So a lot of the shows I write and perform are based in chronic illness and disability advocacy.

Michael, what do people need to think about as they consider a career as a musical theater composer?

So I think the most important thing to think about is that unlike performing your own material, where, you know, you’re you’re kind of in control of everything yourself. Ultimately, your goal as a composer in musical theater is to be able to hand it off to a whole bunch of people who can take what you wrote and make it their own.

The director, the musical director, the actors, everybody has to be able to do their job. And your job is to give them the material that has a coherent and moving plot. It’s fully fleshed out three dimensional characters with clear goals and motivations. Music that is singable. That one is so important. Understanding the human voice in all its ranges and what it can and can’t do And to write dialog, that actually sounds like how a person would talk, you know, because even the best singers and actors can’t make up for unthinkable music.

Or stilted dialog. So you really want to give them material they can work with and to be ready to listen to those people. If they tell you that something is not working You know, musical theater is the most collaborative art form in the world. It’s a coalescence of literally every other art form, and everybody wants the project to succeed.

So you do the best you can on your own, but don’t shy away from bringing in collaborators for the parts you don’t do as well. And that’s really the ultimate reward. When you just, like, sit in the audience and watch as the people you trusted to bring your vision to life do, and sometimes in ways you never even imagined.

It seems like there are two types of musical theater. Some with real dialog and some that have music throughout.

Right. So, I mean, technically, if something is 90% or more sung it’s actually classified as an opera. But there’s sort of this in-between space where I think the word opera has such a classical connotation to it that most musical theater people shy away from it. But like Hamilton is an opera, it’s sung through 100% of the way.

Les Mis is an opera So, yeah, what I would say is you have the rock operas, the hip hop operas. Operas, I think, are highly classified. Hamilton And then you have the traditional musical where you have dialog song, dialog song. But one of the things that I think is really important and just a vital skill set to learn is how to interweave those, you know, how to use underscoring to heighten your dialog so that, you know, people aren’t jarred when you suddenly break out into song.

How does someone get started as a musical theater composer?

I think you start by studying the greats. And I don’t necessarily mean the classics just, you know, whatever you love that works for you and then that you feel works perfectly and then you reverse engineer it. So how many songs are there? How much dialog, what’s the ratio of dialog to music and how are they woven together with underscoring?

How do the lyrics advance the plot or your understanding of a character There’s no one answer to any of this. So I think it’s great to look at a lot of shows, including the ones you don’t like, for that matter, the shows you think are actively bad to decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t. A trick I really highly recommend that was so helpful to me is writing parodies.

That’s how I started out. When I was a kid. I would just rewrite songs I loved and either turn it into something just utterly ridiculous. But following the exact rhyme schemes and really trying to focus on making every single word count and not just relying on concept alone, I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make with parodies.

They have a great concept but then they just sort of fill in the blank and there’s a chance to make a joke with every line. But there’s also something I call the serious parody that is. So what I would do, especially when I was a kid, I would take the words to a song that I love, and I would change them subtly so that it would be about my own life, you know, because as an incredibly self-absorbed teenager, of course, that’s what I did so seriously that I think that teaches you a lot about musical theater style styles, really.

Are there playwrights who are looking for composers to work with them, and how would a composer find them?

Absolutely. So I myself do music, lyrics and script, you know, I think if you do all of those things and you feel like you’re pretty good at it, it definitely just can save some time. Well, not necessarily save some time because you’re going to be doing more. But, you know, in terms of the collaborative aspect, if you have a collaborator you can work with, well, that’s certainly a phenomenal experience.

Places to find those. Facebook is actually a great place. There are groups that are for musical theater composers, lyricists, playwrights who are looking for collaborators here in the projects here in Philadelphia. There’s something called the Philadelphia Dramatist Center, where you bring in like excerpts from a new play, and you meet other playwrights and potential collaborators and also on the leadership team for something called Musical Lab, which is workshopping selections from new musicals from Philadelphia composers.

So like, I’m sure there are things like that in other towns. Philadelphia is just the one I know the best. But yeah, Facebook’s a great resource as well.

Would you say it’s a difficult field to get into? Is it competitive?

It’s extremely competitive. You know, I don’t know the exact stats, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if musical theater especially is, you know, the most competitive industry in the world. It’s got to be high up there. That said, you know, if you are an actor with a good voice or a composer with good material and you have the willingness to put in a lot of the legwork yourself, it’s not that hard to get started.

What is very hard is to do that and get paid. And that’s there even at the top if you’re an equity actor. Equity is the Broadway Union. Most actors have to do these 29 hour readings all the time where you give 29 hours over the course of two weeks to rehearse and perform a show. And at the end you get $100.

So that’s not great. It’s about 350 an hour. You make more at Arby’s, but you know you’re doing it. You’re doing it for the experience, you’re doing it for the exposure. And that’s a trap that you get caught in, in pretty much all of the arts. But realistically, there isn’t a way around it. It’s supply and demand and I also get it because, you know, on the flip side, as a composer, my show Fresh has a cast of 14 people, so that is 1400 dollars I have to come by and that is just for the actors.

I also have to find a rehearsal space and a venue and a director and musicians, et cetera. So on. The composer thing and playwriting side, it’s about five to $10,000 to do these readings, and you’re basically doing that for exposure as well. You’re doing it in the hope that some producer comes to your reading and wants to take your show to the next level and hopefully get you funding for a workshop.

And then you have to hope that people really investors come and see the workshop and want to get involved. And you keep doing that again and again and again. And if you are lucky and very show, very few shows do make it to Broadway. Only 2% of actors can make a living acting. I think it’s the figure. I think it’s important to say that because you need to know what you’re getting into.

But at the same time, you know, if you’re really passionate about it and you’re good, then try not to see that stat as an impediment, view it as a challenge.

Is it true that Broadway doesn’t need to be the end goal?

Absolutely! You know, I mean, and that’s a really good point, and that’s something I’ve been trying to undo. You know, I spent most of my adult life in New York. I went to NYU, I went to Juilliard, and I very much was indoctrinated into the idea of like, musical theater is in New York and it’s there. And if you don’t make it there, you don’t make it anywhere.

You know, all the lyrics to the various songs. But there’s amazing work being done here in Philadelphia, for sure. And really everywhere. I mean, I’ve seen great work out in the middle of Minnesota, some really phenomenal plays. So yeah, having that attitude and, and really being willing to go anywhere that’s willing to do, you know, put your work up, you know, is a phenomenal opportunity.

And it’s not New York or nothing.

And also, no, nobody started on Broadway. You know, everybody you look at the most successful composers. Do you look at Lin-Manuel Miranda, you know, he had to go through the same workshopping process as everybody else. And, you know, once you get established, then it’s easier the next time around for sure. But, you know, he’s talked a lot about how at the very beginning, just to get it done at all, he had to make a lot of creative sacrifices, relinquished a lot of control just to get things done. Now, you know, he has a lot more leverage.

How does it compare to writing mainstream music?

So the music you hear on the radio tends to be more emotion based. While a musical theater song has to actively either move the plot forward or the character arc forward, but on a more practical level, a musical theater song has to have enough nuance and transition within it so an actor can take it and make meaningful choices about what a character wants at any given moment.

It can’t just stay in one place the way that most pop songs do, and they do that very successfully. But that works on the radio. It doesn’t work on stage. So musical theater songs are more active. They’re about wants, about changing wants, about changing tactics. For a character to get what they want. That’s what the actor needs in order to do their job.

And, you know, for me, I started as an actor before I was a singer, and then I was a singer before I was a composer. And I think that’s really helped me in my process because I know what actors need to do their job. I know what singers need to do their job, and it’s really important to take that into account because you’re going to be, you know, they’re the ones who are ultimately going to make you look good or not.

Honestly, I think those restrictions make me more creative. The plot informs the songs, so it gives you a very clear place to start, and then it tells you where you need to get to in a lot of ways. I think that’s actually easier than a pop song where you really have to create something from nothing. And that’s really exciting too.

It’s just different. And that goes both ways. Honestly, in my own work, just as often, it’s the songs that are helping me figure out the plot. You know, I’ll write some random lyrics and it’s just like, got this kind of spiritual reference to it. I’m like, Oh, I guess this character’s religious. And then that suddenly gives me a lot of directions to go into.

But even when I’m commissioned to write something for somebody else, my job is to bring that person’s vision to life. And the creativity comes from how I’m going to do it in a way that is unique to me. And it’s great, you know, because at the end you get something that is more than either you or the person who commissioned you could ever do on your own.

It’s really a collaboration at its best.

If you’re being commissioned, how much time do you typically have? Are you given a certain time limit?

It can really depend, I’ll tell you, as stressful as it can be, I very much prefer it when they’re like, All right, you got two days. You know, I literally have a show I compose for New York called Blog Logs, which it’s a brilliant show. It’s a sketch comedy show where they take just the weirdest stuff you can find on the Internet.

Plenty of material there. And they perform it as monologues. But every once in a while, they hire me to take one of these, you know, weird blog posts and turn it into a song. And the first time they hired me they had actually hired somebody else and they did not like the song that they wrote. So they were like, Hey, we have a show in 10 hours.

Here’s what we need. Turned into a song. It’s a blog post. Can you do it? And I’m like, Well, we’ll find out. And I work really well under pressure. So sometimes it’s that. Sometimes it’s just, yeah, you know, on your own time. That’s a good trap for perfectionism, which is a huge problem I struggle with, and I’ll talk more about it later, but usually they’re going to give you either a very direct deadline or, you know, kind of vague.

Usually they’re going to say as soon as possible. Honestly, in terms of how long it takes to write a show, we’re talking about writing an entire musical from the first words you put on paper to a full production. I think the average is something like seven years, and that’s true even for people at the very top. Lin-Manuel Miranda started writing Hamilton in 2009, and he made it to Broadway in 20, 15.

That was six years with a lot of stages in between, and much of that is just rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. You know, you have you you can do a lot less of that as you yourself grow and figure out what does and does it work. But ultimately you need to see these things and hear them and then get back to work to make it better.

So for me personally, it usually takes me about an hour or so to write lyrics for a song. I was a poet first, so that part just comes to me right away writing the melody and the chords. That’s another couple of hours then you have to orchestrate these things, I think a paperweight. That’s my last music video.

It has 28 different instruments in it and that’s, that’s the typical number for, for a full out musical. And for a musical you can’t just play it yourself. You have to write out sheet music so that other musicians can play it live. So that’s the part that takes the longest for me. And there are professional orchestrators who that’s all they do and they’re way more efficient but if you’re starting off, you know, the question is how do you pay them?

So unless you have financial backing, you usually have to do that stuff yourself, which is good in some ways if you’re able to orchestrate, it gives you complete control. But that control cost time and a lot of it. Yeah, it’s years. I mean, if you think about writing the music lyrics and script to a show, you know, these shows are usually two, two and a half hours long.

I mean, that’s enough material for some musicians. Entire career. So it’s, it’s a lot. And if it’s an opera, all of that starts off, you know, even harder.

Are there any exercises that a composer can do to get experience writing for a story? Let’s say maybe they can find a short story and write something about it.

As an exercise. Sure. I think, you know, the tough thing that can happen is like if that exercise goes really well and you’re like, Oh my God, I think I actually want to do something with this, then you’ve landed yourself in some trouble because you need to get the rights. And so I know Jonathan Larson actually who wrote Rent.

He wrote a show called Soup Serbia. And he was originally 1984. It was going to be 1984 the musical, but he didn’t get the rights ahead of time. So he spends years writing this whole show only to be told, sorry, we don’t want it to be musical, but you know, the kind of middle ground is at that point he was like, all right, well let me change enough of it.

So let’s in all year 1984 but I can still you know keep most of the music and just change some words out.

What makes a good musical score? What characteristics do people look for?

I am not known for being the biggest fan of classic musical theater. It’s great. It’s just not my style. I actually wrote a song called I Hate Musicals, which is one of my musicals, hashtag irony. But I’ve actually really grown to respect the classics first because everything I do, love would not exist without those older shows paving the way, but also because those guys you know, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, they knew how to write songs that get stuck in your head immediately.

And that’s so important. I think that’s undervalued these days. It’s really absent from a lot of newer shows. You know, you go to music school and you learn all these complicated tricks, but so often it’s really the simple stuff that land’s and if you can combine those two simplicity and complexity, that’s what I love. But the ultimate test is, does the audience leave the theater humming the songs?

If so, you’re in good shape. If not, they’re probably just going to keep doing carousel revivals.

Oh, yeah. I mean, I think there’s two parts to that. One is just like, you know, there are classics for a reason. Everybody loves them. So it’s, that’s that’s the second part, which is, you know, if you do something like that, you can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to fill the seats. So as a producer, it’s a very safe choice.

It’s not one that’s typically going to pay off as much as, you know, something that’s pretty high risk that succeeds. But, you know, most investors don’t really want to go very high risk, oh, and that’s also actually you would ask what also makes a great musical theater performer? I teach singing and acting. So that’s something I’m very passionate about.

As well. But a great performer is obviously really talented and well trained, but they also understand the meaning and purpose behind every word they’re singing and they care deeply about it the way the character would care about themselves. There’s a maxim in teaching, acting is caring, it’s empathy. So if you can do that and you have a good voice, then you’re really well positioned because so many musical theater composers and performers sing, but they never really take the time to learn how to act.

And it’s called musical theater for a reason. That theater is the operative word. Music is just an additional vehicle, and it’s a great one. You got to be laughed at, thank you.

I’ll let you know when I find out. You’re not kidding. I’m actually lucky to have gotten paid in every field of my work, but I want to emphasize every field. I do a lot of things, and I think that really ups your chances. If you want to have a shot in this industry. I actually started writing musicals as a backdoor into performing.

I wanted to be on Broadway as a singer and actor. I was 16 and, you know, as I said, just the most pretentious kid you can imagine. And I thought to myself, Oh my God, I will write these amazing shows and then producers will want to put me in them so badly. Like now they’re going to want to do the show so badly rather than that.

They’ll have to ask me. But then I got to watch other people perform my work, and that was such a more rewarding experience because first off, I can just watch and enjoy something I created. It’s an incredible experience. But the other part is I’ve already thought about all of my ideas. You know, I want to see what other people bring to the table: the director, the musical director, the actors.

So even though my first love will always be performing and I’m never going to give that up, writing became my dream. But the irony is actually I end up being asked to act and direct most of my own shows, because it saves the producer’s money. And that’s a big part of how I get paid on my own project or on other people’s projects.

It’s because I do a lot of different things and that makes people want to hire me because even though they’re paying me more, it’s costing them less than it would to hire multiple people for that job. For those jobs. So I act, I direct, I orchestrate, I record, I write scripts, I do lighting and sound design if I need to.

And I’ve studied all those things. Oh, I also choreograph sometimes, but that is in nobody’s best interest. So basically the more you can do, the more likely people will hire you for at least one of those things and very often more. And they’ll pay more if I am. So it can go either way. For me personally, I’m generally commissioned as a work for hire just cause the shows I’m doing are more one time things, you know, like I mentioned blog blogs that I perform sorry that I compose for they do new shows all the time, but it’s always a different one.

So it’s also a small company and a nonprofit. So royalties wouldn’t really make sense for either of us. But if I were being commissioned, you know, to write a full show, then at that point, the typical agreement is the writers get 6% of, of the profits and 2% of that goes to the composer 2% to the lyricist, 2% to the scriptwriter, the book writer.

If you’re all three of those things, then you get 6% yeah.

Honestly, it depends on the person. For me personally, I wasn’t a fan of the conservatory system because I couldn’t imagine doing just one thing for every waking hour. So I went to a school within NYU, the Gallatin School, that allowed me to take all my acting classes at Tisch, which is the art school. I took all of my music courses at Steinhart, which is the education of music school.

But I also got to take astrophysics and mythology and anthropology theology. And I know we’ll talk about all that more later, but I really do believe that as an actor, you’re doing yourself a disservice if the only thing you study is your craft, you know, study psychology and neurology that will help you analyze characters in a completely different way, study literature and learn about great storytelling and study anything and everything that interests you.

Because if you don’t take a break from any one thing for a while, you will hate it. And that’s because you never know. I’m sorry I skipped something. Can you go back a couple of sentences or give me one second? I confused myself here all right. Back for a second. I was studying anything and everything that interests you because I mean, if you don’t take a break from any one thing, you are going to hate it.

But also, you never know when there’s going to be a crossover. That’s more important as a writer, I think, because ultimately you need things to write about. And the more you know, the more options you have. But even as an actor and singer, my advice is, you know, study aircraft hard and put in the time and effort to become the best.

Because as I said, you only have a 2% chance of making it to begin with. And if you’re not going to give it your all, then why bother but at the same time, do whatever you need to do to stay in love with your craft. Even if that means doing something else for a little while. Most of these conservatory programs, I mean, they’re great.

Many of the best performers come out of them. But if you want to be competitive with all the other great performers, you’re going to have to find ways to stand out. And I think one of the reasons I actually do really well in auditions is because people look at my resume and, you know, they see 200 musical theater majors that day.

They look at me, they’re like, you majored in musical theater and astrophysics. What? And then we’re having a conversation. Right. And it’s a memorable one. So makes me stand out from all those other people who look exactly like me and are seeing the same songs thank you.

Yeah. And I think and yeah, I mean, some combination of the two. You know, I’m definitely not saying don’t go to conservatory programs. They really are fantastic. I just think it’s really important if you’re doing that to be able to supplement that as best you can. With not just other, you know, academia but other hobbies even.

And, you know, just just to make sure you’re refreshed and you can get to work every day and, you know, actually want to be there, that’s a great question. No question. Give me an actor who can sing at any time. I will take someone who is a little flashier in there but understands and cares deeply about the words they’re singing.

That’s how you move people. But it’s really not that hard to do both. It shouldn’t be. But there is so much bad acting in musical theater. It can be very presentational and honestly, I think that’s a large part of why a lot of people don’t like musicals, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I teach singers how to act and actors how to sing all the time in my private studio.

And even in just that first hour lesson, the difference between when we started and when we finished is profound. It’s night and day, but most singers don’t really, I think, internalize that. They don’t realize that you need to put as much effort into acting technique as you do vocal technique. But the singers who come to me, they do realize that that’s why they’re coming to me.

And pretty much every one of my students gets into whatever conservatory they want. They get whatever roles they want most of the time. And I don’t think that’s because I’m some super genius. I just know that my students need to be able to act and sing. And I really, pretty much anyone can learn to do both, yes, I do.

So that’s something that’s something I used to shy away from just because there is something great about the live dynamic. And if it’s songs, I can accompany them on the piano. But the pandemic changed all of that. So I started teaching on Zoom and it was an adjustment at first. And I’ve learned how to do that really well, especially for acting, for voice.

I do work with some voice students over Zoom, but I try to just kind of be, you know, touching things up and polishing a bit just because I’m depending on what their microphone is, what my headphones are, the screen, I don’t necessarily get a perfect picture of what they sound like and I need to make sure my first job is to make sure that nobody’s hurting themselves.

And it’s a little harder to gauge that over Zoom. Not impossible, but acting in some ways can actually be better than Zoom, at least in regards to film, because I’m actually seeing what it looks like on the screen. So I’m not biased by like, Oh, this really moved me in person because I can tell you, you know, you film auditions sometimes you think, Oh my God, that tape was perfect.

I really felt it. You watch it back and you’re like, Oh, God, I think I’m terrible. Yeah. And then you’re like, Well, what about that terrible one I did before? Did you watch it? You’re like, Oh, my God, that one’s amazing. So it’s so yes, I do. I do teach that remotely. And yeah, I’ve learned to love that as well.

What makes a great musical theater performer?

I teach singing and acting, so that’s something I’m very passionate about as well. But a great performer is obviously really talented and well trained, but they also understand the meaning and purpose behind every word they’re singing and they care deeply about it the way the character would care about themselves. There’s a maxim in teaching acting which is acting is caring, it’s empathy.

So if you can do that and you have a good voice, then you’re really well positioned because so many musical theater composers and performers sing, but they never really take the time to learn how to act. And it’s called musical theater for a reason. Theater is the operative word. Music is just an additional vehicle, and it’s a great one.

You have to be able to act.

How does a musical theater composer get paid?

I’ll let you know when I find out. You’re not kidding. I’m actually lucky to have gotten paid in every field of my work, but I want to emphasize every field. I do a lot of things, and I think that really ups your chances. If you want to have a shot in this industry, I actually started writing musicals as a backdoor into performing.

I wanted to be on Broadway as a singer and actor. I was 16 and, you know, as I say, just the most pretentious kid you can imagine. And I thought to myself, Oh my God, I will write these amazing shows. And then producers will want to put me in them so badly. Like, No, they’re going to want to do the show so badly rather than that they’ll have to cast me.

But then I got to watch other people perform. And that was such a more rewarding experience because first off, I can just watch and enjoy something I created. It’s an incredible experience. But the other part is I’ve already thought about all of my ideas. You know, I want to see what other people bring to the table: the director, the musical director, the actors.

So even though my first love will always be performing and I’m never going to give that up, writing became my dream. But the irony is actually I end up being asked to act and direct most of my own shows because it saves the producers money and that’s a big part of how I get paid on my own project or on other people’s projects.

It’s because I do a lot of different things, and that makes people want to hire me because even though they’re paying me more, it’s costing them less than it would to hire multiple people for that job, for those jobs. So I act, I direct, I orchestrate, I record, I write scripts, I do lighting and sound design if I need to.

And I’ve studied all those things. Oh, I also choreograph sometimes, but that is in nobody’s best interest. So basically the more you can do, the more likely people will hire you for at least one of those things. And very often more. And they’ll pay more for it.

Do composers get royalties or are they paid as a one time work for hire?

So it can go either way. For me personally, I’m generally commissioned as a work for hire just because the shows I’m doing are more one time things, you know, like I mentioned blog blogs that I perform sorry that I compose for they do new shows all the time, but it’s always a different one. So it’s also a small company and a nonprofit.

So royalties wouldn’t really make sense for either of us. But if I were being commissioned, you know, to write a full show, then at that point, the typical agreement is the writers get 6% of the profits and just 2% of that goes to the composer. 2% to the lyricist, 2% to the scriptwriter, the book writer. If you’re all three of those things, then you get 6%.

What advice would you give to someone who’s pursuing a career in musical theater as a composer?

Honestly, it depends on the person. Personally, I listen to fans of the conservatory system because I couldn’t imagine doing just one thing for every waking hour. So I went to a school with NYU, the Gallatin School that allowed me to take all my acting classes at Tisch, which is the art school. I took all of my music courses at Steinhart, which is the education of music school.

But I also got to teach astrophysics and mythology and anthropology theology, and I know we’ll talk about all that more later, but I really do believe that as an actor, you’re doing yourself a disservice if the only thing you study is your craft. You know, study psychology, and neurology that will help you analyze characters in a completely different way, study literature and learn about great storytelling, study anything and everything that interests you.

Because, I mean, if you don’t take a break from any one thing, you are going to hate it. But also you never know when there’s going to be a crossover so that’s more important as a writer, I think, because ultimately you need things to write about. And the more you know, the more options you have. But even as an actor and singer, my advice is, you know, study your craft hard and put in the time and effort to become the best.

Because as I said, you only have a 2% chance of making it to begin with. And if you’re not going to give it your all, then why bother? But at the same time, do whatever you need to do to stay in love with your craft, even if that means doing something else for a little while. Most of these conservatory programs I mean, they’re great.

Many of the best performers come out of them. But if you want to be competitive with all the other great performers, you’re going to have to find ways to stand out. And I think one of the reasons I actually do really well in auditions is because people look at my resume and, you know, they see 200 musical theater majors that day.

They look at me. They’re like, you majored in musical theater and astrophysics. What? And then we’re having a conversation. Right. And it’s a memorable one. So it makes me stand out from all those other people who look exactly like me and are seeing the same songs.

This is totally off the cuff, but would you prefer to work with a singer who can act or an actor who can sing?

That’s a great question. No question. Give me an actor who can sing at any time. I will take someone who is a little flashier in there but understands and cares deeply about the words they’re singing. That’s how you move people. But it’s really not that hard to do both. It shouldn’t be. But there is so much bad acting in musical theater.

It can be very presentational. And honestly, I think that’s a large part of why a lot of people don’t like musicals, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I teach singers how to act and actors how to sing all the time. In my private studio, and even in just that first hour lesson, the difference between when we started and when we finished is profound.

It’s night and day but most singers don’t really, I think, internalize that. They don’t realize that you need to put as much effort into acting technique as you do vocal technique but the singers who come to me, they do realize that that’s why they’re coming to me. And pretty much every one of my students gets into whatever conservatory they want.

They get whatever roles they want most of the time. And I don’t think that’s because I’m some super genius. I just know that my students need to be able to act and sing. And I really, pretty much anyone can learn to do both.

Do you ever do your teaching online?

Yes, I do. So that’s something that’s something I used to shy away from just because there is something great about the live dynamic. And if it’s songs, I can accompany them on the piano. But the pandemic changed all of that. So I started teaching on Zoom and it was an adjustment at first. And I’ve learned how to do that really well, especially for acting, for voice.

I do work with some voice students over Zoom, but I try to just kind of be, you know, touching things up and polishing and that just because I’m depending on what their microphone is, what my headphones are, the screen, I don’t necessarily get a perfect picture of what they sound like and I need to make sure my first job is to make sure that nobody’s hurting themselves.

And it’s a little harder to gauge that over Zoom. Not impossible, but acting in some ways can actually be better than Zoom, at least in regards to film, because I’m actually seeing what it looks like on the screen. So I’m not biased by like, Oh, this really moved me in person because I can tell you, you know, you film auditions sometimes you think, Oh my God, that tape was perfect.

I really felt it. You watch it back and you’re like, Oh, God, I think I’m terrible.

That concludes our video titled How Can I Become a Musical Theater Composer. We want to thank Michael Bihovsky for sharing his valuable experience and expertise with us.

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