It’s a basic but interesting question. I see this topic come up quite a bit with many composers. In college, students tend to gravitate towards composing for their immediate audience – teachers and other students. Sometimes it happens subconsciously in an effort to display “chops” or sophistication. It’s easy to get caught up in “what is hip”, cutting edge or even intellectually advanced. But these are all really distractions that move us away from the most basic reason for composing, which is self–expression. And if we are honest, we can admit that we really write for ourselves...or at least we should.
Several of the greatest living composers and performers agree with the notion that it is important to write for yourself. As my composition teacher back at Juilliard used to say, “If YOU don’t love it, who will?” Likewise, Pat Metheney referenced a similar idea in a recent AFM article in which he states that each artist needs to be his or her biggest fan. In other words, you’ve got to write music that you really love. Once you do that, others will connect with you and your music.
It’s also important to remember that your potential audience is actually everyone!…and if you compose from a genuine place (a sincere perspective), the listener will hear and know your voice. Not everyone has to like your music, however a good composition transcends personal preferences and can be appreciated by all. There is a collective feeling of quality that come across when an artist is true to his or her own instincts. In today’s environment there are so many areas to be concerned with in addition to your craft including: self - marketing / promotion, grants / commissions; learning to incorporate technology (an ever-changing medium) and a whole host of other elements. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter how long the list is. Everything begins and ends with communicating to others what it is you really want to say. Compose in this manner, and you’ll always be heard…..sooner or later :)