Careers in Music A Music Lover’s Guide to Education, Jobs, and Salaries

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

Whether composing an orchestral piece, balancing sound levels, instructing a child in piano, or using an instrument for therapy, today’s music makers and teachers have a rich professional landscape for building their careers. Music attracts both creative and business-minded individuals, creating a dynamic environment where art can flourish and be distributed in a variety of mediums. If you’re considering a career in music, this guide will help you understand the breadth of opportunities available, educational expectations of employers, and average salaries within the field.

Music Career Paths

Once called the universal language of mankind by H.W. Longfellow, music has the ability to transcend barriers and provide soundtracks for both everyday life and pivotal moments. Many stories of a mundane activity or a life-changing experience can be remembered by a song on the radio, a band playing in the background, or a specially crafted playlist. A career in music allows creative types with a good ear to combine their talents and passions to make a living. While artists and bands are the most high-profile professionals in music, the field is overflowing with roles suited to different personality types, interests, skills, and educational levels.

Broadcast and Engineering Technicians

These professionals set up, operate, and maintain electrical equipment to make sure everything sounds crisp and clear. Broadcast and engineering technicians may assist a producer in a recording studio, synchronize dialogue for a television show, or produce audio, video and lights for a concert.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 7%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Audio technician roles typically require a certificate or non-degree award, and engineering technicians should have an associate degree.

Musicians

Whether a songwriter, session guitarist, touring drummer or solo singer, the possibilities for individuals who can play an instrument are innumerable. Work settings are wide ranging, and musicians may find themselves in recording studios, orchestras, cruise ships, or touring. Some mainly focus on playing in the studio, while others enjoy performing for a live audience.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    No formal education required.

Musical Instrument Repairers and Tuners

With a great ear for how instruments should sound, repairers and tuners evaluate how an instrument plays when brought to them before identifying the problem. If the instrument must be repaired, they are trained in how to replace parts or create new ones. If it is out of tune, they modify string tension, adjust drum skin tautness, or use electronic tuning devices. Professionals in this field may also work in instrument restoration.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Most have a postsecondary certificate.

Composers and Conductors

Composers write pieces of music for a variety of productions, while conductors lead a group of musicians in playing a piece. Composers can be found writing music for leading pop acts, movie scores, or commercials, while conductors are often employed by symphonies or orchestras. Both roles frequently allow much autonomy and flexibility in scheduling, but may require travel.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 3%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree may be required for choral music, while leading conductors often have master’s degrees in music theory or composition.

Music Therapist

Music therapists use their understand of human emotion and behavior to improve a patient’s cognitive development, well-being, and socialization through music.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 12%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy with an emphasis in music. Increasingly, master’s degrees are preferred.

Postsecondary Music Teachers
  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 11%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Master’s degree in music composition or theory. Some institutions or advanced positions may require a doctoral degree

Stage Directors

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in film, music, screenwriting, or a related area. Some jobs may require an MFA.

Dancers and Choreographers

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 5%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Professional dancers usually start taking lessons between the ages of five and eight. Depending on the program, some dance groups may require a bachelor’s degree in dance.

Producers

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9%

  • Minimum Education Requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in cinematography, film, communication, or a similar field.

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Occupational Information Network

Music Salaries

Salaries in the music industry can vary dramatically based on the position. The graph below shows salary trends for various music careers.

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

How to Have a Successful Music Career

Music attracts a spectrum of artists and professionals who are passionate about this art form. In general, most people who are drawn to a career in music have some of the following traits:

  • A love of music (or the arts)This one is obvious, but oh so true. Whether teaching a class full of middle school students or listening to raw tracks close to 100 times to ensure sound levels are perfect, people who want to make it in this industry have a deep and abiding love of music.
  • Art for art’s sakeWhile there are certainly lucrative roles within music, most people don’t join the field for the money. An unerring passion for the art behind a song or composition is a driving force for those who enter – and stay – in the field
  • DedicationAsk anyone who has made it in music and they’ll tell you success doesn’t come overnight. An alluring field for many, the industry is structured in such a way that experience and persistence are the driving factors for making it in music.
  • People personThe importance of networking can’t be emphasized enough, and those who make it to the top do so with a team around them. Think about the GRAMMY Awards: when an artist steps up to receive his or her award, he or she has a laundry list of people to thank. If you don’t sincerely enjoy being around people – whether it’s your audience, fellow musicians, or your A&R team – and collaborating on projects, music probably isn’t for you.

Required and Preferred Skills

Active listening

Musicians must be able to pick out notes, keys, and chord progressions, often within a layered production of music.

Charisma

If playing to a live audience, the best musicians are able to engage their listeners. It’s one thing to stand on a stage and sing or play an instrument, but it takes charisma to truly entertain.

Coordination

Most instruments demand great coordination, as each hand – or in the case of a wind instrument, the mouth – is required to move independently of the other.

Reading music

Being able to read charts and sheet music can be an advantage in quickly learning a new piece or understanding how a song is meant to be performed. Some musicians are adept at playing by ear, though.

Instruments

Ranging from flutes and guitars to oboes and drums, a musician’s instrument allows them to convey sound via chords and notes.

Recording gear

A raft of equipment goes into the recording process, and music producers must know how to pick the right microphones, use analog and digital consoles, and incorporate technologies such as monitors and voice-effect software to produce top-notch sound.

Mixing software

Pro Tools, Waves, and Logic are common software packages that allow mixers to consolidate individually recorded tracks into a seamless song. Musicians use these tools to balance track levels, even out vocals or instruments, and correct improper notes.

Live production technology

Digital audio workstations allow production specialists to monitor sound levels, incorporate additional tracks that can’t be played from the stage, and enhance the overall sound quality of a live performance. Common software includes Ableton Live, MainStage, MIDI Maestro, and Pro Tools.

Preparing for Your Music Career: Degree Programs

Because music is a form of art, the industry generally has looser education requirements than others. While composers, conductors, and music teachers are expected to hold a postsecondary degree, musicians and producers are often assessed on former work products or prior experience, which many argue is the most telling credential. Like other forms of art, the best musicians started at a young age and showed great discipline in practicing regularly. As demonstrated in Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory, practice leads to improvement and improvement leads to being noticed.

Still, colleges offer numerous areas of academic study for those interested in pursuing more formal education to prepare for a music career. Some common music degree programs include:

Music/Music Studies/Musicology

A degree in music (sometimes called music studies or musicology at some colleges) covers music theory and provides well-rounded knowledge in production, songwriting, business, and performance. Students also develop broad skills such as communication and creative problem solving. Example courses are likely to include:

  • Music Theory
  • Ear Training
  • Applied Music
  • Music Industry Economics
  • Songwriting and Compositional Techniques
  • Desktop Music Publishing
Music Education

Combining a love and knowledge of music with pedagogical practices, this degree option helps individuals become innovative music educators. Part of the curriculum focuses on teaching methodologies, modalities of instruction, and current best pedagogical practices for teaching and learning. But that’s not all. Students also develop their own skills and knowledge in music theory, composition, general musicianship, music history, and performance so that they can help their future students reach their full musical potential. Sample courses are:

  • Introduction to Music Education
  • Multimedia for the Educator
  • Elementary Class Methods
  • Secondary Class Methods
  • Computer Applications for Music Education
  • Teaching with a Multicultural Perspective
Composition

This program prepares graduates for careers in music arrangement and composition by instilling knowledge of music theory, performance, ear training, and ethnomusicology (or the study of music in a cultural context). Think of composition degrees as filling a toolbox: students learn about individual components like rhythm, harmony, melody, and chord structures, which allows them to use these individual components to build a piece of music. Coursework may include:

  • Ear Training
  • MIDI Production Techniques
  • Songwriting
  • Music Theory
  • Compositional Techniques
  • Sound Capture and Production
Music Performance

After selecting a primary instrument, students are immersed in a comprehensive curriculum to develop performance skills. Aside from countless music lessons, coursework is rounded out with studies in accompaniment, pedagogy, collaborative performance, and different musical styles. Specific courses and requirements will vary by instrument, but general requirements are likely to include:

  • Private Instruction
  • Recital Preparation
  • Improvisation
  • Styles Survey
  • Performance Ear Training
  • Health and Wellness
Music Technology/Music Production

Depending on the college, this degree may also be offered as audio engineering technology. Regardless of the name, these programs equip students with an understanding of how music and technology work together. While studying the fundamentals of music and digital tools (recording, video production, sound design, electronic production), students are also challenged to redefine the future of music. Some programs require a music production capstone project where students demonstrate what they’ve learned throughout the program. Coursework often includes:

  • Advanced Studio and Interactive Performance Mixing
  • Music Video Production
  • Electronic Production and Live Performance
  • Music Production Analysis
  • Critical Listening
  • Pro Tools
  • Creative Music Production Skills
Music Business

Music business degree programs usually have an entrepreneurial approach. Students explore all aspects of the music business and industry – from management and booking to licensing and law to marketing and promotions – in order to develop the skills needed to become a successful independent artist or music entrepreneur. Examples of courses in this degree program include:

  • Introduction to Music Business
  • Music Marketing
  • Music Business Trends and Strategies
  • Music Licensing
  • Music Business Finance
  • Legal Aspects of the Music Industry

Certificates

Although many careers in music don’t require a full two- or four-year degree, others may mandate a certificate or non-degree award. Many institutions – ranging from community colleges and trade schools to music conservatories – offer these types of educational programs throughout the country.

Some common music certificates include:

  • Arranging
  • Composing for Film and TV
  • Electronic Music Production
  • Live Sound Production
  • Music Theory
  • Instrumentation

Specializations

Students with specific musical interests can choose to concentrate their learning via a specialization. Whether focusing on a certain style of music – such as jazz – or a particular instrument – such as guitar – specializations abound to help students move from proficient to expert.

Some common specializations include:

Choral music

Often the backbone of a music education program, specializing in choral music helps future music teachers understand the methodology behind group lessons, pedagogy, and supervisory methods while also learning how to produce recitals and teach choral music theory. 53 percent of Americans – some 113 million – over the age of 12 are current or former music students, making this specialization a popular career choice.

Live music engineering

Students specializing in live music engineering are immersed in the finer points of live sound by exploring topics related to sound amplification, live mixing, acoustics, electronics, and ear training. Because concerts are still a favorite activity across the globe, there are many job prospects for those with this specialized knowledge. In 2015, 52 percent of all money spent in the music industry went to live events.

Voice or instrument

Musicians who complete this specialization not only gain a foundational knowledge of music and music theory generally, but also delve deeply into the nuances of instrumentation and performance. Individual and group lessons are heavily used within the curriculum. Recitals, ensembles, and different styles of music also provide a holistic understanding of how an instrument can be used. The field looks promising for young musicians, with a 510 percent increase in the last decade of independent music makers who make a full-time living off their music careers.

Where do Musicians Work?

Musicians and others associated with music can be found in myriad settings thanks to the broad range of applications for music. Ranging from unstructured environments enjoyed by touring musicians to tenured roles for postsecondary music educators, the following list provides examples of a few places you may find these professionals.

On the stage

For most musicians, the ultimate goal is to be on stage. Performing musicians enjoy the thrill of playing to a live audience night after night, but they also contend with erratic schedules and endless travel.

In a classroom

Music provides many different settings and career paths for musicians who want to teach. Primary and secondary music teachers provide the building blocks for future study, while postsecondary instructors help students fine-tune their existing musicianship.

At a clinic

Music therapy is a proven method for helping individuals move beyond physical, cognitive, or emotional limitations and further develop their skills in those areas. Music therapists can be found in clinics or in private practice.

Behind the scenes

Any concert, television show, recital, or audio production you’ve ever experienced was likely made better by the precise work of an audio engineer. Because almost any media production incorporates sound, there are many different behind-the-scenes roles available to individuals with a passion for ensuring every event sounds its best.

At a computer

While it most likely won’t be the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job, many music degree-holders spend their days recording, producing, engineering, or mixing tracks for artists and bands. These professionals either have their own studios or rent space at larger recording studios and work with different clients throughout their careers.

In a church

In many churches, music is central to worship. Choir directors, singers, piano or organ players, guitarists and other musicians can use their musical talent to lead, inspire and create a sacred space.

Finding a Music Job

Reflecting the sheer number of music careers available, there are a vast number of job boards for individuals on the hunt for a gig. While touring roles are still largely found through word of mouth, the following resources will help those aspiring to a job in music find a well-suited role.

  • American Federation of Musicians

    In addition to providing insider knowledge of how to break into the music industry, AFM has a national job board with various types of positions.

  • Backstage

    Individuals looking for behind-the-scenes roles can find information on national job postings and casting calls at Backstage.

  • Chorus America

    Specifically focused on roles for conductors, administrators, singers, and accompanists, Chorus America offers a national job board for these types of roles.

  • Los Angeles Music Network

    Los Angeles is one of the biggest music hubs in America so it’s a great city if you want to work in the industry. LAMN posts jobs regularly and highlights industry networking events.

  • Musical America Worldwide

    Focused on performing arts, MAW offers a job listing and a place where hopefuls can upload their resumes for prospective employers.

  • MusicMatch

    Provided by the USA Music Industry Magazine, this job board is updated daily and features positions throughout North America.

  • Music Starts Here

    Aside from job postings, this website helps musicians, bands, and industry professionals showcase their talents, network with others in the business, and learn more about insider news.

Music Internships

Depending on the area of music where you want to work, internships can be the best foot-in-the-door for getting hired. Internships aren’t common for performing musicians, but countless music business types and audio engineering professionals can trace their first successes back to their days as an intern. Intern Like a Rockstar is a helpful resource for learning more about what it takes to be hired as a music intern.

Examples of great internships related to music are below.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Location: Chicago

Students aspiring to work in the administrative or performance side of orchestration can take advantage of numerous symphony internships, such as those offered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Six different types of roles are offered for interns, allowing them to focus on the area of most interest.

New England Conservatory Guided Internship

Location: Boston

Individuals hoping to work in music education have much to learn from an internship at NEC, which prides itself on providing a comprehensive experience. Interns learn about curriculum design, new research in music education, engaging community partners, and teaching in public schools throughout their semester-long experience.

Sony Music

Location: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville,

As the owner of more than 30 record labels, Sony Music internships are wide ranging and incredibly competitive. Whether looking to focus on the business side of the industry or the recording process, the breadth of options ensure students can find a program to fit their goals.

The Recording Academy – GRAMMY Awards

Location: One of the Academy’s 12 chapter offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, New York, the Pacific Northwest, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, or Washington D.C.

Interns spend one semester working part-time at a chapter office performing tasks related to event management, marketing, administration, education programs, membership, and database management. In addition to office tasks, interns frequently attend music events and have the opportunity to network with others in the field.

The Madison Square Garden Company

Location: New York, California, Chicago, and New Jersey

Serving as the parent organization for Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre, and the Chicago Theatre, MSGC’s student associate program gives interns a valuable opportunity to gain a wealth of experience and professional contacts.

Professional Associations & Organizations

Professional music associations abound and provide insider’s knowledge about bands looking for a new member or upcoming tours seeking roadies, while also providing valuable networking opportunities. Some of the top music-related associations include:

American Music Therapy Association

AMTA is the voice of music therapists throughout the country and works to advocate on their behalf while also presenting leading research about the field.

American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers

ASCAP protects the copyrights of its 565,000 members by operating as a performance-rights organization. Tasked with monitoring usage, the organization is responsible for collecting fees for licensed music and distributing royalties to its members.

Music Business Association

Representing sectors ranging from digital music and legal to management and touring, MBA champions music commerce and develops leaders within the music business industry.

Music Teachers National Association

Created in 1876, MTNA has grown to more than 22,000 members across 500 local affiliates, offering events and advocacy services as well as a professional certification program.

National Association for Music Education

NAfME advocates for music education at the local, state, and national levels; provides resources for teachers, parents, and administrators; hosts professional development events; and offers a variety of opportunities for students and teachers.

National Association of Recording Industry Professionals

Aside from a careers page, NARIP also offers online learning options and regular events for members.

Updated: June 14, 2017