25 Great Careers in Music (Including Cool Jobs for Non-Musicians)
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Careers in music are as varied as the numerous musical genres the industry now supports. Even if you're not a performer, many career options are available in this exciting and evolving sector. Plus, although the music business has changed a lot in recent years, new developments are leading to an upswing in opportunities.
After all, people listen to more music now than they did just a few years ago. It's true: In 2015, people spent 23 hours a week listening to music. By 2018, that number grew to 32 hours.1 That's just one factor behind the 12-percent increase in music revenues from 2017 to 2018 alone.2 Also, live performances are a big money-maker, with the first half of 2018 seeing record numbers of concert-ticket sales.3
Still, music is a fast-paced, competitive business. So it's important to know your talents, abilities, and interests and to adapt as necessary to new trends and technologies. That way, you can start and sustain a successful career.
This article provides a diverse list of jobs in the music industry. You'll discover a wide range of career possibilities. Plus, you'll get tips on launching your career and making money as a performer at a time when listeners have so much free access to music.
- 25 great jobs for musicians and music enthusiasts
- How to get started in the music industry as a performer
- How to launch a career in the business side of the music industry
- How to make money as a musician in the digital era
25 Great Jobs for Musicians and Music Enthusiasts
When you think of careers in music, do you picture a singer, rock guitarist, DJ, or classically trained pianist? Work that involves performing definitely grabs the spotlight.
But not all music-related jobs require musical talent. Many jobs in the music industry involve doing essential tasks behind the scenes. So even if you're not a performer, you can get into the music industry by aligning your skills and interests with other types of music careers.
The following list features good jobs for musicians as well as appealing jobs for people who may not have musical abilities but still want to work in this dynamic industry.
Unless otherwise noted, the wages below are based on median yearly earnings from May 2018, rounded to the nearest thousand.4
1. Entertainment Lawyer—$139K
What is one of the first things a performer should do if he or she is offered a recording contract? Talk to a lawyer. Entertainment lawyers help manage the legal aspects of performing careers. In music-business law, an attorney's duties can include:
- Writing performance contracts
- Dealing with copyright issues
- Ensuring that publishing and licensing agreements are satisfactory
- Overseeing intellectual property concerns
2. Music Producer—$71K8
Would you like to be the creative visionary who oversees the production of a song or album? As a producer, you could coordinate many aspects of a musical recording in order to create a polished final piece. You may also get to choose the other people who work on a project, such as the sound engineers or background musicians.
Producers don't have to be musicians themselves, but they do need to know a lot about technology and music. And they need a good sense of what sells. In addition, working with performers requires outstanding diplomacy. That's because artists often see their songs as part of themselves and can be reluctant to make changes to their material.
New technology has changed this career. As just one example, it's no longer necessary to do production work in a professional studio. The term "bedroom producer" refers to producers who work in other places (not necessarily their bedrooms, but often in their own homes) with their own equipment.
Those developments make this career more accessible than ever. It's also more specialized: Some musical projects involve several producers, with a few focusing on the vocal elements of a recording and others on the instrumental parts. As a result, a single song might have as many as 12 producers. And some music producers don't work with musicians or singers at all. Instead, they create their own music using special software.
All told, it's an exciting time to be a music producer. On average, music producers make about $95,000 a year. But that average is skewed by the extremely high earnings of the most famous producers. So how much you earn will likely depend on the demand for your services and the success of the projects you work on.
Accountants play a surprisingly important role in music. That's largely because the process of determining where the money goes when someone streams or purchases a song is very complex. Tax laws for creative workers like musicians can also be complicated. So even though you might not work with music directly, as a music-industry accountant, you can help ensure that everyone gets paid their fair share.
4. Web Designer—$69K
Some industry insiders say that having a good website is as essential to a band's success as having well-tuned instruments. After all, today's music listeners expect a lot from musicians when it comes to their online presence. So if you have the right skills, you can create websites that keep fans informed and engaged and convey the essence of performers' music and style.
In addition to tech skills, up-to-date graphic design abilities are often necessary. (Musicians' sites tend to be visually striking, with an emphasis on edgy graphics and original designs.)
5. Artists' and Performers' Manager—$66K
Performers want to focus on their music. At the onset of their careers, they may have to juggle the business aspects themselves. But when they become more successful, most musicians are happy to hand off those administrative and management duties to a qualified professional.
Managers make business decisions and coordinate the logistics of performances and recordings. But that's a pretty simple explanation for what can be a wide range of tasks, including scheduling, negotiating contracts, and even settling disputes between band members.
You become someone's manager by learning as much as possible about how the music industry works and how to manage a business. Many aspiring managers start learning the ropes by getting internships at a record labels. Once you have a solid base of understanding, you can approach performers that you feel have potential. Keeping an eye on your local music scene will help you identify opportunities.
Managers often get 15 to 20 percent of what a new or emerging band or musical artist makes (minus expenses). That percentage is often lower for managers of established or better-known performers.
6. Artists' and Performers' Agent—$66K
Agents book performers' live appearances at events such as concerts or festivals. They also arrange things like commercials or sponsorships. Agents usually earn a percentage of what a concert or other appearance brings in. But because they aren't usually involved in recording projects, they don't get a share of music sales.
You don't need a degree to be a music agent, but completing a business, marketing, or event planning program is a good idea. As with other music-business careers, knowing the intricacies of today's music industry can help you make connections.
7. DJ—$66K (average)9
Do you want to share your love of music by playing amazing remixes and crowd favorites at parties, nightclubs, and special events? DJing is a creative career with plenty of potential for growth. In fact, some DJs have become celebrities in their own right. Consider Calvin Harris, the top-earning DJ of 2018, as an example. He made $48 million in just one year!14
You need strong tech skills to be a DJ today. But a lot of this career also comes to down practicing consistently, building a reputation, and loving music. To get started, you can find free open-source mixing software on the Web. And some schools offer programs that are specifically focused on DJing or music production, When you feel ready to share your talents, start making connections with people who can help you find gigs and get your name out there.
8. Video Game Composer or Sound Designer—$64K5
Do you love both music and video games? If so, you know how music can shape players' gaming experiences. As the gaming industry continues to grow, new opportunities are becoming available in video game development, including jobs for composers who create the music that sets the mood.
As a video game composer, you get to be creative. Since the action in a game depends on a player's choices, the musical composition must be adaptable and easily broken down into distinct pieces.
Many composers also do sound-design work for games. And almost three-quarters of video game composers have at least a bachelor's degree.5
9. Public Relations (PR) Specialist—$60K
As a music fan, you may have noticed that some very talented musicians haven't gained as much success as they deserve. (And you can probably name some who are far more successful than they should be!) What makes the difference? The answer often lies in the effectiveness of their public relations.
PR specialists in the music industry help position their clients for success. They come up with promotional tactics and think of ideas for "branding" musical acts. A typical day's work could include writing press releases, managing social media accounts, and thinking of other creative ways to get performers' names to stick in the minds of the public.
Many music PR pros have completed a public relations or business program. But real-world experience is also essential. So if you're a fan of a local band and feel it deserves more of the public's attention, offer to help the musicians get noticed. Even if you start out on a volunteer basis, you'll gain valuable experience. (And if they end up hitting the big time, you could be part of something huge.)
10. Singer or Musician—$59K (for a year of full-time work)
Do you dream of performing for a living? If so, you're definitely not alone. Singing and working as a musician are among the most popular careers in music. But you may have a lot of competition. Formal training and a willingness to work hard (sometimes without pay) can help you rise to the top.
As a singer, you can be a solo performer or the frontperson of a band. You can also specialize in a particular area of vocal performance, such as:
- Opera or musical theater
- Background singing
- Session singing (i.e., working "for hire"—usually without being publicly credited—on projects such as commercials or TV shows)
Similarly, jobs for musicians can involve performing as part of a large orchestra, as a member of a band, or as a solo performer. Some specialities include:
- Cruise ship musician
- Accompanist (i.e., playing alongside other musicians or for dancers and singers)
- Session musician
- Classical musician
When it comes to how much money musicians and singers get paid, the "average" earnings aren't very meaningful because the range is so huge. Consider this: The top-earning individual singer in 2018 was Ed Sheeran, who made an astonishing $110 million.6 But on the other end of the spectrum, buskers make just $50 to $100 a day.7
Classical musician jobs are also associated with a wide range of earnings. For example, a starting musician with the Boston Symphony Orchestra earned $132,028 in 2016, whereas a starting musician in the Alabama Symphony earned $36,594.7
As well, session musicians get paid anywhere from $100 to $2,500 a day—or as much as $100,000 or more a year.7 It all depends on many different factors, including prior experience. The American Federation of Musicians (AFofM) works to set minimum pay rates.
Given all of these variables, it can be difficult to predict how well a performance career will pay. So it's often a good idea to have a "back-up plan" or another job while you're breaking into the industry.
11. Music Publisher—$55K8
Once a song is written, someone has to make it available and ensure that those who composed it receive fair compensation when it gets used commercially or performed by other artists. That's the job of music publishers. They help find performers for a song, make sure the song's licensing is in place, and deal with contracts and royalties.
Music publishers need to know the ins and outs of the music industry, including copyright laws, how royalties work, and distribution practices. They also need to be good at networking since personal relationships are important in this career.
That's a lot to deal with, especially given the ever-changing nature of today's music scene. So it isn't surprising that many people in this career have earned business degrees or completed a program specifically focused on the music business and/or music production. One advantage of such programs is that, in addition to teaching aspiring publishers the basics of the industry, they also often provide opportunities to make important connections.
12. Film composer—$53K (average)9
Film composers write original scores for movies or TV shows. For smaller productions, they are often also responsible for recording the scores.
It's important to remember that film composers write music for specific scripts. This is different from many other kinds of musical composition in which the composer or songwriter writes the music first, then finds someone to perform it. In other words, you need to adjust to the demands of the film's producers and directors, and you need a good relationship with them. That's one reason why some famous and long-standing composer-director relationships exist, such as the one between Danny Elfman and Tim Burton.
A few schools offer film-scoring majors, but taking a broader film or music production program can also provide a good start. Just keep in mind that film composers rarely begin their careers by scoring major motion pictures. Be ready to work your way up, starting with projects like commercials or student films.
13. Sound Engineering Technician—$52K
Help create the best audio experiences possible, at concerts, on recordings, and for TV and movie soundtracks. If you enjoy technology and hands-on work, a career in sound engineering is well worth pursuing.
Of course, this music-industry career is heavily influenced by technological advances. So post-secondary training is a good way to learn the tools of the trade.
14. Songwriter—$51K (average)9
Do you ever find yourself singing or humming the same song over and over? Songwriters are responsible for those catchy lyrics and melodies. Some performers write their own songs, but many others perform tunes that were written by professional songwriters.
Of course, it takes more than musical and lyrical talents to succeed in this career. Selling your songs to performers can be complicated (and competitive), so music-business classes are beneficial. In addition, many songwriters submit their songs through demo tapes, so having the technical tools and knowledge to record solid demos can help you stand out.
Songwriters often work with music publishers or agents in order to get their music in front of performers. Some songwriters only write lyrics, while others focus on the musical aspects. Others write both music and lyrics. It all depends on their particular talents and writing interests.
The financial proceeds from a song are often split between the various parties involved in recording or performing it. But how much you earn (and how you get paid) depends a lot on where your songs are played or how they're sold. For example, digital streaming sites like Spotify typically pay songwriters about 10.5 percent of what a song earns. (A new court ruling proposes to increase this share to 15.1 percent by 2022, but some popular streaming platforms are appealing the ruling.)17
Typically, songwriters also earn 9.1 cents each time a song is sold on CD or purchased and downloaded digitally. (But that 9.1 cents must be split among all of the song's writers and shared with the song's publisher.)18 In addition, if a song is played on AM or FM radio (but not on satellite radio) or performed by someone else publicly, the songwriter is paid each time. (Interestingly, the performer is not paid if a song is played on AM or FM radio.)
"Sync revenues" are paid if a song is used in a commercial, video game, movie, or TV show. These earnings are split equally between the performer and the songwriter.
Taking all of these factors into account, it's clear that the amount of money a songwriter makes from a song depends a lot on what happens after it's recorded. A hit song that is used in a commercial or movie can make a songwriter millions of dollars. But those situations are relatively rare. Even a fairly successful song might not make its writer very much money. Just look at these facts:
- In 2013, Justin Bieber's song "As Long as You Love Me" was viewed over 34 million times on YouTube. The song's writer, Andre Lindal, says that he earned a total of just $218 from those views.10
- Sam Barsh, composer for Kendrick Lamar's "Institutionalized," says he made less than $20,000 from the song—despite the album it's from winning a Grammy and going Platinum.11
- On average, a songwriter earns about $125 if his or her song is streamed one million times.12
However, some lobbyists are working to increase the revenues that songwriters earn, so keep a close eye on developments in this field.
15. Conductor or Music Director—$50K
Would you like to guide the performances of other musicians or singers? Conductors (also called music directors) are the leaders of musical groups like orchestras and choirs. By directing shows and giving constructive feedback during rehearsals, they help inspire musicians and singers to give their best performances. They are also responsible for things like auditioning performers and selecting the music to be performed.
Conductors typically need a master's degree to work with a symphony. A bachelor's degree is often required for directing a choir. In order to relate to the performers that they direct, good conductors should know how to play at least one instrument.
As with other careers in the music business, it's possible to earn significantly more than the median yearly wage. For example, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's conductor earned more than $5 million for just one season of work.13
16. Music Supervisor—$49K (average)9
A good soundtrack can make or break a TV show, movie, video game, or commercial. It's the job of a music supervisor to make sure that the music enhances the action on screen. As a music supervisor, you select the music that will accompany a scene. That means you need a good ear and an encyclopedic knowledge of music.
But there's more to this career than being able to pick out tunes. You often have to negotiate the licensing rights for music, which can be a complex process. And it helps to have training in film or video game development.
17. Concert Promoter—$45K
Visualize the best concert you've ever attended. It was probably made possible by a clever promoter. People with this occupation organize live concerts, festivals, and other performances. They book venues, decide on pricing, and take care of many other logistics in order to get singers and musicians onstage.
Due to the popularity of free online streaming services, performers rely on concerts for a greater share of their income than they did in the past. That can be good news for concert promoters.
However, large concert-promoting organizations like Live Nation have made this a competitive career. But for a successful tour, the rewards can be high: Some promoters make about one million dollars a year. Of course, that's not guaranteed. The success of a concert impacts how much the promoter makes. And it's important to take the high cost of putting on a concert into account. After all, promoters sometimes have to invest their own money up front.
How can you get started? An event planning background is helpful. And if you notice any gaps in your local live music scene, you could organize a show that attracts an underserved audience. Of course, as with many other careers in the music business, you may have to start out by working for low wages (or even for free), but you'll have the perk of seeing a good show that you helped put together.
18. Music Therapist —$41K8
As a music lover, you've probably experienced its healing powers many times. Music can help people learn how to express themselves, improve their cognitive function, and enable them to become better at dealing with stress.
Music therapy can be an especially effective form of counseling for people who have trouble with speech. But anyone can benefit from music therapy; clients don't need any musical abilities. However, you should be a skilled musician in order to work as a music therapist.
In addition to having a love for music, you become a music therapist by obtaining a bachelor's degree in music therapy from a program that is approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Most programs include an internship. After completing a music therapy program, you must pass a certification exam.
19. Music Teacher—$41K8
Share your passion for music with others by teaching students how to sing or play an instrument. Music teachers can work in schools or give private lessons.
In general, to teach in a school, you must be a licensed teacher who has completed a teaching program. But the exact requirements vary by state and the type of school (i.e., public vs. private), so be sure to research the regulations for your area.
If you don't want to be a full-time instructor in the school system, teaching private lessons is one of the best day jobs for musicians who need to supplement their performance income. One big perk is that private music teachers have flexibility in setting their hours, so this is a good job to fit around performances. And music teachers make decent money when doing private lessons since they often charge by the hour.
Private teachers can work in music studios or music stores that offer lessons. Or they can find their own students and work out of their homes or private studios.
Of course, you need to be patient and have excellent communication skills for any kind of teaching. And it goes without saying that you should be a very competent musician with a good grasp of music theory and technique.
20. Music Journalist—$38K8
It's true that anyone can post a review of a concert or album online, and this is definitely a competitive field. But having a subject-matter niche and developing a distinct voice can help you get noticed, which may lead to good-paying opportunities with popular music publications or websites. And the good news is that it's easier than ever to share your work. For example, you could start a blog dedicated to your favorite musical genre.
21. Instrument Repairer and Tuner—$36K
Performers need to have perfectly tuned instruments that are in good condition in order to do their best work. So they frequently turn to specialists when an instrument is broken or sounds "off." Musical instrument repairers and tuners often specialize in one type of instrument (for example, string, wood, reed, or percussion instruments).
You need a good ear and extensive musical knowledge in order to succeed in this kind of career. But a background in the skilled trades can also help you prepare for the more detailed and mechanical parts of keeping an instrument in good condition. Many people start learning this trade through hands-on apprenticeships. It can take years of on-the-job experience to fully master the craft.
22. A&R Representative—$30K to $85K7
A&R stands for artists and repertoire. An A&R rep usually works for a record label and helps the label find new artists. Once a new artist is signed, the A&R person helps oversee the artist's development.
The work of A&R reps increasingly relies on the analytics of digital streaming platforms. In other words, they watch for trends on platforms such as Spotify in order to identify unsigned artists who are becoming popular.
Some A&R people get their start by doing unpaid work as "scouts" looking for talented performers. Others complete internships (which may or may not be paid). Many record labels prefer to hire people with a college degree. But that degree can be in anything that is at least somewhat relevant to the industry, such as music production, marketing, or the arts and humanities.
23. Concert Security Guard—$28K
Keeping performers and their fans safe at concerts is an important responsibility. After all, some concerts can get pretty wild. Security guards must break up fights, keep an eye out for trouble, make sure nobody sneaks in without a ticket, and ensure that unwanted weapons aren't present. All of those tasks require paying close attention. However, many security guards enjoy the exciting vibe of live shows and the chance to hear some of the music. And some experienced guards eventually get hired as security managers for particular tours or musical acts.
Law enforcement training can help you prepare for this kind of job. It also helps to be in good physical condition.
24. Internet Marketer—$24K to 55K7
People with music-industry careers know the importance of adapting to technology and staying on top of trends. So it's no surprise that just as the purchasing of music has shifted to the digital world, so has the marketing. Today, musicians need to use social media in order to build an audience. And they need to be smart in how they use it, which is why some performers hire social media experts to manage their online presence.
As an Internet marketer, you could use digital platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter to create awareness of your clients' music. Jobs could involve specializing in social media promotion, search engine optimization, or online community building.
25. Roadie—$700 to $1,000 per week7
Do you want to travel and experience the band lifestyle, without performing? Roadies do essential work behind the scenes of a tour. For people who like variety and physical work, some of the best jobs in the entertainment industry are roadie jobs.
Roadies are key members of touring teams. For a smaller act, a roadie might wear many hats in order to take care of the various tasks that support a performance. For larger musical acts, roadies often specialize in one of several roles:
- Lighting technicians make sure that spotlights, lasers, and other lighting effects are in place, and they manage them during the show. In addition to a solid knowledge of how to work with electrical technology, you should be comfortable with heights if you want to be a lighting technician.
- Set designers get the stage ready for a performance. They can also manage special effects like fog or smoke and arrange elements such as harnesses that lift performers into the air or projectors that display images on screens.
- Front of house (FOH) engineers are responsible for the sound of a concert. They typically work at a console in the audience. This is hands-on, very technical work. So you need to be good at thinking on your feet and solving problems quickly. Programs in sound engineering or music production can help you learn some of the required skills.
- Instrument technicians ensure that all of the instruments for a show are perfectly tuned, in good condition, and in the right place. Larger bands may have instrument techs who specialize in particular instruments. But in all cases, there's little room for error, since a problem with an instrument can impact the enjoyment of a concert.
- Merchandisers sell shirts, albums, and other souvenirs as part of the "merch crew."
Working as a roadie can also be a stepping stone to more prominent roles in entertainment. For example, rapper Tupac Shakur, guitarist David Gilmour (from Pink Floyd), and actor Harrison Ford all worked as roadies at the start of their careers.
You may have noticed that all of those examples are men. The roadie world has traditionally been male-dominated. But that's starting to change, with more females taking on roles in musical tours.
This can be physical work done at a demanding pace. But working as a roadie is also a great way to make money while traveling. On-the-job training is often the best way to learn the ropes. Many people begin by helping out with community events or school performances.
How to Get Started in the Music Industry as a Performer
If you want to be a performer, perform! It's that simple. Whether your dreams involve singing or playing an instrument, you start a music career by finding opportunities to get your music heard. So when you're just starting out, no chance to perform should be considered too small. In fact, some of the best jobs for musicians who are new to performing can be found at schools, community events, and parties. After all, you never know who may be in attendance, even at a small gathering.
Plus, the growing importance of social media has opened up even more opportunities. You've probably heard some of the stories. For example, Justin Bieber's career started when his mom posted videos for his relatives to watch on YouTube. The Weeknd was also discovered on YouTube (and his initial videos didn't even show his face). And Adele was signed to a record label after a demo she made was posted on MySpace.
But you'll need to create your own path to success because there aren't any straightforward "rules" about what it takes to be discovered. To pursue music as a career, you need to learn from your favorite artists, but you shouldn't copy them and expect the same results. For better or worse, there's definitely an element of luck (and often timing) in the music industry.
The good news is that new platforms have removed the gatekeepers to the recording industry. So it's possible to record music on your own and make it available to millions of potential listeners. You can also connect directly with your fans. Simply put, the tools for worldwide exposure are already available to you. Your job is to use them.
How can you increase your odds of success? Again, you won't find a simple formula. But here are some general tips:
1. Have a clear vision and something to say.
What kind of music do you want to make? Who is your ideal listener? Succeeding in music isn't always about who has the best voice or writes the catchiest song. After all, music is an experience, not a product. Make it an authentic experience and you will connect with more fans. What message do you want to give them? If you know what you want to convey to your listeners, you can have a better relationship with them.
2. Look after the details.
Is your name memorable? Does your "look" match your sound? In today's image-conscious world, these things are important. (Perhaps they are more important than they should be, but you have to acknowledge the reality of today's cultural environment.) Listen to any constructive feedback you get from listeners.
3. Make sure you stand out.
Thousands of acts take the stage every night across North America. What makes you stand out? Why are you unique? Having something that makes you different from every other act out there will help people remember you.
4. Perfect your craft.
As much as everyone says that today's music is about style over substance, the fact remains that you'll have better odds of success if you can create the best sound possible. If you're not the best you can be, consider further music lessons. (And be honest with yourself, or ask someone you trust for candid feedback.) A few short lessons can make a huge difference if you're focused on improving specific weaknesses.
5. Make your demos or videos as polished as possible.
This may require hiring outside help for things like sound mixing or editing. But you know the old saying: You only get one chance to make a good first impression. If you can't afford to hire a professional to work on your demo or video, consider asking friends who aspire to work in the music business. Or look at freelance contracting sites like Freelancer.
6. Stay visible.
Think of the many ways you can put yourself in the public eye, such as by hosting contests, participating in talent shows, performing in coffee shops or other small venues, posting performances on social media, or sending demos to local radio stations. And be creative when looking for performance jobs. (In music-industry history, you can find many stories of successful performers who took extraordinary risks in order to get noticed, find their audiences, and start earning money from paying gigs or record contracts.)
How to Launch a Career in the Business Side of the Music Industry
Musicians and singers may get the spotlight, but there are also many behind-the-scenes careers in the music industry. Music is a business, so it takes many people to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
However, it can be challenging to get a foothold in the music industry. Jobs at the entry level aren't always easy to find, since so many music fans want to be part of the business.
So how can you get started? Here are some simple guidelines:
1. Define your goals.
What exactly do you want to do? Working in the music industry is a popular dream, but you'll have more luck finding a position if you narrow your job search and focus your preparation. For instance, are you interested in working with equipment and the technical aspects of a performance? Or does crunching the numbers sound appealing?
As you consider how to get a job in the music industry, start by thinking of the people you admire. Research their career paths. (LinkedIn can be a good tool for research.) Or discover career options you haven't considered by thinking of your favorite performers and finding out who supports their careers. (Artists' and performers' websites often have this information.)
2. Research job options beyond the obvious.
Spotify, Apple, Live Nation, and other well-known companies may be great places to work. But hundreds of smaller companies also support the industry, and they may not be inundated with resumes like the big players are.
3. Get industry experience.
You're probably aware of the classic job-search conundrum of needing job experience in order to get your first job. This dynamic is particularly common in the music industry.
As a result, many entry-level positions in the music industry are unpaid. For example, a common way to get your foot in the door is through an internship. But many internships don't pay. However, you will acquire valuable experience during an internship, and you can make good connections. (As with many other industries, opportunities in music often come down to who you know.)
Still, if you decide to work for free, be aware of your rights and know your limits. Make sure you're actually learning valuable skills instead of doing meaningless tasks that nobody else wants to do. Ask questions and volunteer to do the things that will help with your long-term goals. And if you find that you're not actually learning anything, consider moving on.
4. Don't be afraid to start at the bottom.
As with performance careers, climbing the music-business ladder requires some patience. To get a job at a major record label, you often have to start at an entry-level position, then work your way up. Even if you've completed an entertainment management program, you will likely need to accumulate some industry experience before taking on a management role.
So never think that you're too good for a certain job. Your first music-industry job might be working as an usher or being part of a street team (i.e., the people who do things like hand out flyers before a concert). Or you might submit concert reviews to a blog or volunteer at a community or campus radio station. Just keep your eyes on your long-term goals and remember that even entry-level jobs can teach you something useful.
5. Use your connections.
Do you know any aspiring musicians? They would probably appreciate your help. Offer to assist with the many tasks that are required to get their music heard (for example, designing or maintaining a website, arranging performances, or assisting with social media). Always keep in mind that, no matter your end goal, many of the connections you make early on will be essential for your success. For instance, you become an entertainment manager by jumping right in and learning the industry from the ground up.
How to Make Money as a Musician in the Digital Era
Since the beginning of this century, the way we listen to music has changed. A big bonus for music fans is that a lot of free music is now available. But that means the ways in which musicians make money have also changed. Just consider the listening habits of today's music fans:15
- 55 percent use video streaming
- 23 percent use paid subscription services
- 22 percent use free audio streaming services
As you can see, a lot of people listen to music for free. Not too long ago, many industry insiders were predicting that this free-music paradigm would effectively kill the music business. But after a short dip, the industry is now thriving.
However, the surge in music revenue for companies doesn't necessarily mean the artists themselves are benefiting. In fact, performers make just 12 percent of the money brought in by the music industry. But here's the good news: That's a significant increase from the paltry seven percent they received in 2000.16
Physical sales of CDs used to be profitable for musicians. But, unsurprisingly, CD sales have declined rapidly in recent years. (However, vinyl sales have actually increased.) Now that more people stream music, artists generally don't make as much money from the music they record. In fact, artists only make a small fraction of one cent when one of their songs is played on a streaming platform.19
But insiders say that comparing CD sales to streaming revenues is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Instead, as a musician, you may need to reframe how you think about making money. Simply put, you're no longer just selling physical things like CDs. You now have the ability to offer something more.
Consider this: When a person buys a CD, money is only exchanged once. He or she may listen to the CD a few times, or it may become a favorite. But once the CD is purchased, the transaction is finished.
But with streaming, the transaction can keep repeating. And as an artist, you can continue to make money. For example, fans can now:
- Create a video on YouTube using your music. (YouTube's Content ID system can track the use of copyrighted music and pay the copyright holder when his or her music is used in a video.)
- Add a song to a playlist (so the odds of it being streamed repeatedly increase)
- Share a song with friends, thereby creating additional "transactions"
Musicians also make money when the rights to a song are sold for use in a TV show, video game, or movie. And concert touring has emerged as the biggest source of revenue for musicians.
So how can aspiring musicians create a successful career in this new paradigm? Here's a key tip: Know your fans.
Social media can play a big role in encouraging fans to create their own experiences with your music. But you need to know which platforms your fans prefer, as well as how they use them. Think about the ways you can connect with fans online and at your shows. And learn what kinds of concerts and festivals your ideal fan would attend. Fortunately, social media makes this kind of info readily available.
In addition, a long-standing reality of making money in the music business is that you may have to do other work while building your music career. That's why so many musicians have other jobs in addition to performing. Good day jobs for musicians are any positions with flexible hours that don't interfere with their performances.
Some performers prefer to have part-time jobs that involve music, such as teaching music or working in a bar that hosts live performances. Others like to do something completely different, perhaps as a break from music. Either way, working at another job to supplement your income doesn't mean you've failed as a musician. Even legendary musician and composer Philip Glass worked as a plumber and cab driver well into his musical career.
Create Your Own Path
As you can see, there are many careers in music for both performers and non-performers. Do you have what it takes to succeed in this exciting industry? Career-focused training from a vocational school can give you an edge and help you acquire skills for some of the best opportunities. Plus, this type of training is simple to find. To discover programs near you, just enter your zip code into the search tool below!
1 Nielsen, "Time With Tunes: How Technology Is Driving Music Consumption," website last visited on April 23, 2019.
2 Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA 2018 Year-End Music Industry Revenue Report, website last visited on February 14, 2020.
3 Pollstar, "2018 Mid-Year Special Features; Top Tours, Ticket Sales, Business Analysis," website last visited on April 23, 2019.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on April 23, 2019.
5 GameSoundCon, "Game Audio Industry Survey 2017," website last visited on April 23, 2019.
6 Statista, "Annual income of highest-paid musicians as of June 2018 (in million U.S. dollars)," website last visited on April 23, 2019.
7 Berklee College of Music, The Career Development Center, Music Careers in Dollars and Cents," website last visited on April 23, 2019.
8 PayScale, website last visited on April 23, 2019.
9 ZipRecruiter, website last visited on April 23, 2019.
10 Pacific Standard, "'We're on Life Support': Is Streaming Music the Final Note for Professional Songwriters?," website last visited on April 24, 2019.
11 Music Ally, "Songwriter Sam Barsh publishes 'shocking' royalty figures," website last visited April 24, 2019.
12 ASCAP, Then and Now: Songwriter Compensation in the Digital Age, website last visited on April 24, 2019.
13 Houston Chronicle, "How much is a conductor worth?," website last visited on April 24, 2019.
14 Forbes, "The World's Highest-Paying DJs of 2018," website last visited on April 24, 2019.
15 Burstimo, "Where People Discover New Music and How You Should Adjust Your Music Promotion Strategy," website last visited on April 24, 2019.
16 Business Insider, "Musicians only got 12% of the $43 billion the music industry generated in 2017, and it mostly came from touring," website last visited on April 24, 2019.
17 Vulture, "Is Spotify Suing Songwriters? The Latest Legal Battle, Explained," website last visited on May 2, 2019.
18 Nashville Songwriters Association International, "How Songwriters Get Paid," website last visited on May 2, 2019.
19 Digital Music News "What Streaming Music Services Pay (Updated for 2019)," website last visited on May 2, 2019.