You’ve been learning all about music or you’ve been playing the instrument of your dreams and now you’re thinking, can I make a living out of this? Of course you can! But what kind of jobs can you even pursue or where do you begin? Don’t worry, we are going to cover some great musical career paths that you can pursue which will hopefully lead you down the right path!
When it comes to what you can do for a living with music, most people default to teaching or performing as the only options but in reality there are lots of things you can pursue! Hopefully, we can inform you of some choices that you didn’t even think about as a possibility. We will be categorizing certain types of jobs into different career paths to give you a better idea of what kind of path fits your goals and dreams and from there, delve a little deeper into the specifics of each path.
Remember, just because you pursue a certain path it does not mean that you are locked off from getting a job in another path though. What you’ll often find is that a lot of individuals will pursue multiple paths at the same time and anything you learn can almost always be translated into another area. Let’s jump right in!
#1. Music Composition
Let’s start with musical composition: what exactly is composition? At its core it is the act of conceiving a piece of music, the art of creating music, or the finished product. When it comes to music composition, it can open many doors to jobs, connections, and endless possibilities for creativity. Take a moment to think about the last movie, television show, or video game you played. Do you remember the soundtrack or score? How about the music in an orchestra or opera you’ve seen?
While these are common examples of composers’ works, and showcase one of the most common career paths for those who pursue composition, those that have followed this path have gone into jobs such as writing art criticism, being a music director for a church, or working for a musical theater. There is a wide variety of career opportunities that come from the rigorous training and studies of pursuing composition.
Some common characteristics of those who have pursued this path are individuals that are passionate, curious, creative, imaginative, and disciplined. Even those who want to focus on the relationship of melody, harmony, and rhythm combined with the design and structure of chords as well as on creating their own compositions will want to consider this path. So if you feel like composition is the way to go be sure to take a look down below to see some careers that are possible:
Theater company owner
#2. Music Education
Now let’s delve into music education! Music education in the broadest sense is the teaching and learning of music. However, it is so much more than that and there is a reason why almost everyone in the music field has taught at some point. If you are being taught an instrument, watching an educational video, or taking classes in the music field, these are all things you could do as a music educator. Music is meant to be taught and passed on to the next generation and that is exactly what has kept music alive for millennia. Music education is very important and it’s exactly the type of work our wonderful teachers here at Northside Music Academy do for all of our students!
When it comes to music education, individuals typically have a focus such as vocal/choral music, a particular instrument, or music theory, but it is also very common for individuals to be a jack of all trades when it comes to teaching. When pursuing this path, prior experience, proficiency, or education is usually required. Most individuals go to school in order to first gain a degree, certification, and licensure of some kind before teaching.
If you are passionate about sharing your love of music with others and are okay with teaching students anywhere from preschool through college and graduate school as you go depending on your experience and education, you may want to consider this career path. However, it is vital you choose to become a music educator for the right reason: because you love it! In this path, typical job opportunities include:
Private instrument teacher
High school band, orchestra, or choral director
Music school administrator
District supervisor of music
#3. Music Industry
Looking at the music industry, there is a wide variety of opportunities that can be found exploring this field. The music industry (also known as the music business) consists of the individuals and organizations that earn money by writing songs and musical compositions, creating and selling recorded music and sheet music, presenting concerts, as well as the organizations that aid, train, represent and supply music creators. Because of this wide umbrella, there are so many diverging jobs individuals can go into when pursuing this path!
One thing to keep in mind when pursuing a path in the music industry is that you actually don’t have to be musically talented to be able to find a job in this particular field. There are many ways individuals can still work and be a part of the music industry without needing to be able to play an instrument or sing, although those things definitely wouldn’t hurt. This is where majoring in something other than music may come into play along with your interest in the music industry.
Communication is a must so if you love meeting new people, networking and making connections this may be right up your alley. It is also important for individuals to be able to creatively problem solve and practice excellent time management, since you will often be juggling several priorities at once. One thing to keep in mind is that the industry is constantly changing. So you may have to commit to lifelong learning, reading, conferences, and having conversations with peers in order to stay current with what is going on in the industry. If that is all fine and dandy, take a look at what others have done in the field:
#4. Music Performance
The actual definition of musical performance is an organized presentation of musical sounds (and, arguably, controlled silences), usually for the entertainment, edification, or enrichment of listeners. However, the vast majority of people know what music performance is even if they are not actively trying to pursue a career in music. If you tell someone that you're going to pursue music as a career, most people imagine that you will be creating and performing music, shooting for the moon like pop stars, idols, and bands. But it is easy to forget you don’t need to be a superstar to be able to perform and make a living.
An individual interested in music performance should be able to perform in a wide variety of settings and do so at a professional level that is going to lead to their success or the success of the group they perform in. What goes into music performance is knowing the techniques behind your instrument or voice. It also involves thinking about the music theory behind what you’re playing, whether it be a solo excerpt, concierto, big band arrangements or playing covers of tunes. And, it includes emotion and being able to embody the character of the piece you’re performing. It’s way more complicated than the average person thinks, but also just as rewarding!
Keep in mind that most performers earn their living through gigs and their performances rather than a more stable source such as teaching regularly at a school, though many performing musicians do other things like that too to help financially, at least at the beginning. That doesn’t mean there aren’t places where you can perform on a consistent basis, you’ll just have to dig around more as they are less common and in high demand. If you want to make a living through the act of performing in front of an audience, then take a look at some of the things you can do:
Solo/lead singer, opera singer, backup singer, etc.
Musical Theatre performer
Professional orchestra/choir member
Drummer, pianist, guitarist, etc., either solo or in a band
Songwriter/Lyricist/Composer/Arranger (who performs their own works as well)
#5. Music Therapy
According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions” and is used in a variety of healthcare and educational settings. Music therapy is an effective intervention for working with traumatized children and adults. It helps reduce anxiety, offers emotional relief, and facilitates life-affirming social interactions, to name just a few of its benefits. If you like the idea of making direct impactful changes in other lives then you should definitely consider this field.
Music therapists have been called upon to support the recovery of individuals and communities following horrific events as well as natural disasters. Music therapy also serves those who’ve experienced trauma as a result of chronic pain, chemical addiction, child abuse, asylum-seeking, domestic violence, incarceration, and other sources of emotional distress.
There’s also a closely related field to music therapy called speech pathology, which having studied singing can be a huge benefit for! This area focuses less on trauma recovery, and more on medical and physical improvement of various speech impediments or challenges. Many speech pathologists use music and singing as a part of their therapy due to the many unique benefits it can provide!
Those drawn to this area of concentration usually gain some of the necessary training through their required supervised internship when pursuing their degree in school. Many individuals enter graduate programs in music therapy for additional clinical skills and further training as well, while some may seek a degree in a relevant area of counseling or medicine. Although there may not be a wide variety of jobs in this field, they sure are rewarding, especially for anyone interested in a music career that truly changes lives! Let’s take a look:
Musicology is so broad that it can be quite difficult to define, however, the word musicology literally means "the study of music," and often encompasses all aspects of music in all cultures and all historical periods. Although many musicologists are also trained in performance, it isn’t a performance-oriented field. Instead, musicology focuses on the history and cultural contexts of music. If you are the kind of person that is very worldly and are very interested in music of all different genres from all over the world, this may be a great opportunity for you!
There is a subcategory of musicology known as ethnomusicology which focuses on the forms and methods of musical expression throughout the world as well as specific cultural styles of music. So while musicologists tend to study the actual musical artifact, ethnomusicologists are usually a little less concerned with the actual music and more with the cultural forces that produced that music.
Because musicology is so heavily research-oriented, most programs for this specifically are at the graduate level. Many professionals encourage pursuing both a Master’s and PhD if you want to follow the traditional musicology route: doing extensive research, getting published, and teaching at the university level. Although you may have to go through more schooling when it comes to getting a career in musicology, you may be presented with many opportunities to travel the world and experience other cultures firsthand. And even if you choose not to pursue an advanced degree or a background in music history/musicology, everything you’ve learned can be essentially interpreted as a liberal arts. That means you can probably communicate well, write well, speak well, and do research, which are all highly sought after skills that are transferable to a lot of professions.
We hope spending a little bit of time reading these options has given you some time to reflect on what you might want out of a musical career. Spending each day working on something you love is a privilege and getting to the point of having a full time job in the music industry can take a lot of hard work, but there are numerous options available to you and if you love the field, it's worth it! Figuring out where to start can definitely seem like a daunting task, but once you take a look back at what kind of things interest you in the field, you’ll have a better idea of where to begin! And don’t worry, you can always change your mind along the way.
Working alongside a trusted mentor or teacher is another key to making sure that you’re being honest with yourself and making the right decisions. Those that have been supportive of your endeavors will usually have invaluable advice that can help weigh your decisions as well. However, at the end of the day, only you know what’s best for you and choosing something that you are passionate about and love doing is the key to finding success in whatever path you choose!