Careers in Music

Musical Career Options and Opportunities

Musical careers take many different paths based on personal interests and goals. A professional may work in traditional or non-traditional careers that align with their skills. Ultimately, the decision to work in music provides a chance to explore interesting job opportunities. 

Careers that musicians may consider for their long-term goals include: 

  • Working in composition, such as a composer or conductor of an orchestra
  • Writing and production of musical scores
  • Electronic design as it relates to music, such as working in sound design
  • Film scoring or the creation of music for the movie industry
  • Advertising or business as it relates to music, such as managing a musician or working as a producer
  • Music education careers, such as teaching in a school or working with a choir
  • Performing on stage as a musician or singer
  • Playing music for other performers, such as playing a guitar or drums for a performance artist 

Musicians have different career opportunities that focus on their interests. Whether an individual wants to perform in front of a live audience or prefers to work in the background by supporting a performance artist, he or she has job options.

What Does a Musician Do?

When musicians are not engaged in a musical performance or actively playing an instrument and singing, they engage in a variety of activities and tasks. The specific responsibilities a professional musician takes on in a career depend on the specific path and goals they set. A producer has different responsibilities and duties when compared to a composer; however, certain activities are common for most careers in music. 

Common duties and responsibilities for a musician include: 

  • Practicing their instrument or instruments to prepare for a live performance or master the musical number
  • Performing in front of a live audience when working in performance-related fields
  • Reading music during rehearsal
  • Teaching others, particularly in an educational positions
  • Writing and composing music
  • Traveling, particularly when working in performance-related fields 

Professionals in the music industry must practice their instruments, musical skills and ability to read music when they are not actively performing for an audience. They must master the music and learn new works to keep up with the standards in the industry. They may also take on business responsibilities, teaching or other tasks that relate to different fields within the music industry.

Important Skills and Knowledge

The skills and knowledge a professional in music must develop differ from their duties and responsibilities. Since the specific career path determines an individual's specific duties, they may engage in a variety of activities and actions. The skills a professional must develop apply to most careers in music, even when an individual works as a manager or a producer. 

The key skills a musician must develop include: 

  • Listening and hearing mistakes in music, or training their ears
  • Playing multiple instruments, particularly when working on marketability for performance-related careers
  • Singing on key and at an appropriate pitch
  • Reading music and sight reading during rehearsals
  • Following the lead of a conductor
  • Understanding different theories related to music and sound 

While the skills focus on instruments and activities, the knowledge a professional in music must develop depends on their field of expertise and their career path. In some cases, a professional must have the knowledge to teach and share information. In other positions, a professional must have knowledge about business, marketing and management. Specific skill sets and knowledge depends on the role a professional takes within in the music industry as well as their talent in relation to music. A professional who has an interest in music without the technical skills may bring knowledge about marketing and business that encourages sales and assists performance artists.

Music Degrees, Educationand Training Options

Educational standards in the music industry depend on the career path. A musician does not necessarily need a formal education in a college to work as a performance artist or compose musical scores. While a formal degree is not necessary for every career in music, it does provide more opportunities within the industry and opens new doors for long-term growth in a professional setting. 

Musicians often obtain an Associate's of Fine Arts, or an Associate's of Arts in Music, degree to set the foundation of their career. The degree program teaches a student about music theory, music history and composition. Students also practice instruments and train their ears to hear mistakes in the music. 

A Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Music offers more in-depth study of musical theories, conducting and training. Students may also train their voices for a career in performance. The degree may also open doors to study marketing as it relates to the music industry and other business courses. 

For students who plan to work in production, management and related areas of the music industry, a Master's of Fine Arts in Music provides the in-depth study a professional needs to work on their goals. The advanced study into music theory or composition is particularly important for professionals who want to work in classical music or classical performance arts, like performing at the opera or in an orchestra.

Do You Need an Advanced Degree?

An advanced degree is not necessary for many careers in the music industry. Professionals who plan to work in popular music may not need a degree in music at all; however, individuals who want to teach music or who plan to work in music research may benefit from an advanced degree in music. 

Advanced degrees in music fall into two main categories: a Doctor of Musical Arts or a Doctor of Philosophy in Music. The Doctor of Musical Arts degree focuses on teaching and performance arts. A professional must successfully navigate an audition before gaining admissionto a program. 

A Doctor of Philosophy in Music focuses on the theoretical aspects of music. It may focus on music theory, education and musicology rather than performance arts. The advanced degree is ideal for individuals who plan to pursue employment with a college or university. The program is also ideal for individuals who plan to pursue a career in research-related fields.

Music School and Program Accreditation

Accreditation is a key part of identifying an effective program or school for personal growth in a career. In the case of musical programs and schools, an individual wants to consider school accreditation to verify that the program complies with specific professional and academic standards.The key reason for researching the accreditation of a program is that accreditation verifies that a college program meets high standards for curriculum and student outcomes. It limits future risk to your employability (and career) that can occur if questions about the quality of your academic experience are raised by an employer. 

The National Association of Schools of Music, or NASM, is the most well-recognizedorganization responsible for the accreditation of music programs. It has roughly 650 accredited member schoolswho have met the standards set by the organization. A school or program may also be accredited by national associations such asCouncil for Higher Education Accreditation and regional accrediting bodies such as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).Verifying school and program accreditation should be a priority for students who are in the application phase of their college search. This is especially true for students who plan to pursue a career in a corporate or educational setting within music industry.

Musical Training Outside Traditional Colleges

Although there are compelling reasons to earn a degree by pursuing a traditional education through a college, university,or school of music, there are other options available to people who need to learn skills that will support their career. If finances are a limiting factor, or students believe they are better suited for a non-formal education, there are many options to learn music and develop skills required in the industry. 

Generally, the options fall into three main categories: 

  • Workshops
  • Music conservatories
  • Self-taught options 

Music workshops focus on teaching a student about music and the skills required to play an instrument. It may focus on specific age-groups or it may offer courses for all ages. Depending on the workshop, the duration of training and the options available will vary. It may provide courses for beginners as well as advanced students. 

A music conservatory differs from a traditional college or university program by focusing solely on the musical arts. It’s likely that the curriculum of a conservatory will exclude broad-based liberal arts courses that fall outside the direct study of music or art. Instead, students will be immersed in the intensive study of fine art, music theory, and the musical performance of their instrument of choice. Students who complete a conservatory program will typically graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, or a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a music concentration. 

While workshops and conservatories providea structured approach to learning, these settings and methods of training are not a requirement to enter the field of music or to be employed as an artist. Self-taught professionals learn to play an instrument without a traditional education. They may use online resources to learn how to read music or work with a mentor to build skills. Artists who are self-taught only need the focus and desire to learn, and the means to practice an instrument in their own time. This is a path followed by hundreds of successful artists over time, so do not feel discouraged if a traditional education or degree is out of reach.

Musician Salaries and Job Outlook

The demand for professionals in the music industry and the expected job outlook is low when compared to other areas of study. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is expected to grow at a rate of 6 percent, which is slower than average for all industries and careers. Although the overall growth is limited, individuals with an interest in performance have more opportunities when compared to other professionals in the industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that performance artists have an expected growth of 7 percent.While the potential growth and the number of careers available in the industry are slower than average, it does offer a reasonable salary. Musicians earn a median hourly wage of $26.96 per hour, according to occupational data reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Exact pay rates vary based on an artist’s area of specialization, and the markets where they perform.Developing a career in the music industry provides an opportunity to enjoy an interesting lifestyle. The key challenge is identifying the educational path that best fits your goals and opens doors to future opportunity. By developing specialized skills and obtaining an education in music, a professional may obtain a position that fits their personality and interests.


2016 Median Pay

$18.70 per hour

Recommended Level of Education

Some college, no degree

Number of Jobs in 2014


Expected % Change in Employment (2014-2024)

10% (Faster than average)

Expected 10 Year Employment Growth (2014-2024)


Source: BLS - Occupational Outlook Handbook

Music Salaries by Industry


Other Amusement and Recreation Industries


Death Care Services


Motion Picture and Video Industries


Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events


Agents and Managers for Artists, Athletes, Entertainers, and Other Public Figures

Source: BLS OES - Industry Profile
Mean Hourly Wage

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