A musician is an entertainer. They perform for crowds or audiences by playing instruments or singing. They start by playing in night clubs, weddings, events, or concerts. However, most aspire to secure an agent to represent them or to land a recording contract. Musicians often master a variety of styles of music or several instruments to become more marketable and flexible.
Watch a video to learn how one person went from Juilliard’s music program and joined the military.
How to Become a Musician
Anyone can become a musician, and there is no one path to enter this career field. Though becoming a professional musician takes years of practice and determination. Some musicians go to college and seek liberal arts or music degrees to hone their skills—degrees in music theory or specialized areas such as classical or opera are common. Acceptation into one of these programs typically require submission of recordings or an in-person audition.
Most undergraduate programs teach music history, techniques, and styles. They also include methods for improving instrumental and vocal abilities. Some even offer voice programs to improve pitches and vocal variations. Some musicians and singers continue their education by pursuing a master’s degree.
No matter what, extensive practice and training are necessary to gain the skills to work professionally in this industry. Most typically begin singing or learning instruments at a young age. Besides, you must often practice developing your talent and learning varying techniques by taking classes or lessons. Music camps, lessons, or fellowships are offered throughout the United States and internationally. Looking for or joining organizations that cater to those interested in the music industry can also be helpful. A good starting point is local music companies, production studios, or the American Federation of Musicians.
No matter the path you take, to make a living as a musician, you must train and practice hard and gain experience.
Watch a video to learn what a musician does:
Job Description of a Musician
Musicians primary job is to perform or sing for live audiences or in recording studios. Styles can vary (for instance, rap, hip hop, rock, jazz, classical, country, folk, etc.). Musicians often start their careers to build up their reputation by performing at clubs, weddings, or other music venues. The hope is to find a following of fans, sign a recording contract, or gain agent representation.
A musician markets themselves by giving interviews or attending a social media function. Some musicians, called session musicians, play as back-up during concerts or in recording studios. A musician may write his or her music to gain an original style or use songs written by others. Musicians often travel, sometimes, long distances to perform or get work.
A musician could also teach musical instruments or music in school by gaining the proper education and certifications required for teaching. Teaching can be at an elementary, secondary, or post-secondary educational setting. Some musicians even give private lessons to clients.
Most musicians and singers work part-time or intermittently. Full-time work is hard to come by. Also, they work nights, weekends and never have a consistent schedule. Some find other employment while working part-time as a musician or singer. It is a competitive field, and a low percentage of musicians can make a living doing only this.
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Musician Career Video Transcript
Music is a universal form of self-expression. Musicians and singers convey a culture’s musical traditions and create new forms as well. An ear, or talent, for music often shows up early in life. While vocal training for singers usually begins in later teen years when the voice matures, musicians can start learning an instrument even sooner. For those who specialize in classical or jazz music, it’s typical to take formal instruction, such as studying with a “master” or earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in music.
Many musicians working in popular music genres, like hip hop, rock, and folk, are self-taught. Musicians and singers need a great deal of skill, tenacity, and sometimes luck to earn a living from music. While they may find work through competitive auditions, most need to promote themselves to find consistent work. Gigs, or performances, are often scheduled in the evenings, weekends, or holidays and can require travel away from home. Musicians and singers often teach, or hold another “day job” to support a performing career. Offering lessons and performing for different venues is a form of self-employment. Financial and business experience or classes can be helpful for managing the business side of a self-employed music career. While a music career isn’t an easy one, for many, the joy of performing more than makes up for the sacrifices the art demands.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Musicians and Singers.
The career video is Public Domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.