Professional Musicians: Job Outlook & Career Information

Learn about the education and training requirements for professional musicians, as well as what skills are required to make music a career. Keep reading for additional information about employment prospects, average salaries and alternative career options.

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Career Definition

Musicians, including members of bands and orchestras, perform and record music for live or remote audiences. In addition to classical music or jazz, some musicians may specialize in hip-hop or rock and roll. Along with playing and recording, musicians may also engage in promotional activities or scout out performance locations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2012, California, New York, Tennessee, Florida and Ohio had the highest levels of employment for musicians in May 2012.

Becoming a Musician

Required Education

Many musicians begin their training in elementary and high school. While a formal education is not required for a career in popular music, aspiring classical performers may benefit from bachelors' degree programs in musicology. Admission requirements can include an audition or an audio recording, after which, students may pursue training in music history, performance and theory. Additional training can be found through fellowships or music camps; master's degrees in music are also available.

Skills Required

In addition to talent, musicians must have the physical stamina necessary to perform for extended periods of time and go on tour. Dedication and discipline are key; interpersonal and promotional skills can also be helpful when it comes to working with other industry professionals and attracting a fan base.

Career and Salary Outlook

The BLS reports that job opportunities for musicians nationwide are projected to increase by 5% between 2012 and 2022, a slower-than-average figure in comparison with all other occupations. An increased demand for musical entertainment is expected to contribute to higher numbers of singers and musicians being hired as backup artists for tours and recordings. In 2012, according to the BLS, musicians earned median hourly wages of $23.50 (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Dancers and Choreographers

While formal degree programs in dance can be found through colleges and universities, ballet and modern dancers typically begin training as elementary and high school students. Choreographers, who teach existing or original dance movements, usually enter the field as dancers. Between 2012 and 2022, dancers and choreographers across the country will see a 6%, or slower-than-average, growth in job opportunities, according to the BLS. In May 2012, dancers and choreographers received corresponding median wages of $14.16 and $18.33 an hour (www.bls.gov).

Music Directors and Composers

Music directors and conductors guide dance, opera or orchestral groups during live performances or recordings. Presentations may include original arrangements and pieces created by contemporary composers. Both conductors and composers usually begin instrument and vocal training prior to attending college, and while a bachelor's degree in music can help to qualify candidates for positions as choir directors, symphony conductors usually need a master's degree. According to the BLS, in May 2012, music directors and composers earned median hourly wages of $22.77, or an average of $47,350 a year. From 2012 to 2022, employment prospects for conductors and composers were expected to increase by 5%, or slower than average in comparison to all other occupations (www.bls.gov).

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