Careers in Music: Various Ways to Rock (And Get Paid)
Whether you’re a musician or a technician, a booker or an agent, a producer, an engineer or a critic, there are countless opportunities to work in the music industry available to anyone with the drive and desire as well as a little luck. If a job doesn’t exist, you could probably even make one up and find someone somewhere that will be willing to pay you, as long as you have something original and worthwhile to offer. The following jobs are already established and highly desired positions that are in their own ways integral to the production, performance, criticism and use of music. Whatever your interest in the music industry may be, there’s probably a career out there waiting for you.
These are the people we most likely to think of when we think of music as a profession. It is very difficult to break into any music job, but breaking in as a performer, then succeeding in one of these high-profile areas is incredibly tough.
Band Member – This is probably what most people think of when they hear “music career”. It’s probably the most difficult career to succeed at but potentially the most lucrative. Folks in bands may never make a penny in their lives but do it because they are passionate. While potentially glamorous, a working musician must travel quite often and depending on the type of music they play, the performance venues may leave a bit to be desired. Some musicians are highly trained, others can barely play and with the continuing popularity of recording software, almost anyone can call themselves a “musician” these days. Whatever your experience or ability, this is the easiest part of the business to break into, but the most difficult to succeed at.
Session Musician – These are musicians and vocalists for hire. They may be called upon to play a live concert or on a recording session if an artist has no backing band at the time or are in need of a specific instrument to be played. These versatile musicians are usually employed by recording studios and brought in to play when needed, then move to the next job.
Orchestral Performer – A classically trained performer may may hired to play in a city’s symphony orchestra. These highly technical players have a steady yet demanding job and get to tour the country and the world, in addition to dressing fancy every night. This is a highly competitive position but one that comes with great privilege and respect. A downfall of playing in the symphony is that highly talented players, the best in the world, in fact, may be overshadowed by other players or the overall ensemble.
Arranger – The primary role of an arranger is to, of course, arrange a piece of music based on the needs or requirements of a performer, a group of performers, a conductor, producer or music director. They make sure that every aspect of a music piece is well harmonized, from the instruments down to the tempo. The music that an arranger works on may either be an original or an already existing music piece. They also should be able to play several instruments, have a good grasp of music theory, be able to read and write music as well as be original and able to collaborate readily.
These folks may either be responsible for your favorite (or at least most hummable) song, or, in the case of being a critic, making these songwriters develop a complex about their writing. These folks may not be in the spotlight but they are important parts of the machine that is the music business.
Music Critic/Journalist – Often derided by musicians because of the sometimes negative things critic say about them, this job is very desirable in the music industry. These guys write about music in all forms: concert reviews, album reviews and artist interviews among others. It’s important that a music writer’s personal opinion not get in the way of writing an objective and fair piece. Some music writers are hired by actual publications or may work freelance, on a concert-to-concert basis.
Songwriter – These guys come up with the lyrics and/or melody of a song and may collaborate with one or several other songwriters to do the job. Their job is to not only come up with a song but to have it be successful. Once they have written and demoed a song, a songwriter may contact music publishers, bands, producers, labels or managers to get their song heard and hopefully recorded. If anyone is interested in buying the song, the writer may sell it outright or sell the rights to it. Most songwriters don’t get much recognition after selling their song.
Jingle Writer – These writers provide short and catchy melodies and lyrics for television and radio. This is one music related profession that exists outside the music business. The jingle writer usually works for an advertising agency and must be able to quickly whip up a snappy tune, in addition to being a proficient musician and arranger.
These behind-the-scenes wizards take the music from their embryonic stages to the listeners ears. Whether they provide the instrument that made the song or turned the knobs to make that song special, these highly-trained professionals are some of the unsung heroes in the music industry.
Record Producer – Another high-profile and much sought-after job, the record producer is responsible for an album getting made, which means a lot of things. They help find songs for the artist to record, they locate a studio to record in and book time there, they work with the engineer and arranger and they find backing musicians. Once the recording begins, the producer acts as a liaison between band and engineer as well as injecting their own opinion and expertise as to how certain songs should sound.
Recording Engineer – The person holding this technical position is responsible for manning the soundboard and the other electrical equipment used in a recording studio. The recording engineer is responsible for achieving a specific sound desired by an artist and will tweak the recordings according to what is desired.
Instrument Making/Repair – Another unsung hero is the instrument maker and repair person. Some of these names evoke romantic thoughts of music and its history in addition to changing the face of music: Stradivarius, Fender, Moog. Without these people, musicians might still be beating on hide skin drums. While not explicitly members of the music industry, they are absolutely integral to its survival and held in high esteem by those with more run-of-the-mill music jobs.
Representation and Promotion
The business side of the music industry may not be as glamorous as the other aspects, but without these people, there would be no concerts or recordings (or at least they would take longer to put together). Sometimes seen simply as “suits” and viewed as money grubbing and unethical by some artists, these folks are integral to the “business” part of the music business.
Concert Promoter – The main duty of a concert promoter is to put together concerts. This can mean finding the funds to finance a concert (including their own), planning the logistics and financial details of a show, securing talent as well as a venue and promote the concert.
A & R – The artist and repertoire coordinator works for a record label and is responsible for finding and acquiring new talent to be signed by a music label. A & R guys used to scour local concerts for the next big thing, and while that’s still the backbone of this position, the Internet has increased the avenues from which an A & R person can find new talent. This person may also headhunt bands and artists, luring them from other labels as well as finding songs for their artists to record.
Tour Manager – This person solves all of a band’s problems that may pop up while on tour. He or she must make sure that all the equipment and people show up on time no matter what. A good tour manager may need to fill a lot of shoes: musician, security, publicist, photographer, lighting engineer. They also collect any money the band earns and keep track of any records.
Talent Manager – This person (or company) is responsible for the day-to-day business affairs of a band or performer and guides their professional career within the music and entertainment industries. They help the artist with bookings, promotion, business deals, recording contracts, etc. The duties of a manager may overlap with those of a press agent, promoter, booking agent, business manager, tour manager and sometimes even a personal assistant. Anything that may bring a wider audience to the performers as well as keep them in the audiences’ good graces the manager is responsible for.
The music industry isn’t all about performing and business. The following careers are more about teaching, preserving and helping. Besides the actual performers, it could be argued that the people with these jobs are the most important to society as a whole and do the most good.
Music Therapist – These folks work in conjunction with nurses, doctors, teachers, psychologists, physical therapists, etc. to restore a patient’s health by using music as therapy for people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities or illnesses. The music therapist helps patients by planning musical activities for groups or individuals or teaching disabled people how to play an instrument. Music therapists are also responsible for selecting pieces to be used as background music in certain rooms in a facility to evoke a reaction.
Ethno-musicologist – This person researches music, musicians, instruments and music producing processes. They look deeply into different cultures and their music-making practices and capabilities. The ethno-musicologist involves themselves in the culture, doing the best they can to get a feel for beliefs and customs as well as the role of music.
Music Educator – This may refer to countless numbers of jobs that help develop musical skills, acquire knowledge and teach appreciation. They may work at any number of levels. In academia they may work in elementary and high school, college, graduate school, and outside of an educational setting, may find work in music stores, as conductors or any other medium that uses music in an educational role.
Even though independent radio is dying and terrestrial radio is being taken over by satellite there are still positions that will be necessary to operate the radio format. Until the robots completely take over, these people will be necessary in providing listeners a distinctly “radio” experience.
Music Director – The main responsibility of a music director is to select the music that will be played at a radio station. They usually begin their career as a disc jockey (DJ) and may even maintain an on-air presence once they are promoted to this position. Other responsibilities of the music director include dealing with marketing and promotional issues, screening music to be played and training DJs. These guys answer to the program director.
Program Director – The PD, along with the music director, help choose what music is played on the station as well as scheduling programming, performing on-air, hiring and firing talent and keeping the ratings of the station as high as possible. Many stations across the country are popping up that have no format and electronically program almost any type of song under the sun, thus rendering this position obsolete in some places.
Disc Jockey – The DJ is the person most associated with radio programming. They are the on-air personalities who introduce songs, do the news, take calls, etc. and must possess a likable and unique personality that listeners can enjoy and identify with. Successful DJs usually become minor celebrities, keeping a high public profile. Unfortunately, some radio stations have gone with an automatic DJ that simply mentions the station name and the song title and artist.
If you’re considering a career in music, hopefully we could help you narrow the choices down a bit. As you can see, there are many avenues for a person interested in the music business to consider. They run the gamut from performer to non performer and from highly technical to no training necessary. These obviously are not all the jobs available to someone interested in this line of work but they are some of the more popular and well-established ones around. And remember, if you truly have something worthwhile and original to offer, it’s not completely unheard of to blaze your own trail and forge a new career. Good luck out there!
Last Updated January 2023
A complete guide to getting your first sync placement | By Michael KirbyExplore Course
Music Business students also learn
Empower your team. Lead the industry.
Get a subscription to a library of online courses and digital learning tools for your organization with Udemy Business.