What do you do if your child says they want to be a professional musician when they grow up? If you don’t personally know anyone with a successful career in music, your impulse may be to warn your child away from what you see as a risky career choice. Let me assure you that there are many people who work in the music industry who find success, enjoyment, and satisfaction in their jobs.
Careers in music are not easy. They’re not predictable. They require a lot more than just being good at music. But if it is what your child really wants, they’re willing to work hard, and can be flexible with their expectations, then there’s every reason to encourage them.
Performing Music for a Living
It’s a common myth that musical performers fall into one of two categories, either rich-and-famous rock stars or starving artists. As a parent, I must admit that I wouldn’t want my child to end up as either one. The happy truth is, most performing musicians are middle-class professionals who live a relatively normal lifestyle. Musicians can expect to put in more time and effort to succeed than those in some other careers. On the other hand, if music is what they love, those extra hours can be worth it. In our modern digital age, musicians can perform, record, and distribute music in lots of new ways. There are more opportunities than ever before for musicians to find their audience and make a living as a performer.
If your child wants a career in musical performance you should let them know it is going to be a lot of work, but it can give them the benefit of doing something they love for a living. Music performance requires a high level of skill, which means many, many hours of dedicated preparation over the course of many years. For now, they can begin to develop their abilities with whatever instrument they choose. See that they have an excellent teacher to guide them, and, if you can find one, a teacher with some experience in the music industry.
As your child matures it will also help to develop strong personal management skills and learn basic principles of business and marketing. If you’re a performer you’re pretty much running your own business. Although you might contract with an agent or a record company, you’re the one ultimately responsible for the success of your music. You’ll need the self-discipline and know-how to make it happen.
Music performers can play for a live audience or make recordings, and most do some of both. Be aware that there’s fierce competition for certain kinds of performing. For example, a professional solo concert pianist will be one of only a handful in the whole world. Other kinds of performing offer more open opportunities. Performers might play with a professional orchestra or ensemble, with a pop, jazz, or rock band, as an accompanist, as a church organist, as a back-up singer, as a soloist, in an existing music group or in group they created themselves. There are so many possibilities.
Does your child like to make up their own music? There’s a career for that.
One option is to become a film composer. Movies, television shows, commercials, and even video games all need background music. It’s up to composers to create that music. Most film composers work as independent contractors. That means a company who is making a film or a game will hire them to create the music, usually for a set amount of money. A film composer needs to be able to write music quickly in whatever style is required, and be willing to make changes when asked to.
While film composers create background music for visual media, songwriters compose popular music meant to be performed or recorded on its own. Songwriters can work for a band, in collaboration with other songwriters, or by themself. They can focus on creating melodies for lyrics, or on creating the backing track to another songwriter’s melodies. Just like performers, songwriters are in the business of creating and selling a product, and so they need to know not only how to write great songs, but how to promote them. They create demo recordings of their songs and share them with producers, managers, and executives in the music industry in the hopes that their songs will be picked up and recorded.
What about classical and concert music composing? Many concert music composers are employed by a university or music conservatory and compose, conduct, arrange, and teach music for a living. A few actually work for orchestras and spend all of their time composing and arranging new pieces for the orchestra to play.
The “Music Industry” – Managing Programs, Performers, and Venues
For someone who loves music, but doesn’t necessarily want to perform or compose, there are lots of other jobs in the music industry. There are musicians out there who need agents, managers, publicists, and even lawyers. Concert venues need managers who decide what performances will be held. Musicians who want to go on tour often hire performance tour companies to set up their travel and performances.
Record company executives choose what music their company will record and distribute, and what artists will perform in the recordings. Radio stations need program directors to select what music to play, and disk jockeys who actually introduce and play each song on the air. Television studios and film companies hire music directors to work with the composers, performers, and arrangers who create music for shows. All of these jobs are an important part of connecting those who create music with those who will enjoy it.
Engineering Music Recording, Broadcast, and Amplification
Maybe what your child will love is taking someone else’s performance and using technology to make it sound truly awesome. As a performer, I am always amazed at how much better I sound when there’s a good music engineer at the control panel. Engineers work at every step of the recording process, from recording tracks in a studio, to mixing those tracks, to mastering them. At performances, engineers work with microphones, speakers, and all the electronics that go with them to make sure everyone sounds their best.
Music and Media
For those who love music and media communications, there are many jobs that combine the two. In journalism, music critics can write reviews for a newspaper, magazine, or their own blog. Magazines and websites dedicated to music and musicians pay writers for articles.
Another possibility is to work as a marketer for a musician, a band, or a record company. It’s one thing to create great music, and another to get it out there so the people who will love it can find it. There are even photographers that specialize in taking pictures at concerts and photographing musicians for promotional materials.
Music teachers can work as private individuals, work for a music store or music academy, or teach in public or private schools, colleges, or universities. Many college and university music instructors will also perform and compose music of their own as part of their jobs. There’s a growing number of music teachers who teach online, like Mr. Hoffman, using either live or recorded video lessons.
While there are no standardized qualifications for a private music teacher, many areas have music teachers’ guilds or associations with certain education requirements for their members. To teach at a grade school you’ll need a degree in education along with your music training. To teach at a college or university, you’ll need an advanced degree in music.
Computers and Music
Kids interested in computer programming and music might someday create apps for musicians. Musicians use computer programs to help them compose, perform, record, and more. Computer programmers constantly create and improve these programs.
For those interested in web design, most professional musicians and music groups will have a website that needs to be created and maintained. For example, at Hoffman Academy we employ two full-time web developers and a graphic designer to help build new features and learning games. In the future we expect to grow our technical team even more. As technology continues to develop and grow, who knows what kind of music-related applications for technology will be invented!
Lots of Music Careers to Choose From
Whether you want to be a performer or composer, or combine your interest in music with another ability you have, there are many career options in music. People love music, and no matter what you do in the music industry, its exciting to be a part of making music and sharing it with others.
For more information about the different careers available in music and how to get into them, check out these websites. Both include expected salaries for each career listed.