Does your child want to be a musician when they grow up? There are many people who work in the music industry who find success, enjoyment, and satisfaction in their jobs. As with many other careers, a career in music is not easy or predictable. Success requires a lot more than just being good at music. But if it’s what your child really wants and they’re willing to work hard and be flexible with their expectations, then there’s every reason to encourage them.
To help inspire your young musician, we’re spotlighting a few musical career paths and included interviews with some amazing people who have music careers.
Performing Music for a Living
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, providing more opportunities than ever before to find an audience.
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, such as piano. It’ll give them a big head start if you can find an excellent teacher to guide them, especially one 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!
We’d like you to meet a couple of professional performers and learn a little about their work in the music industry and how they got started.
Musician Spotlight: Jason Achilles
My name is Jason Achilles, I am a professional musician and I also worked recently with NASA to send a microphone to the planet Mars. My home is in Los Angeles, California.
I first started playing piano when I was about 7 years old and studied music in college as well. Now I travel all over the world playing rock and roll shows for people of all ages. Before the pandemic my drummer and I traveled to England, Scotland, France and Spain…it’s a great way to see the world! I also record musicians in my own recording studio in Los Angeles, which is great fun as well!
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved learning about space and listening to music, and now I get to work on both of those for my “job.” Many people feel that when you grow up you must forget your silly dreams as a kid…but I was able to turn my silly dreams into a professional career. I consider myself very lucky and of course it’s a lot of hard work, but I enjoy it very much.
Many times, people that are very creative with music or art can also have a hard time with money and more serious responsibilities. It’s very important that if you want a career in music, you must take it seriously and consider yourself not just a musician, but also a “business” of sorts. If you can learn to take your music career seriously you will be able to make a living playing music that you love, and you will have a great time!
My best advice is to make friends with other people who love to make music. Discover new music together…learn about jazz, classical music, african music, rock and roll, blues, Asian music styles, Indian music…anything you can think of. There’s amazing sounds and ideas everywhere, and you can create your own style!
Musician Spotlight: Dan Costello
My name is Dan Costello. I’m a full-time professional musician born and raised in Idaho, currently living in Boise. My primary focus is performing. During the majority of my full-time career I’ve averaged over 200 performances per year — a few years, over 300!
I like to work with as many different genres as I can. I’ve performed in everything from medieval troupes to metal bands. Mostly, I perform as a solo guitarist and singer-songwriter. Back in 2002 I made a very conscious decision to become a full-time professional musician. I quit my full-time job at a tech corporation and committed to the idea of never taking another job that wasn’t at least 50% connected to the music industry, and ever since then I’ve held to that commitment.
In addition to performing, I’ve taught guitar, music theory, songwriting and voice lessons. I was an adjunct guitar professor in the music department at Boise State for five years.
I have been a booking agent and music manager for venues or events, notably as the music manager for Chandlers (a Boise jazz-based fine dining club) for about five years and as the music director for the Sawtooth Salmon Festival in Stanley, ID for a few years.
I’ve been a radio show producer and host, notably with a show called Music From Stanley that aired Saturdays on Boise State Public Radio.
I co-produced the podcast for Story Story Night and was the live musician and stage manager for that show for a few years.
I am currently the host of the Songwriters Forum for the Idaho Songwriters Association, and serve on the ISA’s board of directors.
I probably have a couple hundred recording credits, both for my own recordings or as a regular band member, or as a guest artist or hired studio musician.
I have played with and opened for some relatively famous musicians, including Darius Rucker, 3rd Eye Blind, Chris Botti, Eric Johnson, Carbon Leaf, The Young Dubliners, Pierre Bensusan, Tony Furtado, and many others.
I also love fixing, building and adjusting instruments and other music gear gadgets like effects pedals, small amplifiers, and custom cables and adapters, and have a side business for doing those things.
I get to make my living through music, which is both something I enjoy immensely, and something I strongly believe is a necessary element of life. I wish more people got to have their careers in something they really truly love to do — the world would be a happier place!
Music is a fascinating language in itself, and I love exploring it and seeing how others express themselves through it. It’s one of very few things in life where people can enjoy it so fully and passionately, regardless of their level of participation in it.
For most of my work, though I’m often playing for a client or venue, I’m my own boss. I decide what kind of work I do and how I do it.
I get to work with other musicians, who tend to be some pretty strange, creative, interesting people, and some of whom are my biggest inspirations and mentors.
I love sharing music with people and watching the effect it has on them.
I listened to a lot of music growing up, both from the radio and from recordings. I’ve always LOVED to sing. I also had access to a few instruments along the way, and though I didn’t really get serious about playing music until later in high school, my enjoyment of it was encouraged both at home and through school opportunities.
I got my college degree in guitar performance from Boise State, which really solidified my playing technique and music theory concepts.
And for my particular approach to being a full-time musician, developing an interest in and appreciation for as many different genres, styles, and “music jobs” as possible helped immensely.
Here’s my advice to you if you want to be a musician:
- PLAY EVERY DAY!! Nothing replaces experience — on your instrument, through listening to recordings, through experimenting, recording, collaborating, writing, attending performances, performing. You’ll develop a deeper and deeper love for music, and you’ll get better and better at it no matter what the specific experience might be. It all adds up!
- Fight, hard, through any fear you may have of other people’s judgment of your musical interests and abilities. I understand some things are a little different these days, with social media, “going viral,” cyber-bullying etc… but I hear a number of younger musicians saying “oh, yeah, I don’t want to go live with this show because once it’s out there, y’know, it’s out there forever. Anything I put out on the web has to be absolutely perfect.” Well, pick your all-time biggest hero in ANYTHING, whether it’s music, sports, cooking, movies/TV/theatre, software development, hairdresser/makeup, whatever. If they had approached their careers with that same fear, they most likely never would have gotten where they are today. “Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good,” as the saying goes. Perfect doesn’t exist. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything has to be absolutely perfect before you share it with others.
- In a similar vein as #2, do not fear failure! It’s gonna happen at some point, and guess what? You don’t die. You don’t even get chased down the street by an angry torch-toting mob. Life goes on. Instead, learn how to let your failures TEACH you how to improve — how to prioritize your focus for practice sessions, or how to make more realistic selections for a program, and how to empathize with and better support your fellow musicians.
- Something that helped me immensely as a performer was to say yes to just about any opportunity to get on a stage in front of people. I had pretty bad stage fright, for years and years, especially in college when playing classical guitar pieces. My hands would shake, I’d be sweating bullets, I could barely breathe. I really wanted to share my music! And I was convinced that the only way to beat the stage fright was to keep trying. The more I got on stage, no matter how big or small the moment, and watched even the GREATEST PLAYERS IN THE WORLD occasionally get nervous or make mistakes, the more comfortable I got. I learned to breathe, to relax, to focus, to go with the flow. There’s a concept about 10,000 hours being what it takes to be an expert at something. In music, that means 10,000 hours practicing your instrument… AND 10,000 hours performing!! If you want to be a performing musician, get as much stage time as possible.
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.
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.
Now let’s hear from an amazing musician and composer who got started writing musicals as a young teenager.
Musician Spotlight: Dr. Erica Glenn
Hi, My name is Dr. Erica Glenn, and although I was born in Utah, I have lived all over the world. Right now, I lead the choirs at Brigham Young University – Hawaii.
At the moment, I conduct choirs, music direct musicals, compose music, dabble in sound engineering, play the piano, sing, teach piano and voice privately, and write musicals.
I fell in love with music at a very young age! I began taking piano lessons and writing music when I was 5 or 6, and I joined the Utah Children’s Choir when I was 8. I was also very involved in musical theater productions throughout my community, and I was always gathering the neighborhood kids to produce shows in my backyard! When I was 14, I wrote a full-length musical that was produced at two theaters in Utah. That was a very exciting experience for a young teenage girl!
Piano lessons are a great place to start! Knowing how to play the piano will prepare you to play other instruments and to understand music theory. Do the work that your teacher assigns you, but don’t be afraid to play around and experiment too! Joining a children’s choir is another great option. You’ll learn important skills like harmonizing and sightreading, which will help you if you want to pursue a career as a singer. Most importantly, follow your passion and never stop learning!
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, 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. A music engineer works 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.
Let’s meet a musician who not only creates his own music but who helps other musicians get together and make fantastic recordings.
Musician Spotlight: Sebastian C. Kirby
Hello! I’m Sebastian C. Kirby (a.k.a Wicker or Wicker Cartman). I was born in Kentucky and raised in Virginia.
I’ve modeled a few different hats within the music industry. From learning how to market for others as practice before I could even make my own music, to helping others network and collaborate, and most recently I’ve been expanding my musical capabilities by experimenting with producing genres outside of my comfort zone. Whether it’s hip-hop, EDM, or experimental ambient music with classical influence behind it.
What I love best about my work is having a song idea in your mind, humming out parts to keep it memorized, and then trying to get it all figured out before you lose the motivation. It’s the way it lets me convey things I’m not sure how to in words. My most recent album, “TO EXIST.” (2021) was my first time venturing into creating a full story that unravels strictly through music; crafting all of that through sound alone made me feel like a wizard. That’s a power most people will never feel. If you’d like to listen to a track from this project, this one, “Clockwork,” combines piano with other sound effects.
In terms of the more behind-the-scenes stuff, I get a kick out of helping musicians connect when they collaborate. Recently I’ve helped link folk artist, Tooti, with experimental rock artist, Southern Woods Cult. Not only did they create something wonderfully unique with their track “Green Eyes” (2021), but they’ve built a friendship that’s still blossoming. Music helped me connect them in that way.
I’m not sure anything really ever prepared me for a career in music. Music has been in my blood-line for a good bit, but I think getting involved in the music industry was less about preparation for me and more about healing. I think it always will be. Even with my father having been in multiple bands on and off for his whole life, and his father even had the honor to play guitar for Elvis on a show or two. But for me I’ve always been prepared. Stepping into it was like a need, and I feel I’ll only feel more fulfilled the deeper I engulf myself.
Don’t be afraid to do that weird thing you want to do with music. Genres aren’t defined by the people who stay in line, they’re defined by the people who took risks and tried brand new sounds no one else would expect. If you sound like everyone else no one is going to hear you. If you want to build the base of a whole new subgenre of jazz that completely consists of sampling ducks and using them to replace different instruments, do it. There’s an audience for anything you want to do out there somewhere, and it’ll mean a lot more than giving your creativity too many rules to appease people. That’ll just burn you out. Oh, and don’t listen to your music too loudly. Hearing isn’t permanent and you’ll miss music a lot if you go deaf.
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 or publicist 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.
We’re excited to have an expert writer, podcaster, and music publicist here to tell you about her work.
Publicist Spotlight: Rachel Hurley
Hi! My name is Rachel Hurley and I am a music publicist and social media manager based out of – MY RV! I don’t live in one place, I just travel around, moving from city to city on a never ending road trip across America 😉
I grew up in the birthplace of rock and roll, Memphis, TN. After moving to New York in 1999 to work in television production at a fledgling cable station called MTV, I returned to Memphis in 2003 and created one of the earliest music blogs, the award-winning Scenestars. It’s been written about in Spin, The Wall Street Journal, and Rolling Stone. This led to a weekly column in The Commercial Appeal called On the Record, and then to a position at legendary Ardent Studios as the queen of all things social media related. I’ve also created five podcasts which ran on Breakthru Radio and The Vinyl District, which were recorded at Ardent Studios featuring bands such as The Posies, White Denim, Valerie June, Heartless Bastards, Langhorne Slim, Exene Cervenka, The Autumn Defense, J.J. Grey, Lydia Loveless, Lucero, Dawes, Ra Ra Riot, Austin Lucas, Cory Branan, The Milk Carton Kids and dozens more.
In 2019 I started my own PR firm, Sweetheart Pub, and we work with some of the best independent musicians in the Americana genre! Our job is to get musicians written about in different press outlets.
I love working with smaller artists to help them navigate the music business. They are still excited about every opportunity and I thrive on their excitement!
My best advice is to learn to network. Most of the opportunities I have been given in my career have come from people that I spent time developing a relationship with. People like to help people they know. I spent many, many years going to showcases, festivals, concerts, panels, parties, etc, where I showed interest in other people. People love to talk about themselves, and if you show real interest in them – they’ll feel a connection with you.
Be ready to work very hard for a very long time. There are really no overnight success stories. The pop stars of today started very early. But also – you should realize that there are a LOT of jobs in the music business – you don’t HAVE to be a professional musician. It’s fine to play for enjoyment and choose something else as your career. Making a living as a musician is almost like winning the lottery – very few actually break through. You can be amazing and still have a lot of roadblocks to success.
But if it’s professional musician or bust – just remember to enjoy the ride. That’s the only way to stick it out and not want to give up. When I talk to musicians who have decided to hang up their hat and seek a more steady income, I know that that did the right thing – because most of the musicians who “make it” – well, they can’t imagine doing anything else.
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.
We’re grateful to be able to share some insights on music careers from an excellent music teacher who is also a talented performer.
Musician Spotlight: Dr. Melissa Walker Glenn
My primary job is as a university voice professor, but I’ve also done lots of other things in music. I have sung as a soloist and chorus member with orchestras, opera companies, professional choirs, and in musical theatre. I sang in a quartet with a production company at Disneyland one Christmas season. I’ve written a musical and accompanied students on the piano. I have taught voice, piano, and flute lessons.
What I like best about my job is helping students achieve their goals and dreams. I enjoy working in collaboration with my colleagues to improve my university and the music program, to perform, to teach, and to lead. I love having a shared vision with all these wonderful people.
My education began at age six on the piano. By my senior year in high school, I was participating in five performing groups simultaneously (chamber choir, jazz choir, band, orchestra, and a semi-professional singing and dancing group).
My advice if you want to be a musician is to practice! My mom was my first piano teacher. She would draw boxes on each song/sheet in my piano book. Every time I played the song correctly, I would check off a box. Well, not only would I check all her boxes–I would add extra boxes. She didn’t even have to tell me to practice! As a kid I wished we were allowed to have a video game console and more TV time; but now I’m grateful I was raised with minimal screens because I spent much more time developing my talents.
Also, say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, because each chance to perform or learn is a chance to develop as a musician and human being.
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, it’s 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.
Music School Central’s List of 70 Careers in Music