Careers in Music

A number of students are considering careers in music. Following is some information about a variety of careers in music, the educational requirements, the pros and cons of each career, and other information.  Information about the various music degrees is found on a later page. I have tried to honestly portray each of these jobs, including some of the surprise expectations. While many of them look difficult (because they are), most of these jobs can be done by students such as you. Most of what makes you able to achieve these jobs is hard work and persistence.

These descriptions are not intended to scare you out of majoring in music. However, they are intended to help you see reality. You must be ready to work hard and deal with difficult situations to succeed as a musician. Most of my music friends have strongly considered changing majors at one or more times in their educational career. (I don’t know how many concerts we had where half of us decided to switch to computer programming  because we were so tired or frustrated by the work involved in music.) Only those who don’t actually change their majors, survive to become professional musicians.

As you think of new questions you have, please let me know and I will update these pages.

ELEMENTARY MUSIC TEACHER

Minimum Educational requirements:  Bachelor’s degree in music education

Additional Educational recommendations:  Master’s degree increases your earning power. This can be completed in evening classes or summer school after you become a teacher.

Skills required:  You must be able to sing in front of children, and play classroom level songs on the piano or guitar. You should be playing at a minimum of AIM Level II by the time you graduate from high school.

Insurance considerations:  Your employer, the school, usually provides health insurance and pension. This may change for all jobs as the years go on.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes. Positions are usually available for average and better music teachers.

SECONDARY (HIGH SCHOOL) VOCAL MUSIC TEACHER

Minimum Educational requirements:  Bachelor’s degree in music education with secondary certification.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Master’s degree increases your earning power.  This can be completed in evening classes or summer school after you become a teacher.

Skills required:  Basic piano skills, remedial ability to play many band instruments, vocal training to be able to teach students how to sing, a good ear for developing good choral tone, music history, music theory. Many of these skills are developed during your college training. You should be playing piano at a minimum of AIM Level II or III by the time you graduate from college.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Your employer, the school, usually provides health insurance. They also usually provide a pension plan.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes. Positions are usually available for average and better music teachers. Less qualified students sometimes teach elementary school. It is wise to choose an age level that you enjoy teaching.

SECONDARY (HIGH SCHOOL) BAND TEACHER

Minimum Educational requirements:  Bachelor’s degree in music education with secondary certification.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Master’s degree increases your earning power.

Skills required:  Basic piano skills, above average ability to play many band instruments, a good ear for developing good band balance, music history, music theory. Many of these skills are developed during your college training. You should be playing piano at a minimum of AIM Level II or III by the time you graduate from college.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Your employer, the school, usually provides health insurance. They also usually provide a pension plan.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes.  Positions are usually available for average and better music teachers.  Less qualified students sometimes teach elementary school.

PRIVATE PIANO TEACHER

Educational requirements:  no requirements.

Educational recommendations:  A Bachelor’s degree gives you the qualifications to prove you know what you are teaching. It also increases your chance of earning a full-time living. A Master’s degree strongly increases your earning power. It is very wise to take one or more business courses in college.

Skills required:  You must be able to play better than the level of students you wish to teach. You must be able to find a variety of solutions to help your students learn how to learn. You need training in music theory, music history, and a well developed ear. You need a methods course to learn of the various teaching method books, teaching techniques, and competitions for your students. You also need some basic business skills to keep accounts, balance your books, and determine lesson rates to provide for your living needs. In addition, you need people skills to develop a studio that retains students. You should be playing at a minimum of AIM Level X by the time you graduate from college to maintain a studio that allows you to make a living.

Insurance and investment considerations:  You have to provide your own health insurance and your own pension. You also should carry liability insurance. And you have to provide a studio in which to teach.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes. Some piano teachers just want to earn some extra money.  Those who must earn a full-time living in this business must be smart and work hard.

ADJUNCT INSTRUCTOR IN MUSIC.    An adjunct position is, by definition, part-time at the college level.

Minimum Educational requirements:  a Master’s degree in music.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Experience as a performer or teacher and/or a DMA are very helpful.

Minimum skills required:  Strong piano skills are essential. If you teach piano you may be expected to give concerts each year and develop a national or international career. If you teach voice, you may be expected to give vocal concerts or develop outstanding choirs. Piano majors should be playing at a minimum of AIM Level 12-16  or higher by the time you graduate from college.

Insurance and investment considerations.  You will be required to provide your own health insurance, pension plan, and liability insurance. The college provides a place for you to teach your college lessons. Some colleges will allow you to do additional private teaching on the campus.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE MUSIC TEACHER

Educational requirements:  Most community colleges require a master’s degree in music.  It is possible that some day they will require a Ph.D.

Additional Educational recommendations:  A Ph.D. strongly increases your earning power and your ability to get a job at an outstanding college. OR win a series of international competitions.

Minimum Skills required:  Good piano skills are essential. If you teach piano you will be expected to give concerts each year. If you teach voice, you will be expected to give vocal concerts or develop outstanding choirs. Some schools expect you to publish or develop national concert careers. Piano majors should be playing at a minimum of AIM Level 12-16 or higher by the time you graduate from college.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Your employer, the college, will usually provide health insurance and the location for you to teach. They also provide a pension plan.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes. Hours are long in spite of the fact that summers are off.  Much of that time you will be developing coursework or dealing with faculty committees. Most college music teachers I know work very hard.

FULL-TIME CHURCH MUSICIAN

Minimum Educational requirements:  Usually a Master’s degree in sacred music.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Advanced study will increase your reputation but may not increase your earning power unless you concertize nationally.

Skills required:  Very good piano skills are required for choral directors. Superb organ skills are required for full-time organists. Organists need transposition and improvisation skills. Many jobs require you to be both organist and choral director.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Your employer, the church, will usually provide some level of health insurance. They might provide a pension plan. They often allow you teaching privileges at the church (negotiate this when you work on your contract). They also should provide some professional development support (i.e. pay for you to attend at least one workshop each year).

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes, but you have to work hard to get a position that provides a living wage. Jobs are few and competitive.

COMPOSER

Minimum Educational requirements:  Most composers have a master’s degree or higher.  (Composers for video-games or TV commercials may have different backgrounds.)

Additional Educational recommendations:  If you want to teach composition at the college level you will need a Ph.D. in composition, preferably from a major university.

Skills required:  Well developed skills in traditional composition and a flair for experimental writing. Most college positions desire experience in electronic composition. Piano playing skills at least at level VI are essential. Higher level skills are preferred.

Insurance and investment considerations:  As a freelance composer you provide your own health insurance and pension.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes, for a few individuals. You must develop a website and also actively cultivate contacts nationally and/or internationally to receive commissions. Some composers who make a full-time living choose not to teach and just go hungry until they start making enough money to live on. People who teach often do not have enough time to compose and cultivate contacts (“market their music”) to work into a full-time living. You must make a conscious effort in college to develop the contacts needed to become a successful full-time composer. Examples of full-time composers:

FOUR-YEAR (UNDERGRADUATE) COLLEGE PROFESSOR

Minimum Educational requirements:  Some jobs can still be found with only a Master’s degree in music. Many jobs, and certainly the better jobs, require a Ph.D. or DMA in music.

Educational recommendations:  A Ph.D. or DMA is increasingly being required to achieve tenure (a permanent job).

Skills required:  Strong piano skills are essential. If you teach piano you may be expected to give concerts each year and develop a national or international career. If you teach voice, you may be expected to give vocal concerts or develop outstanding choirs. Most schools expect you to publish or develop national concert careers. Pianists should be playing at AIM Level 12-16  by the time you graduate from high school.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Your employer, the college, will provide health insurance and the location for you to teach. They also provide a pension plan.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes. Hours are long in spite of the fact that summers are off.  Much of that time you will be developing coursework, doing advanced training, or practicing. Most college music teachers I know work very hard.

RECORDING STUDIO WORK

Minimum Educational Requirements: Bachelor’s degree.

Additional Education recommendations: keeping with the trends in recording studios.

Skills required: an excellent ear for details.

Insurance and investment considerations: Full-time positions may provide health insurance and pension plan. Be sure to ask. Part-time positions do not provide benefits.

Career possibilities: There is a growing need for studio engineers in recording studios. There are also many students in this field so it may become very competitive soon.

Can one make a full-time living? Yes.

LOCAL PROFESSIONAL PIANIST OR ORGANIST

Minimum Educational requirements:  None are required. But most professional performers have a Master’s degree or higher.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Practice, practice, practice.

Skills required:  Outstanding performance skills. Good people skills are very helpful in developing a career. You should be playing at AIM Level 12 or higher by the time you graduate from high school.  Ability to practice 4 to 6 hours a day as you get older.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Unless you have a full time teaching position, or other job, you will need to provide your own health and liability insurance plus pension plan. You may have to provide your own teaching studio. You may have a job as an adjunct college instructor (see above).

Career possibilities:  Full-time accompanist for a high school (these positions are rare), college accompanist (full or part-time), church organist.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ARTIST/ PERFORMER

Minimum Educational requirements:  None are required. Most professional performers are working on or have achieved a DMA in music from an outstanding music school. Many are spending years working on a DMA while entering national and international competitions. They live off the earnings from the competitions, doing adjunct teaching, and getting teaching assistantships.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Win several international competitions.

Skills required:  Performance skills that put you in the top 5% of performers in the world. Ability to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. A very good memory is helpful. A love of travel is also essential.

Insurance and investment considerations:  Unless you have a full time teaching position, or other job, you will need to provide your own health and liability insurance plus pension plan. You may have to provide your own teaching studio. Or you may have a job as an adjunct college instructor (see above).

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes, if you are very, very good and have a superior work ethic.

BROADWAY OR OPERA PERFORMER 

Minimum Educational requirements:  None are required. But most professional performers have a Bachelor’s degree or higher in vocal performance.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Take some acting classes in college and appear in numerous high school and college musicals.

Skills required:  Outstanding performance skills. Good people skills are very helpful in developing a career.  A love of travel is also essential. Outstanding sight-singing and ear training skills are needed.  Excellent memorization skills.

Insurance and investment considerations:  I’m not sure. I believe that full-time performers get insurance and perhaps pension through Equity. An Equity card is required in many areas to work in musical theater.  Ironically, you have to be working in theater to get an Equity card.  See Actors Equity

Career possibilities:  Performing in local musical theater (the Chicago area is excellent for this), regional theater or national touring companies.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes.

POP or ROCK STAR

Minimum Educational requirements:  None are required. Many professional performers have a Master’s degree or higher. Some have no degrees at all. And some have little talent, but lots of charisma.

Additional Educational recommendations:  Dance and singing. Guitar playing can be helpful.

Skills required:  Outstanding performance skills and/or personality and charisma. Good people skills are very helpful in developing a career. A love of travel is also essential. Ability to work long hours, and keep your mental balance while other people try to manage your career.

Insurance and investment considerations:  You will provide your own. Your manager can assist you, but it helps if you have enough education that you will know if you are being given good advice.

Career possibilities:  Performer on “college circuits,” regional career, or national tour.

Can one make a full-time living?  Yes.