Musician: Career Summary, Employment Outlook and Education Requirements

Learn about the composing and performing activities of musicians, including what kind of college music programs are available. Find out where musicians work and what to expect in terms of job growth and salary outlook. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Musician?

A musician is an artist who organizes sound and musical elements, such as pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre, into aural sequences - commonly referred to as 'pieces' or 'songs'. As a musician you might compose songs, perform or do both. You could compose for ensembles, such as orchestras, choirs, jazz bands and rock bands, or for soloists. Composing entails writing musical notation, writing lyrics or both.

As a performer, you might sing, play an instrument or both sing and play. Instruments may be wind, brass, string or percussive. To become proficient as a performer, you must devote many hours to practicing. You also need enough confidence to enter auditions, apply your own interpretations to songs and occupy the stage in front of an audience.

Degree Required A bachelor's degree is helpful, but not required
Education Field of Study Music
Key Responsibilities Perform or compose music; play an instrument
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for musicians and singers)*
Average Salary (2015) $33.62 per hour (for musicians and singers)*

Where Do Professionals Work?

Your employment options will depend on the genre of music you're pursuing and whether you're composing or performing. In most instances you'll move from one engagement or 'gig' to the next, rather than have a single employer. For example, members of an orchestra perform in theaters, concert halls and opera houses, while jazz bands, rock bands and soloists perform at clubs, lounges, bars, festivals and concert halls. Recording studios provide steady work for a stable of session players. Composers contract their services to performing arts organizations, opera companies and theater producers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of musicians and singers was projected to increase three percent from 2014-2024, while employment of music directors and composers was also expected to increase three percent during the same time period. To improve your chances of landing a job in this competitive field, consider learning multiple instruments or music styles. Also, consider working with a small, community-based performance group or as a freelance musician. As of May 2015, musicians and singers earned an average of $33.62 per hour, while composers earned an average of $28.38 per hour.

What Education Is Available?

You don't need formal education to become a musician, although many who learn to sing or play an instrument start taking lessons at a young age. Nevertheless, public colleges and universities, art schools and music academies offer an extensive range of programs for performers and composers. Aspiring composers generally need a Bachelor of Arts in Music. If you decided to become a music educator, a bachelor's degree is sufficient for teaching in public schools, but a master's degree or doctorate is required for post-secondary schools.

Bachelor's degree programs in music take different instructional approaches. Some attempt to provide you with a comprehensive review of music as an art and profession, covering topics like music theory, music history, performance, composition, studio recording, education and therapy. Others allow you to choose from separate tracks or specializations, such as music education, composition, jazz and orchestral music.

Master's degree programs in music education also take variable approaches to the subject. Some are tightly focused on theory, while others encourage you to develop teaching methods that incorporate your own musical talent. Some will accept you if you have no prior teaching experience, while others recommend that you have some background teaching in elementary or secondary schools. Courses examine many topics found in conventional education programs, such as curriculum development, student assessment and education psychology, but are adapted for the needs of music teachers.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A similar career that may require some college but no degree is acting. Actors portray characters in various media to entertain audiences. Other related careers that require a bachelor's degree include those of producers, directors and teachers. Producers and directors create and manage performing arts productions like movies and plays. They help actors develop their characters for their performance. Those interested in teaching can become kindergarten, elementary, middle or high school teachers. In addition to a bachelor's degree, teachers in public schools need to be licensed.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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