What Are the Steps to Become a Professional Musician?

Becoming a professional musician isn't easy, but with enough talent and determination, it's far from impossible. This article examines the benefits of a formal education in music performance and discusses resources for aspiring professional musicians. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Getting Started as a Professional Musician

Those who choose to become professional musicians usually do so for the love of music, not a paycheck. In fact, most professional musicians start out performing on a part-time basis, and many don't get beyond that point, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). Professional musicians generally work nights and may have to relocate to find better opportunities.

Important Facts about this Occupation

Median Wage (2014) $24.16/hour
Job Outlook (2012-2022)5% growth in jobs (slower than average)
Training Some start musical lessons as children; continual practice
Work Environment Jobs may require travel, intermittent work, long hours, work during evenings and weekends; work may be performed in a variety of settings
Similar Occupations Actors, dancers and choreographers, music directors and composers, music teachers, singers and vocal artists

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Completing Music Education

While there are no set education requirements for professional musicians, anyone who wants to play music professionally must display a high degree of musical proficiency. And as talented as any musician may be, he or she will only reach full potential under the tutelage of the best teachers available.

A bachelor's degree in music theory or performance is most common among those who are interested in pursuing classical music and opera. However, a degree can benefit anyone who's serious about becoming a professional musician. Music performance students explore the fundamentals of music, such as sight-reading and harmony, and develop the skills and confidence needed to perform in public. As an added bonus, they may be able to use their school's recording equipment to produce an audition CD. Some U.S. schools that offer bachelor's degrees in music performance include Ohio State University, Arizona State University, the University of Texas, and the University of Central Florida, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov).

Gaining Exposure

Succeeding in becoming a professional musician is difficult, but those who are trying have more resources available to them than ever. Musicians who are looking to get their names out or find jobs often rely on the Internet for assistance. Some websites allow aspiring professional musicians to upload pictures, biographies, and musical samples in an attempt to be discovered, or help musicians create their own websites. There are also musician-only unions, such as the American Federation of Musicians (www.afm.org) that can help members gain recognition and land gigs.

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