Musicians, Singers, and Related Workers
- Part-time schedules and intermittent unemployment are common;
many musicians supplement their income with earnings from other
- Aspiring musicians begin studying an instrument or training
their voices at an early age.
- Competition for jobs is keen; those who can play several instruments
and perform a wide range of musical styles should enjoy the
best job prospects.
Musicians, singers, and related workers play musical instruments,
sing, compose or arrange music, or conduct groups in instrumental
or vocal performances. They may perform solo or as part of a group.
Musicians, singers, and related workers entertain live audiences
in nightclubs, concert halls, and theaters featuring opera, musical
theater, or dance. Many of these entertainers play for live audiences;
others perform exclusively for recording or production studios.
Regardless of the setting, musicians, singers, and related workers
spend considerable time practicing, alone and with their bands,
orchestras, or other musical ensembles.
Musicians often gain their reputation or professional
standing by exhibiting a high level of professionalism and proficiency
in a particular kind of music or performance. However, those who
learn several related instruments and who can perform equally
well in several musical styles have better employment opportunities.
Instrumental musicians, for example, may play in a symphony orchestra,
rock group, or jazz combo one night, appear in another ensemble
the next, and work in a studio band the following day. Some play
a variety of string, brass, woodwind, or percussion instruments
or electronic synthesizers.
Singers interpret music and text, using their knowledge
of voice production, melody, and harmony. They sing character
parts or perform in their own individual style. Singers are often
classified according to their voice range—soprano, contralto,
tenor, baritone, or bass—or by the type of music they sing, such
as opera, rock, popular, folk, rap, or country and western.
Music directors conduct, direct, plan, and lead instrumental
or vocal performances by musical groups, such as orchestras, choirs,
and glee clubs. Conductors lead instrumental music groups,
such as symphony orchestras, dance bands, show bands, and various
popular ensembles. These leaders audition and select musicians,
choose the music most appropriate for their talents and abilities,
and direct rehearsals and performances. Choral directors lead
choirs and glee clubs, sometimes working with a band or an orchestra
conductor. Directors audition and select singers and lead them
at rehearsals and performances to achieve harmony, rhythm, tempo,
shading, and other desired musical effects.
Composers create original music such as symphonies, operas,
sonatas, radio and television jingles, film scores, and popular
songs. They transcribe ideas into musical notation, using harmony,
rhythm, melody, and tonal structure. Although most composers and
songwriters practice their craft on instruments and transcribe
the notes with pen and paper, some use computer software to compose
and edit their music.
Arrangers transcribe and adapt musical compositions to
a particular style for orchestras, bands, choral groups, or individuals.
Components of music—including tempo, volume, and the mix of instruments
needed—are arranged to express the composer’s message. While some
arrangers write directly into a musical composition, others use
computer software to make changes.
Musicians typically perform at night and on weekends. They spend
much additional time practicing or in rehearsal. Full-time musicians
with long-term employment contracts, such as those with symphony
orchestras or television and film production companies, enjoy
steady work and less travel. Nightclub, solo, or recital musicians
frequently travel to perform in a variety of local settings and
may tour nationally or internationally. Because many musicians
find only part-time or intermittent work, experiencing unemployment
between engagements, they often supplement their income with other
types of jobs. The stress of constantly looking for work leads
many musicians to accept permanent, full-time jobs in other occupations,
while working only part time as musicians.
Most instrumental musicians work closely with a variety of other
people, including their colleagues, agents, employers, sponsors,
and audiences. Although they usually work indoors, some perform
outdoors for parades, concerts, and festivals. In some nightclubs
and restaurants, smoke and odors may be present, and lighting
and ventilation may be poor.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Aspiring musicians begin studying an instrument at an early age.
They may gain valuable experience playing in a school or community
band or an orchestra or with a group of friends. Singers usually
start training when their voices mature. Participation in school
musicals or choirs often provides good early training and experience.
Musicians need extensive and prolonged training and practice
to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, and ability to interpret
music at a professional level. Like other artists, musicians and
singers continually strive to stretch themselves—exploring different
forms of music. Formal training may be obtained through private
study with an accomplished musician, in a college or university
music program, or in a music conservatory. For university or conservatory
study, an audition generally is necessary. The National Association
of Schools of Music accredits more than 600 college-level programs
in music. Courses typically include music theory, music interpretation,
composition, conducting, and performance in a particular instrument
or in voice. Music directors, composers, conductors, and arrangers
need considerable related work experience or advanced training
in these subjects.
Many colleges, universities, and music conservatories grant bachelor’s
or higher degrees in music. A master’s or doctoral degree usually
is required to teach advanced music courses in colleges and universities;
a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient to teach basic courses.
A degree in music education qualifies graduates for a State certificate
to teach music in public elementary or secondary schools. Musicians
who do not meet public school music education requirements may
teach in private schools and recreation associations or instruct
individual students in private sessions.
Musicians must be knowledgeable about a broad range of musical
styles but keenly aware of the form that interests them most.
Having a broader range of interest, knowledge, and training can
help expand employment opportunities and musical abilities. Voice
training and private instrumental lessons, taken especially when
the individual is young, also help develop technique and enhance
Young persons considering careers in music should have musical
talent, versatility, creativity, poise, and a good stage presence.
Because quality performance requires constant study and practice,
self-discipline is vital. To sustain a career as a musician or
singer, performers must achieve a level performing excellence
and be counted on to be on their game whenever they perform. Moreover,
musicians who play in concerts or in nightclubs and those who
tour must have physical stamina to endure frequent travel and
an irregular performance schedule. Because musicians and singers
always must make their performances look effortless, preparation
and practice are important. Musicians and singers also must be
prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent employment and of
rejection when auditioning for work.
Advancement for musicians usually means becoming better known,
finding work more easily, and performing for higher earnings.
Successful musicians often rely on agents or managers to find
them performing engagements, negotiate contracts, and develop
Musicians, singers, and related workers held about 249,000 jobs
in 2004. Around 40 percent worked part time; almost half were
self-employed. Many found jobs in cities in which entertainment
and recording activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los
Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Nashville.
Musicians, singers, and related workers are employed in a variety
of settings. Of those who earn a wage or salary, almost two-thirds
were employed by religious organizations and almost one-fourth
by performing arts companies such as professional orchestras,
small chamber music groups, opera companies, musical theater companies,
and ballet troupes. Musicians and singers also perform in nightclubs
and restaurants and for weddings and other events. Well-known
musicians and groups may perform in concerts, appear on radio
and television broadcasts, and make recordings and music videos.
The Armed Forces also offer careers in their bands and smaller
Competition for jobs for musicians, singers, and related workers
is expected to be keen. The vast number of persons with the desire
to perform will continue to greatly exceed the number of openings.
Talent alone is no guarantee of success: many people start out
to become musicians or singers but leave the profession because
they find the work difficult, the discipline demanding, and the
long periods of intermittent unemployment unendurable.
Overall employment of musicians, singers, and related workers
is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations
through 2014. Most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will
arise in religious organizations. Slower-than-average growth is
expected for self-employed musicians, who generally perform in
nightclubs, concert tours, and other venues. Growth in demand
for musicians will generate a number of job opportunities, and
many openings also will arise from the need to replace those who
leave the field each year because they are unable to make a living
solely as musicians or for other reasons.
Median hourly earnings of musicians and singers were $17.85 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.68 and $30.75.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.47, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $53.59. Median hourly earnings were
$20.70 in performing arts companies and $12.17 in religious organizations.
Annual earnings data for musicians and singers were not available,
because of the wide variation in the number of hours worked by
musicians and singers and the short-term nature of many jobs,
which may last for 1 day or 1 week; it is extremely rare for musicians
and singers to have guaranteed employment that exceeds 3 to 6
Median annual earnings of salaried music directors and composers
were $34,570 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$24,040 and $51,770. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,960,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,380.
Yearly earnings typically reflect the number of gigs a freelance
musician or singer played or the number of hours and weeks of
salaried contract work, in addition to a performer’s professional
reputation and setting: performers who can fill large concert
halls, arenas, or outdoor stadiums generally command higher pay
than those who perform in local clubs. Soloists or headliners
usually receive higher earnings than band members or opening acts.
The most successful musicians earn performance or recording fees
that far exceed the median earnings.
According to the American Federation of Musicians, weekly minimum
salaries in major orchestras ranged from about $700 to $2,080
during the 2004–05 performing season. Each orchestra works out
a separate contract with its local union, but individual musicians
may negotiate higher salaries. Top orchestras have a season ranging
from 24 to 52 weeks, with 18 orchestras reporting 52-week contracts.
In regional orchestras, minimum salaries are often less because
fewer performances are scheduled. Regional orchestra musicians
often are paid for their services, without any guarantee of future
employment. Community orchestras often have even more limited
levels of funding and offer salaries that are much lower for seasons
of shorter duration.
Although musicians employed by some symphony orchestras work
under master wage agreements, which guarantee a season’s work
up to 52 weeks, many other musicians face relatively long periods
of unemployment between jobs. Even when employed, many musicians
and singers work part time in unrelated occupations. Thus, their
earnings usually are lower than earnings in many other occupations.
Moreover, because they may not work steadily for one employer,
some performers cannot qualify for unemployment compensation,
and few have typical benefits such as sick leave or paid vacations.
For these reasons, many musicians give private lessons or take
jobs unrelated to music to supplement their earnings as performers.
Many musicians belong to a local of the American Federation of
Musicians. Professional singers who perform live often belong
to a branch of the American Guild of Musical Artists; those who
record for the broadcast industries may belong to the American
Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Musical instrument repairers and tuners (part of precision instrument
and equipment repairers) require technical knowledge of musical
instruments. Others whose work involves the performing arts include
actors, producers, and
directors; announcers; and dancers and choreographers.
|Sources of Additional Information
For general information about music and music teacher education
and a list of accredited college-level programs, contact:
Source: Bureau of
Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,