Careers in Music

In today’s music industry, success has a lot to do with your ability to promote yourself. Your income is normally dependent on the size of your audience. In addition to the entrepreneurial route, there are a handful of jobs within the industry that offer a fixed monthly salary. Although some degree of knowledge or experience is usually a prerequisite, any musical career that can support you financially should be considered a great achievement in terms of doing what you love.


Contemporary Pop

Writing music has been the ultimate way to cultivate a profit from the music industry since it came into being. If you can write a song that many people relate to (a hit), you have the opportunity to monetize your efforts in many different ways, from CD and merchandise sales, to live performances and touring. Writing contemporary pop has a general aim at commercial radio play and purposely targets a large audience base. Many great artists of our time had their careers unfold naturally as a result of music they had recorded and released. Others have worked very hard at song writing and achieved a degree of success. Either way, this career choice is a hit and miss avenue, and you’re likely to achieve very little without supreme song writing capabilities.

Freelance Composer & Arranger

Some of the biggest hits around today weren’t actually written by the artist. These songs were outsourced to writers who specialize in the field and can produce work of a higher quality than the artist could on their own. For example, Billy Steinberg who has written songs like ‘Eternal Flame’ for Atomic Kitten and ‘True Colors’ for Tom Kelly, excels in the field of writing. You wouldn’t say that he’s the greatest singer or guitar player, however he writes music that possesses a rare artistry and precision. If you’re a talented songwriter, you won’t fall short of artists who are looking to purchase music that they cannot write themselves.

TV, Video, Games, Advertising & Corporate Presentations

This involves composing music that synchronizes with visuals. This is normally instrumental music with various orchestral instruments, although music for jingles, advertising and corporate presentations require singing too. Composers with a background in orchestration usually work in this field, as they are able to write complex parts for a multitude of instruments. Film composes have on various occasions been dubbed the classical composers of today. The composing process has been streamlined with modern software and plug-ins that provide samples of real orchestral instruments, which allow composers to work from home. You can secure work in this field by contacting companies that you’re interested in working for and offering them a few demos of your work. This is especially easy if you have a SoundCloud profile with many followers.

Live Entertainment

Mobile DJ

A mobile DJ caters to the music requirements primarily of weddings and parties. A great DJ is gifted at establishing a connection with the crowd. The job requires proficiency in self promotion, as you will need your own website, business card and logo. A general understanding of audio gear is a prerequisite as you are required to setup and use your own equipment. Highly paid DJ’s usually have some form of reputation, such as a radio presence or song edits and mashups. Smaller DJ’s generally work in a related field in order to make ends meet. Established DJ’s usually start out working for free in order to gain experience and reputation.

Dance / Cover Band

This is a great way to make money either full time or on the side, and can be approached from a solo perspective (with backing tracks) or as a full band. You will generally perform in clubs, pubs and restaurants with the occasional festival gig. Many artists working in this line refer to these as ‘bread and butter’ gigs, because it’s all about stockpiling as many as possible in order to make enough money. To be successful, you will need to perform multiple times a week, and competition in this field makes it very tough. High paid acts either perform solo, or in a niche specific band such as an ACDC or Neil Diamond tribute band. Successful artists in this field are also very efficient at self promotion. The job may involve extensive traveling as well as setting up and tearing down your own PA system and lighting equipment.

Booking Agents, Corporate Events & Private Gigs

When making use of a booking agent you have the ability to focus solely on your music, while the agent takes care of marketing and bookings on your behalf. Booking agents require a guarantee that an audience will be satisfied with the entertainment that they provide. They usually work with high profile bands that have their own following, or bands that inherit a strong level of musicianship such as jazz and blues bands. It can be difficult to attract a reputable agent in today’s competitive music industry, although booking agents usually bring the most luxurious gigs (such as hotels) that have the highest pay. Corporate gigs usually originate from agents, which are often funded by companies with huge budgets. You will, however, need to surrender a percentage of earnings towards the agent (10 – 20%).

Online Streaming

This is a fairly new concept with great potential. Today, there are a multitude of online services that can host, stream and sell tickets for your live events. These platforms allow you to reach a worldwide audience with great earning potential. All you need to start earning is a relatively inexpensive webcam and microphone, or simply a laptop computer with a built-in camera. Live streaming works best for intimate living room shows. The nature of online streaming typically involves the personality of the performer, along with their artistry. Artists will need to offer fans engaging content while making themselves available to their audience. Artists are able to read and respond to fan comments in real time during a show. To be successful in this field you will need to broadcast on a consistent basis, although not too often. If your show is engaging enough, you can build a following very quickly and start earning from an international following.

Cruise Ship Musician

There are many positive aspects that come with working for a luxury cruise line such as free accommodation, meal expenses covered and the ability to travel the world. The job can, however, be demanding. Musicians are required to play a huge repertoire of music from all styles, and quickly adapt to new environments, people from different backgrounds and various social situations. You will be required to perform music almost every night of the week. You may also be assigned non-musician duties, such as briefing guests on safety procedures. You will need to have the ability to go for extended periods of time without face-to-face communication with friends and family. Performers are, however, paid extremely well. The job is normally secured through a cruise line agent.

Busker / Street Performer

Busking is a live street performance which involves sharing a refined skill or art, and contributing in a meaningful way to the general public. A busker will need to perform highly familiar music, while being approachable with the ability to cater to audience requests. More exclusive settings may require a permit and even an audition in order to perform. Earnings are sporadic, although many buskers enjoy the ability to work exclusively for themselves, often in a great setting too. High paid buskers have spent a large amount of timing finding locations where their music gets the best reception. A performer requires their own battery operated equipment which can deliver good sound quality with enough projection. You can’t play too loud in order to avoid violating noise regulations. You also don’t want to be too soft and have your performance drowned out by the public.

International Hotels

Hotels in locations like Dubai and China prefer to hire musicians that look American, in order to match the origin of the music they’re performing. Bands are generally aimed at providing entertainment for international businessman. You’re accommodated by the hotel you’re performing in, and meal expenses are also taken care of. Contracts usually span 4 – 6 months, with filler contracts spanning 4 – 6 weeks. Musicians are expected to perform popular music, generally for about 4 hours per night for 6 days a week. Agents who are looking to hire for these types of gigs generally opt for attractive females with great singing abilities and a lot of experience. The high pay definitely makes this career option worthwhile ($3,000 – $5,000 monthly).

Sound Engineering

Sound Engineer

A sound engineer is responsible for operating the equipment used for public speaking or live musical performances. Engineers may be required to set up and tear down PA systems as well as maintain and repair equipment. This job is generally broken up into two categories – front of house mixing and stage mixing, although most engineers need to have proficiency in both categories. Stage mixing usually involves taking cues from a band during a performance, with constant sound level monitoring to in order to ensure that the performer is comfortable.

Recording & Mastering Engineer

A recording engineer requires a high level of knowledge in various recording methodology such as microphone placement and room acoustics. They require a familiarity with physical audio equipment, and software such as Pro Tools. A recording engineer is responsible for capturing audio, while a mastering engineer is responsible for post production. Engineers require proficiency doing both, although high level budgets usually require the tracking and mastering process to be performed by separate individuals that specialize in each field.


A producer is responsible for achieving the artistic vision of a specific project, and is required to bring out the best in recording artists. This job title doesn’t just entail requirement for a high musical aptitude, it also calls for strong interpersonal and communication skills. Generally, musicians choose to work with reputable producers within the industry. Becoming a producer involves many years of experience in various fields of music, as well as a proficiency on various musical instruments.



This is a good career choice for anyone who is passionate and enthusiastic about music gear, especially considering that you don’t need any prior or formal training. The primary function of the job is to discuss various brand options, explain specifications and demonstrate various instruments for potential clients. The job may also involve dealing with phone queries, managing deliveries, maintaining equipment (like restring and cleaning guitars) and packaging equipment. You can easily get the position based on strong interpersonal skills and a deep knowledge of musical instruments. The title may also lead to future advances such as becoming store manager.

Promoter / Event Organiser

You can either work for an events promotion company, or be an independent event organizer. Individuals should excel in time management, critical thinking, social networking and communication skills. You will also need strong negotiation skills. Organizers need to book artists, rent venues and advertise events (posters, radio interviews etc). They also need to take care of the production aspect which involves sound and lighting. Individuals looking to work for a company will need a degree in marketing, promotion or any related field.

Product Demonstrator

There are a fair amount of positions available in both large and small corporations for product demonstrators. It’s also possible to do this on a freelance basis. You will need to be an inspiring, creative individual that can demonstrate strong musical abilities during pressure moments. The job entails providing product information to small or medium sized audiences, as well as responding to queries and developing product recognition. You may also be required to distribute brochures and process sales. Extensive travelling may be required.

Session Musician

Studio & Live Work

An increasingly difficult field to break into considering most modern music doesn’t even feature real instruments. Modern session work is usually done at home, sometimes as an online service. Apart from the ability to make home recordings, session musicians also have to be able to work with tracking engineers and producers. Most session musicians have training in jazz or classical music. The job entails being able to work quickly under pressure, strong rhythmic capabilities, the ability to perform any style of music and often notation and transcribing abilities.


Many theatre productions offer auditions for full time band members. The job may mean acting as an accompanist, performing in a full band or serving in an orchestra. Musicians are expected to reproduce music exactly as it’s written or conducted. This might mean reproducing exactly the same performance night after night. Apart from strong musical capabilities, artists are often required to ‘look the part’ as well as have singing abilities. In some settings the band may not feature as much as vocalists or actors involved with choreography.



A technician sets up and maintains stringed instruments. Skills in this field can be acquired through a guitar technology college course. Positions are available at music stores as well as for various touring bands. Technicians are responsible for maintaining instruments that are subject to the variables of traveling, and make sure that they play consistently for each show. Additional duties may involve maintaining amplification and other gear as well as maintenance during recording sessions. Extensive traveling is usually required.

Luthier / Repairman

Luthiers have a passion for designing and crafting their own instruments. Apart from working for an instrument manufacturing company, there are many private Luthiers that enjoy building instruments that have a unique sound and tonal quality. The most successful individuals in this field possess advanced woodworking capabilities with the ability to select the best wood for the project. Time and patience as well as attention to detail are prerequisites for the job.



A teacher needs some experience in the music industry in order to pass down relevant and valuable information to their students. Teachers require strong preparation and communication skills. Patience is of essence when dealing with slow learners. Independent music teachers have the ability to pick their own hours or work part time. Online lessons via platforms such as Skype are becoming increasingly popular. If applying for a position at a music school, a teaching qualification or diploma is normally required.


This is a great way of combining music and healing in the same career. Music therapy involves teaching life concepts through musical experiences. For example, it can be applied to children who are struggling to learn certain academic skills in the classroom. Apart from being musical, therapists need to have a background in various counseling techniques. A bachelors degree in music therapy is required as well as an authentic desire to help others.

Dean Hailstone

Dean Hailstone

Dean is a professional guitar player, recording artist and touring musician. He has over 20 years of playing experience, and has performed hundreds of live gigs during his career. Read more...


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