Ask any high school student what they want to be when they grow up, and you can bet “rock star” or “singer” will be the first thing out of many of their mouths. The lucky few musicians who do make it to superstardom may tell you that assertion isn’t always welcomed by teachers – Shakira, Rod Stewart, Liam Gallagher, and even John Lennon were all told at school that they could not make a career from music. It’s a sentiment that continues to this day, with the creative arts facing continued marginalization in the education system.
However, if you want to turn your passion for music into a career, then don’t let that dishearten you. While there are undoubtedly limited openings in rock stardom, there are plenty of other ways to make a living from music.
Chart-topping musicians aren’t the only musicians who make money from their craft – the realms of the professional musician go way beyond the stereotypical idea of a “rock star”, so there are plenty of other ways to sing or play an instrument for a living. For a start, many of those rock stars need backing bands. Often referred to as session players or “jobbing musicians”, many musicians make a great living from backing other artists. Drummers Josh Freese, Atom Willard, and Ilan Rubin are all great examples of session musicians who make their money touring with various acts. Some session players even play full-time for the same band, without ever joining as a full member – such as longtime Rolling Stones session bass player Darryl Jones. While few get as lucky as Jones, there are plenty of artists who need professional musicians on the road and in the studio.
Other ways to play your instrument as a full-time job are to play in a wedding/covers band, become a solo acoustic artist who plays in cafés and quieter bars, or a lounge pianist who plays in hotel foyers and expensive restaurants.
How to do it: a great place to start is by taking grades – however, many professional musicians are self-taught. The rest depends on the level that you want to play at – a basic understanding of music theory will help in most cases, while the ability to read music is often seen as a “nice to have” rather than an essential requirement. Playing in an orchestra or as a concert musician will likely require both of these skills, along with a very strong technical proficiency in your instrument. At the other end of the scale, the only requirement for a wedding band is that you sound good!
Every great show has a huge team of skilled professionals working hard behind the scenes to keep everything on track. The number of people involved depends on the size of the production, but the largest shows can include a crew of:
- Sound engineers.
- Lighting engineers.
- Stage/set designers.
- Wardrobe technicians.
Likewise, hit songs and demos both require the skill of studio-based technicians, including record producers and studio engineers.
How to do it: the traditional route was to gain a technical qualification (such as a sound engineering course) followed by an assistant job, apprenticeship, or internship at a studio, venue, or production company. However, an increasing number of professionals are setting up their own operations from scratch. What’s essential either way is a passion for music and a solid work ethic.
There’s perhaps no career in music more rewarding than teaching music. Private home-based tuition is unregulated and so it really comes down to what clients are willing to pay for your level of expertise. Music academies and a school are another story – they’ll require a recognized teaching qualification as a minimum.
How to do it: becoming a grade-qualified musician and a teaching qualification are essential criteria for teaching music at most schools. However, there’s no need to give up your day job as you can earn a master’s in music education online.
The business side
Away from the screaming crowds, there are a whole host of office-based jobs that help the music industry tick. They can include:
- Record label A&R.
- Radio plugger.
- PR and marketing.
- Band/artist manager.
- Booking agent.
How to do it: studying a business-related degree or diploma may be a good start. However, many of these jobs come down to who you know – so network, network, network. Get out and meet people in the industry, then get a foot in the door by whatever means you can.