Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios. They perform in a variety of styles, such as classical, jazz, opera, rap, or rock.
Musicians and singers typically do the following:
- Perform music for live audiences and recordings
- Audition for positions in orchestras, choruses, bands, and other music groups
- Practice playing instruments or singing to improve their technique
- Rehearse to prepare for performances
- Find locations for performances or concerts
- Travel, sometimes great distances, to performance venues
- Promote their careers by doing photo shoots and interviews or maintaining a website or social media presence
Musicians play one or more instruments. To make themselves more marketable, many musicians become proficient in multiple musical instruments or styles.
Musicians play in bands, orchestras, or small groups. Those in bands may play at weddings, private parties, clubs, or bars while they try to build enough fans to get a recording contract or representation by an agent. Some musicians work as a part of a large group of musicians who must work and practice together, such as an orchestra. A few musicians become section leaders, who may be responsible for assigning parts to other musicians or leading rehearsals.
Others musicians are session musicians, who specialize in playing backup for a singer or band leader during recording sessions and live performances.
Singers perform vocal music in a variety of styles. Some specialize in a particular vocal style, such as opera or jazz; others perform in a variety of musical genres. Singers, particularly those who specialize in opera or classical music, may perform in different languages, such as French or Italian. Opera singers act out a story by singing instead of saying the dialogue.
Some singers become background singers, providing vocals to harmonize or support the lead singer.
Musicians and singers held about 176,200 jobs in 2010. They often perform in settings such as concert halls, arenas, and clubs. They often work in religious organizations and performing arts companies. In 2010, 43 percent of musicians and singers were self-employed.
They may spend a lot of time traveling between performances. Some spend time in recording studios. There are many jobs in cities that have a high concentration of entertainment and recording activities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Nashville.
Musicians and singers who give recitals or perform in nightclubs travel frequently and may tour nationally or internationally.
However, many musicians and singers find only part-time or intermittent work and have long periods of unemployment between jobs. The stress of constantly looking for work leads many to accept permanent full-time jobs in other occupations while working part time as a musician or singer.
Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but live performances are most often at night and on weekends.
Education and Training:
Educational and training requirements for musicians and singers vary. There are no formal education requirements for those interested in performing popular music, but those interested in performing classical and opera typically need at least a bachelor’s degree.
To work as a classical musician or singer, a bachelor’s degree in music theory or music performance is generally required. To be accepted into one of these programs, applicants are typically required to submit recordings or audition in person—and sometimes must do both.
For some schools, applicants must first be admitted to the college and then prepare a separate application for the music program. Undergraduate music programs teach students about music history and styles and teach methods for improving their instrumental and vocal technique and musical expression.
Some musicians and singers choose to continue their education by pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts or music.
Musicians interested in performing popular music typically find jobs by attending auditions or arranging for their own performances. They may seek representation by an agent who will help them find jobs and performance opportunities.
Musicians and singers need extensive and prolonged training and practice to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to interpret music at a professional level. They typically begin singing or learning to play an instrument by taking lessons and classes when they are children. In addition, they must practice often to develop their talent and technique.
Musicians and singers interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities. Sometimes these programs are associated with professional orchestras and may lead to a permanent spot in that orchestra.
As with other occupations in which people perform, advancement for musicians and singers means becoming better known, finding work more easily, and earning more money for each performance. Successful musicians and singers often rely on agents or managers to find them jobs, negotiate contracts, and develop their careers.
Skills to Develop:
Discipline: Talent is not enough for most musicians and singers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and seek to improve their technique, style, and performances.
Musical talent: Professional musicians or singers must have superior musical abilities.
People skills. Musicians and singers need to work well with a variety of people, such as agents, music producers, conductors, and other musicians. Good people skills are helpful in building good working relationships.
Perseverance: Auditioning for jobs can be a frustrating process because it may take many different auditions to get hired. Musicians and singers need determination and perseverance to continue to audition after receiving many rejections.
Physical stamina: Musicians and singers who play in concerts or in nightclubs and those who tour must be able to endure frequent travel and irregular performance schedules.
Employment of musicians and singers is expected to grow by 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Expected growth will be due to increases in demand for musical performances.
The number of people attending musical performances, such as orchestra, opera, and rock concerts, is expected to increase from 2010 to 2020. As a result, more musicians and singers will be needed to play at these performances.
There will be additional demand for musicians to serve as session musicians and backup artists for recordings and to go on tour. Singers will be needed to sing backup and to make recordings for commercials, films, and television.
However, growth will likely be limited as orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups have difficulty getting funding. Some musicians and singers work for nonprofit organizations that rely on donations and corporate sponsorships in addition to ticket sales to fund their work. During economic downturns, these organizations may have trouble finding enough funding to cover their expenses.
Despite expected growth, there should be strong competition for jobs because of the large number of workers who are interested in becoming musicians and singers. In particular, there will likely be considerable competition for full-time positions.
Musicians and singers with exceptional musical talent should have the best opportunities.
Many musicians and singers experience periods of unemployment.
The median hourly wage of musicians and singers was $22.39 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.50, and the top 10 percent earned more than $60.02.
What is this job like?
Musicians compose, sing, or play music. They might perform solo or as part of a group. They perform in sound studios and on stage. They also perform on television and in movies.
Some musicians go on concert tours, traveling all over the United States and the world. However, not all their time is spent performing for audiences. Musicians and singers also spend a lot of time practicing and rehearsing.
Other music jobs include music directors who might lead choirs and other musical groups. Arrangers change the style of music by turning a country song into a rock and roll song, for example. Composers create new music.
Most musicians and singers work indoors, but some may perform in outdoor concerts. Performers often work at night and on weekends.
Many musicians, singers, and other music workers can only find part-time work. Some are unemployed between performances, so they often work other jobs while waiting for their next performance.
Although musicians work everywhere, New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville have the most jobs and the most recording studios.
How do you get ready?
You need musical talent to be a musician or singer. People who become musicians often learn how to play an instrument at an early age. Some of the most popular instruments are the guitar, piano, and drums. It helps any musician to learn to play more than one instrument.
Many songwriters now write music on computers, so technical skills are handy. Also, skills in choreography or dancing are sometimes useful for musicians.
To start getting ready for this job, you could join a school band or choir or perform in a school musical. Many community centers and art centers also have bands or choirs. You could also sing or play music with friends. It helps to take every chance to appear in front of people. You may be able to perform at parties or other events. Musicians and singers have to be comfortable performing on stage in front of lots of people.
How much does this job pay?
Earnings depend on how popular a performer is. But musicians often have to hold down other jobs while they're building their careers.
About 50 percent of musicians, singers, and related workers work for themselves. They are usually paid for each performance or recording. Their earnings vary greatly and depend on how many jobs they can get.
Other musicians, singers, and related workers work for organizations for a set amount of pay. In May of 2010, these musicians had average hourly wages of $22.39.
How many jobs are there?
Musicians, singers, composers, music directors and other related workers held about 176,200 jobs in 2010. Many musicians and singers work for orchestras and other music groups, ballet companies, and religious organizations. Self-employed musicians may perform at a variety of events and venues.
What about the future?
Competition for jobs as a musician or singer is very strong. Talent alone is no guarantee of success. These jobs are glamorous and some have very high pay, so many people want them. To have a music career, you need a lot of motivation, talent, and good luck. Very few people earn enough money to support themselves as musicians or singers.
Employment of musicians and singers is expected to grow 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Some information on this page has been provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.