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For this career, by 32 people, from 10 (best) to 1 (worst).

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Inside Musician Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you


Biggest Surprises

"How To Start...
It is really easy to just buy some software like Ableton Live or Reason, watch some tutorials on YouTube and start like that as opposed to going to actual music school." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, male
School: Studied Music at Illinois Central College in Illinois; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Live Music Gigs Disappearing...
I am shocked at how quickly opportunities for musicians are drying up. I used to work 6 nights a week any time I wanted, but now, it has been years since I did a multi-night gig and I consider myself lucky to get one night a week. I used to fly all over the country to play at high-end parties but that has stopped completely. It amazes me that I am still first call for some of the classiest jobs in New York City, but I have trouble booking a local club gig." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Business at Penn State in Pennsylvania; completed Associate degree in 1974

"Behind The Scene With Session Musicians...
People are surprised to learn what a session musician does. They don't seem to realize how many people are involved in the recording process of music, and how many of their favorite bands and musicians need someone to perform on their records." (Session Musician; 2013)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Advertising at San Jose State University in California in 2009

"Fellow Artists...
How ruthless and back stabbing other people in the art world can be. You would think because we are all expressive and creative souls that we would be more supportive and understanding of each other. It truly is heartbreaking to be a part of and see." (Musician, Arts Administrator; 2013)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in Florida, female
School: Studied Music at Stetson University in Florida; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Symphony Musician A Hard Row To Hoe...
[I need to clarify regarding the answers above. My CURRENT CAREER is a transactional real estate lawyer. Which I opted to pursue after being a symphony musician for a while.] What surprised me most about being a symphony musician was that as romantic and glamorous a job as it appears from the audience, it is a very difficult job to do year after year. There are so many rules to follow. You can never be late for work (especially a concert). You must conform conform, which is about the opposite of what I thought a musician's career would be like. You're surrounding by egotistical and neurotic competitors, in the biggest henhouse on the planet, busier figuring out where you stand in the pecking order than how to make music with your compatriots. You are WAY undercompensated. And when on stage, like an airline pilot, your job is hours of boredom interspersed with seconds of terror (whether somebody comes in wrong and gets your section all jittery, or you miss a key change, or you have a solo, or your section has a hard part where the eye and literally the sweat on the conductor's nose are all intently pointed in your direction, etc.) I'm glad I got out of there when I did, because all my contemporaries left behind are old, stooped and gray, the life literally sucked out of them, while I spent the last 30 years doing something less stressful and more rewarding." (Symphony Orchestra Musician; 2013)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in Arizona, male
School: Studied Cello Performance at Arizona State University College Of Fine Arts in Arizona; completed Bachelor degree in 1975

"Versatility Of Music In Other Aspects...
What surprised me the most was the respect people give from other musicians if you went into music and can perform well. What would surprised others was how much more I have learned about different types of music and how I can incorporate into the music that I love." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Music at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania in 2010

"Hard To Find Jobs...
I was surprised by the lack of jobs in the marketplace." (Audio Engineer; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Wisconsin, male
School: Studied Audio Recording at Madison Media Institute in Wisconsin; completed Associate degree in 2009

"The Importance Of Work Ethic...
The deeper I got into the field of music the more surprised I was at how insanely competitive it is. Singers are a dime a dozen, it all comes down to dedication and work ethic to separate good performers from great ones." (Opera Vocalist; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Texas, female
School: Studied Music at San Jacinto North College in Texas in 2012

"Networking Is Everything...
I was surprised with how much or your success is determined based on networking and connections. A lot of musicians don't even need to be incredibly talented or skilled to survive, they just network a lot and know a lot of people." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Oregon, male
School: at N/A

"Self-Starting Is A Must...
What's surprised me about being a musician is how much of it is a self-made thing. There is no guiding process by which we can make ourselves successful as performance artists. There's no clear way to get people to listen, to come to shows, to dole out production funding." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 9 years of experience, currently based in Nebraska, male
School: Studied Music Performance at Univ Nebraska At Omaha in Nebraska; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Great Tenacity And Patience For A Great Career In Music...
This is an extremely competitive industry and I was surprised by how difficult dealing with artists would be as well as how difficult finding gigs initially. This being said, once you break through that I was surprised at how fast everything can move for your career once you get momentum. My personal band moved forward in 2 years faster than I had anticipated and I am quite satisfied with my career." (Professional Musician; 2013)

Career: 17 years of experience, currently based in Ohio, male
School: Studied Music Performance at Mount Union University in Ohio; completed Bachelor degree in 2001

"Never Quite Prepared...
I was surprised by how much I have to react and think "on the fly" for my job. I expected to able to prepare thoroughly for a rehearsal, but now matter how much preparation goes into a piece, I still need to improvise every time, based on what the other musicians do/need from me." (Music Director/Conductor; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Virginia, female
School: Studied Music at Virginia Tech in Virginia; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Professionalism Doesn't Help Musicians Advance As Much As Expected...
I have been quite negatively surprised to discover that professionalism does not help a person advance in this field as much as I once believed. Most people expect that it is not all about talent (there is definite unfairness in the industry regarding knowing the "right" people, for example) but there also seem to be blinders on most people who do the hiring for performance gigs. Consequently, those who present themselves as professionals (by coming to rehearsals prepared, being eager and attentive, being pleasant to work with, etc.) do not necessarily have any leg up on those who neglect their professionalism in such scenarios." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Voice Performance at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Many Free Ways To Share Your Music...
Many people would be surprised by the sheer number of sites dedicated to discussing and appreciating virtually all genres of music. In addition, there are many sites such as YouTube, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp where aspiring composers and musicians' work can be heard at no cost to the artist. Combining these two factors can lead to opportunities." (Electronic Musician; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Colorado, male
School: Studied Music Theory And Composition at Central Michigan University in Michigan; completed Master degree in 2009

"Technology Ensures That Opportunities Always Exist To Earn Some Money...
From TV to movies to local plays there's are various opportunities to find work as musician or music related. However the pay rate over the last few years has gone down considerably. Earning a decent living as musician becomes more difficult each year." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 12 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Music at San Bernardino Valley College in California; completed Diploma degree in 2001

"Being A Guitar Instructor Has It's Own Perks And Disadvantages...
One of the most surprising things about teaching guitar is that people really appreciate the line of work. People love to express themselves and music is one of the best ways to. You'll be surprised by how much hard work goes into teaching music. It takes a lot of dedication and patience to be a well rounded teacher." (Guitar Teacher; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in New York, male
School: Studied Music Theory at Erie County Community College in New York; completed Associate degree in 2010

"Good Work Everywhere...
Most people (including myself!) may not believe that being a musician can be fruitful, but I'm proof that it can be! I make a healthy living currently getting jazz gigs around the Atlanta area." (Freelance Musician; 2014)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Georgia, female
School: Studied Music at Strayer University; completed Associate degree in 2010

"Finding Stability In My Career...
How much of a struggle it is to make ends meet as a musician, but that is normal. However, I was even more surprised on how eventually things stabilized and fell into place was I built up enough experience." (Musician; 2013)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in Florida, female
School: Studied Music at Hillsborough Community College in Florida; completed Associate degree in 2007

"Music Is Complicated Math...
What surprised me the most was how confusing music can be. How strict yet how beautiful music can be, it can be very open ended but restricted at the same time and requires a lot of mathematical skills." (Music Composer; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in Arizona, male
School: Studied Music at University Of Arizona in Arizona; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Job Opportunities...
The most surprising aspect about being a working musician is that there are tons of opportunities to find work if you're not below them. Plenty of locales are looking for musicians and groups that can bring in customers and sell their products. It's also a plus if you can do sound mixing on the side." (Sound Engineer; 2013)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Washington, male
School: Studied Audio Engineering at G??Vle Musikkonsulterna (Sweden) in Washington; completed Certificate degree in 2011

"Go Where The Work Is...
Many young ambitious musicians often feel that they can easily get into a paying orchestra or make a living as a musician. Unfortunately it is not as easy as it seems. Especially in a town with little to no opportunity that is also very political. The best advice to give is to have something that can pay the bills that you can also pursue your dream as well as move to an area that provides more opportunity that is not that political. Political in this sense means you need to know someone or be a part of their clique in order to get the job." (Musician And Freelance Article Writer; 2014)

Career: 26 years of experience, currently based in Washington, female
School: Studied Music at Eastern Washington University in Washington; completed Master degree in 2000

"Getting A Job Playing Music- Not As Hard As You Would Think...
I was surprised at how easy it was to get gigs. A lot of people at school had said it's getting though to get a good job playing music. I've so far been really luck and got nearly every gig I've applied and auditioned for." (Professional Musician; 2013)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in New York, female
School: Studied Music/Music Business at Berklee College Of Music in Massachusetts; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Multiple Orchestras And Lots Of Driving...
It surprised me that most musicians take gigs with multiple orchestras and many other performing opportunities. There is such a competition for limited seats in big orchestras that most performing musicians are playing with three or more orchestras and taking staff work inside the orchestra like personnel manager or librarian besides." (Musician; 2014)

Career: 16 years of experience, currently based in Michigan, male
School: Studied Music Performance On Cello at Michigan State University in Michigan; completed Master degree in 2006

"Uncovering The Music Child In People Of All Ages...
I have been surprised by two things. One is a more intellectual and mild surprise at the sheer variety of clientele that can be served by music therapy and how the diversity of this clientele would lead to opportunities to travel and work abroad. Music therapy can be so powerful with people from different cultures, so I was able to travel to Jamaica and do music therapy there with the homeless, poverty-stricken chronically ill adults, and children with special needs. The other surprise is more the continuous small surprises that happen in music therapy sessions. For example, hearing someone sing the chorus to their favorite Johnny Cash song is an amazing surprise of this kind - when this person recently had a stroke and lost the ability to speak. Listening to a mentally ill patient who struggles with severe self esteem issues have a breakthrough in which they describe feeling good about specific things about themselves for several days in a row after a lyric analysis of an empowering popular song. Or seeing children with severe autism play a musical game together, when they normally would never even make eye contact or speak with one another." (Music Therapy; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Texas, female
School: Studied Music Therapy at Texas Woman's University in Texas; completed Master degree in 2012

"Turning A Hobby Into A Career...
Most people are surprised about the number of opportunities that are available for working musicians. If you have the skills and the drive to succeed, you can turn a hobby into a career." (Musician/Audio Engineer; 2013)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in Missouri, male
School: Studied Recording Technology at Berklee College Of Music in Massachusetts; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

"Be A "Go-Getter"...
Most people desiring to become a musician don't realize how hard it is to make a stable paycheck as a musician. Alternatively, there are so many opportunities all over the place (not all paid) if you only dedicate your time to finding them such as community theatre, church choir, guest soloists, etc." (Musician; 2014)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Indiana, female
School: Studied Music at Concordia University in Nebraska; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"It's Not What You Know As Much As Who You Know...
What has surprised me is the power of word of mouth. Once one gains a positive reputation word gets around and more work is offered." (Freelance Musician; 2013)

Career: 13 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Music Performance at California State University Northridge in California; completed Bachelor degree in 2008

"Teaching Requires Skills...
Most people think being a music teacher is a fall back job, or doesn't take musical talent, but being a good music teacher has proved to take immense skill and passion." (Music Teacher; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Massachusetts, female
School: Studied Music Education at Berklee College Of Music in Massachusetts; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"More Work Than Expected...
I am surprised at how many opportunities there were for musicians that went well beyond the starving artists." (Musician; 2012)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in North Carolina, male
School: Studied Music Performance at University Of Northern Colorado. in Colorado; completed Bachelor degree in 2003

"I was surprised to learn that the administrative back-end work of running a full-time performing musician career takes up 80% of each 16-hour workday. I would recommend that anyone looking into becoming a performing artist or creator of any type (musician, actor, author, painter, etc.) take as many classes as they can in small business management, accounting, and entrepreneurship; your business is twice as important as the content you create, and your success will come from how you manage yourself as much as it comes from what you create and share." (Singer-Songwriter; 2012)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Music Composition at Miami University in Illinois; completed Bachelor degree in 2008

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Recording Artist: "I love performing for people that are excited to hear my music. Whether they have heard me before or not, its great to put on a good show for people that are receptive to it. However, it is annoying when there aren't many people at the show or they are not interested in my music. I love not having to work a traditional job. There is still money to be made with music. It takes as much focus and dedication as any other career path. I don't like the inconsistent flow of money. Some months I am paid a lot for my services and performances. But other months I make less because I have fewer performances or because I am spending more money than I am making (like in the studio, on graphic artwork, and paying producers for their instrumentals)." (2011)

Singing Server: "The best part of the job is the satisfaction of making people's time special by performing for them. The worst parts include long hours, little pay, unpredictable tips, and having to stand for long periods of time. The food is gross, and I end up smelling and covered in it" (2011)

Violin Teacher: "The best part of the job is interacting with so many different kinds of people every day. The worst part of the job is trying to teach someone who doesn't want to be there or who never practices. I never get tired of teaching, but I really dislike trying to make people put in the effort to make their lesson worth my time! Having said that, watching the look on someone's face who can play a song on the violin for the first time is priceless!" (2011)

Career Background


  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Video

Career Tips

"Becoming A Successful Musician...
If you want to become a successful musician, you need to be constantly on the watch for every opportunity imaginable and take it. Now is not the time to pick and choose which job is best for your voice or ideal. You take what you can get and learn along the way. Never stop learning. Take lessons, read books, see others performances. Continue to become a better musician because you will never be the best." (Musician; 2014)

"Gotta Keep Practicing...
As long as you maintain a healthy practice schedule and get yourself known, there will always be people looking for musicians to play. The most important thing though is to practice as much as you can, that way you're more valuable!" (Freelance Musician; 2014)

"Determination Is Key...
If going for an audition, listening to recordings is very helpful when you are practicing the music. Do no let anyone hold you back." (Musician And Freelance Article Writer; 2014)

"Build Professional Relationships With Many Contacts...
To be a successful performer with bigger orchestras build bridges through your many contacts and keep relationships in good standing even if you can't see the advantage right now." (Musician; 2014)

"Develop Skills And Accept All Work...
If you want to be successful in the music industry, then you need to develop skills in several areas. Work on playing in a band and work on production skills, and you're sure to find work somewhere. Also, accept whatever opportunity that comes your way, regardless of whether or not it corresponds with your personal taste." (Sound Engineer; 2013)

"Be Friendly And Good Things Will Come"...
Be Friendly"" (Freelance Musician; 2013)

"Unique Style...
Make sure you have your own unique style. Obviously, there are a lot of people that make music but so many of them just try to copy what someone else has already done. You are better off not trying to copy." (Musician; 2013)

"Network For Relationships...
If you want to be an audio engineer, it is important to develop relationships with potential clients/employers." (Audio Engineer; 2013)

"Live, Breath, Eat Your Passion For Music...
Keep at it. Don't let anyone tell you differently if you believe in what you are doing. Always be humble and seek advice and learn everything you can. But when you know what you are doing is the way to go. Push forward and pray. God can move mountains when you can't push a pebble." (Professional Musician; 2013)

"Finding Success...
You have to work hard towards your goals, and it might take a while, but you will be met with success if you hang in there." (Musician; 2013)

"Remember The Reason...
Don't forget the reason you started doing it. Whenever you get down or wore out, remember you do it for YOU, and no one else. That's what makes you love it still at the end of the day." (Musician, Arts Administrator; 2013)

"Crush The Competition, Don't Let Them Crush You...
Don't roll over for anyone. Everyone else will just stomp on you while they make their way to the top." (Professional Musician; 2013)

"The Skills You Need As A Session Musician...
If you want to make it in the business, you need to understand music theory, you need to be able to play a lot of different styles of music from bossa nova to rock to classical, and you need to be able to read sheet music. The broader your musical knowledge the more work you get." (Session Musician; 2013)

"Help With Teaching Guitar...
If you're trying to becoming a great guitar instructor, you need to know your stuff. Really know what you're talking about because it helps your students have trust in you. Have fun and treat each student with their individual respect. Being able to have fun with your students and connect with them will help them learn quicker and they maybe even recommend you to others." (Guitar Teacher; 2013)

"Open Minded And Career Choices...
If you want to be successful in music, you need to be open-minded about other types of music. You have to make sure you are specific in what you want to do because otherwise you will spend a long time in school which isn't always the best option." (Musician; 2013)

"Branch Out To Gain Experience As A Student...
If you would like to be a successful music therapist, take on volunteer or work opportunities while in school that give you the chance to work more with your preferred populations - even if it is not as a music therapist or musician. For example if you are interested in working with children on the autism spectrum, then you could work as an ABA line therapist." (Music Therapy; 2013)

"Minor Setbacks...
Learn to accept critique. The average singer will be rejected at least seventy-five times in his or her career. These aren't any indication of skill but should be utilized as a driving force behind your daily practice regime." (Opera Vocalist; 2013)

"Identify And Diversify...
Diversify your skills, not just into learning how to identify and play different musical styles but also into writing. Music writing (blogging) is good way to add some stability to earning a good living wage as a musician." (Musician; 2013)

"Be Confident In Yourself...
If you want to be a good music teacher, learn to let go of your fear or nerves in front of the class. Kids want to see you have fun and be focused, and it ultimately means the most to them." (Music Teacher; 2013)

"Becoming Well Versed...
To become successful as a musician, you need to practice and work on your technique. Also, keep an open mind and try to expand your horizons by playing with different people in a multitude of projects to build a diverse portfolio of work." (Musician/Audio Engineer; 2013)

"Look Good...
If you want to stand out from the rest, look good and sound flawless." (Musician; 2013)

"Persevere Until You Make It Or Break It...
If you want to be a symphony musician, you've got to win an audition, and to do that, you must persevere and accept rejection until you either make it or break it. I knew a horn player in the Phoenix Symphony who auditioned 46 different times before making in the BIGTIME, the Boston Symphony. After all that rejection, suddenly, there he was, sitting shoulder to shoulder in concert with his boyhood idols. He just finished out a 30-year career there to go on to teach French Horn in the university." (Symphony Orchestra Musician; 2013)

"Learn Essential Repertoire When You're Young...
Begin to learn the repertoire relevant to your fach or specific niche area as early as possible. You will find work early as a singer in oratorio and small parts in operas, so begin to learn those essentials (i.e. Messiah solos, bit parts in commonly performed operas) so that you can be hired on a moment's notice. This may be the difference between you and your peers when you are just starting out, and it may be the stepping stone that begins your career." (Musician; 2013)

"Making Connections For Success...
Always network with other people. You should constantly be meeting and talking with other musicians, label heads, A&R representatives, agents, DJs, engineers, etc. Be friendly and forward with everyone." (Musician; 2013)

"Ear Training Is Crucial...
To always do your ear training while studying music because it is the most useful thing one can have." (Music Composer; 2013)

"Learn Everything You Can...
Absorb every piece of information that you can about every facet of music, whether you think you'll need it or not. You never know when you're going to have to compare how a classical piece uses a technique used in a type of world music, or to be able to name an obscure theory term, or draw influences from a composer's earlier works." (Music Director/Conductor; 2013)

"It's Important To Make Yourself Known...
The biggest tip for aspiring musicians is to make yourself known. Ask and answer questions on Internet forums, listen and critique other people's music, ask them to listen and critique your music. Doing this will not only improve your music, it will allow you to make contacts that may lead to further opportunities down the road." (Electronic Musician; 2013)

"The Work Won't Come To You...
Be prepared to travel to wherever you can find work. That may include traveling with a major performer or just moving to Los Angeles. In addition to the traveling, you will NEED to be a monster player." (Musician; 2013)

"Networking Important For Musicians Too...
Networking is the most important part of any job. Its all about who you know. That applies to being an artist. I never know when someone that I meet at record labels, radio stations, or at performances will be someone to help me to the next level of my performing career." (Recording Artist; 2011)

"Tips For Singers...
Always choose songs that are easy to sing. You will have to sing these every night regardless of your health or mood. Make sure you buy good shoes with arch support. Your feet will hurt a lot. The people you work with are fun, the job itself really is fun. Once you get into the groove, it is easy. It doesn't take that much mental prowess, but you do need to be organized and keep track of everything. Write down things even if you think you will remember them. Sometimes the walk from the table to the computer to put in an order is longer than you think! Do not be afraid to double check with guests about what they wanted; it is better than bringing them the wrong things." (Singing Server; 2011)

"You Got It Or You Don't...
Realize that you are either born a teacher or you're not. Taking education classes won't make you a good teacher. Try to master your instrument - the better you can play, the more your students can learn from you. Work for a school instead of teaching out of your house - it's well worth the additional hassle. You won't have to go through all of the trouble of collecting money from people, keeping your studio and bathroom spotless, etc." (Violin Teacher; 2011)