How to Become a Musician: 10 Steps to Success

It’s all about that bass.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to become a musician

If you have a love for music and a bit of creative flair, then becoming a musician will sound like an ideal career choice.

Musicians enjoy a lot of professional freedoms, and what’s more, it’s one of those careers that allows you to get paid for doing what you love. Professional musicians can also become famous because of their creativity, work and style, meaning that for this career, the sky is really the limit.

There are many different ways to become a musician. This article will cover these methods, as well as provide tips and information about the musician profession.

What is a musician?

The term “musician” can refer to anyone who writes and performs music, but in the professional sense, a musician is someone who makes a living from doing it. Musicians create and perform music to a certain professional skill level or in an advanced role. The term can also refer to professional songwriters and lyricists as well.

What are the different types of musicians?

Different types of musicians go by different job titles; some will have overlapping skill sets, ie: a composer might also perform music. Here are the main types of career paths associated with being a musician.

  • Composer: These musicians arrange music and write it for others to perform.
  • Conductor: Conductors use musical theory and skill to organize bands and orchestras to play in tune.
  • Instrumentalist: Instrumentalists will be skilled at a certain instrument and play this in recording studios or in concerts.
  • Performer: These musicians perform music in front of audiences; for example, at plays and musicals.
  • Producer: Producers edit music, arrange it, and choose material to be used.
  • Songwriter: Songwriters create lyrics and songs that can be applied to instrumental tunes.

What do musicians do?

Because of the different types of music and the various ways it can be performed, duties of musicians can vary, but here’s a list of what the role generally entails:

  • Attending rehearsals and practicing music: A large part of the musician’s role is to rehearse music and practice their skill.
  • Composing new music: Musicians will often write their own arrangements and create fresh tunes in their own style.
  • Maintaining your instruments: A large part of the musician’s role is to ensure their instrument is maintained to a high standard.
  • Performing music: Many musicians will perform music in front of audiences, such as at events or concerts.
  • Promoting your act: Musicians will need to work hard to promote themselves to agents and venues so they can be scouted and selected to play in front of audiences.
  • Recording music: Musicians will also record music in studios, which can be converted to electronic files or onto records.

What is the workplace of musicians like?

Musicians are often required to perform in a variety of settings, both indoors and outdoors. They might need to sit and stand for long periods of time, which can be tiring.

Additionally, musicians are frequently required to work atypical hours, such as late nights, which can be stressful. Some musicians will work second jobs or side hustles, and finding time to fit everything in will be tough.

Musicians will frequently be exposed to loud noises, bright lights and high temperatures (some venues might get very hot). The work can be competitive and intense, so high resilience is needed. That said, the environment can be motivational and exciting for music lovers, and many musicians see what they do as a passion rather than a job.

What kind of hours do they work?

Musicians are rarely required to work set hours and will often work what their event or concert contract asks them to. Consequently, most musicians are freelancers, and their working hours will go up or down. A lot of their work will be during holidays and times where there are lots of events, such as summer holidays and the festive season.

A typical concert might last two or three hours; musicians will be expected to arrive early and set up, and often leave later as well. The role will require weekend work, as well as late nights or working into the early hours of the morning.

How much do they earn?

The pay of musicians varies wildly and will depend on how well-established you are. Many musicians are also paid per gig, although some on longer-term contracts might get paid more regularly.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for musicians is $50.21. The practical wage estimates for the role are $14.42 per hour at the 10th percentile, $20.36 at the 25th percentile, $39.14 at the median percentile, $61.74 at the 75th percentile, and $100.22 at the 90th percentile.

The top-paying state for musicians is Minnesota, with a mean hourly wage of $80.75, followed by Rhode Island ($72.42 per hour), Connecticut ($71.61 per hour), Arkansas ($65.23 per hour), and Maryland ($62.69 per hour).

In a snapshot:

Musician Salary

What is the job market like?

People will always need music in their lives, and it’s there for no surprise that the BLS has marked the musician job role as stable employment that will see little change in numbers from now until 2032. This equates to the job market for musicians expanding at a rate of 1.2% every year.

As a job, there are limited growth opportunities for musicians. Most musicians will see little positional change in what they do but might regard employment prospects improving as they become more skilled and take on a series of jobs with an increasing profile. Other ways to grow in the role would be to diversify, such as becoming skilled in a different instrument or being known to play multiple instruments proficiently.

Making a name for yourself as a musician can be challenging, and this is why there’s little material change in the growth of the music industry in the next 10 years. That said, the BLS forecasts 22,600 new music roles opening each year, mostly to replace people who exit the industry or retire.

What do you need to become a musician?

Being a musician is a labor of love, and although there are several skills that are very useful for the role, above all else, you need to love music (especially the style of music you would be performing as a musician) and have an ear for sound.

Here are some of the top skills and attributes you would need to become a musician:

  • Confidence when performing
  • Creativity
  • Dedication and motivation to practice every day
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Marketing skills
  • Musical talent
  • Physical fitness
  • Presentation skills
  • Reliability
  • Resilience, especially when dealing with rejection or negative reviews

Are you suited to become a musician?

If you’re unsure whether your values, passions, interests and skills are aligned with the job of a musician, or you simply want to understand more about your career goals or finding that dream role, then consider undertaking CareerHunter’s six-part career test, which maps out your professional capabilities and personal career development with the best jobs that align with who you are.

How to become a musician

Becoming a musician seldom requires a fixed career path or specific education or experience like many other jobs require, although some knowledge of music history can be beneficial. That said, becoming a musician requires a certain amount of planning and structure to ensure you land in this job in the best way.

Here are 10 steps to becoming a musician.

Step 1: Seek inspiration

As you start thinking about becoming a musician, start to consider what kind of instrument or genre you might want to play. Even if you know a great deal about music, it’s worth taking serious time to consider what musical style you want to use in your career.

Given that being a professional musician requires long-term dedication and practice, seeking clear inspiration is important so you don’t rush into making a hasty decision that can be challenging to correct once you start playing professionally.

Step 2: Choose an instrument and genre

Once you have made the plunge and picked the instrument and genre that you want to be a musician in, commit to that choice and buy the instrument, accessories, and some music theory and song books that will allow you to start learning music.

Given that musical instruments are expensive, if you’re just starting out, you might want to rent an instrument or buy one second-hand until you decide that owning your own is going to be a worthwhile investment.

Step 3: Network

Next up, begin to network with other musicians who are proficient in your chosen genre and instrument. This might begin by researching who they are and attending their gigs to listen to and watch what they do.

You might also want to connect with these musicians and see if they can spend time with you to offer any other advice. Maintain networks with your fellow musicians throughout your career — they can support you in many different ways, and you can support them too.

Step 4: Take lessons

Your network can support you by connecting you with music schools or instructors who can provide you with music lessons. Even if you’re reasonably well-versed on a particular instrument, being able to play professionally takes a fair amount of time.

Instructors can mentor you in becoming even more proficient and perhaps tailoring your style to live performances and recording studios. It’s also always worth taking lessons all the way through your career to stay up to date on musical trends, as well as to fine-tune your own ability.

Step 5: Practice

A large part of being a musician is needing to constantly practice your craft. Not doing this can lead you to becoming uncompetitive or prone to errors that can impact your professionalism and image.

Taking lessons can not only help you practice, but also ensure you play your instrument every day. Consider videoing yourself doing this so you can analyze your presentation skills as well.

Step 6: Find a band

As you become increasingly proficient, you’ll want to start thinking about finding a band. Some budding musicians find their first musical group through their network or through taking lessons, but also look out for advertisements in newspapers and music trade publications, and attend auditions.

Remember to stay true to yourself and present your natural musical style when auditioning. And finally, if you can’t find a band, consider setting up your own!

Step 7: Record your music

Writing and recording your own music is a great way to practice and gain some time and experience working in a recording studio. Recording projects will also enable you to set yourself up as an artist on applications like Spotify, and even to press CDs that can be given away when you start performing.

Don’t expect to record perfect tracks from day one. This, like every other aspect of becoming a musician, takes practice and experience.

Step 8: Start performing

Try to start performing, as soon as you can, to build your resilience of performing in front of others and dealing with live audiences.

Initially, you might start out busking and work your way up from there, such as performing at local parties or in cafes, before making your way to being a supporting act for other bands or musicians.

Step 9: Market yourself

The music scene is very competitive, and musicians must be able to market themselves effectively to stand out from the crowd. Get your network to help you, and learn how to use various social media websites effectively to give you or your band the edge.

The more you perform, the more you can market yourself, so take on all the gigs you can to make a name for yourself.

Step 10: Become business-savvy

As they become more and more successful, musicians need to be adept in handling business matters that can make or break their careers.

Not only will you need to learn about marketing, as discussed above, but you’ll also need to understand contract law, payments and royalties to ensure you’re fairly compensated for your work. You also need to understand copyright considerations.

Final thoughts

Becoming a musician is a dream job for many people, and the best musicians are the ones that love what they do and have a passion for music and helping people enjoy themselves. Being a musician is tough, and when you start out, you will not be earning much money.

You, therefore, need to plan and prepare a strategy, as well as utilize your network and promote what you do. This way, you can effectively learn and grow as a musician, and this will not only allow you to enjoy the job but be successful at it too.

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on March 27, 2018.