The music industry can be a tricky place to break in to – with some aspiring artists working their whole lives trying to break into the music scene. That said, it can be one of the most rewarding professions when they do.
And if you’ve always dreamt of following in the footsteps of Mozart or Louis Armstrong, perhaps it’s time to take the leap and focus on turning your passion into a full-time career in music.
Follow this guide to becoming a musician and find out what it takes to getting one step closer to your dream job.
1. Research the Profession
Becoming a musician may initially seem straightforward – you learn to play an instrument and busk on the street until you make it as a professional. But there’s so much more to performing than that. Here we uncover what this career path really entails and what kind of salary you can realistically expect.
Musicians play instruments and perform live music in front of an audience and in recording studios. Depending on their interest, they usually select a specific genre to specialise in, such as jazz, classical, hip-hop/grime, bashment, rock or pop.
Although daily tasks may vary, day-to-day activities will usually involve the following:
- perform music for live audiences
- writing and recording new and original music in studios
- auditioning for positions in orchestras, choruses, bands and other types of music groups
- practising playing instruments or singing to improve techniques
- rehearsing to prepare for performances
- finding clients and booking locations for performances or concerts
- travelling to performance and practice venues
- being involved in regular meetings with bandmates and your manager to practise and endorse your music
- promote your career by maintaining a strong social media presence.
Essential Skills and Qualities
Working hard to become a musician can take time and requires someone with specific skills and qualities to succeed in the industry. If you’re considering this occupation, you’ll need:
- dedication – with such high competition in the industry, many young performers are faced with rejection time and time again. As such, it’s important to have a thick skin and dedication to persevere until you achieve your dream.
- discipline – musicians must be disciplined enough to constantly practise and improve their technique, style and performances. They cannot rely solely on their talent to pull them through.
- confidence – without this, it will be hard to succeed as a musician. You must believe in yourself and your talent – because if you don’t, who else will?
- interpersonal skills – musicians need to work well with a variety of people and should have a likeable personality. Good social skills are essential when building good working relationships and bonds with other music professionals.
- musical talent – it’s a given that professional musicians should be talented at playing and producing music
- physical stamina – musicians will usually play gigs and perform at a number of different events. As such, they must be able to endure frequent travel and irregular performance schedules.
- promotional skills – artists should be tech-savvy in order to promote their personal brand, while they also need good self-promotional skills which will help them build a large fan base.
- creativity – a creative flair is essential in order to compete in the music industry. Performers should create authentic music by adding their unique imprint on everything they produce.
Working Hours and Conditions
As a musician, you’ll most likely set your own working hours, depending on your bookings and the number of hours you need to practise. You’ll be expected to mainly perform in the evenings and on weekends.
Generally speaking, professionals in this field perform in all types of working conditions, from outdoor concerts to TV appearances, and radio shows to arena tours.
Most artists live a flexible lifestyle, as they will need to work their personal lives around their tour schedules. Some musicians will experience a busy period, followed by a quiet stage, forcing them to take on other part-time jobs to help make ends meet.
Working as a musician can be a high paying and extremely rewarding career. And if you want to make a living playing jazz (or any other style of music, for that matter), you can expect to earn an average annual salary of $39,079 (£27,500).
There really is no set fee for how much you can earn for an individual concert or appearance. However, as your level of experience grows, so should your wage per gig.
2. Get the Qualifications and Training
Some successful musicians are self-taught and have had no professional training at all. However, if you are serious about pursuing this career, you should invest in some educational classes.
Learn How to Play an Instrument
Your first step should be to learn how to play your chosen instrument, preferably during your youth. You could join a school choir or take extracurricular lessons to train as a musician. During this time, you’ll be taught how to read sheet music, which will hugely benefit in your career in the long-run.
Study at a Conservatory / Music Academy
Music conservatories provide special training for young aspiring musicians and other performing artists. Studying at a conservatory gives you the opportunity to perfect your skills and gain qualifications in your niche, which can help you move into teaching later if you so wish. For example, a Grade 8 Violin qualification will normally allow to teach as a professional violinist.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
An undergraduate degree in music or music technology will give you a better understanding of the industry as a whole. On the other hand, if you would like to become a director of music or a composer, a bachelor’s degree will be essential.
Daily training is also essential to ensure your standards are kept high – you should also consider attending short courses and workshops in order to progress and develop as an artist.
3. Market Yourself
This section covers information on how to effectively market yourself as a musician to build a following and generally progress in your career.
- Audition: In order to perform as part of a band, you’ll most likely need to audition to demonstrate your musical talents and skills. You can hire an agent to help you find auditions that match your talents and interests.
- Play at local gigs: This is a great way to create a small fan-base for yourself and get the practice you need to progress.
- Attend industry events: Attending industry events and other concerts is essential in the music industry. Your main focus should be to make new contacts and create a wide network of like-minded professionals – and the wider your circle, the more reach your music will get.
- Create an online presence: If you’re confident enough, you should create an online footprint with samples of your music. Many young artists promote their work on SoundCloud and YouTube, uploading weekly content and covers of other songs.
- Have a promo package: It’s ideal to have a promo package with you wherever you go. This should include a press release, a demo of your work, any press coverage and your contact information. You never know who you may run into, so it’s always best to be prepared!
4. Gain Experience
The more experience you have, the better off you’ll be. It’s essential to perform at as many gigs as you can. In other words, if there are any open-mic nights in your area, sign up for them and perform as much as possible.
You could also spend your spare time busking on the streets or in train stations. Make sure you check the legalities before you busk, though, as many musicians in London need a licence to sing or play in certain areas.
Although the journey to becoming a successful musician can be a long and difficult one, with a lot of hard work and dedication, you just might make it as the next Louis Armstrong or Slash!
Are you an aspiring artist or have already made your break in the music scene? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below!
Salary information is based on date compiled and published by PayScale. Salary conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 27 March 2018.