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Musician Job Description, Career as a Musician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Musicians play instruments for a living and may work in symphony orchestras, bands, rock groups, or jazz "combos." Most musicians study for many years before they become professionals. They usually train in some area of specialization such as popular or classical music.

Musicians who specialize in the trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, organ, or a rhythm instrument such as the piano, string bass, drums, or guitar may perform in nightclubs, in restaurants, at parties, and at receptions. Classical musicians play in operatic and theatrical productions, symphony orchestras, concerts, and recitals. They generally play string, brass, percussion, or woodwind instruments. Pianists usually accompany vocal or instrumental soloists or choral groups. They may perform on the concert stage, for television, or in a small club. Organists play in churches and often direct a choir.

Some musicians become distinguished artists. For instance, a classical musician may appear as a soloist with a symphony orchestra. Popular musicians may play alone or with a group on a concert tour. Many well-known musicians are recording artists as well and earn a good income from the sale of their records. Others work as house musicians for television shows.

Since thousands of musicians cannot support themselves by performing alone, many have other jobs to maintain a steady income. Some give private lessons in their own homes or in students' homes. Others work as studio musicians, operate music stores, or play the background music for a featured singer or group at recording sessions.

Because of the irregular hours and unsteady work, many musicians choose not to perform. Some teach at music schools or conservatories. Others teach in colleges or secondary or elementary schools. These musician-teachers provide instruction in music appreciation, music theory, and voice or give lessons on individual instruments. Musicians who understand the mechanics of their instruments may Musicians often work for more than one employer and perform in a variety of settings in order to support themselves. (© Tom & Dee Ann Mc-Carthy/Corbis.) do repairs and tuning. Libraries for the performing arts hire musicians as librarians. Music libraries in schools and in radio and television stations also employ musicians. Some musicians give music therapy to emotionally and physically disabled people and to the aged.

Education and Training Requirements

Almost all professional musicians begin their training at an early age. They continue to study for many years, either privately with a music teacher or in a music school. Technical skill and manual dexterity are necessary for playing an instrument well, but mechanical skill is not enough. Musicians should have an "ear," or ability to hear differences in pitch, as well as a feeling for the style of the music they play. In addition, some kinds of music, such as jazz, require the ability to improvise.

Musicians should also possess strong mental and physical discipline. Only through long years of study do musicians gain a thorough knowledge of music and the ability to interpret it. Besides developing their musical abilities, musicians must acquire poise and stage presence. They must be strong enough to handle long hours, travel engagements, auditions, and practice sessions.

After studying with one teacher for a number of years, a student may wish to study at a conservatory, or special school for musicians. Many schools accept students on the basis of auditions. Only those judged to be the most promising are accepted.

As students at the college and university level, musicians follow a course of study either in instrument or in voice: both areas include music history and theory, music interpretation, composition, and conducting as well as performance. A conservatory degree or a bachelor's degree in music allows a musician to pursue the state certification needed for elementary and secondary school teaching positions. Either a master's or a doctoral degree in music is generally required for college and university staff positions; however, some schools make exceptions for well-qualified musicians.

Getting the Job

Prospective musicians should perform as much as possible, playing with a local band and taking advantage of any opportunity to gain experience with professionals. Some beginning musicians and singers form their own bands. This experience may lead to auditions for other, more professional groups. College placement offices and music department staff may help students find a job teaching music in a school or to individual students.

Trade and industry publications such as Variety and Show Business Weekly often carry notices of auditions. They sometimes list agents who help book musical talent as well. Agents help musicians find jobs and help producers find musical talent in exchange for a percentage of the musician's earnings. In all cases, getting that "first break" requires time, patience, and a great deal of talent and determination on the part of the musician.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Jobs in the musical industry are expected to grow at an average rate through 2014. Many classical musicians compete for the few positions with one of the major symphony orchestras, metropolitan and regional orchestras, or the hundreds of other smaller orchestras in the country. Stable employment can be found in recording studio work or as a teacher of music in a conservatory, school, or college.

Many part-time musicians supplement their incomes by giving private lessons. For this reason, it is expected that there will be more than enough music teachers to meet the demand for private instruction. There will be openings as musicians leave the field, but because of intense competition only the most talented are likely to find regular employment.

Working Conditions

Musicians have long and irregular work schedules. Besides daily practice and rehearsals for new pieces, they may work days, nights, and weekends. Musicians must be willing to travel to give performances across the country or around the world.

Earnings and Benefits

Musicians' salaries vary widely. According to the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of 2004, the median salary for musicians is $17.85 per hour. The median hourly wage in performing arts companies is $20.70 and $12.17 in religious organizations.

Many performing musicians belong to the American Federation of Musicians. As of 2004 minimum salaries for musicians playing in major symphony orchestras ranged from $700 to $2,080 per week. These musicians are also guaranteed at least a season's work, which may last up to fifty-two weeks. Metropolitan and regional orchestras generally have a shorter season. Many musicians face intermittent periods of unemployment, reducing their yearly income considerably. As a rule, musicians work for more than one employer and supplement their incomes with other types of jobs.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of Musicians
1501 Broadway, Ste. 600
New York, NY 10036
(212) 869-1330

American Guild of Musical Artists
1430 Broadway, 14th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
(212) 265-3687

American Pianists Association
4603 Clarendon Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 940-9371

Guitar Players Association of America
P.O. Box 2245
Holland, MI 49422-2245

National Band Association
118 College Dr., #5032
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
(601) 297-8168

Percussive Arts Society
701 NW Ferris Ave.
Lawton, OK 73507-5442
(580) 353-1455

Benefits depend on a musician's training and experience, union membership, and the location of the work. Musicians have the strongest local unions in large entertainment areas such as New York City and Las Vegas. School, college, and conservatory teachers and music librarians receive health and medical care benefits, paid vacations, and pension programs. Self-employed musicians must provide their own benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts