Many high school students see two possible career paths in the music world:
- Performing (what they’re doing each day in school)
- Teaching (what that adult in front of them is doing)
While it’s true that a large percentage of music majors go on to both perform and teach in some professional capacity, there are numerous other career paths in the music world:
- full-time orchestral
- Freelance performer
- World music
- Chamber music
- K-12 (music education path)
- Academia (typically requires DMA / PhD)
- Music academy (private music school, El Sistema program, etc.
- Music Business
- Products and services
- Music Media
- Music Therapy
…and that’s just scratching the surface!
This video from cellist Emily Davidson shines some light on the whole process:
A Brief Look at Music Careers Through Time
Anybody involved in music for any length of time will recall stories of how much better it was “back in the day.” It seems like the golden age is always the generation just proceeding ours.
There are so many perceived golden ages:
- silent movie era
- speakeasy gigs
- big band heyday
- jazz club scene
- tv and radio orchestras
- symphonic employment
- university professorships
It seems that every generation looks back wistfully on the bountiful past and frets about the collapse of current and future generations.
The Great Institutional Collapse
With that in mind (and knowing that I have this doom & gloom mindset to at least some degree), I like to refer to the period we’re in right now (early 21st century) as the Great Institutional Collapse.
In our profession, orchestras are not expanding (with very rare exceptions).
They are holding steady or declining in terms of employment opportunities. In the United States the American Federation of Musicians pension fund is in worrisome shape. Outside of the Unite States, countries with historically strong institutional arts support are reducing or eliminating funding.
Things are just as bad (or worse) in the world of academia. Tenure-track double bass jobs require (with rare exceptions) DMA or PhD degrees. These jobs are even scarcer than orchestra jobs, and many of these rare positions are located in off-the-beaten-path locations that are not attractive to many musicians.
Outside of classical music, “steady” jazz gigs have dwindled to a select few clubs across the nation. Studio work has largely dried up as well. These revenue streams provided steady income for freelance musicians for decades, and the shift in employment trends is drastically reshaping the employment landscape for musicians everywhere.
I’ve written extensively about this topic in the past.
In fact, I even wrote a book about it! It’s called Road Warrior Without an Expense Account. Click here to download a copy for free.
Amidst all this gloom and doom, bright spots emerge.
The Rise of the Entrepreneurial Musician
Actually, what I’m about to describe is the CLASSIC music profession and has existed for hundreds of years.
Musicians have been combining multiple income streams into a viable career for years.
Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and other great composers combined performing, teaching, writing, and marketing into careers.
You’re more than likely going to be doing the same thing if you go into music.
Fortunately, there are a whole host of resources to help you. Here are a few of my favorite:
- The Entrepreneurial Musician
- Crushing Classical
- Per-Service Podcast
- The Marketed Musician
- James Altucher
Technology can help
It has never been easier to get your project out into the world.
The Internet has leveled the playing field and reduced the power of gatekeepers. Starting a website and building a following is more a matter of time and dedication than cost.
Offering services and products, whether physical or digital in nature, has also never been easier.
Social media has revolutionized the way we all connect with each other. People are aligning themselves into micro-niches based on interest.
Ever-increasing numbers of artists are developing ways to make a living from a micro-niche of dedicated fans.
- Artists sell their wares on Etsy
- Careers are built on creative Instagram accounts
- Client-based businesses that build a tribe based on content marketing strategies
Here’s an interview that I did with bassist and entrepreneur Emilio Guarino about how he’s building a 21st-century music career for himself:
Does all this make your head spin?
Don’t worry—I’ve created a course designed to eliminate the confusion.
It’s laid out in eight modules and covers what you need to do to build a foundation for your future career.
I’ve also made a ton of missteps along the way as I built my own career. Click here to learn about my three biggest screw-ups!