Although many musicians perform, most don’t rely only on performance to meet their financial and career needs. Making it in classical ensemble or musical theater, as a singer/songwriter, or with a band can be a slow and uneven journey – even when it works!
And not every musician wants to perform.
So what else can you do with your life if you really want to major in music? Here are some options.
1. Music Technology
If you’re passionate about music and consider yourself a computer nerd, music technology may be a good fit.
Many music schools offer majors in recording, production and/or acoustical engineering. Each school labels its program differently and provides its own mix of training and experience. Check out program descriptions on school websites and ask questions to be sure you’re finding what you really want to learn.
Graduates of music technology programs may go on to create their own recording and music production studios. They might also find jobs at existing studios; in live sound; and as studio managers, sound-effects creators and stage technicians. Some tour with musicians. Others run music festivals, work as audiovisual consultants and teachers, or as master engineers. If you have a strong background in math and physics, you might also qualify for a career in audiovisual and headphone/microphone design.
One warning: Music technology is a rapidly-changing field. Professionals must keep up with the latest advances in order to remain employable.
2. Music Industry
Careers in the music industry include artist management, concert promotion, music publishing, tour management, business management, music instrument manufacturing and distribution, and working behind the scenes to support live and recorded music. Like music technology, the field is constantly changing, as are the career opportunities.
Internships are extremely important in the world of music industry. The more skills and hands-on experience you gain before you launch your career, the more options you’ll have for employment.
3. Music Therapy
Music therapists use music to address physical, emotional, cognitive or social/behavioral problems. They work in hospitals and in private practice. Clients may include children and adults on the autism spectrum, infants in neonatal intensive care, elders with Alzheimer’s disease or veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress.
The American Music Therapy Association dictates a curriculum that includes the study of music and psychology, along with biology, social and behavioral sciences, and a lengthy internship. Singing as well as playing piano and guitar are required for accreditation and are all taught in music therapy programs.
4. Arts Management
Most people in arts mangement field have a degree in the arts, such as music, and get a master’s degree in arts management or business to expand their skill set. The work is often in the nonprofit sector and may include finding and cultivating donors; fundraising; developing and strengthening the board of directors; managing events or an arts center; or creating and managing an ensemble. It’s good to have strong marketing, accounting and leadership skills.
5. Music Education
Proficient musicians who are passionate about sharing their love and understanding of music will find teaching students on the K-12 level a very fulfilling career. Many music educators perform on the side and during the summer to make extra income and to stay fresh with how and what they teach.
The good news is that many college-level music programs boast a 100 percent employment rate for students graduating in music education.
The not-so-good news is that K-12 music programs are constantly on the chopping block. Jobs may be jeopardized. For budget reasons, music teachers may need to travel to more than one school to teach classes. They may be responsible for teaching both instrumental and vocal music. And invariably they’re expected to help generate funds to make their music programs viable.
Some undergraduate music education programs lead directly to accreditation in the state where the undergrad program is earned. Others don't. In which case students may need another year to get the accreditation, which is sometimes connected to a master's degree. A higher pay scale is typically associated with a master's.
Teaching on the college level requires at least a master’s degree and more often a doctorate. Music faculty will find good support from their schools for performing outside of their teaching obligations. However, these jobs are extremely competitive and demand an even higher level of proficiency as well as pedagogical training and experience.
Many musicians also teach at community music schools, summer music camps and programs, and in their own private studios.
If you’re fascinated by the history of music or love studying the music of other cultures, a career in musicology/ethnomusicology (the lines between these two have blurred) may be worth exploring.
While musicology students tend also to be strong performers, this is an academic field of music that incorporates extensive research, writing, getting published and presenting at conferences all over the world. Graduate training is essential, as is the study of foreign languages. Most musicologists have a Ph.D. Teaching on the college level is a common career path, but some musicologists also work in museums, libraries, law firms, arts management and publishing.
Some of the many other options for working in music include: scoring for television, movies, and games; composing for ensembles and orchestras; conducting; arranging; playing music on cruise ships and in pit orchestras; building and repairing instruments; working as a session musician; and going into entertainment law with a focus on music.
Those with entrepreneurial skills will find limitless opportunities to apply their musical training to creatively solve problems with their own products and services.
And as technology continues to redefine the way music is presented and consumed, new careers in music will emerge.