Musicians, Singers, and Related Workers

Significant Points

  • Part-time schedules and intermittent unemployment are common, and many musicians supplement their income with earnings from other sources.
  • Aspiring musicians begin studying an instrument or training their voices at an early age; a bachelor’s or higher degree in music or music education is required to teach at all educational levels.
  • Competition for jobs is keen because the glamour and potentially high earnings attract many talented individuals; those who can play several instruments and types of music should enjoy the best job prospects.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Musicians, singers, and related workers play musical instruments, sing, compose, arrange, or conduct groups in instrumental or vocal performances. They may perform alone or as part of a group, before live audiences or in recording studios, television, radio, or movie productions. Although most of these entertainers play for live audiences, some prepare music exclusively for studios or computers. Regardless of the setting, musicians, singers, and related workers spend considerable time practicing, alone and with their band, orchestra, or other musical group.

Musicians often specialize in a particular kind of music or performance. Instrumental musicians, for example, play a musical instrument in an orchestra, band, rock group, or jazz group. Some play a variety of string, brass, woodwind, or percussion instruments or electronic synthesizers. Those who learn several related instruments, such as the flute and clarinet, have better employment opportunities.

Singers interpret music using their knowledge of voice production, melody, and harmony. They sing character parts or perform in their own individual style. Singers are often classified according to their voice range—soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, or bass—or by the type of music they sing, such as opera, rock, reggae, folk, rap, or country and western.

Composers create original music such as symphonies, operas, sonatas, or popular songs. They transcribe ideas into musical notation using harmony, rhythm, melody, and tonal structure. Although most songwriters still practice their craft on instruments or with pen and paper, many songwriters now compose and edit music using computers.

Arrangers transcribe and adapt musical composition to a particular style for orchestras, bands, choral groups, or individuals. Components of music—including tempo, volume, and the mix of instruments needed—are arranged to express the composer’s message. While some arrangers write directly into a musical composition, others use computer software to make changes.

Conductors lead instrumental music groups, such as orchestras, dance bands, and various popular ensembles. These leaders audition and select musicians, choose the music most appropriate for the talents and abilities of the musicians, and direct rehearsals and performances.

Choral directors lead choirs and glee clubs, sometimes working with a band or orchestra conductor. Directors audition and select singers and lead them at rehearsals and performances to achieve harmony, rhythm, tempo, shading, and other desired musical effects.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Musicians often perform at night and on weekends and spend much time in practice and rehearsal. Also, they frequently travel to perform in a variety of settings. Because many musicians find only part-time work and experience unemployment between engagements, they often supplement their income with other types of jobs. In fact, the stress of constantly looking for work leads many musicians to accept permanent, full-time jobs in other occupations, while working only part time as musicians.

Most instrumental musicians work closely with a variety of other people, including their colleagues, agents, employers, sponsors, and audiences. Although they usually work indoors, some perform outdoors for parades, concerts, and dances. In some taverns and restaurants, smoke and odors may be present, and lighting and ventilation may be inadequate.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Musicians, singers, and related workers held about 273,000 jobs in 1998. About three-quarters of these workers had part-time schedules. In addition, slightly over 2 in 5 were self-employed. Many jobs were found in cities in which entertainment and recording activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville.

Musicians, singers, and related workers are employed in a variety of settings. About 2 out of every 3 who earn a wage or salary are employed by religious organizations. Classical musicians may perform with professional orchestras or in small chamber music groups like quartets or trios. Musicians may work in opera, musical comedy, and ballet productions. They also perform in clubs and restaurants, and for weddings and other events. Well-known musicians and groups give their own concerts, appear "live" on radio and television, make recordings and music videos, or go on concert tours. The Armed Forces also offer careers in their bands and smaller musical groups.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Aspiring musicians begin studying an instrument at an early age. They may gain valuable experience playing in a school or community band or orchestra or with a group of friends. Singers usually start training when their voices mature. Participation in school musicals or in a choir often provides good early training and experience.

Musicians need extensive and prolonged training to acquire the necessary skill, knowledge, and ability to interpret music. This training may be obtained through private study with an accomplished musician, in a college or university music program, in a music conservatory, or through practice with a group. For study in an institution, an audition frequently is necessary. Courses typically include musical theory, music interpretation, composition, conducting, and instrumental and voice instruction. Composers, conductors, and arrangers need advanced training in these subjects as well.

Many colleges, universities, and music conservatories grant bachelor’s or higher degrees in music. A master’s or doctoral degree is usually required to teach advanced music courses in colleges and universities; a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient to teach basic courses. A degree in music education qualifies graduates for a State certificate to teach music in an elementary or secondary school.

Those who perform popular music must be knowledgeable about the style of music that interests them. In addition, classical training can expand their employment opportunities and musical abilities. Although voice training is an asset for singers of popular music, many with untrained voices have successful careers. As a rule, musicians take lessons with private teachers when young and seize every opportunity to make amateur or professional appearances.

Young persons who are considering careers in music should have musical talent, versatility, creativity, poise, and a good stage presence. Because quality performance requires constant study and practice, self-discipline is vital. Moreover, musicians who play concert and nightclub engagements must have physical stamina to endure frequent travel and night performances. They must also be prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when auditioning for work.

Advancement for musicians usually means becoming better known and performing for increased earnings. Successful musicians often rely on agents or managers to find them performing engagements, negotiate contracts, and develop their careers.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Competition for musician, singer, and related jobs is keen because the glamour and potentially high earnings in this occupation attract many talented individuals. Talent alone is no guarantee of success, however; most musicians have difficulty finding work and must endure periods of intermittent unemployment. Those who can play several instruments and types of music should enjoy the best job prospects.

Overall employment of musicians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008. Most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will arise in religious organizations, where the majority of these workers are employed. Average growth is also expected for self-employed musicians as people continue to attend concerts, shows, recitals, and other performances in coming years. Although demand for musicians will generate a number of job opportunities, most openings will arise from the need to replace those who leave the field each year because they are unable to make a living solely as musicians.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median annual earnings of musicians, singers, and related workers were $30,020 in 1998. Earnings often depend on a performer’s professional reputation, place of employment, and on the number of hours worked. The most successful musicians can earn far more than the median earnings indicated above.

According to the American Federation of Musicians, minimum salaries in major orchestras ranged from about $21,000 to $95,000 per year during the 1998-99 performing season. Each orchestra works out a separate contract with its local union. Top orchestras have a season ranging from 24 to 52 weeks, with most major orchestras working 52 weeks. In regional orchestras, minimum salaries are often less because fewer performances are scheduled. Community orchestras often have more limited levels of funding and offer salaries that are much lower for seasons of shorter duration.

Although musicians employed by some symphony orchestras work under master wage agreements, which guarantee a season’s work up to 52 weeks, many other musicians face relatively long periods of unemployment between jobs. Even when employed, however, many work part time in unrelated occupations. Thus, their earnings usually are lower than those in many other occupations. Moreover, because they may not work steadily for one employer, some performers cannot qualify for unemployment compensation, and few have typical benefits such as sick leave or vacations with pay. For these reasons, many musicians give private lessons or take jobs unrelated to music to supplement their earnings as performers.

Many musicians belong to a local of the American Federation of Musicians. Professional singers usually belong to a branch of the American Guild of Musical Artists.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Music-related occupations include music writers and composers and music therapists. A large number of music teachers work in elementary and secondary schools, music conservatories, and colleges and universities, or are self-employed. Many who teach music also perform.

Instrument repairers, tuners, and copyists require technical knowledge of musical instruments. In addition, there are a number of occupations on the business side of music such as booking agents, concert managers, music publishers, and music store owners and managers, as well as salespersons of records, sheet music, and musical instruments. Others whose work involves music include disc jockeys, music critics, sound and audio technicians, music librarians, and radio and television announcers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For a directory of schools, colleges, and universities that offer accredited programs in music and music teacher education, contact:

For information on careers for bluegrass musicians, contact:

  • International Bluegrass Music Association, 207 East 2nd St., Owensboro, KY 42303.

An industry employing musicians, singers, and related workers that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Amusement and recreation services

O*NET Codes: 34047A, 34047B, 34047C, 34047E, and 34051 About the O*NET codes

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