Music Director: Career Info & Requirements

Mar 04, 2019

See what music directors do. Learn how to become one and get information about career prospects and earning potential. Read on to decide if becoming a music director is right for you.

Career Definition for Music Directors

A fine arts music director works as a musical conductor (literally, with a baton!) while serving as his or her company's artistic leader and visionary; choir, opera, and ballet music directors have similar duties. A symphonic music director typically creates the season's performance schedule, hires musicians and guest conductors, helps fundraise, and serves as the orchestra's public symbol. A school music director teaches music to students individually and as a group, including rehearsing the school band for performances.

Education Bachelor's degree, master's degree, doctorate
Job Skills Teaching skills, conducting experience, musical ability
Median Salary (2017)* $50,590 (music directors and composers)
Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 6% (music directors and composers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A music director in the performing arts tends to have a master's and Ph.D. in musical programs like conducting, music theory, music composition, or in a specific instrument. A school music director requires at least a bachelor's degree in a music-related field and a state-issued teaching credential.

Skills Required

A fine arts music director should have experience in orchestras - prior conducting is essential, and many directors were once featured or principal soloists. Meanwhile, a school director of music needs people skills befitting a teaching position.

Career and Economic Outlook

As of May 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website notes that composers' and music directors' median annual salaries were $40,560 at religious organizations, $54,690 at elementary and secondary schools, and $53,870 at performing arts companies. The site also says that job growth should be 6% from 2016-2026.

Alternate Career Options

Those who hope to guide artistic works from concept to production may work as directors of other performance arts, such as film and dance. A few options include:


Directors are in charge of making the overall creative decisions that dictate how a film, TV, stage or related production is performed, including casting and set design. A bachelor's degree is typically the highest degree level attained by a director; most directors work their way into the job through previous relevant experience. The BLS reports that jobs for producers and directors are expected to increase 12% from 2016-2026, and that the median pay for these professionals was $71,620 in 2017.


Choreographers are responsible for overseeing dance performances for films, stage shows, and other productions. They may develop and arrange dances, audition dancers, select musical numbers, and related tasks that are required for the smooth operation of a dance company, theater, or movie production. Degree programs in dance are available but not necessarily required for employment. Choreographers typically have many years of extensive dance training; many also have a bachelor's degree, not necessarily in a dance-related field, for post-dance career employment options. Jobs for choreographers are expected to increase 3% from 2016-2026, per the BLS, and the median salary for choreographers was $48,420 in 2017.

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