Music Schools: How to Become a Professional Musician

Learn how to become a professional musician. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a professional musician. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 0:58 Step 1: Take Lessons
  • 1:24 Step 2: Get…
  • 2:01 Step 3: Audition

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Professional Musician?

Career Requirements

Degree Level None: but associate's or bachelor's degree (may be helpful)
Degree Field Music
Experience Several years training on a specific instrument or vocals
Key Skills Musical talent, discipline, perseverance
Salary $33.62 (average hourly wage for musicians in 2015)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Professional musicians sing and play instruments in front of live audiences and record music in studios. They must also must rehearse, practice and audition on a regular basis. While some musicians may perform as solo acts, others may perform as part of bands, choirs, orchestras or musical groups. While there are no formal educational requirements, prospective musicians often begin taking music or voice lessons at an early age and generally practice long hours in their developmental years. It takes a lot of determination, persistence and passion for music. Given the popularity of a career as a musician and the few employment opportunities available, this is a highly competitive field. Pay is generally inconsistent for musicians, as they may be paid per gig or according to record and merchandise sales. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for musicians was $33.62 as of May 2015. Let's explore the steps you may take toward a career as a professional musician.

Step 1: Take Lessons

Musicians often begin taking lessons during their youth. Individuals learn to play an instrument or sing by enrolling in lessons with a private teacher or through a school program. Young musicians will often need to practice on a regular basis in order to prepare for recitals. In fact, practicing is so intensive, it can take up as much time as a full-time job.

It's also wise to play in a school band or orchestra. At the junior high and high school level, playing an instrument in a band or orchestra can give you experience and formalize your training.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

Step 2: Get Post-Secondary Training

While an associate's degree program in music may provide you with additional skills, individuals that want to work as classical musicians generally need to pursue a bachelor's degree. Students in a bachelor's degree program in music will be able to focus on a particular type of instrument and begin specializing in a specific genre, such as jazz, opera, or classical. In addition to taking classes and participating in musical groups, students may also have an opportunity to take part in a senior recital.

During college, you may benefit from participating in a music fellowship, which provides additional training and offers performance opportunities. A fellowship may also help you transition into a professional career.

Step 3: Audition

Whether a musician wants to perform in a jazz band, professional orchestra or for an event, they will often need to audition to demonstrate their musical skills and talents. Musicians may also be expected to have a demo that they can send out to producers or potential employers.

Here's one last tip for success: develop contacts in the field. Building relationships with agents and managers may enhance potential employment opportunities. As a musician, you may also collaborate with other musicians, which can create a foundation for collaborative projects in the future.

The main requirements for a career as a professional musician include talent, determination, persistence, and passion for music, though music lessons and postsecondary training are common among musicians.

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