80 Creative Job Options for MusiciansJan 29, 2022
Is there anything more seductive than the world of music? Healing, mesmerizing, unique, and a literal maze. You can find yourself and get lost - a completely oxymoronic experience. Many want careers as an artist, and although that is possible, we sometimes have to do things along the way to sustain ourselves. There are also plenty of jobs in music that keep us active in our chosen field but may not be exactly what we want to do.
Some jobs will significantly benefit what you do as a musician. In my early days, I worked in retail for several department stores. Here, I moved past my shyness and gained confidence in making cold calls approaching potential customers, and presenting a pitch on my product. It wasn’t the most comfortable at first, but I learned how to move out of my comfort zone and not take rejection personally. This is an essential skill for musicians and artists, especially since the fear of rejection can be paralyzing. I highly recommend a job in sales at some point and any jobs that will provide you with on-the-job training, which is priceless.
When starting on this path, consider your objectives and the time you need to pursue your career path. I balanced a corporate job for several years while pursuing music. I realized that a steady income was vital to me and necessary for my independence. I also spent a ton of time driving into New York City from my suburban neighborhood. It was physically taxing, but your passion will push you further than you know when you are motivated. I would advise you to put a time limit on burning the candle at both ends, as it is ultimately not sustainable.
This solution isn’t for everyone; however, I have a surprising number of friends and even students who are attorneys and musicians, which to me is the ultimate. When considering a specialized path such as this, it is a relatively short time investment (6 years max), but the payoff is well worth it. My attorney/musician friends can support themselves and their art. Same with a few that have gone into finance or medicine.
Downbeat Magazine offered a great article from 2019. This was pre-pandemic; however, it provides excellent insight. I have taken the liberty to share the jobs and associate information listed in that article and inserted a few of my ideas to provide additional options. So many new positions are being created as a result of the pandemic.
When moving toward creating stability for yourself, consider as many options as possible. Consider the lifestyle you want, the budget you need, and your saving goals. For example, do you need health insurance? Instrument insurance? A vehicle? Transportation fees? Are you recording a project and need instruments or to pay for studio costs? Health insurance, Life insurance? Accounting costs? Thinking completely will help you determine how to share your work goals.
Remember, you need a baseline income to fund not only your survival but your professional pursuits. In this climate, multiple income streams are a must, at least until you can launch. Another must is proper planning. You have a few options:
- Find work that you will love doing that will also feed your creativity; or
- Do something that you despise that will remind you that you never want to be in that situation again and use it as a catalyst to pivot into your career.
Either way, you have to take action to move ahead.
*Many of the jobs below were compiled from a 2019 article in Downbeat Magazine; I have added additional options to supplement.
- Staff Musician. Many organizations need full-time musicians. When searching for a job, it’s essential to think outside the box.
- Guitar Technician. Many touring musicians employ a guitar technician to care for instruments and keep them in tune. The most popular bands also employ drum and keyboard techs.
- Piano Tuner. Whether working for a concert hall or operating as a private business, a piano tuner is frequently in demand.
- Tour Manager. Some of the best people in this field are musicians. Nobody understands the rigors of the road like a musician.
- Concert Promoter (and support staff). Many of the veterans are aging, and the touring game is changing. There’s room for a new breed with a background in the business.
- Music Festival Director. Sunny Sumter was advanced enough in her vocal career to open for Shirley Horn, but she found her true calling as executive director of D.C. JazzFest in Washington, D.C. “When you’ve lived the music, it shows,” Sumter said. “It resonates when you’re talking to sponsors or others in the community. You can reach people, and you have the authenticity that comes with knowing the music from the inside.”
- Music Festival Hospitality Coordinator. Strictly seasonal but essential, this role ensures touring artists feel welcome, relaxed, and ready to play. As critical to a successful festival as an all-knowing concierge is to a great hotel, the hospitality coordinator has to be able to work well with both significant stars and journeymen players.
- Commercial Music Composer. It’s a visual world, but successful videos—for corporations, large or small, or marketing agencies—need music as well. This an in-demand niche that’s growing quickly.
- Rehearsal Accompanist for Dance or Vocal Lessons. Traditionally, this has been a great part-time gig for pianists. Drummers and guitarists are also sometimes in demand to help others get ready for the stage. Many musicians do this as a “side gig” to supplement their income.
- Music Teacher. There are many opportunities to work in educational institutions (with the proper credentials and training), but many music instructors work in other settings. Most communities—even small ones—have a specialized music school or music retail shop that offers lessons. This is a great way to pass on what you’ve learned and influence the next generation.
- Private Instructor. Teaching private lessons can be extremely lucrative, either as a part-time gig or as a full-time career. One great advantage is that you can set your own hours.
- High School Music Department Staff. Many schools need support staff to assist teachers and principals.
- University Music Department Staff. Universities frequently have administrative teams that assist the Music Department. These staffers might assist with applications, auditions, travel plans, meetings and recording sessions.
- Venue/Concert Hall Manager. From booking shows and promotion to supervising staff, this is a gig where firsthand experience pays dividends.
- Venue/Concert Stage Manager. You might not be the one performing, but you can help ensure that whoever is on stage has their equipment where they want it and hits at the appointed time.
- Venue/Concert Hall Marketing Director. No one knows how to market music like another musician. If you’ve booked your own gigs, you likely have the chops to do it on a larger scale.
- Subscriptions/Ticket Service Director. These jobs exist in huge, corporate ticket agencies as well as smaller, independent operators. Additionally, many large venues have staffers to handle ticket sales and member subscription services. No matter what the setting, those who excel are people who understand the business from the inside.
- Music Store Staff. Diverse positions exist in the world of music instrument sales and rental. All County Music’s two locations in Florida do a booming business renting band and orchestral instruments to students, and the shops offer a popular rent-to-own program. In 1991, saxophonist/clinician Fred Schiff took over from his parents, who started the business in 1976. His background is priceless in understanding the needs of clients, and he hires staff with music backgrounds. “It’s a natural fit when it comes to relating to our customers,” Schiff said. “We have hired many people with music degrees who for one reason or another decided that they didn’t want to be in a classroom. We have employees who are school representatives, store managers and general managers fitting that description. Our ‘day gig’ allows them the flexibility of still playing when they want.”
- Musical Instrument Builder/Designer. Regardless of its size, any company that makes instruments needs staff experts who can play.
- Musical Instrument Marketing Specialist. Nate Tschetter, who has a composition degree from Berklee College of Music, has worked in Yamaha’s marketing department for almost a decade. “My background in harmony was really helpful in designing different styles for small electronic devices,” Tschetter said. “I also had a lot of familiarity with synths and other keyboards, so I created demos for those, and then it was kind of a natural progression for me to move into that product line.” In his current position, Tschetter said he’s always on the lookout for music graduates who are skilled at the areas of video production and business writing.
- Instrument Technician. Music retailers often employ musicians who tweak and tune up instruments for sales or rentals.
- Instrument Manufacturer Salesperson. Who better to talk guitars, keyboards or wind instruments to shoppers or band teachers than a musician?
- Instrument Resale Specialist. Companies like Reverb need musicians to help run the business of reselling used instruments. Additionally, some self-employed musicians supplement their income by refurbishing and selling instruments.
- Arts Liaison/Administrator for City/County/State. If you want to make a real difference in artists’ lives, this is the place to do it. From approving grant proposals to booking musicians for special occasions, these jobs have a tremendous impact on shaping the cultural landscape.
- A&R Representative. The field of artists and repertoire—commonly known as A&R—is a natural fit for someone with a music background. Having a close rapport with working musicians is essential.
- Talent Agency Staff member. Those who excel in this field are ones that create a perfect “fit” between artist and client, creating a scenario wherein both parties win.
- Music Streaming Service Staff member. Streaming services utilize scientific algorithms and as well as personal curators. The latter approach thrives on finding people who know their music and how to relate to listeners.
- Music Journalist. Not every successful music writer has studied at the post-secondary level, but having knowledge of composition, instrumentation, and performance techniques certainly enables you to communicate to an audience with authority. It’s no coincidence that many freelance music journalists are also freelance musicians.
- Music Photographer. Going for that great shot comes more naturally when you’re in tune with the performers and can sense when something interesting is about to happen onstage. Having a music background also helps photographers develop a rapport with their subjects—as well as clients other industry insiders.
- Club D.J. The best D.J.s are in the moment, sensing the mood of the crowd and planning the flow of tunes. The better your performance chops, the better your show will be.
- Radio D.J. (and similar positions for webcasts). From knowing a wide range of music, to understanding rhythm and flow, to conducting productive interviews with artists, the skills of radio hosts are enhanced through immersion in music.
- Radio Music Director (and similar positions for webcasts). Scratch the best music directors and you’ll likely find a former musician. This is prime territory for influencing tastes and breaking new talent.
- Business Manager for Musicians. These experts help musicians navigate the financial and pragmatic complexities of the business.
- Staff Publicist. Record labels, instrument manufacturers and other organizations need knowledgeable people to help publicize their musical products and services.
- Independent Publicist for Musicians. The best of this breed are former (or current) musicians who can relate to artists as well as critics. The most successful publicists can communicate passionately about the artists they represent while also understanding the media landscape.
- Recording Studio Manager (and support staff). Studios need staff to help sessions run smoothly, whether it’s scheduling a session of helping a musician find a source for a specific piece of gear.
- Audio Engineer (in a recording studio). Producers need team members to help bring a final recording to fruition. Great ears are a must, as is a deep understanding of current recording technology and the ability to work well under pressure.
- Mastering Engineer (in a recording studio). Part craftsperson, part artist, the mastering engineer is an underappreciated and often misunderstood team member in the recording process.
- Sound Technician (for clubs and concerts). Every touring musician knows that this is the person who can make or break your show. The best ones become the artists’, and audiences’, heroes. Tact, great ears, superior understanding of the room and equipment are all essential components to doing well at this job.
- Music Supervisor for Film & T.V. If you’re a credit junkie, you know who the best people in this field are. A good music supervisor can be as influential as a good film or video editor.
- Music Clearance Specialist. New music, old music—it all needs publishing/licensing rights to be negotiated and cleared through legal channels, and schedules are often tight.
- Music Publisher. Publishing companies need musicians on staff help shepherd books through the production and marketing process.
- Audio System Design/Installation Specialist. It might be a new venue or it might be the house of an audiophile—when people want the sound to be just so, they need someone who understands music and what the technology can accomplish within the given space.
- Audio System Salesperson. The best audio stores know that selling hi-fi equipment is not like selling cars or appliances. Shoppers want to know that the salesperson understands their passion for music and can match the equipment with their tastes.
- Music Library Licensing. The world of online platforms is exploding and people need license-free music. Whether it’s for their business’ website, a podcast, or a special virtual presentation or website, if you have tracks to license, this could be a great way to gain extra income that has the possibility of renewals. (CH)
- Podcast Producer. This can be a fun position that can also help you build connections and understand a bit more about the ins and outs of programming, especially if you are working with an established station. (CH)
- Staff Positions: Many music-related organizations hire employees who have musical backgrounds. These include The Recording Academy, the Jazz Education Network and various musicians’ labor unions, just to name a few.
There are many jobs for which musical ability, when combined with additional coursework and specialized training, can lead to a prestigious career—and make you extremely valuable to clients. These include positions such as accountants, attorneys, vocal coaches and physical therapists. A few others are below.
- Music Librarian. These positions exist in many institutions, including universities and museums. Cataloging music, and retrieving it when needed, is an essential function that requires a broad appreciation of musical history, genres and artists.
- Music Therapist. Researchers are discovering how important music can be to unlocking emotions and regenerating damaged neurons. With the U.S. population aging, these jobs are also growing in popularity at facilities for senior citizens.
- Musicologist (Professor of Musicology). These academicians have a deep understanding not only of cultural and geopolitical matters but also musical techniques.
- Corporate Executive. Business training paired with musical training can be a potent combination. Risk-taking, improvisation and overall creativity come in handy when one is crafting corporate deals that center on music and entertainment.
- Nonprofit Arts Director. There is a lot of freedom in the nonprofit sector to create innovative programming while doing good. You may also find opportunities to fulfill your desire to perform, record and youmay be able to garner additional publicity that can bolster your career. (CH)
- NFT Consultant for Musicians/Artists. This is a very new and important field that is also loaded with benefits. NFTs or the non-fungible token is the new wave of digital currency that is allowing musicians and other artists to quickly build autonomy over their careers and residual income. It’s a fascinating area and shows great promise. (CH)
- Music for Gaming. Video games and virtual platforms are in need of music. Similar to composing, you can also in some cases license your music to companies. (CH)
- Online Courses. If you happen to be very organized and have a knack for clarity, this could be a very lucrative area. There are many platforms that will teach you how to build, market and brand your course. This can be a great stream of residual income that can turn into so much more. (CH)
- Meditation/Soundbath Musician Practitioner. This is fun and you are providing good to people in need of healing through sound. There is an art to playing the crystal bowls. Although not difficult, it requires skill and intuition. (CH)
- Musician for Place of Worship. This may require expertise depending on the type of worship service you are facilitating, but can be a very rewarding experience while providing an opportunity to expand your musicianship. Don’t be afraid of stepping outside of the box and exploring new idioms of music. (CH)
- Performing Rights Organization or Union Specialist. A PRO or performance rights organization (such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) is an essential agency for a songwriter and publisher. There are a lot of interesting positions here that you can also learn from. (CH)
- Branding, Marketing & P.R. for Musicians. Imagine how it would benefit your own career if you were to meet everyone in marketing and publicity. This has got to be one of th coolest positions. A publicist is prided on relationships. Publicists book clients for T.V., podcasts, red carpet, and sometimes get to attend events themselves. (CH)
- Self-employed Artist. Yes, there are scores of people who are actually earning a living as a touring and/or recording musician. Kudos to them. For others, the preceding 59 jobs might spark some ideas for a new career path.
JOBS THAT OFFER FLEXIBILITY FOR MUSICIANS
Some of these can be great fun. Regardless, learning a solid skill that is in demand gives you a huge advantage over the competition as it applies to your career. Some may require minimal training and honestly, training never hurt anyone. I’ve never heard anyone say “wow, I’m so upset that I spent time learning ‘xyz,’ but I always hear people complain about what they didn’t take the time to learn.
- Freelance Writer.
- Uber or Lyft Driver
- Online Teacher
- Virtual Assistant
- Web Designer
- Graphic Designer
- Freelance Accountant/Bookkeeper for Musicians
- Delivery Service Driver or Dispatcher
- Warehouse Worker/Coordinator
- Customer Service
- Insurance Sales to Musicians
- Fitness Instructor
- Social Media Manager
- Freelance Video/Audio Editing
- Personal Assistant
- Life Coach
- Retail Account Manager
- Massage Therapist/Chiropractor
- Voice-Over Actor
I hope you found this helpful, and you may have additional ideas of your own. I fully expect this list to evolve. I also would love to learn more about the creative ways you are sustaining yourself and your career.
I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions. Email me at [email protected]
*Retrieved 1/22/22 from https://downbeat.com/news/detail/great-jobs-for-musicians By James Hale and Bobby Reed with supplemental information from Charyn Harris
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