Approximately 187,600 musicians and singers are employed in the United States. Most musicians work in large urban areas and are particularly drawn to the major recording centers, such as Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Miami. Most musicians find work in churches, temples, schools, clubs, restaurants, and cruise lines, at weddings, in opera and ballet productions, and on film, television, and radio. Religious organizations are the largest single source of work for musicians.
Full-time positions as a musician in a choir, symphony orchestra, or band are few and are held only by the most talented. Musicians who are versatile and willing to work hard will find a variety of opportunities available, but all musicians should understand that work is not likely to be steady or provide much security. Many musicians support themselves in another line of work while pursuing their musical careers on a part-time basis. Busy musicians often hire agents to find employers and negotiate contracts or conditions of employment.
Young musicians need to get involved in as many playing situations as they can in their school and community musical groups. They should audition as often as possible, because experience at auditioning is very important. Whenever possible, they should take part in seminars and internships offered by orchestras, colleges, and associations. The National Orchestral Association (https://www.nationalorchestral.org) offers training programs for musicians who want a career in the orchestral field.
Musicians who want to perform with established groups, such as choirs and symphony orchestras, enter the field by auditioning. Recommendations from teachers and other musicians often help would-be musicians obtain the opportunity to audition. Concert and opera soloists are also required to audition. Musicians must prepare themselves thoroughly for these auditions, which are demanding and stressful. A bad audition can be very discouraging for the young musician.
Popular musicians often begin playing at low-paying social functions and at small clubs or restaurants. If people like their performances, they usually move on to bookings at larger rooms in better clubs. Continued success leads to a national reputation and possible recording contracts. Jazz musicians tend to operate in the same way, taking every opportunity to audition with established jazz musicians.
Music teachers enter the field by applying directly to schools. College and university placement offices often have listings of positions. Professional associations frequently list teaching openings in their newsletters and journals, as do newspapers. Music-oriented journals—such as the American Federation of Musicians' journal International Musician (https://internationalmusician.org)—are excellent sources to check for job listings.
Popular musicians, once they have become established with a band, advance by moving up to more famous bands or by taking leadership of their own group. Bands may advance from playing small clubs to larger halls and even stadiums and festivals. They may receive a recording contract; if their songs or recordings prove successful, they can command higher fees for their contracts. Symphony orchestra musicians advance by moving to the head of their section of the orchestra. They can also move up to a position such as assistant or associate conductor. Once instrumental musicians acquire a reputation as accomplished artists, they receive engagements that are of higher status and remuneration, and they may come into demand as soloists. As their reputations develop, both classical and popular musicians may receive attractive offers to make recordings and personal appearances.
Popular music singers and opera singers move up to better and more lucrative jobs through recognition of their talent by the public or by music producers and directors and agents. Their advancement is directly related to the demand for their talent and their own ability to promote themselves.
Music teachers in elementary and secondary schools may, with further training, aspire to careers as supervisors of music of a school system, a school district, or an entire state. With further graduate training, teachers can qualify for positions in colleges, universities, and music conservatories, where they can advance to become department heads. Well-known musicians can become artists-in-residence in the music departments of institutions of higher learning.
Tips for Entry
Keep developing your musical talents by practicing, taking music classes, and participating in seminars and internships offered by orchestras, colleges, and associations.
Create a demo recording of your best work and submit it to music companies and agents.
Start a YouTube site that spotlights your talents, or post videos of your performances.
Audition for spots in local musical groups, orchestras, church choirs, and other organizations.