Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios.
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Musicians and singers typically do the following:
- Perform music for live audiences and recordings
- Audition for positions in orchestras, choruses, bands, and other types of music groups
- Practice playing instruments or singing to improve their technique
- Rehearse to prepare for performances
- Find and book locations for performances or concerts
- Travel, sometimes great distances, to performance venues
- Promote their careers by maintaining a website or social media presence or by doing photo shoots and interviews
Musicians play one or more instruments. To make themselves more marketable, many musicians become proficient in multiple musical instruments or styles.
Musicians play solo or in bands, orchestras, or small groups. Those in bands may play at weddings, private parties, clubs, or bars while they try to build enough fans to get a recording contract or representation by an agent. Some musicians work as part of a large group of musicians, such as an orchestra, whose members must work and practice together. A few musicians become section leaders, who may be responsible for assigning parts to other musicians or for leading rehearsals.
Others musicians are session musicians, specializing in playing backup for a singer or band leader during recording sessions and live performances.
Singers perform vocal music in a variety of styles. Some specialize in a particular vocal style, such as opera or jazz; others perform in a variety of musical genres. Singers, particularly those who specialize in opera or classical music, may perform in different languages, such as French or Italian. Opera and musical theater singers act out a story by singing instead of speaking the dialogue. Some singers become background singers, providing vocals to harmonize with or support a lead singer.
In some cases, musicians and singers write their own music to record and perform. For more information about careers in songwriting, see the profile of music directors and composers.
Some musicians and singers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others with a background in music may teach music in public and private schools, but they typically need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. For more information, see the profiles of kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.
Dedication. Auditioning for jobs can be a frustrating process because it may take many different auditions to get hired. Musicians and singers need determination and dedication to continue to audition after receiving many rejections.
Discipline. Talent is not enough for most musicians and singers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and rehearse to improve their technique, style, and performance.
Interpersonal skills. Musicians and singers need to work well with a variety of people, such as agents, music producers, conductors, and other musicians. Good people skills are helpful in building good working relationships.
Musical talent. Professional musicians or singers must have superior musical abilities.
Physical stamina. Musicians and singers who play in concerts or in nightclubs, and those who tour, must be able to endure frequent travel and irregular performance schedules.
Promotional skills. Musicians and singers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base.
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations
- Self-employed workers
- Performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries
- Educational services; state, local, and private
There are no postsecondary education requirements for those interested in performing popular music. Many musicians and singers of classical music and opera have a bachelor’s degree in music theory or performance. To be accepted into one of these programs, applicants are typically required to submit recordings or to audition in person and sometimes must do both.
Undergraduate music programs teach students about music history and styles. In addition, they teach methods for improving instrumental and vocal techniques and musical expression. Undergraduate voice programs also teach courses in diction. Such courses help students perform opera in foreign languages.
Some musicians and singers choose to continue their education by pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts or music.
Musicians and singers need extensive training and regular practice to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to interpret music at a professional level. They typically begin singing or learning to play an instrument by taking lessons and classes when they are at a young age. In addition, they must practice often to develop their talent and technique.
Musicians and singers interested in performing classical music may seek further training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.
There are many ways to become a working musical artist but here are some common steps in a musician's career roadmap include:
- Gaining experience by performing in local bands or ensembles, or by playing at events such as weddings, parties, or in local bars or clubs.
- Building a portfolio of recorded music or videos that can be used to promote themselves to music industry professionals and fans.
- Networking with other musicians, industry professionals, and fans to gain exposure and build a fanbase.
- Signing a recording contract with a record label or starting their own independent record label.
- Releasing music and touring to promote their albums and build their brand.
- Building a reputation as a performer, songwriter and producer, and potentially collaborating with other musicians or working on other projects.
- Continuously working on improving their skills and building a loyal fanbase through social media and other digital platforms.
The road to success as a musician is not linear and many successful musicians have taken a variety of paths to achieve success. Additionally, the music industry is constantly changing, and many musicians have found success through digital platforms, live streaming and other new ways of reaching their audience.