Making a Living as a Musician


Juliette Fang, Staff Writer

For millennia, music has been an integral part of peoples’ lives and cultures. However, despite music’s importance, a common misconception about the people who create and perform music is that they can rarely make a profit. In fact, many musicians can make a steady living without having to be the next Taylor Swift or Yo-Yo Ma. 

One unique aspect of the music industry is that there are so many different options for career paths. Because of this, it is important for musicians to keep an open mind and be flexible to be able to take advantage of different opportunities. 

“I think first and foremost it’s extremely important to be versatile and flexible as a professional musician,” said professional violinist Grace Rodgers, adding that “there are so many career options within music itself, so it’s beneficial to keep an open mind and try to adapt to the opportunities that come your way.”

Many freelance musicians have several sources of income. One of these is playing at gigs, such as concerts, events like weddings, or at venues like bars or restaurants. Finding these gigs, however, can be difficult. This is why being open-minded and building strong relationships is important to take advantage of these opportunities.

There are also a lot of opportunities for musicians in the film and television industry. This can range from recording music to arranging or composing music. For example, some musicians might compose jingles for advertisements or play in the backgrounds of music videos.  

Another popular method of making money is teaching music lessons. Not only is this a good way to make a living, but it can also be very rewarding to pass on a love of creating music to more people. 

Musicians who play a certain type of instrument can also become a part of symphonic orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera. These jobs are often a great source of income and are very steady as lifelong careers, as opposed to being a freelance artist. Unfortunately, their value also makes these jobs extremely competitive, and hundreds of people often apply for a position. 

Like many careers in the arts, being a musician depends on making a name for yourself. A good way to maintain a good reputation is to be prepared and flexible, but also to be good at working with others. From bands to chamber music, musicians are always having to work together, so being a good colleague is an important skill to have. 

Being able to build and maintain strong relationships is also integral to being a professional musician, as the music industry is built on word of mouth. Musicians are often hired by people whom they have worked with before or through recommendations, so they should also try to get jobs with musicians who have a good and well-known reputation. 

Of course, like any sort of job, being a musician comes with its fair share of challenges. Musicians, especially those who are freelance, cannot plan their schedules too far in advance. Gigs usually come up suddenly and can last late into the night. Even though this can create weeks with a lot of variety, not having a concrete schedule can become very stressful. This is why it is important for musicians to take care of their bodies and mental health despite how busy they can become. 

“Staying motivated can be challenging because navigating new music and being exposed to it can be exhausting,” said freshman and cellist Carol Chen, advising that “setting goals helps me track my development week by week…[and] also helps me with time management.”

One myth about becoming a professional musician is that it is easy and carefree, which is simply not true. Even though musicians do not necessarily need to have a degree from a conservatory, it still requires a lot of discipline and patience. Most musicians pick up their craft at a young age and work hard for many years to obtain the skills they need to become a professional. Building up the aforementioned relationships and reputations also takes time to bear fruit, and being offered gigs does not happen overnight. 

“Professional musicians are some of the hardest working people I know! It is somewhat like a sport in that we physically have to stay in shape,” stated professional cellist Ginger Murphy. “Nobody will take you seriously in the professional world unless your skills are refined, which requires practice, practice, and more practice!”

Despite these hurdles, becoming a musician for a living can be a fulfilling and exciting job. Unlike many other professions, the different gigs and opportunities there are for musicians create a unique career filled with variety. 


Photo Courtesy of UNSPLASH.COM