Musicians and Singers

Summary

musicians and singers image
Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios in a variety of genres such as classical, jazz, or rock.
Quick Facts: Musicians and Singers
2012 Median Pay $23.50 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 167,400
Job Outlook, 2012-22 5% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,700

What Musicians and Singers Do

Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios.

Work Environment

Musicians and singers often perform in settings such as concert halls, arenas, and clubs.

How to Become a Musician or Singer

There are no postsecondary education requirements for musicians or singers interested in performing popular music; however, many performers of classical music and opera have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Pay

The median hourly wage for musicians and singers was $23.50 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of musicians and singers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Growth will be due to increases in demand for musical performances. Digital downloads and streaming platforms make it easier for fans to listen to recordings and view performances.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of musicians and singers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about musicians and singers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Musicians and Singers Do

Musicians and singers
Musicians in bands may play clubs and bars while they gain enough fans to get a recording contract or representation by an agent.

Musicians and singers play instruments or sing for live audiences and in recording studios. They perform in a variety of styles, such as classical, jazz, opera, hip-hop, or rock.

Duties

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 locations for performances or concerts
  • Travel, sometimes great distances, to performance venues
  • Promote their careers by maintaining a website or social media presence or 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 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 a part of a large group of musicians who must work and practice together, such as an orchestra. A few musicians become section leaders, who may be responsible for assigning parts to other musicians or leading rehearsals.

Others musicians are “session” musicians, who specialize 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 singers act out a story by singing instead of speaking the dialogue.

Some singers become background singers, providing vocals to harmonize or support a lead singer.

Musicians interested in performing popular music typically find jobs by attending auditions or arranging their own performances. They may seek representation by an agent who will help them find jobs and performance opportunities.

In some cases, musicians and singers write their own music to record and perform. For more information about careers in songwriting, see the profile on 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 schools, but they typically need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. See the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

Work Environment

Musicians and singers
Some musicians and singers spend time in recording studios.

Musicians and singers held about 167,400 jobs in 2012. They perform in settings such as concert halls, arenas, and clubs. They often work for religious organizations and performing arts companies. In 2012, 36 percent of musicians and singers were self-employed.

Musicians and singers may spend a lot of time traveling between performances. Some spend time in recording studios. There are many jobs in cities that have a high concentration of entertainment activities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Nashville.

Musicians and singers who give recitals or perform in nightclubs travel frequently and may tour nationally or internationally.

Many musicians and singers find only part-time or intermittent work, however, and have long periods of unemployment between jobs. The stress of constantly looking for work leads many to accept permanent full-time jobs in other occupations while working part time as a musician or singer.

In 2012, the industries employing the most musicians and singers were as follows:

Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and
similar organizations
45%
Performing arts companies12
Educational services; state, local, and private2

Work Schedules

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but live performances are most often at night and on weekends.

How to Become a Musician or Singer

Musicians and singers
To work as a classical musician or singer, a bachelor’s degree in music theory or music performance is generally required.

There are no postsecondary education requirements for musicians or singers interested in performing popular music; however, many performers of classical music and opera have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Education

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 audition in person, and sometimes must do both. Undergraduate music programs teach students about music history and styles and teach methods for improving their instrumental and vocal technique and musical expression.

Some musicians and singers choose to continue their education by pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts or music.

Important Qualities

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 performances.

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 platforms. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base.

Training

Musicians and singers need extensive and prolonged learning and 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 children. In addition, they must practice often to develop their talent and technique.

Musicians and singers interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities. Sometimes these programs are associated with professional orchestras and may lead to a permanent spot in that orchestra.

Advancement

As with other occupations in which people perform, advancement for musicians and singers means becoming better known, finding work more easily, and earning more money for each performance. Successful musicians and singers often rely on agents or managers to find them jobs, negotiate contracts, and develop their careers.

Pay

Musicians and Singers

Median hourly wages, May 2012

Musicians and singers

$23.50

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

$21.12

Total, all occupations

$16.71

 

The median hourly wage for musicians and singers was $23.50 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.81, and the top 10 percent earned more than $65.24. 

In May 2012, the median hourly wages for musicians and singers in the top three industries in which these workers were employed were as follows:

Performing arts companies$26.72
Educational services; state, local, and private20.46
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and
similar organizations
19.43

Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but live performances are most often at night and on weekends.

Job Outlook

Musicians and Singers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations

7%

Musicians and singers

5%

 

Employment of musicians and singers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Growth will be due to increases in demand for musical performances.

Digital downloads and streaming platforms make it easier for fans to listen to recordings and view performances. Easier access to recordings gives musicians more publicity and grows interest in their work, and concertgoers may become interested in seeing them perform live.

There will be additional demand for musicians to serve as session musicians and backup artists for recordings and to go on tour. Singers will be needed to sing backup and to make recordings for commercials, films, and television.

However, employment growth will likely be limited in orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups because they can have difficulty getting funding. Some musicians and singers work for nonprofit organizations that rely on donations, government funding, and corporate sponsorships in addition to ticket sales to fund their work. During economic downturns, these organizations may have trouble finding enough funding to cover their expenses.

Job Prospects

There will be tough competition for jobs because of the large number of workers who are interested in becoming musicians and singers. In particular, there will likely be considerable competition for full-time positions.

Musicians and singers with exceptional musical talent and dedication should have the best opportunities.

Many musicians and singers experience periods of unemployment.

Employment projections data for Musicians and Singers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Musicians and singers

27-2042 167,400 176,200 5 8,700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of musicians and singers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Actors

Actors

Actors express ideas and portray characters in theater, film, television, and other performing arts media. They also work at theme parks or other live events. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Some college, no degree The annual wage is not available.
Dancers and choreographers

Dancers and Choreographers

Dancers and choreographers express ideas and stories, using dance. There are many types of dance such as ballet, tango, modern dance, tap, and jazz.

High school diploma or equivalent The annual wage is not available.
High school teachers

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor’s degree $55,050
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers prepare younger students for future schooling by teaching them basic subjects such as math and reading.

Bachelor’s degree $53,090
Middle school teachers

Middle School Teachers

Middle school teachers educate students, typically in sixth through eighth grades. Middle school teachers help students build on the fundamentals they learned in elementary school and prepare them for the more difficult curriculum they will face in high school.

Bachelor’s degree $53,430
Music directors and composers

Music Directors and Composers

Music directors (also called conductors) lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.

Bachelor’s degree $47,350
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $68,970
Producers and directors

Producers and Directors

Producers and directors create motion pictures, television shows, live theater, and other performing arts productions. They interpret a writer’s script to entertain or inform an audience.

Bachelor’s degree $71,350
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Musicians and Singers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/musicians-and-singers.htm (visited October 24, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014