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Careers in the Music Industry & How Much You Can Make

There’s often a perception from people outside of the music industry that working in music means either making a fortune or making nothing.

That’s not how it works. In fact, there are many different careers within music and most of them pay quite well.

And no, you don’t always need musical talent to work in this industry or to make a good living at it though you will need other skills.

So, let’s take a look at the most common career choices, what you need to know and how much you could potentially earn if you were to take them up. 

The Most Common Career Choices In The Music Industry (And Their Earning Potential)

Music Producer
(Scale: $25,000 – $1 million or more)

A music producer is someone that gets both the music and the business sides of the industry and they know how to get the best out of an artist and out of their label. 

The objective is to create a place that allows the musician to freely express their ideas and then to help them deliver works that bring out their vision while staying commercially viable, musically enjoyable and on budget. 

If you want to become a music producer then you’ll need to learn a lot about music – in particular you might want to get a cheap laptop for music production, some studio headphones and set up your own Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) at home. 

The objective is to work out what it takes to create “good sound”. 

You’ll also want to study the work done by other producers. Pick up your favorite albums, who were they producers and sound engineers? 

Find out what else they’ve done and follow their careers and read interviews with them. 

There is no defined career path to “music producer” status, everyone takes their own road. 

Session Musician
(Scale: $100-$2,500 daily which is up to $100,000 or more a year)

A session musician’s life is often a lot more stable than that of a musician that plays in a defined band. Their job is to perform on other people’s work or on tour to create the sound that’s needed.

This means that a session musician rarely sticks to a single genre of music and that they get to meet and interact with a lot of people across the industry. 

Some session musicians go on to develop their own careers as named recording artists such as Jimmy Page or Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

Others will spend their entire lives in the background making sure that the music they appear on is the finest quality.

If you want to be a session musician then you need to be a solid musician with a gift for improvising on the fly. You’ll also need to learn to build personal networks in the industry. 

Tour Manager
(Scale: $2,500 – $10,000 a week, that’s up to $500,000 or more a year)

Tour managers don’t play the music, they make sure that when an artist goes on tour, everything goes smoothly.

This can be everything from balancing the books to ensuring that accomodation’s booked, instruments are on stage when needed, etc. 

This is a very business oriented role. You need to learn the industry and particularly financial management, tour logistics and how to manage a tour schedule. 

The pay scale here is for those tour managers involved in arena grade tours, it’s quite a lot less as you work your way up from small gig venues to the big time. 

Booking Agent
(Commission Based – potentially $20,000 – $3 million a year)

A booking agent is the person behind the scenes that arranges the details of a live tour for the artist.

That is they work out where to play, negotiate with the venue management, negotiate and close contracts, arrange security, technical equipment, hospitality, etc. 

If you want to do this – you’d be best served with a degree in marketing, music management or even finance. 

You must have a firm grip on contract negotiation, marketing, event planning and, of course, copyright protection to do this job well.

Commissions tend to run between 10 and 20 percent of the band’s take on each gig. 

(Paid on a Project Basis – potentially $20,000 – $2 million a year)

Composers write music for others to perform, usually, but not always orchestras. 

They don’t have to work in classical music mind you, they can work on TV, video games and movie production too.

This is a job for a highly skilled musician that can tackle working with multiple instruments in a technical way and record music in a way that others can use it. 

Rates for composers vary so wildly, depending on the project, that it’s hard to give you a sensible “guide” as to how much you will earn. 

Video games and movies are often where the big money is to be found. 

Recording Engineer
(Scale: $25,000 – $150,000 or more)

A recording engineer’s job is to record what’s played in the studio and to manipulate that sound to create the best possible audio output.

It is very much a technical role and involves not just musical proficiency but equipment and software proficiency too.

You may also need to get involved with mixing and editing and you’ll certainly be called upon to solve problems in the studio on the fly. 

Compensation for recording engineers tends to be linked to their professional profile, the better know you are – the more you can demand. 

Artist Manager
(Commission Based – potentially $30,000 – $10 million a year)

You definitely don’t need any musical talent to be an Artist Manager but you will need an ear for what sells because your job will be to represent the artist during negotiations with labels, venues, etc.

You’ll need faith and love for your musicians because your job is to get behind them and propel them to greatness. 

And you won’t get any of the love and fan worship that they get when they do reach the pinnacle of their career, either. 

An artist manager is a leader and a manager, they need to understand how to sell, how to advise and critique the talent they represent, how to work with publishers, booking  agents, etc. 

In exchange for this you’ll earn between 10 and 50 percent of the artist’s earnings. If they’re a superstar, this can make you rich, if they only play the local pub once a month? Not so much. 

But then, it’s your job as an artist manager to get them to stadiums rather than pubs. 

Music Teacher
(Scale: $30-$120 hour or $30,000-$72,000 salaried)

We don’t hold with the theory that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. 

In fact, music teachers need to be highly skilled in at least one instrument or music theory to be able to teach it. 

Some teach music as a “day job” while trying to break through as musicians on the live circuit and others teach because they love to teach.

Either way, you can teach anything privately without any formal qualifications, though, we’d note – you won’t get paid much if you can’t demonstrate some formal learning.

If you want to teach in a school or university and command a salary? You’ll need a music degree for that. 

Music Publicist
(Scale: Contract based – $500 – $10,000 a month achievable)

A publicist’s job is to ensure that their artists get time in the press and that the coverage, where possible, is as favorable as possible.

For example, they might send out copies of a new album for review, or arrange an interview at Rolling Stone or with us at New Music World for that matter, or get them a TV or Radio spot.

It’s very much a sales and marketing role and there’s no musical talent required to be a publicist.

It is a job that suits those that love to network and build personal relationships and with a very strong sense of organization. You also need first rate communications skills.

And your pay will depend on your successes and your contract. The more space you get your artists, the more you’re going to be rewarded. 

Music Arranger
(Scale: $20,000 – $43,000 or more)

Music arrangers take pre-written scores and repurpose them to create a new sound or to deliver a certain message or achieve a goal. 

This is a fairly specialist skill and it’s one that tends to be provided on a freelance basis, though some music arrangers have full-time contracts with businesses. 

Music arrange may well be a second job for a composer or it can be a fixed career for an individual. 

However, we should note that it’s not a glamorous profession, in the main, and most arrangers aren’t going to get rich doing what they love. 

Final Notes

So, there you have it, ten careers in the industry and most of them pay respectably well and many can pay incredibly well if you put in the work and succeed.

Everyone worries about earning enough when they take up a creative profession but despite many people’s commonly held beliefs, it can be quite lucrative as well as a lot of fun.