Top Careers in Music Performance

Music performer singing in microphone

Music offers a transcendental experience with the power to lift the spirit and bring people together. If you’re passionate about music and you’re thinking about your future, you might consider whether any careers in music performance might be the right choice for you. There are a wide range of music performance careers that you could consider pursuing after earning a music performance degree.

Choosing a Career in Music Performance That Is Right for You

A love of music is most definitely a prerequisite for pursuing any type of music performance career. But is passion for this artistic medium enough? Earning your music performance degree and then pursuing a career in the industry are rigorous experiences that require a great deal of focus, persistence and commitment.

During the course of your studies, you can expect to practice your instruments for hours each day while refining your skills, honing your artistic senses and building up your repertoire. This requires self-discipline, intrinsic motivation and a strong work ethic. Of course, music performance studies and a career in music are highly rewarding and fulfilling for people who are passionate about their craft.

While you’re thinking about whether a career in music performance might be right for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you cope well with high-pressure situations?
  • Can you thrive in this highly competitive field?
  • Are you able to bounce back after making mistakes?
  • Do you love collaborating with other musicians?
  • Do you love spending hours practicing every day?
  • Are you fascinated by the study of music theory?

Some—but not all—careers in music performance also require frequent travel.

Types of Music Performance Careers

When you think about the various types of music performance careers, the role of a professional musician is likely top of mind. And if you love performing on the stage, then this may be the right career for you to pursue. However, there are many other options to consider.

Professional Musician

Professional musicians and singers may perform solo or in groups such as bands or orchestras. Those in bands typically play gigs at clubs, bars, weddings and other private parties. These musicians work to cultivate their fan base so they can land a contract with a record label, although these days, musicians can also sell their music online through streaming services.

Other professional musicians play in orchestras, where they may have the opportunity to rise to the rank of section leader. There are also music career opportunities for:

  • Worship arts musicians
  • Professional opera singers
  • Background singers (who support the lead singer)
  • Backup performers for live performances and recording sessions

To increase their employment opportunities and marketability, many professional musicians:

  • Develop their skill in a variety of genres, styles and instruments
  • Spend a great deal of time practicing their skills and rehearsing their performances
  • Work on marketing their personal brand through media interviews, social media campaigns and photo shoots

Disc Jockey (DJ)

In the past, disc jockeys primarily worked for radio stations, where they would be responsible for playing music and offering commentary on their radio station. Today, however, the career has grown and diversified considerably. Now, the term “DJ” is primarily used to refer to someone who mixes tracks and performs at events; many DJs also write and produce their own musical tracks.

Some DJs may choose to specialize their career to work specifically at:

  • Bars and clubs
  • Weddings
  • Private parties
  • Raves
  • Concerts
  • Music festivals
  • Music residencies

Other DJs have perfected the art of turntabling. This is the practice of mixing various sounds and tracks to create new music and beats. Others prefer to use modern DJ software.

It’s possible for popular DJs who travel around to various nightclubs and music festivals to achieve celebrity status. DJs who write and produce their own music may be more likely to acquire popular acclaim. There is also the potential to license original music and earn royalties.

As with many other careers, aspiring DJs typically start small. They might play at weddings and other private parties before working their way up to booking larger gigs at nightclubs and music festivals.

Music Educator

If you’re passionate about music but you aren’t sure you’d like to perform on a stage, then you might consider becoming a music teacher instead. This career would allow you to pass on your love of music to the next generation.

There are two primary options for aspiring music educators: private music instruction and music teaching in schools. If you’d like to teach music in a public school, you’ll need to become a licensed teacher. Private music teachers who give lessons out of their own private music studios (or homes) do not need to be licensed.

If you decide that you’d like to teach within a school, you should look for a music degree that leads to teacher licensure. Be sure to check the licensing requirements for teachers in the state where you plan to work. In addition to your bachelor’s degree and license, you’ll need work experience in the classroom, which you can gain through a student teaching rotation.

As a school music teacher, you’ll prepare and give lessons that teach your students how to read scores, understand music theory and perform on instruments and vocals. You’ll also need to grade assignments and performances, manage classroom discipline, organize student recitals and meet with parents. As a member of the faculty, you can expect to attend regular staff meetings.

Private music teachers who give lessons out of their own studios or homes aren’t required to be licensed, but they do need to demonstrate credentials and proficiency to attract students. For example, earning a music performance degree is an effective way to prove your skill and knowledge.

Unlike school music teachers, private music teachers most often provide one-on-one instruction, as opposed to group instruction. In addition to giving lessons, private music teachers spend a great deal of time marketing their services to attract new clients. If you choose to pursue a career as a private music teacher, networking in your local music community and marketing your services online will be crucial for your success.

Music Producer

Music producers work closely with musicians in the recording studio. The professional relationship between a music producer and a musician is similar to that between an editor and a writer. The producer’s job is to ensure that the final result is as good as possible and that it reflects the vision for the piece.

This career requires both technical knowledge and artistic vision. A music producer might do anything from using audio editing software to running the soundboard. They can work with artists to help them achieve the right sound and create a cohesive vision for an individual song or an entire album.

Music Agent

What are your career options if you are genuinely passionate about music, but not sure that you’d like to perform professionally or work in a recording studio? If you have a “take charge” personality, excellent communication skills and a knack for working well with all types of people, then becoming a music agent might be a great choice for you.

Also known as talent agents, music agents represent bands and individual musicians. Their main areas of responsibility include booking shows and negotiating performance contracts. They may book just one show at a time, or they may be responsible for contracting an entire tour or residency at a nightclub, concert hall or casino.

By necessity, music agents must be adept at cultivating strong professional relationships with others in the industry, such as concert promoters, venue managers and record label decision-makers. A robust network of contacts enables music agents to help their clients book larger, more prestigious shows and enjoy career success.

Although earning a music performance degree will help you pursue this type of music career, you can expect to need plenty of work experience as well. Music agents typically start out as interns and assistants at agencies. Hard work can enable you to climb the ladder, and you may even decide to open your own music talent agency later on in your career.

Broadcast Engineer

Some careers in music performance involve pivotal roles in the production of media, but take place behind the scenes. One example is the job of broadcast engineers, also known as broadcast technicians. These professionals primarily work in radio and TV.

Broadcast engineers are responsible for setting up, operating and maintaining the specialized equipment for radio and TV programs. This equipment is used to manage the quality of the audio or—for TV programs—the clarity of the images. Broadcast engineers work with equipment such as audio mixing consoles, media control systems, satellite receivers, oscilloscopes and frequency analyzers.

As you might expect, this career requires a blend of technical proficiency, electronics literacy and artistic sense. It can sometimes be a high-pressure job, as broadcast engineers must be able to troubleshoot and fix malfunctioning equipment on the fly so that it doesn’t negatively affect a radio or TV program.

Earn Your Music Performance Degree

Regardless of which of these careers in music performance appeals to you, you can begin working toward a rewarding professional career in music when you earn your undergraduate music performance degree. It’s best to look for a degree program that has designed its curriculum to be aligned with the standards of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). NASM is a highly reputable and long-established organization, and its standards ensure that students are receiving an exemplary music education.

A music performance degree offers primarily hands-on, experiential learning. You can expect to have one-on-one and group instruction in music performance. However, you’ll also receive some classroom instruction.

Although the exact curriculum will vary from one school to the next, you can generally expect to study topics such as the following:

  • Music theory, including harmony, melody, form, rhythm and other structures of music
  • Group and private instruction in your major instrument as well as any required instruments, such as piano
  • The fundamentals of conducting, score reading and artistic interpretation, as well as techniques such as left hand and baton technique
  • Best practices for teaching instrumental music
  • Techniques for scoring and arranging music, including scoring for strings, voices, percussion, woodwinds and brasses

You may also study some specific genres of music, such as jazz and chamber music. Music majors are generally required to participate in a band or orchestra, and to perform at recitals. However, you should strive to do more than the basic requirements.

Look for additional opportunities to perform as part of a class group or on-campus club. Attend as many music performances as you can on campus and around the local community. You may even have the opportunity to volunteer to tutor primary or secondary students in music theory or performance.

All of these learning experiences will prove invaluable for you. Not only will you be able to refine your skills and become a more confident musician, but tutoring and similar experiences can also help you narrow down your career choices. The more exposure you have to the music world while you’re in college, the better able you’ll be to define the path your career will take.

If you’re passionate about music and you want to share your passion via a career in music performance, then you can build a firm foundation for future success at Grand Canyon University. The College of Arts and Media is pleased to offer a variety of degrees for student musicians, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Music with an Emphasis in Instrumental Performance degree program, which is aligned with the standards of NASM. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about refining your musical talents at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.