Ancillary Music Careers

Edited: January 30, 2019, 9:49 PM · We get lots of posts by young people looking for a career as a soloist or orchestral player, but who probably won't be able to make a stable living that way. What are some ancillary careers that will keep these posters in the music world, even though they may not have the skill/education to become orchestral players? And what does one need to do to get there?

e.g. Majoring in jazz studies and non profit management qualifies someone to run a small non profit that puts on monthly jazz concerts! Cool job- you get to meet great musicians and talk about jazz all day (if that's your thing).

Replies (27)

January 30, 2019, 11:33 PM · Arts management jobs don't pay well unless you're at a very senior level -- and figure you will want to get an MBA or equivalent.

Audio engineering pays a living wage, but only barely, I think; you generally need a degree in it, or significant on-the-job training. Music producers earn a bit more -- and the big-name ones can earn a lot, though. (AFAIK the producer typically has what is primarily an audio engineering background coupled with some business courses, and there are degree programs for it.)

Becoming a luthier -- or going into sales at a violin shop -- will keep people in the music world. That involves going to a violin-making school, or apprenticing.

Most people who hoped to become performers end up primarily teaching for a living. Some will get music ed degrees and primarily teach in schools. That's really the most reliable path at the moment, I think, especially if you get certified to teach a non-music subject as well (especially STEM subject).

From what I've seen, though, most people who want to be performers and don't get where they hoped to be tend to switch fields to something non-music-related.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 12:01 AM · Lydia- some people are okay not making big bucks. I served on a board many years ago that put on 6 concerts a year, had some outreach programs, and paid our executive director $56k + benefits. In a southern city with low cost of living and no state income tax. Arts management jobs might minimally give someone enough salary and benefits to gig at night or at least stay somewhat in the game. They are still more lucrative and easier than public school jobs. And jobs in school districts are getting really competitive! Don't assume that your viola performance undgrad degree is going to get you a decent living. In most states, you'll need a teaching certificate- your performance degree means nothing.

Edited to emphasize:
Lydia: "especially if you get certified to teach a non-music subject as well (especially STEM subject)."

That's not the way pubic schools work at all. This is incorrect information.

January 31, 2019, 12:12 AM · Our colleagues over in the theater dept. have a more realistic approach. The prospective, hopeful, young actors also learn ancillary crafts; set design, carpentry, lighting, electronics, costume and clothing construction, make-up, etc. Those skills frequently become the pay-check that pays the rent while they are auditioning for acting jobs.
January 31, 2019, 12:45 AM · Julie, as far as I know, it's possible to become certified in multiple subjects, at least in my state (Maryland). You need the educational background for it, and you'd only hold one job at a time, but multiple subject areas gives you flexibility as to what job to take.
January 31, 2019, 1:04 AM · Most states allow for multiple certification, yes. Provided you have a dual major or multiple degrees. For example, dual major in music/biology. (Maryland is probably on the lax end, Massachusetts is on the stricter end, just guessing.) But for practical purposes, getting certified and maintaining certification in multiple subjects isn't practical in almost every state. You'd have to hold multiple undergrad majors or obtain post grad coursework that is essentially another major just to qualify for the certification in most states. A math major just can't decide to take a certification test and a couple of classes and be an English teacher, for example. They would have to take all the course work they would have taken to get an English major, then meet additional ELA requirements for their certification.

Multiple subject certification isn't really feasible when you look at the requirements. Lots of college kids going into education are actually having to take 5 years, not four, to meet their university AND state requirements to get certified. And that's just one subject certification. AND that's just to make $40k a year. It's kind of an absurd system, actually.

Also, most choice music ed jobs are going to someone who has an undergrad degree in music education, some experience teaching probably in a crappy charter school, a connection with either the outgoing teacher or principal, and is willing to get or already has a masters in education (which many teachers do because they have to keep up their certification).

Also, if you want to teach elementary ed, that's a whole other thing.

January 31, 2019, 5:54 AM · Just out of curiosity, is there a thing like a minor degree in violin performance? If there is such thing, how does it compare to a proper music major in skill and perspective in getting a paid in performing music (even if it is not full time or a proper career soloist etc)?
January 31, 2019, 7:35 AM · I'm not at all sure this is a good idea.

Most of us get involved in music because we love it. No matter the level, we all have quite a lot of emotional investment in our playing. Unfortunately, there aren't enough full time jobs playing whatever music we love, and there are many extremely talented individuals seeking them. If you have to ask an internet forum if you're talented enough to compete for those jobs, the answer is almost certainly "No, you're not" (if for no other reason than asking the question shows you lack the confidence needed for such a career). So the suggestion is to work in something close to that career...

But with such a strong emotional bond, wouldn't that be akin to working with your ex-spouse after she left you for someone else? Meanwhile, being close to but not involved in the music making would seem to me to be the worst of both worlds. You don't get to actually play for a career, but your career is still tied to music so you don't want to pursue it in your spare time. They call it "work" for a reason, after all, and not many people do the same thing in their free time that they do on their job.

Meanwhile, you can go into another field, have a relatively stable career, earn money for an instrument and lessons, and pursue music as an amateur on your own terms. You can play as much or as little as you want or have time for. If you don't enjoy playing with some ensemble you can leave without worrying about what it will do to your income. You can play chamber music with colleagues and pick your own repertoire. For young people who come here asking this question, I'd say the better advice is to point them to a more stable and remunerative career than something on the fringes of what they love. It might turn out that they don't love it enough to make that sacrifice.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 9:00 AM · What about composition? Are there any job markets for that (eg film composition or something)?
EDIT: I just had another thought - you could be a church organist. However, most require some kind of degree in organ or piano playing, and you need to have adequate improvisation skills on both organ and piano. You also need to know how to play both well, for rather obvious reasons.
January 31, 2019, 9:28 AM · Nina, I earned my MMus in Composition. I still remember my grad school interview at Eastman with Samuel Adler. His first question to me was along the line of:

"We have over 150 applicants for MMus in Composition this year. We're taking 6 of you. Where else have you applied?"

If anything, composition is MORE competitive than performing, with fewer job opportunities.

January 31, 2019, 10:52 AM · Oh. Welp.
And wow, Eastman? Did you get in, or did you go somewhere else?
January 31, 2019, 11:16 AM · Nah, didn't attend Eastman. Rochester is a boring place!

I went to Boston University, studied Composition with a Pulitzer winner, and still had to find another career in a STEM field. But these days, with workplaces requiring more credentials, it's much harder for young people to change gears like that.

January 31, 2019, 11:17 AM · "-is there a minor in performance?" There are a few at private colleges. None of the public schools in my state do that. At my school I lobby for that at every opportunity. The rationale is; The private teachers produce a lot of intermediate to advanced players at the High School ages. The majority, quite wisely, will major in something outside of music in their college years, the practicing and playing drops off dramatically, perhaps never to return. A minor in music performance would be something like: private lessons, ensembles, a lower level recital, a little bit of piano, theory, history. The lessons could be taught by the the graduate students in performance, at lower cost. This obviously would not be for professionals, but for upper level amateurs and semi-pros who want to do some music during college and for the rest of their lives.
January 31, 2019, 12:25 PM · I'm with Julie here...

The number of college credits required in order to hold a second teaching degree (ie primary in music/the arts secondary in math) is very high. So much so that if your majored in music at anything other than a large university, with a high number of credits in your chosen secondary teaching field, you'd have to take a whole bunch of college courses in order to meet the minimum required credits (and associated GPA) in order to quality to take the certification exams in the state you hope to teach in.

I know, I was an arts teacher and tried to switch to math until I saw what was involved and how little money I made as a teacher - I just could not do that and teacher/do other work until I qualified to become a math teacher. It would have been easier for me to become a math teacher if I were an accountant, than it was for me to switch as an already highly qualified (Master's degree and all) arts teacher - all for middle school level math.

And if you manage to get both teaching degrees/certifications, to maintain both certifications concurrently is a whole other matter entirely.

While there are school districts where the pay is very good for teachers, the competition to get into those schools as an educator is unbelievably high.

January 31, 2019, 1:03 PM · I believe Bruce Berg mentioned that there's now an interesting performance minor at Baylor, where he was teaching. I would have been much more likely to have kept up with my music in college if I had been doing a performance minor. (Although my private teacher, outside the university, noted that it was actually better for me to not to have to adhere to the jury schedule, since it placed artificial deadlines on work that needed to be done.)

Edited: January 31, 2019, 1:47 PM · Actually, in Texas, once you are certified to teach a subject, all you need do to add another subject to your certification is to take and pass the relevant test. That's how my husband ended up with five certifications (English, German, speech, journalism, and theater arts). No minimum number of credit hours required (according to him--I just asked).
January 31, 2019, 2:06 PM · Yes, we do get some young musicians wondering about how they can become a paid professional musician. Like any other field, there are a limited number of paid professional positions. There is no single answer other than to say that everyone needs a backup plan.

As to remaining a satisfied musician, you don't have to be a paid professional to do that. We have more than a few non-professional musicians on this forum all of whom seem satisfied with having a day-job and making music during your own time, not for money, just for fun and the love of music.

To be sure, almost all the responses tried to stay inside the world of Arts and Music. However, there are Doctors, Lawyers, business people of many professions that play music while their day-job has nothing to do with music or the arts. Yet, having music makes their life well-rounded.

Two final thoughts on the larger topic. A fellow high school student was a great football player, all county, all state, et cetera. He realized the first day of college practice that everyone there was also all-county, all-state, et cetera and that the professional ranks only opened up a small number of draft slots each year. Fortunately he went to a college using the quarter system. The two quarters of football time he was mostly on the field, the other two he was in class striving for top grades, four years later he gets a Rhodes Scholarship, a scholarship for law school,... The other thought: It was sad that the band leader at Clinton's first inaugural said: "thank you Mr. President" following Clinton's solo with his band. He should have given Clinton the old rejoinder: "Don't quit your day job..."

Edited: January 31, 2019, 2:35 PM · You can double major at a regular state university -- performance and something else. The thing is that "something else" can't be incredibly time-intensive. It can't be chemistry or engineering or architecture. It can be math or psychology or economics or marketing or finance. But your life will be very regimented and there will not be a lot of time to "smell the roses" or engage in tertiary extracurriculars. And it helps if you come in to college with a huge pile of AP credits to wipe out half of your general education requirements. But it can be an okay route for someone who really envisions themselves as a day-jobber but still wants to build solid violinistic skill for life-long enjoyment as an amateur with maybe the occasional gig.

Another ancillary career to think about is hospitality. Imagine yourself opening a restaurant or a hotel where you've got live musical entertainment! Then YOU can be the one who hires seedy-looking jazz musicians or singer-songwriters at prison wages "to gain experience."

January 31, 2019, 2:39 PM · Wow! Texas is really lax. That has not been my experience teaching in 3 states. The additional requirements in Florida to transfer my certification were so absurd I switched careers when we moved there.
January 31, 2019, 2:41 PM · Wow Mary Ellen! That's awesome! I wish they would offer that (or had offered that when I taught) to us in NY.
January 31, 2019, 3:41 PM · Speaking of ancillary career, it reminds me an incident in not so distant past.

After starting lesson with my previous flute teacher for about a month, she emailed me one day asking me if I wanted to become her business partner, of which she had an excellent opportunity on hand. I flat out declined because I was (and still am) a newbie in music. I had not enough free time to practice, so let alone take a second job.

As it turned out, she got involved in an MLM (multi level marketing) company. You see those companies advertise for themselves along the line of "Be your own boss", "full time income for working part time", etc. She made money either by selling overpriced skin care product, or get people to become her "business partner" of which she will get a cut if they sell something too. Of course, the products are so expensive, normal people just won't buy them. As a result, she targeted her family, friends and students, because we tend to trust her when she said something is good. The reason why she got into it was because her upline told her that this is a best way to learn how to become an "entrepreneur".

My take of this little story is, when young people go to music school and found out they are not top notch to compete for a soloist, orchestral position, they become easy targets for scam. Part of it is because of their own greed and stupidity, but part of it is those scammer do target people who suffer from low self esteem. Some of their pitch are very similar to a cult. Sometimes I wonder if at some stage, the music school should prepare those kids for a reality check. If they are unlikely to make the cut, at least advise them to go for a year of non-music career training or apprenticeship.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 4:01 PM · My point was not to rehash this same discussion where a bunch of engineers tell people to go into stem fields because it's been great for them.

My point was to suggest other careers for people who like being in the music world. I've been doing some googling:

-sound engineering/music production
-music therapy
-various support jobs within an orchestra (librarian, HR, marketing, operations, IT, etc.)
-talent agent/booking agent
-hospitality (good suggestion Paul!)
-executive director of a non-profit; larger ones do pay quite well.
-theater/venue director
-program director

January 31, 2019, 4:11 PM · Well it was a long time ago, and I had no interest in the world in actually teaching multiple subjects, but I majored in music ed (and performance), plus physics/math. But it was intense, as described above. I did it because I had an interest in all those subjects. But all along I knew I didn't want to teach music in the public school system with they types of students who had been my peers. That would have been death.
January 31, 2019, 7:15 PM · There's always the music history side of things, as well -- generally those are university professorships. That's just as competitive as becoming a performer, though, I suspect.

People go to work for various music-related companies -- companies producing accessories, printing sheet music, or distributing media. There are software companies, too. (My piano-playing sister almost took a job at Cakewalk, once upon a time.)

Physical therapy, or occupational therapy, in conjunction with the Alexander Technique, affords the opportunity to work regularly with musicians, if you specialize that way. A few individuals may be able to make a living as a sports physician that works with performers, or as a performance psychologist (think about the Noa Kageyama, the "Bulletproof Musician" guy).

But I agree with a previous commenter who noted there's a kind of outside-looking-in element to these jobs. I don't know if it's kind of being like someone who really wants to cook, but is the restaurant's accountant instead.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 8:01 PM · Add to the list: Development (fundraising)

"But I agree with a previous commenter who noted there's a kind of outside-looking-in element to these jobs. I don't know if it's kind of being like someone who really wants to cook, but is the restaurant's accountant instead."

I get that. It definitely wouldn't be for everyone. I do PR/communications and I wouldn't want to do that for a symphony, given the pressures to get a new audience to replace the current aging one while simultaneously keeping everything the same so you don't alienate donors.

I think for people who like the atmosphere or are passionate about promoting/supporting music, it could be a way to contribute. I did have a violinist friend who worked for the symphony in an administrative role and got on the sub list, so occasionally got to play. She was a good player, just like everyone trying to get on the sub list, but her existing connection probably gave her a leg up.

Edited: February 1, 2019, 6:57 AM · A BSN with a music therapy specialization would pay well and you'd probably be in demand. I recently read an article about teaching music to the elderly as an intervention to manage cognitive decline...

The academic route: ethnomusicology, sociology of music, history of music, psychology of music... who knows if when you graduate with the Ph.D. you'll need for teaching and research if there will be full time, permanent jobs available, though. I knew a guy who got a Ph.D. in anthropology and became a jazz performer after graduation. He's an accomplished trumpet player. His dissertation was on the use and meanings of amplified sound in India. I think his spouse has the job with the benefits, though.

January 31, 2019, 11:27 PM · Music therapy is its own field separate from nursing.

Edited: February 1, 2019, 6:16 AM · Yes, music therapy is separate. But since psychotherapy iis not particularly well reimbursed in the US, even art and music therapists with clinical licensure (that is, a masters in counseling, an MFT, or a LCSW) struggle to put together full-time work. Those with a Bachelors can’t receive health insurance reimbursement in almost all states, so their employability is pretty low. The art and music therapists (with clinical licensure) I know may work a few hours each at several rehab, nursing, and adult day programs in their city and have a couple private clients for whom they compete with other psychotherapists. The latter clients aren’t likely to stay around for more than 12 sessions, since that is frequently the max insurance will pay. I suppose you could put that together with teaching music lessons and have enough to live on...

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