A typical musician is someone who plays an instrument, but musicians can also be musical directors, conductors, band leaders, musical arrangers, composers and lyricists. Singers perform before live audiences either doing solo performances, working within a group or with theatrical companies. They can also put their vocal talents to use in film, television and recording.
Salaries are calculated as follows:
- popularity of the artist: if an auditorium is filled because of artist recognition, this artist will be in a better position to negotiate a higher salary;
- number of performances: the more performances, the higher the pay;
- length of job: the longer the job lasts, the more money involved; and
- amount of work: the artist with the steadier work history will make more money than the artist who works sporadically.
Generally, an hourly wage for musicians and singers of approximately $6.00 to $30.00 has been reported although there have been cases where as much as $50.00 per hour was earned. Annual median wages of $34 – $52,000 have been reported for musical directors and composers, but wages as low as approximately $15,000 and as high as $100,000 have also been reported. Minimum weekly salaries of $700 – $2,100 for musicians in major orchestras have been reported.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Unknown freelance artists seek work in arenas, outdoor stadiums, local clubs, parades, festivals and personal events such as parties and weddings. These are usually lower paying positions and last for short periods of time (approximately 1 day to 1 week). The better-known artists are able to obtain salaried work for extended periods of time in concert halls, with major orchestras, participating in theatrical performances or working in TV and film productions. Signing a contract for these types of jobs means steadier work as contracts covering a couple of months to a year can be signed. However, most artists work at jobs paying minimal salaries and much of the time, they remain unemployed for long periods between jobs so it becomes necessary to maintain other employment in unrelated fields. Another consideration is most jobs have no benefits (i.e., vacation or sick pay) and collecting unemployment payments can be next to impossible because most artists don’t work long enough or earn enough to be eligible to receive it.
The payoff of fame and fortune for succeeding in this field can be phenomenal, but only a small percentage of those who choose this occupation actually experiences major success. An untold number of people possessing enormous talents have set out in their pursuits with high hopes only to end up terribly disillusioned by the reality that there are thousands of other people out there who are just as talented and determined. Also, the choice to pursue this occupation is usually accompanied with an overwhelming desire to succeed at all costs and many have sacrificed large portions of their lives only to end up submerged in tragic circumstances. And then there are the lucky ones: the ones that have earned meager to average salaries working full time in this field, enabling them to make a sparse living doing the thing they love best. In short, this field is not for the squeamish. It’s highly likely that a person will have to accept additional employment to properly support themselves while pursuing this dream. Anyone choosing to work in this field must be prepared to make great sacrifices and be able to accept rejection on a regular basis. Working in this field can drain a person in a way that no other field does so it should be occasionally asked, is it really worth it?
Training and Education Requirements
Musicians who play more than one instrument and singers who sing songs from more than one genre and in a variety of styles will be sought after the most. If someone discovers their interests early in life, it‘s helpful to attend public and middle schools that have classes and departments that teach subjects in this field. There are numerous high schools and colleges that specialize in music and vocal coaching. Singers should continue with vocal coaching throughout their careers as the voice requires regular practice to maintain its unique sound and quality. Although formal training is always the best way to go, it’s possible for singers and those who play instruments to obtain a sufficient amount of training in public schools and by participating in community and social events. They can then use this training and experience to propel them into the entertainment world where they can continue developing their skills. However, directors, composers, lyricists and arrangers must possess more detailed experience and technical knowledge (i.e., reading/writing music) and therefore should have degrees ranging from Associate to Masters in related fields.
Certifications are necessary for those who wish to teach. Musical teachers obtain certifications in subjects like music theory and interpretation, composing and conducting.
The American Federation of Musicians is for musicians. Singers can join one of the many branches of The American Guild of Musical Artists, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is for those who record for broadcasting industries.