Careers in Music: Following Your Passion to New and Exciting Places

careers in music

When we think of careers in music, most people’s minds go to one of two things: music teacher or professional musician. Those are two very admirable careers that I encourage you to look into if that is where your passion lies, but did you know that pursuing music can lead you to any number of careers that you might not even know exist? Long gone are the days of the “starving artist.” Jobs in music education are plentiful, and a degree in music can lead you to an array of exciting career paths. 

Personally, I always thought my path was clear. I knew from the moment that I held a baton at the age of 13, leading my school’s orchestra pit for a rehearsal of The Sound of Music, that I wanted to be an orchestra director. So I went to college to pursue music education, and I became a public school orchestra director. After teaching at a variety of levels, I realized that middle school was “my jam,” and I settled into what was to be my forever career.

But life often throws unexpected things at you … for me, it was a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which took me away from that clear-cut path. I was not able to sustain the physical demands of being a regular classroom teacher, but I still had the drive, creativity, and passion for music education. Luckily, during my years as a teacher, I started composing and creating music education clinics. This led me to a full-time career not only as a composer but also led me to jobs in the publishing world, of which I learned there are many.

Many Musical Career Paths

If you like writing music, consider a career in publishing: 

  • Composers can have a variety of careers, from creating educational music to writing artwork for professional ensembles to working in Hollywood on film scores, video game music, or media outlets, writing for pop stars, and even creating theme park music!
  • A Music Editor curates catalogs of music for school ensembles (and beyond), working with other composers to edit and publish their music.
  • Engravers (otherwise known as copyists) format the music to make it look uniform, readable, and clear.
  • Proofreaders proofread music before it goes to print and check for errors.
  • Music Retailers like J. W. Pepper, Stanton’s, Penders (and many, many more) often hire people with musical backgrounds to be the experts in their field.
  • Orchestrators take sketches of music and stretch them into music for full orchestra.

Maybe you have a zest for being hands-on with things. You might look into:

  • Luthier / Instrument Repair – build and fix instruments
  • Music Producer / Audio Engineer – record and mix performances
  • Music Therapist – use music as a healing device for the sick, elderly, and children

Or maybe you have a more administrative side to you:

  • Work for an arts/music organization or non-profit
  • Own/work at a music store
  • Work for a Professional Orchestra
    • Artistic Director – plans repertoire and guests
    • Music Librarian – manages music for a professional orchestra
    • Publications Editor – writes program notes (music history)

Educators and Performers

Even being a professional musician can have many paths:

  • Concert Soloist
  • Professional Orchestra Musician
  • Conductor
  • Chamber Musician
  • Recording Artist
  • Studio Musician

As a professional musician, you might have a regular orchestra you play with, or perhaps you are part of a chamber ensemble that tours. Beyond this, though, you will likely have side gigs as a studio musician where you record music for an upcoming film or project or work with a nonprofit that visits schools or hospitals.

As a music educator, there are many career paths:

  • Teach Band, Choir, Orchestra
  • Teach General Music
  • Teach in Public Schools or Private Schools or an el Sistema program
  • Teach Private Lessons
  • Teach College/Graduate School

As a music educator, you might become an orchestra, band, or choir director or a general music teacher in schools. You might realize you want to train others how to teach and end up teaching collegiate or graduate students in higher education. Or perhaps you like working one-on-one and become a private teacher. Private teachers often also coach chamber music or sectionals in schools or other venues to round out their days.

The nature of a musician is that of a “creator,” and as such, even when I was settled as an orchestra director, that was never all I did. I also founded an adult ensemble that brought other orchestra directors together weekly to play music and share teaching tips and ideas. In the summers, I created a music camp for students to continue their studies. And then, in my free time, I composed music for my students. This is all to say that in the role of a musician, you might find many outlets for your creativity.

At the recent ASTA National conference, I had the chance to be on a panel of musicians discussing careers in music education. Though we all had different jobs, we all had one major thing in common:  none of us had a clear-cut path to where we were today. We may have started off in one career and ended up in another, or perhaps our career grew in ways that we had never dared to dream of. And that is what is exciting about life … there is always something new around the corner, and I encourage you to go after it and follow your passion.

For additional information about these and more careers, visit Berklee’s Careers Page.

Katie O’Hara LaBrie is a composer, conductor, clinician, and cellist from Northern Virginia. An educator at heart, Mrs. LaBrie spent the first 15 years of her career teaching orchestra in Fairfax County, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from St. Olaf College, where she studied under Steven Amundson, and Masters of Music in Instrumental Conducting from George Mason University, where she studied with Anthony Maiello.

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