What Does a Career in Music Entail?
If music is your passion you may be wondering if it's possible to make it your career, too. Although the odds are low that you'll make it as a worldwide music sensation there are quite a few occupations where you can use a music degree to your advantage. If you want to be a professional musician it's good to know most performers are self-employed; this means it's an excellent plan to combine your love of music with a secondary interest such as teaching, business, or sound engineering.
By fine tuning your goals while earning your music degree you can turn your love of music into a viable career and share your talent and knowledge with others.
Liberal Arts Degrees & Career Paths
Components of a Successful Career in "Music"
Your first step to success should be to define your goals. What exactly do you want to do in the long term? Does your dream job earn enough income to support your projected lifestyle? Will there be job openings once you graduate?
By breaking down each aspect of a music career you'll be able to clearly see your potential prospects and decide exactly what path to take to reach your goals. For example, most entertainers work a "day job" and perform in the evenings and on weekends so you should look for a secondary career that meshes with this type of schedule. If you also enjoy computer programming, you might segue into making music apps for the technology industry. Think outside the box to identify exactly what aspect of music you wish to pursue and expand your choices from there.
How to Earn a Music Degree
What can you do with a Music Degree?
There are many directions you can take with music once you determine what you want to pursue. Besides performing in a band, orchestra, or similar group you can focus on traditional record or music production, electronic music production (EMP), recording, education, studio musician work, music publishing, or music journalism. Radio work, merchandising, and touring are all related to a degree in music, and that's why it's important to narrow down your selection of careers and plan your education accordingly. For example, if your dream is performing, it's a wise move to minor in business so you can manage your finances effectively. If you wish to enter the education sector, you'll also need to meet the requirements for a teaching degree.
Typical Music Degree Requirements
Your requirements will depend on your field of choice; if you plan to earn a Bachelor of Music Education (BME) you'll probably be required to take music theory, conducting, music education courses, and teaching development courses. If you decide on a Bachelor of Arts in Music (BA) you'll take about a quarter of your courses in music and the remainder in another field or electives, and a Bachelor of Science in Music (BS) will have more emphasis on the business aspects of a music career such as sound recording technology or EMP.
Typical Music Degree Certifications Needed
Most states require specific certification for teachers so if you plan to go into education you should check the state requirements where you plan to live and teach. If you're planning on entering a different segment of the music industry look for certifications that will show your proficiency in that specific area. Here are some examples of other music certifications you might earn:
- Music Production
- Music Production and Technology
- Music Business
- Music Business Fundamentals
Academic Standards for Music Degrees
Although the requirements will vary depending on your school of choice there are some basics that apply to every school. You'll need to complete the general education requirements and meet the minimum grade point average (GPA) just as you did in high school and you'll also need to successfully complete the required courses of your music major. For example, you may need to complete 120 semester hours, including 45 hours of general education courses in language, science, and core mathematics and achieve a 3.0 GPA to qualify for graduation. If you're earning a degree in Music Business, you'll also need to successfully complete the music and business coursework to meet the academic standards for your school.
Exam/Experience Needed for Music Degrees
If you plan to work in music education, you'll need to meet your state's requirements for teacher certification and possibly need a specific number of hours of supervised work experience in a classroom environment. Although there aren't requirements for most areas of the music industry your curriculum and GPA will stand out on your resume. Like most job fields, previous experience may not be required but is highly desirable so you should keep this in mind while pursuing your degree. An internship or volunteer position may make the difference once you're ready to enter your music field of choice.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Music Bachelor's degree online?
A bachelor's degree requires the completion of 120 credits so it depends on whether you already have your associate degree and how many credit hours you take each semester. The average time for an online degree is two years with an Associate's if all your credits are accepted and three to five years without an Associate's. However, if you decide to take your courses as a part-time student (12 hours or less per semester), it can take 6-8 years to graduate. So be sure to talk to you guidance counselor about what classes you should take and when so that you can avoid extra semesters and the price tag that goes with them.
How much does a Music bachelor’s degree cost?
It depends on your school of choice and whether you qualify for student aid. Tuition fluctuates greatly from school to school, so make a chart of costs but don't exclude a school just because it appears to be out of your budget. Grants and scholarships can make a big difference in your total costs.
As to the general costs associated with a bachelor’s degree, the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series reported that students spent an average of $9,970 on tuition to attend in-state public institutions in 2017-18. Students in private institutions spent an average of $35,260 during the 2017-18 school year. These number only cover tuition; the actual out-of-pocket cost of attending a college or university can be much higher or lower after fees, grants and scholarships, financial aid, room and board, and any lab fees.
Music Bachelor's Degree Coursework
Besides your core classes and instrument of choice you'll need to take courses on Music Theory, Composition, Conducting, Music History, Music Literature, and classes according to your degree or minor such as Education or Business courses.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
A Music degree in Liberal Arts is great if you want to perform but not if you plan to teach. Likewise, if your goal is to work on the technological or business end of the music industry, you need to verify the corresponding courses are available before you enroll. Just because an institution has a music program does not mean that they have the classes you will need for any/every career in the music industry.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
Look at the school's student statistic or student numbers page to see the graduation percentages. If you can't easily find the rate of graduation it may be a red flag, because most schools brag about their rates. You can also do an online search or contact the admissions office to verify the graduation periods and rates. If a significantly low ratio of students are graduating, or graduating on time, it may indicate that there are issues within the school itself or your program of choice that will make it difficult for you to graduate in a timely manner as well.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Accreditation is vital because it not only shows you attended a quality school but is also tied to grants and scholarships. There are regional accrediting agencies covering the entire United States and most programs have agencies that accredit them specifically. The National Association of Schools of Music accredits music programs specifically, making sure music education is quality and standardized when possible. Make sure your school of choice is accredited by either a regional or programmatic agency.
You'll need to be adept at using a word processing suite such as Microsoft Office, which will give you the tools needed for your homework and class papers. In addition, you may need software specific to your degree such as music technology programs or education programs. Depending on your curriculum you may need music or sound editing programs, teaching programs such as Blackboard, or business programs.
Once you have a short list of schools you can go to the curriculum page and see exactly what software and technology skills will be required in each class you need to complete your degree.View More About Popular Programs
an associate degree in Music will usually complete your core class requirements in English, Science, and Mathematics while giving you a solid foundation in music basics. Much will depend on the type of degree you pursue, with a Fine Arts degree being more focused on performance and a Music Business degree concentrating on the practical end of the field. If you choose to earn your associate degree at a community college you should verify the credits will transfer to a four-year college at a later date. Here are some sample music related courses you might take for your associate degree:
- Applied Music
- Accounting and Statistics
- Music Theory
- Business Law
- Keyboard Skills
your bachelor’s degree will allow you to further pursue your specific field of interest within music. If you plan to become a teacher your coursework will focus on the professional aspects of interacting with students. If your dream is to become a performer you will expand your instrument or voice skills and perhaps add a business minor, so you are equipped to handle the financial aspects of your career. If you are planning to go into the management side of the music industry, you'll need both business and management coursework. Here are some sample courses you might take for your bachelor’s degree:
- Music Production
- Music Theory, Harmony, and Ear Training
- Music Business
- Music Business Trends and Strategies
when you're ready to pursue your master’s degree you'll have a clear focus of your lifetime career choice and your degree concentration will reflect that. A Master's degree shows you are the best in your field and expresses your proficiency to both your peers and future employers. Here are some examples of Music master’s degree concentrations you might pursue:
- Master of Music Education
- Music Business
- Music Production
- Film Scoring
The cost of your education will depend on your school of choice as well as any grants or scholarships you may be awarded. Here is a rough range of costs for each degree:
|$5000 - $60,000||$31,840 - $190,670||$40,000 - $215,000|
Careers & Salaries
Earning Potential for Music Degree Fields and Occupations
As noted above there are many directions you can pursue with a music degree and much depends on your field of study. If you plan to teach you must have at least a bachelor’s degree and in some positions, such as conducting, a master’s degree is the norm. Aside from specific requirements like these, you can typically expect your earning potential to correlate to your education and experience: those with the least will have earnings on the low range and those who hold a bachelor’s and above will have the higher earning potential. This is a good reason to look beyond your bachelor’s degree before you enroll as you may decide to pursue your master’s degree at a future date.
Music Degree Fields of Study Median Salaries
although public schools require at least a bachelor’s degree for certification, you may find employment at a private school once you earn your associate degree. A degree in Music Education usually includes a broader knowledge of music in general combined with specific skills and training in the teaching field.
behind the scenes, every music venue needs management. From ticket sales to scheduling to advertising, the manager is a vital cog in the wheel of music entertainment. Many musicians work on the back side of the industry while performing in their spare time. This will give you the opportunity to network with others in the music business and, who knows, earn you a chance to work with well-known musicians while you’re at it.
the business end of music includes accounting, income projections, and all other financial aspects of every music field. Many independent performers combine a business degree with their chosen instrument studies in order to run their own entertainment business.
everything from electronic music to music phone apps relies on technology and it is the fastest growing field of the music industry. You can get the opportunity to work on the next Songify or Pandora and expose a whole new generation to great music.
|Music Field||Entry Level Median Salary||Mid Career Median Salary|
|Technology (software developer)||$65,670||$101,790|
Music Degree Salaries by Occupation
Once you're established within your field you can fine tune your education to expand your experience. For example, a new or mid-career teacher makes a decent salary but once you have experience and a graduate degree you can expect your income to grow exponentially. Each field has specialties and your salary can vary greatly depending on your interests and the number of job openings available.
Within education there are elementary, high school, technical school, and college teachers. Management includes overseeing a small entertainment venue, managing a superstar band, and running a major theater or concert hall. Business can mean running your own shop for instruments in your home town, running an entertainment show, or being the CEO of a major record label. Likewise, technology encompasses sound technicians as well as music app developers and producers, who run recording studios and more. Here's a look at the median annual wages of different positions within these occupation fields; note the large discrepancy between beginning musicians and top earners:
|Occupation||Entry Level||Mid-Career||Top 10 Percent|
|Music App Developer||$59,870||$101,790||$160,100|
Music Degree Scholarships
American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers Scholarships (ASMAC)
ASMAC has several $1,000 scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students in composing, orchestration, vocal arranging, and instrumental arranging. Students do not need to be a member to qualify.
American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Foundation Scholarships
The ASCAP foundation supports musicians with many grants and scholarships in a wide range of areas to cover all aspects of the music industry. Some of their awards are for specific schools or programs. See their full list to see if any work for you.
Golden Key Visual and Performing Arts Achievement Award
Scholarships are awarded every year to both undergraduate and graduate students in various musical studies. Students must be members of the Golden Key International Honour Society (a non-profit organization established to recognize academic achievement among college students) in order to qualify.
Professional Music Degree Organizations
As you proceed through your degree you will find membership in professional organizations to be an invaluable tool in building your musical career. There are dozens of professional organizations that cover every specialized area of music, so join some general groups as well as some that focus on your own musical area. Here are a few to get you started:
College Music Society(CMS)
for those interested in the teaching side of music this organization will be vital to your success in music education.
American Musicological Society(AMS)
founded in 1934, the AMS is dedicated to advancement and research in all fields of music. This now includes teaching and learning about music. The society holds annual meetings, which include study sessions and forums.
Society for American Music(SAM)
and educational and scholarly organization that focuses on student outreach and enrichment programs throughout the nation. The society holds an annual meeting with sessions held for special interests. It also publishes two journals/newsletters and provides networking on its website for members.
Society for Music Theory(SMT)
if you love the conceptual aspects of music joining SMT is a must. For all students, composers, performers, and music scholars as well as related areas such as ethnomusicology and cognitive science. The group provides scholarly journals, includes members from all over the globe, provides scholarships to students, and holds an annual conference with special workshops.
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation is a validation of a school's overall performance and let's a prospective student know the school has met the quality criteria set by an independent organization.
Once you've defined your long-term career goals and chosen your degree area you can narrow your list of school choices, and accreditation should be your first priority. Note the type of accreditation each school holds and do a bit of research on each accrediting organization. Make sure it's legitimate, well established, and recognized by professionals in your chosen field. Verify the accreditation meets the standards for scholarships and grants on both the federal and state levels.
By checking the accreditation of a college, you can verify it is a reputable institution and your degree will be valued by future employers. It's also important to note that accreditation will come into play if you choose to earn your graduate degree at a different school because it comes it factors into a school deciding to accept the credits you've already earned for transfer.
Attending a well accredited school can also make a difference in your salary once you've earned your degree, so make sure you research the subject thoroughly before committing to a specific school.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
How you choose to attend school will depend on your personal situation as well as your ability to schedule your free time. Each type of study has its pros and cons so it's important you choose the type of school attendance that gives you a better chance of success.
you can attend your classes wherever you can plug in a laptop. You have more leeway in completing class time and have no travel time, vehicle, or parking issues and expenses to deal with. On the other hand, you must have the discipline to complete your studies and homework in a timely manner without supervision. You may not have access to workshops, seminars, and conferences that are important to your education.
traditional campus courses let you interact directly with your professors and other students. It's easier to ask questions, form study groups, and access campus resources such as the library and music-related studios as well as workshops and seminars. On the downside, you have to be able to meet the class schedule dates and times, travel to and from campus in all types of weather and traffic, and add the cost of vehicle maintenance to your college expense list.
A hybrid schedule combines online and ground and may be the best choice if your college is within driving distance. You can reap all the benefits of the first two types without the hassle of trying to meet schedule and travel demands.
If you choose a school within commuting distance, you give yourself the option of switching your type of study from semester to semester.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Your degree won't do you much good if you can't find employment after graduation, so pay special attention to the job placement assistance your school of choice offers. Look beyond the post-graduation employment rates posted on the recruitment page and dig a bit deeper to find personal opinions of other students on forums and social media pages.
See if the school offers internships and job fairs for final semester students. Look for interaction with major employers in your field of choice to get a good feel of your chances of employment after graduation. Often major employers cultivate partnerships with colleges so that they can interact with students throughout their education and streamline their employment recruiting process.