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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 bachelor's in music degree or even a music minor to your advantage. If you want to be a professional musician, it's good to know that most performers are self-employed; this means it's an excellent plan to combine your love of music and decision to study music with a secondary liberal arts or professional interest such as becoming a music teacher with a degree in music education, business which could help you market yourself in the realm of contemporary and popular music, or sound engineering.

By fine-tuning your goals while completing an associate degree or an online bachelor's in music program, you can turn your love of music into a viable career and share your talent and knowledge with others. This is true no matter your musical interests, whether you love jazz, guitar, piano, music performance ensembles, music history, etc. You'll find a huge variety of opportunities await current students and graduates of any in-person or online music program.


Components of a Successful Career in Music

Your first step to success should be to define your goals, and not just within the music department. 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 from your degree program? Do your interests lie in music history or contemporary and popular music, music theory and music composition, music production, music therapy, or music education? An online degree in music from an art university, or any college or university offering in-person or online music programs, can support many goals in the music industry

By breaking down each aspect of a music career, music students should be able to clearly see their potential prospects and decide exactly what music program to take to reach their goals. For example, most entertainers work a "day job" and perform in the evenings and on weekends, so music students may want to look for a second career that meshes with this type of schedule, such as working as music teachers or in support of other educators. If you also enjoy computer programming, you might segue into making music apps for the technology industry. If you want to help people, you could start helping in music therapy while working on a master's in music theory on the side. Think outside the box to identify exactly what aspect of music you wish to pursue and expand your choices from there. If you think you'd like to work as college faculty, you could plan to earn an advanced degree from a liberal arts graduate program in music education, music theory, music history, or a number of other music degrees and allow your academics to open the path into this career for you.

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How to Earn an Online Music Degree

What can you do with an online Music Degree?

music_you_do_with_a_music_degree There are many directions you can take with music majors or a music minor once you determine what you want to pursue. On top of music performance ensembles such as a band, orchestra, or similar group, you can also 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 music degrees, and that's why it's important for music students to narrow down your selection of careers and plan your education accordingly before you begin your liberal arts study in music. For example, if your dream is music performance, it may be a wise move to minor in business so you can manage your finances effectively or make sure to attend a college of music or famous music school for name recognition. If you wish to enter the music education sector, you'll also need to meet the requirements for a teaching degree, which may mean you need to double major or earn an advanced degree from a graduate program after you earn your bachelor's in music.

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Typical Online Music Degree Requirements

Your requirements for a degree in music will depend on your field of choice and the in-person or online music program you choose; if you plan to earn a Bachelor of Music Education (BME) you'll probably be required to take music theory, conducting, music composition, 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. Many online music programs will have the same requirements for online students as those that are conducted in classrooms, so there's no reason to believe that earning a music degree online will be easier or harder than earning it in person.

Typical Online Music Degree Certifications Needed

Most states require specific certification for teachers, so if you plan to go into music 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 music certifications you might earn:

  • Music Production
  • Music Production and Technology
  • Music Business
  • Music Business Fundamentals

Academic Standards for Online Music Degrees

Academic_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 an online 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.

Online Associate

An online 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 from an art university 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:

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Online Associate’s degree sample courses

  • Applied Music
  • Accounting and Statistics
  • Music Theory
  • Business Law
  • Keyboard Skills
  • General Humanities

Online Bachelor

A bachelor’s in music degree taken through in-person or online programs can 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 that 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 online students might take when they earn their bachelor's music degree online:

Online Bachelor’s degree sample courses

  • Music Production
  • Music Theory, Harmony, and Ear Training
  • Music Business
  • Songwriting
  • Music Business Trends and Strategies

Online Masters

when you're ready to pursue your online 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:

Online Master’s degree sample courses

  • Master of Music Education
  • Music Business
  • Music Production
  • Composition
  • Film Scoring
  • Conducting

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:

Associates Bachelors Masters
$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.

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Music Degree Fields of Study Median Salaries

Music Education:
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.

Music Management:
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.

Music Business:
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.

Music Technology:
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
Education $39,080 $59,170
Management $48,150 $106,130
Business $27,290 $62,080
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 Late Career
Elementary teacher $39,700 $45,400 $58,500
College Instructor $44,600 $49,400 $56,700
University Professor $60,100 $69,600 $99,900
Producer $48,900 $55,000 $57,200
Artist Manager - - -
Concert/Event Planner $37,800 $54,600 $61,200
Business CEO $101,100 $129,600 $187,700
Sound Technician $25,000 $40,000 $50,000
Music App Developer $59,200 $80,200 $92,100
Musician/Singer $40,500 $40,600 $41,400

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Music Bachelor's degree online?

how long does a music bachelors take An online 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.

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How much does an online 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 an online 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?

An online 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 online 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.

Software/Technology/Skills Needed

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 online degree.

Music Degree Scholarships

Professional Music Degree Organizations

As you proceed through your online 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:

  • CMS
  • AMS
  • SAM
  • SMT


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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I expect from an online bachelor’s in music?

While some schools don’t offer an online option for their music degrees, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find one. There are still a number of options for taking courses online that will end with a music degree. Some of these are 100% online options, while others require some in-person experiences. Make sure you know which is which before you sign up. Online courses are likely to include lectures and theory work, but they may also require that students participate in interactive calls so that they can show their improvements with instruments or other subject matter. Make sure you know what is required in any online program you are considering.

Is a music degree worth it?

That often depends on your career goals. If you want to work in the music production industry, it will most likely be worth it. If you are a musician who wants to become a rock star, it may or may not work to your benefit. If you are a musician who wants to play in the New York Philharmonic, it will most definitely benefit you to earn a degree in music. If you want to create music on YouTube and gain a following, you may or may not benefit from a music degree. So, as you can see, the answer is very dependent on your goals. You should make sure to consider your goals carefully when you are thinking about whether or not to go for a degree.

Are online music degrees credible?

As there are a huge number of in-person degrees, and online degrees are equally credible in most cases to their in-person counterparts, it’s safe to say that an online music degree can be credible. However, it’s important that you consider accreditation for a music degree the same way you would for any other degree. The National Association of Schools of Music offers programmatic accreditation for music degrees, so you might want to keep your eyes open for this if you are worried about someone questioning the credibility of your music degree in the future.

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.