As it becomes more evident that the new music industry will in no way resemble the construct of the past, many musicians are left trying to figure out how they can create a sustainable, or even lucrative career in music. Although album sales are on the decline, there is no decline in alternative jobs for musicians.
The idea that any emerging artist can become the next multi-platnum recording artist is null and void. Save for very rare instances, there is just not the level of demand in music that creates the necessary environment for a superstar to develop, and those who do break through at that level either had the connections or the marketing team that was smart enough to mold the musician to look and sound exactly how the labels want them to. But this is nothing new.
As the DIY Musician movement strengthens, musicians are continually gaining more understanding as to how they can sustain a career in music without the need to sign to a record label and sell over 1 million copies. There is a seemingly limitless way for musicians to use their knowledge of any and all aspects of music to create a sustainable career doing what they love:
Music licensing is a great opportunity for any aspiring musician to get paid for their recorded works to appear in TV and film. Helen Austin, a musician who has dedicated her career in music to licensing her works has put together a wonderful article on laying out the 4 Steps to Film and TV Placement.
The live performance sector is seen by many as the new focal point of the music industry. Although ticket giant Live Nation reported a drop in ticket sales for the summer of 2010, the live performance scene surrounding the emerging music scene has been flourishing. A new trend for musicians, especially in the upcoming hip-hop scene is to forgo signing with a record label, only to sign with a major booking agency who can effectively act as the liaison between the artist and other, well established artists and venues.
Studio/ Session Musician
There is always a demand for highly trained, highly qualified musicians to step in and add support on an album. This is not limited to any instrument or genre and can range from freelance work to working contractually for a major label. However, as the demand is high, so is the competition - in order to work as a studio/ session musician, you MUST be able to read music at a fluent rate and be able to adjust your playing to suit the needs of the client.
The negotiation skills and industry understanding gained from your own endeavors are the perfect skill set to get you started as a new band manager.
Teaching music can be done at quite a few different levels of understanding and pay-grade, ranging from private in-home lessons up to collegiate-level music study. While it is certainly an attainable goal to establish a few clients and teach out of your own home without having a degree in music, it is almost guaranteed that you will need to have a degree in music and possibly even teaching in order to teach in any sort of professional setting.
Pit Band For Off-Broadway Productions
Although most broadway productions use classical music and orchestras, there are many off-broadway productions that contain much more contemporary forms of music. National Shows like Cirque De Sole and Blue Man Group, as well as many other smaller performances have scaled down from the orchestra to a smaller, Rock n’ Roll oriented music section.
Instrument Repair Technician
This can be done as either a part-time or full time job, and depending on your level of specialization, it can greatly range in pay-scale. Though you may be able to find work based on understand you’ve gain from your own research, this is one of those jobs that typically requires some sort of apprenticeship before you are fully hired as a professional technician. If this is something you are considering, there are quite a few resources out there, such as NAPBIRT that provide a free exchange of information for instrument repair technicians.
Book Bands For a Local Venue
Booking other music acts for a local venue is a great way to not only learn the inter-workings of the live music industry, but to gain some potentially valuable contacts should you ever decide to give it a go yourself.
Many musicians and artists have forged especially lucrative careers out of ghost songwriting for singers, performers and pop-stars. It is a fact that while Britney Spears was at the height of her fame, a woman named Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta was writing the songs for her. More recently, Stefani has gone on to become one of the most successful pop stars of all time under the name Lady Gaga.
House Band/ Residency
There are clubs, bars, theaters, restaurants, hotels, resorts and even cruises all over the world that look for groups or solo musicians willing to act as the resident band. These residencies can range from nightly to weekly to monthly and offer a steady stream of income while you take the time needed to write and establish a fan base.
This one seems a little ridiculous, but there is actually a demand for ‘page turners’ who can literally sit and read along with musicians, turning the pages of sheet music at exactly the right moment. Check out this article from NPR that explains how it all works.
There are plenty of musicians and singer-songwriters who lack the understanding of music theory to be able to transcribe their music. Many musicians have found freelance work by charing an hourly rate to sit down with other musicians who play back what they’ve written while it is all transcribed on sheet music. Not a bad gig if you enjoy listening to music at an extremely slowed-down rate…
Film/ Video Game Scoring
Similar to music licensing, there is a plethora of major and indie film and/or video game makers looking for musicians to score their work.
Freelance Music Journalism
There is no one with more potential to become a freelance music journalist than a musician. The understanding of music theory and the music industry as whole can be just the qualifications needed to write insightful reviews of albums or live performances or maybe even essays for about the current trends or state of the music industry.
Of course, with the DIY music movement becoming so contagious, many musicians have begun to take the many aspects of music production into their own hands. Ranging from recording to mixing to mastering, many musicians have created sustainable careers in the field of Music Production, allowing them to then later fund their own projects with their own money and experience.
These are just a few of the many, many ways to use your love for music to establish a sustainable career. While not all of the possibilities are glamorous or even all that lucrative, meaning it may take a few different revenue streams to make this music-filled lifestyle sustainable, you can at least rest assured knowing that your life is fueled by what you love… Music.
Written by Jonathan Ostrow (@miccontrol); he is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a social networking platform. This article originally appeared on the MicControl Blog on Sept. 21, 2010.
How have you used music to create a sustainable career?