Does your voice shatter windows when you belt out a high note? Can you “play the guitar just like ringing a bell”?* Do you have “unbelievable tekkers” on the saxophone? Has anyone ever said the following about your drum-playing abilities: “Have you seen her, have you heard? The way she plays there are no words.”?**
Well then, you just might have what it takes to become a professional musician!
Essentially, professional musicians write, perform and record music. Paid to entertain, delight and inspire, musicians can perform solo, as part of a band, or as part of an orchestra.
Professional musicians play all kinds of instruments, from guitars, saxophones and clarinets to cellos, organs and synthesizers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a classical pianist or the singer in a pop-punk band, you can make money from your music, as long as you have the talent and people enjoy the songs you perform.
The professional life of a musician simply involves practising, rehearsing, songwriting, recording and performing live. Musicians may also be required to give interviews with members of the press or make appearances on TV and radio shows from time to time.
* ‘Johnny B. Goode’, Chuck Berry
** ‘She Bangs the Drums’, The Stone Roses
Salary & benefits
It’s difficult to say just how much a musician can expect to earn each year. The fact that the vast majority of musicians work on a freelance basis means that people’s earnings can fluctuate. Understandably, the more successful you get and the more famous you become, the more money you will earn.
Professional musicians can make anywhere between £12,000 and £500,000 a year, depending on the kind of work they end up doing. Platinum-selling recording artists can earn vast sums of money. It’ll take a lot of hard work and effort to get there, but it’s certainly achievable if you’ve got the talent!
Some professional musicians, however, are employed permanently by orchestras and therefore earn an annual salary, which can range from £21,000 to £50,000.
Understandably, a musician’s working hours can vary hugely. This is certainly not your average nine-to-five profession. The majority of performances take place in the evenings and at the weekends.
Since musicians usually work on a freelance basis, they attempt to book as many gigs as possible, from large festivals to intimate acoustic shows.
You will be required to travel, both domestically and internationally, on a regular basis. After all, touring is often the best way to earn money and get your name out there.
You can become a musician without even having a single lesson. Indeed, plenty of people teach themselves how to play an instrument and develop their skills over time. Many musicians, however, do have a degree or diploma in music.
Completing a music course can be a great way to develop your talent in an inspirational environment. It will give you much more time to practise, and if you want to work as a session musician, it can be a great way of building up a network of contacts in the entertainment industry.
‘Making it’ as a musician can be incredibly tricky and being in the right place at the right time is often the way to get noticed. However, you create your own luck in this business. If you want to get noticed, you need to make a name for yourself. You’ll need to tour like crazy and promote yourself at every given opportunity.
You could always enter a talent contest, such as The X Factor or The Voice, but of course this is by no means a sure-fire way to success. Indeed, very few people find success through this route.
If you want to join an established orchestra or opera company, you will need to audition for a place. Again, this can be incredibly competitive.
Training & progression
It’s important for a musician to continuously hone their craft. If you’re in a group, every band member needs to know the structure of the songs, and you need to make sure everything sounds ‘tight’ when you’re performing.
Practice makes perfect! When musicians aren’t performing, they’re often practising their material, writing new songs, recording demos and tweaking individual features of songs, such as hooks, drum fills and intros.
When it comes to career progression, it’s all about making a name for yourself. If you’re a songwriter and performer, you could end up making millions and playing all over the world to adoring fans.
If you’re a session musician, you could find yourself playing with some of the world’s greatest musicians and performers. If you play in an orchestra, you could end up playing at some of the most prestigious classical music events in the world.
Many musicians eventually take a step back from performing and focus their efforts on teaching the next generation of talented musicians.