Imagine doing what you love and getting paid for it. Better yet, not just getting paid but actually making a good living at it. It may sound like a dream, but for many who work in the music industry, it’s more than a dream. It’s a reality.
It’s hard to displace the old belief that being a musician (or any type of artist) is a short road to poverty. So many movies depict artists as starving, tortured, and short-lived. It’s a romantic notion but a stereotype nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because filmmakers like to think of themselves as “starving artists” even when the reality is that they are pretty well fed. (One of the worst offenders in this category is the film “Amadeus,” which, in promoting this stereotype, creates a mistaken caricature of Mozart’s life.)
To test out this stereotype, imagine that your child says to you, “Mom, dad, I’m going to be a musician.” Did you smile with happiness? Or, more likely, did a wave of fear come over you? If it was a wave of fear, then filmmakers have done a good job of stereotyping.
The truth is actually quite different. Being a musician can be a fulfilling and financially rewarding career choice for those with the talent, persistence, and drive.
I grew up in Los Angeles, one of the meccas of the music industry, and several of my friends’ parents were professional musicians whose careers afforded them a very good lifestyle. There was Ernie Watts, a name you probably don’t know but who had (and continues to have) a highly successful career as a saxophone player. There was Terry Gibbs, one of the “swinginest” vibe players in jazz. I’ll never forget the day Mr. Gibbs dropped in to my junior high school band room and jammed with our band teacher, Mr. Pontrelli.
What music provides. As long as there is a demand for what music provides, there will be jobs in the industry. And what does music provide? The emotional lifeblood of movie, television, and video game soundtracks and jingles, countless live performances from tiny jazz clubs to dance clubs to symphony concerts to folk festivals to arena pop shows. Of course, music is often taken for granted, but that’s often the case with essential things in our lives.
Music goes with ceremonies and celebrations. Imagine a wedding or church service without music. Bleak images indeed! How about walking across the stage as a graduate to a soundtrack of silence? Or getting pumped up at the gym with silence booming out of your headphones. Music is everywhere and wherever there is music, there is also money being made from music. There is indeed music at the end of the rainbow of music.
If you are good enough at music to make it your profession, you will find many opportunities to earn money. It’s true that the days of a secure job by a single employer, such as playing in one of the television studio’s in-house orchestras are gone. To be fair, however, there is still much highly paid work for studio musicians in Los Angles, New York, Memphis, and other cities. There are surely not as many steady jobs in live music performance as there were when my parents were in their twenties, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t jobs.
For musicians willing to create their own opportunities, there is plenty of work to be found and niches to be filled. I personally know many people who make a good living as musicians and in related professions, including performers, producers, professors, teachers, arrangers, and composers (and merchandizers, of course).
The music business is large, healthy and diverse, and the stats back this up.
For example, the U.S. recorded music industry, which includes concerts and touring, was valued at $18.3 billion in 2017, up from $17.2 billion in 2016, according to selectusa.gov.
And in the U.K. the music industry contributed £4.5 billion ($5.8 billion) to the economy in 2017 according to the BBC.
Music may not have the gargantuan heft of the healthcare or real estate industries, but, leaving aside its inherent and incalculable artistic value, which you would be hard pressed to find in any other business, music is a solid industry with many exciting and rewarding career opportunities.