Careers for Music Performance Majors: A Guide

Imagine graduating from music school and getting a day job. This happened to me, and I wish I knew more about the best careers for music performance majors.

That knowledge could have helped me prepare for life after school. Maybe I would have been able to go straight into a musical career.

Before we get into the list of career paths, this post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy to learn more.

Solo Performance

One of the most obvious careers for music performance majors is to become a soloist on your main instrument. You can give recitals in small venues, and you can start in your local area.

Another option is to pitch yourself to orchestras to play with them as a soloist. Then, you can tour around playing with groups in front of various audiences.

The internet has also made it possible to start your own solo career from home. You can share recordings on social media to help book gigs. Or you could even work primarily from home recording yourself or giving virtual recitals.

Chamber Performance

If performing alone scares you, you can look into chamber music. You can find chamber groups in your area that need a new member. Depending on the group, you may need to audition and pass the audition to join.

But maybe you don’t want to do that. You can start your own chamber group and look for other musicians to play with you. Then, as a group, you can look for gigs in your area or around the country.

Some standard chamber groups include string quartets, wind quintets, and any duos or trios of various instruments. Consider what instrument you play and what type of music interests you to help find the right chamber group.

Orchestral Performance

As much as I love being a freelancer, I understand it’s not for everyone. One of the more competitive careers for music performance majors is that of an orchestral musician.

However, if you can land a job, it will be relatively stable. Many larger orchestras pay a salary, and you’ll get paid to play. But if you join a smaller orchestra, you’ll typically earn a per-performance rate.

That means you may still need another gig or two to pay your bills. Either way, playing in an orchestra is nice if you don’t want to worry about getting work. The orchestra will handle scheduling, and you just have to focus on the music.

Private Teaching

Not all careers for music performance majors involve playing for a public audience. You can use your skills to teach others how to play your instrument(s).

I taught private flute and piano lessons for about a year. It wasn’t for me, but I know a lot of musicians enjoy private teaching. Some make it their entire career, and they build massive, successful studios.

Others go into private teaching to supplement their performing income. As long as you genuinely enjoy teaching, do what works for you. But if like me, you don’t like it, you could be doing more harm than good to your students.

I found myself getting bored in lessons and not paying attention. Passing your students to a better teacher can help them overall.

Collegiate Teaching

Another one of the most well-known careers for music performance majors is to teach at the college level. You typically need at least a masters degree, and many schools are starting to require doctoral degrees of professors.

If you’re willing to go through all of that education, you can apply for jobs at universities. Now, this field is pretty competitive, especially if you play a more common instrument.

You may need to apply dozens of times, and you still might not get any job offers. Plus, you’ll have to be willing to move somewhere new, and not everyone wants to do that.

But if you can find a good college teaching job, you can have more security than many other careers. You’ll also be able to perform outside of your teaching duties, and you may need to if you want to get tenure.

K-12 Teaching

You may associate K-12 music teaching with music education majors. And yes, that’s the most common career for those students. However, you can also go into teaching with a background in performance.

You’ll need to do some sort of equivalency program. I know that my undergrad university has a program where you can earn your teaching certificate even if you already have a bachelors degree.

That can be a nice option if you didn’t think you’d want to teach. Instead of going through an entirely new degree, you can get licensed to teach music public schools.

Arts Administration

One of the newer careers for music performance majors is in the field of arts administration. You can get a lot of different types of jobs within this field, and you can work for an orchestra or some music-related non-profit.

This is an excellent career if you want to be around music. You can attend industry events through your job for free. A full-time job is also more common, which is great if you want some stability.

If you’re willing to go back to school, you can get a masters in arts administration. Otherwise, you could look for internships or apply to arts admin jobs with your current experience.

Content Creation

Almost anyone can become a content creator these days. You can start posting on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube, among other platforms. When you’re consistent, you can start to grow a loyal following.

Then, you can use that following to make money. One option is to get brand deals or sponsorships where a company pays you to mention their product or service.

You can also include affiliate links in your bio or on your website. Send people to those links to earn a commission if they make a purchase. I’ve made some extra money from affiliate marketing, and it’s a nice cash bump.

Another option is to create your own paid offers. Use your existing audience to decide what to sell and to start marketing your new venture.

Start Your Own Business

One of my favorite careers for music performance majors is entrepreneurship. I started my first business long before I went to college. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about how to start and grow a business.

You can do what you want with your business. Maybe you start an online private studio for your instrument. Then, you can attract students from all over the world.

Or perhaps you can’t seem to find good oboe reeds for your students. You could start a reed making business. Sell the reeds to your students and to other oboe players who don’t know how to make them yet.

In my case, I decided to start a blogging and content business. Music is one of the niches I cover, so I can use my musical background to help.

What to Look for in Careers for Music Performance Majors

As you compare different career paths, you should think about a few things. No career is perfect for all musicians, and that’s okay.

Here are a few things I’d keep in mind when choosing a music career.

Work Schedule

One of the most significant things to note is when you’ll most likely need to work. This was a huge reason why I decided to quit teaching. Most private lessons happen in the afternoons and evenings.

But my energy levels are lowest at those points in the day. I prefer to get most of my work done in the morning and early afternoons. Blogging made more sense for me because it’s a more flexible type of business.

Consider if you want to be home on the weekends as well. Performing and private teaching may often involve Saturdays and Sundays. If you have a family with a normal schedule, you may want a more normal work schedule.

Work Location

I’d also recommend choosing the right work location for you. First, this can include working from home, a studio, or in different places, such as whenever you have a gig.

If you’ll work out of the home, think about your transportation options. Then, you can make sure you can get to and from work.

However, you should also consider the city or town in which you’ll live. As I mentioned, college professors don’t get much choice in where they live. The same is true of orchestral performers and even some new K-12 teachers.

If you want to live near family or in a specific city, you might want to choose a more flexible career.

Income Potential

We all know the starving artist stereotype. However, you don’t have to make very little money just because you’re a musician. You can make more money if you choose the right career.

Be sure to consider if you have the chance to set your pay rates or not. As a freelancer, this is more common. I can work as little or as much as I want based on how much money I need to make that month.

It’s less consistent, but I’ve made more than I could with many traditional jobs. If you want a salary, you’ll have that consistency. However, you might not make as much money, at least not until you have years of experience.

Your Interests

Along with your lifestyle and money, you need to decide if you even like a certain career. If you found it hard to practice for hours in college, an orchestral career probably isn’t for you.

But maybe you love helping people and talking to others. You could enjoy working in arts administration.

If possible, talk to people who have the careers that interest you. Then, you can learn more about what a specific job is like and if it might suit you and your desired lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

There are more careers for music performance majors than you might expect. Sure, you have the obvious ones, like performing.

But you can also work as an arts administrator or start your own business. Be sure to consider your options and test the waters.

Are you ready to start your music career? Learn how to use Instagram to make money and get more opportunities!

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