3. Session Musician
Session musicians are performers who are able to work with other musicians in live performances and recordings. Although most session musicians are independent artists, some session bands have become famous for being on a number of hit records, such as the 1960s legendary session groups The Wrecking Crew and The Funk Brothers.
Session musicians can work in any genre. You will find session musicians playing rock, jazz, classical, contemporary, country, folk, bluegrass, reggae, and even hip-hop.
My best recommendation for becoming a successful studio musician is to find yourself connecting with recording studio owners, music directors, concert promoters, and music supervisors. These are the people that most often employ musicians in session scenarios.
Salary: It depends on how well-known and in-demand you are! Expect a few years of working your way “up the ladder” before you start seeing good paychecks that could potentially go into the six figures.
2. Orchestral Musician
I think that attaining a position in an orchestra is excellent for those musicians who truly desire that path. I also feel that our expansive musical world would be hugely disserviced if orchestras no longer existed – many of the greatest works of art ever conceptualized were for for the full orchestra medium.
It is worth noting that major orchestras do pay their musicians six-figures. According to this article in the Star Tribune, at least 10 orchestras have a starting salary in the six-figures. One can conclude that several more do pay six figures to musicians who have been tenured for a while, have a principal/concertmaster position, or are conductors/music directors of the orchestras.
Most professional orchestras perform around 40 weeks of the year. The repertoire is usually the standard classics – Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky.
However, in today’s landscape of richly diversified aesthetics mapping out our musical culture, many orchestras are now culturally informed by new music as well. The CSO recently appointed two very young composers as their official Composers-In-Residence.
Salary: Varies widely, with part-time orchestras paying a few hundred dollars per gig while full professional orchestras offering starting salaries in the high five-figures or even six figures.
1. Professor of Music
College Professors of Music can often command a six-figure salary. Depending on the school, a starting salary for an assistant professor can be pretty substantial and close to six figures. According to this report from Harvard’s newspaper, their average Assistant Professor salary is in the six figures.
That said, some professorships don’t pay six-figures, or it may take a while for a faculty member to climb the ranks of academia into a six-figure position.
Professors in the field of Music can specialize in any number of disciplines. There are professors for Clarinet, Violin, Composition, Music Technology, Music Therapy, Musical Theatre, Film Scoring…nearly every single major category of study in music requires professors.
In order to gain a tenured professorship at a university, you typically need to have a two things.
- Significant accomplishment in your field. This can be demonstrated by awards, performances you have done, who you have collaborated with musically, who has written about you, and general acclaim.
- A Doctorate in your field. There are two acceptable kinds to choose from in US schools – the DMA (known as the Doctorate of Musical Arts) and the PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy). The PhD requires a written thesis; the DMA does not. It would require some other kind of qualifying final examination in lieu of a written thesis.
It’s true that some professorships don’t require an advanced terminal Doctorate degree, but 95%+ do.
For those who desire to teach, or can envision themselves teaching at the university level, this can be a fantastic option to pursue.
Salary: Adjunct professors will almost always never make six figures. Professorships have a salary range between $20,000 – $250,000, depending on the institution, rank in the department (Assistant, Associate, etc.), and school’s demand for keeping you on their faculty.