How to Make a Career In an Orchestra, and How to Not

How Do You Make a Career Outside Or In Conjunction With An Orchestra?

The path to obtaining a job in an orchestra is somewhat straightforward.

First, you nearly always have to attend a great music school, at least at the Master’s degree level. It is true that some undergraduates can go straight into an orchestral position, but it is rare.

Secondly, study with a teacher who either has experience playing in an orchestra OR has had students get placed in an orchestra. Some prominent examples include Richard Aaron, cello professor at the University of Michigan, as well as William VerMeulen at Rice University, a French horn professor with unprecedented success in this industry.

The following is also very important that I tell all of my college consulting students: if you want to play in an orchestra, find a music school with an excellent connection to an orchestra.

Thirdly, audition for as many openings as you can. This might seem obvious, but maybe it is not so.

I do have a recommendation about this I don’t hear often, likely due to its resource-intensity: look for openings in Europe.

Seriously, Europe is a goldmine for classical music. Although it is also competitive like it is in America, there are many, many opportunities for musicians seeking employment.

Obviously, there is much more to it than those three steps, but those are among the most important.

Many musicians wonder how to succeed in a musical world alongside just an orchestra position. How can you succeed either independently of an orchestra job or in conjunction with one?

Thankfully, you live in an unprecedented time period to make a career for yourself as a musician independent of classical orchestras.

Why is it an unprecedented time period?

I think it mostly has to do with the visibility of musicians on the internet, the strange power social media has on influencing careers and people’s perception of musicians, and the general attitude of the music industry, shifting away from older-world ideals of major corporations handing out recording contracts or symphonies providing job positions.

Here are six ideas you can use in order to succeed monetarily as a musician outside of solely getting a job in an orchestra.


6. Be Exceptionally Versatile

In today’s music economy, being versatile is probably the best bet to making money as a musician. The majority of successful musicians I know teach, arrange, compose, and play in an ensemble, or many ensembles.

Sometimes this ensemble is indeed an orchestra, or a chamber group, or a jazz band, or a rock cover group. Many of these musicians also have complementary skills that bring in additional income, like event planning, orchestrating, and engraving, which is the art of copying a handwritten score into a computer.

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