Garnish Music Production School | Nashville

Career Options

Career Options


“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”


-Tell people that you intend to work in the music industry and they will probably imagine that you have one of two goals in mind: rock star or record label mogul. While those are two potential options, the reality is that music-related occupations run an extremely wide gamut. 


-When you consider the many points at which music intersects with the wider entertainment industry-from films to TV shows to radio to video games to the Internet-the potential opportunities expand still further. 


-There are careers to be made both onstage and backstage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes, in big-city offices and small town schools. Some offer steady pay checks and structured workweeks, while others hold out the promise of rich rewards without providing any guarantees of making next month’s rent. 


-The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook forecasts that overall employment in the category of musicians, singers, and related workers will grow slower than the economy through 2022.


-It also notes that many musicians and singers will find only part-time or intermittent work, but there is always room in any field, however for new talent and well-qualified candidates. 


-Reflecting the border-crossing nature of the entertainment industry, many jobs (such as a songwriter, music supervisor or composer) will have value in multiple industry sectors. To provide a perspective of the various career options, however, we group them broadly as follows:


-Broadcasting/Film/Video Game Careers

-Concert Venue/Touring Careers

-Creative Careers


-Directing/Producing Careers


-Entrepreneurs/Starting Your Own Business


-Instrumental/Equipment Careers


-Music Management/Legal Services Careers


-Performing Careers


-Teaching Careers


-Choosing the right career can be one of the most important decisions in a person’s life. Before proceeding to examine the options available, look at the summary in Table 28.1 (page 453), which outlines the stages the prudent individual could go through in planning and developing a career. 


-Steps in Career Planning & Development: Discovering Yourself, Defining Goals, Getting Prepared, Finding Work, Climbing The Ladder. Try it all. INTERN.


Creative Careers


Professional Songwriter: Will spend half of your time creating and other half pitching to record labels, publishers, and artists. Usually needs a side hustle until you have a hit or significant publishing deal. 


-Where you live makes a big difference: New York, Nashville, Los Angeles are the big 3 markets. 


-When successful, working conditions are ideal: Set your own hours, vacations, typically not a salaried position (unless work-for-hire/staff position – found more in Nashville). Don’t sleep.


-Lyricist (In modern day publishing world, usually called “Top Liner” and also does melodies).


-Necessary to team up with a talented collaborator to form a strong TEAM (not always true).


-May also find a welcome in the advertising business and the realm of musical theatre. 





-Also can be called “Beat Maker” or be a “DJ/Producer.”



-Composer of Show Music (Broadway) (example: Kathy Sommer)


Begin their work after a show writer/producer has presented them w/ a script.

-May be given a lyric and asked to come up w/ the music in just a few days’ time.


-May be asked to write not just show songs, but also instrumental music, dance music, even dramatic music to underscore stage action.


-Must have a sense of theater (i.e. plot development) and be able to collaborate well with others.


-Often work on projects for long periods w/o compensation, hoping an investor will come along and support the show.



-Composter of Educational Materials


-Most have a degree in composition and several years of experience w/ school ensembles.


-Make sure music addresses a specific education market, regarding style and level of difficulty (i.e. high school marching band vs. 6th grade band).



-Composer of Children’s Music


-Must be able to write with creative simplicity.


-Song texts are essential (often contain the sing-along factor). 


-Limited melodic ranges for young voices. 


-Songs that teach kids how to do something (i.e. ABCs).



-Composer of Classic Music


-Study your predecessors (i.e. Bach, Handel, Chopin, Mozart).


-Hard to do as a sole career (side hustle, weekend composing on weekends, finding gigs, teaching).


-Many enter composing contests, which often yield cash awards and can even facilitate a national reputation, other writing jobs, & classical music teaching positions.


-Many become professors of theory and composition at a college or university.





Arrangers take music written by someone else and arrange or add voices to suit the needs of the artist or Film Company.


-Write lead sheets and score motion pictures.


-Work for songwriters and publishers.


-Largest segment of professional arrangers work for performers – most professional performers use custom arrangements exclusively.


-Many arrangers are employed freelance, few have regular salaries.


-Services are considered as work made for hire under copyright law. 


Orchestrators take music written by someone else and write/score the music for instruments.

-Should have thorough training in music theory, sight singing and ear training.


-Expected to work quickly.



-Music Editor


Prepares music manuscripts for publication.


-All publishers of printed music require professional editors, because even skilled composers and arrangers are rarely knowledgeable concerning precisely how scores and parts must be edited before the music is printed. 


-In the popular music field, most publishers contract with one of the major print houses to handle their music editing and paper publishing. 


-Must possess great skill w/ computer software programs, such as Finale & Sibelius.


-Must correct and proofread music submitted to publisher – can involve re-scoring, arranging, & even original composition. 


-Those most in demand are also qualified as composers & arrangers.


-Should have a complete musical education (history, theory, performance practice, etc.).


-Often a fallback job for composers and arrangers b/c they have most likely already developed the necessary skills.



-Music Copyist


Transcribing musical parts onto staff paper from a score.


-Must have experience w/ Finale & Sibelius.


-Must be highly skilled in notation & transposition, as well as music theory. 



Directing/Producing Careers


Music Director-Conductor aka “Artistic Directors”


-Select programs, work w/in budgets, hire/fire musicians, etc.


-Often have assistant directors b/c of the heavy responsibilities. 


-Some are engaged by arts centers and community centers, thousands more employed by churches.


-Also hired in the pop music field, as well as Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theaters.


-Qualities: commanding presence, know how to lead, composers (often separate the well-paid from the lower-tier directors).



Record Producer


-Must always be the bridge between artistic integrity and commercial potential. 


-Typically freelance and usually only steady income is royalty streams (unless a staff producer at a label (Regular salaries and possible royalties).


-Strong musical ability, “people person” & savvy businessman (staying w/in budget).


-Demo Production.



Performing Careers



-Soloists, group singers, background vocalists, demo / “production” singers, singer-actors, singer-dancers.


-Also voice coaching, singing on cruise ships, Broadway, classical music, churches/temples (Cantor).


-Labels looking for an IMAGE / BRAND.


-Not just about singing-It’s about charisma, self-discipline, physical stamina, versatility, creative ability and poise. Be you!


-Ability to write music makes you much more marketable (self contained, publishing money).

-Sight-reading very important for demo singing (not necessary in pop music).




-Being in a band vs. being a session player.


-Studio musician vs. live (need personality/charisma for a pop or rock act, character/poise for a more mellow group-basically like an artist=IMAGE / BRAND).


-Accompanists for artists, pit for Broadway shows. 


-Music theory is a necessity (sight-reading also beneficial), be dependable (on time, equipment), be versatile (all styles).





Studio Teacher

-Private instructors who give one-on-one or group lessons.


-Sometimes hired by music stores, sometimes work out of home studios.

-The studio teacher who’s most in demand is one who’s an active performer & teaches on the side.


-Patience, ability to deliver knowledge in an easy understandable way, sense of humor.


-Build up reputation in your community – word of mouth – advertising – school educators (make friends).


-School Music Educator (K through 12 needs college degree & teaching license)


-Teaching in college does not – that’s if your reputation, as a performer, composer, or scholar is equal in prestige to a degree/license. (Me)



-Music Therapist


-Effects positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals w/ health/educational problems.


-Design therapeutic music sessions using techniques such as improv, songwriting, lyric discussion, music & imagery, performance, & learning through music.


-Requires a degree, plus completion of a clinical internship w/ a 6-month minimum – then a national exam.


-Many opportunities: hospitals, nursing homes, drug & alcohol centers, correctional facilities, hospice programs, etc.



Broadcasting/Film/Video Game Careers


Radio Broadcasting 


DJ (up close and personal). Example: Phill Kross on Z100. 


-Some start with little or no professional training (NCC radio). 

-Connect with employers and audiences by virtue of their outsize personalities and radio-friendly voices. 


-Self-taught DJ’s (or on the job apprentices/interns) rise to the top of their profession. 


-Life expectancy of a disc jockey can be short, comparable to that of a pro athlete.

-Audience tastes change and stations may seek bigger ratings through a new DJ or switch formats (rock to classical). 

-Great to start as an intern. Just get on the air. Usually side DJ (glow sticks). 


-Salary depends on market. 



Program/Music Directors (PD) (behind the scenes)


Program Directors hold a leadership role at radio stations, including working in consultation with the station’s (or station group’s) general manager to hire/fire disc jockeys. 


-Also has the responsibility of planning how to best showcase on-air personalities and newscasts. 


-In the past, individual radio stations typically hired a Music Director (MD), who reported to the PD and was solely focused, on music issues. 


-However as radio station ownership consolidated, the single-station music director job was often eliminated because program decisions were made at the parent-group level and individual stations followed prescribed formats. 


-Where such a job remains, the MD is responsible for listening to promotional companies of incoming releases, exchanging information with record promoters, analyzing research, and compiling playlists. 


-Some radio PD’s gain their background as disc jockeys and may continue as on-the-air personalities with reduced schedules. 


-Radio PDs can perform their jobs well without formal musical backgrounds, depending on their musical intuition.


-Eventually may grow into role of group PD (managing operations at multiple stations) or radio station general manager (GM).  



Film/TV Broadcasting


-Composer of Dramatic (Background) Music


-Large numbers of musicians develop full-time careers composing what is generally referred to as “background music” for television and movies but which professionals working in this career prefer to call “the underscore.”


-These composers screen the assigned film or other broadcast project and then confer with the film or TV director and/or producer, the music cutter (music editor), and sometimes the music supervisor to determine where music would be underscored and just what kind of music would be appropriate for the dramatic situation. 


Music Supervisor [liaison between the music/creative & the business interests on a project-(film or TV show)].



Music Editor/Music Cutter (selection, timing, & synchronization of music to film/TV),


Music Video Director 


Video Game Scorer/Audio Programmer


Advertising Jingle Writer


-Radio, TV, & online video commercials // craft a song that fits the message/brand identity of product // should know diff musical styles, compose well for a very short form, convey message w/ few words (strong w/ language/lyrics) // can be very lucrative



Music Related Careers



-Press, local, national. 

Music Librarian


-College and public libraries. 


-Sometimes employed by music production libraries (knowledge of music styles, good memory), good with detailed work.



Sound Engineer/Technician

-Tough hustle, try to develop producer/songwriter skills.


-Highly competitive.


-Self-taught and higher education, no rules. 


-Start with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).




-Tough gig (BC).


See table 28.2 on page 481

Don’t overthink.

Side hustle.

Just do it. 

Follow your bliss. 

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