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At a Glance

  • Musicians may perform as solo artists or in groups
  • May travel for performances
  • Often work part time
  • Have years of training and practice
  • Formal training is through college-level music programs
  • Often specialize in one type of music

Career summary

Musicians perform music on stage and in recording studios.

Musicians play musical instruments as soloists or as members of a musical group. Usually musicians must audition to join a musical group. For example, they may audition for and play in:

Some musicians play a variety of string, brass, or woodwind instruments. Others play percussion instruments such as drums.

Musicians spend a lot of time practicing. They study and rehearse music scores to interpret and memorize them. They sometimes transpose music into a different key or to match their own style. Musicians also practice their instruments to maintain and improve their skills.

Musicians perform for live audiences or in recording studios. They play from memory or follow a musical score. Some improvise, or invent, as they perform. Some perform for TV, radio, or movie productions. Many musicians write their own music.

Related careers

This career is part of the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to musicians.

Common work activities

Musicians perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, musicians:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Musicians frequently:

It is important for musicians to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for musicians to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Musicians need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a musician, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Musicians do not need to meet educational requirements. A proven ability to create music is the most important requirement. However, a high school diploma or equivalent is recommended as the minimum level of education.

Musicians need years of extensive training. You can get training through private study with an expert or through practice with a group. You can also get training in a college or university music program or a music conservatory. You usually must audition for spots in a formal program.

Many colleges, universities, and music conservatories grant degrees in music. An advanced degree is often required to teach music courses at the college level. A degree in music education qualifies you for a certificate to teach music in grade school or high school.

Work experience

Musicians begin studying an instrument at an early age. You can gain valuable experience playing in a school or community band or orchestra. Many musicians take lessons with private teachers when they are young.

On-the-job training

Musicians train in music for many years. Formal on-the-job training is not common, except in as much as you learn by doing and get feedback from other musicians. Musicians are self-employed and responsible for their own training. You gain skill though practice and working in different musical styles. You normally spend several hours each day in rehearsal, preparing for performances.

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be musicians. You must pass auditions to enter this military occupation. Training lasts 11 to 24 weeks, depending on your specialty. Additional training occurs on the job.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many musicians are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers seek particular types or styles of performers. Employers often look for performers who are talented and known. Successful musicians often rely on agents or managers to find them jobs and develop their careers. Social media marketing has become an important avenue for becoming known to the general public.

Many musicians prepare sample recordings for employers. Employers may also require auditions before hiring musicians. Employers look for musicians who are relaxed and professional when performing. Musicians who learn several related instruments have better chances for employment.

Symphonic and recording studio musicians must be able to read music. Musicians who work in less formal situations need to be able to perform a broad range of songs from memory as well as several styles of music. Band leaders look for musicians who have the ability to play music unrehearsed and can transpose songs into the necessary keys. Vocal skills are also a plus. The personality and entertainment value of the musician are important, especially for non-classical musicians. Being on time for appointments and being prepared and responsible are also important.


Most professional musicians begin studying an instrument at an early age. However, musicians of any age need to be dedicated and have a strong desire to play music professionally. Successful musicians usually practice four hours a day to compete at the highest level. A person should have experience performing before audiences, including recitals, accompanying musical theater productions, or playing in community orchestras or symphonies. Exposure gained through attendance at concerts and summer music camps, lessons, and informal performances with other interested musicians is also important. Some people find it helpful to visit other countries and observe what it's like to be a musician there.

As live performance opportunities decrease, the successful musician must be able to take on many roles: player, artist, teacher, writer, band leader, and side person. Musicians must have the ability to adapt to change quickly in a limited market. Thus, the ability to expand, repackage, and sell one's musical skills is very important.

#Added Career Opportunities News, Jan/Feb 2007 comments 3/6/07 on hours of practice needed for successful and talented musicians (10,000 hours or 3-4 hrs/day for 10 years), CJ.

Costs to workers

Musicians may join a professional association and pay a membership fee and annual dues. Musical instruments, equipment, and maintenance are additional expenses.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


The minimum wage for Washington State as of January 1, 2020 is $13.50 per hour. Some areas of the state may have a higher minimum wage.

Musicians may be paid by the show, week, day, or hour. Musicians usually do not work full time. In addition, they may face long periods of unemployment. Because pay can be low and work intermittent, many musicians work a second job to support themselves.

There is wide variation in the number of hours musicians work. It is rare for musicians to have a guaranteed job for longer than three to six months.

Musicians and singers (SOC 27-2042)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $21.06 $28.74 $38.65 $48.74 $59.73
Monthly $3,650 $4,981 $6,698 $8,447 $10,351
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $23.64 $31.13 $39.49 $50.01 $61.46
Monthly $4,097 $5,395 $6,844 $8,667 $10,651
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $28.21 $39.43 $46.27 $51.57 $62.89
Monthly $4,889 $6,833 $8,019 $8,937 $10,899
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
    Vancouver Hourly $11.44 $15.19 $23.99 $38.39 $65.67
Monthly $1,983 $2,632 $4,157 $6,653 $11,381
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)
United States Hourly $10.40 $15.97 $28.15 $49.25 $73.34
Monthly $1,802 $2,768 $4,878 $8,535 $12,710
Yearly (1) (1) (1) (1) (1)

(1) Wage estimate is not available.

Earnings vary widely by type of employer and area of the country. Earnings also depend on a performer's reputation and the number of hours worked. The most successful musicians can earn far more than the median wage.

Benefits also vary by employer. Full-time musicians who are not self-employed may earn benefits. Typical benefits include vacation, sick leave, and health insurance. Self-employed musicians must provide their own insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Musicians and Singers (SOC 27-2042)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 3,930 5.7% 16.1% 429
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 78 -1.3% 13.4% 7
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 97 0.0% 8.6% 9
    Benton and Franklin Counties 81 11.1% 15.0% 10
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 180 18.3% 11.9% 25
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 207 -9.7% 15.2% 14
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 184 15.8% 14.1% 25
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 241 14.1% 14.6% 32
    King County 1,406 7.8% 19.6% 160
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 119 -5.9% 13.8% 9
    Pierce County 423 9.0% 15.2% 50
    Snohomish County 396 1.8% 12.4% 39
    Spokane County 543 3.1% 13.9% 54
United States 187,600 0.2% 5.2% 22,400

National employment

About 38% of all musicians are self-employed.

Many jobs for musicians are located in cities where entertainment and recording are concentrated. These include New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is expected to show little to no change. New online music platforms provide more opportunities for musicians. Many bands tour and need musicians as backup artists. Opportunities are slowing for orchestra and opera musicians. As funding slows, budgets are cut for orchestras and other non-profit musical groups.

Job prospects are best for the most talented musicians.

Employment and outlook information is not available specifically for musicians. However, they are part of the larger group of "musicians and singers."

Other resources

American Federation of Musicians (external link)
1501 Broadway, Ninth Floor
New York, NY 10036
American Guild of Musical Artists (external link)
1430 Broadway, 14th Floor
New York, NY 10018
American Musicological Society (external link)
20 Cooper Square floor 2
New York, NY 10003
American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (external link)
American String Teachers Association (external link)
4155 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, VA 22030
Artist Trust (external link)
1835 - 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122
College Music Society (external link)
312 East Pine Street
Missoula MT 59802
International Clarinet Association (external link)
International Society of Bassists (external link)
14070 Proton Road
Suite 100
Dallas, Texas 75244
International Trumpet Guild (external link)
Music Library Association (external link)
1600 Aspen Commons, Suite 100
Middleton, WI 53562
Music Publishers Association (external link)
Music Teachers National Association (external link)
1 West 4th Street, Suite 1550
Cincinnati, OH 45202
National Alliance for Musical Theater (external link)
520 Eighth Avenue Suite 301
New York, NY 10018
National Endowment for the Arts (external link)
400 - 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20506
National Flute Association (external link)
70 East Lake Street, #200
Chicago, IL 60601
National Guild of Piano Teachers (external link)
PO Box 1807
Austin, TX 78767
Percussive Arts Society (external link)
110 W. Washington Street Suite A
ndianapolis, IN 46204
Showbizjobs.com (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster