Careers in the Music Business


"I am gong to be a rock star. I don't need school."  BULL SHIT!  If you are very successful as a musician then you are going to need an education to handle it.  The guitarist from Queen has a PhD in Astro Physics and many other examples of very well educated people who are successful.  There are plenty of stars who didn't have much of an education who crashed and burned, Brittany, Justin, Michael.  You need education to handle lawyers, contracts, success and money.

Younger musicians frequently have conflicts with parents and others about careers in the music business and study for other vocations. I just want to offer some ideas here that can become a good compromise for both the young musician and their parents.  

If a young person wants to make a 100%  commitment to a career in the music business that is not a bad thing.  Don't think of qualifications as "Something to fall back on" if someone has the mental discipline to do the practice and become a good musician then the "something to fall back on" is a disciplined mind.  The disciplined mind and ability to follow through on commitment is more valuable than most qualifications.  (Although I have seen how a PhD is a seriously useful level of education for high end jobs and consulting work.)

Of course it would be a disaster to forgo other educational opportunities only to put in a half-hearted effort into studying music.

However, take a piece of advice: Get job specific qualifications and build some work experience in that vocation. Do your research so you don't get a qualification with poor job prospects or low pay at the end of it.

Ask not what you want to do but, of the jobs you could do, which one pays the most and sux the least. One place to do research is:

You also don't want to live your life in a middle class job as a 9 to 5 cubical monkey with a wife, children, car payments and mortgage only to reach middle age being full of regrets about not having a go at the music business.  Don't waste your life trying to live other people's dreams.  You grow old faster than you think.  Live your life as you want it.  Just do your research properly before making that decision.

I was with a successful musician friend of mine who has many gold and platinum records on the wall and I receive a call from an employment agent asking me to interview for a contract position.  The first think I asked was how much it paid and it was only about $50 per hour.  I told her I was not interested at that price.  My friend looked at me and said he wished he was in a position where he could just say no to a job paying $50 per hour.  The grass always looks so much greener on the other side.


The famous British artist Joseph Turner said:  "Art is incompatible with marriage."  To make the jump from obscurity to great art, successfully marketed, takes 100% effort.  It needs to be a totally consuming passion.  It needs to get your everything for years.  

Trying to make a break-through with a day job, a mortgage, credit cards, a wife and 2 young children all demanding your time and attention is too much for 1 person.  You may need a day job to fund some equipment, recording, your marketing etc. but an unattached person living in a group house or your parents' basement can find 50 hours a week for their obsession, on top of the day job.

When the time comes to give up the day job and increase your commitment, make sure you are debt free, have a few dollars in the bank and don't have the personal relationships that need care - like bankers, wives and children.


What I mean by Dual Use Qualifications is getting a qualification that is useful in getting an ordinary day job and in your music career. Think about what is required in running a band. There are marketing, business and technical tasks that often take more time than the musical ones. Running a band, or following a career in the music business is really running a small business.

Below are some ideas that are by no means an exhaustive list. Many of these things can be studied both part time and full time at either TAFE or University. Some of them can also be included as a minor in a degree with a major in another area.:


         Project Management - Recording and releasing an album is a project.  Running a tour is a skill for a Project Manager. Many industries have projects that need project managers: IT, building, engineering, film production etc.  Project Manager is a very well paid position but the hours can be long.  There are a number of professional project management qualifications.

         Law - Sure you can get a law degree but you can do the Legal Profession Admission Board exams and qualify as a solicitor in 2 years. Could you run an entertainment industry law practice as your day job?  Think of the contacts you could make at a senior level of the music industry.

         Computer programming - With more music being Internet and computer based this can give you real insight to cutting edge electronic music and recording.  More importantly you would have a whole pile of Web 2.0 programming skills and you could build that "magical" interactive web site that could showcase your music on a world wide stage.  For almost nothing but your labour, you could build a web site that would cost $15,000 to have done for you and you get exactly what you want. 


If you want to develop high end musical skills as a performer or composer then there is no better place to develop skills than a Degree Course at a Conservatorium.  Much of the professional music business in the USA is dominated by Berklee graduates.  Really take this to heart: a large number of the real working professionals at the top end of the industry have music degrees from Universities.

Composers have much better earning potential than performers as they earn royalties rather than session fees. A composer can make serious money writing music for film and television.  The person who composes for a band makes the most money in the band.  Composition and arrangement skills can also lead to becoming a record producer.

Many of the best session musicians started as child prodigies, got a degree from the Conservatorium, practice many hours every day for decades and have 10 to 20 years full time professional experience.  To be a paid session musician you have to be able to compete with these guys.

Add a Marketing or Psychology minor to a Music degree and you could have a very useful combination for the leader of a band or, after relevant experience, a job in advertising or a record company. You could have acquired these qualifications in your early 20's and your band would then have a competitive edge over those without that skill set.

If you want to have a 'try before you buy' consider taking a part time course at the Sydney Conservatorium Open Academy. For details phone: (02) 9351 1208

But beware, the Conservatorium experience is profound and life changing.


I know a number of the guys who work in musical equipment shops.  They were really excited when they started working full time in the music industry.  After about a year they had lost the passion.  They go home and don't want to even look at their home studios.  Over the 40 hour week, month after month it had become like any other job but, it had killed the passion.

Musicians rarely have performances on the first 3 days of the week.  Few full time musicians remain full time for their entire working life.  You may decide you need a day job for those times between gigs etc.  So...

GET A EMPLOYMENT ORIENTATED QUALIFICATION AND WORK IN THAT JOB to you build job experience and to get money.  (Remember that Strat, Mesa Boogie and home studio cost money.)

There is a huge difference in life time earnings between people with qualifications and those without.  Don't ask what you want to do because too many people don't know what they do and end up doing nothing.  A series of unrelated, unskilled or semi-skilled  jobs amounts to nothing.

Make a list of jobs that you could do with the best paid at the top.  Write down how long and how hard it is to get each of the qualifications.  Include TAFE, industry certifications like Microsoft MCSE and university as options.  Research this properly.  Ask people who work in that industry what it is like.  Then just pick the one that pays the best and sux the least and do it.

Don't do some interesting qualification like fashion design or interior designer only to discover it has limited employment opportunities.  No matter how glamorous the industry, all jobs suck, just some are harder and dirtier than others.  

Actually fashion design really sux.  The whole fashion industry is poorly paid (except for a few rock stars at the top) and most of the time you are working on stuff you don't enjoy, like underwear for middle aged men.  I know a girl who is working in the fashion industry, she is under paid and over worked.  She has to maintain a good vibe while working with very difficult people.  Her view:  "If I had known what it was really like I never would have..."

Beware of jobs like nursing, police, railways or hospitality that have shift work that will conflict with gigs, practices etc.  Shift workers are a nightmare in bands.


So you think the music is fun but the money sux and you want a day job that won't impact too heavily on the Rock'n'Roll lifestyle?  Here are a few ideas:

Draftsman or House designer:  3 years at TAFE but you will be able to get a part time job after only 18 months study.  You spend most of your days at a computer working on drawings in AutoCAD.  You can listen to music while you do it.  You can work from home once you have experience.  Part time work, say Monday to Wednesday, is available.  Pay is about $30 to $50 per hour or more if you run your own business.  It is also creative work where your artistic input really makes a difference.

Computer Programmer:  3 years TAFE or University.  Part time work is available while you are still studying.  You can listen to music while you do it.  You can work from home once you have experience.  Part time work, say Monday to Wednesday, is available.  Pay is $30 to $130 per hour.

School Teacher:  Short hours, long holidays, above average pay, very little unemployment.  (But if you have an ear for music, don't be a music teacher.  A group of 9 year olds with recorders will seriously violate your musical senses.  This job is a job better left for the tone deaf.)

$$$ Property Developer $$$:  Step 1.  Get a building trade - anything from carpenter or concreter  to civil engineer, house designer or quantity surveyor.  Step 2.  Get your building license or get skills as a building project manager.  Step 3.  Learn the building business at the most senior level you can working for somebody else.  Learn the trade from people who have learned the hard way.  Step 4.  Start doing your own property developments starting small and getting bigger.  Step 5.  You are a multi-millionaire in your early 30's and you have the money and time to do anything you want with music.  If need a day job it is better to have one that allows you to walk away in your early 30's as a multi-millionaire than the other guys in the band who work the same hours only to live day to day and have nothing else to show for it.

Please note I have met plenty of people who have lost heaps of money trying to be property developers because they did not have the skills first.  These skills take years of EXPERIENCE to learn.

Ideal Jobs:  The ideal music compatible job only works 3 days a week without shifts and your choice of days, has a high hourly rate of pay, allows you to listen to music during the day, in a clean environment free of work safety risks and you work with intelligent positive people without any negativity.  These requirements are best satisfied by highly skilled technical work.

Only work a 4 hour week:  Check out this book:  The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.  It could seriously change your life.


Where you live, with whom and the car you drive will all impact on your ability to participate in music.  Having an environment around you that is supportive, rather than antagonistic, is very important to creative output.

If you live in a unit on the edge of town with flat mates or neighbours who object to the noise of you practicing and don't have a car then, your musical options will be greatly restricted.

Don't take on big financial commitments while you are trying to make it in the music business or you will be too tied to a day job to really make the leap.  Don't have credit card debt, personal loans, big rent or mortgages as these things make you a slave to the bank.  Live a cheap lifestyle and save as much as you can.

If you have a girlfriend or boyfriend who objects to your musical ambitions then your music will become a constant source of problems.  

Have a car that is big enough to carry your equipment. Don't buy equipment that is too big to fit in your car.  Station wagons may not be cool but have good carrying capacity.  Live in a place you can practice your instrument and sing daily.  Live by yourself or with people who are supportive of your music.  Live in a town where there is a good supply of other musicians with similar aspirations to yourself.  Live in a place that is close enough to where the gigs are to be able to see live music regularly.

If your music really is a priority to you then you will make all these lifestyle decisions with consideration to the impact on your ability to work, grow and prosper as a musician.


There is not a lot of 9 to 5 paid employment in the music industry.  It is more the sort of industry where you have to manufacture your own "job" via self employment.  There are plenty of roles as management, being an agent, promoting gigs and festivals etc. just don't expect a regular pay cheque.


To be a good musician you have to be able to do a couple of hours practice every day from now to the end of your career.  If you can't do the daily practice give up your aspirations of being a professional now because you are never going to make it.  Also you almost certainly have to sing.

This is not only about instrumental practice.  If you are an aspiring songwriter then you need to be writing songs every day and getting honest feedback on your work from people who know what they are talking about.  There are songs writing groups on the Internet and in every major city.  Find web sites where you can upload you latest work as MP3 files for review.

The best musicians are not in successful bands.  The best choice of musician for a success band is the reliable average player with great time and an easy going personality, good sense of humour and strong sense of loyalty to the group.  A super good, highly creative musician will get board with playing the same songs at gig after gig for years on end.  (People still want to hear John Farnham sing "Sadie the Cleaning Lady" after 40 years.)  This repetition will drive highly creative musicians to despair.  The easy going player who will come off stage after doing the same show for 10 years and just be happy that "I didn't make a mistake all night."  Just know if you are average and be willing to stand aside and use sessions musicians in the recording studio at times when it counts.

The most successful musicians are good self-promoters.  If you can't sell yourself then you will have limited career options.

If you are instrumentalist and not the front person then learn to do backing vocals well, including counterpoint harmonies.  If you are part of the "voice" of the band you are hard to replace and can justify being a partner on an equal share.  If you are just a guitarist, drummer or bass player then it is too easy to replace you with a session player.  There are people taking wages for playing stadiums but the “partners”  take a share of the profits.  You want to be a partner not a session player on wages.  Learn to write songs and sing well.


Firstly let me warn you that if you are a musician who buys a studio you may find that is side tracks you from your main aim.  Studios are complex, the art of recording takes years to master.  If you just want to get some ideas down one of those little Boss hard disk recorders will do the job without making you think you have a recording studio. 

So you really do want to be a sound engineer? Unfortunately your chances of getting full time paid employment in a recording studio are worse than your chances of winning Lotto. (See: ) I recommend that you don't even try unless life is not worth living without it. Assuming life is not worth living without it - here we go...

The bottom line is:  If you can attract a steady stream of paying studio clients you will have a job. To get clients you have to be good at developing relationships with people and then be able to deliver.  How do you get good?  Get yourself a home studio and build your experience, skills, reputation, portfolio of work and client relationships.  Building relationships and having excellent interpersonal skill is of critical importance. 
Interpersonal skills can be a deal breaker, it they are not excellent then you have no hope.

To get started, buy an Apple Mac with a big 24" screen and Pro Tools with the Control surface/digital mixer and start with a some quality microphones. You will also need some high quality studio monitors, Melodine, keyboard, headphones and a bunch of other studio stuff. (Don't use your studio computer for other stuff - especially not games. Apple Mac is good for music)

Take this information to Mark at Turramurra Music and he will help you design the studio.  He will help you with a good studio design with a realistic budget is a great idea. There is lots of really good stuff on eBay and in the Trading Post you can pick up second hand at a great price.  All up, you are going to need about $15,000.  Make sure you have a place to put you gear and music compatible domestic arrangements.

Do a course at UTS in Pro Tools (this is advertised in Drum media). This is all you need, forget audio engineering colleges. (See my page on music Industry Scams).  Go to and get a bunch of other books on recording, producing etc. and read them.  The reading is important. You are not going to get an apprenticeship like people did in the old days so read the words of the great producers. The idea of starting in a studio as a tea boy, working long hours, procuring cocaine and women for rock stars, learning everything form visiting producers and one day getting your big break as an engineer when the regular engineer fails to show up - sorry, that career path is history.  (You could try to work for free as an assistant in one of the mid-range studios in a big city.  In Australia the 'dole' is about the same as the 'tea boy' got paid in the old days.)

Do mixing for people's live gigs.  This work is easy to get.  This is practice pulling a sound on a mixer, makes you a few dollars and you make good contacts because if you can mix for them live musicians will be more ready to trust you in the studio.

Develop some real musical skills.  Without real musical skills you will never be anything more than a technician.  Buy a fully weighted 88 key electric piano and take weekly piano lessons for 3 years or more. This will teach you heaps about music and help get your ear in. Practice piano for more than 1 hour every night.  Developing the musical skills is the most important part.
It is also critically important to train your ear.  There is some ear training software I user and recommend.  See:  Buy it and do it. 
Do appropriate courses at the Sydney Conservatorium Open Academy.  

Once you have your gear together start recording people.  Go out at night, check out bands, meet musicians, build relationships with these people.  Make demo tapes for anyone, for free if you have to.  Do what ever you have to do, just get heaps of experience. Make a web site and start putting your material up as free MP3 downloads.  What it sounds like proves you can walk the walk not just talk the talk, so your web site will do the talking for you.  Put your web site on your business cards and in all your advertising so people can hear you stuff, it is the sound that counts.  Get good, build a reputation, make contacts, listen to lots of radio and chart music. If you have any hope of success you will know where to go from here.

You have potential customers but you don't work for a big studio?  If you bring in a paying customer and want to do the engineering yourself cheaply there is hardly a studio in town that will say no to you.  


If you want to be a Record Producer then this is a much bigger ask.  To be a producer you have to be able to make significant musical contributions.  Typically a producer is an advanced instrumentalist with first rate song writing, composition and arrangement skills.  As a point of reference for how serious your skill level should be, Michael Jackson's producer on Thriller was Quincy Jones who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and orchestration at a Paris Conservatorium.  You also need to have a really good knowledge of the latest commercial musical trends and the musical, technical and organizational skills to realize them.  By the time you get to this level you should have a serious track record as well.  Most importantly you need serious people skills.  A record producer is the person responsible for taking a band, in whatever state they are in, and delivering a fully commercially viable product on time and on budget.


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Copyright 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010  Mark Ellis