Careers in the Music Business

So you want a job in the music industry?


For a venue an agent is very important.  A venue owner/manager is not in the business of getting to know about specific bands.  An agent will get to know who is reliable, who puts on a consistently good show, who the drama queens are etc.  An agent should only be charging 10% for this work an agent is good value for money to a venue owner.  There are bad bands, people who can clear out a venue within a set and other bands will fill the place and keep a vibe happening into the night. 

It is the job of an agent to know the bands, know the venue and the type of crowd they attract and know how to present and promote the acts.  As an agent you will spend a lot of time driving around looking at venues and acts.  Competition is fierce between them agents to secure the bookings of venues.  A licensed club that will book 5 acts a week and pay decent money is a cash cow.  There are a lot of agents that would like to take that business.  To win it you need to convince the club you can provide acts of a consistent quality and provide them with excellent service.  Alas, kickbacks are common.

Doing almost the same job as an agent (driving around pubs and clubs talking to the owners and managers) but working for a beer company will pay a lot more money than you can make as an agent.  So most people are in the agency business because thy have some sort of angle.  Many agents are in one of the acts they book and they got into being agents to get themselves, friends and "girlfriends" gigs.  One well known agent confessed to me that he gets a buzz out of the power he has over musicians and how they come grovelling to him for gigs.

Joke (I think):  Q.  What did the agent say about the band?  A.  Who are those c#^+$ to get 90% of MY money?


The business seriously needs more and better managers.  So much of an artist's success depends on having a good manager.  As a manager you are asked by an artist to invest a lot of time and effort into developing the career of an act for 20% or their earnings.  Almost nothing for a start up act.  If they become successful you will find higher profile managers sniffing around your artist like hungry lions around a fresh kill.  Make sure your contracts are solid.

If the act is not successful you will end up with nothing for your effort.  I can't tell you just how disappointing it is to get an act moving, start seeing some business and see the band break up after you have made hard won deals.  (I got a record for a girl and a month before the album was released she announced she had decided to go to University and did nothing to promote the album.)  This is NOT a legal defence for homicide.

The scope of what managers can do for artists is wide.  It can range from just getting gigs to playing psychologist for a depressed artist.  It usually involves looking after the financial things, collecting money and providing accounting and payment to the artist.  Advising on career direction and finding and negotiating deals.  Some managers are purely business, others provide artistic advice on thing like image, and musical things.  Many of the things record companies did in previous decades are now done by managers.

Just a note on the money.  To make a living and cover your expenses eg. phone, travel, office, accountant etc. you will need about $100,000 per annum.  If you manage 5 acts you will be fairly busy.  At a 20% commission rate they need to make a profit of $100,000 per act for you to earn $20,000 from each of them.  If you want to be a professional manager don't take on an act unless you can see it will make at least $100,000 per annum.  If you are a good manager you are likely to have a breakthrough act that makes more then all the others put together.


Everyone wants to be a rock star, even film stars.  Become a great, charismatic performer, write great songs, have a good web site, play lots of shows where you rock the room, record the songs well, get good management and be lucky.

Easier said than done.


With the direct to customer marketing that is now available via the Internet the "middle class artist" is becoming much more of a reality.  There is the 1,000 true fans theory.  If you have 1,000 fans who spend $100 per year on your act then you have a gross income of $100,000.  If you can keep costs down and are a solo act then that can be a good income.

These days many people think music is a free commodity and download or share files with friends.  People running music based businesses need to find alternative revenue streams.  I know female artists who give away the music but make a living out of selling signed posters and other merchandise.  Selling a CD with a T-shirt as a bundle can often be effective.


Some musicians think of playing Dancing Queen, My Sharona, Billy Jean and Funky Town night after night in pubs and clubs is a level of hell.  I personally love it, playing some of the best songs ever written to real people out dancing and partying every night.  You have a room full of people and play songs they know and love.  It is a privilege to be on stage.  If you are in a good covers band getting regular work you can make a modest living.  Obviously duos will make more money per performer than a 6 piece act because there are less ways to split the money.

You will need to be in an act that is supported by an agent to make a living.  It is typical to have about 60 songs in a set list that are broken up into 3 or 4 sets during a night.

When choosing a set list go out and see the other successful covers bands in your area and see which songs get the best audience reaction.  Choose more songs like that.  Some acts work with pre-recorded backing tracks, others do it all live on the night.  A typical line-up for a 5 piece act would be:  Male singer, female singer, guitarist, bass player, drummer who can play to a click track and all the other instruments on a backing tape.

I strongly recommend you develop your vocal skills as a guitarist (or bass player) who can sing will get the gig over one who can't.


This is a real tough gig to break into.  There are lots more guys looking for the work than there is work to go around.  Many of them have numerous gold and platinum albums to their credit.  I would suggest you start by going to a conservatorium, get in 10,000 hours practice on your instrument, be great with people and work on your aural skills.  Play lots of gigs and develop a great reputation.

You need to be able to pick up songs very quickly and be able to play them well from a single listening.  Also the ability to read music and play it fluently without rehearsal is important.


There are all kinds of positions for music teachers from schools to working privately from you home.  Many "professional musicians" supplement their income with students.  Many private teachers are of dubious quality.  Full time teachers at state schools make about $65,000 to $85,000 per annum. 

Teaching private lessons typically pays about $40 per half hour lesson.  7 students per night, 3 nights a week at $40 per lesson provides a reasonable income for someone playing gigs on the weekends too.  Just make sure you have some some proper training in music education, music theory and know how to teach.  There are too many people taking people's money and expending their students enthusiasm on worthless lessons.

You are required by law to have a police check for "working with children" so obviously any offences against children will make you unable to work as a music teacher.


Working in a music shop selling CD's, DVD's etc. is a business going into decline as more and more sales are taking place on line.  It is a retail job, hours are long and pay is not good.  On the plus side you get to listen to music all day.  These jobs are fairly easy to get as the turnover in retail positions is fairly high.


There are lots of jobs from art department to lawyers, accountants, computer support, project managers, graphic designers and marketing.  The record industry is changing quickly as it moves from the traditional record company to the 360 deals so the types of jobs are changing quickly too.


The job of a publishing company is to take songs that have been written by the artists you represent and have them used by performers, film, television, sell sheet music and books, etc.  The publishing company then collects and distributes the royalties.  Obviously they employ accountants, lawyers and sales people.  If you love music, can hear a potential hit song, network with people well and can pitch the songs to artists, managers, producers, film & TV music supervisors then this could be a great job for you.


This is one of the biggest and most profitable parts of the music business.  It is a 40+ hour a week retail job.  You have to be able to play the instruments you are selling in a variety of styles well enough to impress the people who are going to buy them.  The person buying the instrument wants to believe that they can sound as good as you do on this instrument.  They will believe it is the instrument that can do it and discount the years of training you have done.


You are probably never going to find paid employment doing this.  Just because you spend a lot of money getting a diploma from an academy doesn't mean you have any hope of getting a job.  See the Career Options page for more details.

This is a job like: taste tester at the chocolate factory, professional skateboarder, male porn star, racing car driver, etc.  For every position there are 10,000 people wanting the job.


This is not an entry level job.  Very often producers have been successful musicians who have Gold and Platinum albums in their won right.  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.


This job is part truck driving, part removalist, part electronics technician, part diplomat and part mix or lighting operator.  Many of the best paid jobs are not the Rock'n'Roll jobs but corporate gigs.  Doing sound for a company awards night or a fashion parade.  You are the first to arrive at a gig and the last to leave.  Your day starts with choosing the appropriate equipment for the gig and loading your truck or van, driving to the gig and loading it in.  Hopefully the venue doesn't have too many steps etc.  You mix the show and operate the lights.  At the end of the night you pack up your equipment, load the truck or van and get home very late.

People will abuse your equipment and ask you to do the impossible: "Can you put those big black speakers where they can't be seen?" 


Like working with wood?  Love the idea of building and repairing electric and acoustic guitars, basses or violins and cellos?  I know a really good Luthier who build my bass.  He has a workshop in his back yard, works from home and is a perfectionist.  To get into it find a great Luthier and convince him to take you on as an apprentice.  Get as much detailed wood working experience as you can to help land the first job.


Get a law degree and a few years experience, advertise in the street press, go around and see lots of bands, meet them and hand out business cards.  You will find business picks up when your phone starts ringing at 2:00am after they get busted with cocaine.  Many music industry lawyers do a fair bit of criminal work too.

You write the contracts and work with the manager to seal the deals with record companies etc. 

When artists become successful people start to sue because "he stole my song"  and it is up to you to defend the artist against the claims.


Web designer, programmer, web master or DBA.  There are lost of titles but artists need and great looking web site, they need to collect e-mail addresses and send a good looking, well written monthly newsletter to those people.  They need to link their web site to Facebook, MySpace, ReverbNation, YouTube, ticket sellers, iTunes and Twitter.  You need to get artistically rich multi-media content into your web presence.

There is a lot of work that goes into keeping a successful artist in touch with the world.  Their web site may be the shop front for their main source of income.  Running the shop selling their merchandise, tickets to gigs, MP3's, DVD's etc.

If you are a programmer with a good artistic sense, understanding of databases, e-mail systems and e-commerce then you can be an essential team member for a successful act.


You are an entrepreneur of the music industry.  Understand people and what an audience wants.  Hire a venue, book some acts, sell tickets, advertise and be really good at working with people and solving problems.

This pays big dollars for people who get it right and will bankrupt those who get it wrong.  This is not a job as such, you pay your money and take your chances.  If you don't sell enough tickets, everyone else still needs to get paid by you.


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