Explore a career in Music Performance

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Music Performance

  • What's the deal?
  • Is it for you?
  • What can I be?
What's the deal?
  • Despite advances in technology and dance music, there are no signs that the music performer is going away. Just look at Access’s patron, Ed Sheeran, who has achieved global success. People will always want to listen to music created by performers, whether that is through a digital stream, a vinyl record or a live gig.
  • There are many performance roles, from being a session musician or backing singer, through to being an original artist, either in a band or as a singer/songwriter. There are also an increasing number of opportunities for musicians working in lucrative tribute bands.
  • You will make more money if you are the songwriter. Songwriters earn royalties every time a track is played. So if you are the main, agreed songwriter in a band, you will earn more than your band mates if you become successful. However, beware of potential friction this might cause in the future.
  •  The UK music industry contributes £3.5 billion annually to the UK economy. This is made up of: £1.6bn from musicians, composers and songwriters; £634m from recorded music; £662m from live music; £402m from music publishing; £151m from music representatives, and £80m from music producers and recording studios.
  • These figures show that live performances now generate more income than recordings. In the past it used to be the other way around. This means that to make money you need to be prepared to get out there and play. Not only that, you need to be selling lots of merchandise to supplement your income.
  • Most people involved in music performance are self-employed. Incomes can vary significantly, from earning £50 a night for playing in a band at a local venue, up to successful international artists, who earn huge sums. Being self employed means you will need to manage your business affairs and deal with aspects of marketing and promotion.
  • >  Many people earn a living by having what is called a portfolio career. This is where you work and gain income from a number of areas. For example you might be a guitarist who plays in a couple of bands, who also creates soundtrack music for licensing, and who also teaches guitar.
Is it for you?
  • You will need to love creating and performing music. Music will probably be your main passion and you will need to have invested time into learning to play an instrument or developing your voice.
  • If you are a music performer then you are likely to be self-employed. Being self employed means you will need to deal with business matters. Is this something which would suit you?
  • Being an original artist is a role where you can really express your creativity. However, many artists have to compromise in order to gain income from their music. Record labels will often put pressure on artists to be more commercial.
  • If you are a session musician, or working in a tribute act, the emphasis is on musicianship and on creating professional convincing performances.
  • If you are in a group, then teamwork skills are essential. It is also important that you are able to communicate effectively with support staff, such as sound engineers, producers and management.
  • The industry is very fast moving with constant technology developments, especially in relation to how people consume and experience music. You need to be a quick learner and enjoy learning new skills.
  • With the main income streams moving to performance, artists need to be prepared to gig and tour. This means working in the evenings, going on late into the night, often far away from home. It also means lots of travel and staying in cheap accommodation, or tour buses. Is this something which will suit you and your family/relationships?
What can I be?

Original Artist
You are an artist creating, recording and performing songs for public release. As well as creating great music, you will also need to build your artist image, brand and develop your fanbase. Unless you are a signed artist with management, you will need to undertake your own promotion, so a good head for business is really useful. This is a really exciting and creative role, but there is a massive amount of competition meaning it can be very difficult to get established and make money.

Session Musician
You are a jobbing musician working for original artists on performances and recordings and on specific projects for commercial clients. You will need to be highly accomplished on your trademark instrument, or be an excellent singer. You will need to be very quick on learning new material and an ability to read notation or tab will be a useful skill. You will also need to be totally professional and punctual. It’s the original artists who check the tellies out of hotel rooms, not the session players!

Tribute Artist
You are a musician working as tribute act or as part of a tribute group. Here you will need to be a skilled musician or singer who is able to recreate an authentic performance of the chosen original artist. The tribute circuit has grown in recent years and there is a big demand for acts at venues and festivals. However, the sector is dominated by established pro acts and it can be hard to get in.

Soundtrack Artist
You are an artist creating music for adverts, film and TV. Media has a constant thirst for new music to promote brands, or to provide incidental music in videos and films. You will create tracks and license these, probably via an agency, from whom you will get fees and royalties when your tracks are used. Here the emphasis is on creating music which will have commercial appeal to clients, so the criteria is very different to an original artist, who is creating the music they are passionate about.

Music Teacher
One way in which many musicians supplement their income is via freelance teaching and instrument tuition. There are always going to be those who want to play the guitar, keyboard or drums. You will need to have excellent communication skills, be well organised and have lots of patience.

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