wind instrument players in an orchestra“The most difficult thing about being a musician these days is not talent. It’s sustainability.”*
–Robert Sirota, former President
Manhattan School of Music

As Robert Sirota implies, hordes of music graduates struggle to sustain themselves in today’s scene.

Here are 8 ways that aspiring musicians can equip themselves to earn good livings from their art.

Eight Ways to Build Sustainable Music Careers

1. Learn About the Music Business

We can’t expect to forge sustainable careers unless we have a basic understanding of our industry. To that end, we should read about the music business, be aware of the diverse roles that professional musicians fill, and know the fundamentals of how non-profit and for-profit music businesses operate. Then, we can discern ways to present concerts and otherwise sell our work.

2. Acquire Professional Know-How

As soon as we discover aspects of the music industry that appeal to us, we can begin acquiring professional know-how. For instance, young musicians can shadow or assist professionals, intern for arts organizations, and enroll in the likes of grant-writing seminars.

3. Develop Multiple Income Streams

The Future of Music Coalition publishes a summary of 42 musician revenue streams. Students who learn about those streams can begin attaining the skills to tap them. In contrast, musicians who only know of 1 or 2 ways to earn income prime themselves for disappointment.

4. Build In-Demand Skills

Our communities need us to supply all sorts of musical products and services. Religious institutions, for example, employ vast numbers of musicians, so keyboardists who gain organ and conducting chops can easily get work as church or synagogue musicians, as can singers who learn to lead choirs. There’s also an ongoing demand for music teachers, which means that musicians with pedagogical ability can often work as much as they like.

5. Connect with New Audiences

Those of us who seek out audiences beyond ordinary niches create robust channels for income and collaboration.

6. Become Tech-Savvy

Musicians who can produce quality online content position themselves to reach diverse populations. To bolster your tech and marketing knowledge, see the Music Careers page at Musician's Way book cover

7. Lead

Joseph Polisi, President of the Juilliard School, says, “Our students should have a much better sense of their environment, politically, socially, economically – and also the idea that as leaders they should shape the future, and that they should also have a way of shaping their own future, instead of expecting the profession, the field, to simply provide them with employment.”**

One way that we can assert our leadership is to put together innovative concert programs and community engagement projects; then, we can present our work broadly, becoming artist-citizens in the process.

8. Embrace Lifelong Learning

Artists who ignore the revolution taking place in the music industry risk being left behind. When we keep on learning, we can create relevant work that attracts new audiences, generates revenue, and lifts communal spirits.

For more on this topic, see Chapter 14 of The Musician’s Way as well as my other articles in the Entrepreneurship category.

Related posts
Do Musicians Often Resemble Underpants Gnomes?
Music Education and Entrepreneurship
Music: The Practical Career?
Preparing for Portfolio Careers

*Fred Cohen, “Going Solo: The Entrepreneurship Curriculum,” Chamber Music 29/4 (Summer 2012), p. 24.
**”A New Theme at Juilliard: Entrepreneurship,”, September 9, 2012.

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © DeshaCAM, licensed from