Close-up of violinist in orchestra“If your concept of success is restricted to being an international soloist or performing with a major symphony or opera company, then you’re probably headed for difficulties in life.”
The Musician’s Way,
p. 300

There are ample rewarding opportunities for musicians who fill diverse roles in today’s music scene.

Problem is, vast numbers of young musicians singlemindedly strive toward long-shot careers, missing other opportunities for rewarding work in the music industry.

Music Industry Comprehension?

As an illustration, consider these words written to a music advice column:

“I am a violinist with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from a major American conservatory. I have won top prizes in some competitions and have always expected that I would be able to attract management and enjoy a solo career. As of late, I have begun to have my doubts about that . . . I have been told that I stand a reasonable chance of winning a concertmaster position with a good level orchestra. I did serve as concertmaster in my conservatory orchestra but I am not sure that experience would suffice to qualify me for a professional concertmaster position.” 
–Letter to the “Ask Edna” blog on (Oct. 2013)

I feel for that violinist. Few musicians attract management and enjoy full-time solo careers, yet he or she “always expected” to be a successful soloist.

Then, with the solo career prospects fading, the musician ponders winning a concertmaster position, claiming that someone said there was a “reasonable chance” of that happening. I wonder who said that. In truth, not many violinists win section jobs in full-time orchestras; far fewer attain concertmaster status.

The violinist points to degrees earned and unnamed competition prizes won, implying that those accomplishments ensure success. Unfortunately, they don’t. At least, not in and of themselves.

In today’s world, tens of thousands of excellent musicians earn degrees each year; hundreds win competitions. Managers, presenters and orchestra directors seldom care about degrees and contests. Neither do audiences. Besides, only the most elite competitions propel music careers and then not for long, unless musicians do what really matters.

Real Music Careers

What really matters? Having a compelling artistic voice, excelling at your craft, and, most of all, being an artist who positively impacts lots of people.

Elizabeth Sobol, former Managing Director at IMG calls it “the goose-bump factor.” And that factor ignites music careers in performance, teaching, composition, production, and everything else.

I’m not saying that young musicians shouldn’t dream; of course they should. But they should dream in the real world and, as they do, build sustainable music careers. For example:

  • If young performers aspire to work as soloists, they should develop innovative concert programs that attract diverse audiences, and start producing their own shows. If their appearances draw sizable followings, their opportunities will multiply.
  • All the while, they can gain other in-demand music skills, such as teaching and choral conducting abilities, that enable them to readily work in the music field as they explore the business of being soloists.
  • If their solo careers take off, they can cut back on teaching and conducting. If the solo work loses steam, they can further their other professional music activities and do solo concerts periodically.

Dreaming large is fine, but putting all of your eggs in one long-shot career basket isn’t a smart bet for either your livelihood or your happiness.

Here, then, are 7 strategies that help aspiring musicians get real about building their careers.

Links point to other articles on this blog. [Update: Also see, “3 High-Demand Career Tracks for Musicians.”]The Musician's Way book cover

Career-Building Strategies for Musicians

  1. Forge an artistic vision that’s specific, realistic, and altruistic.
  2. Create value in society through your music, affecting diverse people.
  3. Differentiate yourself from others in your genre.
  4. Plan for long-term sustainability.
  5. Gain competitive advantages.
  6. Tap multiple income streams.
  7. Grow an inclusive professional network.

See The Musician’s Way for guidelines to establish your musical foundations. 

Related posts
3 High-Demand Career Tracks for Musicians
7 Music Career Myths
8 Ways to Build Sustainable Music Careers
Differentiate or Disappear

Preparing for Portfolio Careers

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Stokkete, licensed from