Career Guide


Ben Maples  · Dec 15th 2022

Ranking as one of the most popular jobs in the UK today is the role of a Musician. There aren’t many people around today, there are many people that are looking to become the next Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake or even the next Kanye West!

Musician working in studio

The age of the internet has opened up the world of music for aspiring musicians. Social media and the ability to freely advertise your services, becoming a professional, full-time musician is now a viable career path.

Composer job

What is a musician?

Musicians create, produce and perform music in various genres, from rock and pop to classical and jazz. This role varies depending on the specialism, from using a voice as an instrument to someone who composes and writes the music or performs it.

There are also session musicians. Session musicians will often come into the studio to offer their talents per session. For example, this could be providing backing vocals, playing the guitar or the drums or helping with vocal production. They are not typically a permanent member of the band or musical ensemble. Therefore you can take on session musician jobs and find yourself working with hundreds of musicians throughout the years.

>Qualifications like music degrees are not essential for this role, but may be required if applying for specific jobs.

Due to the various genres of music, some of your responsibilities may change. Still, typically musicians will perform - at festivals, concerts, music venues or theatres - participate in recording sessions, practise, rehearse and plan performances, all of which will add to your music work experience.


The responsibilities of a musician are varied depending on your employment status. The most common responsibilities for a musician are:

  • Aid in recording sessions.
  • Arrange tours through intermediaries.
  • Collaborate with other artists.
  • Compose new songs.
  • Find a talent agent.
  • Find new instruments to learn.
  • Improving musicianship.
  • Keep on hand with industry trends.
  • Perform live and other musical work.
  • Practise your skill or craft.
  • Promote yourself.
  • Tune equipment.
  • Write and record demos.

Freelance musicians are free to follow their own path and do things their own way. While employed musicians are generally expected to carry out the same responsibilities everywhere they work.


A musician's salary varies widely and depends on whether you’re working freelance, or in a wider band or orchestra. Fees are generally negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the venue; however, the Musicians’ Union (MU) provides minimal casual stage fees for groups (typically a theatre or concert) or for solo artists.

The MU usually provides minimum fees for members. If you negotiate directly, then the fee you are paid is between you and the organisers. The MU provides minimum stage rates for groups of musicians performing on stage, which typically range from anywhere between £160 to £182, as well as a national gig rate for groups performing in pubs, clubs etc, which usually range from £137 to £185[1].

Orchestra salary in the UK depends on the orchestra you work for, your experience and grade. Salaries for BBC orchestra posts and other composer jobs can range from £35,000 to £55,000 per year, and rates for freelance positions can be between £156 to £177 per session for skilled musicians or instrumentalists.

The main way musicians make money off original music is by registering with songwriter unions. Organisations like the PPL and the PRS are essential for new songwriters.

Musician jobs


Qualifications like music degrees are not essential for this role, but may be required if applying for specific jobs. Overall experience and talent are crucial, so ensure you practise as often as possible. Most begin learning an instrument at a young age and take graded music exams and theory before training at school, college and university - though this doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot learn as an adult.

Conservatoires (music colleges) differ from universities and focus on performance-led degrees, diplomas, and practise skills. Your timetable usually consists of performances and workshops and may include weekend activities. Students will practise in their own time as well to enhance their skills. If you pass the audition, you can apply for an undergraduate course that lasts three to four years. There are postgraduate qualifications available too.

Competition is fierce, but hard work can improve your chances of success if you have passion and are determined. Suppose you’re hoping to achieve a post in an orchestra, in that case, you’ll need a stable musical career and examples of performance in various settings and groups, as well as teaching and arranging music, to show your ability.

It is recommended that you find a talent agent where possible.

You may also need to branch out into other styles to enhance your employability and reach a wider audience. You can also teach music to individual pupils or through schools and colleges alongside the goal of being a full-time performer.

Training and development

Any further training will be down to you. Practising every single day is essential to being a good musician and will allow you to forge good relations with other musical collaborators if you practise with others. You can practise every day by yourself or you can take private lessons with music tutors.

There are other useful places to enhance your abilities, such as the ABO, which represents orchestras and youth ensembles, the Royal College of Organists (RCO), Rockschool Music for those looking to practise in popular music, the Independent Society of Musicians (ISM) or SoundSense.


Musicians need several skills to be successful. You will find that you will learn new skills you never thought you needed once you collaborate or take on more paid gigs.

The skills needed for a musician are:

  • Confidence in live performance.
  • Determination.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Excellent time management skills.
  • Flexibility.
  • Good time management skills.
  • Motivation.
  • Patience.
  • Perseverance.
  • Reliability.
  • The ability to work on your own.
  • The ability to work with others.

These skills can also be further honed through regular practise and collaboration.

Guitarist jobs

Career prospects

It is recommended that you find a talent agent where possible. This is often easier said than done, however, this is a much better way of finding work than sourcing it yourself; although you will likely need to do this in the early stages of your career. If you have an agent or manager, they can help you find work, or you can send a demo of your music to recording companies in the hopes of getting signed.

It’s not always common to work full-time when starting, and you may find you feel ‘stuck’ at some points in your career. Musicians often begin their career as a solo musician alongside teaching or freelance work. Once you gain experience, you can find more work and book more jobs.

Musicians create, produce and perform music in various genres, from rock and pop to classical and jazz.

Some musicians choose to move into another role. After working in the business for several years, you may decide to move into the business aspect of the industry as a writer, manager or producer or you could work for a record company. You can also develop as a conductor or composer, create your ensemble or move into education, community arts or administration.


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