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A Day in the Life of a Musician

Musicians include rock stars, opera singers, folk guitarists, jazz pianists, violinists, drummers —anybody who creates and performs music. Musicians consist of a broad group of artists who play musical instruments, sing, compose, and arrange music in a variety of settings. They perform before live audiences or record in music studios. Instrumental musicians use such items as the saxophone, guitar, drums, piano, or clarinet to create music. Singers use their voice. Composers are the creators of original music. Orchestra conductors lead orchestras and bands, and choral directors direct choirs, singing clubs, and other vocal ensembles. It’s a tough field, but individuals in it usually feel an inner compulsion to play and share their music, so much so that they’re willing to sacrifice a lot. “Music is in the soul, so I must play on and on; it’s a given,” says one saxophonist who finally signed a major recording contract. Some lucky musicians—orchestra members, opera singers, and a few pop artists—make a living at their profession. Very few become rich and famous—Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul McCartney, and Aimee Mann are rare examples—but most musicians are happy just to be able to play for an audience once in a while. The serious musician spends a lot of time practicing and rehearsing. “You have to constantly better your best, for you’re only as good as your last performance,” said one musician. Musicians also spend a substantial amount of time on the road, traveling to and from performances, or just seeking performing opportunities. Since most musicians’ gigs are at night and on weekends, those people who don’t fully support themselves through their art often take day jobs to cover the bills. Musicians can play and compose for a variety of sources. The television, motion picture, and advertising industries employ musicians to perform live shows, score music for movies, and compose and arrange theme songs for television programs and advertisements. Theater orchestras provide live music for plays and other productions. Because live audiences and auditions are a fact of life for musicians seeking to establish a reputation or find a niche, they must be able to deal with their anxieties and deliver a quality performance in front of any gathering of people. Musicians face rejection all the time, but the most disciplined individuals maintain confidence in their abilities; they can never allow themselves to become complacent if success is the goal. Most of them work at small-time gigs wherever they can—in clubs and churches and at weddings, birthdays, and bar mitzvahs—while waiting for their big breaks.

Paying Your Dues

The road to becoming an accomplished musician starts at a very early age and involves rigorous study and training. For singers, training begins when their voices mature, and it never ends. Most other musicians start to play their instruments very early in their lives. Some musicians enter into private study with a highly reputed master musician, while others pursue a formal training program at a college or university, gaining a degree in music or music education. Talent, persistence, and having excellent mentors are essential to becoming a good musician. For the recording artist, entertainment lawyers have become more of a necessity than even a manager, whereas musicians who rely mainly on live performances require only a road manager (if gigs pay enough to salary one) and an independent booking agent. Mastering the convoluted relationships among agents,managers, lawyers, and other industry professionals is a job in itself.

Present and Future

Music has been around since the beginning of time. Since there can be no music without musicians, their place is virtually assured—even if lucrative recording deals and a place in the limelight will continue to elude many of even the most gifted artists. As it is often not talent but public relations packaging that guarantees success, talented musicians will have to invent ways of selling themselves and their music to the public. Musicians able to compose, play several instruments, and arrange will find more employment opportunities open to them.

Quality of Life


The musician with a bare two years of experience grabs at any and every opportunity to play—school or community concerts, bars, restaurants, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and even funerals. The newcomer to the music world is up against a vast array of talent, experience, and abilities, so practice sessions continue to be as arduous as they were in childhood. There is no corporate ladder or any of the scheduled raises and promotions that go with it; from day one, it’s all about getting gigs and exposure.


The musician with five years of experience is still young in the business. Self-discipline is vital to the success of any musician, so practices and rehearsals continue to take up the greater part of the day. A day job supplements income earned from sporadic and low-paying gigs at nightclubs, while the musician continues to search for regular work as a performer. Many musicians give private lessons or opt to take work in an unrelated field.


To the musician with only two years of experience, 10 years seems considerable. But seniority, like talent, does not always translate into success or even modest recognition. The 10-year veteran is still practicing and developing his or her own musical style. Auditions, weekend gigs, and intermittent employment may still be the mainstay of the musician’s life. The exceptionally talented have enlisted the services of an agent or manager to help find them engagements and manage their careers.