Recently, there was a post on Reddit's r/choosingbeggars. A band leader wanted a drummer to join him for a gig. It was a paying gig, but the bandleader expected the drummer to play for free. "Isn't it the art that feeds your soul?" the band leader asked.
"No," a drummer replied, "the money I earn playing gigs buys the food that feeds my soul."
Artistic expression can be its own reward, but most of us need (and want) more material rewards as well. For those of you who love music, want to work in music, and want to make a ton of money doing it, here are eight jobs in the music industry that pay top dollar.
- Global mega-star. Beyonce and Jay-Z are reportedly worth a combined $1.4 billion. Now, they didn't earn all that money directly from their music. Still, it was their success as global music stars that provided the platform from which they could enter other lucrative businesses. Being a global mega-star can earn you tons, but it's a hard row to hoe. Here are some other, more realistic options that pay very well.
- Booking agent. If you're not going to be the global mega-star, you may be able to be the booking agent that plans their tours. There's a steep career ladder to climb, and the lower rungs pay poorly. As you move up, you can earn an annual salary anywhere from a $250,000 to over one million dollars.
- Full-time orchestral musician with a prominent orchestra. Pay rates for orchestral musicians vary widely, with the reputational category of the orchestra as a key driver. A starting position at one of the top five orchestras in the United States will be in the low six figures. Principals can earn much more. Orchestral musicians with orchestras in smaller markets will typically start in the mid to high five figures.
- The same approximate salary numbers that apply to orchestral musicians also apply to an orchestra's conductor and music director. The impact of the reputation and market of the orchestra on salary numbers is also similar. That may not remain the same, as the past few years have shown a spike in conductor and music director salaries.
- If classical isn't your performance route and you're not working towards becoming a successful recording artist, you can earn fantastic money as a session artist. The top 10% of session artists earn $152,547 per year.
- Music producer. One of the greatest financial benefits of being a music producer is that this position earns royalties. That's right. The better the music they produce performs in the marketplace, the more they earn. In theory, there's no roof on how much a music producer can make.
- Film/TV music supervisor. What would our favorite films and TV shows be without their soundtracks? A typical salary gets close to six figures, and those at the top of the field can earn more. There's more opportunity in television to make good money as a music supervisor than in film. Be prepared to know as much about copyrights and the legalities of using music as you do music itself in order to be successful.
- Music attorney. If both the logical and creative sides of your brain are working at full steam, you might want to think about becoming a music attorney. All those artists, record labels, venues, and related music services need attorneys who specialize in the music industry to sort out their business dealings. This position can start in low six figures and get into the seven figures with experience, especially if you earn partner status.
Many music industry professions start with modest salaries that provide opportunity to reach high five or low six-figure salaries. These aren't jobs where only the best of the best reach six figures. These are jobs like sound engineers, music therapists, and music copyright managers. With experience and a solid reputation, these careers can definitely get you into its upper earnings range.
Don't let clichés about "starving artists" influence you. You can work in the field you love and earn a sweet salary while you do it.