highest paying music careers

If you’ve given any serious thought to becoming a music major, then you’ve likely heard from the naysayers who claim that music degrees are worthless. While this pessimistic view on these types of academic credentials has little (if any!) basis in reality, it may make even the most devoted musician second-guess their decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in music. Don’t let it have this effect on you! Instead, take heart in the following list of cool careers you can pursue with a music major.

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1. Musician

This career choice is so obvious you may wonder why it made the list. The fact is that a job doing exactly what it is you love to do—that is, play music—that actually pays you real money to pursue your passion is just too cool not to include. In fact, that’s precisely why it made the very top of our list.

What’s even cooler is that making a decent living as a musician isn’t as difficult as you might think. You don’t have to top the charts or win a Grammy to earn enough money to pay your bills and even live quite comfortably. PayScale reports the average salary for a musician in the United States to be just over $41,000 per year. Remember, though, that your precise salary will depend on several different factors, including how many hours per week you work, where you live, and what type of musician you are. You could end up making more or less than this national average.

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2. Music Therapist

A relatively new type of career for musicians is that of a music therapist. Music therapists combine counseling and music skills to help people with a range of conditions and disorders, including dementia, depression, ADHD, substance abuse issues, and more. A music therapist’s exact duties can vary widely and include writing music, playing various instruments, selecting therapeutic recordings for clients, and the like. Many music therapists report that no two days are the same, and their roles are constantly evolving to meet their clients’ needs. We think that’s pretty cool!

Music therapists may be self-employed or work for hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or outpatient mental health facilities. These professionals need a bachelor’s degree in music to practice music therapy. Many colleges and universities have special degree programs specifically for students who want to pursue a career in this exciting field. Some music therapists hold an advanced degree, such as a master’s or even doctorate in music therapy. The type of degree you have will affect how much you earn as a music therapist. Still, PayScale reports the average salary to be just over $42,000.

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3. Music Journalist

If you happen to be equally talented in both music and writing, then you may consider a career in music journalism. A music journalist uses his or her intimate knowledge of music itself as well as the music industry as a whole to create articles and reviews for magazines, websites, music journals and similar publications. What makes this career so cool is that it often requires you to travel to new places, attend performances, and even meet famous musicians. Plus, many music journalists are self-employed, meaning you could potentially set your own hours and rates. Talk about freedom!

Like many other of the music careers featured here, the pay for music journalists can vary widely. Still, PayScale calculates the average salary for this particular occupation in the music industry to be just over $40,000 annually.

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4. Music Teacher

Some say teaching is the highest form of learning. As a music teacher, you’ll constantly be learning about new trends in the industry. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to share your love of music with a captive audience on the daily. We can’t think of many things cooler than that for a music lover!

The precise duties of a music teacher will vary depending on your exact position. Still, you can expect to take on responsibilities such as planning lessons, assessing students’ learning, and providing supervision as your students experiment with new instruments and techniques.

Music teachers are needed at every level of education, from early childhood to postsecondary. When you’re pursuing your teaching degree in music, you’ll have the option to specialize in a certain area, such as elementary education, secondary education, or higher learning. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in music education is sufficient for teaching grade school or high school, while a more advanced credential such as a master’s or even doctorate in music is required for teaching music at the college level.

In terms of pay, some music educators make more than others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that secondary teachers make just under $62,000 on average, while college music professors make nearly $70,000 per year.


5. Composer

If you’re looking for perhaps the most wildly creative of music careers, then you may want to consider the job of a composer. As a composer, you won’t just play music; you’ll create unique scores, soundtracks, and arrangements. You may work in various genres, and your creations could end up in films, musicals, TV shows, and even video games.

Composers are often some of the most skilled types of professionals in the music industry. They must have an excellent ear for music and be knowledgeable in various instruments and types of music. However, as a composer, you will likely have the freedom to specialize in a specific genre and/or audience.

Composers are fairly well-compensated for their creative work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average annual salary for composers and music directors to be $51,670 in 2019. Of course, that’s in addition to the personal satisfaction you’ll get from creating original music from scratch!

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6. Conductor

You’ve likely witnessed conductors at work during orchestra productions, either live or televised. Simply viewing a conductor draped in black and passionately directing their musicians is enough to let you know what a cool music career this is, but what goes on behind the scenes can be even more tantalizing.

Music directors have highly creative duties that allow them to produce music performances from the ground up. They often select the music to be performed and may even arrange or interpret musical selections. Conductors and music directors often select the best musicians at their disposal to perform solos. After all of this work, you can imagine how satisfying it is to see a performance finally come together!

 Of course, this isn’t the only payoff. According to PayScale, conductors make around $50,000 per year on average. You can expect to make more or less depending on your years of experience as well as your reputation in the industry.

7. Sound Engineer

With modern technology, instruments and voices aren’t the only means of making sound for musical compositions. Sound engineers often work with digital audio technology to create and modify sounds for various purposes and audiences. They may use this technology to improve sound on a recording or even during a live performance. Sound engineers need a unique balance of technical know-how and musical talent to perform their jobs optimally.

Perhaps because of the work’s technical aspect, employment opportunities for sound engineers are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this field are currently growing much faster than average. The pay for a position as a sound engineer is also comparable to other lucrative music careers. The BLS reported the median annual wage for these professionals to be just over $45,500 in 2019.

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8. Music Software Programmer

Another of the cool music careers that combines traditional musical techniques with advanced technology is a music software programmer. Increasingly, musicians are relying on computer software to arrange and edit music. A music software programmer’s job is to develop the applications necessary for a music software program to perform its functions.

Music software programmers may be self-trained or attend school to gain the necessary skills to do their jobs. A music software programmer will need computer programming skills, deep knowledge of the music industry, and a trained musical ear.

As a music software programmer, you may have promising job opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports job growth for software developers to be among the highest for all occupations, and software developers routinely make over six figures per year. The combination of job growth and high wages make the job of a music software programmer one of the coolest in our ranking!


9. Instrument Repair Technician

It is one of the industry’s lesser-known cool music careers, but there is a demand for professional instrument repair technicians. After all, someone must ensure that musicians’ instruments are tuned and properly working before a big performance (or even just a rehearsal)! Like many music professionals highlighted here, instrument repair technicians need a unique combination of skills; not only must they have mechanical knowledge, but they also need musical chops! More often than not, these professionals are also musicians themselves and have extensive knowledge of precisely how an instrument produces sound.

Instrument repair technicians often work for music stores, though many are self-employed. Alternatively, a professional music group or band may hire an instrument technician to tour with them. Talk about a cool music gig!

When most people think of music careers, visions of a singer or band member performing on stage come to mind. This is only one type of job you can have as a musician, however. Many different things have to happen before a performer appears on stage, after all. An undergraduate degree in music can prepare you for a wide range of occupations in the industry, including some of the coolest jobs on the planet!  


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