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Popular Musician

Popular Musician

Popular musicians play in bands, as solo musicians or as session musicians. They may be involved in a range of music, including rock, pop, jazz, country and western, folk, world or easy listening music.

They sing and/or play one or more musical instruments. They might also include dance and movement as part of their performance. They may compose their own work, use material written by someone else or perform covers (versions) of other musicians' work.

To achieve success in this very demanding business, musicians need a combination of outstanding talent, determination and luck.

Popular musicians work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Any spare time is often spent learning music, practising or looking for new work. Popular musicians can spend a great deal of time travelling in the UK or abroad.

Working environments vary greatly and can include both indoor and outdoor venues.

Rates of pay vary widely and only a few people achieve high incomes. As a guide, for those playing gigs, the least a musician can expect is around £60 for up to two hours. The minimum rate for performances in London's West End is around £778 a week for eight shows.

A popular musician should:

  • have outstanding musical ability and an individual style
  • be resourceful, independent and determined
  • be able to cope with criticism and rejection
  • have a real love of music
  • enjoy performing to an audience.

Most popular musicians are self-employed and work on a part-time basis. There is intense competition, and a large proportion of all musicians combine their work as a performer with another job.

It is very difficult to break into the music industry and there is no set training for popular musicians. There are many music courses and qualifications that can be helpful. They are not essential, however, and do not guarantee success as a performer or recording artist. Individuals and bands can approach record and music publishing companies with a demonstration (demo) CD of their work. There are also talent competitions.

Popular musicians have to practise regularly. Some have tuition from private music teachers. They may also develop their skills in using recording equipment, both home and studio.

Career prospects depend on a combination of hard work and good luck. A popular musician may move into the business side of the industry. There may be opportunities to work abroad.

What is the work like?

Popular musicians play in bands, as solo musicians or as session musicians. They may be involved in an increasingly diverse range of popular music, including rock, pop, jazz, country and western, folk, world or easy listening music.

They sing and/or play one or more musical instruments. They might also include dance and movement as part of their performance. They may compose their own work, use material written by others or perform covers (versions) of other musicians' work.

The life of a popular musician involves:

  • regular and intense practice
  • rehearsing
  • attending auditions
  • taking care of their instrument or voice
  • setting up for a performance
  • performing live on stage or recording music for CDs or web broadcasts
  • dealing with the business side of their work (if self-employed), such as negotiating fees and organising publicity.

When performing live, they might play to passers-by in the street or to huge crowds in a stadium, depending on how successful and popular they become.

It is currently the trend for artists to move away from recording in studios. Many are now recording on home-based equipment, using computer programs such as Cubase.

To achieve success in this very demanding business, musicians need a combination of outstanding talent, determination and luck. Initially, many popular musicians find it necessary to combine playing music or singing with other jobs.

Hours and environment

Popular musicians work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Any spare time is often spent learning music, practising or looking for new work. When performing, they might have a rehearsal with other musicians during the afternoon, followed by the performance in the evening. Recording work often takes many hours and frequently continues late into the night.

Popular musicians can spend a great deal of time travelling in the UK or abroad. They need to have their own transport and, if part of a group, they may need a van and possibly a road crew.

Working environments vary greatly and include arts centres, pubs, clubs, restaurants, theatres, hotels and concert halls. Some large concerts and festivals are held outdoors in parks, arenas or stately homes. Venues are often noisy.

Salary and other benefits

Rates of pay vary widely and depend on the type of work and the experience of the musician. Only a few popular musicians achieve high incomes. Musicians are often self-employed, experiencing gaps between periods of work. Many earn less than the national average wage, often supplementing their income with other work. Individuals and bands often undertake performances, often referred to as 'gigs', for little or no reward, simply to gain experience and to build up a fan base. Some venues only pay bands a nominal fee.

It could be useful to join the Musicians' Union and/or the Incorporated Society of Musicians. These organisations offer advice and information on a range of issues, including fees.

As a guide:

  • For those playing gigs, the least a musician can expect to earn is around £60 for up to two hours.
  • An album backing singer could earn at least £120 for a three-hour session, rising to £350 for very experienced backing singers.
  • A solo musician on tour could earn between £500 and £2,000 a week, depending on experience. Well-established acts and solo musicians playing at larger venues may earn more, but often have to meet the touring, crew and equipment costs.
  • For those appearing in stage or television productions, Equity, the UK Trade Union representing professional performers, sets minimum rates for singers in various categories. For example, the minimum rate for performances in London's West End is around £778 a week for eight shows.
  • For musicians writing their own material, royalties can be an additional source of income.

Skills and personal qualities

A popular musician should:

  • have outstanding musical ability and an individual style
  • be resourceful, independent and determined
  • be able to cope with criticism and rejection
  • be prepared to work long and irregular hours
  • have the self-confidence to perform in front of an audience
  • be prepared to spend a lot of time practising
  • be willing to travel to performances
  • have business, financial or marketing skills
  • be able to read music (not always essential, but useful).

Interests

It is important to:

  • have a real love of music
  • enjoy performing to an audience.

Getting in

Most popular musicians are self-employed and work on a part-time basis. There is intense competition, and many people never achieve their ambition.

Much of the work is based in London and other major cities. A large percentage of all musicians combine their work as a performer with another job.

Networking sites such as www.youtube.com have become important for musicians and bands wanting to gain exposure. Recording companies may use these sites to identify new artists.

Entry routes

It is very difficult to break into the music industry as a performer and there is no set training for popular musicians.

Individuals and bands can approach record and music publishing companies with a demonstration (demo) CD of their work. There are also talent competitions. Some musicians make their work available via the internet, to build a fan-base and in the hope of being spotted.

There are many music courses and qualifications that can be helpful for popular musicians. They are not essential, however, and do not guarantee success as a performer or recording artist. They include:

  • GCSEs and A levels in music
  • BTEC National qualifications in music (performing) - entry usually with at least four GCSEs (A*-C) or equivalent
  • Higher National Certificate/Diploma courses or foundation degrees in popular music or music performance - entry usually with at least five GCSEs (A*-C) and one A level, or equivalent
  • a degree in popular music - entry normally with at least five GCSEs (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent.

Entry requirements and course content vary and it is advisable to check with individual institutions.

The BRIT School in Croydon is the only UK state-funded academy for the performing arts for students aged 14 to 19. It offers BTEC First Diploma and National Diploma courses in music.

Some specialist fee-paying performing arts schools and academies offer private music courses, while various adult education institutes and local community organisations run popular music courses. These courses may lead to qualifications such as Rockschool's graded exams, which are available in guitar, bass, drums, vocals and popular piano.

Training

Popular musicians have to practise regularly to develop their skills and maintain a high level of ability. They may have tuition from private music teachers. They may also develop their skills in using recording equipment, both home and studio.

Musicians may undertake further training, such as Access to Music's Level 4 Artist Development course or study for a popular music foundation degree.

Freelance musicians can benefit from training in business skills.

Getting on

Career prospects depend on a combination of ability, hard work and good luck.

A popular musician may move into the business side of the industry, perhaps working as a manager or agent, or for a recording or music publishing company. There may be opportunities to work abroad, entertaining holidaymakers on cruises and in holiday resorts.

Further information

Access to Music Ltd, Lionel House, 35 Millstone Lane, Leicester LE1 5JN. 0800 281842. Website: www.accesstomusic.co.uk

The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, 60 The Crescent, Croydon CR0 2HN. 020 8665 5242. Website: www.brit.croydon.sch.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk/music

Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2H 9EG. 020 7379 6000. Website: www.equity.org.uk

Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), 10 Stratford Place, London W1C 1AA. 020 7629 4413. Website: www.ism.org

Musicians' Union (MU), 60-62 Clapham Road, London SW9 0JJ. 020 7840 5558. Website: www.theMU.org

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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