How Are We Doing Preparing Students for Careers in Music?

2011Symposium_1_2Preparing studnets for careers in music is appropriately  done in electives rather than in required general music classes. The latter will typically have a small percentage of students who intend to or are even considering a career in music, so focusing on career preparation in general music quickly results in a relevancy problem for most students in the class. Electives, on the other hand, are the perfect venue for preparing students for music careers. These classes are filled with students who have a specific interest in music, and will either pursue careers in music, or just enjoy learning what is taught as music career preparation. With this in mind, I’d like to look at what careers we should be preparing students for in these specialized elective classes. While the particular interests of the students enrolled should be addressed, music educators teaching these classes should be aware of the employment climate for music careers, and both prepare students for, and make student aware of the music career that are most available and that are high paying.

Forbes reports on twelve high paying music careers. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone will make top dollar in these careers, and that earning potential is in some cases much higher than what one can expect to make at the entry level. With that said, these careers should not surprise anyone, although they may be overlooked too often in school music curriculums and courses of study.

The first career is video game audio. With the expansion of the video game market,thinking music and the ever increasing pace at which new games are being developed, especially by private entrepreneurs, the demand for game soundtracks is a growing field that already affords many opportunities. Some of the success at earning on the high end of the salary range depends on the success of the game for which a composer is writing, and for developing successful working relationships with game authors who are producing consistently successful products. Forbes reports that “Though salaries start low—$18,000 for an assistant engineer who creates rough mixes in the studio—they can rise quickly. Audio directors often earn up to $140,000 per year for overseeing video game projects, while audio tool developers can pull in as much as $150,000 for writing code.” The take away for music teachers here is that top dollar goes to the people who are not only accomplished at the musical tasks involved, but that are also skilled at the non-musical tasks of developing software tools and writing computer language code. Some music educators will be qualified to include code writing in their courses, but many, including me, will not. This is a natural for a cooperative learning environment in which computer code is taught by an engineering or computer science teacher in cooperation with the music teacher teaching the musical end, to create a project that includes music composition, music sound engineering, and computer code writing.

The second career is orchestra musician. This is more in line with the typical conservatory training music teachers have, and with the usual musical offerings found in school music programs that include instrumental ensembles. The salary range is about the same as careers in video game audio, but the variable is location. Starting salary for a musician in the Alabama Symphony is $36,594, while the starting salary for a musician in the Boston Symphony is $132,028. Because music programs probably already include instruction on orchestral instruments, an additional elective is probably not necessary.

small group instructionMusic Therapy is a growing field for the musically trained, and one that does not typically fall within the realm of school music courses. Once again, the most effective way to prepare high school students is to work cooperatively with teachers in other departments. Teachers in psychology and special education can be enlisted in a cooperative learning situation. Students can learn from the psychology teacher, and to a lesser extent from the music teacher,  about how the mind works and how it responds and changes in interaction with music. Students can also learn about mental disabilities and how music can help people with those disabilities from both the psychology and special education teachers. As a further offering, students can take time in their school day to use music to work with special education students under the supervision of the special education teacher.

Other careers include film and television music supervisors, with a salary that goes as high as $500,000 annually, music attorney, conductor, booking agent, with a salary of up to one million dollars, recording engineer, road manager for traveling bands, bioacoustician, session musician, and music communications/publicity. While preparing students for some of these careers are difficult in a public high school where resources can be limited, and is more effectively done in college degree programs, just having the knowledge and awareness of what students will need to learn in these college programs should inform the curriculum decisions music teachers make that affect their own programs.


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