Musicians write, arrange, conduct, and perform musical compositions.
Pay rates for musicians vary depending on their ability, how often they work, and what type of music they play.
Source: Big Foot Music Education, 2018.
There are no set pay rates for musicians, and what you earn depends on your ability, as well as how often you work and what type of music work you do.
Work may be irregular, and many musicians rely on supplementary jobs to make a living.
Source: Big Foot Music Education, February 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Musicians may do some or all of the following:
- play a musical instrument or sing to a high standard
- study and interpret music
- accompany singers and other soloists
- compose or conduct songs or instrumental music
- promote and market themselves or their band
- perform in public places such as bars, concert halls and clubs
- audition for parts in musical productions
- make or take part in recordings
- teach music
- research, learn and rehearse music.
Skills and knowledge
Musicians need to have knowledge of:
- how to play musical instruments
- acoustics and tuning
- how to compose and arrange music
- recording methods and equipment
- vocal and performance techniques, and correct breathing methods
- basic music theory
- business and marketing principles
- the New Zealand music industry.
Musicians may work:
- long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends
- indoors or outdoors in places such as theatres, clubs and concert halls
- in conditions that are noisy, dark and hot
- locally, around New Zealand, and overseas.
What's the job really like?
As a singer/songwriter, Ciaran McMeeken has toured the country, released a debut album, and had his music streamed over 1.8 million times on Spotify, but it didn’t all happen overnight.
A slow and steady process
“I’ve been playing music for 13 years, but I’ve been really pursuing it for the last five. It’s been a really slow and steady process of writing songs, recording them, playing shows, and I guess just honing my craft and getting better and better at performing and writing songs. I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Not always a full-time gig
“I started off working full time, then got to a point where I was working about 20 hours a week and pouring the rest of my time into making music. It’s been a process over the last three or four years of cutting down that part-time work.”
Commitment is key
“Early on, I really doubted myself but I just had this tiny inkling that I was meant to be doing this. I decided to commit one hundred percent and do whatever it took to make it work,” says Ciaran.
“I’d love to be touring around the world and selling out arenas and I’m committed to making that happen.”
There are no specific requirements to become a musician. However, a tertiary music qualification may be useful, for example:
- a jazz performance degree is useful for becoming a jazz musician
- a degree, such as a Bachelor of Music, may be useful for becoming a classical or contemporary musician.
Musicians also gain skills on the job through practise, training, rehearsals and performances.
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a musician. However, English, music and languages are useful.
Musicians need to be:
- punctual and reliable
- able to work well under pressure and accept criticism
- able to work well in a team if rehearsing and performing with a group
- dedicated to practising
- able to keep time
- confident about performing in front of large groups
- persistent and determined
- good at working with people and building relationships
- willing to promote themselves to people such as club owners and agents.
Useful experience for musicians includes:
- playing and composing music
- performing to an audience
- participating in music competitions
- reading and interpreting musical scores
- private or community courses in music
- teaching music
- marketing or promotion work.
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of securing a job as a musician are limited because the music industry in New Zealand is small and few full-time jobs are available.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, about 1,100 people were working in the live music industry in 2015.
Performing the best way for musicians to develop a profile
The best way for musicians to develop a profile and get more work is by performing in public. For many, performing at open mic' nights, approaching venues for gigs, and finding a manager to represent them are good ways to get started.
Musicians can also sign with music publishing companies who licence music for use in film, television, and advertisements. Music publishing can provide another source of income for musicians.
However, most musicians have to perform for years before they build up a reputation and can earn a full-time living. As a result, many work in other jobs to supplement their income.
Building a portfolio career and networking key to success
Many musicians support their performance career with other music related work, such as music education, production, management, sales, marketing and administration, and music journalism.
Musicians also need to be self-managing and have the confidence to network and make contacts in the areas they are interested in.
Self-employment common among musicians
Most musicians are self-employed, although they may have an agent. Musicians may be hired by companies or individuals to play at events such as concerts, festivals, parties or weddings.
Classical musicians, composers and conductors can work for orchestras, choirs or bands including:
- New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
- New Zealand Opera Chorus
- Auckland Philharmonia
- Wellington Orchestra
- Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
- New Zealand Army Band.
Other musicians may be hired to record or direct advertising jingles or incidental music for film, television and radio.
- Mauafua, A, musician, Big Foot Music Education, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2018.
- McMeeken, C, musician, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2018.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers, 'Economic contribution of the New Zealand music industry 2015', October 2016.
- Victoria University Careers and Employment, 'Career View - Music', accessed February 2018, (www.victoria.ac.nz).
- Walker, S, executive support, New Zealand Music Commission, careers.govt.nz interview, February 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Musicians may move into music therapy, education, publishing, promotion, and production roles.
Musicians can specialise in a number of roles, including:
- Composers create new music or rewrite existing music for bands, orchestras, singers, plays or films.
- Conductor/Music Director
- Conductors and Music Directors direct the performance of musicians in an orchestra, vocal/choral ensemble, band or musical performance.
- Instrumental Musician
- Instrumental musicians play one or more musical instruments as part of a musical composition.
- Singers perform as soloists or as part of a group to entertain an audience.
- Songwriters write music and lyrics for songs, either for themselves or others.
Last updated 26 February 2020