Careers in music

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
February, 2021

Whether you dream of becoming a professional singer, songwriter, musician, record producer or sound technician, there are many careers on offer in the vast UK music industry

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK music industry was reported to be worth £5.8billion to the economy in 2019, according to a study by UK Music. Data released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport also showed that the music, performing and visual arts sector employed an estimated 315,000 people during this year.

As COVID-19 has had such a devastating effect on the music industry since March 2020 - due to the closure of venues and social distancing restrictions - it will need time before it's ready to resume its high rate of growth.

However, while it's undoubtedly been a tough time for those working in the industry, once things start opening up again, those with the talent, tenacity and drive to forge music careers should still have cause to be optimistic about the future.

In terms of career options, singers and musicians may be the most visible roles, but you could carve out a career in areas including performing, songwriting, composing, live music entertainment, music education, music production, artist management, marketing and PR or music journalism.

Social media has opened up a route that wasn't available a decade ago. Singers and musicians are now being signed after being spotted on YouTube. And music journalists are securing jobs off the back of blogging.

However, you still need qualifications and work experience, whether that's a degree, apprenticeship or internship.

Music degrees

With outstanding talent as a singer, songwriter, dancer or musician you may be able to enter the industry directly - whereas if you're interested in business, educational or technical jobs you'll likely need a degree.

However, in this competitive industry, no matter your end goal, studying for a music degree can be beneficial in more ways than one. Courses give you in-depth practical and theoretical knowledge and the chance to develop transferrable skills, make industry contacts and find industry work placements. Discover what you can do with a music degree.

A degree in music is usually referred to as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Music (BMus), as there's no clear distinction between the two. Check the details of individual courses carefully to ensure they match what you're looking for. Some universities run performance-focused degrees while others are more academic.

At undergraduate level you can also study more specific subjects such as:

  • composition
  • digital music
  • live events production
  • popular music performance
  • media and communication (music industries)
  • music business
  • music journalism
  • music management
  • music production
  • music technology
  • musical theatre
  • songwriting
  • sound engineering
  • sound technology
  • stage management.

When it comes to choosing where to study, it's useful to check subject-specific rankings and league tables. You'll find that the best performers are a mix of traditional universities and specialist institutions, such as the Royal College of Music (RCM), and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. These provide different study environments and deciding which you prefer is another important thing to think about as you do your research.

You'll usually need good passes at GCSE and a set number of UCAS points. Many courses ask for an A-level in music, or alternatively Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) Grade 5 in Music Theory and Grade 8 in Performance. Depending on the course, you may also need to demonstrate performance skills. Entry requirements vary so always check with your selected university.

Meanwhile, there are a variety of postgraduate options to choose from, with taught and research-based options available. You can study for a Masters in:

  • composition
  • composition of music for film and television
  • community music
  • electronic and computer music
  • history of art and history of music
  • music
  • music education
  • music for the moving image
  • music production
  • music psychology
  • music and sonic media
  • musical theatre
  • performance.

Search for postgraduate courses in music.

Music jobs

While music jobs are undoubtedly competitive, they're by no means out of reach for those with the right qualifications and experience. Here are some of the music jobs you can do.

  • A&R (artists and repertoire) manager - as a form of talent agent you'll be responsible for finding fresh talent, signing them up to record labels and overseeing the completion of recordings. You'll help new artists develop and grow and to do this you'll need a solid understanding of the music scene and strong business skills.
  • Concert promoter - you'll need a love of live music and excellent communication skills. It's your job to spread the word about live music events and ensure that this results in strong ticket sales. You'll liaise with agents/artist managers, recording artists and club/concert venues to book shows, publicise events to media and set up advertising campaigns.
  • Music magazine journalist - exceptional writing skills and an interest in all things music are a must. You'll report on music industry news, interview artists and musicians, and review albums and concerts - either for a specialist print or online publication or the music section of a general news outlet.
  • Music producer - producers write, arrange, produce and record songs for artists or for their own personal projects. The hours can be long and you'll spend the majority of your time in a studio setting. You'll collaborate with recording artists, recording/sound engineers, session musicians and singers, as well as A&R managers and record company executives.

You could also become a:

Portfolio careers are common in the music business. This means having several streams of income at the same time, often combining jobs with freelance work. For example, session musicians could also make money as music teachers, and with the right knowledge and experience DJs and recording engineers can move into music production. Concert promoters can move into marketing and PR roles. Read more about putting together a creative portfolio.

Industry internships

To stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your passion and dedication to employers, work experience and internships are essential.

Wherever possible, try to gain relevant experience - for example, in a recording studio for aspiring music producers or recording engineers, or at a record label if you're aiming to get into A&R, artist management or marketing and PR. However, keep in mind that any music-related experience will be useful.

A number of organisations provide music internships, but beware of unpaid opportunities. Internships should pay at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW) - see GOV.UK.

Major music companies such as Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group all offer industry placements or internships in a variety of functions such as administration, marketing, promotions, digital, communication and artist relations and commercial sales.

If you've set your sights on a career as a music journalist, look for internship opportunities at music magazines, blogs and websites. Get in touch with your local radio station if you'd like to become a radio producer or DJ.

Any volunteering experience can be incredibly beneficial. If you'd like to get into teaching, volunteer at a school or youth club and teach young people how to play an instrument. If you dream of becoming a DJ, create your own set and volunteer at local club nights. For more general experience, look into volunteering at music festivals, get a part-time job in a record shop or start your own music blog. Do your research to find out if there are any music-related events happening in your community at which you could lend a hand.

Internships and voluntary work are an excellent way to develop your knowledge and skills, learn about the industry and make useful contacts. Including it on your CV shows employers that you're passionate, resourceful, committed and able to use your initiative.

Music apprenticeships

The apprenticeship route is a great alternative to university study. Working towards an apprenticeship enables you to gain industry qualifications while actually doing the job and earning a wage. To find out more about what they involve, see what is an apprenticeship?

Music apprenticeships are becoming more widespread but you'll still need to do your research to uncover opportunities. Record companies, talent agencies and PR agencies all offer apprenticeship schemes in the music business. You can work in international promotions, communications, music publishing, marketing and business administration. You can also work as a music assistant or digital media apprentice.

The BRITs Apprentice Scheme, created by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and funded by the BRIT Awards, gives ten people from England and Wales the unique opportunity to work at a top independent record label or music company. Apprentices receive specialist training in either business administration or digital marketing and will also get to work at the BRIT Awards. The scheme is open to those aged 18 or over and lasts for 14 months.

To search for music apprenticeships, see:

You can also read about how to apply for an apprenticeship.

Find out more

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