Popular musicians play musical instruments in a range of styles including pop, indie, rock, jazz, RnB soul, blues and folk, often specialising in one particular genre.
What is the job like?
As a musician you might work in many different venues, both indoor and outdoor, from pubs to clubs and large concert halls and festivals,
As a musician you would:
- Play an instrument as part of a group or band, or as a solo artist to live audiences
- Spend a lot of time practising your music and rehearsing pieces, and often learning music off-by-heart
- Attending daytime and evening rehearsals, and auditions
- Having an understanding of PA systems and the use of microphones
- Developing your repertoire and knowledge of music
- Making demo CDs to publicise your work to venue managers and agents
- Organising gigs or bookings.
Popular musicians may travel in their own area or further afield for work. If you become successful you may tour around the UK or abroad. The working hours are very irregular, with most performances taking place during the evenings or at weekends.
How do I become a musician?
Becoming a musician is highly competitive and takes more than talent and hard work. There can also be an element of luck and being in the right place at the right time. When starting out, musicians usually have another job to help provide an income.
Becoming a musician is highly competitive and takes more than talent and hard work.
Self-confidence is important, and you have to learn not to take criticism too personally. You also need to be very hard-working and determined.
If you are performing as part of a band or group you need to be a team-player and able to handle grievances which will inevitably occur from time to time.
Get as much experience as you can as a performer – form a band or group with friends and find out what opportunities exist in your area. There might be competitions and festivals you can participate in.
The ability to sight-read sheet music is an advantage, and you will also need a good memory as popular musicians (unlike orchestral players) do not usually have music in front of them during performances.
Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube are a good way to help build up your reputation as a musician. If your ambition is also to be a recording artist, then record companies normally expect you to have a good following on social media before they will consider you.
What training and qualifications do I need?
Some musicians have taken graded music examinations in their chosen instrument(s), and these can be very helpful for anyone wanting to achieve high standards of musicality and performance. Options in popular music are now widely available.
Graded exams include:
- Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)
- Trinity College London
- London College of Music
Some popular musicians do not have any music qualifications at all and they are not always essential. However, there are lots of courses available which provide training and the opportunity to perform. Music at GCSE, AS and A level is an advantage.
- BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Performing Arts
Entry with two GCSEs (A-D)
- BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Performing Arts
Entry with four GCSEs (A-C).
- HND Courses in Performing Arts or Popular Music
Entry with at least one A level plus three GCSE (A-C) passes
- Degree Courses in Performing Arts or Popular Music
Entry with a minimum of 2 A levels and five GCSE (A-C) passes or equivalent.
Entry requirements can vary and it is vital to check with individual colleges and universities. Most courses include an audition as part of their entrance requirements.
The BRIT School offers 14-19 year olds free training for the performing arts. It is based in Croydon, and takes people from Greater London and some parts of Kent and Surrey.
What can I earn?
It is very difficult to earn a full-time living as a popular musician. Most people start by taking unpaid bookings.
If you use a booking agent to help secure gigs, then they will take a percentage of your income, between 10 percent and 20 percent as their fee.
The earnings of popular musicians vary widely. A musician working as part of a pub band may expect to earn around £50 an evening which rises with experience. Rates in London are often higher than the rest of the UK.
The Musicians Union have set minimum rates. The National Gig rate applies to musicians performing in groups in pubs and clubs and the rates are per musician. Before midnight for engagements of up to two hours the rate is £68.00 and rates after midnight are £20.50 per half hour. The rates are higher in London.
There is a Casual Stage rate for performances on stage in theatres, stadiums, outdoor events and concert venues. The single performance fee per musician for up to three hours performance (plus three hours rehearsal) is £139, or £125 for venues with a capacity of 300 or less.
The rate for musicians working for a week of six sessions (including rehearsals) in London region hotels, restaurants and nightclubs is £601 per week.