Music! Its Role and Importance in Our Lives

Career Spotlight

Table of Contents

Acoustician/Sound Technician
Artist & Repertoire (A & R) Administrator
Background Vocalist
Disc Jockey
Music Critic/Journalist
Music Editor
Music Educator
Music Producer
Music Publisher
Music Supervisor
Music Therapist
Recording Engineer
Studio Musician

Acoustician/Sound Technician

When you attend a live concert, you might take the sound quality for granted. You probably expect that the music will be heard at a good volume and the sound will be crystal clear.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: The person who ensures that clarity of sound is an acoustician, also known as sound technician. It is the acoustician's job to ensure the highest possible quality of sound during a live performance. The acoustician arrives in advance of the performers to supervise the unloading and setting up of the equipment and instruments. He or she is in charge of placing the equipment so as to take full advantage of the acoustics. These are the physical factors in the immediate environment that influence how well sound is transmitted. The acoustician might also operate the sound board during the actual performance, varying the controls as needed.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Educational preparation for acousticians depends upon the work environment. Technicians who travel with road tours, for example, often need to have only previous job experience. Those who work in concert halls need advanced degrees in physics and/or engineering.
  • Other Considerations: Good management and communication skills are important.

Artist and Reportoire (A&R) Administrator

If you've ever watched talent competitions on television, you've seen one part of an Artist & Repertoire (A & R) career—identifying new talent. A & R administrators find and help develop music artists for the recording industry.
  • Responsibilities & Duties:
  • Preparation & Qualifications:
  • Other Considerations:

Background Vocalist

When you listen to your favorite singer, or vocalist, you may also being hearing the talents of other singers. These "unsung" heroes of the recording world are known as background vocalists.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: The career options for professional singers are vast and varied. One option for which there is always a demand is background vocalist. Background vocalists are hired as contract employees, usually on a freelance basis. In addition to doing backups on recordings or in live performance, background vocalists sing jingles for television commercials. Responsibilities include learning repertoire and attending rehearsals.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Background vocalists usually are able to read music. Because studio time is expensive, they also must be able to learn a score quickly and record it free of errors. Harmony and improvisation abilities are an important plus.
  • Other Considerations: Background vocalists must be versatile and flexible. Most background vocalists belong to a musicians' union and have personal agents who represent them.


Some people view a blank page as a challenge, others as an invitation. Composers fit the latter description. Like writers, composers express original ideas in a form to be shared with and enjoyed by others. Unlike writers, composers use sounds rather than words.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Composers may create instrumental pieces or songs with lyrics. They may create stand-alone musical works such as symphonies or compositions to be used for a specific purpose or setting. Examples of the latter include music for films, videos, commercials, operas, and the stage. This last type of composition is known as incidental music.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Most composers receive formal training in music theory, composition, orchestration, and harmony. This instruction often occurs at a university or music conservatory-a school for training musicians. Some composers are self-taught and may or may not write in musical notation. The career opportunities for self-trained composers are more limited.
  • Other Considerations: Composers must possess a high degree of creativity. Most are self-starters, individuals able to create from scratch without external motivation.


The job of conductor is similar in ways to that of the coach of a sports team. Like the coach, the conductor bears the ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the "team's" performance.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: A conductor's duties include selecting the music the orchestra or band will play, rehearsing, and performing it. He or she may also be responsible for planning out the concert season. In general, a good conductor brings out the best in his or her musicians. In top-tier metropolitan symphony orchestras, the conductor usually serves as the company's musical director, as well.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: The job of conducting carries awesome responsibilities. Major orchestras, thus, take numerous factors into account when searching for a conductor. These include previous experience and "pedigree"-where the conductor trained and has worked. Conductors must be accomplished musicians in their own right; most are pianists. Conductors must be able to sight read and follow many parts at once.
  • Other Considerations: Because they are public figures as well as performers, conductors need a dynamic personality on and off stage.


Many composers and arrangers get their start working as copyists. These are individuals who convert music manuscripts into professional-quality scores. Copyists may also be called upon to transfer a piano or orchestral score into parts for instrument or voice.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Copyists need strong notation and transposition skills. They must have training in music theory, usually acquired in college courses or at a conservatory. Copyists may or may not have access to the composer or arranger to ask about illegible marks in a manuscript. They must thus be able to make intelligent, informed guesses when needed and to produce a score that is error-free.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Up until the last decade or so, copyists were hired exclusively on the basis of their calligraphy skills. This is the ability to vary precisely the thickness of the lines making up notes and other symbols. Present-day copyists need to be skilled in the use of computerized music score software.
  • Other Considerations: Copyists must have an eye for detail and an ability to focus on intricate work.

Disc Jockey

In case you didn't think that disc jockeys were influential, consider the origins of the term rock 'n' roll. It was popularized in the early 1950s by pioneering disc jockey Alan Freed.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Known in the industry as "on-air talent," disc jockeys are key figures at many radio stations. Duties include introducing recordings, making commercial announcements, and filling air time with colorful ad-lib commentaries. Some DJs also serve as masters of ceremony at music and other community events. This function is designed to give the music station higher public visibility and increase the size of the listening audience.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Although disc jockeys historically have had humble beginnings, nowadays the competition is stiff. A degree in broadcasting, communication, music, or even journalism is indispensable. Broadcasting experience on the high school or college level is also useful. Airchecks, sample broadcasts, need to be submitted to stations along with resumes.
  • Other Considerations: DJs routinely develop an on-air persona, an identity that makes them memorable to listeners. A strong personality, good voice, and communication skills are thus critical.


Are you a poet at heart-someone who enjoys and is able to express him- or herself through colorful language? If so, you might be able to put your talents to use in a career as a lyricist.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Some lyricists work in collaboration with studio songwriters, others in musical theater, still others in jingle-writing for commercials. Lyricists who work in musical theater sometimes also write the "book" for a given show. This is the combined dialogue and scene descriptions for the production. Writing a show book is equivalent to writing a play.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: The single basic qualification for a career as a lyricist is raw talent combined with a strong sense of rhythm. Like other forms of writing, success in lyricism can be honed by training and practice. Most professional lyricists will have had some formal education, usually a bachelor's degree, as well as training in music and theater.
  • Other Considerations: Lyricists need to be able to collaborate with a composer of songwriter. The ability to solve problems, meet deadlines, and compromise are also key.

Music Critic/Journalist

Do you enjoy writing and listening to music or attending music performances? If your answer is yes, then a career as a music critic/journalist may be right for you.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Music critics find employment writing for newspapers, magazines, TV and radio networks, and Web sites. They must have both a flair for expressing themselves in print and a thorough knowledge of music theory and music history. Most newspaper critics write about both live performances and album releases. Critics at other venues may focus on one or the other of these pursuits.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: A college degree, with ample coursework in music, is usually a prerequisite for a job as a music critic. A degree or coursework in journalism is a plus, though not mandatory.
  • Other Considerations: Music critics should exhibit strong analytical skills. They are also able to commit to and meet often-tight deadlines.

Music Editor

Have you ever left a movie theater humming the music from a film you just saw? Film music is a vital component of the overall cinematic experience. In addition to the composer, a number of individuals play a part in merging the image and musical sounds. One of these professionals is the music editor or cutter.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Editors synchronize the music and images in films and television shows. They set the appropriate sound levels, select music, and time all selections. Film or show directors supervise and direct their work, though most editors provide artistic input as well.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Music editors generally acquire their craft as apprentices to other skilled cutters. Many get their start by working free of charge on low-budget or student films. A knowledge of or love for music is always a plus.
  • Other Considerations: Editors need to have a good sense of timing and a keen attention to detail.

Music Educator

The great composer J. S. Bach loved not only music but teaching. Many of his piano etudes were written as practice pieces for his ten children. Since Bach's time, countless music lovers have followed in his footsteps and become music educators.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Music educators today may work in elementary or high schools, as well as at colleges and universities. They may also teach at special college-level music schools known as conservatories. Some teach one or more musical instruments, while others lead the school orchestra, band, choir, or ensemble. Such teachers are also responsible for selecting the music for and putting on concerts.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Education and training include a bachelor's degree in music for elementary and high school jobs. A teaching certificate is additionally required. To teach at the college level, a postgraduate degree may be required.
  • Other Considerations: Music teachers need to be strong communicators and have enthusiasm, patience, and tact. Most of all, they should have a passion for imparting knowledge.

Music Producer

Some careers in music are specific to one field or industry. Others such as music producers have applications in many fields.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Music producers work in a recording studio or in film, television, and/or radio. A producer must have the ability to see the "big picture." He or she is responsible for bringing together the many people whose contributions make the musical event possible. Specific tasks include matching an artist to a particular repertoire, overseeing production, and, when necessary, finding financial backing for a project.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Most people come to careers in music production through other music-related experiences. Producers may start off as composers, musicians, or recording engineers. Coursework that may be applicable to an eventual career as a producer includes music theory, business, and accounting.
  • Other Considerations: Music producers are by definition expert problem solvers and decision makers. They must have excellent managerial skills, as well, and be able to delegate tasks.

Music Publisher

Do you think you could identify a new song that was destined to become a hit? If you answered yes, then a career as a music publisher might be of interest to you.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Music publishers are professionals who find potential hit songs and songwriters. They then acquire copyright protection for the music and publish it. Music publishers may work for large or small companies. In the latter case, the job description may be extended to include talent scouting. This is traveling to clubs and other venues across the country, following possible leads to fresh new talent.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Individuals pursuing careers in music publishing need to learn all aspects of the music business. They need to have an extensive list of contacts in the music industry. A thorough understanding of copyright law is another key prerequisite. On occasion, professional lawyers become music publishers.
  • Other Considerations: Music publishers must be people-oriented, a trait that permits them to develop and maintain contacts. A willingness to travel frequently is also a consideration.

Music Supervisor

Your music teacher instructs your class following a set of learning goals. These goals, or objectives, are typically set by your school or school district music supervisor.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: A music supervisor directs and coordinates a school system's or district's music program. He or she plans and develops the music education curriculum. This includes overseeing the activities of teachers who instruct in both vocal and instrumental music. In some smaller school districts, the music supervisor may serve double duty as a teacher.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Music supervisors must have advanced degrees in either education, music, or both. In many states, music supervisors must be certified as teachers. Supervisors are required to attend conferences and workshops to stay current on music education.
  • Other Considerations: Music supervisors must display leadership qualities, creativity, and the ability to maintain a budget.

Music Therapist

Some careers in music, such as musician, are as old as the art form itself. Other music careers, like music therapist, are the result of developments of only the last few years or decades.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Music therapists work with people who suffer various disabilities. Among these are psychiatric disorders, mental retardation, developmental disabilities, speech and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, and neurological problems. They evaluate the emotional and physical health of their clients through music responses. Therapy involves music sessions, which might include improvisation, listening, songwriting, performance, and more.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: A background in music is important, as well as graduation from an approved college degree program that includes at least a six-month clinical internship. Volunteer experience in nursing homes, camps for children with disabilities, and other settings is also invaluable.
  • Other Considerations: People considering careers in music therapy should have a combination of empathy, patience, and creativity. Job settings include hospitals, community mental health centers, and nursing homes.

Recording Engineer

Have you ever wondered why your favorite band or singer sounds different in concert than on record? This is partially because of the work of recording engineers.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: A recording engineer's chief responsibility is creating the illusion of perfection. The engineer operates a sound board-or equalizer-during the recording of music. This equipment divides the sound into as many as 96 separate tracks, enabling the engineer to eliminate mistakes or enhance the sound at all ranges. After the recording phase is completed, the engineer combines or "remixes" sounds from different recordings. It is the engineer's duty to make sure these bits and pieces fit together seamlessly.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Recording engineers are usually employees of recording studios, which hire out studio time to record companies. Since studio time is very costly, part of the engineer's job is to ensure as few "takes" by the performers as possible. Engineers must have a complete understanding of the music they are recording. Many, thus, specialize in a single music genre, which they will have studied either formally or informally.
  • Other Considerations: The equipment used by recording engineers is extremely expensive. Its use requires a high level of responsibility and awareness of maintenance needs.

Studio Musician

One important consideration when selecting a career is the growth potential of a given industry. The outlook for the career of studio musician is quite promising.
  • Responsibilities & Duties: Studio musicians work independently or as part of a group in recording studios, and in television, radio, and film. The chief job of studio musicians is playing musical instruments for a soundtrack or as backup for a recording artist. They may also be called upon to sing, compose, arrange, or conduct.
  • Preparation & Qualifications: Extensive musical training is a basic requirement of all studio musicians. This may come from private study or a college music program. Studio musicians must have a knowledge of and ability to interpret different kinds of music. Studio musicians spend a considerable portion of work time rehearsing.
  • Other Considerations: Traits needed for this career include creativity, versatility, and self-discipline. To stay competitive, studio musicians must study and practice often and on their own.
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