Oftentimes when musicians decide they want to have a music career, they don’t realize the amount of options available. The purpose of this blog is to detail some viable career options for musicians aspiring towards a music career.
- Songs: The typical track for writing is to create music and lyrics to form a song. Not only can you sell songs personally, but you can place them with artists, movies, etc.
- Film: As mentioned above, movies often need soundtracks. One can easily forge a music career around scoring for films. This is a great avenue for someone with experience in conducting, symphonies, or writing parts for multiple instruments.
- Symphony: This one closely relates to the above career track, but focuses more on just writing for symphonies, orchestras, and various arrangements for instruments. This is a great path for a classical musician. Each state, and most major cities, have symphonies.
- Video Games: The video game business is booming. Every video game has a soundtrack, just like movies. Video games are really turning into movie-like productions, becoming more and more complex with time. This option is great if composing music for video games is a passion for you, as the demand continues to grow.
- Producer: Producers have a wide range of jobs they do in the studio. A lot is based on their skill set. Producers generally call the shots for how the record will come together. Things that producers work on include: writing, arrangement, equipment choice, mic placement, choosing players, instrumentation, effects, and basically anything that affects the sound of the recording.
- Engineer: The engineer is the “nuts and bolts” guy. They will do the actual recording into Pro Tools, Logic, or whatever recording software is being used. An engineer will also be able to set up mic, inputs, plugins, equipment, and everything to the producers liking. Engineers also will make any edits necessary and adjust levels for each instrument. Some engineers specialize in just mixing, drum edits, etc.
- Recording Artist: A recording artist is someone who specializes in session work at the studio. You will absolutely need to know your instrument well, be knowledgeable of gear, and able to work in pressure situations. Many recording artists also tour with the bands that they record with. If you are looking to make a music career as a session player, it’s important that you live in a town with a lot of recording studios. Also, it doesn’t hurt to stick around a while and get to know people in the scene, as engineers and producers often use guys they know.
- Mastering: Mastering is the icing on the cake. After a project is produced, recorded, and mixed, it is sent off for mastering. Mastering uses very expensive equipment to assure that each song on the record is similar in volume and tone. This process also includes the ordering of the tunes and the spacing between the tunes on the album.
- Band Director: If you are choosing this option as a career path, you must make sure that you are absolutely passionate about band. It requires a great deal of work and organization, but has a great reward. You get the benefits of having a steady job and a window of time (summer!) off as well.
- Private Music Teacher: This is a very popular option nowadays. Freeway Music is a model based on private music lessons. This career takes a while to build up clientele and can be unpredictable; however, it pays well and is flexible for one that is pursuing other musical projects. It’s imperative that you hook up with a great studio.
- College Professor: A college music educator has a more set schedule, but is also a steady music career with decent pay and benefits. One can also earn tenure in a college teaching position. You will more than likely have students that are serious about learning. Also, there are research opportunities and a pool of talented musicians readily available.
- Public School Music Teacher: Many jobs fall under this category: general music educator, chorus director, orchestra director, and there are even private music lessons jobs available depending on your school district. A public school career offers a set schedule, benefits, and steady pay. This is a great career choice for someone who likes consistency and is less of a risk taker.
Through teaching and running Freeway, I’ve had many opportunities to hold and attend a lot of great songwriter clinics. So, I want to share some of the best advice I’ve learned about songwriting.
“A song is a snapshot of time” ~Tom Conlon
This is such an inspiring statement and so very true! Music is an amazing art form. Most people attach sound to music, but seldom visual art. Words and lyrics create settings and paint pictures in listeners’ heads. The music evokes certain moods. Certain lyrics will reflect the culture of the time period in which they are written. Various music styles move with time as well. Since culture will always continue to change and evolve, lyrics can be fresh forever. Just look Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come”. It’s clearly about the civil rights movement. Songs are a “snapshot in time” and it’s almost our civic duty as writers to capture these moments.
“Make songwriting a Ritual.” ~ Danielle Howle
To master writing, you have to maintain the attitude you would with anything you would master. You have to stay the course and practice writing. One of the toughest parts about working out is getting yourself in a routine. You have to be intentional and set aside time to write everyday. Get into the ritual of songwriting. If you are prolific, you are bound to have some gems in there. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Not ALL of your songs will be amazing. I am a huge Beatles fan. They wrote a ton of tunes and they have a lot of songs that I don’t like at all. You can’t have the cream of the crop without a good sized crop.
“If you aren’t writing, you aren’t living.” ~ Tom Conlon
Yes. It’s the second time I’ve referenced Tom Conlon, but he is a very wise man. If you aren’t filling the tank up, how do you expect to put anything out? It’s the same as any endeavor in life. Take a trip out of town, watch a movie, read a book, listen to new music, go to a show, or take part in any other activity to create some new life experiences. If you aren’t experiencing life, you will not have anything to talk about. You will be amazed at how inspiring it will be.
Hopefully, these pieces of advice will aid you in being a better writer as well. Always remember the importance of your art, make it a priority, and live a little. Until next time, happy writing!
More Songwriting Tips:
Listening is half the battle
Everyone that is serious about playing an instrument has a music goal they are trying to reach. Oftentimes, it is to play in a particular style or like a player they love. One of the first things I ask my students is, “What are you listening to?” The music you listen to directly affects what comes out of you. Here are some good analogies:
Music is a language. You can write, read, and speak. You can create letters, words, phrases, sentences, and novels. Every language has unique qualities. The best way to learn a specific language is to immerse yourself in it. Move to the country where people speak the language. Force yourself to interact with others and put yourself in a situation where you have to use it. This might be more uncomfortable than taking a class, but it will definitely stick with you better. The same goes for music. Listen to the style you want to learn. Start consciously adding those words to your vocabulary. If you are really serious about a particular style, visit or move to a city where that style is alive and thriving. For example, if you love jazz, you should listen to jazz and consider visiting or moving to New York City or New Orleans. New York has an amazing jazz scene. If you love country, you may consider Nashville. No matter what your aspirations are, you need to be surrounded by it and challenged by those who are living it.
Just like what you eat directly affects your body, what you listen to directly affects your musicianship. It’s probably not a good idea to base your diet on commercials and what they try to convince the public is “good.” We may find ourselves stuffing our faces with cheeseburgers and fries everyday. Don’t let popular music or radio be all that you eat. Seek out things that help you grow musically and stretch your ability. I personally appreciate all styles. Every style I have studied has improved my playing in a unique way. I am so thankful that I was introduced to jazz or I wouldn’t be as accomplished an improviser or know as much about theory. Also, had I not learned classical, I wouldn’t be as nimble with my finger picking and reading.
I love the potential of art within music! You can create moods with sounds, pictures with words, movement with beats, and more. When you listen to music, you are constantly exposing yourself to new ideas that can help spark your own creativity. You can take an idea used before you and put your own spin on it. Sometimes, you can take an idea and spark a brand new idea that’s never been used before. Just as with language and nutrition, you need to carefully consider the kind of art you are trying to create. If you are struggling with lyrics in your writing, seek out some renown lyricists or poets and listen to what they have to say. You’ll be blown away by how quickly it will come out of your body.
The moral of the story is what you put in the pot directly affects what your end product is. Make sure that you take the time to dive into the style you are trying to reach, stretch yourself musically, and equip yourself fully so that your inner artist can come out. Best of luck! Remember, when listening, choose wisely.
I recently did a blog series on Rhythm guitar. This blog is geared more for songwriters. One of the things songwriters often overlook when writing a tune is being creative with time and measure. I hope these ideas add a layer to your writing.
I often ask my students about time signature, and it always seems like such a mystery to them. It’s quite simple really. The first number is how many beats per measure and the second tells you which kind of note gets one count. For example, 4/4 would have 4 beats per measure with a quarter note getting one count and 6/8 would have 6 beats per measure with an eighth note getting one count. If you haven’t experimented with writing in various time signatures, do it right away! “Money” by Pink Floyd is one of the most popular examples of a song written in an odd time signature. It’s riff is in 7/4: 7 quarter notes per measure. Here is a list of tunes someone compiled that have odd time signatures:
Odd Time Song List
Most of my students bring me songs divided up into even measures of four. I’m not trying to say that there is anything wrong with that. Sometimes you can’t beat a good 12 bar blues or 32-bar tune; however, if you want some variety in your writing, try to shake it up. Write a song that has 4 measures, and then 5 on the next line. It will blow you away how refreshing it will feel. The creative possibilities are endless.
Mix it Up
Once you have tried odd time signatures and odd measuring, mix it up and really get creative. I have a song that starts off in 7/4 for the verse and goes to 4/4 for the chorus, and another that starts off in 4/4, and switches to 6/8 in the bridge. Maybe add a 2/4 measure. That’s another really cool technique to make a typical chord progression sound refreshing. Here are couple of songs to check that mix it up really well: “Black Bird” by The Beatles and “New Slang” by The Shins. Go listen to them and see if you can map out what’s happening in those tunes. Then, go experiment on your own.
I hope this entry will equip you with more creative ammo. Until next time, happy writing!
A lot of music students come in with the question of “How do I write a song?”. So, I analyzed my own songwriting, and came up with three basic approaches to sparking the songwriting process. All three are important, and tend to lead into each other.
Carry a notepad or take notes on your smart phone. Begin writing down interesting words, or things that you see. Be more tuned into the world around you, and keep lyric writing in the front of your brain. Once you have some words, you can either write a melody around them, or play chords and force the words to fit within a chord progression into a melody. The benefit of writing lyrics first is that you can say exactly what you want to say, and make the lyrics as rich as you want up front. Also, sometimes creating the words up front causes a songwriter to use phrasing that they normally wouldn’t use. These phrases can be very original and creative.
The garble approach is one of my favorites. I tend to do it alone because it can be awkward for other people to hear you “garbling”. The basic idea is to come up with a chord progression first, or a riff. Then, you begin singing nonsense over the chord changes or “garbling”. Soon, you’ll begin to form actual words and phrases. I love this approach because it is a very organic approach. There is very little thought in this approach and a lot of natural reaction. The benefit of this approach is that you will sing melodies, consonants, and phrases that naturally flow within the progression or riff that you are playing. Also, the words that come out will be a stream of conscious. You will say things that are in your mind already. This is great if you are at a lost for what to write about.
We all are guilty of humming in our cars. Typically, it’s other tunes we have heard, but sometimes a melody will just pop in your head. I tell my guitar students to carry some kind of recording device. Today, it’s easy to record yourself on a smart phone or an IPod. For this approach, you simply hum a melody and then lock it into chords and words. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, told me one time, “Melody rules!”. He was speaking of the importance of melody. It is very true. Just go listen to the top hits. Typically, the words are pretty shallow, and the melody is very strong. So a strong melody can create a big hit! Also, if you have a melody first, you aren’t locked into a specific chord progression. One of my favorite things to do is to change chords under the same melody. It makes it sound like you are playing a different melody each time.
So are you a poet, garbler, or a hummer. I consider myself to be all three at different times. Here are three things you can do to spark your creativity and songwriting:
1. Carry a notepad, or use your smart phone, and write down lyrics.
2. Create a new riff or progression on you instrument and try to sing along.
3. Start humming and record your melody ideas on a voice recorder.
If you are a songwriter in Columbia, SC, here are some things to check out:
Wednesday- Lucky’s Burger Shack Irmo, 8 pm
Conundrum is a local music hall that features a lot of local & regional songwriters as well.
Good luck writing!