Popular musicians play in bands, as solo musicians or as session musicians. They might be involved in rock, pop, jazz, country and western, world or easy listening music.
They sing or play one or more musical instruments live on stage or when recording music for CD's or web broadcasts. They may compose their own work, use material written by someone else or perform covers of other musicians' work.
Popular musicians have to work hard at developing their musical skills. They practise for many hours at a time and attend regular rehearsals. They might also include dance and movement as part of their performance.
When performing live, they might play to passers-by in the street or to huge crowds in a stadium - depending on how successful and well-known they become.
It is currently the trend for artists to move away from recording in studios. Many are now recording on home-based equipment, so it can be useful for musicians to have knowledge of computer programs, such as Cubase.
To achieve success in this very demanding business, musicians need a combination of outstanding talent, determination and luck. To start with, many popular musicians combine playing music or singing with other jobs.
Popular musicians work long and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. Any spare time is often spent learning music, practising or looking for new work. When performing, they might have a rehearsal with other musicians during the afternoon, followed by the performance in the evening. Recording work in a studio often takes many hours and frequently continues late into the night.
Popular musicians can spend a great deal of time travelling in the UK or abroad. They need to have their own transport, and if they are part of a group, they may need a van and possibly a road crew.
Working environments vary greatly, and include arts centres, pubs, clubs, restaurants, theatres, hotels and concert halls. Some large concerts and festivals are held outdoors in the summer, in parks, arenas or stately homes. Venues are often noisy.
Rates of pay vary widely, depending on the type of work and the experience of the musician.
Very few people work as full-time popular musicians in the UK; most work on a part-time basis. There is intense competition, and many people never achieve their ambition.
Much of the work is based in London and other major cities. Almost all musicians combine their work as a performer with another job.
Networking sites (such as www.myspace.com) have become important for musicians and bands wanting to gain exposure. Record company staff may look through these sites to find new artists.
It is very difficult to make a first break into the music industry as a performer, and there is no set training for popular musicians.
Individuals and bands can approach record and music publishing companies with a demo CD of their work. There are also talent competitions. Some musicians make their work available via the web to build a fan-base in the hope of being spotted.
There are many courses and qualifications available in popular music, including:
Entry to many of these courses includes an audition.
There are many other full-time and part-time courses. These include:
BTEC qualifications in music cover all aspects of the popular music business, including performing.
The content of music degree courses varies widely, and may include performance, composition, the business and management side of the industry, music technology, sound recording and community music. The Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool is the only academic centre in the UK created specifically for the study of popular music at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Popular musicians have to practise regularly to develop their skills and maintain a high level of ability.
A popular musician needs to:
Prospects depend on a combination of hard work and good luck. There is no set path for success.
A popular musician may move into the business side of the industry, perhaps working as an entertainment manager or agent, or for a record company. There may be opportunities to work abroad, entertaining holidaymakers on cruises and in holiday resorts.
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Arts Council England,
14 Great Peter Street,
London SW1P 3NQ
Tel: 0845 300 6200
Arts Council of Northern Ireland,
77 Malone Road, Belfast, BT9 6AQ
Tel: 028 9038 5200
The BRIT School,
60 The Crescent, Croydon CR0 2HN
Tel: 020 8665 5242
British Phonographic Institute (BPI),
Riverside Building, County Hall,
Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JA
Tel: 020 7803 1300
Creative and Cultural Skills, 4th Floor,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Equity, Guild House,
Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2H 9EG
Tel: 020 7379 6000
Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM),
10 Stratford Place, London W1C 1AA
Tel: 020 7629 4413
Institute of Popular Music,
School of Music, University of Liverpool,
Roxby Building, Chatham Street,
Liverpool L69 7ZT
Tel: 0151 794 3101
33 Palfrey Place, London SW8 1 PE
Tel: 020 7582 5566
Scottish Arts Council,
12 Manor Place, Edinburgh EH3 7DD
Tel: 0131 226 6051
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.