Choosing a Career in Music for Double Reed and Wind Players

choosing a career in music
After having several dedicated students approach me this year with dreams of playing the oboe professionally (followed, naturally, by some concerned parents), I felt inspired to write the article I wish someone had given ME when I was in my teens and early 20’s. Entering into a career in music, especially on an instrument like the oboe, bassoon, or other wind instrument, can be a little bit different then aspiring to be a famous pop star or a freelance guitarist. However, I would hope this article will put anxious parents at ease and suggest some new ideas to young musicians who have fallen in love with music and are hoping to pursue a career in the field.

I’ve broken down the various music career paths into 5 major categories, with descriptions all specifically catering toward double reed and wind players.

Full Time College Professor/Part Time Performance

college professor music career
The Job: If you want to be a full time double reed or woodwind instructor, you are likely going to need to look at being a full time professor at a University or College. The overwhelming quantity of private piano, guitar, or violin students that can sustain a private instructor with those instruments, won’t often be the case for a less commonly picked instrument such as the oboe or bassoon. However, most full time professors still teach some private students as well.
Pros: Full time salary and a being an instructor in higher education. If you are hired to teach full time at a University or College, these positions will come with a full time annual salary. You’ll probably need, or want to, be involved in some part time performance, but the steady paycheck is a bonus.
Cons: Full time college instructor positions require several degrees including a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, and in most cases, a Doctorate as well. This can get pricy with the raising tuition costs and can be time consuming, but well worth it if your dream is to be a full time college professor!
Job Availability: If you aren’t picky about where you live, you’ll find jobs available. However, these positions require, in addition to your education, the right connections and/or extensive experience in your field to get your foot in the door.

Full Time “Classical” Performance/Part Time Instructor

symphony music career
The Job: This is often the career path that young aspiring classical musicians think about as they start to learn their instruments. The job entails winning an audition and taking a full time position with a major symphony orchestra or band (such as the Army). There are usually several concerts per month that demand many hours of daily practice and dedication. Evenings, weekends, and holidays will often be booked with rehearsals and performances. The goal for many of these professionals is to secure tenure. Depending on your lifestyle, some of these full time salaries won’t cover all the bills, and musicians usually will subsidize with some part time private students. This job can also include work that is a mix of a large ensemble (symphony) and gigs performing in a small ensemble, studio recordings, etc.
Pros: You’ve earned your dream job! If performing is truly your passion, then you’ll be at home on the stage and in the practice room.
Cons: The audition process is grueling and often it can take many years, if ever, to secure a position in one of the top major orchestras that will support a full time classical performance career.
Job Availability: Usually you’ll have a trial period, before you earn a permanent position, and positions and auditions can be hard to come by. You’ll need to be willing to live anywhere and work a secondary job and/or be a “freelance musician” (see the next description below) while you go through many auditions. Plan on as much higher education as needed to master your instrument, which will likely be at least a Bachelor and Master degree, and probably a Doctorate or additional certificate programs. Although the audition will ultimately determine if you will be hired for a major orchestra or band, your education can weigh into their decision and you may be required to have certain credentials just to audition in the first place.

Full Time “Freelance” Performance/Part Time Instructor

freelance musician music career
The Job: Here is the job that might be associated with late night gigs, waiting tables for money, and a tour schedule. Although a tough road for any instrument, the oboe and other wind instruments might find the “gig” circuit a little bit different then the rumors let on. If you love performing and want more freedom, or are playing in a part time orchestra and need more work, then you’ll find yourself in the creative world of being a “freelance” oboist, bassoonist, or woodwind player. Plan on playing in several groups, most of which you’ll seek out or build yourself, including small and large ensembles, recording projects, weddings, and probably a mix of other opportunities. Although you’ll technically be teaching “part time”, you’ll really be taking on as many private students or part time instructor work as you can. This will be some of your best income. You’ll want to plan on another source of income such as a day job or part time work elsewhere for both the short term, and maybe the long term depending on where you live and your lifestyle.
Pros: If you want creative freedom, you’ll have plenty as you put together your own groups and work on multiple projects. The freelance path can also offer a nice 50/50 mix of performing and teaching if you love both! You’ll still need to master your instrument to pull this off, but no one will be checking for a piece of paper unless you want to apply for a part time adjunct position at a college or orchestra.
Cons: The lack of a steady paycheck can be a little freighting at first, but if you are a natural “go-getter” you’ll have no problem building connections, marketing yourself, and keeping a steady flow of opportunities. You’ll likely need to be a multi-instrumentalist. The more instruments you play the more you can gig and teach, but the less time you’ll spend on your primary instrument (which can be frustrating for some).
Job Availability: For the freelancer, this depends on your own work ethic. The more you put in, the more you’ll get back. If you are a procrastinator, this isn’t for you. Demographics may also play a role and some gigs pay more then others. If you can get yourself known and fill up your schedule with private students and playing opportunities that pay more, you’ll likely feel confident about your annual income.

Full Time Music Education

music education music career
The Job: This is the job most Music Education degrees prepare you for. If you have a love for teaching middle school and high school band or orchestra, you’ll want get a Bachelor degree in Music Education (and maybe a Masters too), and then look for full time positions teaching in a school district.
Pros: Full time salary and a being full time music educator.
Cons: Depending on how many degrees you have and where you live, some full time music education salaries pay more then others. The low end can be a little hard to live on, but you’ll have summers to take on extra work. You’ll also be working very long hours during the academic year and may find you have an extremely limited amount of time (if any) to practice and perform on your instrument.
Job Availability: If you aren’t too picky about your school district and salary, you’ll find plenty of jobs to apply to. The pickier you are, the more you’ll have to wait for a position to open, or look to relocate.

Full Time Music in a Non-Performance or Non-Teaching Area

recording studio music career
The Job: A music degree can lead to all kinds of full time careers. Although performance can still be part of your life, and teaching as well, I’ve seen many musicians graduate from music school and go on to work in the “field” of music or music education. These jobs can range from transitioning into music technology, running and coordinating a music organization, working for a double reed business (if you are a double reed player), etc.
Pros: Often these types of full time positions are salary based, and unless you start your own business, the position will probably be for a bigger company. Can we get another high five for a steady paycheck?
Cons: If you are in love with performing, you may find you don’t have as much time as you like to practice and perform. So, if you love music but aren’t sure how you feel about performing and/or teaching, this will be a good path for you.
Job Availability: Depending on your interests and willingness to be open minded, there are plenty of full time positions in the field of music to explore.

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