spotlight shining on a microphone with figures in the audience just visible in the background

© istock/Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo

Musicians' careers take many forms. Often the public perception of a musician (particularly those working in rock and pop) is of an artist signed to a record company and undertaking the necessary schedule of the 'signed' musician: recording, release, promotion and playing live. However there are many career paths that musicians take.

From the moment they decide to pursue a music career musicians are likely to be self-employed, although this situation varies from country to country. In many countries musicians do not enjoy a regular wage and must make every effort to find work. This often leads musicians to seek opportunities to expand and develop their musical and business skills. It is important for them to cultivate networks of contacts in a wide variety of different fields so that they can go on earning a living. In the UK the only musicians who enjoy a regular salary will be members of orchestras and music teachers in secondary, further or higher education. For the rest the only option is a 'portfolio' career - making a living from using their musical talent in a combination of ways.

Regular gigs are normally not enough to sustain a full-time living so musicians often take up music teaching and other music related work in order to boost their income. Carol Kaye is a good example of a well known musician with a portfolio career. As a bass player she has played on some of the most famous pop records of all time. For example in the 1960s Carol played bass on the Beach Boys album 'Pet Sounds'. She also played the famous bass line in 'These Boots are made for Walking' by Nancy Sinatra. Yet despite a lengthy career as a session player on records, TV themes, film soundtracks and advertisements, she has had a parallel career as a bass guitar teacher. Over the years she has taught some very famous bass players. In turn she has converted this experience into different educational media - from printed manuals on how to play bass guitar through to instructional CDs and DVDs. Creative use of a website allows her to sell these materials to a worldwide audience. So she has drawn on her prestige as a musician to create parallel businesses as a teacher and as a music service provider.

Even when a musician has signed a recording contract it often is only short-term as most musicians are dropped from these contracts after a limited time. The lucky few go on to sign new contracts but many musicians come out of these and have to find other routes to diversify their careers. For example Martyn Ware, one of the founder members of the hugely successful Sheffield band the Human League, began to experiment with digital instruments from the moment they became commercially available. He created the British Electronic Foundation [BEF] with fellow band member Ian Craig-Marsh to produce tracks with well-known singers for a joint project. So successful was this that, despite enjoying hit records with his subsequent band Heaven 17, Ware came to be in demand as a record producer. In turn his development of studio skills, when combined with playing and recording, led him to become a designer of 'Soundscapes' - art installations using sound. His work is now featured in prestigious buildings and galleries around the world. Throughout the course of these career changes, Ware has remained a musician, but rather than have several parallel careers he has used experiences in one field to transform himself into a record producer and then a sonic artist.

Many musicians who have been signed to large recording companies go on to work in other areas of the music industry. Being a signed artist gives an insight into the recording industry even if you don't manage to sell many records. Many record industry personnel (from producers to artist and repertoire personnel who scout for, sign and develop talent within recording companies) started out as musicians, as did the managers of many of the most popular acts in the UK. Geoff Barrowdale, for example, is manager of Sheffield indie rock band Arctic Monkeys and was once a member of the 1980s band Vitamin Z. Jeanette Lee manages Welsh pop singer Duffy and was a former member of the post-punk band Public Image Limited before going on to co-run the Rough Trade record label and manage acts such as the Cranberries and Pulp.