by Dr. Paul Guise (originally published in 2005)

is an arts consultant, conductor and music educator living in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
Check out his website at

Having found sources of information about music business over the past few months, now it’s time to decide what to do with that knowledge. Before conducting an environmental scan, which we’ll begin next month, it’s time to ask two simple questions: what do you want to be when you grow up, and what do you want your life to be like?

So, what do you want to be? Such a simple question, yet so hard to answer. You may know that you want to be a performer, a composer, or a teacher. But what exactly do you plan to perform, compose, or teach? Lets take the example of a performer. You probably have a preferred instrument, perhaps a saxophone, and thus you want to be a saxophone performer. And maybe you have a particular performer in mind who you’d like to emulate. How about Gerry Mulligan, baritone saxophonist extraordinaire? Great! So it’s decided, when you grow up, you want to be a saxophonist just like Gerry Mulligan. Done.

But this leads to the next question: what do you want your life to be like? What are the implications of choosing to be just like Gerry Mulligan on your non-music life? Well, performers generally work evenings and weekends, so don’t expect to spend a lot of time with friends or family (unless they’re also musicians). Most people like to go to concerts during the holiday seasons as well, which means you’ll probably be working during Christmas, around Easter, and throughout the summer. On one hand, this means you might not be able to travel during the normal holiday periods (except perhaps for work), but on the other hand, you’re more likely to have time off during the “low season” for tourists. Hmm, which is more important to you?

There are also lots of little things you need to consider. People who play large instruments, like harp, tuba, or baritone sax, tend to need large cars to move them (although some rely on friends with large cars). This can add quite enormously to the cost of doing business, as it costs around $8000 per year to own and operate an average car: you’ll need to get more gigs to pay the difference! Certain sports can also be risky for some musicians, so consider whether you’ll have to give up your love of rock climbing, inline skating, or cycling to avoid a career-threatening injury. You may even need to give up some types of food or drink, especially if you’re a singer, as they can have a negative impact on your ability to perform at your peak, night after night. Which is more important, beer or Beethoven? Choose carefully.

Ask yourself; do you prefer to play music of your own choosing? Can you play the same music, every day, for a year without going insane? Can you sightread well enough to nail the music the first time around, or do you prefer to spend time rehearsing every little detail? How do you feel about audiences? Do you notice their attentiveness and applause, or their catcalls and candy wrappers? Would you rather be playing in a studio? A bar? A practice room?

As abstract as these things sound, they are all key questions when planning your business. Every decision you make, no matter how small, will have implications on how you live your life. You only get one pass at this life, so there will be some things you get to experience and some things you don’t. Take the time to consider your priorities. Write a few of them down, and see how they impact one another. Are your priorities compatible? Do they open doors to other possibilities, or do they require you to abandon your other dreams? Will they all fit in to a 24-hour day? Will they make sense to you in ten years, or twenty, or fifty? Finally, no matter what you are “qualified” to do, don’t let your education limit you! If your goals are slightly beyond your reach, find ways to stretch yourself. Take an extra course, spend time at the library, rehearse thoughtfully, and observe others.

If this whole process seems daunting, consider starting with a book. There are a great many books out there about careers in music: here are three good starters (see citations at the end). They are best read slowly, carefully, and with a big mug of coffee (I’ll have a Mocha!). Field lists 79 careers in the music industry, while Crouch presents 100 careers in the music business, and Exploring Careers presents 39 careers in music. Field gives each entry a career profile, career ladder, position description, salaries, employment prospects, advancement prospects, education and training, experience/skills/personality traits, unions/associations, and tips for entry. Both Crouch and Exploring Careers follow much the same format, but in less detail. While each book looks rather dry, they’ll all answer questions you didn’t even know you had! What’s most important in each of these books is the ideas you’ll find, ideas that may lead you to a distinctive career of your own.

As you have probably discovered at this point, it’s extremely difficult to look at a list, choose a career, and leave it at that. I still haven’t decided what I want to be, and probably never will, but I have priorities. For each decision you make, a whole new series of questions comes to mind. Life’s big decisions deserve a more thorough, thoughtful approach, and because it’s best to answer hard questions with hard data (and not just your gut feelings), next month we’ll outline what goes into an environmental scan, with a practical guide to implementation coming in August and September.