Making a Living in the Music Industry

Julie McFarlane, Colin Mason, Mark Sheridan

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    Objectives: The paper examines the extent to which and the ways in which graduates of the University of Strathclyde’s Applied Music degree have made a living in the music industry.

    Prior Work: There is considerable evidence that the main unit of economic activity in the creative industries is the limited duration project. Employment is therefore temporary and part-time and much of the labour force comprises self-employed freelance workers. How do music graduates fare in such an environment?

    Approach: The study is based in an email survey of graduates from the first ten years of the course, which started in 1999. This attracted 66 usable responses. This was supported by information drawn from seven face-to-face interviews.

    Results: The vast majority of Strathclyde Applied Music graduates are making a living, with many deriving a significant proportion of this income from music. However, much of their income is earned from teaching. This is important, because for most respondents it is a significant and stable source of income. Income generated by music performance – gigs and albums – accounts for only a minority of most of the respondents’ income. Virtually all of them, therefore, have portfolio careers; most are self-employed, working on a freelance basis, which means irregular income and a lack of financial stability. Making a living in this work environment is challenging. Personal drive is essential. Networking skills are needed to find work. Marketing and self-promotion are necessary to get noticed, with social media vital. Yet, many respondents do not see themselves as ‘in business’ or needing to act in an entrepreneurial way. Artistic compromises are required, in the form of the types of musical work they accept, which not all respondents were willing to make.

    Implications: The study points to the need for the music curriculum to incorporate the business skills necessary to build a sustainable career that is inevitably based on portfolio work on a freelance basis. However, if, as many commentators have predicted, project working and the associated rise in freelance work becomes much more widespread across the economy, then more and more graduates will face employment challenges of the type which are currently being encountered by music graduates. Preparing current and future graduates for this new world of work is therefore a challenge for all disciplines.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2013


    Dive into the research topics of 'Making a Living in the Music Industry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this