Music directors, also called conductors, lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions.
What Does a Music Director Do?
Music directors perform these tasks:
- Select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed for live audiences or recordings
- Prepare for performances by reviewing and interpreting musical scores
- Direct rehearsals to prepare for performances and recordings
- Choose guest performers and soloists
- Audition new performers or assist section leaders with auditions
- Practice conducting to improve their technique
- Meet with potential donors and attend fundraisers
Music directors lead orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups. They ensure that musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, timing, rhythm, and volume. They also give feedback to musicians and section leaders on sound and style.
They may work with a variety of musical groups, including church choirs, youth orchestras, and high school or college bands, choirs, or orchestras. Some work with orchestras that accompany dance and opera companies.
Some music directors give private music lessons to children and adults. Others teach music in elementary, middle, or high schools. For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.
Music directors and composers held about 64,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of music directors and composers were as follows:
|Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations||59%|
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||5|
|Performing arts companies||4|
Music directors commonly work in concert halls and recording studios, and they may spend a lot of time traveling to different performances.
Jobs for music directors are found all over the country. However, many jobs are located in cities in which entertainment activities are concentrated, such as New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Chicago.
Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but performances take place most often on nights and weekends.
Educational and training requirements for music directors vary, although most positions require related work experience. A conductor for a symphony orchestra typically needs a master’s degree; a choir director may need a bachelor’s degree.
How to Become a Music Director
Employers generally prefer candidates with a master’s degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting for positions as a conductor or classical composer.
Applicants to postsecondary programs in music typically are required to submit recordings, audition in person, or both. These programs teach students about music history and styles, and educate them in composing and conducting techniques. Information on degree programs is available from the National Association of Schools of Music.
A bachelor’s degree typically is required for those who want to work as a choir director. Those who work in public schools may need a teaching license or certification. For more information, see the profiles on teachers.
Music directors typically begin their musical training at a young age by learning to play an instrument or singing, and perhaps performing as a musician or singer.
Music directors who are interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships.
These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Music directors often work as musicians or singers in a group, a choir, or an orchestra before they take on a leadership role.
Music Director Salary
The median annual wage for music directors and composers was $49,630 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $112,820.
In May 2018, the median annual wages for this in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||$53,970|
|Performing arts companies||$53,830|
|Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations||$39,920|
Employment of music directors and composers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028.
They will be needed to lead orchestras for concerts and musical theater performances. They also will conduct the music that accompanies ballet troupes and opera companies.
However, orchestras, opera companies, and other musical groups can have difficulty getting funds. Some music groups are nonprofit organizations that rely on donations and corporate sponsorships, in addition to ticket sales, to fund their work.
These organizations often have difficulty finding enough money to cover their expenses. In addition, growth may be limited for them in schools due to struggles with school funding, and music programs may be cut.
Tough competition for jobs is anticipated because of the large number of people interested in entering this field. In particular, there will be considerable competition for full-time music director positions. Candidates with exceptional musical talent and dedication should have the best opportunities.
Music directors may experience periods without work. During these times, they may work in other occupations, give music lessons, attend auditions, or write music.
For more information about music degree programs, visit
For more information about careers in music, visit
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