Berklee College of Music report: Versatility is crucial to a successful music career

A video game composer can make as much as $75,000 a year, and starting pay in a major orchestra can be about $132,000, but these are not easy times for a musician, according to a new study from the Berklee College of Music.

Titled “Music Careers in Dollars and Cents,” the study was led by Peter Spellman, director of Berklee’s Career Development Center, and it’s an update of a report first released in 2010.

One challenge: Music supply is expanding while demand is not, due in part to a sluggish economic recovery.


“There is downward pressure on many music performance salaries right now due to the slowing global economic recovery, changing perceptions of music’s value, and hyper competition,” Spellman said in a statement. “Thus, all the more reason for musicians to expand their repertoire of both musical and professional skills in this transforming industry.”

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The chronic theft of music over the last 15 years has “lessened the perceived value of recorded music,” he added in an e-mail. Another factor is a widespread view that online content should be free.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, people escaped hardship by seeking entertainment at theaters and clubs, but in today’s slow economy, live music often loses out to all the entertainment options people have in their homes, Spellman said.

Spellman’s advice to someone who wants to pursue a music career in today’s tough environment: Versatility and adaptability are crucial “for music career success, especially in the early phase of one’s career,” Spellman said in his e-mail.

“Berklee prepares students to be well-rounded musicians who can pour their musical skills into a variety of forms, whether it’s arranging a song, performing at a bar mitzvah, or teaching kids the basics of theory,” he wrote. “Modern career musicians need many literacies besides music to help them succeed,” including good communication skills, creative presentations, and the ability to successfully conduct a multifaceted life.

Chris Reidy can be reached at