Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Music and Arts as a Career Choice

My local school system has a program where local business people come in to talk to kids about the “real world” is like, so they can be thinking about their career choices.  I am planning to go in and talk about the arts as part of the “real world.”

What about you?  Would you consider giving kids in school an idea of what it’s like to choose music as a career?

In this post, I’d like to share with you some information and observations about the arts as a work choice in America.  Did you know there are more people (2 million) working in the arts in America than there are lawyers or doctors?  Did you know artists as a group earn about $70 billion a year?  That the median income of artists is higher than the overall median income of American workers?

And yet, we have a disconnect in our society.  A good, or maybe I should say a very sad, example of this was when the head of my local school board explained why it wasn’t so bad that 25 teachers were laid off last year:  He said it wasn’t as bad as it sounds because only 16 of them were teachers; the others were just in music and the arts!

Go to your local schools and offer to tell students about working as a musician and music teacher.  Display Music Teachers Helper and show them how being a musician involves many skills:  computer programs, internet, marketing, negotiating, accounting, teaching, performing.  If your school is big on sports but not on the arts, maybe you can find out how many graduates of the school became professional athletes, if any.   And by comparison, how many went into music, or art, design, photography, film, writing, architecture and other arts.

Ask kids to think about how long they — or anyone else, for that matter — ever go without hearing music, or seeing a professional photograph or drawing, or seeing a product that was designed by a graphic artist, or a TV show filmed, written, and performed by artists.  It is a wonder that people can imagine that the arts are not essential to our society.

Although I’m discussing the idea of speaking with kids in a school setting, I’m focusing here on the arts as a work choice in the “real world”.  The benefits of the arts in education is another story entirely, and you can read my earlier post for some more ideas and information about that, if you like.

Here are a few more facts about artists, drawn from statistics in 2003-5 (it takes a while for people to compile statistics!):

  • About 2 million Americans work in the arts as their primary job; another 300,000 work in the arts as a second job.  By comparison, there are 2.2 million active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military.
  • Two-thirds of all artists work full-time.  This is about the same as the percentage of full-time workers in the general work force.  About 1/4 of artists work less than 35 hours a week, a higher percentage of part-time workers than the general work force.
  • About 10% of all workers are self-employed; 35% of artists are self-employed.

This information is taken from a 2008 research report by the National Endowment for the Arts.  The economy has changed dramatically since 2007 but the numbers are still relevant, since everybody has been affected across the board, though it would be interesting to see how events since 2007 have affected the arts.  I personally have seen artists needed as much or more in hard times than before.

I welcome your comments below, and when I do make a presentation to the kids, I’ll tell about it in comments below as well.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]


  1. Gretchen Saathoff

    Ed, what a thoughtful post! I’m sure your presentation to children will catch their imaginations immediately.


  2. career toolkits

    Hey great info, thanks for sharing it.

  3. David Thomas

    Thank you for this perceptive post. I need to look at that data from the NEA. Sounds like there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn and opportunities for creative thinking.

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