Music as a Career: The Best Age and How to Get Started

music engineer studio panel recording live music

For many, the dream of making music as a career remains just that—a dream. From a young age, we see our idols on stage with thousands of screaming fans and imagine our future selves in their place.

But as we get older and the demands of life set in, many of us settle for desk jobs or other means to pay the bills, playing music as a side hustle or abandoning it entirely. Often, this is for good reason. The music industry is highly competitive, and there are easier ways to make a decent salary quickly.

However, the digital age has created new opportunities that never existed before. The days of needing a record label to discover your demo tape or see you in a club have been replaced by the ability to use social media to instantly broadcast your music to a worldwide audience.

Today’s music industry is vast, encompassing numerous ways to make money as a musician. And while music as a career isn't easy, but it doesn't have to remain a dream. With dedication, strategic planning, and the right mindset to understand the landscape of the industry and where you fit best, you can chase that dream and turn it into reality.

Music as a Career: The 10,000-Hour Rule

A fundamental concept for anyone pursuing music as a career is the 10,000-hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. This rule suggests that achieving mastery in any field requires roughly 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell speaking at the Up Experience in 2008

Whether you're a guitarist, a pianist, or an electronic music producer, this principle holds true. Traditional musicians spend countless hours mastering their instruments and learning music theory, while electronic artists invest similar time mastering their Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and production techniques.

The journey to becoming proficient is long and demanding. It’s not just about clocking in hours; it’s about focused, deliberate practice and continuous learning.

The path to mastery is rarely straightforward. Many musicians face setbacks and have to adapt to new technologies and trends, all while maintaining their unique sound and vision. Remember, the 10,000 hours aren’t just a number; they represent a commitment to excellence and growth in your craft.

Starting a Career in an Oversaturated Music Market

One of the significant challenges in pursuing music as a career is the oversaturated market. With platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube making it easy to share music, there are millions of aspiring artists vying for attention.

This saturation can be daunting, but it's important to remember that while the market is crowded, it is also diverse. The key to standing out lies in finding your unique voice and niche.

Most musicians start by emulating their idols, which is a natural part of the learning process. However, evolving beyond this phase is crucial.

Originality and authenticity are what ultimately attract and retain a loyal audience. Developing a unique sound and brand identity is essential. It requires experimentation, self-reflection, and a willingness to take creative risks.

Branding Your Music as a Career

Unlike traditional product branding, music branding revolves around creating an emotional connection with the audience. Music, inherently tied to personal identity and experience, demands a different approach.

Effective music branding focuses on four key elements: emotion, engagement, experience, and exclusivity. Successful artists don't just sell music; they sell a lifestyle, an attitude, and an emotional journey.

Hubspot brand video chart
Source: Hubspot - The preferred content types for brands

Establishing a strong brand involves understanding your audience and crafting a narrative that resonates with them. This includes everything from your visual identity to the themes in your music and the way you interact with fans. Building a brand is about creating a community of loyal followers who feel personally connected to your music and your story.

Music as a Career: Continuous Learning

The music industry is constantly evolving, and staying relevant requires continuous learning and adaptation. This means keeping up with new technologies, trends, and techniques.

Whether it's learning a new instrument, mastering a new production software, or understanding the latest marketing strategies, being open to learning is crucial. Taking courses, attending workshops, and seeking mentorship from more experienced musicians can significantly enhance your skills and knowledge.

Additionally, staying adaptable allows you to pivot and evolve as the industry changes. Flexibility and a willingness to learn can set you apart in a competitive field.

How to Start a Music Career

Live Band Tuxedos

Embarking on a journey in music as a career requires more than just talent; it demands strategic planning, continuous learning, and a deep understanding of the industry. If you're wondering how to start a music career, this guide will walk you through essential steps and considerations to help you navigate this exciting but challenging path.

Figure Out Your Place in the Music Industry

The first step in how to start a music career is identifying your niche within the industry. Ask yourself:

  • Do I want to be a singer?
  • Do I prefer playing instruments?
  • Do I want to be a singer who writes my own music?
  • Is music production more appealing to me than performance?

Everyone can find a place in the music industry, even if performing on stage isn't your thing. You could work as a studio engineer, stage manager, film music composer, or music teacher. Taking an honest look at your skill sets and passions will help you determine the best path for your career in music.

Original Music vs Cover Songs

Deciding between composing your own music and doing covers is a question all aspiring musicians have to face. Start by playing the music you enjoy and that resonates with you, as this will allow you to connect with your audience genuinely.

If you're not yet comfortable writing your own music, try playing covers. Performing covers helps improve your abilities and gives you insight into song composition, which can enhance your performance skills, whether you're a guitarist, singer, drummer, or producer.

While original artists tend to have a higher ceiling, cover artists and tribute bands has a much shorter on-ramp. With our help picking the right covers and learning them, you can be making money as a performer in no time.

Starting a Band vs Going Solo

Choosing between a solo career and joining a band is another significant decision. As a solo artist, you have complete creative control and do not need to share the spotlight or profits. However, it can be lonely and demanding.

In contrast, being in a band provides companionship and a shared workload but requires finding the right chemistry and dealing with potential conflicts. Consider what environment would make you most comfortable and productive.

Independent vs Signing With a Record Label

Going independent allows you full control over your music, shows, and brand, but it also means handling a lot of administrative work. If managing everything becomes overwhelming, consider signing with a record label.

A record label can provide resources, contacts, and expertise, allowing you to focus more on the creative aspects. However, be cautious and select a label that aligns with your vision to avoid compromising your artistic integrity.

How to Start a Music Career with No Money

You may be surprised to learn that you can absolutely start a music career without any money, or very little investment. While having some money can ease the journey, passion and talent can often outweigh financial limitations. Here are some free or budget-friendly ways to get started:

  • Go Digital: Use platforms like TikTok, SoundCloud, and YouTube to showcase your talent for free.
  • Local Gigs: Perform at open mics or community events to gain exposure.
  • DIY Recording: Utilize a computer and free software to start recording.
  • Networking: Collaborate with local artists to share resources.
  • Crowdfunding: Use platforms like Kickstarter to fund specific projects.
Harry mack
Rapper and producer Harry Mack has built a significant career by using social media to broadcast public freestyles.

Goals for Music as a Career

Setting goals is crucial in how to start a music career. Define short-term goals, like recording a song by a certain date or playing a specific number of gigs, to keep you focused and productive.

Also, set long-term goals based on your career aspirations, whether it’s becoming an independent performing artist or creating music for films. Clear goals help you make better decisions and stay motivated.

1. Invest in Your Growth

Investing in your growth is a necessary step in starting a music career. This investment could be in the form of time, money, or both. You might need to hire professionals to build your website, pay for studio time, or produce merchandise.

Believing in your abilities and being willing to invest in yourself is essential. If you can’t invest in your music career, it’s unlikely that others will.

2. Develop Your Skills

Continuous skill development is vital in music as a career. Practice regularly, whether you’re singing, rapping, or producing. Even if you are naturally talented, consistent practice is necessary to refine your abilities and maintain high performance standards. Perform in front of an audience as often as possible to gain confidence and improve your stage presence.

4. Create Online Presence

In the digital age, a strong online presence is vital for anyone looking to pursue music as a career. Social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are powerful tools for reaching a global audience. Regularly posting content, engaging with followers, and utilizing platform-specific features can help build a loyal fanbase.

Creating high-quality content that showcases your music and personality is key. Music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and interactive live sessions can all contribute to building a connection with your audience. Additionally, having a professional website where fans can find all your music, upcoming events, and contact information can enhance your online presence.

5. Network with Others in the Music Industry

Networking is an integral part of how to start a music career. Building relationships with other musicians, industry professionals, and fans can open doors to new opportunities. Networking isn’t just about advancing your career; it’s also about creating a support system.

Collaborating with other artists can lead to creative growth and new perspectives. Attend local music events, join online forums, and participate in music communities to expand your network.

6. Build a Strong Team

As your music career grows, you’ll need a team to support you. This team might include:

  • Music Producers: Help you write and arrange music.
  • Managers: Handle communication and negotiations with the industry.
  • Promoters and Agents: Book gigs and promote your music.
  • Marketing Experts: Develop and execute marketing strategies.
  • Assistants: Help with administrative tasks.

Assembling a reliable team can significantly enhance your career by allowing you to focus more on your music.

7. Understand Music Distribution

To reach a wider audience, you need to distribute your music effectively. Use online distributors like Ditto Music, DistroKid, TuneCore, or CDBaby to get your music on major platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. These services also help with administrative tasks like royalty collection, ensuring you get paid for your work.

8. Monetize Your Music

While it may take time to earn significant income from your music, there are various ways to monetize your work. These include:

  • Streaming Royalties: Earn money when your music is streamed on platforms like Spotify and YouTube.
  • Sync Licensing: License your music for use in commercials, films, and TV shows.
  • Live Performances: Perform at concerts and events to earn income and gain exposure.

9. Understand Music Copyright Laws

Protecting your music through copyright is essential. Register your compositions with organizations like ASCAP or BMI to secure your rights and ensure you receive royalties. Understanding copyright laws helps prevent plagiarism and ensures you’re compensated for your work.

10. Develop Your Music as a Business

Treating your music career as a business is crucial for long-term success. Create a marketing plan, develop a brand identity, and understand your target audience. Managing your finances and seeking legal advice for contracts are also important aspects of running your music career as a business.

11. Create Captivating Music Videos

Visual elements are powerful tools for engaging your audience. Invest in creating high-quality music videos that reflect your artistic vision. Collaborate with visual artists who can bring your ideas to life and make your music videos stand out.

12. Go Live

Delivering memorable live performances is crucial for building a loyal fan base. Focus on creating an entertaining and engaging experience for your audience. Practice regularly and refine your live set to ensure you deliver consistent, high-quality performances.

13. Maintain Your Mental Health

The music industry can be demanding, so it's important to prioritize your mental health. Regular exercise, meditation, and hobbies can help manage stress. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling with mental health issues. Maintaining a healthy mind is crucial for sustaining a long and successful career.

14. Prepare for a Long Journey

Starting a music career is a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared for setbacks and rejections, but stay committed to your goals. Surround yourself with supportive people and keep pushing forward, no matter the obstacles. The journey may be long and challenging, but with perseverance and strategic planning, you can achieve your dreams in the music industry.

What Is the Best Age to Start a Music Career?

Old Musicians - Sandie Clarke

When it comes to starting a music career, the concept of age often sparks significant debate. One must differentiate between starting a career and starting to train in music. If you're already a seasoned musician, you may be ready to launch your music career immediately.

However, if you're just getting started, you need a much longer runway. This section aims to thoroughly explore the question, "what is the best age to start a music career," and to provide detailed insights into whether or not additional training is needed, depending on the specific field of music you’re targeting.

Starting a Career vs Starting to Train as a Musician

Starting a music career is vastly different from starting music training. For those who have been playing instruments, singing, or producing music for years, launching a music career might be the next logical step.

These individuals have likely built a substantial skill set and possibly even a local following, making the transition to a professional career more feasible. Conversely, beginners will need significant time and dedication to develop their talents to a level where they can compete in the industry.

The amount of time required to train before starting a music career varies widely among individuals. For instance, classical musicians often begin training at a very young age, sometimes as early as three or four years old.

This early start provides ample time to develop the technical skills and deep musical understanding required for a successful career in classical music. However, this doesn’t mean that starting later is impossible; it merely indicates that the training runway will be longer.

The Value of Additional Training

Whether additional training is needed depends largely on the music field you're targeting. Some fields, like classical or jazz music, typically require extensive formal education and training.

This may include degrees from conservatories or music schools, private lessons, and countless hours of practice. These genres demand a high level of technical proficiency and a deep understanding of music theory.

On the other hand, fields like pop, rock, or electronic music might not require the same level of formal training. Many successful artists in these genres are self-taught, relying on personal creativity and unique sound rather than formal education. However, even in these fields, understanding music production, marketing, and the business side of the industry can be beneficial.

Is 30 Too Old to Start a Music Career?

A common question is, "is 30 too old to start a music career?" The answer is a resounding no. Many successful musicians have started their careers later in life. For example, Susan Boyle, who became famous at 47, or Sheryl Crow, who released her first album at 31. Age can bring a greater level of maturity, life experience, and a better understanding of oneself, which can all be beneficial when creating meaningful and authentic music.

Additionally, older individuals may have a more stable financial situation or a better support network, helping them navigate the challenges of the music industry. Starting a music career later in life can provide a fresh perspective and a unique voice that sets you apart in the industry.

Is 25 Too Old to Start a Music Career?

Similarly, "is 25 too old to start a music career?" is another common query. At 25, many individuals have already gained some level of professional experience, whether in music or another field. This can be an advantage, as it brings a level of professionalism and discipline that might be less common among younger aspirants.

At 25, you are young enough to relate to younger audiences but old enough to have a sense of direction and purpose. This balance can be crucial in navigating the music industry, which often requires both creativity and strategic planning.

5 Musicians That Started Late

Numerous success stories in the music industry illustrate that age is just a number. For instance, Leonard Cohen mentioned below, didn't release his first album until he was 33, and  still went on to have a prolific career. Andrea Bocelli, the world-renowned tenor, didn't start his professional music career until he was in his mid-30s.

These examples underscore that the best age to start a music career is not fixed but rather depends on the individual’s readiness and passion. Here are 5 recent musicians that started sate that you're likely familiar with.

1. Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams 2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Pharrell is widely recognized for his impact on contemporary music, but his rise to stardom came relatively later in his career compared to many pop icons. Pharrell first gained significant attention in his early 30s as part of the production duo The Neptunes, alongside Chad Hugo.

Despite dabbling in music from a young age, it wasn't until his early 30s that Pharrell truly broke through as a solo artist and producer. His 2013 hit single "Happy," released when he was 40, catapulted him to global fame.

The song's success underscored Pharrell's ability to create timeless music that resonated across different age groups, proving that talent can flourish at any stage of life. His late bloom in the music industry highlights the importance of perseverance and continuous creative evolution.

2. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen 2013

A prime example of a musician who found fame later in life, Cohen began his career as a poet and novelist in the 1950s and 60s. However, it wasn't until 1967, at the age of 33, that he released his first album, "Songs of Leonard Cohen." His entry into the music world was driven by a desire to reach a broader audience, feeling that his poetry and novels were not enough to sustain his artistic ambitions.

Despite his late start, Cohen quickly became a revered figure in folk and rock music, known for his deep, introspective lyrics and distinctive voice. His later start allowed him to bring a wealth of life experience and literary skill to his music, which resonated deeply with audiences worldwide.

3. Jay-Z

Jay Z 02 mika

Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, didn't release his debut album "Reasonable Doubt" until he was 26 years old. While 26 might not seem particularly old, in the world of rap, where many artists start in their late teens or early twenties, it is considered a later start. Jay-Z spent his early years honing his skills on the streets of Brooklyn and engaging in entrepreneurial ventures that would later fund his music career.

His late start in music allowed him to bring a mature perspective and business acumen to his career, which has been marked by both critical and commercial success. Today, Jay-Z is not only celebrated as one of the greatest rappers of all time but also as a savvy businessman and cultural icon, demonstrating that starting a music career later can lead to sustained and multifaceted success.

4. Jelly Roll

NYE pre jelly roll

Jason DeFord, known by his stage name Jelly Roll, is an artist who defied the conventional age expectations of the music industry. He started his music career in his late 20s, initially gaining attention in the underground rap scene. Jelly Roll's journey was marked by personal struggles, including battles with addiction and legal issues, which delayed his entry into the music world.

His experiences gave his music a raw, authentic edge that resonated with fans. It wasn't until his early 30s that he started to achieve significant recognition, blending genres like rap, rock, and country to create a unique sound. Jelly Roll's late start underscores the idea that personal challenges can be transformed into powerful art, and that it's never too late to pursue one's passion.

5. Billy Ray Cyrus

Billy Ray Cyrus Live

Best known for his 1992 hit "Achy Breaky Heart," which Billy Ray Cyrus released at the age of 30. Before finding fame, Cyrus spent years performing in small venues and working various jobs to support his family. His breakthrough came when he signed with Mercury Records and released his debut album, "Some Gave All," which included the smash hit. The song's success propelled him to international stardom and solidified his place in country music history.

Despite the late start, Billy Ray Cyrus's career has had a lasting impact, and he continues to influence the music industry both as an artist and through his collaborations, such as his notable feature on Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" in 2019. His journey emphasizes that persistence and dedication can eventually lead to success, regardless of when you start.

Practical Steps for Different Ages

Regardless of age, certain steps can help in starting a music career:

  1. Assess Your Skills: Whether you are 20, 30, or 40, start by honestly assessing your musical skills. Identify areas where you excel and those where you need improvement.
  2. Continuous Learning: Engage in continuous learning. Take lessons, attend workshops, and stay updated with industry trends. Learning should be an ongoing process, no matter your age.
  3. Build a Network: Networking is crucial in the music industry. Attend events, join music forums, and connect with other musicians. A strong network can open doors to various opportunities.
  4. Create a Portfolio: Develop a portfolio showcasing your work. This can include recordings, videos of live performances, or a professionally produced demo. Your portfolio is your calling card to industry professionals.
  5. Understand the Business: Familiarize yourself with the business side of music. This includes marketing, contract negotiations, and distribution. Understanding these aspects can significantly enhance your chances of success.

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