How to become a musician: Isabel's story

Meet Isabel. She's 24 and lives in Cardiff. Find out about her job as a musician and music teacher. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

Isabel smiling at the camera.
"With performing, you make a name for yourself by just doing and pushing yourself to develop your skills."

How would you describe your job?

I do loads of different things, all to do with music. I teach private piano lessons, and conduct two choirs – one is made up of 60 adults and the other is a group of carers.

I also play in different live bands for events, like weddings.

What route did you take to get to where you are today?

I've taken piano lessons since I was 8. I chose Music at GCSE and continued it through to A-level. I completed my grades in singing and piano, and then applied to university. I did an undergraduate degree in Music and then a master's degree in Music, Culture, and Politics.

I started conducting choirs when I was 15, set up my own choir when I was 16, and then carried on throughout university.

When I was 18, my piano teacher said she would help train me up to become a teacher myself. I've increased my number of pupils since then through various contacts and recommendations.

Isabel playing the piano.
Isabel improved her skills by conducting choirs and playing events while she was at university.

Have you faced any challenges in your job?

The main challenge is time. You have to give up your weekends and evenings, on top of working throughout the week. It also takes a good few years to build up a name for yourself and get a reputation, so for a while you can do a lot of hours and not make a lot of money, but it's worth it to be doing something you love.

Top tips

  • Trust your instincts. People may tell you not to go into music because of misconceptions, but if you are good at it and hard-working, it is possible
  • If you're interested in music, start by giving it a go
  • Keep developing your skills. In addition to taking lesson, there are so many brilliant online tutorials that you an use to learn music. Make use of them
  • Be prepared to diversify your skills. While you might make a whole career from being a pro violinist, for example, it's more likely you'll also need to teach, conduct, write, run workshops, work with charities, compose or organise events to supplement your income.

What to expect if you want to be a musician

Like lots of musicians, Isabel is self-employed and does a number of different jobs related to music. Working for yourself looks different for each person and each business, but in general it means you:

  • run your own business and are responsible for its success
  • can decide how, when and where you do your work
  • charge an agreed, fixed price for your work
  • sell goods or services to make a profit
  • can hire people at your own expense to help you or to do the work for you.

The salary and working hours can vary enormously but what's most important is you work hard and love what you do.

You can be both employed and self-employed at the same time. You can work for your employer during the day, for example, and run your own business in the evenings and at weekends. It’s important to contact HMRC for advice if you’re not sure if you’re self-employed.

You can get help with setting up or developing your business, through the government’s business support services, for example, for advice about tax or how to find funding to start your business.

Some musicians do work in full-time employment ,such as classical musicians or music teachers in a school.

This information is a guide (source: LMI for All, National Careers Service, GOV.UK)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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