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What Is a Musician?

Many musicians learned the basics on the piano.
A musician is anyone who plays a musical instrument, whether professionally or as a hobby.
A musician may specialize in playing one type of instrument, such as a guitar.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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A musician is a person who composes and/or performs music, usually as an occupation but often as a hobby. He or she may play a musical instrument or several musical instruments, or he or she may be a vocalist instead. A person who makes his or her living as a musician must usually spend a significant amount of time learning how to play an instrument or sing exceptionally well to become known within the music world, which is a highly competitive field in which failure is not only possible, but exceptionally likely.

Any genre of music can be played by a musician. He or she may focus on one specific genre — rock and roll, for example — or the musician may be talented enough to write and perform music across a wide range of genres. Many genres of music are closely related, making it easier for a musician to perform in more than one genre, though it will still take some talent to perform or write music well in more than one genre.

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Musicians who make their living off writing or performing music do not often make a significant amount of money. The lifestyle can be particularly difficult, as many musicians travel constantly to expose their music to a wider range of listeners. The musician may produce a music album for sale or for exposure, but live performances are more likely to help the musician gain notoriety. Some musicians get noticed by record company representatives, who subsequently sign those musicians to record deals. These deals can vary in details, though many allow the musicians to create and distribute a music album; sometimes the deal allows them to tour around a region or country, or even the world, to promote the album and the musicians themselves.

A band is a group of musicians who play music together. Bands usually consist of several musicians who play different instruments, and the band usually focuses on one genre. Some mix genres as well, though again, this can be difficult to do well. A rock band, for example, may feature members who play drums, guitars, bass, and piano or keyboards. The band will also likely feature one or more vocalists. That rock band may focus on a certain genre of music, namely rock and roll, though they may incorporate elements from other genres, including the blues, jazz, folk, funk, and so on. Bands tend to develop a certain style by combining elements of different genres of music.

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Discuss this Article

letshearit
Post 9

@lonelygod - I have a friend who studied at a musician's institute and has had some success as a session musician, meaning he plays on other artist's records for a flat fee. For that lifestyle you need to be reliable and available at a moment's notice - if somebody phones you up needing a guitar part at 11pm you have to be ready to say "yes". You also need to be in a large urban area where many albums are typically recorded.

My friend has another job and does not want to tour so this is probably the best fit possible for him as a musician. Sometimes you will hear that there is little money in album sales and a musician needs to tour to make a decent living, but there are some musicians who either cannot or will not tour, making their prospects all the more bleak.

lonelygod
Post 8

I think playing in a band is more difficult than being a solo musician. For one thing, it means you need three or four other people who are dependable, which is far from a sure thing in any professional field any more, let alone in the free-spirited world of musicians. If you are in a small urban area, it can be hard to find musicians who you can play with, especially if you happen to play in a genre that is not widely popular.

Also, the more musicians in your band, the more ways you have to split the paycheck, which makes finding financial success in the music field all the more difficult.

Does anyone know of someone in your own city who makes a fair wage being a musician, even though they're not famous?

honeybees
Post 7

We have some good friends whose daughter recently moved to Nashville to pursue a career in this industry. She has an excellent voice but I know the competition is fierce.

She has a college degree in music and now works as a day care teacher and waits tables at night just to make ends meet.

During he spare time she participates in as many open mic nights as she can in the hopes of getting noticed.

She has only been pursing this for a few months, but I know she has come in contact with others who have been working at it for many years.

While I hope doors open up for her and she is successful, I know it will be a lot of hard, persistent work for her.

SarahSon
Post 6

I have known several very talented musicians, but have never personally known anyone who was able to make a full time living at it.

The only person I knew who worked full time at it was a high school band teacher. This salary supported him and also gave him the time to further pursue other musical endeavors.

It seems like full time jobs for musicians are few and far between. It takes a lot of persistence, time and money to make it in this business.

Money is the one thing that most people don't have. Because of this they have to work a full time job at something else to pay the bills and this doesn't leave a lot of extra time.

There are many passionate and talented people who want to be full time musicians. It seems to have worked best when they find ways to pursue the passion without making it their life's work.

seag47
Post 5

I’m in a band, and whenever we have to replace any member, we look for a musician who can play by ear. This means that whether or not they have had lessons or formal training, they are able to play a song after hearing it.

Often, these musicians can’t read music. That is fine with us, because we all play by ear. If a musician has this ability, it usually means he is a higher quality musician than those who have to rely on sheet music to play a song.

You would think that people who play by ear would also be great singers, but this isn’t always the case. Some people who seem born to play certain instruments cannot sing well at all.

Speechie
Post 4

A dear friend of mine is a musician both part-time professionally and part-time as a hobby. He has two other jobs, so he fits in his passion whenever possible.

I think now days the term musicians is very loose. There are so many musicians and things that have already been done, not much seems original anymore.

I think this day and age that sometimes people become famous musicians because of their look and how hard and smart they work, instead of how musically successful or skilled they are.

This new emphasis that steers away from talent and musical success is kind of sad. I can barely listen to the radio stations that play today's current hits by the top musicians because a lot of it is just mediocre or even below that.

I do give all musicians props for following their passion and giving so much of their talent and time to their fans and listeners. Even if some musicians do not have much talent, at least hopefully most of them have heart.

A musician who writes his/her own music/lyrics is a lot more than a musician. They are also talented and creative writers and poets. They also help us cope with our emotions and life in general sometimes. So they can also sometimes be therapists and/or therapeutic.

Musicians have a way of changing our mood just by what music they produce. I personally love being happy, so my favorite music is up-beat and full of positive lyrics.

cloudel
Post 3

I can play several instruments, but I think the thing I do best is sing. I have been the lead singer in a band before, and it was way more fun than playing keyboards or guitar.

The problem with playing instruments in a band is that it can be hard to hear yourself. For me personally, playing the keyboard on stage with them is difficult, because I can’t hear all of the notes I’m hitting well enough to know if I’m playing it right. I’m used to playing the piano at home alone, and I hear every little sound there.

When I sing with them, I can hear myself pretty well. It’s easier to rely on instinct to hit the right notes with my voice than with the keyboard. If I can hear the melody, then I can pick it out with my mind and sing the correct pitch. With an instrument, there’s always the chance of hitting the wrong key or plucking the wrong string.

shell4life
Post 2

@OeKc05 - It definitely can be lonely. My best friend is a professional musician who moved to Los Angeles to further her career, and she lost her husband because of her touring schedule.

She plays piano beautifully, and she is good at singing backup vocals. She has toured with several big name bands, and each during each tour, she would be away for months. Her husband got lonely, and he finally gave her an ultimatum.

Being a musician was all she knew how to do. He didn’t have a well paying job, and without her income, they would have ended up on welfare. She pointed this out to him, and he got disgusted with her and left.

This was five years ago, and she hasn’t had a lasting relationship since. She enjoys her career enough that it doesn’t matter too much, though.

OeKc05
Post 1

During my stay in Nashville, I noticed that almost everyone who works a menial day job is a musician also. Every waitress, cashier, or clerk that I struck up conversation with said that they worked their jobs just to support themselves while they tried to make it in the music industry.

Though Nashville is known primarily for its country musicians, many different types of musicians come here to play and hopefully be heard by someone in power. Open mic nights are good times to potentially be heard by record executives.

The sad thing is that many of them have lived there for years and are still trying to make it. Some have been attempting to break into the scene for decades, while many have given up and moved back home. The life of a musician can be a sad and lonely one.

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