Orchestras, choirs and glee clubs all need a leader – and a music director or conductor fills that void. And while the performers are often the recipients of the most praise, it is usually the hard work of the music director that ultimately creates a fluid, successful production. Music directors conduct and plan both vocal and instrumental performances. They must also audition and select the musicians or singers that will be used in the ensemble, establishing which parts they will play and deciding on the most appropriate music for their talent, ability and skill level. During rehearsals, the director is in charge of making sure the musicians are prepared, and making any necessary changes to the score. Directors work to achieve harmony, rhythm, pitch and tempo and balance it with other musical effects. Other responsibilities a musical director often handles include collaborating with music librarians to ensure the availability of scores; engaging the services of composers to write scores and discuss interpretations of their work; applying for grants, developing budgets and designing programs; and arranging concert dates, venues, accommodations and transportation for longer tours.
Studying an instrument or voice training at an early age is typical of those aspiring to become a music director.
A bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree in a music-related field, combined with actual performance experience, is the best preparation for potential music directors.
Competition for jobs is keen; music directors may need to consider guest conductor positions with multiple organizations until a permanent spot opens.
Music directors spend the majority of their time practicing and rehearsing with an orchestra, symphony, choir or glee club. There may also be travel, as some performance companies tour frequently. Directors can expect to work with a wide variety of people, including colleagues, agents, employers, sponsors and audiences. Although much of their work is done indoors, certain parades, concerts and festivals may require conducting outdoors.
Education, Training and Licensing
Training is the key to becoming a successful music director. Many start their training at a young age – usually as a musician or singer themselves – before attending music conservatories or colleges and universities. A bachelor’s degree with a music concentration is generally required, though most schools also offer master’s degree and doctorate programs. The curriculum usually includes courses such as music history, theory and composition, performance and conducting, tempo, control and dynamics. Some individuals pursuing a career as a music director also take classes in marketing, writing, fundraising and grant writing – tasks many of them will likely be required to do. Other skills a music director should possess include principles and procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, training, time management and leadership.
Music directors should be well-versed and knowledgeable in a wide range of musical stylings. Though this can be taught, many gain their understanding through actual performance experience – playing one or many types of string or wind instruments in a symphony, orchestra or band. Being familiar with the real thing also prepares a music director to better relate to the stresses and pressures often felt by those he or she is directing, auditioning or rehearsing.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
In 2014, approximately 21,880 music directors and composers were employed within the United States, though most were located in larger cities were entertainment venues and activities are prevalent, such as New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Nashville. The industries with the highest levels of employment for music directors are as follows: elementary and secondary schools, religious organizations, performing arts companies, independent workers, and colleges, universities and professional schools.
Median annual wages of salaried music directors and composers was $48,180 in May 2014. Job prospects are expected to increase by about 5% between 2012 and 2022, and competition for positions should remain strong. Until permanent employment is found, music directors may consider accepting guest director positions for multiple organizations, continuing on as a musician, or composing original music to record or sell.