Embarking on a music career is very rewarding. Those who have chosen this journey would have likely made this decision out of passion and talent. It is one of those careers that attract people who love what they do, and are passionate about sharing their craft.
Much like other creative industries, music is often categorised by projects and/or events. It is common to be playing multiple roles (ie. performer and arranger, or engineer and marketing manager) in different seasons of one's career. There rarely is a fixed, straight and narrow path to achieve success in this career. It is critical to be self-aware of one’s strengths and networks to find the right fit in the sea of opportunities.
There are many areas one can choose to specialise. In a vibrant and arts-filled city like Singapore, the options are endless, paths - diverse. Here are some career options you can find in Singapore if you are considering to be a professional musician:
1) Composers / Writers / Arrangers
Singapore is home to numerous multi-national corporations, often locating their headquarters and marketing efforts here. With it brings a steady demand for Music Creatives and composers in advertising. Jingle Writers compose catchy, 'earworm' tunes for radio or television advertisements. These positions are typically based in an office studio within the organisation, marketing agency or production house.
There are also Film Composers/Scorers who put music to moving images for movies, TV dramas, animated cartoons, and documentaries. Mediacorp is one example of where you can find in-house composers writing music. Some of these tunes are timeless, forming part of the memory triggers of one's childhood, evoking a sense of nostalgia.
Live shows such as fundraisers, singing competitions, and the annual National Day Parade require Arrangers and Orchestrators as well. These programmes often involve using popular songs of today to be performed in a different style and instrumentation. The original music scores have to be rearranged as the duration and choice of instruments will often be different. Music is arranged to suit the theme of the programme, and also adjusted to showcase the performer's strengths.
2) Sound Designers
With the advancement of technology and sound, digitally synthesised music has been on the rise. Sound Designers make use of technology to create unique sound effects and tone colours for specific purposes. Most of these can be found in the gaming industry, film industry, interactive exhibitions at museums, and education platforms on websites and mobile apps.
Live performances are familiar to many, and this is what most people engage with on a regular basis. Performers brings art to life. Artists are professional entertainers who derive income from live shows, performing self-penned songs, or showcasing other people’s works. Music artists also generate income from music streaming, product endorsements, and record sales.
Performers who do not prefer the limelight as much as artists do, but still enjoy playing on their instruments can perform in General Business bands such as wedding bands, live band at pubs, and orchestra pits in musical theatre shows. In Singapore, gig opportunities can be sourced through companies such as Hummingbird, Musical Touch and High Notes.
There are also Piano Accompanists who play for choir and opera rehearsals, ballet classes and solo instrument examinations such as the violin or saxophone. They are required to have a good ability to sight-read, play scores that have been reduced from the orchestral score, featuring both melody and chords.
Composers and arrangers hire Session Musicians to bring their music to life in the recording studios. The key to becoming a successful session-ist is sight reading and the versatility to play in various styles. Above all, studio recordings pick up everything - every missed note and missed dynamic. It can be a rather unforgiving so a high level of technicality, precision and accuracy is required in all recordings!
4) Music Producer and Engineer
The recorded music industry today has transformed into digital files and music streaming. This process involves different types of roles behind the scene. The Producer oversees all aspects of the project - liaising with artists to record labels and giving critical feedback and direction in terms of musicality and engineering technicalities. The Recording Engineer works on the mixing console and prepares the studio before the recording session. Good ears and familiarity with Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) are necessary skills to have. After the recording session, the engineer usually doubles up as the Recording Mixer to fine tune the audio tracks. Finally, the Mastering/Post-Production Engineer is in charge of the final touches such as equalisation (EQ) and compression of the audio files. Not forgetting the Studio Managers/Owners who have to manage bookings, market the studio and ensure their clients are satisfied with the experience at the studio. Some examples of recording studios in Singapore are, SoundFarm, Red Roof Records, Anadigi Sound Lab, and Lion Studios.
Live shows require engineers as well. The Live Sound Engineer's job is to ensure the performers sound their best during the show. They position equipments in the venue, conduct sound checks, and control the soundboard during showtime. Sound Technician looks over the transportation of the equipment to performance venues and supervise the setting up of equipments. They may also support the live sound engineer at the soundboard.
The Acoustic Consultant ensure performing venues and practice spaces are at its optimum condition. They analyse the acoustical environment using decibel metre and work with interior designers to fix any problems without compromising the aesthetics of the place. There are also Acoustic Engineer that work with the sound and vibration of products like vehicles, ships, and machines, ensuring that they meet requirements and expectations. Example of such a company is LSP Consultants.
Conductors are hired in a variety of settings - school bands, musical theatre orchestra pits, concert hall orchestras and choirs. This role requires charisma and a broad understanding of many instruments and score to be able to lead musicians towards musical excellence. Precision and expressiveness is valued in bringing out a high standard of performance.
6) Music Educator
Music Educators are found in universities, music schools, government schools and homeschools. Each of these settings require different skill sets and qualifications. In the classroom setting, music educators need to have good classroom management skills to deliver fundamental concepts of music or music appreciation classes. They often need to know basic knowledge of several instruments so that they can impart them through the different school terms. Musical instrument tutors such as piano teachers, require deep understanding of the instrument. They usually teach in a one-to-one setting and bring to the class their performance experiences and music theory knowledge. In universities, one can find Music Researchers, who may conduct studies in the area of Music Pedagogy, Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Neuroscience of Music, Music Theory and Community Music.
There are also careers in Examination Boards such as ABRSM and Rockschool. Business Development Managers, Marketing Managers and Customer Relations are needed to continually promote the syllabi and provide administration of the examination registration and venues.
7) Music Therapist
Hospitals, special needs schools and private clinics have a demand for Music Therapists. These are trained professionals who have dedicated years studying music and the brain. They also need to know how to play instruments like the piano and guitar, so that they can use it during sessions with their patients. There have been many examples where music therapy has helped those who have lost their ability to speak, or those battling with Alzheimer's Disease. At Singapore General Hospital, their Music to the Ears music therapy programme aims to improve the quality of life for hearing-impaired children.
8) Music Business Management
Concert Promoters and Programmers positions can be found in Esplanade, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Aliwal Arts Centre and other performance venues and performing arts groups. Their job is to liaise with international and local-based artists to create an engaging programme and meet ticket sales targets.
Marketing-related roles are needed in Spotify, Warner Music Singapore, and Sony Music Entertainment Singapore. These organisations work closely with artists and music law as well. Along the line of the legal aspects of the music industry, composers will receive royalties for their work by first submitting their compositions to Music Licensing Specialist such as Composers & Authors Society of Singapore Ltd. (COMPASS).
Other than the concerts and music streaming industry, we also have Product representative/specialist and Retail Sales Managers. They are committed to the sale, use and technical maintenance of instruments. Piano and keyboard brands like CASIO, Steinway & Sons, YAMAHA, Korg, and Roland require product knowledge and market understanding. They work closely with industry partners and stakeholders, frequently creating marketing campaigns to keep customers interested and well-informed.
We hope this list will provide music graduates with some guidance to embarking on a rewarding and successful music career. A music career is full of adventure and possibilities. The challenges are many, but the journey is rewarding.