Top 5 Skills They Don’t Teach You in Music School

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Being a fantastic musician won’t guarantee you a place in the music industry. 

It seems incredibly unfair. Talented musicians with fantastic musical training struggle to find financially and creatively rewarding careers

Sound familiar? You’re not alone

It seems like there are too many musicians and not enough work for you. 

But it is possible to thrive in the music industry. 

In my experience, it’s almost never a lack of musical talent, personal drive, or connections starting out that drive musicians away from the work they really want to do. 

Almost always, what holds you back from a music career is lacking expertise in one or more of these 5 essential areas which every musician today absolutely needs….but you won’t learn in music school. 

Here is my recipe for a working musician – the 5 primary skills you need to thrive in today’s music industry. 


Let’s be honest. This isn’t going to work out if you haven’t mastered a few musical skills before you launch your career. 

You really need to have mastery over your domain, whether that’s your voice, an instrument, writing music, or any other primary musical skill. 

However today, mastery over only one musical skill can leave you vulnerable to shifts in the industry. 

If you can add to your skill set with arranging, improvising, writing original music, mastering additional instruments, musical programming, writing about music – all of these can help you weather the storms of a changing industry today and in the future. 

Don’t worry! You don’t need these additional skills when you launch your career. But try to never pass up an opportunity to learn something new and contribute in a different way to musical projects as your career progresses and expands.  


Skills in audio, visual, and live music production can definitely count as additional (or primary!) musical skills that you develop over the course of your career. 

I made this a special category because these skills are not optional. Every single musician will need to utilize technology in their career. 

Music today is shared through a medium of technology. Every musician needs a way to share their music – either through DIY musical production or through the right contractors, volunteers, or institutional support. 

Long story short, there is no getting around the technology of music. Either you pick up these tools yourself or you need connections to hire those who already have these skills. 


A tough lesson so many of us have to learn as musicians is…no one is coming to find you. 

Your talent doesn’t send out a bat signal to agents and audiences. 

You’re the expert on your music so you have to be the first and most dedicated advocate for what you do.  

However, there are many different ways to do this and you can find the way that works for your music, your personality, and your life.  

Here are just a few ideas for getting your music out into the wider world: 

  • Frequent musical videos on social media
  • A newsletter with tips and tricks on your instrument for students
  • Individual meetings with concert producers, agents or ensemble leaders 
  • Coffee meetings with colleagues to brainstorm sharing opportunities 


Have you ever seen a course offered in accounting, budgeting, and taxes for musicians? 

Unless you work for a single employer your entire career as a musician (do you know anyone like this?) you need these basic financial skills

It’s not sexy but you need to learn to love spreadsheets. You need a budget for every month and every project. You need to track gig payments that are due in the next month and the teaching income you can project for the coming year. 

You need to track business expenses and set aside enough money for taxes. You need to know whether you can pay your bills in six months and next year! 

As a small business owner (you’re the small business) you need to know how to price your services, understand basic contracts and negotiations, and how to create a financial plan. 


No matter how much you love what you do – no matter how much talent and drive you have – this is not easy. 

This work is emotionally, intellectually, and physically challenging

We are athletes, life coaches, public figures, producers, and business managers.  

Like any elite athlete on a training program we need rest.  

  • Physical rest is essential to performance. 
  • Mental rest is essential to creativity. 
  • Strong support systems are essential to create space for this rest. 

Creating a long-term career in the music industry requires balance and boundaries so you can give your best, be your best, and love your life as a musician.  


Are there one or two areas above where you need some help?  

  • Are you terrified of spreadsheets?  
  • Are you great with a budget but don’t know how to set boundaries? 
  • Does the phrase ‘music technology’ make you want to cry? 

That’s okay! Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and everyone needs support.

The iCadenza Insider’s Club is here to help you identify the skills you need to develop and support your growth through learning opportunities, coaching, and community support. 

In the club you can find regular coaching and check-ins, materials and courses to develop all of the skills you need to thrive, and a community of support.  

Want to check it out for free?  Use the code:  ‘ONEMONTHFREE’    for one month free in the club! 

written by Sarah Robinson, iCadenza Coach and Recording Artist

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