A resume is like a piece of sheet music – it must hit the right notes with the recruiter. There are many musicians who don’t get hired not because they lacked talent but because their applications fell flat.
In order to get signed up for the gig, you must secure the opportunity to show the recruiter what you can do when you do go live. We’re here to help you take that first step by sharing these tips on how to write a great resume for musicians.
1. Choose the Right Resume Format
The basic structure of a song is as follows:
There’s nothing wrong with using the basic structure to compose music. But it might not highlight your strengths as a musician. That’s why iconic bands with amazing musicians like Queen don’t stick to the formula.
For example, “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t have a chorus.
In resume writing, the reverse-chronological format is often regarded as the basic structure and arranges its sections as follows:
- Contact Information
- Objective Statement or Career Summary
- Summary of Skills
- Work Experience
The purpose of the reverse-chronological format is to showcase your work experience. That’s why it’s situated in the middle with the top and bottom third sections providing information intended to add value to your work history.
But what if you don’t have enough work experience? What if you took a year off from work? Under these circumstances, the reverse-chronological format might highlight the reasons why not to hire you.
Instead, you might be better off using the functional format which structures your resume in this manner:
- Contact Information
- Summary of Skills
- Objective Statement
- Work/Performance Experience
As you can see, the functional format shifts the recruiter’s attention away from work experience and toward the skills and abilities that qualify you as an musician. Also, instead of “Work Experience” you can use “Performance Experience” if you’ve had gigs or live performances.
Now, if you’re applying for a high-up position in Arts such as Creative Director or Music Director, use the Combination format. It’s called “Combination” because it incorporates the salient elements of both the reverse-chronological and functional formats:
- Reverse-chronological – The work experience section leads off with your current or most recent employment period.
- Functional – The combination format follows the same structure as the functional format.
The differences are that when using the combination, use a Career Summary instead of an Objective Statement and go into detail with your work experience. It might be worth checking a musician resume sample to better understand what recruiters expect to find in your resume or how it can be formatted.
2. Compose a Compelling Career Summary
A Career Summary organizes the milestones and highlights of your time as an musician thus far.
Why is this important?
Think about this section as your sales pitch. You’re summarizing your strongest selling points – the qualities that make you stand out from the rest of the job applicants.
How do you write a Career Summary section that catches the interest of the recruiter?
- Lead-off with the top priority identified by the potential employer. For example, If it’s a “minimum of 2 years work experience” and you’ve been working for 5 years, start off with that.
- Give a short rundown of your most defining career milestones.
- Indicate 1 or 2 skills that you’re highly proficient in.
- Briefly mention some of the awards you received.
“5 years of work experience in the industry as a session musician, a member of an orchestra, musical collaborator, musical director, composer of jingles and music scores for short films. Composed, produced, arranged, and played all string sections in the film score for ‘One Day in A Year’ that received an award for ‘Best Musical Score’ in the 2020 Filmax Awards.”
Two things to remember when writing a Career Summary are to always think about the needs of the employer in mind and to keep it short but concise.
3. Shine the Spotlight on Your Top Musical Skills
A painter isn’t just someone who can create art but he might have the ability to teach art to students. He might have the business acumen to manage a foundation or the requisite skills to curate works of art.
The same can be said about a musician. Your talents might grow beyond playing the instrument of your choice. Perhaps you can teach, produce music for upcoming talent, create original compositions for other artists, or conduct a symphony orchestra.
Similarly, your top music skills aren’t limited to technical expertise. If the choice is tight between 2 candidates with similar musical skills, the company will eventually make its choice on the basis of character or soft skills.
If hard skills answer the question “What can you do?” soft skills answer the question “Can we work with you?”
Soft skills are the attributes that best describe your personality and define your approach to art.
For example, after deep introspection, you identified the following as your top soft skills:
- Open to Criticism
Pick 3 that accurately describe your top personality attributes and include them under the section “Summary of Skills”.
4. Articulate Your Experiences
Learning theory gives you the tools and the knowledge to create and play musical styles and art forms that vary in complexity. But as most musicians will tell you, there’s a big difference between learning theory and applying it to performance.
For this reason, recruiters tend to zone in the work experience section to find out if you can deliver the goods when it matters the most.
As an example, if you’re applying for a job as a session musician, you must be able to nail your parts in only a few takes. Otherwise, you’ll run up the production budget.
When writing about your work experiences, articulate your job descriptions. What do we mean?
In music, to articulate means to sound a note with great clarity and in a way that accurately expresses the emotion intended by the musician. Thus, create job descriptions that are clear, concise, and dynamic.
Going back to our previous example, here are examples of well-articulated job descriptions for someone applying for the position of session musician:
- Meet with the music director, producer, songwriter, and singer to discuss the ideas, objectives, and intentions of the album in order to get a clearer understanding of the style of playing.
- Perform tonal checks on various instruments and run them through different setups to determine the right combinations per song.
- Compose rhythm tracks including licks and fills as necessary; run overdubs to identify the best wall of sound.
- Create multiple samples of rhythm and lead tracks and play them for the record producer and principal songwriter.
- Conduct a playthrough of the solos and breaks and identify the best sample.
- Run equipment tests and checks onstage.
- Select equipment to be used and finalize the tunings on each instrument.
Always lead off your job descriptions with verbs that are easily associated with the arts such as “perform”, “conduct”, “compose” and “play”. Keep the job descriptions short and to the point but don’t leave out crucial details.
5. Optimize with Social Media
Arnel Pineda, the vocalist who replaced Steve Perry in Journey, was discovered by guitarist Neal Schon on YouTube.
Social media has been proven to be an excellent medium for discovering talent. Instead of sharing a video of your cat, upload a video snippet of a recent live performance.
If you compose songs, upload them on SoundCloud or post links to the recordings on Facebook and Twitter. Share your thoughts and opinions on the current state of the art. Most importantly, engage with your audience.
Build an impressive social media presence that validates your talent as a musician. Put up a website and include a portfolio webpage where you can share samples of your work.
Include your website URL and the links to your social media pages in the Contact section of your resume. You can be assured that the recruiter will click on at least one of the posted links.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that artists such as musicians and singers average an hourly rate of US$41.46. There are various industries that offer work opportunities for musicians. The highest paying industry involves promoters of the performing arts for special events at US$50.74 per hour.
Likewise, the job outlook for musicians is bright with demand pegged at 11% per annum for the next 10 years. The projected demand for musicians is much higher than the average for the job market which currently sits at 4%.
It’s a good time to be an musician but given the high level of talent in the market, don’t settle for an application that makes you come across like the Milli Vanilli of job candidates. Use the 5 tips we provided in this guide to help you write a great resume as a musician.