You’re a musician. You find an opportunity to break into the business, book a performance, or make the career move you’ve been waiting for.
Now, how do you get the attention of the person who’s offering that dream job?
You need an attention-grabbing resume that will stay on top of the pile of applications on the hiring manager’s desk. But writing a curriculum vitae in a field that appeals to the ear and not the eye can be a challenge.
Here are some ideas for telling the story of your creativity and ability so powerfully and completely that it is a siren song for employers who can take you where you want to go.
Who needs a resume?
Anyone who is looking for a new position.
Are you a performer? You need a resume. A music teacher? Yes, you need a resume too. A composer, conductor, or producer? Yes, yes, yes.
In short, if you want to start a career or make a change—whether your venues are concert halls or opera houses, weddings or occasions, or classrooms or production booths—you need a document that will tell your professional story in a way that delights and intrigues the reader.
What does a musician’s resume accomplish?
The same thing a resume in any field does: It presents your knowledge, talent, skills, and capabilities to hiring managers.
And an effective resume presents those bona fides in a way that leaves the hiring manager asking one question: Does this person fit the position well enough that I should spend any more time considering them?
If it’s true you only get one chance to make a good impression, that’s what your resume should accomplish. If it breaks through the clutter of your competitors’ resumes, you’ll move on in the hiring process. If it doesn’t, work on improving it. Optimization is a process, not a result.
How are musicians' resumes different?
Unlike other industries, which have fairly standard hiring processes, your resume must be tuned to your specialty and highlight your strengths and experience. If you’re a producer, for instance, your formal education may be a lower priority than your production credits. On the other hand, music teachers’ resumes should lead with education, credentials, awards, and performance experience.
The bottom line: Musicians’ resumes generally don’t have to follow the structure or formalities required of medical, legal, or business professionals. Think like the person you’re trying to impress. Highlight the value you add in a way that resonates with that person and use your other information to fill out your professional story.
What are powerful ways for musicians to tell their professional stories?
Here are different types of things musicians can promote on their resumes depending on the jobs they’re applying for:
Instrumentalist: Collaborative nature, quality of playing, music genre expertise
Opera singer: Education, notable performances and awards, types of opera and languages
Orchestra performer: Education, team player, group performance experience
Music director: Areas of music specialization, leadership skills, conducting experience
Producer: Types of music produced, studio experience, artists worked with
Music teacher: Instrument experience, education, ability to work with kids
Touring musician: Instruments played, band performance experience, venues played.
Musicians are applying for all these jobs, but how they present themselves differs significantly.
What should you include in your musician’s resume?
What you feature or highlight on your resume may differ depending on the type of position. However, there is some basic information all should include:
• Header: Make it simple for employers to reach you. Put your contact information at the top of the resume so the hiring manager doesn’t have to search for it.
• Professional summary: Pique the hiring manager’s interest. Craft a brief, scannable synopsis that explains what you have to offer employers. Sometimes it’s called an elevator speech.
• Education: Prove that you know your stuff. If the position calls for it, spell out your music-related degrees, certifications, and training.
• Experience: Wow them with what you’ve already done. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Performers, list your notable performances. Teachers, producers, and others, explain where they’ve worked and who they’ve worked with.
• Awards: Demonstrate why you’re a better candidate than the rest of the applicants. Include honors or accomplishments you’ve had in the music industry.
• Skills: If you have a capability that doesn’t fit into the education or experience sections, call it out here. What are your unique musical or personal abilities that set you apart? Maybe you’re a great leader or team player or are fantastic at working with kids.
• Significant projects: Saying you’re great is one thing. Proving it with music is another. Make it easy for prospective employers to see you perform online or check out essential projects.
• References: Having others say you are terrific to work with is much more powerful than saying it yourself. Provide a list of reputable people who will support the claims you made on your resume.
Take your resume to the next level. Here are some tips for adding impact to each section of your resume.
The top of your resume should include your full name, email address, phone number, and website link, which is invaluable if it includes performance videos. Take it a step further by creating different portfolio pages for different employers and direct-linking them to that particular page.
Don’t make it “I, me, me, mine.” Instead, it should be “you, you, you”—the benefit potential employers will get from your talent, expertise, and skills. Tailor your elevator speech to meet each job’s specific requirements so the resume-reader is left thinking, “This person solves my hiring challenge.”
If you earned a degree include the university or college you attended, the location, area of study, notable professors you studied under, and dates attended. Mention any scholarships, awards, and honors you received. Include musical activities you participated in on campus, such as playing with the school symphony, singing with the chorus, or participating in music-related clubs. Make this section prominent for knowledge-centric jobs like teaching.
Musician resumes differ from regular resumes because they typically focus on performances or things that musicians produced or created in addition to traditional work experience. List the organization or group you played for, the location, the dates, and any additional facts like what chair position you played or whether you were a featured performer. Some musicians break this section into sub-sections to list the different types of performances they’ve done, such as orchestra, opera, musical theater, soloist, and pop bands. This section can also include internships and other positions you held.
Again, you may want to customize this section depending on the prospective employer. For instance, you could lead with your opera experience if you’re applying for a job with an opera company and dial down or eliminate your pop music playing.
Tip: You may want to include links to performance videos in this section if they demonstrate your experience so you’re not just writing about it.
Possessing skills like being dependable, patient, a team player, leader, or innovator can impress future employers looking for someone with those traits. Create a bulleted list with those “extras” you possess that could help you stand out with potential bosses. You will likely find clues about the skills prospective managers are looking for in job postings. Use these to present your abilities on your resume. If possible, share specific examples of how you used these things on the job. For instance, don’t just say you’re a patient teacher, share stories that reveal times you were patient and supportive with students or coworkers.
If you’ve received them, include any awards you’ve earned for your musical performances. Think back on competitions you have won or certifications you earned and describe them in this section. Highlighting your awards will help prove you’re better than the other musicians applying for the position.
You may still need an old-school one-page paper or PDF resume to apply for specific jobs. However, for others, you might be able to send a link to a website, which could allow you to share more about yourself in a more personal way. Consider the employers and jobs you’re applying for and tailor your resumes to them. Music teachers may want to be more formal and apply by the book for academic positions. Producers and performers might benefit from being more cutting edge.
In the end, your resume is your story. It’s how you convince employers to meet with you in person for an interview and hire you. Use the tips and tactics in this story to create a resume that allows you—and your musical abilities—to shine through.