It's All in the Numbers

by Amy Rogers


Majoring in Art or Music?  You are more likely to be self-employed than not.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics ( “6 out of 10 artists were self-employed” and “about 50% of musicians, singers, and related workers work for themselves.”  Yet, only 8% of the total workforce is self-employed.


So, what does that mean for you – the college art or music major?  When you look around at all the other students at your school – you are more likely to work for yourself in some way than the student sitting next to you in the dining hall.  Surprising?  For many, yes.  But think about the marketplace today.  There are many opportunities to make money with your art or music and most of them don’t involve working from 9 to 5 for an employer. 


As Director of the SEA Program, I have been fortunate to meet many artists who support themselves through their art.  Many times this is a combination of “jobs” – private instruction, teaching, selling work, performing, freelance, etc.  Other times the artist becomes a business owner – dance studio, graphic design company, photography studio, etc.  Even at this point in your life if you don’t envision yourself as ever becoming a “self-employed” artist – the odds are you will.


Now, most art and music majors focus their college years on developing and honing themselves as artists which is crucial.  But, if the facts show there is a good chance you will be an artistic “entrepreneur” then you also need to spend some time developing those skills as well.  When you graduate from college your goal is to get a job – after all you have to have some type of income to pay your student loans.  While the chances are that you won’t immediately be self-employed, you still need to educate yourself about the business of art too.


There are many ways to increase the “business” piece of your career development.  Here are five tips for all music and art majors:

  • Enroll in one or more business courses.  Depending on what is available at your school, look at options like Intro to Entrepreneurship, Intro to Business, Marketing, Accounting, or Business Law.

  • Intern at an arts business.  Whether for pay, credit, or just the experience, make sure to spend some time working for someone who is running an artistic business.  This will help to shed light on all the responsibilities and roles that the owner has.

  • Shadow an artistic entrepreneur.  Is there someone who is doing something similar to what you would like to do?  See if you could follow them around for the day – or perhaps longer.

  • Attend a professional development event.  Of course, I recommend one of our Self-Employment in the Arts (SEA) events as they are geared towards college students and the arts specifically.  However, if your calendar conflicts or distance doesn’t allow you to be there – see if there is something similar in your area – even if it is geared towards working artists.  Our website also has a lot of resources including clips from previous conference sessions.

  • Seek out additional resources on making a living with your art.  Are there certain organizations you can follow on Twitter or become part of in your community?  Are there books or blogs you can read (we have a list recommended by past conference speakers on our website).  Basically, start thinking of yourself as not just an artist but also a business person.