They say that one of the most rewarding things you can do in life is to help other people. For some, helping others is a life-long calling and their career of choice.

If you want to help other people feel better, then music therapy is the way to go!

According to GoodTherapy.org, here is the definition of music therapy:

Music Therapy: a type of expressive arts therapy that uses music to improve and maintain the physical, psychological, and social well-being of individuals—involves a broad range of activities, such as listening to music, singing, and playing a musical instrument. This type of therapy is facilitated by a trained therapist and is often used in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and hospices.

How To Begin Your Career

If you want to become a music therapist, you have to define in your mind how you see yourself in that role. Therapy in and of itself involves and revolves around making people feel better, which music does a very good job of, but the genre of music is extremely important.

You can’t play Fireball by Pitbull and expect a bunch of senior citizens to grind it out on the dancefloor…that’s not therapy, it’s just a broken hip waiting to happen.

To make money as a musician in any role – performer, composer, or therapist – you need to be able to give the music that your listeners want to hear when they’re relaxing. Nobody wants to listen to Death Metal when they’re enjoying a Sunday afternoon.

Well, most people anyway.

There are two approaches you can take to becoming a music therapist, or at least to use music to help people feel better:

School: Colleges and universities around the world offer music therapy as a major, and its popularity is increasing. The Berklee College of Music, for instance, offers courses both on campus and online (you can even receive a Masters Degree online now). Take note that going to school to become a music therapist is definitely going to be an expensive venture, but you will be able to partner with hospitals and medicine-related organizations…legally. It pays very well, too – the average music therapist earns anywhere from $41,000 to $72,000 per year, even more! If you go into private practice, your fees could go up even higher than that.

Performing: When you perform for others, you don’t need a license or necessarily have to go to school for it. You could charge a facility to come in to perform for the residents on a regular basis, and you could strike a contract with the organization. However, this might take more pull in the community than you might expect, and you’ll have to work hard to get your name out there!

Formal Education Path

If you choose to take the traditional collegiate route to becoming a fully-licensed music therapist, be ready to take a number of challenging courses designed around the medical field. You’ll definitely be an expert on the subject and a number of tertiary subjects (in other words, topics related to your career and the human beings you’re working with). According to CareersInMusic.com:

Even the most basic education requirements to become a Music Therapist are hardcore. Aspiring Music Therapists take courses in music, biology, psychology, physiology, social and behavioral sciences. In the final two years of study, students are required to complete 1200 hours of fieldwork as an intern in a health or education-related setting. Music Therapists must have at least a BA in their field. Those interested in graduate school can obtain an MA degree or a doctoral degree that combines music therapy with related areas of study. Aspiring Music Therapists who did not major in music for undergraduate can sometimes take equivalency courses before pursuing their MA, depending on the school.

All Music Therapists must pass a certification exam from the Certification Board for Music Therapists and pass the exam every five years or take recertification credits. Successfully passing the exam will give the Music Therapist the designation of Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC).

Now, taking the traditional education route to become a music therapist isn’t easy, and it’s obviously quite a challenging, potentially expensive way to this career path. Still, if you have a passion for helping people directly through the medical field, then this may be the right way to go!

Entrepreneurial Approach

Keep in mind that there is no “right” way to make money as a musician, and if you feel that a formal education just doesn’t suit you – for financial reasons or otherwise – then you may want to take the approach of the modern entrepreneur.

To make a living as a music therapist – officially anyway – you’ll need to go to school and become certified. However, you can establish your own company and brand it as a service, so you don’t have to worry about being certified and working for someone else!

This also means that you can’t legally call yourself a “music therapist”, but you can simply brand it as something else! Here’s a few examples to help you get started and shape your brand:

Musical Wellness Mentor

Musical Spirit Coach

Therapeutical Musician

Inner Peace Coach

Musical Life Coach

Get creative with it; you can do so many things if you take the “music will help you feel peace” approach. There are a myriad of people who would love to know how music can make their lives better by using a practical approach and integrating it as a center of their daily activities.

This also means that you don’t have to necessarily work in hospitals and nursing homes; there are plenty of young and healthy people out there who need music in their lives just as much. Music has literally saved lives, and countless people will testify for this as well (there’s even a song called Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – you can check out the music video here).

Things That A Music Therapist Does

Now that you know the two different approaches to take to music therapy, you can focus on the practical application and actual doing of music therapy. Making money as a musician won’t happen if you don’t get out there and take action!

No matter whether you choose to become a legally certified music therapist or go the entrepreneurial route, there are common activities that will help others find inner peace and healing through music:

Playing a live instrument. If you play an instrument, especially piano, harp, guitar, or keyboard, you can literally perform for someone as they’re lying in bed, meditating, or just going about their daily life. This sounds odd, but here’s a scenario: let’s say you go the entrepreneurial route and someone who has the financial means to hire you wants you to come over for a weekly meditation session and play harp for them. Maybe they have so much money that you become their personal harp player, and all you do all day is play the harp in their home while they go about their business. You’d be amazed at the unique things wealthy people can afford to do!

Performing along to a recording. Let’s say you’re a trumpet player and you know how to improvise over any kind of backing track. If you can strike a deal with a local nursing home, you could bring in an amplifier/speaker, hook it up to an FX preamp, and play soft jazz music for a few hours in one of the common areas for the residents. Trumpets aren’t generally considered a “peaceful” instrument, but if you play smooth and classic jazz softly, it’s great background music and could be a consistent activity for the residents. Piano players do this all the time, actually!

Host a “music meditation” seminar. If you are able to put together events well, then consider hosting weekly seminars where people who love to meditate can come together and listen to peaceful while meditating in a group. Now, your ability to charge a high membership price will depend on the musical source; if you play an instrument then you’re putting more effort in. However, if you’re acting more as a DJ and playing from a pre-selected list of peaceful meditation music, you may not be able to charge as much but it’s less effort on your part.

These are just a few examples of how you can make money as a musician in a therapy-related role. There are many things that you can do, and the best way to learn is by studying other music therapists and see what works best for them.


To make money as a musician, you have to get creative. One of the most rewarding career paths is music therapy, but you don’t have to necessarily go to school for it!

Paul Cassarly
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