An ethnomusicologist looks into the cultural context of music. You will go to various places in the world to delve into the musical practices and musical processes of various countries and peoples. You will learn about their musicians, their instruments and the meaning of the entire musical performance to the specific culture. You will also attempt to learn what the role of music is in the lives of the people in that particular culture.
You will have the chance to travel extensively as an ethnomusicologist. You will be playing the role of an observer and even a participant to the musical culture you are studying without making any change in the system. You could be assigned to observe an indigenous musical culture in a country in Asia or the instruments used to make songs in a particular tribe in Africa. These travels aren’t your typical tourist trips, however. You can expect to live for weeks, months or even years at a time with a particular culture.
You will be observing their way of life and documenting how music figures into their lives. You will also be interviewing them in order to get more information about the subject you are studying. After you have collected your data, you will be writing your academic paper and then getting it published in scholarly journals or in books. You’ll also be presenting your findings to different audiences in forums and seminars.
Since this is a scholarly occupation, you will most likely be working as a teacher in the academe during the regularly school year and will be doing your research in the summer. In this role, you will be doing the work that teachers do, such as making lesson plans, facilitating classroom discussions, giving assignments, grading papers and evaluating the academic performance of each student. If you are not working in the academe, you could work in the music industry or in media publications.
To succeed in this profession, you need to have a genuine passion for music. You need to have a keen interest in learning about the musical roots and the significance that music plays in a particular culture. You also need to have a fondness for research and possess excellent observation skills. You also have to enjoy interacting with new cultures and different kinds of people whose practices and beliefs may be very different from yours. You also have to enjoy traveling and be comfortable with the idea that you’ll be spending a lot of time away from home since you’ll be going to different places for this job. You also have to be patient and be willing to learn new languages since gathering information is going to be easier if you are actually able to interact with the people whose musical culture you are studying.
Why Become An Ethnomusicologist
A career as an ethnomusicologist would be perfect for those who love music, culture and travel since these are the three staples of this occupation. It is also very fulfilling for those who want to teach and do research at the same time. Moreover, the skills of an ethnomusicologist lend itself to various career paths in the music industry as well as in museums and other companies. It’s also a career that pays decent wages in addition to giving the professional the chance to travel around the world and learn about new cultures and meet new peoples.
Ethnomusicologist Work Environment
Ethnomusicologists are mostly employed in colleges and universities as ethnomusicology teachers. Those working in the academe teach and undertake teaching-related tasks during the regular school year and do their research when school is out. One challenge that these ethnomusicologists face is striking a balance between teaching and writing the research after doing fieldwork.
Other ethnomusicologists may work in the music industry where they will be tasked with finding new talent or incorporating ethnic sound and using indigenous instruments to create fresh and unique music. They may also be employed by museums to serve as their arts and music director or as an archivist. They may also work independently as a critic or music scholar.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not gather salary data specifically for ethnomusicologists. However, their average wages can be gleaned from the mean annual wages of those occupations where they are mostly employed in. Postsecondary art, drama and music teachers, for example, are paid $72,630 annually. Meanwhile, those who work in museums as archivists can expect to receive lower pay at $52,670. Museum directors can expect to get higher pay.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not also gather employment rate data specifically for ethnomusicologists. However, the agency has projected that the job rate for postsecondary teachers from 2012 to 2022 is very positive. It is set to grow at 19 percent which is faster than the average rate. While the employment rate of postsecondary art, drama and music teachers is a bit lower at 16 percent, this still bodes well for ethnomusicologists seeking academic positions. However, the competition for tenure track positions is tough, with those who have experience getting better opportunities. For ethnomusicologists who wish to work in museums, the job outlook is also set to be positive at 11 percent which is about as fast as the national average.
Ethnomusicologists typically hold a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies or related fields. They often minor in music. Some also prefer to obtain a degree in ethnomusicology which is getting offered in more colleges and universities. However, a bachelor’s degree is only enough to get entry-level jobs in various industries and not necessarily as an ethnomusicologist. Practicing ethnomusicologists who wish to teach at colleges and universities need to beef up their qualifications by getting a master’s degree and then a doctoral degree after that. A doctoral degree is necessary for ethnomusicologists to be able to do independent research work. Those who wish to work as archivists or directors in museums need to have at least a master’s degree.