Alternate Career Titles:
Radio Music Director, M.D., Director of Music
Career Overview: Chooses songs for radio airplay.
Career Salary Range: $25,000 to $95,000+
Become a Music Director
Selecting music for specific radio station programs is the main responsibility of the Music Director at each station. This is one of the most exciting careers in the music industry for non-musicians. The Music Director works closely with the Program Director (or P.D.) and sometimes the Music Director is the P.D. as well. It is also common for the Music Director to have their own show as a Radio DJ (or DJ), because, as a rule, the music director normally begins their career as a Radio DJ. As Radio DJs they have a chance to prove they know what types of songs to play and how to put a show on.
Depending on the type of format used by radio stations, the duties of the Program Director and Music Director will vary. These duties might include spending time with promotional personnel from the record label and screening tunes. The Music Director could also help the Program Director perform market research and determine listening audiences.
Another thing the Music Director does is meet and talk with Record Store Managers to find out what’s new and popular in record releases. The Music Director (with the Program Director) might help in the training of new Radio DJs, in order to help them get a feel for the station’s procedures and guidelines.
The Music Director answers to the Program Director and will normally work long hours. If the station is short of on-air personnel the Program Director might ask the Music Director to take on an additional shift. The Music Director may also make special appearances or take part in station promotions. These special occasions usually take place during a weekend or during the night and require long hours.
The salary for the Music Director will vary depending on the radio station size, location, and popularity. The duties of the Music Director, and his or her previous experiences will also have an affect on their salary. Salaries tend to range between $25,000 and $95,000 per year and are usually highest in major markets like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Sometimes the job of the Music Director is combined with that of the Program Director. Because of this and low turnover rates, employment can sometimes be challenging to find.
From Music Director one can move on to a role as a Program Director. They can also advance their career by becoming a Music Director at a more prestigious radio station or in a larger market.
Education and Training
Many stations require the individual to hold a college degree or have broadcasting school training. (Want to attend a music school? Check out or resources here). Useful college courses include communications, music, journalism, and broadcasting.
To gain additional experience you may choose to work for the radio station of the school you attend. There are many vocational and trade schools with radio broadcasting programs located throughout the country, but be sure to check the school’s reputation before enrolling. You can do this by checking with the appropriate state’s Attorney General’s office and/or the state Department of Consumer Affairs.
Experience, Skills, and Personality
It is very common for Music Directors to begin their careers as Radio DJs, either in college or at regular radio stations. Of course, Music Directors should have an interest in music and thoroughly enjoy listening to music; they also need to have the knack for knowing what is hot and what is not. Whoever holds a position as Music Director must be a very responsible person who has the ability to supervise others.
Unions and Associations
Music Directors can belong to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), and depending on the job situation, they might also be members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). It is common for Music Directors to also belong to the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET).
Suggestions for Getting Started
- Try to gain work experience in a college or local radio station.
- Look for internships and try to earn college credit for doing so. Some Interns are hired full-time after their formal internship ends.
- Be sure to check classified sections regularly in order to get a feel for what positions are available.
- Also stay current with radio and record-oriented trade publications, including Billboard.
- Check for openings online!