Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Major In Music Or Not?

Before I even get into this post, let me address something that I get accused of alot...THIS IS NOT A NEGATIVE POST!

When I answer questions, I answer them from my viewpoint and from my life experiences...so if I include something in an answer, it's because I wish that I had...

A) Learned that "something" sooner than I did and hope to help someone else avoid my mistakes.
B) I actually know from experience that this "something" isn't practical or applicable in the real world.
C) I feel that the person asking the question has an unrealistic view of the professional working musical world, and I feel it's my duty to throw them a bucket of ice cold reality.

I never answer a question with the intent of discouraging someone from their dreams, I simply want their dreams to be viewed through realistic lenses. The road to success in the music business (notice I said success, not fame...two completely different things) is littered with uninformed but well intentioned players...I want people to succeed, and the sooner they embrace reality, the sooner they can be on their way to that success...and not just a flash in the pan success, but sustainable success. So before you say "Don't you think your answer is a little jaded, bitter, and angry?!"...No I don't think that...I'm EXTREMELY happy with where I am in life and in my music career, and I want others to experience that same happiness and contentment...so I mince no words, I cushion no points, and I pull all of my punches...because I want you to succeed. I preemptively say this only because the answer I'm fixing to give will fly in the face of the common conception...and I'm ok with that...I have no desire to starve and suffer for my art...I like to live well and enjoy my art. That was a longer disclaimer than I intended, but that's ok...you've probably fallen asleep by now anyways...but if not, a great discussion is below about majoring in music in college...

Email I got from a drummer...

"I am also looking to get a jazz major or a music major when i go 2 college. i am thinking of doing a major in business and maybe a minor degree in music. do you recommend any good colleges which provides these courses? i am not looking to be a full session gigging drummer but i want to teach and gig maybe on few nights. and it is also very sad in my country, that i cannot find a jazz band and get more exposure.

Lol...you're one of the smartest musicians I've met! Here's the skinny on a music degree...

An undergrad in music (without an emphasis on music education) allows you to do ZERO (monetarily at least). If you go on to get a masters in music performance, you can teach adjunct at a university part time...and if you get a doctorate, you can teach on the college level. A degree has no value in the gigging world...besides to let the other guys on the gig formulate a preconceived idea of you and your playing (college musicians can tend to overplay alot, and be cocky, and overall hard to work with...not the case with all of them, but with alot of them). A degree in music would be obtained strictly on the basis that you wanted to improve your playing and devote an ungodly amount of time to practice and performance...I would know, I got a degree in Jazz Studies (also equally worthless in the gigging world).

The point is, unless you plan on pursuing your doctorate, spending the time and money to obtain a music degree won't do much for you (again, we're speaking monetarily and in the scope of your career) that a buttload of hard work on your own can't do. That having been said, if you get a degree in music education, that would allow you to teach on the public school level...i.e. high school band. Not a thing in the world wrong with that, I know alot of perfectly happy and excellent players that teach band...they LIVE for it and wouldn't do anything else. A doctorate in composition would allow you to teach on the college level and compose in your spare time, etc and so forth...

"Why are you being so negative?! If a person wants a degree in music, let them get one!"

You're absolutely right, but there are smarter and more effective ways to go about getting an "education" in the musical world (private lessons, dvd's, audit the classes you want...). What you're talking about doing is an EXCELLENT choice. You only get as much out of a music degree as you put in...you can have the best teachers in the world and if you don't practice and apply yourself, you won't learn a thing. Having a degree in business with a minor in music gives you the best of both worlds. Most musicians that make a sustainable and comfortable living are essentially in business for themselves. They own private studios, operate corporate bands, front a popular band, have a large private teaching practice, compose for television and film, songwrite, etc. All of these are businesses in and of themselves, and so many musicians that I know could have benefited from a few business classes. If you really want to become a better musician, you'll do that whether you major in it or not. You're not getting a degree to "fall back on"...you're getting a degree that will help your passion produce a better and more prosperous future for yourself and your family. In other words, it's like two horses pulling the same buggy...your music is the buggy, your commitment and your knowledge of the business world are the two horses...make sense?

There's nothing worse than having to sacrifice your art for the sake of the almighty dollar...but it happens alot...and I think it would happen alot less if musicians in general were a little wiser about their education. What good is a teaching practice if you don't know how to market to get new students? What good is running a killer sounding band if you don't know how to promote and run a profit/loss statement on your gigs and merch?

Is it becoming clearer?

I wish I would have taken a few business classes while in college...because I've had to go back and learn it all on my own, which sucks and takes up alot of my free time. Music is an art, and to make money performing that art, you must monetize your efforts...but musicians don't like to talk about the money...they just want to create, and be passionate, and make beautiful music...

...well so do I...and I also happen to like eating nice foods, living in a comfortable home, and providing adequately for my family...so call me greedy and money hungry if you want...but being proficient in other areas of life has afforded me the luxury to make my music career in the exact shape that I want it to be in...

So kudos to you for having a great plan...just don't forget to practice as much as you study your business classes!!!

Stephen T.


Anonymous said...

Well said Steve.

Patrick Anderson
Los Fresnos, TX

Audiyo said...

Thank ya much Mr. Anderson...Hope things are well in your section of the world!


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