Music is a skill from which you cannot make money unless you know HOW to make money at it. Music is a trade. If it were easy, everyone would do it. The fact remains that it is NOT easy, regardless of how much talent one has. It takes work, practice, preparation, and lessons (from instructors and from the school of hard knocks). Just like most genres of businesses, your network of people and companies is an essential part of how much work you obtain and retain. Most of us have started building our network during the high school and college years, and expand them when in the “real world.” This network of professionals is a dominant reason why I chose the universities I attended.
The questions still arise: How do I make money in music? What is the purpose of a music performance degree? Is it to prepare for the symphony only? Or for an actual career in music? Students that I know (myself included) decide which universities to attend based on a number of factors, not the least of which are the faculty and their credentials and connections. I chose my first college for my undergraduate degree based on the violin professor, the dean of the school of music, and their ties to the symphonic and popular music world. I attended summer music camps and made even more connections to conductors, presenters, promoters, and sponsors. I keep my alumni affiliations current in order to stay in contact with people in every field, not just entertainment. Sure, I completed degrees in music and business, but neither of these guaranteed me a job.
The perception seems to be that if you have a college degree, you are automatically entitled to a job. This is definitely a misconception. You have to stand out from all the other applicants, and your knowledge, experience and professional network will help with this. This is especially important as a freelance musician. I do not need a degree to do what I do; but that piece of paper with the knowledge and the connections made while attending the colleges have opened many doors of opportunity for me. As a music major, I learned that my skills had to be the best they could possibly be in order to graduate. But my music school’s idea of what “skills” I really needed are only a small part of what is really needed today. Yes, the classical discipline and background with the theory and ear-training are essential to my success today, but I still had much to learn (and still learn more everyday). I continued my education and got a degree in business in order to learn how to market myself, as well as how to create my own businesses. I sought out other places to promote live music outside of a symphony:
- Recording for other bands/artists
- House parties
- Holiday special music
- Theme Parks
- Touring and live shows with other bands
- Create your own band
I realized that I had to learn to be a business owner to be a freelance musician. I had to be a contractor, sideman, band leader, bookkeeper, calendar magician, marketing manager, legal analyst, copyright specialist, band manager, studio musician, media liaison, cat herder, promotions manager, and wear all the hats associated with any small business ownership. Some musicians can do these things, while others either cannot or simply do not want all this responsibility and are happy working for others. Perhaps this is why so many musicians go back to the educational system for advanced and doctoral degrees and then choose to teach in the universities. They choose the steady paycheck with benefits over creating opportunities for themselves and other musicians. It’s a choice. Either way, we as musicians choose to make music our career; it’s not just a hobby.
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