A career in music - a realistic view

April 18, 2004 at 08:55 PM · I recently talked to a university music student about the entrance requirements for a music degree. After some research, I realise that in a year or 2, it may be possible for me to audition to study for a music degree.

Financing my living during the 4-year studies is a big issue, but that is something I will have to work out myself. My biggest concern is, is it worth it?

Having a passion for music is one thing, but at the end it still boils down to making a living.

There are a few majors I can choose from: performance, composition, music admin., teaching, musicology etc. What are the career options available for a music graduate besides the obvious performance and teaching?

Deciding to study music means a career switch from accountancy. Or is there a job market for someone with music and business background?

The bigger question is, is a music degree really necessary to get a career in the music industry? What other options do I have?

I have a year to think about this. I'd really appreciate it if someone who has gone through this to share your experience. Thanks.

p/s: I wish I was loaded with cash so $ wouldn't be an issue!

Replies (12)

April 18, 2004 at 09:28 PM · i havn't gone through this, but i thought i'd throw this in. A lot of times a music-ed degree is a good choice, so i hear, the performance training is usually only slightly less rigorous, and you learn a lot of other things as well, and this would make it easier, presumably to get a teaching job, while it doesnt really hinder your ability to get a performing job either.

April 18, 2004 at 09:55 PM · The music-ed people I knew were the most depressing lot I've seen. They could only think about the fact that their job in the public schools was slowly becoming extinct. This varies from state to state, but it's definitely not a reliable option (but a noble pursuit).

I am now ten years out of high school and wishing that common sense had not talked me out of finishing my performance degree. Here's why:

First, if you really love to play and you know it is part of who you are, and you also know that you will always be playing and loving music, then a music degree will provide you with many insights, knowledge, and formal training that will help you reach your potential further down the road. What I wouldn't give to have the knkowledge and experience that I would have gotten had I finished mine.

Second, it makes little difference whether or not you will be the best or if you will be able to use your degree for livelihood. I say this because I ended up with a degree in elementary education and ended up vowing never to teach in the public school. People told me I would regret not getting certified to teach, but I walked happily away and have not once regretted it. I now have a piece of paper that has never gotten me anywhere in life.

Third, in this country, you can always work something out, financially. You may not be able to have everything you've always wanted in life (fancy car, big house), but you can choose to do and have the things that are most important. You do this by being flexible, hard working, and keeping your personal morals at a high standard. Have a good reputation, in other words. Be a friend, be likeable. I get my jobs through the people I know.

I've had so many jobs in the past ten years, none of them high paying, and most of them not music-related, either, but each was an adventure in its own. I've traveled all over the continent, been overseas twice, andI've lived in a small cabin in Alaska with no running water for three years, and now I'm a summer camp missionary cooking for retreats. I finally was blessed with a real house this year, so I decided to teach lessons and sell art on the side, and before I knew it, I looked around and realised I was making a living doing what I love most! I've done without many things, but I don't regret that one bit.

Many people have wondered when I would get a real job, a career, and settle down responsibly. Still others have been so jealous of my "free-spirit" lifestyle. I don't think my lifestyle is so crazy. Honestly, I don't know why more people don't reject our modern materialistic ways and choose a path based more on doing what they love. We don't have furniture, heck we don't have a TV, but we plan to see Italy this year. It's all about priorities.

And this is what my life's experience has taught me so far.

April 18, 2004 at 10:18 PM · OH, I'm so narrow-minded! I just realize you live in Malaysia. I have no clue if anything I just shared has any relevence where you live. You'll have to share a bit more about your desires and possibilities; I'm curious... :)

April 19, 2004 at 08:54 AM · Hi Emily,

Thank you for sharing your experience.

I was born and lived in Malaysia until I was 17. After that, I moved to Hong Kong for 2 years and then studied for my business degree for 3 years in Melbourne. Thereafter, I spent a year in Vancouver before returning to Malaysia again. I worked there for around 3 years as an auditor and tax consultant before decided to migrate to Australia.

So now here I am in Melbourne. One of the reasons for this move is to get more exposure in music and to somehow find a way to the music profession. I really wanted to study for a music degree back then, but it was strongly opposed by my parents and I had no way to finance myself. That's why I feel as if I owe it to myself to get a music degree. I still remember when I was studying business, I always went to the Music Faculty and played the piano in the practice room and get serounded by music students with admiration and jelousy.

I agree that doing a music degree is more of a self satisfaction than a career. Another less costly option is to take AMEB practical and theory exams up to professional level. This will probably take me another 3 to 4 years depending on my progress. But I get to keep my day job.

I'm going to take my final exam for Chartered Accountant. If I do choose to go for music, I will be in a similar position as you in that it will never be put to use. At one hand, I have a more secured future with accounting. At the other hand, I have what I really want to do in life.

Sure the first thought for most people is to say "go do what you love." But this is no way an easy decision...

Anyway, I'm sure there are much bigger problems in the world. So I'll just do my best and see what future brings.

April 19, 2004 at 09:55 AM · ahh, careers in music...

ok, you have a business background? Great! adding a music degree to that will open up a new range of jobs.

EG - Accountant/treasurer/company manager for an Orchestra/Opera Company/Ballet company. If you have a background in music, it is a great asset to the company because you know (and enjoy) what they are doing (plus you'll probably get cheap or free tickets to concerts). All companies need auditors, accountants etc etc, so if you had a music degree you would be in a better position to get the auditing/accountancy jobs for the music companies.

Or take up teaching. Accountancy is (so i hear) relatively well paid, and is predominantly 9-5. So why not take up the music degree, and once that's completed get some students and teach in the evenings and on weekends (doing what you love, sharing what you love and getting paid for it). In Western Australia the current rate is about $18 per half hour lesson.

There are also a number of jobs available for other degrees - Law for example (Music Lawyers for bands, Record Companies, Distribution companies, etc), so just think creatively (you are a musician after all)


April 19, 2004 at 04:09 PM · I don't know if this is in Malaysia or not but its becoming really big in the medical, especially in neurological studies. I would sugguest music therapy not only are you teaching and performing your music but your also helping someone get better and its in the medical field so its a secure job. I have heard people in hospitals can make $11 an hour, but if you have your own practice you can make 65 to 70 an hour. I know alot of music therapist who are making $90,000 a year and they enjoy alot. They are able to perform their music and teach and as I mentioned help people, its a dream job for those who don't want to become doctors, afraid that it might take all their time away from their music.


April 20, 2004 at 06:06 AM · What is the difference between an accounting job in a music organisation and an accounting in a non-music organisation? This whole point is wanting to become a musician.

I guess if I do end up playing in an orchestra, I could offer to prepare tax returns for other musicians at a cheaper rate??

April 20, 2004 at 06:22 AM · Greetings,

William, sorry it bypasses the question of being a professional musician. But i would venture to suggest that there is a big difference between accounting in a non-musical versus musical organization. It is not just a question of opportunity, the chances to meet musicians, hear them rehearse, discuss problems, ask them questions and so forth. It also provides contacts for taking further steps towards your goal. Sometimes bigger ambitions can be approached better indirectly.

I think it is worth taking into account, forgive the pun, the unfortunate aspect of human nature that one becomes ones job and institution unless yu choose to drop out. Societies institutions reflect the unjust, culturally biased, sexist , corporate driven world we have created . But in an instituion concerned with the arts you stll have a chance to work with people who ask questions, challenge the status quo, appreciate beauty, dare to imagine and so on. That could be a vital thing for someone as in love with music as you are,



April 20, 2004 at 11:21 AM · Well, I would try and get your music degree, if thats what you really enjoy. I went for a career that I really liked, finished it, had a some unexpecte setbacks which seemed major at the time but looking back probably weren't that musch, got discouraged, changed countries and got another "more practical certificate" for gettin work quickly, got drawn into getting a furthur degree for this new career...after a few years I realised that it wasn't what enjoyed doing...got another related bit of paper...and really, after all this time I am noe going back to what I originally wanted to do, but its an uphill task and it will never be as good had I stuck with it through thick and thin. And I have anough bits of official papers to wall paper my desk with them, but fat lot of good that does me.So my advice is just do what your instinct tells you enjoy.

Incidentally, my original career, which now happens to be very much in fashion, was considered very impractical and useless by many people and most of family at the time I chose to follow it.

So you never know, and we only live once. Hope this helps

April 20, 2004 at 03:28 PM · Points taken Buri. The acccounting job I have now I got it through knowing the boss as a music friend in the beginning. It's just coincidence that when chatting about music over dinner, he was looking for someone to do his company's accounts and I happen to be just what he was looking for.

I guess it will work the other way as well! I used to prepare tax returns for EMI and BMG Malaysia... I wonder my ex-clients have some contacts in Australia...

April 20, 2004 at 03:37 PM · Hi William,

I can relate to your situation. With sensible parents opposed to the idea of a music degree - which, let's face it, has limited financial and employment prospects - I did my BA and Master's degrees in Literature while, like you, spending much time moonlighting in the Music department. After graduation I realised through experience that my niche was in violin teaching, and hey presto, I found myself highly qualified in the wrong subject. I don't know if this is the case only in the UK, but here you actually don't need any professional qualifications to set up shop as a private instrumental teacher, although you do to work in many schools. Sounds batty I know, but true. So strictly speaking I could go on running a successful private studio without a music degree (I have an AB Performance Diploma, but nobody has ever required it). However, like you I feel naked without that bit of paper, and am taking a similar route to the AMEB one you mentioned: I'm taking my violin teaching diploma privately through the Associated Board. It won't raise my pay in schools because it's not the one recognised teacher training post-grad (the PGCE), but it will give me personal satisfaction and assurance that I'm profesionally qualified. As far as the music degree goes, check out what exactly is recognised as authorisation to perform and teach over there (you may find nothing). It depends on the climate where you are, but if you ask around you may find hundreds of unemployed and disgruntled music graduates, or those who have had to deviate and are now working as accountants. For my part I chose not to do a music degree because, well, I already have two degrees, and more to the point the course involves next to nothing about instrumental tuition. Go into this with your eyes open; very few of us have the talent, character, and - perhaps more significantly - opportunity and luck necessary to become concert soloists (and goodness knows most of them do a spot of teaching here and there).

April 20, 2004 at 11:17 PM · ...and yes, William, use the contacts that you've already established! Put it out there and let them know what you're looking for..you may be pleasantly surprised!

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