Was it hard convincing your parents to do music professionally as a career?

December 29, 2018, 1:05 AM · Hi everyone

I was just wondering if you have had any problems ( perhaps with your parents disagreeing) about pursuing a music career.

I really want to take music in university, and hopefully be in some professional orchestra or something someday.Id say I'm not bad at violin nor I am a extremely gifted. I have 2 scholarships which pays for all of my tuition and fees. And I am also in the top youth orchestra in my country (Auckland Youth Orchestra)(New Zealand),and have won multiple compitions doing solo.

The problem is,my parents won't allow me to pursue music as a career.I am 15 years old now, so I have 3 years till uni. They say that music can't get you lots of 💰 and say it's not a real job especially when your playing classical music. (Which I TOTALLY DISAGREE about the classical music part.) They say I should be an accountant, or a engineering, something which gives you a really good wage.


--Do you have any advice for me on how to convince my parents to let me do music in the future.

--what are your guys stories about this topic. (If you have one).


PS. I hope I haven't made this post to confusing.

Replies (28)

December 29, 2018, 2:53 AM · Will they be paying for school? If not, then don’t be afraid to go against them. If so, maybe come up with some kind of a compromise, like studying two subjects at the same time, or continuing to take lessons on the side with someone who has a known track record in helping students become pros.
December 29, 2018, 7:27 AM · It is fine to try to pursue a career in music, but you should have a Plan B in case you are unable to make it in that field. You should get a fairly broad education so that you can switch into some other field fairly easily, if necessary. You should also remember that careers in music include things like teaching, in case you are unable to succeed professionally as a performer. Good luck!
December 29, 2018, 8:37 AM · yes
December 29, 2018, 9:22 AM · What I'm telling you here is very much the same advice my parents, teachers, and mentors gave me when I was around 15 myself. You will gain a longer perspective on life over time. The occupation you have your heart set on at 15, you may not care to pursue anymore after 20 or 25.

Keep in mind: The odds of your getting into a professional orchestra are very slim. So definitely have a Plan B. If your parents can see that you're being realistic and looking at the big, long-term picture, they might be more supportive. I can't be sure of this because I don't know them -- or you.

I completed a degree in violin performance, hoping to become a professional symphony player, an ambition I'd held since childhood; but by 20 y/o, I could clearly see that I wasn't going to like the music business. I'm far from alone here. Plenty of musicians report that they love making music but disliked doing it professionally. So they decided to do other things for a living.

I also saw that orchestra, although I'd loved doing it in high school, wasn't the kind of music-making I wanted to fill my days and hours with. I'm an avid listener, but as a player, I didn't care to be part of the orchestra scene anymore. I quit doing it at 21. I've already blogged on this subject more than once, so I won't bog you and other readers down with more details here.

It wasn't hard to get my parents to back me up in my earlier ambitions, but they did want me to have a Plan B. Fortunately, I'd starting working part-time in the commercial business field while still in school. After graduation, I went to full time and kept this up till I became my own boss in 1996. Now, as a serious amateur, I enjoy playing far more than I did as an aspiring professional.

December 29, 2018, 12:21 PM · Doing music professionally is very, very different from doing music as a hobby, ad it's not an easy road. I have to agree with Jim. What you think you want to do now may not be what you want to do by the time you're 20 or 25 years old. Ultimately, you should decide what is best for you. Is there anything else you enjoy doing besides playing the violin? What are your other big passions? Think about it, and perhaps look into a career in those other passions. Of course, keep the option of going into music open as well. Bottom line: keep all your options open. You have 3+ years to decide, and plus, you don't have to start college right after high school.
December 29, 2018, 1:00 PM · It wasn't hard because they never really believed I could pull it off, and I had an acceptable Plan B (double degree violin performance/mathematics).

Oh how gratifying it was to prove them wrong.

December 29, 2018, 1:18 PM · I think the double major is a good idea. You have an alternative in case one of them doesn't work out.

I feel that it is wrong to not to give your passion a chance. In the end, you will never know unless you give it a shot. There are people that do fine on this career path, regardless of performing, teaching or both.

Edited: December 29, 2018, 5:03 PM · Not only was majoring in music out of the question to my parents, but I was forbidden from playing the violin (I had played the piano for about ten years, and in high school I decided I wanted to learn to play the violin). So, as a junior in HS, I bought a violin from a friend, taught myself, and practiced in secret until going to college. The day I left, I pulled it out and played an American fiddle tune, to their shock and disbelief. Anyway, though I was supposedly going to be pre-law, my father was somewhat disturbed at all the music courses I was taking. When he figured it out, he hit the roof, was going to throw me out, etc. But the chair of the music dept. had promised me a free ride if I was disowned, I had a place to stay, and so I called his bluff. My father, especially, was awful about it, but my mother convinced him not to kick me out, and they actually paid for the rest of my schooling (BA, Music Composition). My father was convinced that I would be a failure, so my record contract at the end of my first year after college came as a shock to him. I had a great experience in my 20s, making records and touring. I also had to live very cheaply and sometimes barely made rent.

Do what you want to do, but be alert to opportunities outside your plans. Sure, hedge your bets. Part of that would probably be to diversify your musical interests as much as you can. I can produce records, do live sound, build instruments, and I play a considerable variety of music. Can you improvise, play other music besides European classical music? I had a good enough education that in addition to teaching music at the college level (I eventually went back and got my Masters), I also taught an intro-to-humanities history course.

Best of luck, and follow your dreams.

December 29, 2018, 4:04 PM · The OP has previously mentioned that his parents are "poor", although they recently bought him an NZ$7k violin (about $5k USD), so I'm guessing they're not poor, merely of modest means. Nevertheless, they probably have the desire to see their child become more financially successful than they are themselves.

I'm guessing that given that you're not an exceptionally good player by your own judgment, that the most likely stable career path is to pursue a teaching qualification that would let you become a music teacher in a secondary school. A Google search seems to indicate that New Zealand pays teachers well enough that it's almost as good as a job as a software developer (whereas in the US, software developers can easily earn 3x, if not 10x, what teachers do).

If the idea of teaching doesn't appeal, you should pursue Plan B.

My own parents were adamantly opposed to the notion of a music career. I strongly considered double majoring, though.

December 29, 2018, 4:51 PM · No. My parents did not discourage me from being a musician or being a music major in college, because they were just as naive as me. The real barrier was financial. I have never owned a pro-level violin. When I announced that I wanted to go to one of the private conservatories, my father simply said "I can't afford it", so I did a public Univ. BA-music instead.
December 29, 2018, 5:14 PM · My father was not excited about the prospect of my studying music. I think this was partially a cultural barrier for him - in the culture in which he grew up, one should be a doctor or a lawyer or "do some good in the world". Though he is very sensitive and is deeply moved by music, it was foreign to him to consider doing it full time. And I think he spoke out of his deep concern for me and instincts to make sure I was well-cared for in the future and not struggling financially. Even great parents can be unwilling to see when their children want something so different from what they imagined, and it can be hard for them to let go of their ideas.

When I would try to talk to my father about this, we usually ended up talking over each other with raised voices! We would both get worked up, because our conflicting desires (both good ones!) were so different.

I don't know much about your situation (obviously) or about the character of your parents, but perhaps consider writing a letter to them, describing why you feel the way you do and why it is important to you that they remain open to the possibility as you explore it. Often I find that speaking in person doesn't give the person enough time to get past their emotional reactivity to something, and they say things that hurt, but a written letter lets them read, react, and then think before they respond.

PS. I did study music, and though it didn't really take me where I thought it would, I don't regret having done it AND my father now often tells me how proud of me he is that I did study music. So, many have alluded that your desires about music could change, and that is true, but this is a reminder that other things could change, too, and the future is a mystery to us all!

December 29, 2018, 5:34 PM · Circumstances two to four years before I was born convinced my father to do music professionally as a career. However, both my parents believed, rightly, that neither my brother nor I should do music professionally as a career. We are both mainly amateurs (although occasionally I did pick up a fee, and my brother was frequently engaged as a 'cello continuo by professionals, because as a singer himself he could predict what singers would do by observing their backs).
December 29, 2018, 5:53 PM · Math, statistics, data analytics, and accounting are good "second" courses because you can basically do them at the same time as violin performance *if* you go to a comprehensive type of institution such as University of Indiana or Oberlin College (just to name two that have good music conservatories). That's because those disciplines (math, etc.) do not have heavy-duty lab or major-project requirements (like engineers, chemists, and other science majors typically have), and the course load in something like math is often back-loaded (more courses in your latter years) while it's more front-loaded in music with theory, class piano, etc. (I know because I have a college-aged relative who is doing this.) You would need a violin professor who is amenable to your dual plan, however.

When I was 16 I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. By the time I was 20 I decided I'd be terrible at dealing with sick patients whereas I really loved organic chemistry, so I changed to science. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like had I pursued medicine anyway.

If you're 15, you need to understand that your adult (i.e., sentient) life begins approximately at the time you leave home and arrive at college. If you are not a changed person by the time you leave college, something went terribly wrong!

Edited: December 29, 2018, 7:35 PM · You don't need to be the most highly talented musician, but you do need greater internal motivation and self-discipline, and the deepest interest in music, to succeed.

The problem with making a career out of music (after you have passed through the initial employment hurdle) is that you lose the internal motivation in the environment where politics, travel, unrealistic challenges, etc all take their toll.

Almost everyone I know who has survived in "full time music employment" has at least two dimensions to their craft. For me, it was teaching, directing ensembles, and arranging. For my friends, it almost always performing and teaching, even for the best of them.

Now, this is not a bad thing. But, be prepared for this "mixed portfolio" approach to a music career.

December 29, 2018, 7:57 PM · There's many posts here that say doing music professionally is hard and not like a hobby. I don't disagree, but at the same time is any career not as easy as you envision prior to entering the profession? Any profession where you have to deal with other people can be challenging and competitive. Working in general sucks. If I'm going to slog it out for a career at least I'd like to do something that I enjoy instead of something that just pays the bills.

That said I absolutely agree with having a plan B and also double majoring.

December 29, 2018, 8:25 PM · I dunno, some careers really do involve doing stuff you love every day. You just have to pick the right one.
Edited: December 29, 2018, 10:32 PM · Lydia's right that some careers are doing what you love. But "loving it" depends strongly on two factors. First, you have to be successful enough at it to have reasonable job security and a decent income. That kind of success is very competitive these days, and luck invariably plays a role. Second, you have to develop a thick skin for the particular indignities that infiltrate your chosen field -- because indignities there will surely be -- so that you can focus on the parts of your job that bring you joy.

I got a PhD in chemistry hoping for a long, discovery-studded, academic research career. There's a LOT of people hoping for the same. I came much closer than most, earning university tenure, winning a few nice grants, and publishing some interesting stuff. The objective truth is that I'm not a research star, but there are plenty of people who follow the same golden path but don't make it for a whole bevy of reasons. There are a great many PhD-level R&D jobs that I would not want to do, although there are plenty of folks that can be productive and happy there, and of course that's great. I guess what I'm trying to say is that finding that amazing "hobby-career" requires not only insight, industry, and a competitive spirit, but it also involves dumb luck. As for me, I've been luckier than most -- much luckier, and I feel that recognizing this partly explains why I'm so content even though maybe I could have done better. Anyone who says they built a career as good as mine without any luck is either a liar or totally blind.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 3:21 AM · It was never a question of "convincing them". At the age of 18, I informed my parents of what I intended to study at uni, and that was that.

However, it's definitely a good idea to keep up your academics alongside violin, in case something goes wrong or you change your mind. Having a plan B is very important.

Paul, huge parts of the world do not "leave home and enter college" so that's not really a universal marker for becoming an adult... This is really more of an American idea :)

December 30, 2018, 5:48 AM · @Lydia Leong: I live in Auckland, NZ and we have a serious shortage of teachers, so I don't think teachers are as well paid as software developer.

Teaching requires a whole different set of skills. OP should consider that as well. I personally wouldn't have that amount of patience. My teacher sometimes vent to me about how her students in secondary schools would always be stubborn and never practice.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 7:16 AM · Kate, you're right of course. I meant my remarks in the typical American middle-class context. Rather ethnocentric, I know.

I think for most violin teachers, at least in the US, the income level is sufficient to be a useful second income. If you're going to be a primary breadwinner then you're going to be hustling down wedding gigs or playing in freeway philharmonics and pit orchestras too. It's a hard way to make a living if you also have a family because your workday starts the moment school lets out in the afternoon and your gigs and other stuff (think Suzuki class, studio recitals) are all on weekends.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 7:41 AM · Lydia/Paul- I agree, it would be nice to pick the right career, but it's a bit like throwing darts blind. Typically kids go to college and choose a major and then a career based on some brochures, college visits, cool profs, etc. That's all academic marketing. The working world is completely different from a student academic environment. Whether you stay in acadamia or go into the corporate world, it boils down to spending most of your time dealing with mundane tasks outside of what you studied, meetings, responding to bosses, and eventually the joys of mid level management where you will probably stay until you get the gold watch. I'm lucky enough in my career as military to do something "new" every few years, but at the end of the day it's the same thing just different office. Sometimes I see people 20 years older than me still slugging it out on the subway and wonder how they can do it.

All I'm saying is work is called "work" and not "happy fun time" for a reason. Maybe it's not such a bad idea to start with something you know you like from personal experience rather than something you settled on or thought was a good idea based on limited information.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 10:42 AM · I suspect that "look at the devil you know" is what often results in kids going into fields that their parents are in, and/or that their parents' social circle are in. Connections don't hurt there, either.

Most fields of academic study don't lead directly into a career. That's one of the reasons that majoring in music is no worse than majoring in history or English or philosophy or any one of the many liberal arts. It may arguably not be worse than majoring in a science, as long as your electives are useful (for instance, you take a few computer science courses or business courses). Even the broadly popular major in "business" tends not to lead directly into a career unless you're graduating from one of a handful of top-notch business schools.

And sometimes the career can lie at the end of an academic path that is undesirable. I really thought I wanted to be a surgeon, but a six-year path of science courses before anything practical just wasn't viable for me. (In the US, you get a bachelor's and then an MD, and clinical rotations start the third year of medical school.) I might have chosen differently in a country other than the US, where practical training starts much sooner.

December 30, 2018, 4:25 PM · I kept being asked when I was going to stop messing about with music and get a proper job.
Remember that NO job is ideal. However much you love the idea, a large part of ANY job involves doing stuff your employer says you have to do.
December 30, 2018, 5:51 PM · Darren, before you choose the path, I suggest to get closer to several people who proceed to the different point on it.
1) students in musics
2) recently graduated
3) mature people who got on different branches: orchestra, private band, school teacher, private teacher, busk...
4) people who already left the path.

What is their most everyday pleasure? What are the difficulties? How the daily routine look like? How their families are doing, what is their lifestyle? Can you imagine yourself on their place? Will it satisfy you?

The problem can be, if you do not really understand what it is to be the professional. Especially, if you are not close enough to your teachers and not really know what difficulties and what happiness they have.

How many orchestra players do you know to be able to estimate what it is to be an orchestra player? Have you seen them at real life? And so on.

When you analyse all of this (it will take time- more than a year, I think), you can then talk to your patents at another level.

December 30, 2018, 7:21 PM · Since no career is 100% safe, just go for what you envision yourself doing (and be in touch with your current environment, best and worst case scenarios, etc.)

I was blessed with supportive parents, that also care for me a TON. There's this false narrative/dichotomy between tight vs loose parents, where those that "don't care" about what their children study are "irresponsible/reckless", and the "tight", more "controlling" parents are as much because they know what's "best" for their own. My mother *IS* strict, value-wise, but never enforced her way (as much as she would make suggestions, and she would also offer or envision different possibilities.) I do not regret one bit studying music, and I ***LOVE*** my Mother for letting me do whatever, and support me through it.

Since no career is warranted (liberal arts or otherwise), in my opinion one should follow whatever will make him/her "happy", and violin in particular should be something you study with the mindset that it may be difficult to be "successful", but *nothing* else will do (if you want a successful "career" and loads of money, perhaps you should study some other subject that you may prefer over the violin.)

Wishing well to those of you whose educational goals will be challenged by your parents. Generally, they mean well, even when misguided. Try to find a compromise, and see if that works.

Work may not always be "happy fun times" but it doesn't need to be a life of misery. Don't go for something that you really hate but is more socially acceptable or "easier" to have a career with (if you love it, though, go do that!) Money is a reality of life, but it must not be the final catalyst of everything we do and pursue in life. Sometimes a more modest, but happier existence is preferable to some.

No need to argue if you disagree-it's fine. I won't budge my point of view, so let's keep it peaceful. Best wishes to all.

December 30, 2018, 8:22 PM · The time you spend training is typically a significant fraction of your life too. It's a bad omen if that part of it (such as college plus medical school / graduate school plus postdoc training, or practicing violin for thousands of hours, or whatever) is something you know will be miserable for you. I enjoyed grad school and being a postdoc, even though there were definitely some difficult hurdles to cross. I do have to admit part of that "enjoyment" stemmed from a sense of certainty that the effort and sacrifice would pay off in the end, certainty that was inspired by the experiences of my own parents who followed similar paths.

What I see is that students get "trapped" in their college major because they've reached the limit of their stamina for coursework, or they suffer some kind of personal problems, or their parents are unwilling to pay for the extra years, etc. Again it's a significant segment of your life, and life can be complicated, and life can be hard.

Someone who doesn't know what they might like to do should aim for a program that will allow some wiggle room for exploration -- and those programs are typically *not* physical sciences or engineering.

Edited: December 31, 2018, 2:56 AM · We must also take into consideration the different career paths that the same university educations have in different countries. Ive understood that in English speaking countries a degree in history or literature can land you in a job in the commercial world for example or in the administrative byrocracy. Correct if Im wrong though.

In my country that does not happen, if you study literature, you will have to find your job in teaching literature or researching it or as a literaly agent, Only if you study commerse or finance can you end up in a job commerce of finance. So basically you have to make the choise of what kind of job you are going to land into, when you choose your university education. You cannot go to uni just studying something and thinking that you can land in a different job. The academic degree is valued very much and onlly if there is a shortage of workers can you shift to different kinds of jobs.

There are people who have followed their inspiration without thinking and have majored in subjects like philosophy or literature and they basically end up unemployed for long periods as they are not considered suitable for anything else than philosophy or literature. You cannot even teach if you have a degree in literature only, you have to have a degree in teaching mother tongue built into your degree if you want to teach.

So a responsable parent will enlighten her child of this and make sure that the child chooses a subject that can land her in an available job. For musical majors that would mean teaching as a back up plan even if the child only wanted to play in an orchestra. If teaching is out of the question, the child would have to be very exceptionally talented and hardworking so that a career in orchestra or as a soloist would be feasible.

Dont know how this all is in New Zeeland, but if the op does not consider teaching a good plan B then musical majoring is very risky and I would not encourage it. Its not about getting a fancy lifestyle, its about getting the bread to the table.

December 31, 2018, 2:06 AM · I would recommend Darren talk to his teacher, and as many professionals as he can find, to get a realistic assessment of his playing & whether studying music would be a good choice for him.

Also, if studying in Sydney or Melbourne is an option that's worth some serious consideration.

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