Is a Music Degree Worth it?

The article I wish I read a few years ago. 

I first got a musical instrument in my hands when I was 5. At 14, my parents let me go live alone in the capital in order study from the best teachers in the country.
 
The next natural step was University and I took it. 
 
A few years down the road, all seemed to be going the right way, yet I was miserable.
 
I didn’t like my life. I didn’t like myself.
 
I was doing what I was supposed to do and what I “loved”. How come was I depressed? It didn’t made any sense to me.
 
I couldn’t understand nor grasp what was going on and why was I feeling like this so I decided to figure it out.
 
I gave myself one year.
 
During this period I pushed myself to practice like never before. I talked to everyone I could about music careers and future. I read books, articles and learned a ton. All that helped me make a decision that could well turn out to be the most important one I’ve ever made.
 

This article includes all I know and all I wish I knew back then.

Working with reality 

I am huge believer in that most bad decisions in life come from inability to work with the way reality is and not what we want it to be.
 
There’s quote that perfectly encapsulates this mindset
 
“Complaining is not a strategy. You have to work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it be” – Jeff Bezos
 
But why the heck am even I talking about this?
 
Art people are one of the most delusional people you’ll ever meet and that comes with its pros and cons. We are talking about art degrees after all.
 

To find the truth, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the real, raw truth about music and art degrees that a few like to acknowledge.

What can you do with a music degree?

No matter what people say live music is not an essential thing people need.

Add computers and the fact that most people prefer listening music on headphones instead of going to a concert and you can see how it all can go wrong quickly. 

There are essentially four outcomes after you get your degree:

– Teaching at school

Most people with music degrees end up teaching to support themselves. They will likely begin teaching while studying at University and continue doing so until the rest of their lives.

– Playing in orchestra

Most musicians that play an orchestral instrument will do that. It’s a full-time job that has its pros and cons.

– Play gigs, small concerts and teach at school at the same time

A little bit of both worlds,  it’s probably enough to pay your rent and have a few bucks left off at the end of the month, but not more.

It’s basically two part-time jobs which is fun when you’re 23, not so fun when you’re 37 with kids.

– Make it as an individual performer or as a part of a small ensemble

A few make it here. The truth is most performers and ensembles don’t manage to stay on top for long – being popular during all your life happens only to a few and more often they are rockstars/pop stars. If a classical musician manages to stay on top for 10+ years it’s quite the achievement.

Another not so fun fact is that if you want to become a professor at University and actually get paid well for it. Pretty much the only way to achieve it is by winning a lot of prestigious competitions and have concerts in halls all around the world 

Why would an University pay someone to teach there a few days in a week for 10 k a month?

Music, at the end of the day is perceived as a pure entertainment by 95% of the people on earth. And when you consider that most people listening to jazz and classical music are all to die in the next 10,20 years the picture gets even darker.

I talked to many friends of mine, many of whom are musicians in order to gather all perspectives and present the pros and cons of each. 

So, here we go:

Teaching at school

Pros:
– If you love to teach you get to do it all the time
– The stress is quite low especially if you don’t get easily stressed out
– You get to develop amateurs and kids into good musicians
– It’s a quite stable job, especially in Europe

Cons:
– You’ll probably work the same job until you die.
– If you don’t love children, aren’t really patient and get easily pissed off, it’s not for you.
– Your options for career growth are: moving to another school to do the same or managing somehow to get a job at University which can be quite hard.

Playing in orchestra 

Pros:
– You’ll get paid a monthly salary for playing music
Sometimes, you’ll play music you love
– It’s a full-time job but you won’t really work 9 – 5 every day
– It’s a stable job and once you make it to an orchestra, you’ll always be able to get a job at another one

Cons:
– You’ll play music you love but only sometimes. You’ll eventually start hating most music you once loved and will need to play the same pieces every month for years and even decades.
– It’s still a full-time job and you won’t really have a lot of free time for other projects. 
– Your options for career growth are moving to another orchestra or strive to play first violin instead of second. This is why orchestra players are amongst the unhappiest people on earth.

Make it as an individual performer or as a part of a small ensemble

Pros:
– You’ll essentially live the wet dream of pretty much everyone
– You’ll probably make good money compared to everyone else except rockstars.
– You’ll be able to get a prestigious teaching job at most University given you’ve become somewhat popular
– If you get a teaching job at University, it’s good money for not much work.

Cons:
– You need to really love practicing to keep up, 4 – 5 hours a day is going to be the minimum required for at this high level.
– So few make it here that you’ll either need to be exceptionally good, comfortable being uncomfortable and a creative/marketing genius, or have a ton of luck.
– You’ll need to go all in. This means not taking a teaching job and not playing in orchestra. You are going to need all these daily hours for practicing, learning and resting.

How to decide – an unconventional way. 

I have an unconventinal way of decision making that I picked up from Mark Manson.

The gist of it is that you do not consider the pros but the cons of something and then you ask yourself whether you’re fine with the bad part of something. It’s quite simple, yet totally life changing.

If you, for example, love the pros of being a great individual performer but at the same time you hate practicing and are unwilling to practice 5 hours a day then it won’t be smart to go all in. Or as Mark Manson puts it 

“Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”

Do musicians actually need a college degree?

To study music is one of the hardest and most ungrateful things one can choose for a career.

Again, this not a stretch.

The music degree is essentially one of the most useless degrees one can get unless all they want is to teach kids.

The biggest problem of going to music university is that if your goal is to create something new and exciting, and have lots of concerts around the world. A music degree won’t help you much besides that you’ll meet a lot of people like you and will ( hopefully) get taught by great musicians.

The catch 22 of music is that musicians’ career is by default insecure and a university degree implies security.

Most musicians that have made it have found a way to get out of the matrix and the problem is that almost everything you’re going to learn in University is going to teach you how the matrix works.

There’s not much more to it.

In order to have lots of concerts, you either have to have won lots of international competitions and be recognized as a virtuoso of your instrument ( even that’s not always enough) or you’ll need to get creative and do something no one else does.

The point I’m trying to make here is that if your goal is to study music at University solely for the security of having an income, what you should be asking yourself is, “Am I fine with teaching my whole life” and “Am I fine with playing in an orchestra my whole life”.

If you’re fine with this then, by all means, go ahead.

If the answer to both this questions is no, then you’d want to perceive University just as a place to meet like-minded people, get involved in unconventional projects,  and learn. 

As you might guess by now, you don’t really need a degree to become a great performer and you don’t really need a degree to become a successful musician.

I can’t tell you what works because I didn’t make it but what I can do is tell you is what doesn’t. So:

  • Don’t do what everyone one else does.
  • Don’t be lazy
  • Don’t be scared to experiment.
  • Don’t stay in your comfort zone for too long .
  • Don’t listen too much other people. 

Otherwise you’re not going to have a good time.