I’m a Musician, Do I Really Need to Go to College?

In the US, college is often something that we feel we have to do. Regardless of what our future vocation may be, college is the next mandatory step after college. And a rather expensive one at that.

For many majors, that’s very likely be true, but as a musician, one might argue that a college degree isn’t totally necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that obtaining your university diploma is an incredible accomplish and an even more incredible experience. It’s absolutely something that you can be proud of doing.
+ College Audition Tips for Saxophonists
+ College Auditions and Applications

Despite this, however, if your goal is to be a musician, college might not be as necessary as you think. If your goal is to get out and play, no one is going to ask you to see your diploma. They might not even ask you where you went to school. If you’re talented and professional and you do a good job on the gig, that’s all that matters.

If you plan on being a musician, you don’t need to go to college, especially at the price it costs and the estimated salary you’ll be earning unless you hit it “big.” For most musicians, college is an unnecessary expense.

But as someone who has been working in the music industry for nearly a decade (part of which was while I was at university), I’ve seen it become increasingly harder for musicians to support themselves making a full-time living in music. As unfortunate as it is, it might not hurt to have something to fall back on until your career in music takes off.

Remember that if you choose to go to college, your major doesn’t have to be in music. In fact, studying something like business and marketing could be incredibly beneficial to your music career. A lot of the skills you’ll learn in those classes are ones that you can apply to your music business.

You can, of course, choose to major in music if you wish, but your career options can be limited once you graduate if you take that path. If you can’t imagine doing anything other than music after school, then by all means pursue your dreams. I, myself, majored in music, so who am I to stop you?

But if you’re open to the possibility of expanding your skill sets and broadening your knowledge, considering another a major (with a minor in music, perhaps), might be something to think about.

If it happens that you need to take another job after college, or you decide to take another job to help support your music career, that option is more likely to be open to you if you study another field.

You should also consider the possibility that your career will be in music, but not in the way that you expected it to be. Perhaps you end up working at a music-related company such as an instrument manufacturer, an instrument sales shop, a record label, or an artist management firm. Some of those options might not be available to you if you don’t have a degree, and so, it’s definitely important to take that into consideration.

That being said, there’s always the argument that it isn’t good to spend hours away from your craft at a job that isn’t music. Every hour should be spent practicing, writing, and hustling to get gigs to give your career its best chance.

I’ve had experience with both ends of the spectrum. My husband and I are both musicians with extraordinarily different education backgrounds. My husband dropped out of high school to go to a music conservatory and is a successful musician without any sort of diploma. I am on the completely opposite end of the spectrum because I have a Master’s degree (in music). For me, personally, I found going to college valuable but my husband didn’t. We are both professional musicians, we both work regularly and neither of us regret the paths that we took to get to this point. It’s a decision that only you can make.

As I mentioned, I understand both sides of the argument. Neither route is easy and it’s a very personal decision. One that no one else can make for you. It’s all about what your financial and personal needs are, your goals, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to have a music career.

Reasons Why You Should Go to College if You Want to Be a Musician:

  • A few more years of training
  • Developing other skills and discovering new interests (GE courses)
  • A backup plan just in case performance doesn’t work out you’ll have the qualifications to get another job to help support your music
  • Networking; to meet other talented, up and coming musicians your age
  • Burn-out is a real thing and you risk leaving yourself without any other option if music doesn’t work out for you
  • The experience
  • You’re interested in working in the music industry as something other than a performer

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to Be a Musician:

  • Procrastinating (literally “buying” yourself more time – surprisingly a huge reason people go)
    fear – real life after school can be intimidating
  • Because you need a diploma – you really don’t if you are certain you only want to pursue music full-time
  • You’re already working successfully as a musician and you would have to stop working to take time off for college (in that case, you can do it online or come back to it later)
  • Most colleges don’t provide you with the proper tools for actually working in the music industry (business, networking, playing in diverse genres, legal stuff like copyrights, etc.)

Further Reading: http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/a-little-music-industry-career-advice.html

Why did you/didn’t you go to college? Or, why do you want to/not want to go to college? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, but please keep the conversation civil!

Written by:

Published on: July 13, 2015

Filled Under: Music and Career Advice

Views: 2514