Should You Go To Music School?

Are you an intelligent and talented creative trying to cut it in the music industry? You’ve probably thought about going to college by now. It has been said over and over again that education is the key to success. Unfortunately, we don’t need to beat about the bush. Pursuing a music degree is a terrible idea. You don’t need to go to music school to make it big in music or any entertainment industry. Even though there are great music colleges offering formal education in this field, you’re better off without a music degree. The time and money it takes to pursue a music degree can be channeled into other things that will propel your career to greatness. Furthermore, the social and financial costs are not worth the risk. In this article, we break it all down for you to help you understand why the likes of Jay Z and Jimi Hendrix made it without music degrees.

What a music career looks like today

If you want to understand what a music career looks like today, all you need to do is analyze two things; the kind of music you watch or listen to on the radio, YouTube and TV or your playlist. You also need to look at the people who have made it big in the industry. Today, the most viewed YouTube videos include; Tailor Swift’s “Shake it off”, Maroon 5’s “Sugar”, “Gangnam Style” by PSY, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of you”. All these songs are sung by people from various parts of the world and they represent different genres, from R&B to rap and soft rock.

In a nutshell, the audiences today are diverse. They’re listening and appreciating different sounds. Music is also more complex than ever. Producers use software to combine different sounds (instrumentals) in order to come up with a unique sound that can appeal to as many people as possible. Therefore, if you’re dreaming of making it in the industry you have to embrace diversity and be as creative as possible. You’ll also need to pick a genre or two from a list of countless options. The most popular genres today include hip hop, pop, trap, rock, rap, R&B, and jazz.

What do they teach in a music school?

Bearing in mind what a career in music looks like today, you have to ask yourself if you’ll gain the necessary knowledge and skills required to become a star in any genre. Essentially, a college degree is meant to equip you with fundamental skills, which make you marketable. You will acquire a lot of technical skills related to the field of music but these skills won’t necessarily give you a competitive edge. Some of the things you learn from a music school include:

  • Composing music
  • Playing instruments (depending on your interests)
  • Music and business
  • Stage and theatrical performance
  • Vocalization
  • Production

The cost of attending music school

While skills learned in class are extremely important, the cost of acquiring a music degree is a bit too high, compared to the benefits they’ll attract. Moreover, you may as well acquire these skills free of charge by practicing and seeking mentorship from established artists and producers. A college degree from an average university may cost anything between $20,000 to $40,000. This amount may or may not include money spent on complimentary things such as housing, books, computers and software, personal music instruments (for extended practice) and miscellaneous expenses. If you plan to get your degree from world-class universities, the cost may skyrocket to $200,000 or more.

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT GO TO MUSIC SCHOOL

The numbers don’t add up

As of 2019, the total amount of student loan debt spread among 44.7 million Americans is 1.56 trillion. Statistics also show that 69% of students who graduated in 2018 took student loans for both private and public institutions. On average, people who pay student loans remit about $393 a month to repay their loans. These shocking statistics are an indicator of the burden that you might end up with if you decide to pursue a degree in music. To add insult to injury, the statistics further show that parents whose children went to universities were also forced to take loans (alongside the student loans) in order to support their children. While most students graduated with about $29,000 in debt, parents were left with about $35,000 to pay.

Clearly, higher education doesn’t come cheap, but this shouldn’t stop anyone from acquiring a degree if that’s what it takes to succeed. However, people who take out loans to fund their college education are often hopeful that they’ll manage to pay up almost immediately after graduating. This is because it typically doesn’t take forever to secure an entry-level job which enables them to repay in installments. Depending on the career/degree, entry-level jobs for graduates can pay anything between $30,000 to $60,000 per year.

Unfortunately, music students don’t deal with similar numbers. The loans may be the same but an “entry-level” musician or producer does not make that much within the first or even the second year. Many successful musicians will confess to taking up gigs that didn’t pay during the first few years of their careers. As a music graduate, you’re not likely to produce a hit song within the first year. This means you might end up with a student loan you can’t pay for, thus turning into a defaulter. As a defaulter, you’ll have to pay more money in fines and interest. In a nutshell, the numbers just don’t add up. Moreover, a career in music is tough and demanding without the financial pressure that comes with loans.

Unemployability and unemployment

If you take a degree in Finance, you can be an accountant and a financial advisor. However, if you’re unable to secure employment in your specialty, you may still qualify for universal careers such as sales, management, administration or front office. Studying music, on the other hand, limits your career choices. You will not be trained to survive in any other industry in case things don’t work out. In addition, regular companies may not consider you employable in any of the universal careers with a degree in music. It all narrows down to unemployability.

The prospects in music are also too poor. There are limited career choices that require a music degree. Most music careers require a self-employment approach. For instance, you might never come across a job advertisement announcing an opening for the position of a music producer, because most record labels are run by single producers. Musicians, on the other hand, are not employed, they’re signed based on their talent and ability to attract audiences.

For many people who go to music schools, teaching or directing an orchestra are the most viable options when it comes to employment. Therefore, if you are looking for a vibrant career as a singer, songwriter or producer then you don’t need to limit your options with a degree.

Music is a constantly evolving art

Let’s be honest, what you learn in school may not apply in the real world ten years from today. This is true for most professionals but it is a painful and vital fact in the music industry. Rock and Roll was quite popular in the mid 20th century, but today, a millennial or a generation Z fan may not know what that is. While most music schools try to keep abreast with the dynamic music landscape, your college professor will not teach you how to make trap music when the fans demand it.

Relying on formal education to make music might be an obstacle because music is an art that defies many rules, You need to have an ear for good sounds rather than an understanding of concepts to create good music. It is also important to note that songwriting is mainly reliant on personal experiences, observations, emotions, and trends. It’s all about sparking certain emotions such as sadness, excitement or happiness and this cannot be learned in a formal classroom setup. It simply takes the ability to connect with audiences to make it big and you definitely don’t need to pay a dime to do that.

What it takes to be a musician doesn’t involve a degree

What does it really take to be a successful musician? The simplest and straightforward answer to that question is blood, sweat and tears. There is, however, more to it. These 5 things can help propel your careers in the music industry:

  • Unquestionable talent
  • A good network of journalists, club promoters, event organizers, DJs, musicians (and other artists), producers and radio/TV hosts
  • Resilience
  • Passion
  • Excellent listening skills

Having thick skin is especially crucial if you want to succeed as a musician and a degree does not necessarily equip you with significant resilience. If you take time to read biographies of musicians who made it big, you’ll notice that their passion and resilience propelled them to greatness, more than anything else. Stevie Wonder, for instance, has won 25 Grammies as an all-around musical artist grappling with blindness and no college degree is attached to his name. Jay Z, on the other hand, rose from a violent background and multiple rejections by record labels to establish a vibrant music career and a big record label, Rock-a-Fella. Passion can also be attributed to one of the most respectable musical legends, Ludwig Van Beethoven. He might have studied formal music under a personal tutor, but when he lost his hearing at the age of 26, his passion kept him going. In such a case, making music you can’t hear takes a lot more than education. It’s all about being passionate enough to turn lemons into lemonade because a career in music will throw a lot of lemons your way.

Successful musicians don’t have degrees

The success of a musician is measured according to their influence and financial status. Regardless of your Alma Mater, if you have not sold millions of album copies, then you’re not considered successful. Today, most of the top-selling artists are self-taught. They acquired their skills by practicing, observing and listening. The Beatles, for instance, have retained their position at the top after selling about 178 million units and none of them had any formal education in the field of music. While some musicians did go to music schools, their success cannot be entirely attributed to their studies. Lady Gaga, for instance, studied performing arts at an art school, but she dropped out after a few semesters to perform practically in clubs, where she gained meaningful experience. Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, did complete her studies in visual arts, theater music and performing arts at LaGuardia High School, but she fine-tuned her career by pursuing what she is good at; hip-hop.

The fans don’t care

A college degree serves as proof to employers, that you’re capable of performing what you claim to be good at. As a musician, your employers are your fans. These are the people who will pay premium prices to get into your concert or to buy your album. Fortunately, they don’t ask for academic certifications before listening to your music or buying your album. If they like what they hear, then they’ll support you. You, therefore, don’t need papers because no one is likely to ask for them in your entire life as an artist.

What to do

At this point, you’re probably wondering what you should do if you’re interested in establishing a music career. Clearly, signing up for a degree course can lead you into unnecessary debt and frustration. However, you still have options whether you decide to go to college or not. Below are a few recommendations:

  • Apply for a marketable course that will equip you with transferable skills and pursue music part-time
  • Use the money meant for a music degree to record, produce and market your music
  • Purchase music equipment and start working on your career as early as possible
  • Enroll for short courses to learn how to play instruments, perfect your vocals or produce music. These will be less costly and tutors will only focus on what you need to know rather than a broad curriculum

In summary, music is entertainment and if you don’t have the talent, pursuing a degree will only set you up for disappointment. The cost of pursuing higher education is also quite high and the prospects are not too promising. After all, there is no guarantee that you’ll be a star upon graduating. Only time can reveal how bright your star is capable of shining. So don’t waste time and money on education you might never need.

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