One of the big complaints people have about studying music is that the student doesn’t learn any “real world” skills. I say that’s BS. A music degree is one of the best ways out there to learn actual real-world skills. If you’re smart during your time in music school, you’ll come out with a great chance to succeed out in the Real, Grown-Up world.
My music degrees have already helped me. I’ve been out of academia for about eight months so far - not even a year. However, skills I developed over the course of my degrees have helped me find real employment. They’ve helped me figure out the kind of work I want to be doing. These skills even helped me become a member of the performing arts union AGMA, join the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and start judging for WSMA. That’s not bad for less than a year!
So, what specifically did music school do to help me out with these things?
Music Degrees Create Connections
The most valuable part of a music degree is the connections you develop, 100%. Your musical skills are important, of course. However, if two equally talented trombonists live in the same city, the person who knows more people will get more work. It’s as simple as that.
I commute to my opera chorus gig with my undergraduate adviser, who’s the head of the voice program at that school. If someone needs a singer in the area, they’re probably going to contact him, and he lets me know. On the other hand, I heard about a choral education job at a local school, and now I’m helping a former classmate apply for it. If I hadn’t kept in contact with people, neither of these things would have happened. Musicians tend to stick together - do your best to stay in contact with the musicians you like, and magic can happen!
Music Degrees Teach Time Management
So, you’re taking twenty credits, you work 20+ hours a week, and you like to sleep occasionally. When do you practice? That’s up to you to figure out. Music degrees are a trial by fire when it comes to time management. Either you learn how to balance a thousand things at once, or you realize music isn’t your preferred career. (That’s not a bad thing, by the way. Music is hard and doing it as a career can sap the joy out of it. You have to decide whether that’s worth it.)
Time management is vital for every adult. Even if you just need to figure out when to go grocery shopping between work and the gym, you’ll be balancing different demands on your time. If you can find time to practice, sleep, eat, work, attend class, and get your homework done, regular time management will be a breeze.
Music Degrees Teach How to Self-Start
Once you’re in college, it’s a lot less likely that you have a parent leaning over your shoulder and reminding you to practice. Maybe your freshman year someone will suggest you join some ensembles or clubs, but it’s not mandatory.
However, most music majors I know take it upon themselves to join things, start organizations, or participate in ensembles way beyond what’s necessary. That kind of drive and dedication are hard to teach. It’s learned by example, and it’s practiced throughout all of music.
A music major is a great basis for joining the modern “gig economy,” too. After all, musicians are nothing if not used to gigs! It’s easy to combine gigging as a musician and working gigs through apps like Uber, Upwork, or Care.com. Even in more traditional fields, the drive to keep excelling is a helpful trait.
Personally, the self-start attitude and time management I learned during my time in college helped me get hired after only a week of applications. Balancing writing, a day job, and my music is a job in itself, but it’s worth it.
Music Gives Joy
Yes, I do work outside of music. It takes everyone time to build up the kind of teaching or performance career that pays enough on which to live. That work is not my driving force, though.
Music is my passion. It’s the goal which I am pursuing. Singing is one of the purest joys in my life, and singing well for people who appreciate it is like nothing else. I could have gone into a field that would have paid more right out of the gate, but I wouldn’t have music the same way. I had the absolute privilege of spending six years of my life completely dedicated to music. I now have the opportunity to continue pursuing it as intensely as I can. If I had gone into something else, I would not have the same sense of purpose that I do today, and I think my life would be lesser for it.
Music is art, and people who feel called to it are lucky. A music degree doesn’t lead directly into a specific job in the way that an accounting degree might, sure. The music degree is still just as worthwhile. Any student that feels called to a music degree should at least consider it, and the chance to spend years studying a source of joy should be taken seriously.
These degrees are designed to help people learn what they love and succeed in that field. The worst case scenario is that you don’t end up in music forever. Without a music degree, that’s much more likely. In that case, you might as well try!