“Mom, Dad, I want to study music” the dreaded words that many a young musician speaks to their parents and leads to inevitable months of insanity and stress from all parties in an already incredibly stressful time in life. You might feel like going to college to study music will teach you a lot more about the art form and the industry industry as a whole allowing you to grow as a performer and businessman. Meanwhile – your parents might wonder if you have lost your mind. They want successful children so that they can have grandkids and stuff – it’s some sort of biological imperative. I’m here to say your parents are right… sort of, and if your parents are anything like mine then it’s the ‘sort of’ that is going to drive them really crazy.
Here’s my advice, advice I wish I had been exposed to when I was considering colleges. You probably don’t need to go to college. If you’re serious about it take at least a year off and reflect on what you really want to do in the music industry. Get a real job if you have to but spend the time creating as much music as possible, reaching out to other people and growing your network. Set up goals and then carry them out. Try and go on tour and work with higher level bands. Expand your resume and consider where you’re really trying to take this whole music thing. The odds are that what you would be getting from a music degree aren’t what you would really want. If you want to go study music theory and musicology read a book, if you want a career placement program go to shows and network, and if you want an immersive experience then just go on the road.
The point I’m trying to make is that for most of this stuff you don’t need a degree, and for the stuff you would need a degree for (Mostly legal and contractual obligations) you probably wouldn’t be handling personally anyway. There’s a reason we have CPA’s and lawyers. Most people who become music majors at college who were kids in rock bands in high school don’t really know what they want from that kind of program. If you spent years studying classical music then yeah, you probably should study music in a formal setting, but if you just want to make a living in independent popular music there are no programs that really cater to that, for a few surprisingly simple and easily identifiable reasons.
The thing is – there are no real degrees for independent music. I mean yes – there are music industry degrees that will help, but even those programs will make it clear they are not teaching you anything you couldn’t learn yourself. Most of the people who have jobs in the industry who have relevant degrees learned a lot more from their internships and their own separate roles in the industry rather than anything they were taught in classroom. This is for a variety of reasons, but mainly because not only is independent music a very unstable and borderline illegal thing, but also that it rarely ever pays the bills. Add in the fact that the only thing that would really help you as a label CEO is a business degree and you will easily find yourself a a point where its hard to justify any sort of music degree. Hell – even if you want to be a musician you probably want to spend those vital late teen and early 20s years touring heavily, taking private lessons and generally getting your name out there.
We are increasingly living in an America where people are seeing through the lies of the university system and in an industry largely based off of freelance culture it seems that now more than ever taking the time for yourself to become a musician is the most viable path. That being said – you need to actually y’know, take the time and do it. You’re not just going to become a musician by calling yourself one. Rather – you need to step up and embrace the difficulties that being a musician entails and spend every day working hard, networking and practicing in order to live out your dreams. This isn’t the kind of thing that you can just up and do. As a matter of fact I can guarantee that the work that goes into being a professional musician would require significantly more work than going to college.
Now obviously your parents are going to need more evidence for this than some asshole on the internet who dropped out of college and is now living his dream. So you need to go out and achieve at least something before you up and leave. You need to be able to show them that you have accomplished things, big things, and it’s only by pursuing this full time that you will be able to grow your personal brand. This isn’t an easy thing to do – but parents mainly want their children to succeed and be happy – and if you can prove concretely that music can help you do that – then you should if you want any hope of them letting you follow your dream.
Essentially – if you want to make a living in an industry that exists outside of the system then you need to exist outside of the system too. I’m not saying college is evil – I’m certainly considering going back for some business classes at some point, but the fact of the matter is that college is not going to help you start off your career, instead it is going to leave you years behind many of your peers. I know this because I consider my one year of college to have been something of a setback, I don’t regret it – but I know I could have spent the time better. So if you’re already doing good stuff in your scene and you think that soon it will be fiscally viable, then perhaps now is the time to say ‘Screw it’ and jump off the deep end.