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Going to College for Music: Ten Honest Things to Ask Yourself

Stephanie Morey-Barry

February 11, 2016

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Going to college and choosing to major in music is a huge step! Up until now, music has been a hobby, an extracurricular. But when you choose music as your major, it means that you are choosing to transform your hobby into a career. Here are ten things to consider when making the decision to earn a degree in music.

    1.  What exactly do you want to study?

There are actually many different music degrees you can choose to pursue in college. You can study vocal or instrumental performance, songwriting, music therapy, musical theater, music education, digital recording, and more. The first step in your journey is deciding what you want to develop your expertise in. And after you’ve chosen, make sure you are positive. After all, you will be learning about this topic for four years and doing it for the rest of your life!

  1. BA or BM? What about BFA?

Along with the different music degrees come different types of degrees completely. A BA, or Bachelor of Arts, is a degree that will include extensive liberal arts coursework. This degree will have two thirds non-music courses you are required to take to earn your degree. A BA is more flexible with credits, making this the degree you want if you’re planning to double major. On the other hand, A BM stands for Bachelor of Music. This degree will give you much more music coursework and training, but will also give you little wiggle room for electives. Finally, BFA is a Bachelor of Fine Arts. A Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is a performance focused degree. Two thirds of your coursework will be working towards developing your skills as a musician.

  1. What are your audition requirements? Are you prepared?

Most music programs have specific requirements in order to be considered for their program. Having helped many students through the process, I know many voice programs require arts songs and arias in multiple languages. Many musical theater programs require showtunes prior to 1960. Do you have the materials ready? Make sure you are not practicing at the last minute!

  1. Do you have a range of reach, target, and safety schools?

Yes, even music programs can be extremely selective! The Julliard School currently has a 6.7% acceptance rate, making it most certainly a reach for all students. And given that the audition process is so subjective, you should plan on auditioning for as many schools as possible, including several local or state universities.

  1. Are your grades up to par?

Yes, music schools require good grades! Much of the time, students must get accepted into the university before they can be considered for the music department. Keep those grades up!

  1. Will your student loans match your income?

Full-time orchestral musicians make anything from $28,000 to $123,000 a year. That’s a wide range! You need to prepare as if you are going to earn that $28,000 range your entire life. Unless you earn scholarships or are able to pay the tuition in its entirety, you might want to reconsider attending a school with an extremely high tuition. Otherwise, it can be an uphill battle to pay off your student loan debt.

  1. Would you be willing to teach?

Here’s the reality: Not everyone who studies music will win a Grammy. And not every musician will constantly have gigging opportunities. Are you willing to teach? And this means teaching not as a fallback that will leave you bitter and resentful. This means truly enriching the lives of aspiring young musicians through sharing what you’ve learned. If you are unsure, then you may want to think of other sources of income.

  1. If you are not willing to teach, would you be willing to take another less-than-glamorous job instead?

Some musicians nanny. Some musicians work in restaurants. Some musicians work in clothing stores. Are you willing to work in a job that isn’t related to music in order to pay your bills? The truth is, while going to auditions you will still need to pay your rent. This means you will have to work somewhere unrelated to music if you are not willing to teach.

  1. Are you comfortable enough in yourself to handle the rejection, both in and out of the audition room?

Mark Ruffalo once mentioned that he was rejected 600 times before he booked an acting gig. I would imagine the odds are very similar for musicians. You will be turned down for gigs and jobs. It’s not a possibility, it is a fact. The music industry is subjective and you will not always be what they want or like. Are you strong enough to power through even in the midst of constant rejection?

More so, people can be incredibly condescending to musicians. They assume that your job is easy, and won’t always respect the fact that you spent 4 years slaving away at a conservatory. What’s more, they often value success by their media influences. If you’re a singer, why aren’t you on The Voice? If you’re a drummer, why aren’t you in a band they’ve heard of? You need to be willing to let these comments slide and continue to feel strong in yourself.

  1. Can you picture yourself doing anything else?

Tony-Award Winner Kristin Chenoweth once said that if you can picture yourself doing anything else, you should do anything else. You have to love it. You have to love creating music more than anything else. And it needs to be the music you love, not the dreams of fame and fortune. It needs to be the craft, not how you think you are going to be perceived by the world as an artist. Music careers are incredibly challenging. And you need to love it.

Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on these ten questions, I hope you have gained a greater understanding of what it means to be a music major and if it’s right for you. There is absolutely no greater job in the world when it’s right for you, but it’s not right for everyone!