“Putting all of your eggs in one career basket isn’t a smart bet for either your livelihood or your happiness.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 300
Countless young musicians aspire to become professionals, but few understand the music industry well enough to make informed choices about how to grow their careers.
To help students make wiser decisions, here are 7 common music career myths along with a debunking of each.
7 Music Career Myths
1. Technical Facility Ensures Success
Professionals have to be technically proficient, but it’s what we say artistically with our technical chops that makes our work valuable and special.
Successful independent musicians acquire technique along with expanding their expressive powers, concert programming knowledge, stage presence, collaborative abilities, fan bases and so forth.
2. Once You Land a Record Deal, You’re Set
Among the musicians who sign deals with record companies, only a tiny percentage earn much income from sales.
Published recordings can help performers gain exposure and book concerts, but only if record companies and the musicians promote their work. Often, record deals in and of themselves hardly boost musicians’ careers at all.
3. Managers Take Care of Everything
Most professionals who have managers devote abundant energy to marketing themselves and building their audiences. Only elite performers who garner jumbo concert fees can retain managers who handle the bulk of their affairs.
In reality, musicians typically can’t attract interest from management firms until they accrue large followings and earn sizable fees on their own, which means that all aspiring performers need entrepreneurial skills.
4. Entering Competitions is Crucial to Getting Ahead
Only the most prestigious contests, such as the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, have the potential to propel winners to significance. Still, there’s little chance that any one performer will triumph at such international events.
With less-renowned contests, winning seldom brings much in the way of career benefits unless the winners take the initiative to leverage the exposure they receive to book their own concerts and build relationships with listeners. Yes, entrepreneurship again.
Instead of entering one competition after another, young artists can better spur their careers by performing innovative programs for diverse audiences – growing their fan bases in the process – and entering a few well-chosen competitions.
5. Career Development Isn’t Appropriate for Students
It takes years for us to amass distinctive repertoires, form compelling artistic personalities, cultivate stage presence, pinpoint career interests, and understand how the music world functions.
When students don’t incrementally craft artistic visions and gain career know-how, by the time they become musically advanced enough to work, they typically lack the wherewithal to launch out on their own.
They may subsist by gigging under the direction of other musicians – e.g., for contractors or bandleaders – but they won’t be equipped to thrive as independent artists without re-educating themselves.
6. Earning a Doctorate Qualifies Musicians to Teach in Higher Education
To be competitive for higher ed teaching positions, candidates require much more than degrees. They additionally need successful track records as artists, recruiters, educators, leaders, innovators and more, as I spell out in my article, “Applying for Faculty Positions.”
In fact, typical doctoral curricula leave graduates largely unprepared to win or excel at teaching jobs.
7. Conservatory & College Curricula Prepare Students for Professional Careers
Whether we examine graduate or undergraduate music programs, many of their curricula don’t oblige students to take any career development, entrepreneurship or community engagement courses.
For the most part, curricula are structured to train students to become either touring virtuosi handled by managers or full-time orchestral performers – careers that won’t come to pass except for a tiny percentage of graduates.
Fortunately, there are some shining exceptions, music schools that embrace comprehensive artistic and professional preparation. Ambitious students would do well to make sure that they attend those sorts of schools and pass up the backward ones.
For tips on how students can identify schools that equip them with up-to-date professional preparation, check out my article “Are Conservatories Keeping Pace?” along with the related posts below.
Further guidance is available in Chapter 14 of The Musician’s Way.
© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Stokkete, licensed from Shutterstock.com