“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 wise choices about how to grow their careers.
To help music students make informed decisions, here are 7 common myths along with a debunking of each.
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 compelling.
Successful independent musicians acquire technique along with expanding their expressive powers, concert programming knowledge, stage presence, collaborative abilities, and fan bases.
2. Once You Land a Record Deal, You’re Set
Of 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 amass 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. Yes, entrepreneurship again.
Instead of entering one competition after another, would-be pros 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 to acquire a distinctive artistic personality and repertoire, 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 advanced, they typically lack the wherewithal to draw interest from the public. They may subsist by working under the direction of other musicians, but they won’t be equipped to thrive unless they re-educate themselves.
6. Earning a Doctorate Qualifies Musicians to Teach in Higher Education
To be competitive for teaching positions, candidates need much more than degrees – they have to be accomplished artists, recruiters, educators, leaders, and more, as I spell out in my article Applying for Faculty Positions.
In fact, typical DMA curricula leave graduates largely unprepared to win or excel at teaching jobs.
7. Music School Curricula Prepare Students for Professional Careers
Whether we examine graduate or undergraduate programs, myriad music schools don’t offer any career development or entrepreneurship education for their students.
For the most part, conservatories are structured to train students to become touring virtuosi handled by managers or full-time orchestral performers – careers that won’t exist except for fewer than 1% of graduates.
Fortunately, there are some shining exceptions – music schools that embrace entrepreneurship and comprehensive career preparation. Ambitious students should make sure that they attend those sorts of schools and pass up offers from 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.
Additional guidance is available in Chapter 14 of The Musician’s Way.
© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Stokkete, licensed from Shutterstock.com