Is going to music school worth it? In the twenty-first century, musicians have many options for advanced formal education in music. For those planning to be a band director, music teacher, or another educational professional, Music Education degrees are invaluable and are often required for teaching in formal situations. But what about musicians who do not plan to teach? What about the touring artists, studio musicians, church musicians, and engineers/producers?
Music school isn’t for everyone. It’s very expensive and takes years of time. But what you put in is what you get out of it, and the results can be extremely valuable. I attained a Bachelor of Arts Music Technology concentration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I am so thankful that I did.
Here are the top three reasons for musicians to go to music school.
1. Learn to be excellent
Before I started my undergraduate degree at UAB, I’ll be the first to admit that I was not a good musician. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was good. In high school, my friends and I had a folk rock band that was relatively successful for a high school band. We played shows, parties, and weddings, we sold some records, and we opened up for a couple really cool well-known artists. We were proud of ourselves.
What we didn’t know is that we really weren’t very good. We each had natural musical gifting (the other guys more than me), but we did not develop our talents to get even close to our potential. It wasn’t until music school that my eyes were opened to what excellence in music truly is. In college, specifically in my private percussion lessons and marching band rehearsals, I learned the standard of excellence that musicians should shoot for. I learned the difference between mediocre rhythm and precise rhythm. I learned the difference between hitting most of the notes and hitting all of the notes. I learned the importance of good feel, the importance of being prepared, and the importance of honing your craft.
It wasn’t until music school that I learned what it meant to be an excellent musician.
2. Find your niche
Many musicians want to move to a career in music. The problem is that they don’t know exactly what they want to do. They think “I’ll just take whatever work comes my way – I’ll play some shows, do some recording, maybe teach some lessons or go on a tour if I find a way to get paid for it. I’ll just take whatever I can get, as long as it’s music.”
This is a big problem.
While flexibility is necessary, specialization is key. In order to be marketable, in order to develop skills and reputation enough to build a career in music, you need to pick one area of music and make that your thing. It can be songwriting, playing shows, producing beats, managing artists, conducting an orchestra, or any of the countless other specialties in the music industry.
Going to music school helped me find my passion for recording music. It wasn’t until I went to UAB and was able to tour recording studios, watch engineers at work, and even record a band live in the studio that I even considered studio engineering to be art. Before then, I thought working a soundboard was a job for musicians who failed to get a real career. Little did I know that I would fall in love with the magical, fulfilling, creative, artistic process of recording.
Music school opened my eyes to possibilities of careers I had not even considered for myself and allowed me to discover my passion for recording.
3. Build connections
The final, and possibly the most valuable benefit of going to music school is the connections to be made. In a music program, you spend a minimum of four years building relationships with countless other music professionals – your classmates, professors, guest performers, and even professors at other universities each time your college collaborates with another.
The beautiful thing about your professors is that they have a life outside of the university. (Well, most of them, at least.) Many of your teachers will be gigging locally, making recordings, managing non-educational music businesses like record labels or studios, and constantly meeting music pros who are not connected to your school. Your professors also have been in your shoes before, just starting a career in music, and will be very willing to offer their advice and help in streamlining the process. Just reach out to them and ask. Spend as much time as you can with your professors, in their offices and after class, absorbing their knowledge of the music industry and learning from their successes and mistakes.
Similarly, many of your peers will also end up with successful musical careers later in life. Some of them will give up and settle for a non-music job, but many of them will climb the proverbial ladder. Network with your peers, pull them up the ladder when you can, and allow them to do the same for you. Identify your classmates that you think have the most potential, and spend as much time as you can with them, building your professional network.
Is Music School Worth it?
I can’t tell you if music school is worth the cost for you specifically, but this article has listed a few of the great benefits of going to college for music. Many musicians have created and sustained successful careers without formal education in music, but a growing number of musicians are using music school as a valuable tool for furthering their musical career.