Is Music School Worth It? Top Three Reasons

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.

Sometimes You Need to Stop Playing Your Instrument

I’ll never forget one of the musical compliments my band got about five years ago, from a successful nationally touring folk musician. “I can tell you guys are real musicians because not everybody plays all the time.” This comment has stuck with me ever since. Why was he impressed that we chose to stop playing?

As I’ve matured as a musician I’ve seen more and more examples of the importance of not playing. Sometimes this means not playing at all for a section of a song, sometimes it simply means playing fewer notes to take a background role. Here are 3 lessons you need to know about the art of not playing.

1. Don’t Play Between Songs

The fastest way to look unprofessional at a rehearsal is to not show up prepared. The second-fastest way is to play your instrument between songs. Generally speaking, it doesn’t help the rehearsal for you to constantly demonstrate that super sweet guitar tone you came up with this morning.  And honestly, nobody wants to hear you work on that show-off lick you learned.

Always playing between songs does not impress people – playing what you’re supposed to play when you’re supposed to play it impresses people.

The exception to this is warming up. Please warm up. Please tune your instrument. But let each note you play between songs be intentional.

2. Make Them Miss You

The audience doesn’t have a chance to miss hearing you if you play throughout the whole song. For some instruments, this is appropriate. For most instruments, this is a bad thing. Listen to any recording of any song in the last 50 years. Almost every instrument drops out for at least one section of the song if not more. Vocals disappear for the instrumental sections, drums and bass lay out for the quiet parts, guitar layers fall in and out depending on the section.

In today’s pop and rock music (and the genres based on it), dynamics are everything. The song contrast. Loud sections and quiet sections. And extremely loud sections and extremely quiet sections. This is best achieved through what is called, in classical music, an “orchestral crescendo”, which really just means more instruments are added to make the music get louder. If you play your instrument throughout the entire song, you are limiting the dynamic range of the song. A drummer dropping to a quiet ride cymbal is moderately dynamic; a drummer completely dropping out is very dynamic. A guitarist dropping to moody swells is somewhat dynamic; a guitarist completely dropping out is very dynamic.

This also applies to atmospheric background playing in a worship context – if most members of the band are playing something (somber chords on the piano, reverb swells on a guitar, little decorations on the cymbals, etc.) then it stops being atmospheric and starts being a low-volume jam session. Don’t let the atmosphere get muddied or distracting because you never choose to stop playing your instrument.

Make them miss you. That sick, loud entrance you have at the chorus is going to be effective – but only if you weren’t already playing.

3. Less is More

The three most important things in music are the song, the song, and the song. Ask anybody. Notice what’s not on that list: the guitar, the drums, the horns, or the bass. Not every song needs an instrumental feature. Especially not in a worship setting.

In college, my drum set instructor taught me the importance of playing to serve the song. In fact, he introduced me to the concept of trying to play as invisibly as possible, attempting to not leave one’s mark on the music. He told me of a great jazz pianist on a world tour who said that he intentionally avoided the licks that he knew would get the most applause. He instead tried to create good music the most organically and pure way possible, rather than playing the showy scales and runs that were tried and true ways to get crowd response. What a concept. This is especially important if you want to get hired as a studio musician.

I’m not recommending to never play impressively or to never let your instrument be featured. What I am recommending is to always be aware of the featured instrument. If the featured instrument is the vocals, or anything besides your instrument, stay out of the way.

Listen to the other instruments: lock in with them and compliment their playing with yours. Be aware of your own playing: are your notes in the same octave as the other instruments, masking them the mix? Is your groove clashing with the rest of the band and confusing the overall feel? Are your lead lines or fills during other players’ fills? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to play less. It may even be time to stop playing for a section of the song.

A good musician knows when to play. A great musician knows when to stop playing.

5 Jobs for Making Money with Music

You love music, we know. In fact, everyone knows. You’ve put in your time, hours upon hours of practice, and basically volunteering your time playing open-mic nights and free gigs. Now it’s time for you to let your music work for you and make some cash with it. Here are five great jobs for musicians to be making money with music.

1. Gigging

The quintessential music job – playing music in front of people. All sorts of occasions require live music – from restaurants to weddings and other private events, playing a gig is a valuable service that has a relatively high demand. And gigs can pay well too – that is, pay well per night. As you’re getting started gigging, you will spend many hours practicing and rehearsing your set. As you become more comfortable with your setlist, it will require less preparation time and you will get more dollars per hour spent. Shoot for this. However, don’t skimp on practice time up front – getting the gig the second and third and fourth time is too valuable to skimp on your preparation for the first time.

2. Composing music for video

As many serious musicians as are in your local area, there’s probably just as many videographers. The great thing about video (for musicians) is that videos ALWAYS need music. Some video guys go with stock music, but those that want to stand out purchase custom music for their videos.

My advice: meet all the videographers that you can. Musicians always have a need for video, almost as much as videographers always have a need for music. Local filmmakers can be your best friend.

3. Studio Musician

If you are seriously dedicated to excellence on an instrument, comfortable playing multiple genres, and willing to work on lots of music (including music you don’t like,) you can make good money as a studio musician. Songwriters and singers always need musicians to play on their tracks, and if a studio has you on their call list as a studio musician, you will get called fairly regularly. Studio musicians also set their own rates, so there is plenty of room for salary growth.

If you are interested in playing as a studio musician, it’s time to get to know studio owners. Book a session, play your instrument, and be professional. Nail the parts, be cool to work with, and gracefully mention you’re open to doing studio work. If you impressed the studio engineer, the calls will come.

4. Lessons

One of the simplest and most practical ways of making money with music is through teaching lessons. The great thing about students is that they are repeat customers – you can count on working for them every week. Even with the very reasonable rate of $15/half hour lesson, if you take on four students, you will be making an extra $60/week for only two hours of work. Not too shabby.

5. Songwriting

One of the hardest music jobs to crack into is songwriting, but it has the most profit potential. If a song you write hits the charts and gets major streams and radio play, you get to sit back and get rich. Your work is already done, and the song continues to make money for you. However, it takes years of hard work honing your songwriting craft and making the correct connections to find the producers and artists who have a chance at making the charts like this. Most songs written by professional songwriters either end up unused or contracted to mid-level bands who don’t make it too big. For every 100 songs written by a professional songwriter, only a handful make a serious profit for them. Like every other job in music: you have to love the work itself.

Making Money with Music

Want to start supplementing your income with your musical talents? Money can be earned through music in many ways. It’s time to make a plan, make some connections, and make some money.

3 Secrets to Success in Music Business

You’ve been playing casually for a few years now, at open mics, for friends, basically any time there was a guitar and a microphone. Now you’re thinking about going a step further in music – getting paid for your hard work. Whether your passion is playing and singing, writing songs, or recording and mixing other artists, you would love to see music bring in some (if not all!) of your income.

The music industry is a fiercely competitive arena. Survival of the fittest. Here are three secrets to success in music business.

1. Content is King

If there’s one thing you need to know about selling your music or musical services, it is that content is king. The song is a huge part of this content.  Even if you’re the best guitarist or singer in your town, if the song you’re playing is not engaging to listeners, they will not enjoy it. Make sure your song has a great hook – something that the listener will keep singing even after the song is over – if you want your song to be successful.

Beyond the song, you need your entire presentation to be high quality. On stage, this means you need to dress the part, engage the audience, and keep a professional persona. Even if you wow a coffee shop audience with your singing, they won’t take you seriously as an artist if you’re dressed for work or for the gym. Keep that in mind.

In your recordings, the quality standard has been set extremely high. These days, anyone can record music on their laptop or phone, and so the market is oversaturated with mediocre music. If you want your recordings to actually get listened to, the recording quality needs to stand out from your local competition. If this isn’t your strong suit, consider hiring someone to make your music sound awesome.

2. Marketing is Queen

Okay, so now that your content is something people want, it’s time to get it in front of their faces. Unfortunately, music doesn’t sell itself. That’s your job. Like it or not, you’re a brand now. If you’re a singer/songwriter or in a band, you need to develop the branding of your act. If you are a sound engineer or composer, you need to develop the branding of your service. People know you for something. Do they know you as being a music expert, or for something else?

If your audience knows you for “something else” other than music expertise, it’s time to change that. Build a website to show that you’re dedicated. Make informative videos or blogs to show that you know what you’re talking about. Have professional photographers and videographers create high-quality content that puts you in a professional light.

Develop your brand. Be known for playing well and for creating a fun atmosphere when you play. Be known for being an expert, and be known for being dedicated to your craft.

3. All About Who You Know

You’ve heard it before: it’s all about who you know. While this is true, you should not go out and try to find a super-celebrity who can take you to world fame by next year. That’s not going to happen. Instead, find the people who can help you get closer to your goal – venue owners, promoters, sound engineers, and even other musicians with similar goals. Develop good relationships with them. Help each other out. If you prove yourself as a genuine friend to a musician who finds success, they will return the favor when the time comes.

Keep this in mind – when someone meets you, you are both asking yourself “what can the other person do for me?” If you find a way to answer the other person’s question and generously meet their need, you will have made a friend who won’t forget you later.

The Secrets to Success in Music Business

These are the three secrets to success in music business. The other missing ingredient is hard work. Have any questions? Feel free to contact me. I’d love to start a conversation with you.