20 Things I wish I’d learned in music school….
I will never forget the time that, after 4 years of being a conservatory music student, I walked into my advisor’s office and said, “What kind of jobs do music students get after they graduate?” My advisor replied, “Most of our music students get entry level corporate jobs.” I wish she had told me that BEFORE I forked over 40K to get that answer. I left her office, feeling lost and confused, wondering what I could possibly do after all the theory exams and juries were over.
In music school my jury exams and performances were horrifying at best. My arms rebelled against me, shaking wildly as I tried to maneuver my flapping bow arm across the foreign feeling piece of wood in front of an audience of strings faculty members. I much preferred the comfort of the practice room –especially the with its promise that someone else would walk by my window and want to take a break with me on the crusty orange couch in front of the vending machines. Somehow I managed to avoid playing recitals the same way that I never took gym class in high school. At my high school graduation I was handed a letter informing me that I needed to take summer school P.E. instead of getting a diploma. For my college graduation, I didn’t even go. The future looked like a bleak cubicle at best. I did not want this cubicle.
Its been TEN YEARS since I graduated. Ten and a half, to be precise. In the time since I left music school I seem to have entered a different school – one that’s free only to make up for its hardass lessons and lack of guidance. The school is called Y.N.A.F (“You’re now a freelancer”) with the motto “Good Luck!” Its like that old video game Myst — you have no idea what the heck you’re doing until you just start poking around, trying things out, sometimes succeeding and more often than not banging your head against a wall.
After 10 years I’d like to say that I’ve graduated from Y.N.A.F school, but in truth, I am still learning. But perhaps I will promote myself to level 2.
So, as a level 1 graduate I have a few things I’ve learned:
- You will make more money playing Pachabel’s Canon then you ever will from performing concertos.
- That superior classical attitude? Drop it. It will not get you gigs, students, friends, or respect.
- Never underestimate the importance of making very good friends with a web designer. More points if you marry one, like I did.
- Get over your fear of going into coffee shops to hang up posters for your show or class. Size matters. The bigger the poster, the bigger the impact.
- Get an extra closet or storage unit. You will use this to store EVERY receipt you’ve ever been handed.
- One third of the money you spend on toilet paper is a tax deduction.
- Work on whichever you are weakest at: If you can’t read music well start teaching others how to do it so you really understand it. If you can’t play by ear start playing along to pop music on the radio. Both these skills are equally valuable.
- If you want a strong teaching studio be upfront about your Studio Policy and kind when you enforce it.
- Have at least one project that you do for sheer enjoyment. When the gig calendar is empty and students quit in droves your project will keep you going.
- Take time to heal from any toxic experiences you had with any mentors or teachers you’ve had in the past.
- Continue to learn. Go to music camps, master classes, seminars, and take lessons from those who know something you don’t.
- Go to other peoples’ concerts. Buy their cds or mp3’s or whatever. Donate to their kickstarter pages.
- If you get an email about a gig answer it RIGHT AWAY. Then put it in your calendar RIGHT AWAY.
- Have many baskets with many eggs in them.
- Try to practice 10 minutes every day. Give up on the 8 hours of practice you got in music school. Ten minutes minutes can usually grow into an hour or more, but many days 10 minutes is all you get.
- If you perform outside, demand a canopy or shade…in a contract…. and then again in reminder emails before your gig.
- A friend once told me, “Exposure is a poor excuse for lack of pay.” If you want to make a living as a musician stop doing things for free.
- Chant the mantra: “I am worthy. My music is worthy.” Then ask yourself why you’re hiding it.
- Engage in shameless self-promotion on social media.
- Remember that music heals. Its a universal language that connects to the deepest part of people. The extent of music’s reach is often a mystery, so always play from the heart and not the ego. This is something that I am just learning to do. Its a switch that I’m working on flipping and its made all the difference in how people respond to my performance.