This question has circulated throughout the industry since I started pursuing a career in music, and I’ve had couple of people ask me this question as someone who’s gone to school for music. If I were to give you a one-shot answer to this question, my response would be:
“It depends on why you want to go.”
I’ve gotten quite a few different perspectives on the idea, and I would like to share them all with you, including my perspective. If you’re currently debating about going to school for music, I hope this article will help you.
You’ve probably had many musicians tell you that going to school for music is pointless, because you can train as a musician outside of school, which would also be a lot less expensive than going to school for music. This is true to some degree, however that argument gets cloudy pretty quickly when you talk about musical positions that would require you to have a degree, especially if you want to be a school music teacher, and even a professor.
It also gets cloudy because “music” as a field has many specializations, not just performance. You may want to be an entertainment lawyer, which would count as a position that requires a degree. So does an accountant. For the sake of this article, we’re going to discuss musicianship training and how school may (or may not) benefit in that area. Below, I have a list of scenarios under which music school may, and may not, be the best route.
Music School may be the best route if:
- You are going for the experience. Going to school for music has it’s many benefits under one roof, and depending on what school you go to, you’ll instantly set yourself up for many possibilities, whether it be in training, or in career opportunities. If you’re in a school that concentrates on music, such as Berklee, you’ll be surrounded by professors, staff, industry professionals who can plug you in to different opportunities for your career. I have a few friends who went to Berklee, and now they’re performing for A-list artists. When I went to Rutgers Camden, even though it’s not a school that’s focused on music, I’ve received many opportunities because of Rutgers, including my first internship at a Philly music studio, which landed my run-in with Jill Scott, and ultimately my appearance on her album, “Light of the Sun”. Rutgers also landed me my student membership with the Recording Academy, which allowed me to attend the Grammy Awards for the very first time.
- You are going so you can be challenged. I’m currently considering a Master’s degree in piano performance for this very reason. As much as you can continue to train independently, you may feel that you would get much more out of your training if you went to school, where they will have all the required courses and programs you would need to get the job done, without having to scavenge for everything yourself.
- The position you want requires a degree. This includes all the positions I mentioned above.
Music School May NOT be the best route if:
- You want to increase your chances of making money as a musician. If none of the reasons above are intertwined with why you are going to school, besides this one, I would steer clear of school altogether. In fact, music school will normally put you in debt. This reason would not work because there are plenty of ways to make money as a musician without having to go to school at all. You don’t even have to be the world’s most talented musician to make a decent, or even well-to-do, living. I know of plenty of musicians who have degrees and no money to show for it. And on the other side, I know many musicians who have no degree at all, and they’re making tons of money. As a matter of fact, among the world’s wealthiest pianists (the ones whose worth are in the millions) are musicians who don’t even have as much as a bachelor’s degree. I started teaching private piano lessons long before I finished school. Most musical positions just require you to get the job done, not have a degree.
- You are already well connected in the industry. If you already have all the connections you need, including career connections and training connections, music school may not be necessary for you, especially if you are already operating at a much smaller expense. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind researching for the right connections on your own, versus someone like me who would rather have be given everything “under one roof”, school might not serve a great enough purpose to pursue.
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