Is Going to Music School Worth It?

A hotly contested topic in the music industry, and a question I frequently get asked by students is, “Will getting a degree in music be a waste of time and money?” I find the answer to that question is actually a much more nuanced one, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer...

The old guard of the music industry had you learn to be a professional player by working your way up from the bottom, and if you did get a college degree, you were one in a thousand. 

This "old-school" crowd generally looks at music schools, (especially the non-degree-granting ones), as pyramid schemes and complete frauds.

The funny thing is, they’re not wrong. Graduates of many of these institutions now trying to find their way in the musical workforce look back at their alma maters as farces that sold them a pipe dream and then left them in debt in a ruthless, decaying, boarded-up industry holding the bag. 

Conversely, some graduates look back at their path and credit every moment of success they’ve had to these institutions. They’re not wrong, either.

What are you looking to get out of a degree in music?
That may be the million-dollar question here. What exactly is your expectation from a guitar program? If you expect to come out of school with your piece of paper and walk right into a job as an guitarist somewhere, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.

In the music scene, as it stands today, a degree in music won't move you any further up the ladder; the dues still need to be paid. In some cases, being a graduate of some programs may even get you shown the door before you get a chance to present what you’re capable of.

What is Success...?
The next thing you need to define is “success” in the world of music. Is your goal to play on platinum-selling RandB albums all day, every day? That’s a very narrow definition of success achieved by an even smaller group of individuals. If you’re willing to stretch your mind and your skills, it's very attainable to work in the music field for a living, and your degree can even help you get there. So here are some things to consider.

Look into the credentials and reputation of the program
What the program offers you is probably going to be one of your biggest contributing factors to the question of, “Is this right for me?” By that, I don’t mean the catchy stock photos of students smiling at each other jamming on amazing music school stages.

Try to find a program with a strong alumni network, as this is ultimately what you’re going to be paying for with a degree in music. Your classmates and fellow alumni are more than likely going to be where you find those first leads looking for gigs or work.

Look for a program that offers you more than just a course load. Finding an institution that will give you more than things you can learn from a web-site article or YouTube video is important. Classes in music business or learning about computer music software and other disciplines like playing live are what are going to give you the tools to be competitive in a market flooded with people holding certificates from 18-month music school programs.

Learn more about your options
The music industry is growing and is diverse in the applications of your degree. Filling your weeks with playing gigs for only indie rock bands may not be viable unless you’re already independently wealthy. And, getting work as a session musician will in most cases be too far and in between to ever pay your bills.

There are a number of opportunities in not only the studio, but in live shows, sound-track work for television, movies, video games, podcasts, corporate applications, production, plugin and product design, etc.

If you’re not afraid to try any music style, if your versatile, and not hung-up on only working on strictly original music, (because you want to be famous), there are many more career paths and revenue streams available to you as a musician.

Understand the "power" of your degree
You have to remember you're entering a field where sweat equity in the industry is still of high value. Having your bachelor’s doesn’t mean anything. For me personally, the skills I learned in school have been infinitely valuable in my day-to-day work in music, but a degree isn't a badge.All it is was a period of time spent studying music intently. Gaining knowledge.

Don’t expect anyone to be impressed by putting “bachelor’s in music from XYZ University” on your resume. Instead, that degree is a key and it'll open a select few doors. Your skills will be your real resume. How "able" are you to get the gig done and sound excellent at it.

If you followed the two above recommendations, you should have a figurative toolbox of skills and experiences you can call upon to help you move forward. However, the hard work is still ahead of you, and you'll still need to prove yourself or carve out your own niche.

I think that having a degree in music is valuable and can be an important step to obtaining your goals. That being said, it’s not for everyone, and you do have to do your homework. You have to remember that it’s not a means to an end, but a part of the journey when done right.

So, to answer the question, "is going to music college worth it?" Well, whether you go or you don't go, either way, you’re not wrong.


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