Advice to aspiring pro musicians


The following is a questionaire that someone posted on RMMGJ and the answers I gave. I thought it might be beneficial for other young people who are contemplating a career in music:
What kind of educational requirements are generally accepted for people attempting to become a pro musician? Envision someone in the upper echelons, here, as say a symphony musician or something else, where education is a large factor in their career.
This would vary a lot. The bottom line is pretty much always going to be; can you play? can you do what's required for the gig? I think in the classical field there is more significance placed on educational background. Someone who has gone through a highly respected conservatory may receive more attention initially than someone who went to community college.
In jazz and to some extent in popular music, there is a little of a factor with education; there are a few respected schools that are known for jazz and a lot of people may be willing to give more of a chance to a Berklee or U of Miami graduate than someone with no educational background. This would depend on the the individual, however; some people tend to feel like education stifles creativity and might actually be prejudiced against someone who's been through music school. I went to U of North Texas and U of Miami and I've noticed that wherever I go, when I meet another musician who has been to one of these schools it sort of gives me a little bit of an automatic "in" with them.
Also, what kind of education would you recommend for a highschooler such as myself pre-college.
You didn't mention what style or styles of music you are interested in pursuing, but I'm assuming that since you posted this to a jazz guitar newsgroup that you are at least somewhat interested in jazz, so my comments should be taken with this in mind.
I would definitely recommend finding a good private teacher to get you started. If you plan on going to music school it may help to find someone who went to school who can sort of let you know what to expect (it would be even more helpful to find, if you can, someone who went to the school you want to go to.) Music school has become more and more the norm for aspiring jazz musicians, but it's not for everyone. I know several excellent musicians who flunked out or dropped out of music school. In my mind, one of the best things about my experience in school was the opportunity to be around a bunch of other people who were working on the same thing I was; I learned as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers. Plus, there is a sense of camaraderie and even friendly comptetion that can be very inspiring in this formative time in your life.
What kind of education does a musician undergo after their formal studies have concluded?
For a musician, education never ends. That's one of the great things about being a musician; you never reach the "end of the line"; you can always improve.
What are the advantages and rewards of being a musician as well as the disadvantages or hardships.
The rewards of being a musician are that you (presumably) are doing something you truly love and are passionate about to make your living. I personally believe that music is a great spiritual and healing force and feel that my role in society is very important. It brings me a lot of happiness to think that I may be helping to enlighten and bring others to a higher level of being through my music (that may sound presumptuous or even pretentious, but it's what I believe).
There are some pretty major disadvantages to being a musician, including:
  • relatively low pay (for most musicians, that is; unless you're a "star".)
  • no steady income or guarantee of work (you sometimes don't know where next month's rent is coming from)
  • lack of respect for your job from a lot of people who aren't musicians (people who don't realize how many hours of work it takes to learn an instrument, think you must play just for fun, don't realize that you might not actually enjoy playing "Freebird" three times in one night, ect.) People who are in positions of power over you (club owners, booking agents, record companies, ect.) try to take advantage of you because you are an artist and not a business person.
Also, keep in mind that although you are an "artist", the moment you start playing for money what you do becomes a "business" and art has to, by definition, take a back seat to the "bottom line". Most of the folks who run the music business are going to look at you strictly as a potential income producer; "can this guy get people in the door to my club and buying drinks?", "can this guy sell records?", ect.
What are some challenges that one would face on the road to his dream of being a pro musician?
There are lots and lots of people who want to be "stars" and/or professional musicians, so there is a lot of competition at all levels. You may become discouraged when you feel like things aren't going your way, particularly when you see others who you may feel are lesser musicians than you who have achieved commercial success.
Keep in mind that music is an art form and there are no absolutes. It's easy to become bitter and discouraged, but to me the idea to being happy as a musician is to never forget the wonder you felt the first time you picked up a guitar (or whatever instrument).
Please tell me about your personal experiences, about how you reached your personal level of success, as well as what influenced you guys to decide to begin this lifelong journey.
Since I first heard the Beatles at the age of thirteen I was hooked; I knew from that moment that I wanted to play music for a living.
I started out interested in rock, then became interested in jazz and classical music and decided to go to music school. After music school I basically was thrown out in the real world and had to start making a living. I have very gradually over the years become established where I live and developed enough of a reputation among my fellow musicians that I get called for enough work to make a comfortable living.
Making a living as a musician is very dependent on word of mouth and reputation among the musical community. Some musicians are very aggressive and have a knack for business, but many don't. The ones who do tend to become good at self promotion and get work that way. I am actually a very shy and reclusive person and have pretty much had to rely on the word of mouth thing, so I probably fall toward the opposite end of the spectrum.
Are there any general requirements that employers would look for in hiring musicians? Please be specific, such as X years of college, X studies, etc.
Once again, there will rarely be a time when you'll be asked to show your educational credentials at an audition or when you get called for a gig; the proof is in the pudding, as one might say. The one possible exception is I heard that at U of M they are now giving graduates a business card size copy of their diploma to flash at gigs and auditions. I'm not sure how effective this idea has been, though.
If you want to teach, as many do, that's when a degree becomes a necessity. If you want to teach elementary through high school music you can major in music education in college, and get a job with a bachelors degree (though more and more it's becoming common for such teachers to have masters degrees). To teach at a college you'll need a masters degree (or even a doctorate). With that said, a lot of accomplished jazz musicians who don't have degrees, but are well known and respected in their field get jobs at universities as something like an "artist in residence", which is basically just a teacher who doesn't have a degree.
Something I heard a long time ago and I've always agreed with is that one shouldn't become a professional musician unless you couldn't possibly imagine yourself doing anything else. For me it was never really a question of "will I be a musician". I knew I had to and that there was no other choice for me. During rough financial times I've actually tried to get other jobs and could never get hired doing anything else; I really don't think I'm cut out to be anything but a musician.
How is the salary, and more specifically, how much do you make?
The last few years I've made between about $20,000 to $26,000. I'm not getting rich, but that has never really been my goal. I'm very happy.
Where could I find more information as I try to find these things out?
That's a good question; one of the reasons I decided to take the time to reply to this questionare is that when I was a teenager I always wished that someone could have answered some of these questions for me, but the "how" of becoming a musician always seemed like some big secret or mystery that no one could answer for me.
What sorta qualifications did you possess as you started out, and what qualifications would you recommend for someone starting out...if different ;) As you progress, how do these qualifications change with your experience?
I'd say this: don't be afraid to educate yourself. Though my answers were primarily aimed at an aspiring jazz/pop player, I think they could apply somewhat to about any style. Also, I'd add that because as a musician you kind of have to invent your own career, rather than having it laid out for you by a big corporation, the more versatile you are, the more potential you have to make money. The more different styles you can play, the more gigs you can get; though jazz is my first love, I do gigs in styles from classical to country.
Also, you can teach. If you are a good reader and have developed good ear training skills you can do hire yourself out for studio sessions. You can also learn music related skills such as recording engineering/producing, live audio production, instrument repair, ect.
One of my teachers in college told me that there are a lot of guitar players but not a lot of really good ones who have worked hard and "done their homework" and that there is always room in "the business" for these kinds of players.

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