In this guest post, musician and teacher David Morgan shares some music career advice, and asks if a career in music will make you as happy as you think it will…
Music Career Advice
When you’re young, anything seems possible. You see musicians in the media and you think to yourself ‘I could do that!’. You get hold of a guitar, or a drum set and get some chops together. You get together with friends and rehearse for a while. Then you get a gig, and someone you know will come up to you and say how much she liked it… and your fate will be sealed.
You’ll concentrate on the guitar. You’ll write song after song and practice until your fingers hurt. Your school work will suffer and you’ll abandon your old friends and hang around with your new, musician buddies.
Picture The Future
And this can be a positive part of growing up. But it can also be a trap. See, when you’re young, you think you know everything. And, if you’re into music, then you’re likely to have an above average intelligence. This confidence and intelligence can actually start to act against your own self interest. Perhaps it’s a kind of vanity, or even a symptom of low self-esteem. But in more cases than not, you’ll be throwing your future away.
You’re smart enough to know that there’s more to life than getting a job and working hard until you retire. But you’re not yet wise enough to know that statistically your best chance of happiness is to do just that. Or at least to make it available as an option.
If you’re happy with a forty year old version of yourself working in a store and renting a crappy flat while your old friends are planning early retirements, buying second houses and going on expensive holidays then continue as you were. Otherwise you need to start planning your career in music.
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Put Yourself First And Then Plan Your Music Career
Here’s what I suggest. Put yourself first. Not your music or your ‘passion’. Think about the things that will actually make you happy. Not nebulous concepts like ‘a hit song’, or ‘a record deal’. Think about tangible things: a house, an understanding partner, financial security, cash in the bank. These should be your aims. But – and this is the important bit – have a plan for your music too.
Know what you want to achieve on an everyday level, and also what you want to achieve in music. Work out the steps you need to take in order to accomplish this. Don’t waste time chasing vague notions that are totally out of your control.
How To Get To Carnegie Hall?
Aim for the professional qualification, learn a trade, get the bits of paper and the experience that will allow you to earn a decent living and support a family. Look at your day job as a means of allowing you to have a music career.
At the same time work hard, very hard, on following your passion. Be focused, industrious, and determined, but don’t let it take over until it’s definitely viable as a career.
The big mistake is thinking that you can’t do it all. You can. And still have fun. You can practice and get good at your instrument. You can get the gigs, make the contacts and create a following. The internet means that you can now build up a huge fan base and release records on a level playing field with the big record companies. You can start earning money from your music – perhaps even more than you could earn from your day job.
But your day job, or at least the qualifications and experience that will allow you to get a day job, will be there to act as a permanent safety net.
With music qualifications, it gets a little tricky. Be absolutely, brutally honest with yourself. If you can get into one of the very best music schools, then you should do it. But be aware that your career is most likely to be teaching music rather than playing or writing it.
The fact is that most people with a music degree do not end up as professional musicians. It’s also true that that nowadays most music qualifications are not worth the paper that they are written on.
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How To Get Jobs In The Music Business
If you want to work in recording studios, consider getting a technical qualification or becoming an electrician. In your spare time work for free in a local studio. Don’t waste time and money on an expensive music production degree. I should know. I’ve got one, and if I’m honest I’m slightly embarrassed by it.
If you want to work in the music business, then study law, marketing or management. It may put you in a position to get ahead musically too. Alternatively, learning a trade will give you skills that you can fall back on whenever you need to.
Of course there are people who make it without having a backup plan (or talent!). I’m not saying it isn’t possible. But for every one of them there are thousands who have wasted a sizable part of their lives unnecessarily. Don’t be one of them.
David Morgan is a guitar teacher in Cardiff, Wales. He has performed on several commercially released records and also releases his own music with his band, Monolith. If you have any opinion on this subject, please share your views in the comments below.