Thinking about going to college as a music major?
Updated: May 6
Ah, living life as a musician, sounds great, right? You may have heard that it's not for everyone, and that is quite true. I want to share some insight on anyone who might be thinking about majoring in music. I am a college graduate with a Bachelor's in Music Business. I've been a full-time musician for about 5 years. I'm hoping this information will help you understand what you will learn and what the advantages and disadvantages are in this field. It is worth noting that I went to school and live in the Greater Boston area (Massachusetts).
What classes do you take?
The basic classes that every music major will take include music theory, aural skills, music history, lessons for their instrument, chorus (probably), ensembles, keyboard (probably) and maybe conducting. You will also take classes specific to your major (sound recording, teaching classes, business, songwriting, etc.). Music school is more about the education, rather than the degree itself. There are many good musicians out there, and you likely won't need to present your degree to employers, bands, etc.
Is it hard?
Many people struggled when I attended college, and a lot of music majors dropped within the first month. You need to be dedicated and be able to READ MUSIC! The most common ones to drop out were guitar players and singers who didn't have experience reading music. If you plan to attend music school, you should practice reading music for at least a year prior to going. You should be solid on your main instrument before going to school. It also goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that you should be comfortable performing in front of people!
One of the harder classes for a lot of people was aural skills. In this class, you learn to have a good ear for melodies, chord progressions, and you learn to sight-sing. Yes, everyone needs to be able to sing at a basic level. Surprisingly, the ones who struggled most in my experience were vocal majors! If you are a singer, you should try reading music before going to college.
There are also a lot of courses you need to take each semester. It can be overwhelming to have 8-9 classes when other majors have only 4. You may also need to attend regular recitals for credit, and perform your instrument for a jury at the end of each semester. Make sure you really are passionate and dedicated to music, and want it to be your career.
How easily can you get a job after graduation?
This partially depends on which specific major you have. If you go to school to become a music teacher, you will have a fairly easy time getting a job compared to the other music majors. If you are going for music performance, you will need to do a lot of searching for opportunities and you will need a lot of streams of income. Being an entrepreneur is a big part of being a full-time freelance musician. There aren't a lot of full time jobs being a performing or recording musician.
I also want to point out that MANY of the music majors I attended school with, aren't working in the field at all. The most successful ones are school music teachers, wedding musicians and some individuals with recording studios. There are some that are doing well performing, because they seek out opportunities and are in it to win it. Musicians who stand out (with their professionality and skill level) are the ones that will get the most work.
Other important notes
One big advantage of going to music school is establishing connections. If you go to music school, connect with as many people as possible! You never know who will have a big opportunity come up. Alternatively, if you need someone for a project, it is good to have a list of people who play certain instruments, sing, etc. Once again, you and others will stand out based on your professionality and skills.
For freelance musicians, here are some ways to make money. It helps to be good at as many as possible!
- teaching lessons (also writing your own materials/books)
- recording music (studio work, producing, being the engineer)
- writing music
- playing gigs (restaurants, weddings, touring, festivals)
- licensing music (for TV, YouTube, radio, etc.)
- video lessons
- playing unusual instruments
If this field sounds competitive, it's because it is! Not everyone has what it takes to grind away as a full-time musician. This isn't meant to discourage you, because if you really want to do this and think you can handle it: do it! I almost couldn't imagine working in some other field. It is very rewarding, it allows for many creative outlets, and it is exciting. If you keep at it, you will establish yourself sooner or later. Despite what some people say, I think you can make a living doing what you love, without losing your passion for it.