It takes some serious guts to enroll in music school these days. If you've done so, congratulations! And if you've managed to graduate, you're among an elite minority.
As you've likely been told numerous times, there's a fair bit of risk involved in the cost and outcome of your efforts. Because of this, it's important to make the years in music school as productive as possible. For some entering music school, the goal is to follow a "traditional" music career path upon graduation. This usually involves steady employment in a symphony orchestra or something similar. While this is possible, this path is a difficult one to follow. A very small percentage of graduates find themselves in a role like that.Don't lose hope, though.
Don't lose hope, though. With a little creativity, the transition from music school to a music career does not have to involve any busking or couchsurfing (or at least not too much, anyway).
In realms outside of music, entrepreneurship seems to have lost its stigma. What was once a creative way for someone to forge their own career path has taken a side step to some of the steadier career paths out there. Top universities may neglect entrepreneurship now, but many of the best music schools out there are still firm believers in this concept. That's because it's useful for anyone looking to become a career musician. If you're one of these people, learning to run yourself like a business is crucial for success.
Why you need to become an entrepreneur
It might hurt you to think of music and business as one. Perhaps you even got into music just so you wouldn't have to slap a tie on every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. As rebellious as you may be, thinking you can make it in the music industry without business knowledge is foolish. Don't worry – you don't need to "sell out," cut your hair, and play pop tunes. However, a little strategic thinking can go a long way.
Entrepreneurial musicians are able to find multiple outlets for their skills. These people understand that their love of music can be an artistic form of expression and a source of income at the same time. They adopt certain methods that can bring fulfillment to their music career and a way to pay the bills, too.
Get creative with it. Look at your other hobbies. For example, say you love playing guitar and also have in interest in technology. Put those skills to use and create a music app to sell. Maybe you have a strange knack for playing rock music with an electric cello. Odds are, there some people out there who want to know how you do it, so set up school workshops to teach them your ways.
The point is, entrepreneurial musicians don't wait around for the gig. They actively search for opportunities. In fact, they often make opportunities. This is done by broadening your expectations, skills, and then finding a way to generate demand for those skills.
Now that you know what it takes to make it after you graduate, let's go back to the classroom and see what can be done there. Here are four ways to transition from music school to a music career.
1. Diversify early
From the minute you start to pick your courses for the semester, make sure to diversify your interests. Don't just take your favorite classes. It's important to introduce yourself to some variety. For example, take some music-based courses that you don't think you would normally take. Mix those in with business courses that will help you draft an artistic and career plan.
There are also courses that will help you create an e-portfolio and teach you the basics of performance, practice, and skill building. This should be done within the first semester of your freshman year, if possible. That way, you'll be way ahead of everyone else in receiving a well-rounded and unique education.
Thousands of identical musicians leave the ranks of music school every year, only to find out they have no unique qualities and aren't in demand. Don't be one of those people.
2. Take advantage of your summer
You probably won't like this one, but summer is one of the most important times in music school. The majority of your classmates will take summer off to do some "studying" and hit the popular festivals, but not you. You're smart. You know that your school offers summer workshops, courses, and private consultations to take advantage of.
Summer is usually reserved for relaxation, but serious musicians will tell you the professional music life after school is not very relaxing. Might as well get used to it now.
3. Make connections
All this hard work is great and all, but if you fail to make connections during your time in school, it'll be wasted energy. Whether it's the kid sitting next to you in class, your professor, or a big record executive giving a guest lecture, any and all connections are worth having. After all, they say "it's not what you know, it's who you know" for a reason. You need to network. The larger your network, the more opportunities will arise.
4. Inquire about grants
Another advantage of going to music school that's worth looking into is applying for grants. Once you're in the real world trying to make it big, these offers will be gone, so it's good to make the best of them while you can.
Most music schools offer grants of some kind to help students advance their careers. These don't come easy, though. Students usually have to submit an organized and well-researched proposal stating what they need the funds for. If your intentions are true, then you could possibly get money to fund your creative project, a trip to a festival or conference, or touring support. Grants like these could also help with the cost of recording sessions, album art, licensing, website design, and other finer details of starting your music career.
Those years at music school will arguably be some of the most fun of your life. Having fun is essential, but it'll help to think expansively so you get the most out of your education while setting up a firm foundation on which to build a successful music career.
Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.