How to Balance Your Crazy College Course Load With Your Music Career

Posted by Dylan Welsh on Nov 24, 2014 10:00 AM
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Anyone who's been through college knows that a full course load can be just as intense as a full-time job. Classes are particularly difficult because the work stays with you afterwards, as well as on weekends and holidays. Oftentimes, it can get very complicated to balance your life outside of school with the workload you are given, not to mention your music. Between the practicing, rehearsing, and gigging, music takes up a ton of time as well, usually occupying evenings and late nights. Though it's a complicated and tedious balancing act, it is possible to be both an active musician and an excellent student. Here are four ways to maintain both sides of your life.

1. Know your priorities

The first thing you have to decide is where your priorities are: Are you a musician or a student first? This doesn't mean you can't do both, but you just have to be realistic about what comes first for you so that you can make some tough calls.

Let's say you get invited to play a weekend, out-of-town gig. Would you be willing to miss a day of class? What if it was more than one? Would you need to miss occasional band rehearsals or even call substitutes for your gigs because of your workload? How much sleep are you willing to sacrifice? Your answers to these questions won't mean having to give up on either; they'll just serve to clear up the choices you'll inevitably have to make.

There will, without a doubt, be times where you'll have to choose between the two aspects of your life. If you've confirmed within yourself what's currently most important to you, then any questions will answer themselves automatically. Of course, your priorities can shift over time if you are unhappy. If you've been putting music first but are constantly stressed and exhausted over the schoolwork you've been missing, try switching your focus for a while and see if it helps your mood.

2. Create your ideal class schedule

Never underestimate the power of being able to design your own schedule. If you want to do well in your classes but have fairly regular late-night gigs and rehearsals, it's essential that you arrange your class schedule accordingly.

Sometimes it won't be possible, but in general, try to keep your classes later in the day. Start at 11:00 a.m., even if that means you don’t finish until 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. This will give you the freedom to play gigs or rehearse into the early morning, still get enough sleep to function, and possibly even get some homework done in the mornings before class.

Of course, it probably won't be possible to have this schedule every day due to certain requirements or class restrictions. But if you can arrange your day like this at least a few days of the week, you'll have more wiggle room to schedule all of your late-night musical activities on days where you can take advantage of a later schedule. If that's not possible, then you just have to fall back on your decision to prioritize one or the other.

Make good use of any breaks you have between classes as well. I try to intentionally schedule classes where I'll have at least one 30 to 60 minute break in the middle of the day. Take this time to eat, but also get moving on any homework you have so that you have less to worry about once you get home. That way, you'll be able to put more focus on your music and have less work to stress about.

3. Talk to your teachers and counselor

This tip applies specifically to smaller classes where you can develop a strong personal connection with the teacher. Be forward about your situation, especially if you decide to put music above school. Talk to your teachers early in the term about your activities as a musician, and be honest about the fact that you might miss some classes, or come to class and not be very capable of engaging.

Don't phrase it as a plea for sympathy, and definitely don't ask for any special privileges because of your busy music schedule. This is, more than anything, a way to help the teacher understand you and get to know you better. This way, if you miss class or show up and are unable to engage well, he or she will be less likely to take it personally. Some professors won’t care; they might even blow you off completely when you try to talk to them. But when you find the teachers that do care and are interested, make a point to build a strong relationship with them, and try to study with them again. They will be the educators that make your life much easier.

If you have a consistent academic counselor, this conversation is even more important. He or she will be the one who can help you get into the classes you need and arrange the schedule in a way that best makes sense for your music. Get into his or her office as soon as you get to school and introduce yourself. If you make an effort and show that you are serious about your studies, your counselor will make a serious effort to help you as much as possible. By the time I was in my senior year, my counselor even helped me waive certain requirements and classes that would have otherwise made my schedule extremely difficult to navigate. Counselors have a lot of power at your academic institution and are definitely a resource that should not be ignored.

4. Pack your weekends

If you're serious about success in both music and school, that means only taking the occasional day off. Weekends are no longer lazy days, but vital tools to be utilized. Any homework that you receive on Friday should be taken care of on Friday, if at all possible. At that point, you're free to pack your weekends morning to night with rehearsals, recording, practicing, writing, gigging, and any other musical activity you could possibly think of.

The more you can take care of musically on the weekend, the less you have to worry about during the week, and the less conflict you will have with your school schedule and workload. If you're doing most of your playing with other students, it should be fairly easy to get everybody on the same page regarding weekend rehearsing.

Be careful, and make sure you're getting a sufficient amount of sleep throughout the week. If you aren't sleeping enough, or aren't sleeping well, it can be very easy to burn out using this approach. If you've been working hard and you really need it, take a week off from your normal weekend schedule to sleep and gather your strength. The occasional day off is necessary as long as you're making consistent good use of your weekends.



Dylan Welsh, a native of Seattle, Washington, grew up cutting his teeth in various club bands around the Northwest. Seeking a more diverse and challenging environment, he attended Berklee College of Music with hopes of gaining new perspectives and finding his own voice. Though music is what he does best, writing and journalism are other passions that he has kindled throughout his academic life.

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