the bad news
There aren't many jobs
- Especially not the orchestra/soloist/chamber/college teaching jobs everyone dreams of having. Freelancing and multifaceted creative work is more available, as are fantastic military band/orchestra/vocal jobs.
There are more people than ever trying to be musicians.
It probably feels relatively safe to major in music because all of your friends are doing it and your mentors are raving about what a great career it is. You generally aren't hearing from the music majors that had to switch careers.
Unless you are at the very top, winning "a job" in music involves some luck. I worked really hard but was also lucky to have the perfect opportunities. Each step of the way I was barely good enough, but was able to keep improving.
The cost is often high
- College education can be too expensive and the sticker price only keeps going up with inflation. Scholarships can make the actual cost lower, but be careful. Same goes for the price of instruments. Taking on lots of debt for school or an instrument can be a big psychological burden.
Switching careers is hard
- I've watched some amazing (and fully employed) musicians go through the struggle of switching careers. I have a great job and still sometimes wonder, "damn, what if I had studied computer science?"
You will have to take (i.e. pay for) some unnecessary classes. The people running the school that keep the curriculum locked down with requirements went to college 20+ years ago. They didn’t pay this much for school, and didn't have this much student loan debt. They're not sensitive to that burden. You also get to pay for the accreditation process: DC bureaucrats weighing in on what classes you “need” for a good education in music. (We need accreditation so you have access to federal student loans to pay for the mooning sticker price.) Look at what Lambda School is doing, you pay 17- 30k max, only if you get a job, and they don't waste any of your money on accreditation. Music schools have a long way to go on this.
The silver lining to this immense institutional bureaucracy is that you can basically do what you want undetected. Game the system by taking easy classes when required so you can spend energy on your real goals. Focus all of your elective classes on practical subjects like comp sci, crypto, web dev, digital design, recording/music tech, etc.
the good news
It may still all be worth it. Majoring in music is probably still the best path to get into classical music. (Alternatively you could try building your own path through private study.)
Studying music may bring you fulfillment, happiness, hope. At age 18-22 you will establish mental models and emotional patterns you could keep for life. Especially in the chaotic times we live in, having the ability keep the faith in tough times may be very important. There also has to be value in going for a dream even if it doesn't work out (pot odds.) You hear ex-lawyers (like Andrew Yang) rant about how crushing a career for money can be, and that we need more entrepreneurs. Studying music can be a lot like entrepreneurship.
The future of work will certainly demand more diverse and creative abilities. Studying music can be excellent for improving problem solving, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, project management, dedication, will power, focus, confidence, performing under pressure, social skills, etc. If you decide at age 22 that you want to do something else, no problem.
Majoring in music gives you the opportunity to test the career out, to see if you truly want to do the dirty work: long hours alone practicing, constant critiquing of your own playing, stress of performing under pressure, etc. I've corrected thousands of errors in this essay that would have been missed notes in a performance. Do you enjoy trying to figure out how to minimize errors the first time through?
- You get to learn from and bond with amazing peers. This may be the best thing music schools provide. Your studio is a tribe.
- You get access to world class faculty. In private lessons you get a one-on-one mentor to be there for you, teach you the best things they know about life, and guide you along the way.
You get incredibly meaningful life experiences playing concerts in ensembles, chamber groups, and solo recitals. No roller coaster or thrill seeking can replicate the feeling of taking a big audition or performing an exhilarating concert. There’s something enthralling about playing on stage with a group of ~75 people, all working towards a common goal, perfectly in sync. It's a wonderful respite from the real world gridlock of email, committees, and endless discussion. No words need to be wasted, just play together.
Music was the place I felt most inspired and at home. It was my primary emotional outlet. It was what I loved to do. For me and for many people I think it was the right thing to do.
When I was 18, music was the work I wanted to do even when I was exhausted. Maybe it's as simple as that.
I teach at a music school and I am certainly biased and blinded by my experience. It may be a terrible idea and I'm just rationalizing it. Everyone must decide this question for themselves. I will discuss that more in Part II. Subscribe for free below to have it delivered to your inbox.
What questions do you have about majoring in music?