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Music Performance Major for Professional Working Musicians... Does it really matter??

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by the aXeman, Aug 16, 2012.

  1. Yes

    9 vote(s)
  2. No

    14 vote(s)
  3. Possibly

    13 vote(s)
  1. Hey Guys,

    I've got a pretty tricky question and am seeking anybody's opinion from experience who might be able to help me...

    Right now I'm 17 and going into my Senior year of High School, I've been playing Bass for over 6 1/2 years now (wow time flies... o_O). Since I was 13 I've pretty much known that all I've wanted to do with my life is play Bass for a living... I know I'm probably preaching to the masses on this one. I've had some great opportunities that have really given me an idea of the reality of the Business we're talking here.... I worked at my local amphitheater as a Sound Tech and Stagehand/Roadie for a couple years, my Dad's a drummer and I've tagged alone when his last band opened for Nationals before (we're in the same band now.... yes, it's a blast!! :) )

    So, anyways, I've seen, met, and had conversations with people from all levels you could imagine... I've been gigging in the bar circuit since about 14 and joined my latest band that gigs almost every weekend just before I turned 17... They're a Professional-Caliber band and I REALLY had to push myself to the max to get the gig.... but I did and am having a blast...

    It's no secret to me that it's a hard life in this Business.... especially in this day and age... I've seen the realities of how it can be (driving 25 hours with 1 stop in an SUV between shows, living on PBJ's, getting ripped off etc...) yet, in some twisted way, I can't picture myself doing anything else... From what I've seen, EVERYBODY's struggling now a days (not to get political), but, I'd rather struggle doing something I love than something I hate....

    Now, finally getting to my point of my post here. I'm looking at different Music Schools out there that I might look at attending... since Freshman year I've wanted to go for a Music Performance Major for Electric Bass.... My top choice is McNally Smith in Minneapolis... Problem is, it's 30 grand a year... :eek: Yes, yikes. School's expensive!! I know it's pricey for everybody too but 30 grand a year?? Yikes!! Not good for a Middle-Class MidWesterner...

    So, I started thinking to myself..... "Do I REALLY need to drive myself over 60 THOUSAND friggin' dollars in the hole or 120 if I DARE go for my 4 year?? Is it REALLY worth it??" I mean, yeah, an Associates or Bachelors in Music Performance looks great on a piece of paper.... But, other than the connections I could make (which is HUGE and could make it or break it for me, I know), what's the point of going for a Music Major??

    Everything I've learned thus-far has been from records, and the stage.... I've been blessed with being able to play with bands Live and In-Studio doing everything from Blues, to Thrash Metal to Folk to Acoustic.... So what's driving me into debt that I'll more-than-likely be paying off into my 30s/40s gonna do for me that saving me a pretty penny won't? So what do you think is the deal breaker either way? I'm looking at being a Working Musician here, not a Rockstar... I'd like to make a comfortable living playing Bass and being a fill-in, session guy and such... realistically, I'd probably work in a Music Store doing private teaching/repairing gear to supplement my income and then go out on different tours and stuff in addition to Producing and Recording and such as much as possible...

    What do you guys think?? Anybody ever dabbled with this conundrum before??


    P.S. No, I have Z.E.R.O. interest in Teaching College/High School or otherwise, other than Private instruction...
  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Cali Intergalactic Mind Space - always on the edge
    Song Surgeon slow downer software- full 4 hour demo
    Calling Dr. Jim....
    Check in with Jim Carr.
    IMO, he can give you some great advice.
    Good luck.

    Also, check out my >500 links below. There's a section on 'college music' that applies to you.
    Here's an informative link: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f22/colleges-479377/
  3. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Digital Brand Development and Product Development at GHS Strings
    A performance degree could help you in that it would give you a different skill set (you talked about playing in bars, but no mention of reading sheet music, notation, lead sheets, nashville numbering system, etc..) that you may not have. Also, I've noticed that a lot more of the benefit of a degree is the networking aspect. At the local University, they bring in a lot of the "big names" in jazz (Billy Hart, Rufus Reid, etc..) as Artists in Residence. Many of these guys have gotten some of the graduating class a foot in the door somewhere that may lead to other things.

    Just one thing to think about, which not a lot of people mention. When you are a "Working Musician" and your livelihood is directly affected by the gigs you take, you may have to play some styles/genres that you may not initially want to play or like to play. At that point, it is your job and needs to be treated as such; as my wife says, "If it was meant to be fun all the time, we'd all go to 'Happy Fun Time' during the week."
  4. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011
    fwiw I got one thing from my undergraduate degree in music that I use in my work as a professional musician, and one thing only

    ...but I use that one thing on every single gig I do:

    The confidence to walk into any gig and know that I'm going to do what's required to make it work.

    Something about earning that sheepskin made me believe "Okay, I guess now I'm qualified, therefore failure is not an option."

    Practically everything else I learned in music college I probably could have learned elsewhere.
  5. Jhengsman


    Oct 17, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    As an audience member it is only when you move away from pop styles do I start to see featured soloist with their academic creditials as part of the promo.
  6. Thanks Stumbo, I'll check it out!! One Bad Monkey; that's totally true. I've never heard of the "Nashville Numbering System" before... I always learned by ear, I can read thru "Mary Had a Little Lamb".... and not much else. haha It's one department I've wanted to improve on (as well as Slap) but never had the proper excuse. Reading was one of those things I've tried working on before, and I'd go "yay I can finally play such and such by reading this piece of paper!!" then go to band practice, get handed a CD and be told "learn tracks 1, 3, and 9 by Tuesday".... so it's hard to stay motivated in that realm.... I know, I know.... excuses, excuses.... We'll get there yet.... Good point on it being a Job too. I'm an 80's Hard Rock/Prog guy who listens to everything from W.A.S.P. and Widowmaker to Rush and Dream Theater.... I'm doing a fill-in gig for the next 2 Saturdays with an Acoustic Country act (and I am NOT a Country guy!!), so I can totally get what you're saying... But I like the challenge of learning a new style, hate listening to it, LOVE playing it... If that makes sense.... haha

    That kinda goes with Rosco East's point, being as well-rounded as possible and being able to play anything... That's one thing I'm striving for. Walking into ANY gig and being confident I can pull it off....

    So, other than some good connections to make (which is SUUUUPER important I know) and having the opportunity to round out more as a player.... what other benefits are there?? Seems like an expensive Music class to make a few friends who could help you later... o_O Sorry if I seem extra apprehensive, I went almost 5 years with the idea in my head that you HAVE to go to school to be a Working Musician now a days or you'll fail.... Now I'm questioning that philosophy heavily and I wanna get as many opinions as possible to bring me to the most educated conclusion on this as possible....
  7. AccolaStudios


    Nov 24, 2011
    I'm in a very similar position as you (same age, goals, etc.). I recently made the decision not to go to college/music school in favor of going out and doing everything on my own. It may not be the best decision, but like you said, I'd rather suffer doing something I love. At the end of the day, I'd like to say that I gave it my all and was out there gigging, jamming, and practicing rather than sitting at a desk learning how to read sheet music.
  8. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I guess it depends on how you want to make your living in music. Nathan East has a bachelor's degree in music from UCSD. He was going to continue on to get his master's degree, but the pros in L.A. told him to get up there and work, which he did. I'm sure his degree was beneficial to him, but there's not much doubt in my mind that it was his professionalism and playing skills that brought him to be a first-call bassist worldwide.

    If your goal is to become a rock star, I'd say your degree will have virtually no impact on your success at that. How many A-list bass players have a degree in music performance? On the other hand, with or without a degree, your chances of reaching that level are approximately equal to zero. It takes a combination of luck, energy, perseverance, personality, a little skill, and being in the right place at the right time.

    If you want to follow a more traditional path, knowing music theory and how to read and compose would be a big plus. Doing it on your own may conceivably (but most likely won't) land you in a great gig, but you wouldn't have your educational advantages to fall back on in the likely event you get nowhere. Don't worry, people in school have many, if not more, opportunities to jam, gig and practice than those who "do it on their own." In school, you'll meet many other musicians who share your vision and can even move you to things you haven't considered before.

    Go to college.
  9. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Can you read? Sorry if that's an impertinent question.
  10. Fdeck; Of course I can!! How else could I understand these posts!! :smug: haha Sorry.... Reading Music, I know the bass-ics... If I stayed on it (which I'll start making a habit in my daily practice routine...) I'd get it... I'm so used to just HEARING something and learning it that way that READING it is so unorthodox to me... But I know it is a vital skill, I've just never needed it yet hence why I have neglected it thus far...

    Munjibunga; Good point... Biggest thing I'm nervous about is going to Music School, racking up a TON of debt, and start off playing with/for somebody and not making enough to live AND pay off the Loans and stuff.... :/ Am I making sense or just being unreasonably paranoid??
  11. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    That's cool. Having a good ear is certainly a blessing. My concern is that reading, i.e., sight-reading is going to be considered a vital basic skill in any college music program. The audition will involve reading. All of your classmates who play other instruments will be good readers. And it don't think it would make sense to pay college tuition just to learn a remedial skill.

    Now, I don't have a music degree, but I play with a lot of people who do. I can make some educated guesses about things that will happen in college:

    1. You will learn things like composition and arrangement, which will definitely be beneficial. Being able to create your own material will give you an edge over players (like me) whose only option is to work as sidemen.

    2. You will be encouraged, if not required, to learn piano.

    3. You might be encouraged to learn upright bass. Even at a school that accepts electric players, the students who can double will get more chances at the interesting playing opportunities.

    All of this gets me thinking. Maybe you could spend the next 2 years getting some of those things out of the way: Reading, piano, upright. Those three things feed into one another, and learning them on your own nickel will be a lot cheaper than college tuition. Then you could decide if you want to attend a college program, but you'd be entering such a program at a much higher level.

    Note: The topic of reading can get pretty divisive in a hurry. I don't want to disparage your skills, and I admire your enthusiasm and the amount of work that you've already done.
  12. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    Red Flag: In the fall of 2009 the school opened the "first nationally accredited diploma program for hip-hop".

    ***? :eek:

    This is a "for profit" school. Most likely the so-called bachelor's degree would not get you into a real music school for an advanced degree. Therefore, the degree is worthless. And you would probably be required to take General Studies Requirements (Math, English, etc,) at some nearby community college.

    Spend $120k in Minnesota? Why?

    If you actually have that kind of $$$, and are serious, then go to one of the music centers (LA, NY, Nashville) and take private lessons with real, working, high-level musicians/teachers and work your way into the scene. A degree won't help you with that. And while you are building your impressive resume, go to a real music school.

    "P.S. No, I have Z.E.R.O. interest in Teaching College/High School or otherwise, other than Private instruction..."

    Then you do not need a degree, you need an impressive resume.
  13. Fdeck; thanks for the ideas bud!! I'll get going on getting the Reading element back into my repertoire again... Piano/Keys were something I've tried dabbling with a few times but never got very far.... (I tried learning the intro Mellotron part to "Take Your Fingers From My Hair" by Zebra.... didn't get too far with that!! :/)

    Stick_Player; I actually missed that part on their website.... I knew nothing of that... Turned off now that you mention that?? Ohh yes... o_O The ridiculously high pricetag was the biggest setback for me.... In fact. It's the number one setback with any school, that's mainly what's making me so nervous... So kinda what I've gathered from your post is to go to a city that's hot right now (LA, NYC or Nashville.... anywhere else??), get out there and immerse myself in the scene and find some get some one-on-one lessons with some real, qualified teachers? And, in addition, consider go to a real Music School... But, in reality, it's not necessary to get gigs, but having a good resume is...

    So, other than McNally, I know of M.I. in Los Angeles, LaMonte in Denver, Berkley in Boston, Belmont in Nashville................ If I go somewhere, I wanna go somewhere Contemporary that teaches stuff that'll gear me to be a Working Musician in 2014 (by the time I'd enroll) and beyond.... and a place that teaches me stuff relevant to MUSIC, and doesn't require me to take Generals (Math, English, etc...)
  14. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Your paranoia is reasonable. If you don't have a certain level of innate talent and charisma, there's not much a degree in music is going to do for you. You could be a music teacher or something, but there are no guarantees that you would end up in a financially rewarding career.
  15. 1. Continue to take private lessons through your senior year. (You DO take lessons, right?)

    2. Learn legit upright at school. The school probably has instruments for you. (You DO belong to your school program, correct?)

    3. Prepare for your SATs (you know how your PSATS went)

    4. Apply at UW at Madison and pay the in state tuition. Don't major in music unless it's music ed (you'd have to pass a REAL audition.)

    5. Find someone on the faculty or campus to take private lessons. There are at least four guys in the Engineering Department for example, that can smoke you.

    6. Plan to get a day job after college and play on the side to your heart's content. (You DO have a part time job now, right?)

    7. Avoid MTV and VH1 with a passion. It's 99.98% fantasy entertainment and unrealistic for 99.97% of all kids.

    Plan B: Marry a rich girl.

    I'd love to know about some of the 100% playing pros that write on this Board: What do you gross, what kind of medical insurance do you (not your spouse) have, how many sick days, paid vacation?? Are you Union? Explain to a 17 year old kid whose family has a history of diabetes for example... how will he manage that with no Medical Insurance at 45 years old. Tell him what BASIC (bassic) coverage costs per year. Explain what he's going to live on at 64 year old, or how he'll recover from getting run down by a taxi in the Village. What do I know?? A NYC Sanitation worker would be covered.

    Ps.: About Mcnally Smith....Fred Bretschger is an old buddy of my from the Buffalo Philharmonic. He's a terror on legit. Read his bio. HE's a 100% pro.
  16. scotch

    scotch It's not rocket science! Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2006
    Albany, NY USA
    Please see Profile for Endorsement disclosures
    Hmmm,... a few thoughts from a full-time professional making a living playing bass over 15 years (just my opinions and observations about my & my colleagues experiences and evolving trends...):

    I never enrolled full-time in music school, but did complete 2 years worth of theory, composition and music history through an accelerated high school program. I basically learned the ropes 'old school' and on-the-job, but I was able to read and had developed really good 'by ear' skills before going professional.

    A) a performance degree definitely isn't necessary to become a professional player
    B) music for a living is not easy (it does sound like the op has some reasonable expectations, though)
    C) players don't get rich, songwriters do
    D) I'm noticing more & more players in recent years that went to the more credible music schools getting more work - (schools like Berklee, North Texas, Belmont, Eastman, Oberlin, etc.) It's not even necessarily the education they are getting, but the NETWORK they get into! Friends help friends get gigs & the more circles you are a solid part of - the better! Fwiw, I only work with a few full timers here in Nashville that attended shredder schools like GIT, etc. Private instruction has gotten way better & more affordable too! Heck, you can get intense one-on-one sessions with guys like Adam Nitti and Roy Vogt here for a lot less than 4 years of tuition, books and living expenses.
    E) there is no substitute for playing experience. College ensembles can help - but other less expensive avenues like pick-up bands, jam situations, church opportunities, etc are invaluable! I've come across a surprising number of cats with 'performance degrees' that have a hard time gelling with other musicians. This is screwed up & such players do not work long.
    F) education is still important. Again, the network you develop is key, but having a degree (not even necessarily in music) can really help you out long term. The music industry is still a shadowy reflection of what it used to be 10 years ago! Its harder than ever to make a decent living just playing. Make sure you broaden your horizons, it's much easier as younger person.

    Again, just my experience and opinions. Bottom line: you really have to WANT it if you want to make music for a living. Its a challenging vocation that taxes your body, mind, family and bank account more than most pursuits.
  17. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    I know of 2 recent Berklee grads, super talents on bass.
    They were lucky to get touring gigs.
    One is playing in a Pop/Rock band, the other in a R&B/Soul band.
    Most likely the networking factor helped here.
    The Degree less so.
  18. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    And there you have it.
  19. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    Is this for electric or upright? My gut reaction - this is harsh - but if you're not able to secure a big scholarship or cant get in to a bigger name school perhaps you should rethink a performance degree.
  20. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    Considering the school route as opposed to the lottery-winning pop/rock star route:

    This is actually the best idea. If you cannot get into a school on a scholarship or partial scholarship (based on an audition), you obviously cannot compete with the level of talent at said school. This is not "harsh", it's reality.

    The fact is, you will be up against kids that have been schooled from age 4 (from all over the world). It is somewhat unreasonable to get it together in the next few months - considering auditions will probably be in about 5-6 months without the 10+ years of previous building.

    Music reading is critical. Music theory is critical. Technique is critical. Knowledge of the music-literature is critical. All this has to be at the level to get a scholarship. Otherwise, you need to lower your expectations and get going on these over the next few years.

    I can only speak to the Los Angeles area. There are a couple "for profit" schools here - Musicians Institute, L.A. Music Academy - that will gladly take your tuition dollars (that's really all the audition is). They sell the notion of whatever is the current pop music trend(s). Be especially leery of being saddled with loans for a worthless degree. It will make for a miserable many years to come.

    However, these two schools do have teachers that you can take private lessons from, OFF the "campus".

    You can also find MANY name-pro-players here - they live/work here - that will give private lessons. This is part of their income stream. They may be occasional or not every week, but you can get with them. With $15,000 to invest in lessons, that could probably get you 3 lessons a week for a year. A far better investment than taking English 101 or at LACC to complete your $120k degree requirements for MI (they do not have General Requirements facilities - you must go to another school for that). Keep in mind, these so-called degrees are usually non-accredited or will NOT be useful if, for some reason, you want to get a Master's from a real school (music or not). Do your due diligence.

    You can probably get into more traditional schools out here - CalState schools have good starting music schools (there are 3-4 of them just in the LA area). Work your way up to USC or UCLA or even Colburn if you are REALLY-REALLY good. (Colburn is TOTALLY free, including room and board, but it's a traditional music school).

    The bottom line is that "for-profit" schools are exactly that. Maybe you can see, from my example of Colburn being totally free v. MI charging $30K. You can probably find some intelligent balance point for your situation.

    For $30k a year, you can almost afford to go to Harvard. And leave with a useful degree.

    I would suggest that the "recording" scene here in L.A. is a fraction of what it used to be - and shrinking. To be in it requires, musical talent/skills, a personal history, resume, time-put-in, a good hang, and mostly good luck. A lot of this can be had over time by being with working musicians within a particular area. You will hear of gigs and be able to get to them easier than coming from MN. There are more touring options here than MN. You must like to travel.

    The weather is certainly better here also.

    It costs a LOT to live here and you MUST have a reliable car. DO NOT rely on the pathetic mass-transit system here - unless you like 3-hour bus rides to go five miles.

    Just the fact that nearly 20 million people live in this area will provide FAR more possibilities. This would also apply to places like New York or London, for example.

    The bottom line: If you want to work as a musician you have to be within a group of working musicians.

    Best of luck - it can be done.

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