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Question to those who make their living, or plan to, as a professional musician

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by drew_bassmore, Mar 9, 2008.

  1. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    For those desiring a transition late in life to professional or semi-professional music perfomance opportunities in Jazz and similarly challenging genres- how important is a (minimum) 4 Year College education in music?

    My own situation is that I wasted a lot of the last 18 years in rock bands on EB, with some good/some bad teachers. The instruction I received up until recently varied from the esoteric, "find your own voice" approach, modal foundation (this was largely guitarists teaching bass guitar), and some very rudimentary harmony and theory. I tried to study earnestly early on, but didn't have the perspective of the kind of concentration it takes to really absorb what was being taught. It felt like I was going through the motions and not really mastering my understanding of any particular topic. As a result, I did not develop any strong reading, harmony, or advanced rhythm techniques. However, I could fake my way through a number of original rock bands on electric bass to very good effect.

    I have only now found a real foundation to address some of these deficiencies with my current teacher - Glenn Richman, (private instruction on Upright Bass) over the last 2 years.

    I have had the recent opportunity to hang with folks who are extremely accomplished. There are a number of alumni from Berklee and Univ of Miami in the SF Bay Area it seems.

    I have always been a late bloomer (tried to take piano in Middle School- no instrument to practice on, then tried guitar- the steel strings destroyed my motivation to practice at the time, picked up EB at age 18, played a few licks and loved it).

    I am a parent of nearly grown kids, and have the car payments and mortgage. I have a good corporate sales job that nowhere near fulfills my life ambition of being a professional musician, but it is a good company. I created this circumstance for myself. I am now trying to sort out how to change my circumstances eventually, and not starve.

    I get in an average of 18 hours practice/performance on a weekly basis (which is about maximum of what I am capable of with all my responsibilities). I don't play piano (presently). I am a hack on guitar. Bass is my primary instrument and area of study.

    I am not ready for primetime at this moment. In addition to private instruction, I am taking ensembles classes at the Jazzschool in Berkeley - http://jazzschool.com/ - and intend to continue.

    I also did not complete college as a result of life circumstances (becoming a parent at age 19) and the need for a steady paycheck and healthcare. I had at one time began to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Business Marketing- I applied myself heavily for a while, but couldn't handle work, music, family and school at the same time- it was correspondent classes, and I don't think the credits are transferrable.
    I don't believe I have all the lower division credits needed to transfer into a 4 year State college. (If the opportunity presented itself, it sounds desirable to get into San Francisco State University's music program in Jazz Studies- however, I would still have the car payments, mortgage, and family to support. I don't believe you can get a Bachelor's in Music by going to "night school".)

    I am determined to win in whatever form that may come. Regardless, I intend to practice assiduously. It's not the destination, but the journey that is to be valued...

    Any perspective or feedback as to my question?


  2. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    For a jazzer, it's more about your chops than your degree. As an unwashed jazzer for the last 52 years, I have never once been asked by a band leader about my education. In my experience, most folks with a music degree wind up as teachers, and not as full time musicians.
  3. Ben Rolston

    Ben Rolston Supporting Member

    Aug 30, 2006
    Ann Arbor, MI, USA
    I completely agree with this. I am currently in college getting a degree in Jazz, but I'm not here for the degree in anyway. I'm here because it's an environment where I can get my chops together, through the teacher I have and the students I'm around.
  4. I just applied the same principles that I learned over the years on bass guitar, and transfered them to double bass. I would suggest getting a teacher to learn physical approach to the instrument, but most of the situations I have been in, no one has asked for my education background. As long as I did (am doing) my job as a bassist, that's all that's needed.
  5. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    (No pun intended for you blues fans)

    Thank you for the responses so far. I am looking forward to more.

    Intuitively, I figured I would get some feedback along the lines of the above.

    Let me throw a couple of more cents into the mix, in that- I recognize that it is not a requirement to have a degree to play, perform, or enjoy music.

    To clarify, it seems based on some of the folks I have had the good fortune to associate with recently, who have a great amount of schooling from the aforementioned institutions, the formal training certainly hasn't hurt their careers- I am just not sure precisely how it has enhanced them. For instance, what if they only went the route of private instruction? (purely hypothetical question)

    Some of the player's I reference do teach or take session work in other genres to make ends meet. Others have diversified their expertise to include producing, recording and engineering (a completely different but interrelated set of skills).

    Regarding the folks that I am referring to that are presently in the SF Bay Area- Some are in their late 20's to early 30's. Some are coming up on 40. My instructor is in his 50's, he has had the good fortune to perform with many prominent figures in jazz. Some are widely recognized, others are up and coming in as far as recognition goes. Most, if not all have a background on one level or another with prestigious music schools.

    A lot of the players that are the "modern" masters of their instruments <e.g. insert big name jazz virtuoso here> have similar backgrounds as well.

    I may be a little too far behind the curve to achieve mastery on the level of the big names, but I will always strive to get better.

    I am 37, almost 38. What seems like a missed opportunity is that because I came to music late (compared to the examples I allude to above), I didn't build a foundation early enough in life to be entering music school/university at age 18, or 20 for that matter, where one is able to immerse themselves in the academics of music- the total immersion idea appeals to me.

    I realize there is quite a bit of debate over institutionalizing jazz- but in light of the debates, we still have great players most of us admire who may have come out of any one of the schools one might think of- just look at player's credentials. (Maybe a different topic for a different thread.)

    I have good mentors with respect to my studies. It is just that I have felt like I am always trying to play catch up compared to the "real" players I have become acquainted with. I say "Real", meaning that they are in their prime and have the talent to handle most if not any situation in jazz or other harmonically or rhythmically rich styles requiring a deep skill set.

    So, how can the degree in music help somebody professionally vs. private instruction and regional (non-accredited) institutions?

    Furthermore, how does one make that transition from day job (which affords a certain standard of living, with the responsibility that goes with it, i.e. family, mortgage)?

    I have a great teacher, but still have a long road to go to absorb and apply the harmony I will need to know to either play or compete on the level of musician I speak of above.

    If it takes 10,000 hours to master one's area of interest, it seems that the concentration of being a full-time student probably helps.

    I know there are no short-cuts.

    If there are folks who ever grappled with a similar question, and succeeded at becoming professional/accomplished musicians in spite of their circumstances, speak up.

    I would like to hear more from you on either of my posts thus far.
  6. it is your skills that secure a gig, not your education.

    this includes networking, and marketing skills, along with musical chops
  7. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    I can't disagree with your statement. I would speculate that many of the player's who have benefited from formal education, have done so by the opportunities they had to network at school.

    Thank you for the reply.

    I am still looking for additional, or real world experience with reference to those in the heavy playing scenes- especially in markets that have high standards for excellence when it comes to jazz or level of musicianship e.g. New York, L.A., Nashville, Chicago, or other Major Metropolitan Areas that may have happening scenes- I will include the SF Bay Area in that.
  8. I'm 35 and enrolled in the music program at my local community college.

    After my associates I will probably try to get into a good music school.

    I work from home with no kids, so it is a little easier for me.
  9. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    This is the area that concerns me more than the skills issues. Having gone from freelance classical musician to corporate IT was difficault enough. I can't imagine going the reverse route (nor would I want to). You would need to have a pretty secure nest egg, I would think, to do what you want to do. How supportive is your spouse?

    I am glad I had a music career before getting a "real job" but I'm happier now with the financial security that I have and I still play as much (or as little) as I want. Kind of the best of both worlds. It's a beautiful thing being able to turn down gigs that you don't want to do. What's the possiblity of doing something like that?
  10. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    lord toranaga:
    I commend you on your decisive action. I wish you the best with your goals.

    I have to imagine that it takes a certain amount of courage to take the steps you are taking. I mean that in a very positive sense.
  11. community college is easy

    I am never the oldest person in the room, nor the youngest.
  12. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area

    Wow. That is an interesting situation.

    I take on projects and get paid for gigs as a pop/rock player now. Because of my work and study schedule, I carefully consider gigs on a case by case. It doesn't mean that I get offered the choicest gigs always, but those that I do take, I enjoy on some level or another. I like to maintain the concept of mutual benefit- whether that means playing with other musicians I admire, or am providing a service for a fair but potentially lucrative fee.

    However, I would like to transition into more fulfilling, better paying (I say that loosely), and more creatively advanced situations. However, I only take on what I can handle right now. I have worked both electric and upright bass into pop/rock situations, but have been able to hold my own in the jazz world only as a neophyte.

    I would like to significantly advance my skills, whether that means private study or formal schooling- or both (of which the instructor led private study is working out really well at the moment). I suspect that I would have to subsidize my playing, recording or performance opportunities with something else to maintain the income- but a corporate sales job is typically too demanding to be able to do both successfully.

    BTW, I have been meaning to visit Bend. I have family living there for about 5 years now.

    One more thing, it would seem that formal training is even more important a credential in the classical field, but how did your formal schooling help you? What benefit does your music degree hold for you now??


  13. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Try to resist the urge to compare yourself to others in this way. Your path is your own, unique and rich in and of itself. The choices you've made up to this point make you more interesting on the bandstand and on breaks than someone who just spent all their time in a practice closet and a classroom. I'd much rather play a gig with you than egghead closetboy.

    Children, spouses, the struggles of work, and all the other things one does along the way add dimension and passion to a life that comes out in musical expression. There is nothing more boring to me than a postmortem of the minutia of a performance on a break. That moment is done. I'd rather spend my breaks discussing children, sports, politics, cigars, food, movies, books, and that girls ass.

    I am 45 and have been playing most of my life. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be a rock star or a classical musician. I'd have done that already if it were in the cards.

    When I came to that realization in my 30's it opened up my musical life again. I stopped playing for the brass ring and started living in the moment on the gig that I was on.

    Nevertheless, I am always trying to improve what I know and address the technical details that lead to superior performance. That pursuit unlocks the barriers to full expression. If I had the time and resources to do that at a university I might be compelled to do it even now. Practicing and lessons are however, just a means to an end for me. The end is the performance itself. Whether I'm in a studio or a basement or a porch or a club or a huge hall, I live for the moment of making music. The more music I make the better I get. The better I get the more gigs I get asked to do.

    That has nothing to do with schools or ages or anything else but what I do with the instrument in my hand.

    The gigs I play nobody asks where I went to school, what my grades were, what I know about theory, WHAT STRINGS ARE ON MY BASS, who I've played with before or anything else like that. They ask about my health, my kid or my business or my wife.

    The phone rings back from that gig if I truly played musically and they liked how the gig felt with me on it.

    Out of all the musicians I know on all levels of the music business very few live entirely off what they make playing. Those that make a living playing ONLY exactly what they like are the most rare. Most musicians I know teach or compose for hire or produce or engineer or have other day jobs that help pay the rent. Even the famous career musicians I know do things they'd rather not do to pay the bills like play corporate parties for drug companies or do clinics for nosepicking morons with autograph pens.

    If you just play for a living chance are good you are either doing things you don't like to do to make that check or you live like a pauper. I can't live my life like that. It's pointless and futile.

    Do what you must to make the money required to live the life you want to lead. If playing can contribute to that all the better. If you can play more and work less more power to you. My life as a musician transcends money. It's about creation, passion, making music, and forming relationships with others that do.
  14. an excellent and inspiring thread by Mr. Maneri
  15. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    +1 on all points.

    I have always said in clinics that if making money is your motivating reason for choosing music... switch. You have to do it 'cause you love it. 'Cause you have to. If money is your objective sling burgers, pump gas, become a sandwich artist at Subway or a barrista at Starbucks. You'll probably make more money.
  16. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    This is probably the best advise yet. I have allways had a "day job", and no way would I give that up for the questionable income of a jazz musician. Don't neglect the other genres, either, I have made more money playing polkas, than I ever did playing jazz. I prefer playing jazz, and my day job enabled me to do that.
  17. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    So did Charlie Parker.
  18. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Messrs. Maneri, Piane:

    I appreciate the sentiment of maintaining a rich and diverse lifestyle, with all the problems and rewards that come along with that. I think I am talking less about being a well-rounded person, but instead becoming an extremely well-rounded musician too.

    - Uncletoad

    The more I can somehow apply whatever skills I have, or am building, "into the moment", the more fulfilled I may feel myself. I will always strive to improve this.

    - Fingers

    Thank you for your response. This inquiry is not about how to make more money for me. I would agree with your humorous cynicism regarding the, "don't quit your day job kid" type of inference. (As others have alluded to as well- Thank you Mr. Lownds)

    This question arises as a result of my own quest to significantly improve my skills (an ever present, ongoing process).

    How did your college experience help you with respect to your profession? How do you supplement your income if, as a professional musician, you are not able to live solely off of your efforts as a player?

    I still submit my original post for additional comment.
  19. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Or quit your dayjob. I did. Just do it for the right reasons.
  20. i've been making a living playing on the las vegas strip for 25 years off & on...
    my advice? if i may...
    know how to play all genres, IE: variety rock, classic rock, country, R&B, disco, etc...
    doesnt' seem to be alot of $ in jazz in vegas although "jazz" style charts and knowing how to read & write simple chart arrangements helps (i think i'm up to about 2,000 songs)
    formal (college ed.) helps if you want to teach or play in an orchestra) but to make a living, not needed.
    also, knowing how to be in a team (band) & get along with everyone is a must
    being able to confidently entertain a crowd of people with character and wit helps...
    last, possesing the ability to learn songs quickly will get you more gigs
    and being able to improv (for those high $ requests)...
    cheers! good luck to you, i must say making a living playing music is a bumpy road, but i love doin' what i do...

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