1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

To study music or not to study music...

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by brlottermann, Mar 26, 2013.

  1. brlottermann


    May 14, 2011
    Boston, MA
    Hey TBers,
    So heres a major dilemma for me at the moment. I'm a junior in high school, and I'm in that phase in the college process where I need to start considering what I want to study, and thereby which schools I want to look at. Obviously, playing jazz bass is my passion. I've been in a number of jazz groups since 8th grade, and its essentially all that I do. However, I've been told by innumerable other musicians that while studying/majoring in jazz performance is fun, is a hugely unreliable field, financially. You never know what your income will be next month.
    I'm sort of into biology and stuff as well, though I dont have a passion for it, nor am I particularly talented at it. Besides music, it is probably the second choice for me. My head is telling me to go with biology and medicine, because I'll have a safer job and future (if i make it through college!) but my heart is pulling me towards music. My family, being German and very logic-orientated, would hate for me to go into music, but its still definitely an option for me.

    Can you help me decide or at least offer some insight? This has been tearing me up for months now!

    Thanks, Brian.
  2. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    I play gigs for a living in NYC, so I'll give you my take:

    Almost no one who focuses entirely on jazz ever gets ANY gigs. I know a few people that just won't do anything but jazz, and they're either living on their savings or doing other day jobs. Basically the jazz scene in NYC consists of the very top tier who can make it work (all of them in their 40's-70's). And they had to put in LOTS of time earlier in their careers playing commercial stuff. Now they have the luxury of playing more jazz if they want to. But kids just out of college with a degree from NEC or Manhattan School are limited to vibing each other out at open sessions, hoping to find gigs that just don't exist.

    So I hustle between a few groups that pay me, and my main paying gig is an 80's tribute band that travels all over the NY/PA/CT area. When I'm busy, I barely have time to sleep. When I'm not, I'm pretty bored. The money is hugely unreliable. It took me about a year to get to this point, and I'm able to pay my rent and bills exclusively on gigs. But now I have a sweet teaching gig coming up soon, and that's going to rock with the financial stability.

    So you've got to be prepared for the lifestyle. It's HARD work. There is NO security. There are no regular hours. And if you don't have a good scholarship, paying back loans for music school is going to be nearly impossible. You've also got to be able to do a lot of things as far as styles, and you should be willing to teach.

    And DO NOT be one of those guys that will only play jazz . . . . because let's be honest, as fun as it can be sometimes, no one wants to hear it, unless you've really got something original to say that's accessible (see: Yellowjackets, Metheny, and newer guys like Janek and whatnot).
  3. Brian,

    Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to this question - it all depends on what you want to do. Forget jazz performance - majoring in music (with maybe the exception of music education) in any form or fashion is no guarantee of success. I have yet to play a gig where the person hiring me wanted to see my diploma.

    I have a Bachelor's degree in Jazz Performance and a Master's in Musicology. I wouldn't trade my education and the experiences it led to for anything, but I'm also no longer a full-time professional musician (I gig part-time, and have an excellent day job). This was my own decision, and it was based on the realities of the music performance/teaching industry - for someone who desires to do it as a professional (i.e. - with a high level of performance and expertise), it is very cut-throat and tough. BUT, it is also very possible with the right mind-set, work ethic, musical skills, and personal connections - and that's what going to school to study music can give you (well, at least the latter 2. The first 2 you have to learn yourself).

    You might want to search the "Jazz Technique" forum on the Double Bass side - there's been quite a few threads over there on the wisdom of studying jazz (or music in general) in college in order to make it your vocation. My advice - do a lot of research, but keep this in mind (and this is a broad generalization, and may not actually describe you personally) - you're young. No matter what you decide to study, there's no law that says you have to stick with that as a career, and you may in fact change your mind at any point (I certainly did). Usually the best advice is: whatever you decide to do, go into it whole-heartedly and with an open mind. You may decide you love it, you may decide you hate it, but you'll learn a ton about yourself.

    That may sound corny or cheesy, but it's what I've come to realize over the years, and it's the same advice I'd give anyone else.
  4. Soonerbldr


    Jul 31, 2009
    Seattle, WA
    I would not recommend it as a major unless you plan on teaching at a secondary or post secondary level or if you want to do music therapy. I know a bunch of music majors who all have second degrees so they can put bread on the table. Many of them wish they would have done it as a minor instead.
    Personally I followed my dream and took a major that was pretty much useless and I didn't even have a skill after I got done, unless you count being good at the history questions on trivia games... I ended up back in Grad school after working menial jobs for 8 years...
  5. My advice is if you want to teach, study music. Otherwise, go out and get yourself some gigs - that's how you really learn about music.

    And, I used to gig a lot with a piano player who made his living as a physicist. He was a great keyboard player and he loved physics too. I have a lot of other friends who are scientists and they have tons of downtime in which to pursue their personal interests. Science is really awesome. It can be just as interesting and fun and creative as art or music.
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    A degree is not required to be a jazz musician, but one certainly is required to be a biologist or doctor. Perhaps study bio/premed in a city with a good music scene?
  7. sammyp


    Aug 20, 2010
    NB, Canada

    I very much enjoyed this honest snap shot of a hard worker in the big apple! I'm doing the same in a small city in atlantic canada but keep a busy teaching practice .....no matter how many bands i prostitute myself to i'd never make it on gigs.
  8. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Something that you will have to deal with is the decision about whether you want to add upright bass to your capabilities. For one thing, that will strongly affect your choice of schools where you can study.

    The decision was easier for me when I was in high school, because I loved math and science, so I went to college and majored in math. Meanwhile I played in the college jazz band and took classical upright bass lessons because they were available.

    This isn't the optimal choice for everybody. I will never advance as far musically as the bassists who made it a career. Also, getting through a degree program in a subject that you're not in love with is a Hard Slog. If majoring in biology were an option, I would suggest developing a real interest in it, which is possible.

    All of the bassists in Madison who play jazz and are ahead of me on typical call lists have music degrees. Most of them took the teaching option, meaning that they actually majored in music education while studying jazz and woodshedding, then they got K-12 teaching certificates. Of course teaching isn't just something you go into on a whim.

    While I was in grad school, I played with a young man who finagled a double major in music and biology. He played piano at my wedding. Then he went to medical school. I know another student right now who has a full ride music scholarship at UW and is double majoring in music and physics.


    Feb 9, 2013
    San Diego, CA
  10. As a musician who's finishing up my undergrad neuro and computer science degree and going to grad school next year, I would temper this by saying that science does not necessarily give you a lot of down time. Especially in biology, most jobs you can get will be research jobs and that sucks up a lot of time. In my experience, you have to really prioritize it, and it's possible but difficult. Just an FYI from another perspective if you're thinking about graduate school (arguably a must to get a biology-related job) or medical school. And I'm not saying there aren't other paths, I love science as well and that's why I'm doing it, but those other ones are harder to find with a bio degree. I'm curious as to what kind of science jobs you're referring to (if you don't mind, of course)?
  11. BawanaRik


    Mar 6, 2012
    New Jersey
    True. Many people become corporate drones because as John Dillinger said, it's where the money is.

    A business degree would offer a stable income and still allow you to be part of the music business. And it IS a business.

    A friend of mine has a PhD in music and can play stuff on the piano that would make you wonder. His paying gig is playing guitar with a Doors cover band.

    His best bud is a bassist who we local refer to as the Jimi Hendrix of bass. His paying gig is Jimmy Buffet cover.

    These guys are good.

    Being a starving bassist sounds better than it is.

    BTW the money now is wedding bands. Make sure you have a tux

  12. Wil_Couch


    Mar 12, 2013

    I have a BA in Music, saxophone performance. My formal education was primarily in the classical genre, but I did a lot of jazz on the sax and bass while in school.

    How many professional classical alto sax jobs do you think are out there?

    You're right. There aren't any.

    As an earlier poster said, I wouldn't trade my music education for anything, and if I had to do it again, I would still study music. That said, I wish I had, at the very least, gone with Music Ed. or done a double major in a more "marketable" field. Or, as Mushroo says, go to school in a music town and learn jazz in the field while studying for a reliable Plan B.

    I have played/gigged full time in the past, but the 9-5 day job I have now is infinitely more reliable and pays better. Now I can afford that new amp AND my mortgage... :)
  13. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Should you study music? Absolutely, and throughout your entire life.

    Should you pursue an undergraduate degree in music as a career move? Probably not.
  14. tmntfan


    Oct 6, 2011
    Edmonton canada
    it is fun. and helpful. I would recommend along with everybody else to study it as a minor or double major and have something else a plan B....

    although, granted, an arts or science degree isn't nessecaily helpful in getting a job either. What I would really say you should do is get a trade or technical job, Carpentry or something like a hospital radiology technician or engineering technologist. shorter school time and you are likely to get a job afterwards.
    I spent 4 years in post-secondary music education, loved it leared a lot. then went and got a drafting diploma so I could get a job. I have more debt then I really want but have a decent job that leaves time and money for playing. and becase I don't have to accept every gig cause I need the money I can play only the fun ones which if you start playing in a pop/rock cover band you will start to hate the late nights playing in ****** bars for $50.
  15. Jammin Johneboy

    Jammin Johneboy Guest

    Dec 23, 2011
    For brlottermann

    Read all of the above replies from these people carefully. They all have the years, wisdom and experience in living life as an artist.

    Artists in any art form would love to go out into the world and be able to live comfortably or even lavishly from only performing or producing their art form. But the reality is that the vast majority of people making art can not make a living from it.

    I have a four year University degree in visual art ( BFA , Bachelor of Fine Arts ) and have been a tech in our University art school for 31 years , thats 35 years total in that school. I have known a lot of visual artists , musicians and dancers . I find that there is a commonality in the arts overall and that is, that it is incredibly hard or near impossible to make a good living from arts. Musicians , dancers , photographers , visual artists , actors and so on, all share a common experience in life. We all love our art , but we have to be able to survive in the real world .

    You would be extremely wise to take your studies in a direction that will get you a job and hopefully a good paying job. Biology and medicine may be able to provide that for you . Art forms are not likely to .

    Study your biology and medicine to get a job to live well. In your free time during and also after your school years study, learn, explore, enjoy and love your art (music) to the greatest degree that you can . Hopefully you will live a comfortable and rewarding life.

    And who knows maybe someday your art will get so good you can tell them to " Take this job and shove it " . LOL
  16. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    I want to point out here that I think this board can be just a little too far to the "you'll never make it, no one ever makes it" side. But there's surviving and there's living comfortably. Very few musicians live comfortably. But I think there are more guys out there (like me) that are surviving than many people here think. And I'd rather be surviving doing music than living comfortably, but being on the edge of blowing my brains out doing something I don't care about.

    Keep in mind, you have to accept the fact that there are certain things that you have to do without that people with "real" jobs take for granted. Like cable TV, a reliable schedule, a girlfriend that you don't have to abandon on gig nights (often leaving for whole weekends), not having to deal with total insanity from band leaders, taking lots of crap and moving lots of gear for $125 on a gig, etc etc.

    It's thankless, it's stressful, it's heavy lifting, it's hard. But it's also so much DAMN FUN. At the same time, it's a good month if I can make $1100. Some months are better, some are worse, and I'm only a year into the scene. But when that new teaching place opens up . . . . . oh man, things will be sweeeeet.
  17. SlapHappy99


    Dec 27, 2010
    NY Metro
    Here's what I tell my kids: Don't try to make a living at something most people are willing to do for free (musician, golfer, etc.). Only .0001% of people who go this route make a living at it. Have a backup plan.
  18. biobass


    Sep 16, 2007
    Princeton NJ area
    This is a question all of us have faced to some degree or another. By all means study music, but not to the exclusion of other academic areas. Without getting too Zen about it, ultimately, once you get past the nuts and bolts of playing, music is an expression of the human experience. Knowledge of the human experience through both life itself and the study of the arts, music, history, literature, math, science politics, etc. is what will, eventually, contribute to and shape your overall artistic endeavor. While you do this, you just might also find out how big this world is and how many different paths there are to fulfillment and satisfaction.

    I used to tell my students: If there is anything you think you might be happy doing to make a living other than music, do that. If you are a musician, you will always be a musician. We are more fortunate than some of our brethren in the Arts in that there are a reasonable amount of avocational outlets for musicians, many that actually pay decently. You do not have to make your living playing music. You can be a part-timer and still be of the highest caliber. Charles Ives, one of the most significant American composers of the first half of the 20th century, sold insurance for his livelihood.

    That said, if you truly can not envision your life without being a full time musician, then go for it! I have a friend, a gifted pianist and composer, who could not do anything else in his life other than music, and so he does.

    On a personal note, I pursued music as the focus of my life for quite a few years, and was reasonably successful. But, just as much as music was part of me, so was a love of science. I eventually finished college with a major in biochemistry and minors in music and history. Then it was on to graduate school in biochemistry and molecular biology. I have had a very rewarding career over the last 25 years researching metabolic targets for the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease (once you get past the nuts and bolts of science, it also is an endeavor trying to unlock the secrets of our experience). All the while, I have been able to keep music as a very active sideline. I am very much both a scientist and a musician. You may discover that you have other facets as well.

    Good luck in your journey!
  19. Rosebud


    Jan 3, 2007
    just want to say well put Snarf on your posts

Share This Page