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What can you do or have done with a degree in music?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Jean Rodriguez, Nov 25, 2016.

  1. I graduated high school two years ago (it's going to be three in May of next year) and my original plan was to go on to Berklee College of Music to study music because I wanted to be a session player. I auditioned but didn't get accepted (I was playing guitar and guitar players are a dime a dozen) and decided to brush up my skills on a school that's associated with Berklee here in Puerto Rico. After studying there for two semesters, I decided that I didn't want to be a professional musician and what mainly influenced the decision was all the hard work that I saw myself and other colleagues put ourselves through only to come out with less than adequate pay.

    I decided to go college here in Puerto Rico to study psychology. I got into the college, but through the music department because my grades weren't good enough for the psychology department. The plan is to get my GPA up in the next year or two in order to be able to transfer over to my desired faculty. As the semester progressed (it ends next week, btw), I decided to give music a second chance because it is something that I truly love and enjoy doing. My one concern is what to do after my four in college are up.

    I have never been keen on teaching and feel that it is not an adequate use of my practice time, years of studying music or money spent on college which already is expensive enough (you may flame me for this or tell me that I'm wrong at your disposal), but it seems like it is the most stable line of employment for a musician as far as salaries go.

    I have never been a fan of jazz or latin music which is pretty big here in Puerto Rico, but I can learn to suck it up and play it if it means putting food on my table. But aside from teaching, what else is there to do with a bachelor's degree in music that will be stable financially and won't have me depending on multiple sources for a decent living? If teaching is the only choice, so be it. But if I can avoid it, you rest assure that I will in a heartbeat.

    Before I forget, I can play guitar and bass proficiently, can dabble in various stringed instruments, know the basics of piano and am starting to dive into synthesizer based music if any of this helps to shape any advice that you guys might have.
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    My story is remarkably similar: Went to a 2 year school with a music minor, couldn't decide between music and psychology, ended up choosing music, went to Berklee as a guitarist in 83-84 for a year. I ended up coming back to Louisville to study piano and composition, and have ended up a jazz bassist and university music professor some 25 years after earning my final degree.

    The difference in our stories is that I never cared much about what I was going to end up doing for a living. I figured that I wanted to play music so as to avoid waking up in my 50's (ironically, the exact age range I am now) and thinking "I wish I had followed my passion when I was younger". I like teaching just fine, but it's a gig, and the only thing that makes it worthwhile is being in a position for help others who are pursuing their dreams. I play enough but not as much as I'd like in an ideal world, and the job can be stressful like any gig that pays the bills.

    Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing. It wasn't about the degree or what kind of job I could get, but rather about learning something that I always had a passion for... and I still consider myself very much a student of the music. In my opinion, if music is really your passion, the question will be answered for you; if it isn't, you'll gravitate toward whatever your heart feels is more important at the time that for in the road arrives. Good luck!
  3. blastoff99

    blastoff99 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2011
    SW WA, USA
    Let's see...

    I've delivered the newspaper, changed oil in cars, cleaned carpets, replaced toilets...

    Ellery and sissy kathy like this.
  4. Johnny Crab

    Johnny Crab HELIX user & BOSE Abuser

    Feb 11, 2004
    Older sister did music degree(LSU) and MS/PhD stuff in Denton, Texas IIRC.
    Professor at a college, private studio at home for lessons(2 baby grands), and church organist/wedding gigs.
    She is happy with what her career is, retired from teaching last year, and is still active with church, weddings, lessons.

    I side-tracked to electrical engineering b/c learning how stuff works was(is) a major passion since I was a toddler(Dad and Grandpa gave me a World War 2 tube radio to play with when I was 4 to keep me quiet one day) but kept music as a side passion. This "change" from music to engineering happened when I was 30 after a decade or 3 jobs + band to pay bills and support a family. Got a second chance at college thanks to my Grandfather and Mom. Fulltime career plus 80-90 gigs per year at 61. I love doing both. Waking up and getting paid to do something you enjoy every day(and night) is a blessing one can never give enough thanks for.

    100% agree with Chris's comment as it sums up the answer:

  5. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Play music.

    Teach music.

    That's it. That's all you'll have an option for with a music degree. Does your school offer a minor in music? If so, you could major in something more practical and lucrative, while still getting the option to follow your passion.
    Ellery likes this.
  6. D M C

    D M C Oh good god, this again? Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2015
    North America, Earth
    I recommend pepperoncini as a dietary supplement.
    There's not much you can do with an undergrad degree that you couldn't do without one. Except get a graduate degree. There's not much you can do with a masters in music that you can't do without one. Get a doctorate and you can become a professor, but I think you'll lose money in the bargain.

    My wife has the music degree, not me.
    Skeezix likes this.
  7. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    My trumpet player (Berkelee) paints houses. I know a great bass player who, rather than college, put the money into good lessons. Any specialized degree has its limitations. At least dual major.
    RoadRanger likes this.
  8. Dale Griffith

    Dale Griffith

    Jun 6, 2016
    Retired now, but sold electrical switchgear for forty years with my music theory/composition degree. Made some side money playing in rock bands.
    RoadRanger likes this.
  9. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    No one has mentioned a career in pizza yet? ;)
  10. Was about to mention pizza in joke along the lines of this thread, but thought better of it.
  11. blastoff99

    blastoff99 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2011
    SW WA, USA

    Well, part of my oil-changing business was the contract for a pizza-delivery fleet. That should count.
    PortlandBass77 and RoadRanger like this.
  12. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000

    You would have had to go to grad school if you stuck with psychology. My suggestion would be to keep an eye towards academia if you wish to pursue music. Then again, I'm a risk-averse person. I know you said you weren't hot on teaching, but teaching at the university level is different than private lessons.

    A lot of the great employment opportunities in music are less in performance and more on the production side of things. I have a friend, who is a great drummer, who tours constantly doing FOH work and other stage-hand stuff. He's starting his own LLC.
  13. ILIA


    Jan 27, 2006
    You're going to hate me after I'm done, but for your own good, you need the best answer to your questions.

    Almost. Great guitar players that are good enough to get into Berklee from the get-go without remediation are a dime a dozen.

    It's true. You're right. Only the best players who also understand the career aspect of the music business will get paid adequately.

    First off, let's assume you get into the Psychology program and you get the degree and you are well-trained in the discipline of Psychology. Then what? What will the Psychology degree get you? Have you even thought about that? My point is that assuming that Psychology will give you the "adequate pay" that a music program will not give you, is a very misguided assumption. I know way too many disillusioned people with psych degrees. As for giving music a second chance, you better be practicing your arse off daily and working on the right things. Can you read down (head/comp/solo) a Real-book chart? Can you read down a symphonic movie score or a jingle session lead sheet? Can you hear your way through a form? Can you play multiple styles? If a Nashville session player threw out a key and a bunch of numbers, would you know what to do with them? Can you play standards in any key of a singer's choosing? Can you learn a set on 24-48 hours notice? Do you have the chops, eyes, and ears to play anything? Can you do all of the above with a professional demeanor? Can you do background vocals? Can you make arrangements? Can you handle the business aspects of being an independent contractor?

    Yeah, ain't that the truth. Alright, so you don't want to teach. Fortunately, great guitarists can keep their professional calendar full if they are willing (and able) to play a multitude of styles. Which brings me to my next counterpoint. . . .

    If you couldn't get into Berklee, you probably couldn't play jazz anyway, so it's a good thing you dismissed the jazz option. Funny how things works out, huh? Still don't want to teach? Fine. But you seem to think it's easier to land a teaching gig than a performance gig. That's probably true, but it's still difficult to land even a decent part-time teaching gig at a community music school. It's even more difficult to land a college teaching job (even part-time). There are no public school k-12 teaching jobs for guitarists who only teach guitar. (OK, there are probably a few, but most of us have never heard of any). Private lessons, ah, that's where the $ and stability is, but you're not interested, so go practice.

    Proficiency and dabbling won't cut it. You have to be great in whatever you undertake in the music business. Actually, no. You have to be exceptional. Since you couldn't get into Berklee (and I'm sorry to break it to you, but Berklee is not THAT selective), I'm suspecting you are a work-in-progress, so your efforts must be doubled or tripled. Since you don't want to teach, that's not an option for you either. I suggest you finish your psychology degree. Oh, like I said earlier, getting a psychology degree is about like getting a music degree--it's not the paper or the training--it's how you invest yourself in the training and how you apply it (and how you network) that counts. Paper is secondary. But I suspect your heart is not in psychology. But your heart seems to be in music, but you're not good enough, yet, to forecast a livable income stream from your efforts.

    Having counseled many in your position, I suggest your find a degree program that has better guaranteed income returns than a psychology degree (no, don't do business, communications or some other fluff degree--get an IT degree or an engineering degree or a nursing (or other direct healthcare) degree. If you have true passion for music, no matter what your level, you will make time for your musical development. Take as many music courses as you can. Understand that you will have to take a few more years than your competitors who got into Berklee right away and even more years than the ones who got into North Texas, Cincinnati, etc. Get the steady income stream that you so desire and do music on evenings/weekends. Work to make music your primary occupation, then drop the "day job" when you have some money saved up and the preparation to succeed.
    Pilgrim and Leo Smith like this.
  14. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    My brother got a music degree in performance, not teaching, from Peabody. He's now been in a partnership for about 30 years installing low voltage systems. He does very well.
  15. sears

    sears Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2005
    ec, md
    I got a degree in music because the first four intended majors in college -- econ, math, political science and computer science -- were totally confusing. Music made sense, I enjoyed the work and got good grades. Now I am a stay at home parent.

    Would I do it again? Sure. Except maybe I would have gone to a different school. I have a feeling I didn't deserve to be there and the professors assumed I was smarter than I was.
  16. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN

    What does his career have to do with his performance degree?
  17. RoadRanger

    RoadRanger Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2004
    NE CT
    Point is you can have a great career in lots of related fields such as pizza delivery...
  18. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    That's what got him in the door to his first job. He then parlayed his experience into a business.
  19. D M C

    D M C Oh good god, this again? Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2015
    North America, Earth
    I recommend pepperoncini as a dietary supplement.
    Most businesses need some control over the number of applicants that they interview for a position and a college degree is the standard, regardless of what the focus of the degree is. My wife, who has a masters in organ performance parlayed her degree into a job as a warehouse manager for an auto company.
  20. Damn, this was both a reality check and a motivational piece. I will try to reply to as much as I can. As far as abilities go, I have come a long way since the first that time I auditioned for Berklee even though I still may not be good enough for them (that isn't going to stop me from auditioning every single year and it's going to be the third time, next year). When I first auditioned, I thought I was hot poopie on the guitar playing only the pentatonic scale and only focusing on Led Zeppelin songs because Jimmy Page was god to me on the guitar. Now, I can comp, read charts, lead sheets and play a few more styles. True, jazz is not my strong suit, but I can now play it well enough to defend myself or fill in at the last minute.

    I may not have mastered ALL of the skills that you previously mentioned, but that's what this four years of college will be for (it's my first year, ffs). While I have thought about what other degrees will leave more money, I can't bring myself to stomach them. I loathe things like IT, medicine, engineering and the likes. They remind me of the days of taking endless science and math classes in school and just wanting to get the hell home or music class so that I could keep doing what I loved. You mentioned practising my ass off every day on the right things. Question is, what are the right things? I have no instrument teacher (I'm going to start the theory courses next semester so that I can start with the private lessons required to complete my degree). For the past few days, I have been digging through my guitar books and dissecting the things that I never learned or could improve on, but there is no structure or order. Yes, I am practising way more than I previously did, but am still a but lost.

    I am interested in learning the business aspect of music so that I may avoid falling into the trap that many fall into so I guess a minor in business or a few business classes would be handy. And lastly comes networking. While I usually have no problem with interacting with people (assuming that they are not jerks or just generally annoying or terrible human beings), I have always had trouble mingling with other musicians and I think that it's because of my views on music as a whole or something. Oh, before I forget. True, I'm not big on teaching, but I'm not ruling it out completely. If I have to do it, I'll suck it up and do it like any other job and do it. If I'm broke, I'm not going to get picky with my employment options
    pjbassist and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
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