When I packed up my car in Brooklyn, second-hand clarinet and later-to-be legendary jazz saxophonist, Dave Liebman, my trusty companions, and set off to start as a student at Berklee College of Music, “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. My parents worried about me. They worried whether pursuing a college education in music would set me up for solid career options. Was the only real shot at making a living after studying music performing on stage professionally? And if my buddy from Bensonhurst in the passenger seat was already a better horn player than me (he sure was!), where would that leave me when I found myself among even more competition in talented musicians picked from all over the world?
Today, having spent nearly five decades in professional music, as faculty member and head of admissions at Berklee for 40 years, and now as an adviser to music students and their families, I still hear these very same questions. Drake tops the charts now, and my hair has exited stage left, but the concerns of parents and families around the practicality of a higher degree in a musical field remain eternal and universal. Grandmothers from Guam, parents from Peoria, husbands from Houston, and students themselves from every corner of the globe (whether they admit it or not) all want an answer to a very simple and sensible question: with a degree in music, other than performing, for what kinds of jobs in the professional music industry will I be a qualified candidate? Can I earn a good living for my family and me without going out as a performing musician?
There are tons of exciting, in-demand (read: well paying) careers in the professional music world for talented and passionate graduates with a higher degree in a music-related field of study. And I’m happy to report that there are more jobs in music than ever before. Making music has always been a collaborative process, but never more so than today, with a range of new technologies and specialized skills driving both the art and business sides of the music world in the digital age.
To see just a portion of the list of potential career paths for those pursuing a higher musical education, you will have to keep scrolling…
This is a just sample of the many non-performance based careers in music. And to match their graduates with these career choices, top music colleges and conservatories have developed dozens of majors and areas of concentration tailored to prepare you for jobs in these exact categories. Just to name a few:
Of course, the core curriculum at a competitive music program will provide the critical building blocks in arranging, ear training, harmony, tonal harmony and counterpoint, music technology, and yes, performance. But know that a student admitted to a top music college will learn a set of skills and a specialized knowledge base that are directly related to landing great jobs in professional music, and will translate to other areas beyond music as well.
At a top music school, music college or conservatory, students learn to synthesize information from many fields of study, to apply entrepreneurial skills, to lead creative projects from conception to execution, to communicate effectively in business and performance environments, to assess financial considerations in the commerce of music, to employ technological applications in business contexts, to apply copyright and intellectual property law as related to the music industry, to develop effective promotion and marketing mechanisms for monetizing music, and a range of other highly sought after and transferable tools.
I’ve been on the ride of my life since the road trip to Berklee many chart-toppers ago – a career path in professional music, at every turn, rewarding, challenging, marked by passion and collaboration. To all fellow travelers (and those supporting you along on your way): embark on your pursuit of a degree in music with the confidence that the road ahead leads to an increasing number of opportunities to build a successful career, and to grow and prosper as creative professionals.