Most of my favorite musicians in the world did not get college degrees in music. The list is very long 🙂 to name a few…Tommy Emmanuel, Charlie Parker, George Benson, Stevie Wonder all do not have degrees.
- If have a playing career or plenty of students with no degree – that’s super – keep rocking it!
- If YOU are over 30 and have a family, school may not be a possibility right now.
If you are heading for college, and thinking about a career in music you may want to consider a degree in music.
I am extremely happy that I have a degree, and here’s why.
A week ago I was sitting in a VISA office in the EU to extend an artist visa for my upcoming tour. Guess what?
To prove that I am a musician, I had to show them a school degree.
Yep, 12 million youtube hits, tours, CDs, Instructional DVDS – were all fine and good,
but not substantial enough. In the eyes of a few paper pushers – the almighty school degree is still a required document to show that I am in fact, a musician.
For them, it was the cherry on the sundae!
Go figure. In translation…no VISA = no tour. UGH.
For me, the degree is like a set of needle nose plyers. It’s a tool I don’t need every day – but it sure is great to have in my tool box.
Here’s another example of how a degree helped…
Years ago, as a struggling jazz bebop picker in NYC I was able to scrape by teaching little kids their first chords at a local NYC music school, all because I had a degree. The school could only hire me because I had the degree.
My current (fun) work such as touring, CD & DVD creation, instruction, web site all comes from delivering groovy music, showing up on time and keeping sincere personal relationships (and working hard!)
My current work looks like it has nothing to do (directly) with a degree…but…
For a few “vulnerable moments in my life” in which a decision came from an “official person” regarding my work, this degree has come in VERY handy.
(This is very personal, and is my opinion. Please comment below if you agree or disagree with me.)
A degree WON’T guarantee that:
- You will earn any money playing music
- You will have a music career
- You will play your axe well
- You won’t have to do any other type of work
In other words “a music school degree and a metrocard will get you on the subway.”
You will still have to hustle!
A degree WILL guarantee that
- the world “sees” that you showed up and followed through – and this separates you from those that didn’t
- key people will trust that you have a certain degree of knowledge, commitment to music, and doing things right
- You are exposed to reading music (good IMHO)
- You are exposed to other instruments and musicians and you develop social skills
- You have a feel for a school environment
- You are exposed to other practicing musicians as your peer group
- You build connections to your peers and teachers which will help you in the years ahead
- You have the paper you need to get a teaching gig
(Personally I learned a LOT in music school and was exposed to theory, classical and jazz – which I am ever thankful for.)
What if you have no degree? Here’s a story…
I’d like to add that my dear old Dad is a computer genius with no degree.
Currently he has an outstanding career, but in years past – the lack of a degree made it harder for him than it should have been.
In the 80s’ after a long interview at a well known IT company, he was 99% hired.
As a last point they asked about the degree, almost as an afterthought. You got it – the job offer was immediately taken back due to his having no degree, which was a disappointment to the company and him.
Everyone lost out!
You Are Showing Your “Expertise” to NON Musicians…
To “non music” people whom you may need to convince, a degree says something about YOU that they can understand.
If you are at the age where you are you are going to college and you love playing music, just go for it, get that degree – for your toolbox.
While you are in school, I suggest:
- play gigs on the side
- practice as much as you can
- be excellent
- smell good
- …and show up on time, wherever you go!