Things I Wish Were Taught in Music Schools
During my music degree, I learnt a lot of things that were useful to my future, including everything clarinet related, aural training, teaching from exam syllabuses, arranging, conducting, and ensemble playing. However, there were a lot of things that I had to learn by myself through research, experience, and talking to other musicians. Some of these things are relevant to all musicians, and I feel if I learnt these in music school I would have been more prepared for the real world.
1. Things won’t go to plan.
You most likely won’t finish your degree, do postgraduate overseas, win competitions and scholarships, and then land a job as a soloist or a full time orchestral musician, unless you are one of the extremely small percentage of people. You will probably spend some time trying to figure out what to do with your life, what type of job you want, being broke, spend months doing nothing but practice, or even decide music is not what you really want to do. And this is all okay! In just this year, I have failed 3 performance job auditions, and so far, have applied for 4 teaching jobs and haven’t won a single one. But this is normal, and you will eventually get to where you need to be. Which brings me to:
2. Audition Failure.
I’ve had about 4 major auditions so far that I was really upset about not getting. Failure doesn’t get any easier, at least not yet for me. I remember the first audition I failed in my final year of high school where I applied for a scholarship that musicians a lot younger than me were winning, and didn’t even place. I got the rejection email just before my clarinet lesson, and remember feeling so useless in my lesson, but holding it in from my teacher, pretending it wasn’t a big deal. The audition that hurt the most for me was when I auditioned for my dream job earlier this year. My friends were winning these types of jobs, and after my audition I was told that they really wanted me, and would beg recruitment to have me, so I had my hopes up. When I got the rejection email it felt like my heart sunk to my feet. I tried to hold it in while I was around colleagues, but after a few minutes I let it all out to one of my closest friends, and ugly cried for about an hour. Every time you feel like you are worthless, and will never win that job, but you need to be kind to yourself. I am only 21, and will lose a lot more auditions, and win some along the way too, it’s just sometimes hard to see the big picture.
3. What jobs are available
I feel like everyone at my music school was put into 2 categories. They wanted to graduate and become a serious performer, or music was more of a hobby, they didn’t know what to do, so they chose music and worst case they can always teach. But there are so many other jobs available. In terms of performance, you could of course be a soloist, orchestral musician, service band musician, chamber musician, have a more contemporary band. You could of course teach privately, at a school, online, get into blogging and social media. You could become an orchestra manager, marketing, work for a company such and 3MBS, start a community band or orchestra, be a freelancer, an instrument repairer, music therapist, an examiner, there are so many options!
4. Networking and How You Portray Yourself
Networking is absolutely crucial for landing gigs, jobs, and getting your name out there. If you meet someone and make a memorable impression, they are more likely to think of you when they see a job opportunity, or to recommend you for a gig. But unless you know how to portray yourself, networking can have the opposite effect on you. I know plenty of people I have met through University, who talk about how little they practice, how stressed, unmotivated and unorganised they are. It’s perfectly okay to talk about these things of course if you need to chat to someone, but leaving this kind of impression on every musician you meet, will have a negative effect on you. Same goes with when you finally land a gig. If you rock up to the first rehearsal and haven’t learnt your part, are late, cancel last minute, and are unpleasant to work with, you won’t get invited back. As someone who has worked as an orchestra manager, I have a list of people I don’t want in my orchestra. Usually it has nothing to do with their playing, and everything to do with their attitude and organisation. People talk, so make sure they are saying good things about you, and you will be fine.
5. How to promote yourself
Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on the word of mouth for people to know who you are. With so much technology available, you’d be making a mistake to not be using it. However, you can’t just make a Facebook page to promote yourself, and expect likes to come flooding in. You need to know how to use these mediums. Make sure you are on more than one platform, you are creating regular content (so many people I know have Facebook pages that haven’t been updated in months), and respond to the people that take time out of their day to leave nice comments. This will help you get your name out there to people from so many places, and even create a bunch of people who are inspired by what you do.
With social media, comes learning to record. There are so many accounts where people just post photos of their instruments, sheet music, and headshots, but as a musician, music is your main thing, so share it! Recording can be a way of sharing your progress, your performances you spent months preparing for, and can even land you a paid recording opportunity. Learning how to use microphones, interfaces, DAWs, and editing, are skills that are always great to have as a musician.
7. When to say no
Unfortunately, as musicians, we get asked to play gigs for exposure, networking, fun or a favour, and sometimes we need to take these. You won’t get offered money for the first gig you play in out of high school, but learning which ones you should take or leave, is really important. For me, I will do unpaid gigs for Orchestras who have a good name to help my name get out there, Musical Theatre gigs because I enjoy them, or performances that let me play repertoire I love. I say no to any performance I won’t get anything out of, such as a 4-hour community band performance, Orchestras over an hour’s drive away, or ensembles I have played with before and didn’t enjoy. You need to create your own set of standards for which ones to say no to.
Let me know what other things you wish you were taught!