5 Things I Never Learned In Music School

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By: Elizabeth A. Baker

Pursing a degree or any form of higher education focused on music is a stressful, rewarding, wonderful, horrible, exhilarating experience, which will test your fortitude and love of the art. I encountered many sides of the music education world while studying classical guitar performance, music production, and ultimately piano performance. I learned a lot about my art from music history to principles of audio mixing to 16th century counterpoint and the proper way to play a Baroque mordent. There was however, a giant hole, a growing black void that I did not fully come to terms with until I completely stepped away from the academic atmosphere.

If only somebody had given me a magical crystal ball while I was studying so I didn’t have to spend years working through many of these lessons the hard way.

  1. Setting your own deadlines and sticking to them.

Sure we all had recitals to prepare for and it was expected that you did you 6-8 hours of practice to ensure that your performance of that Bach Suite went off with out too many hitches but how many of us procrastinated on LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE? “No, it’s totally cool for me to wait until the end of term for that giant research paper and analysis for music history! I can just pull a couple of all-nighters and I will definitely pass!” When you leave music school and you find that you are often a collaborator on projects, and your other collaborators want to know that you are getting your end of the work done. MURPHY’S LAW STATES that if you have to send a project to Japan that you must create in Pro Tools, the AVID gods will appear and sprinkle magical fudge-your-life dust all over your gear and your blood pressure will rise. As utterly lame as it may sound, being successful in this industry means plotting out how much work something will take and allowing yourself enough time to get the job done.

  1. How to find a manager that works.

If you want the maximum amount of time to devote to your craft, you probably want a manager to handle your affairs. To be perfectly honest, this part is an enigma for me, a good manager from my experience is hard to find. I suppose I would liken the search for a good manager to that soul-trying thing we call modern dating. You try a few here and there… sometimes it can turn out for the worse and there is crazy drama but other times it can be amazing and take your artistry to new heights.

  1. How to be your own manager.

While we are on the subject of managers, to be perfectly blunt… sometimes you don’t need one. However, just because your career or personality does not call for a manager at present, you still need to have a basic understanding of what a manager would do for your career. This means handling your own booking, merchandise, image, etc. You should plan on taking time to sit down and create a list of all the things you would want a manager to accomplish for you. Once you have created this list you must go through and prioritize what should be done immediately, keeping in mind that you must also practice, hold down another job, etc. Don’t throw away the bigger ideas! Brainstorm with a pen and paper, to figure out how you can achieve large or long-range goals.

  1. How to integrate in society and more importantly, how to integrate your art in society.

This is in my opinion, the greatest disservice of all… Music school is intense. It is also, largely isolating. It’s easy to integrate or network with those who are in your same field because those folks are always around you. Nobody teaches you about life outside the practice room or how to get folks in governmental positions to back your art. The truth is that unless you plan on relegating your art to an enclave of other academics, you are going to have to step into the outside world, and the people on the street don’t understand your thesis on the idiosyncrasies of late-period Beethoven. Some people don’t care and others are fascinated if you can relate it to something with which they are familiar. The other issue that I find is there is sometimes a pompous arrogance that comes with having a lot of education. Just because you are an “expert” does not give one a free pass to treat others as lesser human beings because they haven’t argued the finer points of Charles Rosen’s writings. A helpful hint: If you want people to like your music and support your performances, you need for them to respect you.

  1. How to market yourself as an artist or organization.

There are a lot of practical things that music school doesn’t teach you… For a lot of my friends marketing their senior recital stopped at posters, a Facebook event (normally created last-minute), and word-of-mouth… because that is what your teachers as well as the school recital handbook told you to do. Nobody teaches you how to write a press release or how to engage fans on social media, things that are vital to your everyday life as a working artist. If you haven’t heard about Growth Hackers, I highly advise you to start doing some research NOW!

Practicing your ass off in a tiny jail-cell is only part of the equation and I sincerely hope that some of the folk reading this are still in music school so that they can start thinking through how they will solve these issues before they are cast into the big wide world of possibilities.

Elizabeth A. Baker is the Executive Director of The New Music Conflagration, Inc., in addition to an active life as a composer and pianist with a particular fondness for contemporary concert music.


One thought on “5 Things I Never Learned In Music School

    Elizabeth A. Baker said:
    September 12, 2014 at 5:33 am

    Reblogged this on Elizabeth A. Baker.

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