You’re 13-20 years old and you’re considering studying music at college. Is it worth the tuition fees and time?
There isn’t one answer to this. I encourage you to read broadly and ask 20-30 year old musicians — who are doing what you want to be doing — what their thoughts are. Be wary of asking musicians older than 30 for advice (or your parents) – they didn’t grow up with social media and online learning, two incredible tools which I believe have reduced the need for college level study of music.
My blanket answer
There’s never been less of a reason to study music in college. Much of what you’ll learn at college you can learn for free — or for significantly cheaper —online, or by learning directly from the faculty in private tuition. The big plus of music college is the network you’ll be a part of — both current students and alumni. My argument is that social media, specifically Instagram, has made connecting with musicians super easy, so although the hang during school is valuable, it’s 2017 and you don’t need much more than hard work + talent + your phone, to succeed as an artist.
I have a double major undergraduate degree in music performance from Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand. My undergrad degree taught me a lot, and allowed me to play music and music direct on cruise ships for three years. Then I studied my masters in jazz performance at the City University of New York. After that, I was a full time musicians for one year performing off-broadway, pop, corporate, and jazz gigs in nyc. Currently, I do sideman work, as well as other ventures (see: @pickupjazz).
Here’s my advice for specific scenarios that you might fall into.
Yes, if you want to be come a high school or college level music teacher.
Yes, if you get a partial or full scholarship, and your living costs won’t amount to a large amount of dept ($20k or more).
Yes, if it’s a means for you to get a student visa to be in the US, or somewhere with significantly more opportunities than where you live — and you won’t go into a lot of debt.
Maybe, if your parents are paying for it, and they have strong expectations about you getting a Music degree. Although, see my disclaimer above.
Maybe, if you’re just taking one or two music papers to round out your degree.
Maybe, if you’re don’t know what your next step is after high school. (See my last part of this post on patience)
Maybe, if you function well in academic environments with set curriculums and frameworks to create in.
Don’t worry about it scenarios
If you want to become producer (great idea!), going to school doesn’t make sense; there’s so many free and affordable courses available online.
If you’re looking to establish yourself in a new city, don’t waste your money going to school to meet people, and establish yourself. For sure, it’s a nice pathway— if you’re on scholarship and you’re not going into massive debt. To meet people: use social media.
In nyc, in the jazz and pop sphere, no one minds which school you went to, all they care about is 1) if you can play and you’re professional , 2) if you’re a good hang, 3) if you come recommended by someone they trust. I’ve heard the same about the other music hubs in the world: LA, Nashville, and London, and in other genres of music.
If you’re not studying music at college, here are alternatives:
Study something else which you’re talented at. For me, learning to code and computer science are smart skills to have.
Take summer programs at music colleges to see if you like it.
Find out who the teachers at your local music college are and learn directly from them. Ask them to teach you what they teach their college students.
Save up money and move to a big city and immerse yourself in the scene and learn from the best players.
Establish a social media following by posting great content. Leverage that following to connect with musicians in other cities. Visit them. Make friend with them. Move to a bigger city, go hang at open mics, showcases, gigs and sessions, become a part of the scene.
The biggest thing you need to remember is that this decision — whether you to go to music college — isn’t a life or death call . You’re still young, and part of finding out exactly what you want to do is failing, or trying things which aren’t for you. It took me till I was 25 to really figure out the crossover between what I was naturally good at, and what I was passionate about. Ages 18-25, I was failing, trying new things. The key for you though, is to realize when something isn’t for you, and be bold about jumping into something else.