woman playing flute in an orchestra“Putting all of your eggs in one career basket isn’t a smart bet for either your livelihood or your happiness.”
The Musician’s Way,
p. 300

Countless young musicians aspire to become professional performers, but few understand the music industry well enough to make informed choices about how to grow their careers.

To help musicians make wiser decisions, here are 7 common music career myths along with a debunking of each.

7 Music Career Myths

1. Technical Facility Ensures Success

Professionals have to be technically proficient instrumentalists or singers, but it’s what we say artistically with our technical ability that makes our musical work valuable.

Successful independent musicians acquire technique along with expanding their expressive powers, concert programming knowledge, stage presence, collaborative abilities, fan bases, and so forth.

2. Once You Land a Record Deal, You’re Set

Among the musicians who sign deals with record companies, only a tiny percentage earn much income from sales.

Published recordings can help performers gain exposure and book concerts, but only if record companies and the musicians promote their work. Often, record deals in and of themselves hardly boost musicians’ careers at all. (Update: see Supply and Demand for Classical Musicians)

3. Managers Take Care of Everything

Except for a few superstars, professional musicians who have managers devote abundant energy to marketing themselves and building their audiences. Only elite performers who garner jumbo concert fees can retain managers who handle the bulk of their professional affairs.

In reality, musicians typically can’t attract interest from management firms until they accrue large followings and earn sizable fees on their own, which means that all independent performers need entrepreneurial skills.

“Among the musicians who sign deals with record companies, only a tiny percentage earn much income from sales.”

4. Winning Competitions is Crucial to Getting Ahead

Only the most prestigious contests, such as the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, have the potential to propel winners to significance. Still, there’s little chance that any one performer will triumph at such international events.

With less-renowned contests, winning seldom brings much in the way of long-term career benefits unless the winners take the initiative to leverage the exposure they receive to book their own concerts and build relationships with listeners and concert presenters. Yes, entrepreneurship again.

Instead of entering one competition after another, most young artists can better spur their careers by performing innovative programs for diverse audiences – growing their fan bases in the process – and entering a few well-chosen competitions.

“Musicians typically can’t attract interest from management firms until they accrue large followings and earn sizable fees on their own.”

5. Career Development Education Isn’t Appropriate for Undergraduates

It takes years for performers to amass distinctive repertoires, form compelling artistic personalities, cultivate stage presence, pinpoint career interests, and understand how the music industry functions.The Musician's Way book cover

When students don’t incrementally craft artistic visions and gain career know-how, by the time they become musically advanced enough to work professionally, they typically lack the wherewithal to launch out on their own.

They may subsist by gigging for modest fees under the direction of other musicians – e.g., for contractors or bandleaders – but they won’t be equipped to thrive as independent artists without re-educating themselves.

Hence, ongoing career development education is an essential component of every serious performer’s training.

6. Earning a Doctorate Qualifies Musicians to Teach in Higher Education

To be competitive for higher ed teaching positions, candidates require much more than degrees. In fact, earning a doctorate constitutes only a small albeit crucial component of a complex qualification package.

Would-be faculty additionally need successful track records as artists, innovators, educators, leaders, recruiters of students, tech users and more, as I spell out in my article, Applying for Faculty Positions.

Typical doctoral curricula leave graduates unprepared to win or excel at higher ed teaching jobs because they don’t integrate the elements necessary for doctoral candidates to understand nor build inclusive qualifications.

“Ongoing career development education is an essential component of every serious performer’s training.”

7. Curricula Prepare Graduates for Today’s Professional Careers

Whether we examine graduate or undergraduate music programs, many of their curricula for performance majors don’t oblige students to take any up-to-date career development, entrepreneurship or community engagement courses. Those that do often supply minimal education.

For the most part, applied music curricula haven’t changed much for generations and are structured to train students to become either touring virtuosi handled by managers or full-time orchestral or opera performers – careers that won’t come to pass excepts for a tiny minority of graduates.

Fortunately, there are some shining exceptions, schools that offer curricula providing new-century artistic, academic, and professional preparation.

Ambitious students would do well to make sure that they attend those sorts of schools and pass up the backward ones.

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Need additional help to advance your music career? Contact me to discuss possible coaching via Skype.

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Music: The Practical Career?

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Stokkete, licensed from Shutterstock.com