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Career in music?

musiciansdadmusiciansdad Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
edited November 2012 in Music Major
Hi everyone. I am a first-time poster here, so please go easy on me.

I have a pre-teen son who loves music and has a talent for it. He plays several instruments and sings. He has begun writing his own pop songs, and a couple of them are petty good! He enjoys messing around with GarageBand and posts cover videos to YouTube. A few of his videos have received praise from big-name pop stars.

Right now he is just having fun, but someday he'll probably want to make a career in music. He lives and breathes this stuff.

I know how hard it is to make a living as a performer. If he wants to pursue the dream, that is his choice, but I would like to encourage my son to have a practical back-up plan in case being a pop star doesn't work out.

Music teacher is one possibility.

Maybe music producer is another. But I'm not sure how practical that is. Also, I don't know how one prepares oneself for a career as a music producer.

One other question: Do music colleges, such as Berklee, like to admit kids who specialize in one instrument? Or would they be open to someone like my son? As I mentioned, he plays several instruments. He is decent at all of them but he is not incredible at any of them.

Any constructive advice/thoughts/feedback would be appreciated.

Post edited by musiciansdad on

Replies to: Career in music?

  • glassharmonicaglassharmonica Registered User Posts: 3,091 Senior Member
    musiciansdad, if/when he applies to Berklee, he will have to audition with one of his instruments, so he should work towards proficiency in one. Otherwise, I think it is common for applicants to play multiple instruments. At Berklee (and other schools) you can study and major in music production and engineering. There are other careers, of course, for musicians. He might want to work in the music business, although (as someone with a lifelong involvement in arts management) I would recommend that he not major in arts management, but rather in the art itself. He can learn the business through internships and on the job. Music education is a different field than performance, although there is some overlap. It's really impossible to plan out a career for a pre-teen (as I'm sure you know) since life takes so many twists and turns. As the parent of 4 whose youngest is now 18, I'd recommend that you continue to support and facilitate his learning. Perhaps make sure that he has access to excellent training in one or two instruments, so that he has excellent proficiency, should he decide to go on in music. But also be flexible, knowing that he's quite young and his interests could shift towards geology or French philosophy. ;)
  • EarlGr8EarlGr8 Registered User Posts: 46 Junior Member
    If one wants to study music at college, then the realities dictate that specialization is necessary, at least for admissions and curriculum purposes (i.e., the student will have to declare a principal focus/instrument).

    Of course, once at school, a student is also able to diversify their musical pursuits as much or as little as they like. Most music programs try to facilitate this in their curricular offerings.

    But yes, son will eventually have to pick a primary instrument, since the music major at most schools revolves around the private-study component. Since private-study is expensive, not many programs have infrastructures that allow majors to be studying with private teachers on multiple instruments simultaneously.
  • imagepimagep Registered User Posts: 628 Member
    I know little about Berklee, but most colleges will only take one instrument into consideration for admittance. Personally, I think that is ashamed as many music performance employers seek musicians who are more versatile and who can "double" on multiple instruments, particularly in the popular music field which is where most music jobs are.

    My son is a classical music student, and is a bit of a snob when it comes to music. It's odd, I think that it is somewhat an ego trip to say many of the things that he says, like "I prefer to concentrate on meaningful music", especially since he actually enjoys and mostly listens to pop music.

    I know that Berklee is all about pop music, and I think that is a good thing. I find it odd that most colleges train students in classical music, when most jobs are in the large variety of pop music genres. I can only assume that they figure that if one can perform and appreciate classical music that those skills are transferable to any type of music.

    I've actually privately (without my son knowing about it) researched the possibility of him having two senior years of college so that he can graduate with two music degrees. He attends the main campus of our state's flagship university and is majoring in music ed. this campus will not allow duel majors within the same disipline. In my hometown, we have a fairly large branch campus on the same university, and they offer a BA in commercial music, which is sort of a general music degree with many classes that I would think would be valuable in a music career - such as a couple of music business classes, "modern songwriting" (as opposed to "classical composition" at his campus), a pop music ensemble (no such thing at his campus), and more emphasis on jazz/blues/rock music. the way I got it figured, he could attend his first senior year at our hometown campus and his second senior year at the main campus, and then graduate with the BA in Commercial music issued by our local campus and a BM in Music Ed from the main campus. Anyhow, that's just a thought.

    And before anyone belittles music ed majors, they have wonderful opportunities and gain skills which can be transferable to any job. First off, when I have looked at real life music performance jobs, a lot of those jobs are requesting people who can "double" on multiple instruments. I have noticed some of the musicians on American Idol play more than one instrument on the show. If you look at job listings for cruise ship musicians you will see that preference is given to musicians who can play multiple instruments, and the same thing with many military bands.

    My son plays violin, guitar, piano, and trumpet. In his music ed curriculum he will have the opportunity to learn a lot of instruments. this semester he is taking private applied music classes in trumpet (he will do that every semester since trumpet is is primary instrument), and small group classes in piano and clarinet. Next semester he may play clarinet in an ensemble, trumpet in two other ensembles, and is enrolled in a trombone class. By the time he graduates from his music ed program, not only will he have a teachers certificate for music K-12, he will have some level of proficiency in about a dozen different instruments.

    Typically music ed majors will also take classes in directing and conducting which could be invaluable to any musician who ever expects to have a leadership roll in music.

    And while there will be some posters to suggest that one shouldn't major in music ed unless he/she only wants to be a teacher, the skills learned in a music ed program will transfer to a large variety of real life jobs, possibly more so than being a performance major. Let's face it, most performance majors don't end up with a career performing either.

    And one last thought:

    My son's college recognize that many people in the music field have to create their own opportunities, and that few of them will actually have lucrative careers solely performing music. They are really hyping up their new "music entrepreneurship" minor which requires an entry level class in management, accounting, finance, and economics in addition to music industry specific classes and a music entrepreneur specific class and group project designing and creating a music oriented business.

    My best guess is that most any major at a contemporary music school like Berklee would have more value to the real life job marketplace than a classical music performance degree at most colleges.
  • woodwindswoodwinds Registered User Posts: 601 Member
    I think your son is off to a good start with his youtube videos. That may be a better plan than getting a college degree, for pop music.

    I agree with others about how the music field is changing. I think it is good to be a versatile musician, be it music ed, multiple instruments and/or genres, or music combined with a related field.

    I do think many conservatories are resistant to the idea of a musician playing more than one instrument. I think this will change however. There are now only about five orchestras in the US where a musician can earn a full-time living--and I'm sure someone will correct me if they think I am far off on this--which means, for some instruments, there are only a couple of jobs available to them. And those orchestras may not hold auditions during their career.

    For some enterpreuner-minded musicians, making it in the field is not difficult. They work hard, yes, but they figure out how to make it work and do well.
  • glassharmonicaglassharmonica Registered User Posts: 3,091 Senior Member
    I kind of agree with woodwinds in that pop music is probably better developed outside the academy. I personally think this is true for most non-classical genres-- they simply thrive better in the wild. If you want to be a pop musician, study liberal arts or some other traditional college discipline and do your music outside of our curriculum. Many outsider arts are better cultivated outside of the greenhouse.

    On the other hand, this is the dad of a pre-teen speaking. His son could be a multi-millionaire popstar by the time he's 18, or he could have moved on in his interests.

    As for the more-than-one instrument-- yes, it's hard to double major in a traditional conservatory. I know of a few who had, but it was swimming upstream against the system the whole time. My daughter is taking a secondary instrument (not as a double major) this year and it's be rough to fit it in time-wise, although quite worth it. We have to pay extra tuition for the extra lessons.
  • StacJipStacJip Registered User Posts: 585 Member
    I am the parent of 3 kids-youngest is 18 and now a freshman. One thing I would seriously consider is sending your son to a music camp for a summer. Summer is a great time to immerse oneself in a subject and get a real feel for what it would be like to study it more seriously. He will also meet other kids who are also enthusiastic about music and get a sense of whether he wants to hang around with that type of kid.

    One of my son's was an amazing guitar player and he loved it more than anything. School was particularly hard for him due to a complex mixture of learning disabilities and music was one area where he was able to have success. We sent him to Berklee's 5 week (I would not recommend sending a 15 year old to Berklee's 5 week....too young. Better to wait until they are a Junior or Senior in HS) and he enjoyed it. But after attending the program he realized that he did not want to just study music. He was FURIOUS when one special educator wrote in the intro on his IEP that he was "On his way to pursuing his desired career in music." Another summer program two years later convinced our son that he wanted to study science. Despite having had ZERO success in HS and failing Algebra 2 multiple times our son came back from that summer program determined to overcome his disability. A lot of hard work and by the following year this child was taking college level science classes and excelling. Now that child is a Junior in college and is a math major. He has more than caught up with his peers academically and is on track if he wants to go to a competitive graduate program. BTW, he still plays his guitar but it is for his own enjoyment.

    Another son attended Camp Encore Coda and loved every minute of the music experience. His only complaint was that the music was not more intense and the teachers more demanding. The following summer he attended Litchfield Jazz camp. Although the teaching was demanding and he did not feel as though he necessarily was at the top. Still he came back from that even more motivated to pursue music. Then two summer ago he attended Berklee and that sealed the deal. He knew that the Berklee summer program was a peek into what life would be like at a conservatory and he decided that was what he wanted.
  • musiciansdadmusiciansdad Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    thanks everyone for all the tips. Very helpful!

    I wonder if anyone has feedback on this comment by glassharmonica: "If you want to be a pop musician, study liberal arts or some other traditional college discipline and do your music outside of our curriculum."

    Do others agree with this advice? I would think that one can make useful connections at a school like Berklee -- connections that would be very helpful in a pop music career.
  • StacJipStacJip Registered User Posts: 585 Member
    If only there was one path to success or to any career. But there is not. Everyone has their own journey to make. The man who was in charge of the team to land Curiosity on Mars spent a year at Berklee studying music. While other musicians like Esperanza Spalding started off at a Liberal arts college. I know kids who went to conservatory who then went on to become Doctors or went into Business, while I know professional musicians who went to liberal arts schools.

    I think what is important is to listen to your child and figure out what he wants to study and how he wants to learn. Some kids go off to Berklee and make amazing connections that end up defining their careers in music. But others do not. I would not look too far ahead right now because things change. Do what you can to support your child with advancing his music ability and interest. Make sure you are meeting his need for high quality instruction and exposing him to ALL the ARTS (not just music).....and as you do that talk to him about what he likes and what he does not like. How does he react to films like "Apocalypse Now" or "2001". Has he ever sat through an Opera or a classical music concert? Take him to see dance and theater? Walk through a museum and notice what paintings catch his interest? Being an artist in any media is about understanding the range of creativity that is out there. Hopefully if you do this by the time he is senior he will have a good idea of what he needs to develop further as a musician and just be prepared...it might be a conservatory, it might be a liberal arts school, it might involve travel and a gap year. Part of being a parent of a young adult is letting go of the reigns and trusting that you have given them the tools to navigate on their own.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 8,368 Senior Member
    You have gotten all kinds of wise advice, as is often the case on this forum. Your son is still very young and he has several years of exploration and, possibly, change, ahead. Everyone seems to be saying the same thing: continue to find ways for him to grow. Along with all of the instruments he plays, he may also become more of a composer/songwriter. When he is older, there are some great summer programs for him to try.

    I just wanted to say that when the time comes, there will be many different ways to go for his education. Places like Berklee, Belmont, USC for more contemporary music. Conservatories for jazz or classical. Music education programs. Liberal arts colleges, state universities. Programs geared to careers in music such as technology, business, production. (UMass Lowell, Hartt and Northeastern are programs in the Northeast that I have heard of, others will know more). Etc. It will be a lot clearer in a few years.

    The one option I like to mention is programs at schools like Sarah Lawrence or Bennington. At Bennington, students do not have prerequisites or traditional majors, but make "plans" that are interdisciplinary. Their music program is quite interesting, and allows for many interests at once. Plus, musicians, dancers, artists, theater and film students, and writers collaborate on projects. It is small and rural, but they have a field work term in Jan. and Feb. in which students can go anywhere. There are other colleges that offer similar benefits, for kids with many talents and interests who do not want to specialize too narrowly and also want freedom to explore. Bennington: Courses

    One of my kids is a music major at a university, and she has built up a lot of experience with internships. I agree with the other poster that a lot can be done outside of the school framework, in terms of obtaining career skills in music or any other field your son might become interested in.

    A good book about schools for music and other arts: "Creative Colleges", available online.

    Bottom line I think is not to worry too much about any of this right now. I personally think it can be destructive to talk about college or conservatory before you really need to. Make it about the present and help him enjoy his life now. Support him by paying for what you can in music and, most likely, driving him! It's great having your kid's music around the house, and enjoy that too: eventually, they leave and you will miss it!
  • musicprntmusicprnt Registered User Posts: 6,253 Senior Member
    I agree with others, if your son is a pre teen there is a lot of time before he has to really decide where to focus. If he were an aspiring classical musician I would be saying something quite different, but with pop music there are a variety of paths that can lead there, it is quite different then classical in that sense. I would say the most important thing at this point is encourage your son in what he wants to try and see where that leads, i think at this point being worried about career paths and backups is premature, it might be more relevant as your S gets into High School and starts getting serious (if he does). There are things out there for kids in pop music I am sure, summer camps, festivals, and those can be a lot of fun for the kids as well as inspiring.

    Pop music has a lot of paths to it, there are people in it who are self taught, there are people who have gone through formal programs in classical music in it, there are people who have gone to contemporary music programs, one of the nice parts about pop music is there are many paths.

    I think the real answer to the question is going to come out of what your son ends up doing over the next several years, about his own bent. He could be advanced enough with doing music that going to a music school wouldn't buy him much; or maybe he would be advanced but would want to take music production or music engineering or music business to supplement that side. Maybe his music would still be there but he would want to major in something like physics or computer science and do his music on his own...the nice part is he will have those choices, it is very different then classical music or fields that depend on that kind of training.

    I have known people who went to Berklee and USC and NYU in contemporary music programs, and what they told me was they enjoyed it a lot, that they did network through there and such, but they also told me it might now work that way for others, that some might find it a waste depending on where they are. If your S is already sort of making it in music by the time he goes to school, then it might be a waste, on the other hand, if he is passionate but still hasn't found a handle on doing it, that might help him.

    It could also be that when he hits 14, he may turn around and decide that music is a fun hobby but would rather do other things......I think the best bet is support his passions, give him opportunities and make decisions as time warrants it. With Classical music, fortunately or unfortunately, those choices have to be made early, with other forms of music you have a lot more lattitude, which believe me, is a nice thing:)
  • kmcmom13kmcmom13 Registered User Posts: 3,910 Senior Member
    Musician dad, I have a son who was a preteen popsong "dilittante" for lack of a better word, but who also showed early proficiency in film and video production, writing, cartoons, etc. At the time, if you asked him, he would say he wanted to major in: "film, music, English and art" which used to get a chuckle.
    By that time, his hs music teacher was pushing us to get him further outside training (which we didn't take seriously quite early enough but eventually did) - but of course his English, art, multimedia etc teachers were also weighing in with their own sets of observations, ranging from filmmaker to actor to journalist, cartoonist, etc. He was just a mishmash creative kid.

    Someone way smarter than me told me to start watching what he actually did with his time. What things he'd pass up a social opportunity to do. What things he'd stay up late
    working on when he didn't need to. What he did with his spare time. What things he tried to bring to his projects. For example, in his biology class where they were memorizing body systems he wrote a hilarious educational rap song that's still a hit at his school ;)

    Then he started soloing a lot in jazz band, and parents who knew a lot more about music training started talking to us about his options, further training, etc. But he spent so much time writing pop and playing other instruments and mucking about making films and doing techie things that in truth, he was a little late to the table for a performance-tracked trumpeter. On one hand, his energy and love of performing were palatable to the audience. On the other, he didn't really start developing his upper range until junior and senior year, and technically speaking, he told us that he felt at a region/national level he neither was presently competitive in range nor did he want to narrow down his time commitment to a single instrument in order to get there. Summer music camps, by the way, helped him identify these things, so that's a great suggestion.

    Somewhere in there, he also started truly composing music, and writing pieces that were a lot more complicated than straight up indie pop. He won a few awards for these, and started to spend more and more time recording/sequencing etc. Through dual enrollment, he was able to take a few college couses in computer music, production and theory. At the same time, his interest was more motivated by the creative impulse than desire for technical mastery. So he figured out that he didn't want to specialize strictly in recording engineering, for example.

    When it came time to apply to college, he had a portfolio of songs he written, performed, and recorded, plus performed scores, plus samples of photography, film, writing samples, programming work, and design. And he still played a mean, if not technically perfect, trumpet ;) I wasn't sure if there was any portfolio based program out there that would appreciate such diversity (or to my mind, lack of focus ;)) but as it turns out, there are a
    few that actually foster it.

    The programs we looked at each had their own flavor: NYU Tisch Clive Davis recording arts (emphasis on popular music production/performance, less on western/classical music per se, which he wanted more of); Belmont Mike Curb commercial music production; Indiana Jacobs Recording Arts (less traditional composition and more technical sound reinforcement in that curriculum at that time); Miami Frost commercial production/engineering and USC's at the time new popular music program. And his favorite - University of Michigan School of Music's Performing Arts Technology program, which had four streams of curriculum: a) performance and technology, multimedia technology, multimedia music and composition technology and music engineering (my lay terms in an attempt to be descriptive.)

    For some of the programs, he'd determined that he hadn't wanted to be that far away for undergrad, so he did not ultimately pursue them. Michigan was in-state for him, and because of his high academic performance as well, offered him a generous set of scholarships that covered tuition -- but even had it been OOS, it was still his favorite because he really did get to dabble in all the areas he said he wanted to go to school for way back when he was your son's age. Even though his program is highly specialized in music tech and composition (both computer comp and regular) with music theory and technology, his particular stream of BFA degree requires credits in film production (scoring and sound with the film production team), animation, engineering programming, stereo
    surround recording, mixing, mastering, interactive multimedia and performance, etc.

    Now, it's anybody's guess what he'll actually DO with such a specialized undergrad degree after he grafuates next spring. What i do know is that he will write, mix and otherwise muck around with music for the rest of his life whether he makes money doing so or not ;) when he chose this route, it was with his eyes wide open that he would ave to find a way to generate his sustinance, and that this particular degree was for love, not money!

    He still loves graphic design and web work, and through working with the company my husband and I own, he's exceedingly proficient at it and will never have trouble finding work with a web development company or creative agency. So I suppose that's his "fallback."

    If you see elements of your son in this, my advice is to have him look at some of those portfolio based programs and review the requirements. Help him find programs or teachers who can help build his production or composition skills now -- those programs are competitive. For example, four students were admitted to my son's stream, and at interview/auditions, there were literally students from all over the world and all on pretty much the same circuit to the same sets of schools. And encourage him to maintain the highest academic achievement possible -- many of the tech/production programs consider stats closely and some, like Michigan, even have a math cutoff score due to the nature of the engineering school where you do have to take courses.

    If performance is his primary goal but with contemporary/popular approach the berklee, USC, Belmont and NYU are likely stronger fits (though there are UM PAT students who actually have solid performance careers...but it's focus, while varied, is not really popular per se, though alternative, indi electronica, yes...eg Ritchie Hawtin was on a panel visit last week ;)

    I hope this gives you some fodder for thought and some information to share as his interests evolve. In my experience, showing early passion in these areas is not necessarily just a passing fancy...indeed it can be a harbinger of things to come ;)
  • cello-momcello-mom Registered User Posts: 86 Junior Member
    kmcmom, I sent you a private message.
  • jb1966jb1966 Registered User Posts: 212 Junior Member
    This is an interesting thread. I'm a professional musician with a kid who's applying to music schools, but I work in rock and roll and R&B and she's strictly classical. I work as a sideman with what you guys are calling "pop" musicians all the time and over thirty years of doing so I can remember one or maybe two coming out of Berkley or Oberlin. More likely they are coming out of other schools with English or Urban History degrees. "Pop" music just isn't something you study for, but something you would do whether you are getting paid for it or not. To a college prof it might be something described as "indigenous contemporary folk music". But I'm talking about destination as opposed to journey. What you learn at music institutions is valuable, and what your learn at a state school with a general major is valuable or not, both depending on how you regard them. What it really comes down to is between big tours and big albums, what do you want to be doing? It's all about being able to handle the "in between". Work at Walmart or work for Bank Of America, you are going to have to work for someone in some capacity and what can you handle?
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