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Music School, Debt, and Career Planning

chromaticstaticchromaticstatic 0 replies1 threads New Member
I have a 9th grade son who is interested in studying Jazz, plays alto sax and clarinet for 4-5 yrs. There was a music school fair set up at one of his recent performances and I got a chance to speak to my local university as well as reps from New School, Manhattan School of Music and others.
I am an amateur musician and my wife is a visual artist. We appreciate the value of pursuing a passion and want support our son. I am looking for (if it exists) resources on what a music school graduate can expect for their transition into professional life. Foremost is the ability to pay off 150-250k debt with a music degree. I'm sure people on this forum have answers for this question, but from a ROI perspective it doesn't make 100% sense to me.
I'm sure there are many music students who don't need to factor educational debt but I would guess that is a minorty. A few takeaways from my recent conversations I would appreciate your feedback. I am paraphrasing the admissions folks:

--nearly all music school graduates will need to teach to support their income
--on the same note, it is nearly unheard of to make a living 100% off performance income
--anyone serious about studying music should focus on NY, LA or Nashville.
--Music school students regularly play for side $$$ while in school
--the high tuition at the major music schools in NY and Boston is paying a premium to be in a large metropolitan center of music with the attendant opportunities for networking and performance

Thanks!
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Replies to: Music School, Debt, and Career Planning

  • compmomcompmom 11523 replies81 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2019
    Many of us avoid debt for our musician/artist/dancer/actor kids at all costs. For some musicians, grad school in music follows, and that is also a consideration. A doctorate that includes a master's is often a good way to deal with grad school, if you can get in. (It seems that jazz musicians may go into performance versus grad school, but I cannot generalize since my family does not include a jazz musician).

    The freestanding conservatories cost more because they are not part of a university or college. Often freestanding conservatories do not give a lot of financial aid and even the merit aid can be less than needed (see the thread on merit aid). There are less costly alternatives in NY and Boston, so I don't believe that explanation of cost entirely.

    An argument can be made, at least for some musicians, that studying off the beaten path can enhance development before the pressures of the marketplace and competitive stress enter the picture. For instance, Oberlin....Lawrence....Ithace....others.....Also, I would add New Orleans for jazz!

    I have cited an old study that said music majors, as a group, had the highest admit rate to medical school of any major. This is now obsolete but just want to raise the point that a young person can spend 4 years doing what they love and still choose to go to grad or professional school in law, medicine, nursing, business etc. and/or enter an entirely different career path.

    In terms of continuing with music, it is a tough road, but many on here will tell you their kids are making it. Were you referring to teaching privately? Some musicians need a doctorate to teach (sometimes a master's) but I don't know about jazz.

    There are other job opportunities within music: running festivals, working for talent agencies, working for music non-profits, doing outreach in schools....Interning during college years can also provide skills that can transfer to other types of non-profits.

    The Internet and social media, live-streaming and other technological advances (I guess that's the word?!) have changed things a bit for some musicians.

    Finally, your son is still very young. Granted, many musicians develop the work ethic and passion needed during high school, but others come to it late. Some 9th graders may end up with entirely different interests by 12 grade. I would try to avoid defining your son by music prematurely, so to speak. Many parents who are dealing with talent also deal with the need to give the kid space and not make them feel they have to follow the path of their talent :) Hard as that is....

    And as you well know there are satisfactions in being an amateur. Don't get me wrong, I am kind of passionate about kids pursuing music, but for a 9th grader, it is good to know there are many ways to go.

    In fact, some don't go to music school at all but go to a college or university and do a BA (in music or not) and do music performance as an extracurricular.

    Make sure to read the Double Degree Dilemma essay posted closer to the top of this forum. Good luck!
    edited October 2019
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  • JeJeJeJeJeJe 278 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Hello! I am a parent for a jazz instrumentalist who studies jazz at the private conservatory. My son decided pretty much on music major in middle of 8th grade but couldn’t decide until almost at end of 10th grade which music to pursue, jazz or classical. So, 9th grade isn’t too early to decide on music major for some young musicians. There are many auditions and summer programs in high school years before college application year starts.

    compmom is correct. Many of us (musicians and parents) try to avoid debt on music educations. As we went through college applications recently, we found out that there weren’t much of financial aids for middle class family musicians at private conservatories. Scholarships were merit/talent heavy at those schools. Universities with meet-need might be different.

    MY FEEDBACK.

    nearly all music school graduates will need to teach to support their income
    YES.

    --on the same note, it is nearly unheard of to make a living 100% off performance income
    EXCEPT SOME GRAMMY AWARD MUSICIANS OR TOURING MUSICIANS.

    --anyone serious about studying music should focus on NY, LA or Nashville.
    NO. BIGGER MARKET MAY BE MORE COMPETITIVE TO GET OPPORTUNITIES TO START CAREER.

    --Music school students regularly play for side $$$ while in school
    YES. BUT IT DEPENDS ON THE LOCATION AND THE PERFORMANCE LEVEL.

    --the high tuition at the major music schools in NY and Boston is paying a premium to be in a large metropolitan center of music with the attendant opportunities for networking and performance
    YES AT SOME DEGREE BUT NOT 100% TRUE.
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  • Parentof2014gradParentof2014grad 1053 replies13 threads Senior Member
    $150-250k debt? That's a frightening amount for any student, and most of it would have to be cosigned by parents. My two recent college grads in majors (one is an engineer and both are in good jobs) that tend to pay much better than music would be buried by that. And student loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy either.

    As some others have said, we are avoiding debt for our musician. We did for our other kids too, and they've already thanked us for that as they see their friends stress about loan payments.

    We do know a recent college grad who is making it as a musician. As far as I know he's not teaching, just working in performance. He seems to mostly be playing on broadway touring shows. He did go to school in NY and still lives there. He went to my kids' high school and he was very talented. It's not impossible but he may be an exception rather than a rule. I don't know.

    My S is a freshman at UNT. There do seem to be opportunities to get paid to play. I wouldn't say they are getting paid $$$ to play. More like $ for the most part. S has accompanied another student's voice lesson on piano, and been paid to play/sing in someone's electronic music something-or-other. He hears of other students being paid to sing or lead sections in church choirs in the area, or being paid to play in local community orchestras. He has a friend who makes good money playing locally in a band every weekend, but that kid is from the area and was doing it before starting college. I'm sure there are other examples. The area around the college and the Dallas area in general has an active music scene from what I can tell in the short period of time I've been observing. We do not live in Texas.

    I wouldn't ignore the networking opportunities in the major music centers like NY, Nashville, LA, but networking happens in other places too. The music world has a lot of connections. People know each other and talk. My son has been on campus just a couple of months and already I can see the networks forming for him among his fellow students and with professors and others. People are successful coming from other places too.

    If a student makes all kinds of connections in college in NY but can't quite afford to stay there after college because they can't afford rent and food and the $2000/mo student loan payment, was it worth it? It's probably also worthwhile to consider where and to what degree the student has a network of support from family and others as he gets started in his career, particularly if debt is involved. You don't want your student's decision making early in his music career to be controlled by huge student loan payments.

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  • songbirdmamasongbirdmama 473 replies23 threads Member
    Agree that limiting debt is critical, regardless of what area they pursue!

    Also agree that there are plenty of areas where a student can make great connections, not just Nashville NY or LA EG: @GoForth 's son -- he seems to have had a very successful undergraduate experience and gigging opportunities/good paying summer jobs via UNT. And what about San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Miami, Boston, to name a few?

    Maybe being in NY will up their chances of getting a lucky break. Talent may get them past an audition. But neither alone will get them regular steady employment without being reliable and prepared. Having a network isn't useful unless you know how to use it and are worth recommending. Just my $0.02
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  • akapiratequeenakapiratequeen 1274 replies37 threads Senior Member
    Agree with others that six-figure debt would be a big problem. We found that music schools are aware of this and that the merit scholarships were much more substantial than for other types of programs. There's a thread on this somewhere, but in my son's case, he was offered between $0 and $72k annually in pure merit aid from schools that accepted him. He's a good player, not a prodigy -- a few places just really wanted to buy what he was selling that year. So I wouldn't rule it out.

    Everyone's finances are different, of course. In our case, we had saved enough to cover the cost of our state flagship college, at in-state rates. Combining that amount with merit offers and deciding not to take on debt, he ended up with a choice of four schools: one conservatory, one state college, and two private universities with music schools. Luckily one of them was his dream school. Best of luck!
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  • tdy123tdy123 1044 replies18 threads Senior Member
    --nearly all music school graduates will need to teach to support their income

    Indeed. Even the highest paid salaried musicians (NY Phil, etc.) derive a significant portion (half or more) of their income from teaching.

    I have a friend who is a classical musician, probably top 20-30 in the world as a soloist in his instrument.

    He makes his living from a combination of:

    Full time tenured music professor.
    Extensive traveling around the world for performing gigs and master classes.

    When being near the top of your profession still requires scrambling to make a living sufficient to support a family, it should make anyone who's child is considering music as a career very concerned.
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  • akapiratequeenakapiratequeen 1274 replies37 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2019
    "When being near the top of your profession still requires scrambling to make a living sufficient to support a family, it should make anyone who's child is considering music as a career very concerned."

    Yes and no, I think. My family is littered with recovering lawyers who wish they had followed their passions. If your kid has what it takes to get through music school (hopefully with little or no debt), he or she can have an exciting, fulfilling career that may or may not involve teaching. Most of the musicians I know don't look at the variety of work they do as a scramble -- it's more a gift that comes with being able to make a living doing what you really love.
    edited October 2019
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  • bridgenailbridgenail 1199 replies6 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2019
    Here are a few addl comments.

    1.) Avoid/minimize debt!! Any professional in "the business" claiming that a very high premium to study in NYC (or at their prestigious school anywhere) is necessary for success...is not on your side. They are on the revenue-generation side of the school. Buyer BEWARE!! Your student can certainly audition there..bc they may offer you a decent deal (even at a reasonable NYC premium for you). If they offer NO deal...I would suggest taking your money elsewhere.

    2.) You can always move to the the big city (which ever one you choose) after college. A good friend of my D's will have his Broadway debut next month! He went to his flagship college (still a competitive program), worked for two years in the local market, obtained Equity and THEN moved to NYC. It took a year as a dog walker and living in his friend's basement but he finally got the offer. The guy that he is living with went to NYU and is still waiting for his. Will you be slightly behind in contacts after college? Sure. Does it matter a couple years later? No.

    3.). Ask yourself away from all the noise: what are you willing to pay for? What are your priorities? Fear is a great motivator...but sometimes in a wrong direction. Are you paying for connections, success, access only? Or are you paying for an education and maybe a few of the others for a certain premium in price? I saw some of the prices at certain schools and looked at my little buckeroo...and said...well I’ll meet you part way. I’ll pay for a decent bachelors degree and the rest is on your shoulders. I’m not paying big bucks and going into debt to land you in the middle of success (maybe). I’ll give you the tools to find your own way to the middle of success ... if you so chose to go there in your twenties.

    And just think if your child fails? What’s the result? A job with benefits? That’s the kind of failure that won’t keep me up at night.

    Take your time. Research lots of schools. And don’t think you should or could buy success. And I know that’s not what you are asking...but there is an element of that in believing a high tuition school with lots of debt is justified. It’s simply not. Your kid is better than that.
    edited October 2019
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  • GoForthGoForth 815 replies29 threads Member
    edited October 2019
    Hi. I saw my name mentioned above. So, I think anyone serious about music is serious about music. I don't suspect there is a way to buy your way in to a career, but it is more selling your way in. S does know adults who make their living just with music - such as having a collection of paid church gigs, a regular Latin band gig, some other gigs, maybe country gigs, and possibly/maybe some private lesson instruction revenue. Sometimes a spouse has a job to add into the family revenue picture. He also knows someone who is evaluating living in their car who only does music. There are, in S and his friends cases, plenty of options to gig for some extra money during school. The best one we know of is a bassist job at a church that S was able to sub for once - it paid nicely. The guy who has it could pay about half of a single apartment rent with that job in TX.
    edited October 2019
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  • bridgenailbridgenail 1199 replies6 threads Senior Member
    @tdy123 Wait a minute...your friend is a full time tenured professor...and is scrambling to get by? My sister in law is a full time tenured professor (with no worldwide gigs - it’s not music) and she makes a decent living with good benefits. What school is he tenured at?
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  • GoForthGoForth 815 replies29 threads Member
    edited October 2019
    For state schools, it is possible to look up all the salaries. Since it is a matter of public record, S's lesson professor is somewhere around 80-90K per year. The department head of the jazz school above him, with a doctorate, is closer to 140K if I recall correctly.
    edited October 2019
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  • GoForthGoForth 815 replies29 threads Member
    A noticeable number of S's classmates also go into the armed forces as musicians, such as in the Airmen of Note, so there is that.
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  • TomSrOfBostonTomSrOfBoston 15719 replies1051 threads Senior Member
    If your student is adventurous you may want to consider McGill University in Montreal. It's Schulich School of Music is very strong in jazz studies. Montreal has an amazing music scene at all levels. And international tuition is currentky C$19,000/year or about US$14,400/year. Both merit and need based aid is available to Americans.
    https://mcgill.ca/music/
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  • MusakParentMusakParent 1061 replies9 threads Senior Member
    Anyone acquiring over 100K in debt for an undergrad degree is most likely making a mistake. It's not possible for a student to take that on without a cosigner. Even more so for someone hoping to pursue the arts. That type of debt can be life crippling for a new grad.

    We focused on programs that a least had some history with decent merit amounts where my kid could potentially double degree. Not all of them are generous. Some of them save most of their funds for grad students. This is where the homework can really pay off. We could have done a little bit better on that frankly. It can vary widely depending on faculty and department needs and what kind of applicant your kid is. Life is easier if your kid aligns well with faculty goals if they're applying for performance degrees.

    My freshman will graduate debt free and we are paying a fraction of our EFC. We would have considered letting him take the federal loans (up to 27K) for the right opportunity. But mostly because we wanted him to be really invested if we made a more expensive choice.

    He also flip flopped on college direction several times throughout high school. So I agree with not pigeon holing a student too soon. And plenty get to college and switch, etc. It's good to keep options open. The best thing to do is a parent is to figure out what you can afford on your end. Talking to a financial advisor both about college and retirement was very helpful here.

    We really did find faculty fit the most important piece when we came down to making a decision. But no way would I consider options that would require any where near that level of student debt.
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  • GoForthGoForth 815 replies29 threads Member
    edited November 2019
    OP, Samurai Guitarist had some ideas about moving to a bigger venue versus not:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_b9gNKZTuk
    edited November 2019
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  • jadedhavenjadedhaven 56 replies3 threads Junior Member
    edited November 2019
    A lot can happen between 9th grade and applying for college. Passions change for teenagers in those years, but if your child is still interested in becoming a music performance major in his junior year my advice would be as follows;

    Determine a realistic college budget now and start saving as much as possible.

    It is very common to find a $10K to $30K cost per year, high quality music school. You will have to cast a wide a wide net and do your research far in advance of applications.

    Search for instrument specific professors over name brand schools. The teacher fit is all important for your child.

    Don't be afraid to apply to top notch, expensive private schools/conservatories, they sometimes offer amazing scholarships/financial aid to talented students they want to recruit.

    Take your child's academics into consideration. If they are high stats AP/IB students with high SAT/ACT scores, they may qualify for additional academic scholarships stacked on top of music scholarships at many private and state schools.

    Take a serious look at state schools, many have great music programs and top notch instrument professors. For example, UNT in Denton, TX has the most sought after euphonium professor in the country. There are lots of jewels to be mined at affordable state schools if you do your homework.

    Nearly every professor at the schools my child applied to were either currently playing in a major symphony orchestra or had recently retired from one. They all work the American or European summer festival circuit in addition to holding expensive clinics, recording and giving private lessons.

    They all make a very nice living doing the thing they love best.

    I think there is a very viable path to earning a good living for music performance majors, it just may not be the traditional nine to five jobs most us live.

    All that said, I firmly in the camp of keeping your music major kid debt free for undergrad. That can be done with realistic financial planning and focused college applications.















    edited November 2019
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  • GoForthGoForth 815 replies29 threads Member
    edited November 2019
    UNT is also a school that is best approached academically for money. One of S's friends was a National Merit Finalist (SAT scores), so he got a free ride. Yep, that's right. Music merit tens to be a fixed $1,000 per year, which does unlock in-state tuition rates. But even S, who is decent academically got most of his scholarship dollars from his academic scores.
    edited November 2019
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  • jadedhavenjadedhaven 56 replies3 threads Junior Member
    UNT is very generous with academic money for top students, the little bit of music money is a nice sweetener. My youngest was offered a full tuition scholarship between the two.

    I think the music school is a much better fit for jazz musicians than classical musicians overall. Although a neighbor's daughter who is a harpist at UNT seems to be excelling under her professor.

    It all comes back to fit for instrument, the student and the professor. At the end of the day, nobody cares where you went to school.

    The question is, can you play?







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