Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dr "glass-half-empty" Coyote

Hate to do it, but when a 16-year-old writes and says "all I really want to do in my life is compose and record music--what are my career options", if you're a responsible respondent, there ain't but about one kind of answer [lightly redacted]:

Sure, I remember you.

The fact of the matter is that there are very, very few full-time jobs to be had playing and composing music for a living. This is why most people who DO make a living in music have one or more parallel streams: arranging, teaching, etc--and many others have full-time non-music jobs.

To be a full-time musician, you have to have (a) absolutely top-notch chops; (b) a good support network (to tide you over between jobs, or in the event of unforeseen problems--medical, financial, etc; (c) a relentless work ethic--12-14 hours per day; (d) a great deal of patience and fortitude, being prepared to put up with the possibility of years of poverty and/or frustration; and (e) a lot of luck. (a) through (d) are do-able--because they are (mostly) under your own control. (e) is a killer, because it is not. I've been a professor for 10 years. Before that I was in graduate school (Master's and a Doctorate) 12 years. Before that I lived on less than $20,000/year for about 6 years. All through those years I had straight jobs to help pay the rent.

I would encourage you by all means to keep writing, keep recording, keep working on your chops. But unless you are prepared to either be a music teacher, and get the necessary formal schooling that certifies you for that, or else to accept a great deal of uncertainty, unpredictability, and (probably) poverty), I would not advise that you try to make a full-time career in music.

Be advised that there are LOTS of very talented musicians who don't work full-time or exclusively in music: I know psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers, carpenters, auto mechanics, etc who are every bit as talented and make music every bit as good as that created by "full-time musicians." You can do the same.

Probably the most valuable things you can do right now are to (a) keep working on your chops; (b) diversify your skills: learn about marketing, computers, graphic design, contract law, copyright law, etc; (c) work with a lot of different collaborating musicians--expand your horizons and your network of contacts; (d) get out there and gig, in as many different types of circumstances as possible. My wife's nephew has had songs he's written pitched to Avril Lavigne--but he's not counting on that to make his fortune. He's also going to college for music education; also plays drums, guitar, and trumpet; also sight-reads like a whip and sings bass; is also an excellent beat-boxer. The competition is fierce and there are thousands upon thousands of excellent musicians out there.

Good luck.

Dr Coyote
Reading back, it's a big bummer, though not intended to be such. Just cain't lie to the young'uns about possible/impossible it might be.

Updated to add: he wrote back:
Thank you for some practical advice, instead of the "don't do it" I'm getting from everyone else. I will look into some other options, as I really don't want to be poor.
Guess it was the right medicine. One doesn't always know.

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