What Your Music Teacher Didn’t Tell You

Graduating music school

Graduation has come and gone. You defied your parents’ wishes of having a doctor in the family and instead majored in classical guitar with a minor in music of the late 1790s. Four years of expensive music school later—hours of practice, recitals, juries—you’re about to embark on a strange new world.

All-in-all, music school was wonderful. You finally belonged. The band-nerd caterpillar blossomed into a dazzling bachelor degree butterfly, well prepared to flutter around, spreading your fully realized talents as you go.

But what if your music teacher left something out between the Mixolydian mode and diatonic scale? For instance, did they happen to mention that life as a musician can be hard—a series of trial and error that can corrupt the creative process? Did they tell you that you might need one or two marketable skills beyond finger picking and a healthy knowledge of Beethoven—because all the beauty, expression, and creativity in the world may not always pay the rent? Did they instill in you the skills necessary to make a living while you try to achieve your dreams—the skills to find and keep a decent job that will not only provide for you, but also allow you the freedom to audition, play gigs, and explore creative outlets?

Well, they should have!

I’m not trying to put a negative slant on the study and pursuit of music. Nay—I’m here to shed some light on the other side of the story. A lot of research shows that you’re more likely to actually achieve your dreams if you have a realistic sense of the challenges in your way. It’s very romantic to get caught in the art, the creation, the angst, but you must hone your survival tactics and grow a thick skin, impermeable to rejection.

At the end of the day, being able to live your dreams as a musician requires knowing how to make it as a musician.

I’d like to pass on three quick tidbits that I wish my music teachers told me at my prestigious conservatory when I, then a wide-eyed newbie, echoed my tones through its hallowed halls.

  • As a business of one, you need to act like a business. That means learning how to scale quickly, networking along the way, and employing others like agents and managers to do the dirty work.
  • As a musician, you are a business of one. The day I graduated, I not only became the product, but also the CEO, the head of marketing, the sole member of the sales team, and yes, the mail room clerk. If something was to happen, I had to do it.
  • The hardest parts are the things around the music. I would have savored a list of bars where alums worked in order to land a day job quickly. I would have treasured a guide to finding apartments in NYC, rather than relying on Craigslist weirdoes and brokers aimed at fleecing me of my meager net worth.

There are probably tons of things your music teacher didn’t teach you. The moral of this story is: you never stop learning. As cliché as that may sound, it’s totally true. If I stuck around school long enough to learn everything I’ve picked up whilst a starving artist… well—I’d still be in school—14 years later. The pursuit of music is artistic, enriching, beautiful, and right where you should be—just never stop asking questions.

Share in the comments below some of the most important things you’ve learned since graduating music school. 

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