You Do YOU – Using Your Music Degree To Chart Your Own Course

A while back, I sat in in my former academic advisor’s office and cried. A LOT. As a “together” girl, it was hard trying to maintain my academic persona to someone who most definitely held a position on Robin’s Music Pedestal (right up there with Aaron Copland and Hugh Jackman…did you know that man can SING?!)

So why was I crying? I was about to graduate summa cum laude with my uh-second degree in music education, and it was dawning on me that I didn’t actually want to teach……………..at least not in the traditional sense.

My advisor, the kind-hearted, beautiful, compassionate, wonderful woman that she was (and a long-time music educator herself) said to me these words, and I’ll never forget them:

“Robin, just because the paper says one thing doesn’t mean you have to do that.”

I stopped honking snot into a tissue long enough to consider this before my head exploded. I pretty much walked out of her office having spattered brain matter all over her chronologically-ordered Music Educator’s Journals. 

I think it’s important that any wandering musician pause in their fervent pursuit of The Perfect Job and just consider the fact that maybe you have to make your own “perfect.”  How many people, musicians or otherwise, do you know are doing exactly what they want and what’s printed on their degree? How many of those suckers thought that was what they’d be doing and wouldn’t change A THING about anything, nosirreebob? Bill Gates, maybe?

Here’s the mind-blowing truth (try to hold your brains in if possible):

No one has the perfect job.  Maybe not even Bill Gates. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise.

The truthier-truth: there are musicians who find contentment and happiness using their skills in ways they enjoy. If you are uber-competitive and enjoy the thrill of high-stakes auditions, then do it. If you like using songs to teach first graders how to line up, then I think that’s swell! If you’re convinced you are the world’s next expert on French art song, then by golly, get. it. done. No job is perfect, but if you’re like me, and at the end of the day have very little to complain about, then you’re probably in a good place.

So how do you get there?

Basically, do everything until you do one thing (or a few things). My one thing is I can’t do one thing, and I like it that way. Explore. Create. Listen. Diversify. Actively try to do something new in every genre of music. You may suck, but at least then you know what works for you and what doesn’t. I was trained classically (no deflated soft palates around here!), but as it turns out, I have a knack for getting high school sopranos not to sound like screechy prima donnas (and yes, I used to be one and you probably are one, too…let’s start a SPD anonymous club). My first three years out of college, here are just some of the ways I jumped on the “DIY musician” bandwagon:

  • Taught prepubescent middle-schoolers how to get their choir on
  • Cycled through about 8,098 private students
  • Hung out with some certifiable theater people (have you ever met theater folk? They’re an interesting breed) in shows and musicals
  • Jazz-gig-ed it up at some local events and dives
  • Sang some Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring at weddings (just kidding…you can’t sing that..or can you?)
  • Wrote some mediocre songs
  • Taught college kids who Hildegard von Bingen is and how to CITE YOUR SOURCES

Essentially, your options are as numerable as the calories I eat a day (and I eat out more than I care to admit, folks…think on that for a little bit). When you’re down and out about another failed job opportunity, consider charting your own course instead. Just because you’re not working THE MET doesn’t mean you are a failure as a person. In fact, you might find yourself happier because you have more control over your life!

Here are a FRACTION of the ways to ensure you use at least a portion of that uber-expensive piece of paper:

  • Teach lessons. Bonus points if you can teach more than one instrument or level
  • Put on a recital or performance and charge admission (check your copyrights)
  • Design a music camp for kids or adults
  • Transcribe or arrange music for a fee
  • Accompany a show, concert, or even one singer in a recital (we all had to pass piano proficiency, so just get on it!)
  • Teach classes at a college, night school, church, community center, or online
  • Adjudicate competitions or auditions
  • Teach a masterclass for your own studio or someone else’s (or both!)
  • Music-direct a show or offer to sit in on a rehearsal and evaluate
  • Write or edit program notes for performances
  • Gig at a local restaurant, venue, or event
  • Perform at a wedding
  • DJ a wedding (if you have iTunes and a reasonably confident speaking voice, you can make it happen)
  • Design or evaluate a musical curriculum for a school or college
  • Offer consultations on searching for an instrument or music teacher
  • Write music and sell it. Sell it like it’s hot.
  • Teach a composition workshop
  • Be a church musician or director
  • Manage a musical ensemble
  • Recommend musical products or events and then review them
  • Serve as a panelist or speaker at music conferences and events (organize your own!)

I could go into a whole separate post on how to do each of these, and may in the future, but for now, take this as a STARTER list of Completely Ingenious Ways to Stop Crying On Your Advisor’s Shoulder. Because you shouldn’t have to take that backup retail job unless you’re happy working on Thanksgiving (only in Amurrrica).

How do YOU get your music degree on?

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