If you’re considering a career in music, you’re probably thinking about going to music school or some sort of artistic trade school.  Music school is a lot of time, effort, and generally speaking, money to invest for a career that most likely won’t pay large sums of money.  So, is music school worth it?

The answer to this depends on you.  The questions you need to ask yourself to see if it will be worth it for you are:

Are you really sure that you want to dedicate your life to this?  Music making is a lifelong track, a process with a goal of perfection that won’t end until you die.

Are you willing to work hard every day and push yourself much more than you have before?  Music school is not for the faint of heart.  Whether it’s practicing many hours a day, studying for exams, composing, studying music history, learning music theory, practicing for ear training, performing, or getting involved in the musical scene, music school is a nonstop marathon.

Are you curious?  Musicians have to be investigative into their art, and carry it beyond what they are taught in school.  While you’re in music school, curiosity can be your best friend in advancing yourself, your studies, your community, and your potential for new opportunities.  Seek out extracurricular, social, technical, or artistic activities that can give you extra participation in the field.

Can you take criticism?  Much of the time you are there you will be criticized.  The best professors criticize constructively, but there are many who won’t give out criticism constructively.  You have to learn to swallow your pride, accept that you need improvement, take the criticism constructively (even if it isn’t constructive in tone or content), and carry on while trying to improve.

Can you see yourself out in the world and being able to deal with temporary or enduring struggles? Music jobs are hard to come by, and they generally don’t pay as well as other careers.  Even the best musicians try a long time before having full success.  One great musician I met through Twitter spent 14 years teaching in universities before finally getting a tenured, secure position.

Are you willing to advocate for yourself and the future of music?  It’s hard to overcome this for some people (including myself), but you have to be an open advocate of music and your music.  Otherwise, it is most likely that the music you love will die out or diminish.  The advocates for the arts are mostly artists themselves, and they have to remind society of the many value of the arts.

Are you okay with starting low on the ladder?  There is always someone better than you.  You will always be looking up to some child prodigy who is higher on the ladder than you, or some colleague who is much more ahead artistically and/or professionally.  You have to realize that growth takes time, and you have to believe in your chance for success, despite your starting position.

Are you okay with using up much of your free time for activities?  Rehearsals, long classes, large course loads, late night performances, and many other mandatory activities can really eat up your free time.  Socialization suffers, but it’s worth the payoff of getting good training if you invest your free time into music.

If you can answer these questions satisfactorily, and feel a pressing need to make music your career and life, then music school may be worth the investment for you.  Music is a very grass-roots, start-from-the-bottom career, and only through hard work, determination, and passion will you persevere.  I encourage you to talk with music students at schools you might apply to, perhaps getting their email addresses through the admissions office, and having an honest chat with them about the effort involved to get the rewards of a solid training.

I don’t mean to be a downer; I just wish entering students were more realistic and knew more about how much music school can kick your butt.  I didn’t expect it to, but it certainly kicked mine, and I am glad this butt-kicking enabled me to receive great training at a rigorous school.

Thanks for reading,

Dan