The requisite statistics are sobering. Universities and conservatories graduate more students each year than there are positions in an ever-changing marketplace. Mom and Dad, you're right to worry, but I'm here to tell you that there is hope! Yes, it can be done. Yes, your child can not only survive, but thrive....but it will require their best effort.
- Take piano lessons.
Every music major will likely have to have 3 or 4 semesters of class piano in their plan of study at an American college or university. If you haven't had piano lessons before college, it can be daunting, especially in a class setting where you might feel like your questions are silly. I know I felt that way, and it made the entire experience much harder than it had to be. I was a pretty good trombone player going into my freshman year, but when I was in the piano room, all I could think about was how behind I was!
- Learn basic music theory.
Like piano, music theory (or tonal harmony) can be overwhelming to someone who has never been exposed to the subject before. Piano lessons will help your theory, and theory will help your piano playing. Much like the relationship between operations in mathematics, skills in music are interrelated. Find a local pianist in town, and chances are that they can tutor you in BOTH theory and piano.
- Befriend current music majors.
Every music major will have a "studio" for their instrument or area. On this website, I have a page with student biographies where you can learn some basic information about each student. Seek out the students studying the instrument at the school you want to attend, Facebook them and introduce yourself! Don't talk about your many honors and accolades in high school when you introduce yourself...just let them know that you're interested in doing what they do and let the conversation unfold naturally. With a few exceptions, I think you'll find that most of them are more than willing to share their experiences and opinions with you. You'll understand the music program from the perspective of the student, which can be a nice perspective shift from any brochures that the music program might give you.
- Learn to communicate with Mom and Dad.
I know this can be hard, particularly when you seem to lock horns over every little issue these days. I can almost guarantee that your parents are just as frustrated with you as you are with them. They see their kid, who just yesterday was running around in diapers, getting ready to go out into the world for the first time on their own. Guess what? Mom and Dad will be your lifeline that first year, as you learn how to iron dress shirts, budget your money, and figure out this thing called life.
- Mom and Dad, learn to communicate with your child.
There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for all my parents have done, and continue to do, for me. When I was 18, you might have gotten me to chop off a pinky finger before I would admit that in public. I was scared that I would fail. Ultimately, I had a rougher go of it because I was worried about the reaction when things DID take a turn for the worse. Above all else, when they mess up (and they will) hug them first and then get to the matter of righting the ship. Soon enough, they will be calling you more and more often with questions, and eventually, you'll be the smartest people they know. :)
- Cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit.
In 2015, you have more opportunities and avenues to promote yourself than ever before. Social media and digital recording have become so user friendly that marketing your product as a musician is easier than ever! However, the product itself must be worth showcasing! There will be plenty of time for your own YouTube channel or an awesome website, but for now, the best place to be is in the practice room, doing everything your teacher tells you to do. :)
In the meantime, the following things will help your chances of employment, and if for no other reason than the rite of passage into the musician's world, you should do them:
For the gigs you end up playing, have basic business cards (I get mine at vistaprint.com) printed up so that when you're asked (and yes, you'll be asked...the music world hasn't gone completely digital, yet) you will have something professional looking to give them. Throw a handful in your instrument case, keep a few in the jacket pocket of your black gig suit, and a few more in your tuxedo jacket. Have extras in your car. Remember, each gig is an audition for the next gig, so stay on your toes, keep your ears open, and your mouth closed. You'll learn a lot if you handle it this way.
Start sketching your musical resume. Imagine two students showing up showing up to their college audition. Both are in freshly pressed dress clothes, and both sound great. One is able to present a crisp, freshly printed resume, while the other one scratches their head when asked about their achievements. While content is certainly important, the package is also important! The head scratcher without a resume might actually have a more impressive list of accomplishments, but they simply couldn't sell themselves as well as the candidate with the copy in hand. The resume writer might be so nervous in the moment that they can't remember anything, but they don't have to! Can you imagine, in a scenario where only one spot is open but two or more are auditioning, which auditioning player will get the nod if all other variables are equal?
If you already have a presence on social media, go over everything and remove anything that you wouldn't want your grandmother (or mother) to see. While it might be on the tightest lockdown available, sometimes all it takes is being friends with a mutual friend to be able to see enough on a profile to create doubt. Cultivate your online presence as much as you can, as early as you can.
Naturally, there are other points to consider, but this should give you a pretty good idea of where to start. This is a rich, fulfilling career path, and for those of you who can't imagine yourself doing anything else, then I invite you to give it all you've got! If I can be of any further assistance to you or your family during this tough time, please contact me for more information, or reply to this blog post below!