What to Major In at College to Get Your Music Industry Dream Job: Part 1
For some careers, the path from the classroom to the workplace is simple and well-defined.
Generally speaking, Engineers study engineering. Art Historians study art history. However, figuring out what degree you need to land your dream job in the music industry can be a bit more nebulous. What do you study to become a Tour Manager, for example? Do you even need to go to college?
We often get emails from people who are considering college for the first time, or thinking about making a career change; they’re wondering what they need to do to have a decent shot at working in their chosen segment of the music industry. Of course, just as in any field, a college degree in say, vocal performance, doesn’t guarantee you’ll become an Opera Singer. The ability to follow through on your dreams is up to you. But a college education in music can give you the necessary skills, work experience and connections you need to be successful.
In this blog, we’ll be breaking down the basics of what you should study to get on the track to certain music industry careers, and delve a bit into what your college experience will be like. We’ll discuss the different types of degrees, and when and if you’ll want to start thinking about graduate school. We’ll cover the most searched for careers on our website and the ones we get the most emails about, so if you’re interested in working as a Singer, Music Producer, Music Teacher, Songwriter, Lyricist, Composer, Tour Manager, or Music Director, read on.
Singer, Background Singer, Opera Singer, Musical Theatre Singer
A college degree obviously isn’t required to become a Singer or a Background Singer, but it can help. For those who want to be Opera Singers or Musical Theatre Actors, an academic training program is absolutely essential. No matter what type of singing you’re interested in, taking the time to buckle down and focus on your craft through regular lessons in vocal performance, pedagogy and music theory will lead you to becoming a stronger, more knowledgeable performer. Many people say they want to be Singers; a visible commitment and dedication to furthering your musical education will set you apart from the pack professionally. Additionally, attending a music degree program will give you insider knowledge of auditions for operas, performance companies, and musical theatre Producers. As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, being an active part of a supportive music community is necessary for growth and success as an artist. College is where you’ll start building this community.
You’d be hard pressed to find a university Music Department that didn’t offer a program in vocal performance, but the different types of degrees and courses of study can vary. While a Music Performance degree is standard, you can also find programs in Popular Music, Vocal Jazz, and Contemporary Music, among others. Some common degree options you’ll find are the B.M. (Bachelor of Music), which focuses intensely on the performance aspect, the B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), which allows students to dedicate their studies to music within a liberal arts context (read: a more general degree, but with wider applications in the world outside of music school) and the B.F.A., another degree with a strict music focus. Generally speaking, students do not have to audition for B.A. programs; they will for a B.F.A. or B.M. program.
Lots of people teach themselves to produce simply by messing around with software, watching YouTube tutorials, and learning from friends. No one is going to ask you if you went to college for production as long as your work sounds polished, professional, and distinctive. However, to make sure you’re up on the latest trends in production, utilizing Ableton Live or Logic Pro for all they’re worth, and to build your community network of artists and Producers, academic training is a smart idea.
Some schools will offer a general Music Production degree, while others will specialize further, with degrees such as Electronic Music Production & Sound Design or Digital Music Production. Whether you choose to enroll in an A.A. (Associates Degree) or a B.A. program, you should look for a program that gives you plenty of hands-on experience and potential internship opportunities.
Perhaps you already know you can take online classes or study at local instrument or songwriting schools, but did you know several universities actually offer a Songwriting B.A. or a Singer-Songwriter B.S. degree? Coursework will focus on developing lyric writing, arranging, and musical composition skills, as well as on honing each student’s unique voice and style. Many programs also feature studio production classes, so aspiring Lyricists and Songwriters can create their own demos—an invaluable skill for someone just getting started in the industry. Training for this career in a collegiate setting will also help build your ring of contacts, which will make collaborating with Singers, musicians, and other Songwriters much easier than if you were just sitting at home and writing lyrics by yourself.
Whether your dream is to teach music as a College, Conservatory, or University Music Teacher, Private Instrument Teacher or a Music Teacher, a degree in Music Education is a must. Depending on the school you choose, concentrations within your B.A., B.M., or B.M.E. (Bachelors of Music Education) program can include Choral or Instrumental Music Education or Elementary, Secondary or K-12 Education. No matter what concentration you choose, your program will likely include instruction in music history, conducting, music theory and aural skills. You will also take music lessons, with a focus on one or two major instruments.
Programs will include a student teaching component, which prepares students to gain their teaching licensure. Usually an undergraduate degree is enough for Teachers at the K-12 level, although a graduate degree can lead to greater earnings and the opportunity to move into supervisory positions. Those who wish to teach at the college level will need at least an M.A. or M.Ed. (Masters of Education).
Whether your interest in composition lies along the more traditional Composer route, in working as a Film Composer, or tends towards the newer field of work as a Video Game Composer, academic training will give you the knowledge necessary to help your raw musical talent really bloom. You’ll study music theory, take instrument lessons, learn your way around recording software and studios, and hone your composition skills. While in school, students will create a diverse portfolio of their own work, showcasing their unique voice.
Some of the most popular Composition B.A., B.F.A. or B.M. programs are located in cities with sizable entertainment industries, giving students access to networking and internship opportunities in the worlds of film, TV and video games. Although not strictly necessary, some students may want to consider a more specialized M.A. or M.M. (Masters of Music) or Ph.D. to further enhance their skill set.
In all honesty, on-the-job experience with live music and touring is more important than a college degree if you want to become a Tour Manager. If you choose to attend school, though, a specialized Music Business degree will help you get familiar with the economics of the industry and the jargon, and develop many of the leadership skills required. Music Business programs also help students meet and develop the wider circle of industry contacts necessary to land a job. Think about it: by majoring in this field, you’ll meet talented musicians, Producers, and future industry professionals on the rise—exactly the type of people who will at some point want to hire a Tour Manager. Plus internships and program-specific extracurriculars such as a campus record label or concert venue can help students build their work experience.
Whether or not you decide to attend school on your path to becoming a Tour Manager, you’ll need to hustle. Academic education is always a plus, but for this job in particular, the connections and experience you gain by working in the live music industry are the most important factor in getting you out on the road.
If your goal is to become a radio station’s Music Director, you could find coursework in Music History, Music Business, Communications or Radio and Television interesting and conducive to your career path. However, your undergraduate degree doesn’t matter as much as your hands-on radio experience. Therefore it’s important to choose a school with a student-run radio station where you’ll have the chance to work as a Radio DJ or in another administrative role within the station. Competition for station jobs can be fierce, so even if you don’t land the Music Director role, you can still work as the Program Director or as the Marketing Director and set yourself up for success after graduation. If your school doesn’t have a campus station and you’re not willing or able to transfer, look into volunteer, internship or job shadowing opportunities at local public, commercial or community radio stations. Like many music industry careers, the road to becoming a Music Director means you’ll have to make your own opportunities.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog next month when we’ll delve into what you should study to become a working Music Therapist, Booking Agent, Conductor, Recording Engineer, Music Journalist, Musician, Stage Manager, and A&R Coordinator or Director.
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