What to Do When Music Isn't Your Career
 

Something that a lot of prospective music majors discover in their first year or two at college is this: music isn’t the right career for everyone. Music is mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding. It is incredibly competitive. There is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll ever “succeed” in a performance career, no matter how good a player you are. You might lack the stamina or dedication or sheer cussedness required to audition a thousand times and get rejected 997 of that 1000. Even if you have a real chance at a “lucrative” career (by musician standards - compared to, say, dentistry, even successful musicians don’t make a ton), you may not want to travel as constantly as is required to make that work. 

That’s okay.

No really, that is okay.

You can still be completely, 100% dedicated to music as your passion, and not want to figure out how to make a living off of it.

You can even keep music as a driving force in your life! It just requires some thought.

Figure out how you do want music in your life. Okay, so you’ve decided that music is not to be your Career. That’s fine! Do you want to use it as a side-hustle, earning some cash a couple evenings a week gigging? Do you want to join community ensembles? Is it time for music to become a private endeavour for you? Any of those, or any other way you might want to interact with music, are fine. It’s just helpful to redefine your relationship with music now. It will help you move forward without leaving your passion in limbo.

Choose a couple things you wouldn’t mind doing to make a living. If you are reading this blog, then it’s likely music has been pretty much your entire plan for a while now. With a shift in perspective, then, you’re going to need to figure out how to make an income. Figure out your other skills and hobbies.

For example, I used to do NaNoWriMo every year, and it really helped hone my writing abilities. Now I have this blog, I write eBooks, and I do freelance writing and editing on the side (hit up my Upwork page!). Furthermore, I have a plant addiction, so I rolled that into my summer job working at a garden and landscaping center. You can do the same thing. Are you a runner or a yoga expert? Then consider getting a job as a personal trainer or teacher. If you love food, look for catering jobs for some lucrative evening work. 

You can also consider looking into music-adjacent professions - music publishing, arts administration, and artist management all come to mind.

Consider taking a break. From the people I’ve met who have decided music is better suited as a passion-pursuit, as opposed to a career, the decision is usually not easy or fun. It tends to follow a particularly musically rough semester, which has shown them why music might not be their best career choice. If this is the case for you, then taking a break from music is honestly a good idea. 

Maybe take a semester with as few music classes as possible. Maybe, if you’re thinking of changing your major, have no music classes at all. That might revitalize your passion for a music career! If it doesn’t - if it feels like a relief, or even if you simply don’t miss it - then you’re probably making the right decision, career-wise. It also means that you will be able to come back into music when you feel ready, refreshed and without bitterness.

Find musical outlets. Consider (after your break!) taking private lessons, but without the pressure of your Career riding on them. Maybe join a community ensemble, or a school ensemble that admits non-majors. Record your own music. You might find that, once your Life Goals and Dreams no longer ride on your musical skills, actually flexing those abilities is a lot more fun. It will also help keep you involved in music, and help prevent what-might-have-beens.

Remember that, no matter how you interact with music from now on, it doesn’t lessen the importance that it has had to you so far. Sometimes, when you acknowledge the change in priorities, circumstances, or personality that underlays this kind of decision, it can feel like a betrayal. You might feel like your past self would be upset with you. You might be suffering from the sunk-cost fallacy, where you think that since you put in SO MUCH, you’re wasting all that effort by stopping now. You might just feel like a quitter.

Well, none of those things are correct. Your past self would be much happier knowing that you are choosing what’s best for your future. Continuing to sink effort into something you no longer want to do is just throwing good money after bad. And finally, making the decision that’s best for you is not “quitting.” It’s being smart. You’re one smart cookie, you.


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