How Music Schools Prioritize Career Development

In my last post, I argued that prospective music students should favor schools that actively prioritize career development and entrepreneurship.  After all, this shows a commitment to producing working musicians, as opposed to simply outstanding ones (who are likely unprepared to deal with professional realities of the 21st Century).  Even if you ultimately decide on a career path outside of music, these kinds of experiences can help you succeed.

In this article, we’ll look at wonderful career development initiatives currently in place in some forward-thinking institutions. Obviously, the more a school does on this front, the more commitment to professional success they demonstrate.

I have no interest in advocating or discounting any particular music school here. (If anything, I hope this post provides inspiration to programs currently falling short.) For this reason, university names are not listed below.

Please note: the phrases music business and arts administration denote something different than what is addressed here.  Typically, music business programs focus on preparing students to work with for-profit companies such as the recording industry. Arts administration majors learn about the non-profit sector. Contrastingly in this article, I’m more concerned with the development of performers, composers, private teachers, recording studio owners, and other largely self-employed musicians.

Centers

Some schools host music/arts centers that provide a number of valuable services. They help students get gigs, learn about opportunities, prepare marketing materials, set up outreach activities, etc.  These centers have names like:

  • Music Career Center
  • Entrepreneurship Center for Music
  • Institute for Music Leadership
  • Institute for Leadership & Engagement in Music
  • Arts Incubator
  • Arts Enterprise
  • Camerata (named after the 16th century Florentine Camerata, which brought together artists, patrons, and students to foster innovation in the arts)
  • Center for Engagement and Outreach
  • Community Engagement Program

Career Counselors

Some schools have part- or full-time music career counselors on staff, available to meet one on one with students.  In other cases, universities hire career specialists who work with students from all majors across the university.  While these employees can be helpful for general issues (resumes, traditional job interviews, etc.), someone who is not a musician will likely be unprepared to address the nitty-gritty and specific concerns of the music industry. 

Courses

Some schools offer career development courses for musicians, with titles such as:

  • Career Perspectives 
  • Building a Music Career
  • Practical Aspects of a Career in Music
  • Chamber Music and Professional Development for the Freelance Musician
  • Audience Development
  • Web Design for Musicians
  • Digital Portfolio Creation
  • Arts Media & Promotion: Perfecting and Pitching Your Message
  • Music Entrepreneurialism, Leadership, and Relevance
  • The Professional Artist Seminar
  • College Teaching
  • How to Win an Orchestral Audition
  • The Joys and Opportunities of Studio Teaching
  • Getting Your Sh*t Together

Speaker series

Some schools regularly organize talks and workshops by faculty members and visiting professionals, addressing various professional concerns.

Portfolios

Some schools require students to compile a professional portfolio before graduating, including items like:

  • Headshot/photo
  • Bio
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae
  • Sample cover letter
  • Repertoire list
  • Press release
  • Business cards
  • Program notes
  • Recordings
  • Website
  • Business cards
  • Marketing plans
  • 5-10 year career goals

Mock interviews/auditions

Some schools offer mock interviews and auditions, proceeded by preparation sessions and followed with feedback.

Internships

Some schools require music majors to enlist in some sort of internship program.  Others highly recommend them, and maintain a database of potential opportunities.

Competitions

A few schools sponsor wonderfully creative competitions where students are invited to pitch projects that are evaluated on both artistic and entrepreneurial factors.  Winners receive seed money to enact their proposal.

Entrepreneurial ensembles

A few schools now offer ensembles where students are required to do more than simply show up on time and be prepared musically.  Participants are asked to play an active role in program development, marketing, publicity, setting up performances, working with presenters, or even the overall ensemble vision.

Teaching assistantships

Some schools hire graduate students to teach courses.  Obviously, this hands-on job training is beneficial for those interested in educational work.  It also looks great on the resume.

Gigging service

Many schools contract gigs (weddings, bar mitzvahs, private parties, etc.) for their students, providing real life experiences and a source of revenue. While you should definitely take advantage of this wonderful service and real life experience, keep in mind that it only focuses on one slice of the industry. Additional resources are necessary for deeper career guidance.

Career websites

Some schools maintain extensive websites devoted to career and entrepreneurship issues, with articles, podcasts, databases of opportunities, and more.  However, even students without this kind of in-house resource can take advantage of sites like www.SavvyMusician.com (for an extensive list of helpful sites, visit The Savvy Musician Resource Center), so don’t discount a school just because it lacks this feature.

Required reading

Some schools that do not yet have many or any of the initiatives above at least require their students to read a few books on the subject of music careers and entrepreneurship. A number of excellent and affordable texts have become available in the past few years. (Incidentally, schools have their students research areas that they deem important.  For example, every music program requires music theory and history reading; these topics seem to be universally valued. If no career books are assigned anywhere in the curriculum, this is another sign that the school does not prioritize professional success for its alumni.) 

 _____

As you can see, there’s quite a lot that music schools can do to better prepare students for professional success.  Now you know (at least a portion of) what’s available. So if you’re serious about developing into a working musician, make sure you have a clear idea about how each school you consider plans to help you achieve this goal.   This way, you’ll have more than outstanding performance ability and a beautiful music school diploma to look forward to.  You may even have some marketable skills!

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