Top 8 Things to Do After Getting Your Music Degree

Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland

Content Specialist
440 Industries

Introduction

Who says that life after a music degree is full of struggle? Although the stereotype of musicians is living “la vie boheme” — getting by on tight funds and working gig to gig — this does not have to be the reality. 

One of the top concerns I get from family members and friends about my future as a musician is their wondering what I can feasibly do after I graduate with a music degree. The most common response when people learn about my field of choice is — “You’re working towards a music degree? …So what are you really going to do with that?” If you’re in school for music, I’m sure this response is anything but foreign to you. 

While it’s true that the music world is competitive and filled to the brim with talent, it thrives on new perspectives, fresh artistry, and a zeal for sharing your craft. So when you’ve just graduated from a music degree, you are in the perfect place to set yourself up for success!

I’m here to tell you that not only is music a feasible career field that one can thrive in both financially and emotionally, but there are countless opportunities to further your knowledge of how to meld yourself into a marketable, business-savvy music professional. I personally have a degree in Vocal Performance and have spent the past four years honing my craft as an opera singer. My undergraduate experience taught me a plethora of valuable skills about singing, language, and music history — but how can that knowledge be translated into tangible assets to grow your personal brand? Well, there are more ways than you’d think. 

From first-hand experience, I can say that the curriculum of a music degree is fascinating but often fails to teach about the business and marketing aspect of becoming a solo performer. In order to have the upper hand when entering into the music world, you must take initiative for yourself to learn about sides of the industry your degree doesn’t impress upon you in school. But, how can you find out about these things? You’ve come to the right place – read on for 8 things to do after you get your degree in music!

Here are the 8 things I recommend:

  1. Survey Your Job Options
  2. Consider Pursuing higher education, Grad School?
  3. Check if you have all it takes to teach
  4. Formulate your CV: Sought-after broad skill sets
  5. Focus on how to manage the connections you’ve made in the industry
  6. Think about ways to build an audience
  7. Take a Music Business class to learn the ways of business
  8. Realise that career-building takes time: set goals for short- and long-term.
  9. Conclusions

1. Survey your job options

A music degree can be more financially profitable and adaptable than one might think. Yes, many people go into university with the mindset that they will become a rockstar or famous performer — however, this is not the only possibility for the recent graduate of a music program. Because of the multitude of valuable skills music majors acquire through the management of schedules, teamwork, and focus on personal growth in their craft throughout a four year program, they emerge into the work scene with lots of skills under their belt that many people do not realize they have — and these can be applied to virtually any job within the music field. Consider looking into some of the job options below to help guide your search for a specified vocati0n within music beyond just performing:

  • Private Voice/Instrumental teacher
  • Community arts manager
  • Event manager
  • PR representative of a record label
  • Music marketing executive
  • Radio broadcast assistant
  • Talent manager
  • Private tutor
  • Arts administrator
  • Music therapist 
  • Sound engineer
  • Producer or label executive

2. Consider pursuing higher education -- Grad School?

Some of the possible jobs listed above do require further education in graduate school, trade school, or even pursuing a doctoral degree. In my experience, my collegiate voice teachers, choir directors, and professors all possessed graduate and doctorate degrees in order to work in the university world of musical academia. If future academic work interests you, going to graduate school is a smart and valuable option! In my personal career field of opera, 90% of professional opera singers working at A, B, and C houses across the international classical music scene possess graduate degrees — many from elite universities such as Juilliard, New England Conservatory, and Indiana University. Furthermore, if you are interested in pursuing music therapy, you must acquire a certificate that takes months of schooling. Along with more investment into your education often comes financial successes — those who choose to add another degree to the academic stack of accomplishments tend to have a higher chance of getting hired by an upstanding organizaion. However, a graduate degree is not necessary to be successful in music! Many people in this day-in-age teach themselves the ropes of sound engineering, DJ-ing, and song-writing. This modern sector of the music business is currently thriving and the music that one hears on the radio could not be created without people who pursue careers in sound mixing. If that form of music interests you, consider delving into an introductory course on DJ-ing — as multiple of my friends who were initially Vocal Performance majors to become opera singers changed their path to while in our undergraduate degree together.

3. Check if you have all it takes to teach

Do you have the patience, understanding, and passion to pass on your knowledge of music to the future generation? Then teaching might be the facet of music for you. Not only are teachers in high demand in the music world, but they are absolutely crucial to the advancement of musicians. Everyone needs a teacher — even Luciano Pavarotti, the most famous opera singer of all time, had a voice teacher until his retirement. There are multiple sectors of teaching music — from private voice, guitar, piano, or whatever instrument you specialize in, to general music taught in an elementary school classroom. Take a look at yourself and your interests to see if this is the right sector of music for you — do you like passing on your knowledge to others? Are you organized, willing to create lesson plans and/or pick music for your students? Do you have a selfless mindset or are you more focused on your individual career? Remember: no answer is wrong. It is simply important to be candid with yourself. For me, I knew that I did not have the patience to teach young children the basics of music, so I stayed far away from the Music Education path! However, I do teach paid voice lessons to people who are close to my age, as they are readily willing to learn and listen. I find joy in helping them achieve their goals of bettering themselves as musicians.

4. Formulate your CV: Sought-after broad skill sets

Consider adding these baseline skills to your resume when you’re ready to or interested in applying for a job beyond your solo performance career. Any music major acquires these skill sets through ther time in music school due to the demanding schedules, working with accompanists, choirs, or orchestras, and performing on-stage in a nerve-wracking environment. 

These base skills include:

  • Communication skills – developed through working closely with peers, connecting with the audience
  • Critical reflection – ability to give constructive criticism and receive it from working with voice/instrumental teachers and peers 
  • Content creation under pressure – from performing in concerts and learning music on a consistent basis
  • Organizational and planning skills – from formulating recitals and working towards a performance
  • Advertising – creating event pages and posters for recitals 
  • Technical expertise – using technology to create and record music
  • Collaboration with a team – developed through ensemble work — from choirs to orchestras to bands
  • Time management/self-discipline – from consistent practice and reflection on your performances

5. Focus on how to manage the connections you’ve made in the industry

Attending a music school is also a great networking ploy, whether or not you are cognizant of it. The connections that you make with peers, professors, guest speakers, and so forth can become valuable relationships if you choose to elaborate upon them. Think of every opportunity — from a summer program, a conductor you work with, a sound engineer in a recording studio — as an intangible asset in furthering your career. A simple conversation with a well-connected individual can take you leaps and bounds into a new sector of the music world. Personally, I made a strong mentorship relationship with my voice teacher at my undergrad who connected me to multiple gigs through my four years in school and relevant persons at graduate degree programs. I also went to a summer program in the Tuscany region of Italy which connected me with dozens of professionals in my niche field across Europe and the United States. Departing from that program, I had rich connections within the industry that I now keep in contact with through social media and emails. I know that those connections will prove fruitful in my professional career — no matter if I pursue opera or marketing for an arts administration. Remember: never doubt the power of a simple connection — it can mean the difference between employment and looking for a job.

6. Think about ways to build an audience

This is where creating a consistent online presence comes into play. The value of making a personal website where you list your accomplishments, publicity photos, multiple resumes, and even recommendations from employers and peers is palpable. Not only will it look good to someone who looks up your name on a search engine to check your credentials and sees a concise list of what gigs you have had, but it also establishes credibility amongst peers — everyone in the music business these days has their own website. Additionally, if you compose your own music, consider getting verified on Spotify and put EPs on there. Spotify is used by most of my young peers and I find it to be a very relevant way of gaining exposure to potential audiences. It is also profitable to create a Facebook page for yourself as a performer, where your friends can “like” the page to support and see the content you publish about your accomplishments. Online presence is the way to go to build a target audience and establish future connections!

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7. Take a Music Business class to learn the ways of the business

Just because you’ve already graduated doesn’t mean you don’t still have access to learning experiences and classes that will benefit your employability in the long run. For example, Music Business classes are offered on a variety of online platforms tailored to those looking to expand their expertise in the music world. Researching this side of music is crucial if you are planning on a solo career because there are many ins-and-outs regarding royalties (the right to owning your own music), contracts, and so forth. If you come to the place in your career that you get an agent, having knowledge about your autonomy within the business is necessary to be a well-informed, self-representative musician. So taking a class that lays out the complexities of the industry will help build your business literacy and vocabulary. Don’t know what the role of manager really is? Or how about a producer? These are key concepts for a future professional performer or someone who wants to work on the production or sound engineering side of the industry. No matter what role you want within the music world, having a knowledge of the business part of things is very valuable and will help you more than you’d think. 

8. Realize that career-building takes time: Goals for the short- and long-term

Nothing comes easily in this business — it is the definition of “slow and steady wins the race”. Understand that your consistent efforts will not go unnoticed in the long run! If you take active steps to move forward as a productive, marketable musician, it will pay off in one way or another. To be successful in the music world, one must be autonomous, understand their personal brand, and layout goals for the short term and long term. Do you want to write and record an EP with your band? Plan out a three month process to make that happen. Establish the EP as the short term goal and the long term goal as writing and recording a whole album within the year. Connect with those that you knew from your undergraduate schooling — sound engineer friends, those who have experience with song writing, etc. Evolve your intangible assets into tangible goals and remind yourself why you’re doing this — you love music. Never let that passion fade!

9. Conclusions

If you’re a musician who has recently graduated from university, you most likely have been hit with the realization of “…so now what?”.  You are not alone — the path is anything but linear in the music world and it can seem daunting. That being said, remember you are a multi-faceted creator of art and your degree will be put to good use if you recognize the multitude of skills that you possess. And remember: the world needs innovators and passionate artists like you — your perspective matters to the progression of our craft. Be authentic to you, compile your skillset into a marketable package, set goals, and you are on your path to success!

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Top 8 Things to Do After Getting Your Music Degree Wondering what to do after completing your degree? Here are 8 things we advise you to look into! A simple guide to get you going.
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Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland is a senior Communications Studies and Vocal Performance, concentration in Opera Major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. She is both a professional opera singer with over five years of experience travelling around the United States and Europe to work with teachers and coaches from across the globe, and a future businesswoman looking to enter into the PR and Marketing sector of the arts and business world. Academically, she serves as the Vice President of the JMU Opera Guild, where she coordinates meetings, facilitates mentorships between teachers and students, and plans events with over 100 students who are looking for more opportunities in classical music. She is also a member of the JMU Speech Team and has been on the Dean's List for her academic accomplishments for the past two years. Brenna is passionate, driven, and a hard-worker who understands how to manuever the complexities of connect with others in a unique and sensitive manner.

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