The Secret to Launching a Successful Music Career After College

by Sarah Roberts

Most would agree that the music world is saturated with students graduating with advanced degrees and specialized training in their fields. When I started school I was told, much like others, that to attain an academic position you needed a doctorate. Apparently, everyone received that memo because everyone has his or her doctorate! So, when making the difficult transition from college student to professional musician the question really becomes, “how are you special”? 


"Identify what makes you special and hone those skills when you have the time."


Toolbox

With my students I liken this to an example of their “toolbox.” What tools will be in their toolbox that will separate them from the slew of other applicants? Maybe it is a secondary instrument, a minor in business, extra training in conducting of orchestra and wind groups. Whatever the case, it is important for students to stock their toolboxes with meaningful and useful tools that they will know how to utilize after college. 


 "Learn unique skills in college that will quickly transfer outside of the academic world." 


Learn

I was hired at The University of Texas at Tyler in the spring of 2014 and began the next fall. After I was on-board I learned that there were 75 applicants for my position - talk about a saturated job market! One thing that I did throughout my training was fill my toolbox with as many tools that would be useful on a collegiate faculty. Not only did I pursue both jazz and classical saxophone, but also I studied conducting, other instruments, maintained my piano skills, and last but not least built my network. By honing these career-specific skills, I was able to make my goal of becoming a college professor a reality.


Entrepreneurship

Let’s face it; the musician graduating in the 21st century needs a degree in music and entrepreneurship. Now, more than ever, it is vital for students to leave school with their toolbox stocked full of useful and appropriate tools that they are in command of; but they must be creative and strategic in utilizing those tools.


"Create your own opportunities with the vision and foresight of an entrepreneur." 


Furthermore, students must be willing to not only seek out opportunities, but also create their own opportunities with the vision and foresight of an entrepreneur. Creativity, critical thinking, and communication, are all attributes stressed in one’s musical studies, but are rarely emphasized outside of the practice room. In addition, financial knowledge and marketing skills are what have the ability to transform a student into a musician with a career. Please do not misunderstand; there is absolutely no substitute for a saxophonist’s ability on his or her instrument. The work must be done in the practice room. However, the career will happen when that hard work from the practice room is combined with creativity, passion, drive, and self-efficacy. It’s not easy, but then again most things in life worth doing are not easy.


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