Graduate School Part 3: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated

by Sean McQuaid

So it’s time for you to graduate and enter the real world? Congratulations, all your hard work is about to pay off! While I may have just graduated from my Master’s program, I feel as if I have some fairly relevant advice for somebody who is just now trying to break into the music industry.


1) This is just the beginning of your career

It’s important to note that this is just the beginning. Your life long journey is JUST STARTING. Think about that! You just finished your Master’s degree and you STILL have a lot to learn. Hard to believe, right? While you may have learned a lot in your years of schooling, you will still need to continue to practice and work hard to grow as a musician DAILY. This may come as common sense to some of you, but it’s important to keep yourself grounded as you begin your career.


2) Be sure to keep in touch with your colleagues/teachers

I know that I stated this in my last article, but this is INCREDIBLY important. Your teachers can be your most valuable resource for widening your network. Shoot them an e-mail or text once in a while to check in on them and give them an update on what you are doing. You’d be surprised how interested your teachers and colleagues will be in your life after graduating!


3) Continue to PUSH, don’t think you’ve “mastered” your instrument

Be sure to keep up your good habits, good work ethic is always appealing to fellow musicians. Hard work always beats out talent! TRY to fit in your practice time, writing out a routine/ priority list is helpful! I understand that life can be a bit crazy, but making the time every day to practice something productive will help you continue to improve immensely. If you ever find yourself in a rut, try changing up your routine. You’d be surprised how a change in your day to day musical life can spark new creative ideas.


4) Continue to network - Make the hang a priority

It’s common knowledge to most musicians but it’s all about “the hang.” In order to get gigs, you need to network on SOME level. Go to jam sessions, popular hangout spots for musicians in your area, or use your friends’ networks to meet people. Even taking lessons with people you admire is a good way to get your foot in the door. (And it’ll keep you honest in terms of your progress.)



While good sound, technique and overall facility on your instrument are extremely important, sight reading is actually the MOST MARKETABLE skill set you can possibly have! Most of the calls you receive when you start out will be in reading bands, so making a good first impression is especially important. Try to incorporate sight reading into your daily practice. You should try and sight-read something new every day. Whether that means you’re sight reading out of an etude book, a solo work or even a big band chart, it will greatly help to have your brain work in this way each day!


6) It’s Ok to do some things for free.

I usually don’t like doing things for free ……but sitting in on rehearsal bands gives you a chance to meet people around town and get your name out there. This is another reason to get your reading up! As you meet people, they might mention that their band needs someone to cover a spot in their big band/wind ensemble. You never want to turn down an opportunity when you’re starting. Try to sit in on a rehearsal every so often to both test your sight reading and meet some new people!



7) Be sure to bring your business cards EVERYWHERE

You never know where/when you’ll meet someone important, so be sure to have cards ready so people can start calling you for gigs/work. And be sure to pass out your card to people you would like to work with; it’s okay to give your card to other musicians! Most musicians love to exchange information because they also see value in having you in their network.


I hope that all of you have found this series to be helpful! I have found that in writing this series, I have been much more reflective over my time in my Master’s Program. While a Master’s degree may not be for everyone, it really can help a serious musician cultivate their skills even more. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made throughout my life thus far!


Happy Practicing! 

 -Sean McQuaid

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