While in school, a world famous musician was hosting a masterclass that I attended. Someone asked him if they should pursue a career in music, to which he asked them, “Why do you want to?” The student’s reply was “I love playing the flute!” The musician responded with a laugh “well you don’t marry someone just because you love them!” Coincidentally, this particular musician had been divorced quite a few times…
It is a good analogy though. When I was younger and dating, I would fall in love and spend every moment with the new man because everything was amazing, and I didn’t want to lose one moment of time to hang out with him. However, it would have been silly to say that at that point I was going to marry this person.
Similarly, just because you love performing music, does not mean that music performance is a compatible career choice for your future. There is a lot of testing and trying of your relationship to music that you must experience before you can say you want a career in music performance.
As a student, you are in a relationship with music. Something about playing in band or orchestra, or the challenge of the instrument, or favorite songs has us in love at first sight. The first relationship test we hit is practicing. Very few of us started out loving to practice every day. If we continued progressing on the instrument though, somehow practicing (though not our favorite at first), found a space in our life and we still thrived.
If you love playing your instrument, have for years, and can’t think of anything else you would rather do, then a performance degree program is a great place to start. However, if you and your instrument are in a relationship, then college is an arranged engagement. As you begin your music degree program, you are exposed to the many different areas of study it takes to be good at your craft. You may not enjoy every part of it but you must push through because you have a monetary and moral agreement with the school and your teachers, that you will pursue this degree to the best of your abilities (especially when scholarship is involved).
You’re not married yet, so be sensitive to what your degree program inspires you the most, and what is burning you out. If you are pursuing a career as an orchestral musician, do you love rehearsals? Do you love studying scores? Are you excited about hearing as many performances as you can of the piece you are studying? How are you handling the many different personalities in the orchestra? If any one of these areas makes life miserable for you, or you have little to no interest in, then orchestral performance may not be the career for you.
This may mean that you change majors or focuses in your major along the way. There are many different opportunities in the music industry where you can make substantial money without a performance focus, but still maintain a performance schedule. The music industry needs salespeople, marketing, programmers, manufacturers, event managers, artist managers, recording technicians, to name just a few options. Do you have a passion for any of these fields? Being an experienced and educated music performer will give you the edge as a degreed student in any of these fields. A majority of the business professionals I work with are performers, recording artists, private teachers, etc. on the side, but earning a steady paycheck in the industry with insurance and retirement options.
On the other hand, if you find inspiration in hours of practice and rehearsal, music theory, score study, performance study, or whatever other details are entailed to your specific performance major, then follow that performance career that you are thriving in.
There is a realm of possibilities for your future as a musician, but only if you remain sensitive to what it is that makes you thrive as a musician, and what things burn you out. Life in any facet of the music industry will not be a constant honeymoon. However, if you pursue the parts of the industry that bring you the most joy, you will thrive through the highs, lows, misunderstandings, and make-ups. Good luck in your searches, and remember playing music is only the beginning of countless options of creating a career in music!