This is a question I have received quite frequently over the years. And, despite the fact that I graduated with a degree in music with a specialization in business (read: music business degree) from Southern Illinois University, I still say that getting a music business degree is NOT a prerequisite to a career in the music industry. And I say this not only as a veteran of the music business, but also as a former academic advisor to hundreds, if not thousands of students, at the University of Minnesota.
Now don’t get me wrong. A music business degree is a wonderful thing, particularly if it is also centered around music performance, you’ll boost your musical talent which always rocks and you’ll be focusing on a discipline you’re truly passionate about. . .not a bad deal. However, I can also tell you with 100% certainty that if I wasn’t out there busting my but at internship after internship, I would have had a nice degree in the music business without a contact or resume land me a gig at Starbucks. What will make the difference in your career planning are the record label internships, the part-time radio jobs, and the disc-jockey work you do in college. It’s the brand ambassador work and the street team promoting and all the other stuff that the record industry is all about that will propel you into the music business hot-seat.
There is also one very important thing to keep in mind. The music business is an extremely fickle industry, and a good number of people who have worked in record promotion or radio to name a few, seem to be on the job hunt every few years or so. Some keep going and move from record label to artist management firm and back again for another round. Others move on entirely and rest more comfortably as music fans instead of music professionals. Want proof? Try this on for size. I’ll never forget one moment while attending a conference when the speaker asked an audience of several hundred music business types this question: “How many in this room have ever been fired?” Almost 90% of the people in the room raised their hands. It was unreal. Believe me, this business can be very shaky.
The reason I point this out is because once this happens to you (it will), and you’re laid off, or your totally burnt out on the music business you’ll start looking for another job, and you’ll discover more often than not that most folks sitting in the recruiting chair of corporate America, have absolutely no idea what to do with you. Just think of how hard it is to find anyone you know who has connections in the business. . .it’s nearly impossible, right? Now think about what it will be like when you’re out of a job, trying to change careers and have a degree in music business and a specialization in hanging out with rock bands. Trust me people don’t get it. They just can’t put their hands around it because they don’t know how it works, and what you do when your working in this field. It’s the ‘ol square peg in a round hole dilemma.
So please keep this in mind when you’re picking your major. It is important that you’re happy when you’re in school, it is important to pursue your passions, and it’s equally important to be able to feed yourself and your family when your music business career takes a swipe upside the head. In all my years in the music industry I never once met another person with a degree in music. Not once. Most folks had degrees in history or some other liberal arts program. . .actually psychology was a common one if I remember correctly as well. But not one in music. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. . .just know what you’re getting into ahead of time, and always remember that it’s the internships that will move you forward anyway, not necessarily the music business degree. If you are interested in a music business degree, I’ve started a list of schools that offer a music business degree, and will add more as I come to learn about them. If you’re aware of any I should highlight, please place your comments on the blog, and I’ll pick up the leads from here.
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