Reality is always an extremely hard pill to swallow. Figuring out how to “make it” in this business can be extremely physically and emotionally draining. Something I’ve learned through a career in music, and as I continue to try to forge a career playing the trombone; reality sets in when things don’t necessarily go the way you thought they would.
I’m willing to bet that if you decided to become a music major in college, you enjoyed a fair amount of success at it in high school. If you decided to continue on to grad school, the same situation is likely.
Getting used to this success is not reality.
It’s important to recognize the realities of your situation as a musician as you try and continue to chisel away at a career, and make a living for yourself.
Here are some thoughts to consider:
What exactly do you want to do with your career?
Do you love teaching? Do you dislike teaching and JUST want to perform? (good luck with this, if this is your goal, most to all of the top performers in our field also teach)
o Determining this early can help drive your career organization in the future. If you want to primarily play in an orchestra, fundamental, excerpt and collaborative practice will be extremely necessary. It is also imperative to understand the chances of getting that FULL TIME orchestra job. According to ICSOM, there are 60 current or former members who employ their members for a full-time season (at least 36 weeks.). Personally, as a Bass Trombonist auditioning for orchestra jobs, there are 60 full time jobs that provide health insurance and pay a living wage. Compare that with the amount of people that will potentially be at any audition, which in my experience runs anywhere from 30 to 150 for one position. This makes for a pretty intense reality. It is do-able, it is a goal to work towards and it can happen, but understanding that first of all, it is extremely difficult, and two, this is not your only avenue in music, can be an empowering thing.
What type of music are you interested in? It is important to diversify your talent.
Rock? Dixieland? Jazz? Film? Broadway? Classical?
o Often times students and young professionals have blinders on as far as what type of music is possible to play and create a career with. There are so many opportunities out there, if in fact you’re interested in a wide variety of musical stylings. Broadway shows, wedding bands, historical performance gigs, all of these together can provide a solid living and great variety and joy, even if you don’t get that big time orchestra gig you’ve been hoping for.
o Going to graduate school in an area that seems to breed “those” types of players, is probably a smart thing. If you want to play on Broadway, going to school in NYC and making connections is necessary. Playing soundtracks? Move to L.A. for grad school, and meet the right people to break into that market. Play in an orchestra? Study with someone who is currently playing in an orchestra, or has had success in that field and can help you make necessary connections.
Finances will most likely be rough, but that doesn’t mean you have to be poor.
o If you’re looking for a financially rich life, a career in music will most likely not be it.
There are tons of other reasons to live a life as a musician, but becoming rich is not something you should expect. This is a harsh reality.
(Having said this...many musicians make a great living, but if you were to ask any of them if they went into music because they were looking to get rich, they would definitely be lying.)
o Having a second job on the side is OK! Whatever helps pay the bills and allows you to live a happy, healthy life is beneficial to your well being. It might also peak other interests you’ve had, and might help you live a well-balanced life.
It is important to define your own success in your own way, not by comparing yourself to others or by letting success and failure define who we are as people.
o All too often we get discouraged when we see others who we deem “successful”. This affects our thought-process and how we perceive the word success. It is imperative that you have a clear and realistic definition of what success might look like for you, if you choose a career in music, and work your hardest to try and attain that realistic goal. Realistic success would look like “I want to play three recitals this year, all different musical programs”. Unrealistic success would be “If I’m not in the New York Philharmonic by the age of 25, I’m a failure”. It is easy to get lost in the big picture, and not focus on our small successes and the overall level of joy we get from doing our daily activties.
Only try to make a career of it, if you absolutely love doing it.
o This is true of literally any career, but especially a career in which you are rewarded with experiences, great relationships and musical fulfillment, not financial gain. Life is way too short to spend your time trying to do something you don’t absolutely love.