Sax on the Web Forum banner
1 - 20 of 131 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,226 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My mum and dad were talking to me about future choices. I'm going into senior next year, so they want to make sure that I'm making the right decisions. They know that I want to do music, get a degree etc. and hopefully live as a professional musician. They mentioned whether there was a need for a degree in music, and whether I should pursue something else (ie audio design/production). I value and respect their judgement. But, there's nothing I enjoy more than playing music, or writing it.

I'm guessing that many of you guys do both (play and write). What is it like to live as a professional musician, and to be able to provide an income for your family at the same time? I'm asking this because a steady income isn't guaranteed. How do make sure you are constantly getting paid work? Should I take the path of audio design/production etc or go for the music? I want the music, but is that the best choice for my future family, and my future?

Thanks in advance.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member & Forum Contributor 2016
Joined
·
1,603 Posts
You practice and then you network and then you practice and then you network
I think you left off the travel part.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
314 Posts
What is it like to work as a professional musician? Before you are professional, you are a struggling musician. You have to practice and make connections. Practicing is the easy part. All connections aren't good connections. Lets put them into a couple of groups

Group 1: People that are not serious musicians that you gig with. They may have different obligations and goals. Family, work, or they might not have the "hunger" to put everything aside to make it in the business

Group 2: Shady Characters. These people have only their best interest in mind which means you will have negative experiences as a result. Even as a pro, you will deal with them. Sometimes its a double edged sword dealing with them. I.E You play a big 1000+ venue, get name recognition but don't get paid what you're worth or what the venue is worth. I.E Band Leader pays you less than everyone else and its obvious you're getting screwed over

Group 3: Incompatible band members. They have the same musical goals, are killer players, but don't share the same creative vision as you or you or someone in the band doesn't have any chemistry with them. While playing or when not playing.

Then you have a mix of the groupings within one person, group or situation.

The Starving Artist. If you don't gig, you don't eat. If you don't gig, you can't get the gear that you want and need so you take gigs that you don't like or play in bands that you don't like to get by unless you or your family is rich.

**********Now that you have some of the negative, here's the positive****************

There is no greater feeling in the world, than being on stage, especially in front of a couple of hundred people or on a Major TV network. All of your hard work will pay off if you want it bad enough. You have to network. I can't stress this enough. You might end up playing for a great band by word of mouth or you might get placement to play on a music production.

IMHO its good to have a professional role model. There are two types, Artists that you aspire to be like and artists that directly influence you. I.E Michael Brecker influenced one of my favorite sax players Mike Phillips directly.

Here's the best advice I can give you. Audition for as many colleges that you can that have great or top band programs to see what options you have and to see where you're at now as a player. Look at your goals as a musician and identify "whats the worst that can happen?" After you do that, figure out what you can do to prevent "the worst case scenario" as a musician. Good luck!
 

·
Discombobulated SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 201
Joined
·
9,907 Posts
Are you risk averse or risk-seeking? If the latter, and you really feel like you can't live happily without dedicating yourself to music, and an honest assessment of your ability and work habits suggest you have some chance of succeeding as a professional, then go for it. But it sounds like you are at least somewhat risk averse in that you indicate a concern for a making a steady income. In that case, why not try to figure out a strategy for reducing risk? For example, in the U.S., universities have double majors. You could get degrees in both fields so you have a Plan B or even pursue a dual career. Or, do you have skills that would allow you to earn a steady income in music while you pursue playing and writing opportunities - instrument repairing, teaching, etc.

The problem with all the risk-reduction strategies is that they will also reduce your focus on playing/writing and thus decrease your likelihood of succeeding professionally in those areas.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2011-2015
Joined
·
1,874 Posts
I faced the same questions in 1970. I even had a scholarship on music but decided I wanted something more "stable" in a career and I did not want to be a band director or music teacher. I am now on my third career, one in which I earned a lifetime pension. Do I wonder what would have been had I stayed the course in music full time? Yes, but I made a choice and it all worked out. I now can enjoy playing and even get the occasional paid gig along with having a lot of fun doing it. The one thing I would advise is to get a degree as it is harder to get it later in life. Once you have it, it will be yours forever even if you decide not to pursue a career in that degree field. But the main thing is to enjoy whatever career(s) you choose. Working to just put "food on the table" is not rewarding though most have done it at some point.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,452 Posts
Well I have a dual career but be ready for fun and of course disappointments too. Music is a difficult career and very rewarding sometimes . Good luck but I would have another career to fall back on so their is balance in your life :)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,390 Posts
If you get married & have a family you might as well relegate yourself to playing weekend gigs (sometimes that's not bad). I don't think you can support yourself just playing unless you do it full time, without the constraints of family duties. Lennie Tristano stressed the importance of being able to support oneself first and do the music secondly. That's why he taught & played only the gigs he wanted to play. I played full time until I was 38 and then got a teaching degree. It turned out I loved teaching music to kids and was still able to play a lot of weekend gigs. It wasn't Birdland, but I was playing with excellent players and got a lot of satisfaction from that. I didn't get married till I was 50. My teacher's pension and SS allow me to practice & play whenever I want to. Too bad the music business has gone down the tubes.
 

·
Out of Office
Grafton + TH & C alto || Naked Lady 10M || TT soprano || Martin Comm III
Joined
·
30,105 Posts
They mentioned whether there was a need for a degree in music, and whether I should pursue something else (ie audio design/production). I value and respect their judgement. But, there's nothing I enjoy more than playing music, or writing it.
.
A degree does not help at all. What helps is what you learn and who you get to know while doing the degree, but it's arguable that stuff you learn and people you meet without doing a degree could be just as helpful or more so.

Problem is things change.

I started working professionally after playing about 4 years, but in those days there were a lot more gigs. More of the run of the mill paying function type or show gigs. Not only that but the sort of enjoyable jazz or blues gigs that a lot of players do these days for little or no money used to pay quite well also.

I gradually graduated to working as a session musician and doing big rock/pop tours, however once I realised I wanted to be at home more, ie when my wife got pregnant (how did that happen I often wonder?) I got more into the production and composing side of things. This luckily coincided with the playing side of the music biz getting harder and harder to find decent paying work, especially on the session circuit as up coming bands and producers tend to look to their own generation.

The four stages of the session musician:

  • "Who's Pete Thomas?"
  • "Get me Pete Thomas"
  • "Get me a young Pete Thomas"
  • "Who's Pete Thomas?"

So you ask if you should get into audio design/production.

Well there are now millions of courses churning out many many of hopeful producers. Probably about 100 for every job available which will probably go to the teaboy/girl who's been been working at the studio for three years for nothing anyway rather than any graduate with a degree in audio production.

Having said that I know that several of my ex students are working full time: one is in banking, one is a drummer on cruise ships, one is an MD for west end shows etc., one is doing sound design and foley, one is a music therapist, plus a few teachers.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
314 Posts
Most of my friends including myself that I've played in bands with that are professional caliber players make more money outside of music. In my last band, my drummer was a civil engineer who owned his own business, the bass player was a doctor who had his own practice, the lead guitar player however had his degree in engineering but ended up running his own studio, produced and played for alot of other bands.

I am a Safety Engineer. I was a full time musician for a couple of years and it was great for the most part but then I got an opportunity to take a job that was a substantial financial benefit. This negated the starving artist factor. I gig 3 4 times out of the week still.

I'll use my last band as a example

Everyone had professional jobs and "made" their own schedule. Because of the money we made outside of music we didn't have the pressure to take gigs that we didn't like because we had to make money. We didn't have to worry about poor equipment because we invested in great equipment that was brand new. We became more of a exclusive band and ended up opening for alot of current R&B acts like Robin Thicke and Jazmine Sullivan. By the way, I was in my mid 20's during this time.

Here's a great example of a professional sax player that when to school first then went full time. Joshua Redman. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University and was already accepted to Yale for Law School before he took a year off from school and ended up playing pro.

Like I said, create options for yourself and go from there.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
8,336 Posts
Have a very understanding partner or wife/husband in a well paid secure full time job with well off parents.... seriously I know several full time musicians and without those they would be up sh..creek. I have never been that fortunate... If you can live with constant insecurity its better. If you want kids and a house and regular holidays then get established BEFORE...once kids come along your priorities are very different. If you just have yourself to worry about it is far easier.
I just got back from rehearsing with two fairly successful established full time musicians ...none of us have kids..one of the band has day job, kid etc...We can rehearse anytime, go anywhere...he can rehearse once a week maybe.
Oh and practice and be dedicated and learn as much as you can.
Today I checked my PRS Royalties on line and I feel a whole lot better than I did yesterday and I'm used to insecurity.
 

·
Discombobulated SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 201
Joined
·
9,907 Posts
Your expected standard of living matters a lot. Do you place a high priority on a comfortable and secure standard of living or are you content to scuffle a little/lot (and keep in mind the answer to that question might be a lot different 20-30 years from now)? Secure livelihoods are getting harder and harder to come by, but there are many professions offering a much better chance than music.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
17 Posts
Can't stress the networking enough. You have to hang out, get to know people, remember their names so you can drop names when meeting others, and be a person that people like having around (very important - no one likes working with a jerk, no matter how good he/she is). This takes time and energy, it's sales - or yourself. Without networking, you can be the greatest player on the planet and only your complaining neighbors will know.

Setting a financial goal up front is important when starting any business. Check out creativelive.com. There are a lot of seminars there that help to get you thinking in this way.

About the college degree, again, for the networking it can be great. All the above mentioned applies. And if you get a degree in anything, you will have that to fall back on later in the day-job world. The kind of degree doesn't really matter, just having one gets your resume through that first level of interview filter.

My 2 cents.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member/Logician
Joined
·
27,333 Posts
They mentioned whether there was a need for a degree in music, and whether I should pursue something else (ie audio design/production). I value and respect their judgement. But, there's nothing I enjoy more than playing music, or writing it.
If they're the ones paying for college, it's a valid concern on their part. When you're young, you hope to be employed doing what you enjoy, but that is rarely the case for most adults. You have to ask yourself first off, are you good enough to be a professional musician. Not just okay, or maybe you'll get better if you study it in college. But you have to be the best of the best given your current peers. If that's the case, then you have to ask yourself will you still enjoy playing music when it becomes a job. You may have to teach it. You might have to play music you absolutely hate. You might have to find a life partner that will earn enough to support the both of you. That's what comes with making a career of it.

There are plenty of folks who are professionals in nonmusical professions, such as myself, that still find numerous opportunities to play what they want to play and have a full musical life on the side. I agree with Pete's post above, most wholeheartedly.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
17 Posts
Exactly. In fact, I realized I sort of answered your question like a musician. I would suggest that if you want to be in the music business and make a good living at it, approach it like you are starting a small business and start with a business plan: product, sales, market analysis, location, development. What do you want to do and how do you intend to profit from it. What are your projected expenses and cost of living? What is your business plan? These things apply to any successful business. I learned this from reading a book on starting a photography business by Dane Sanders, but it applies to any career. I wish I had approached it that way when I started. It's hard to hear just how difficult it can be to make a living that people are making in other, non-entertainment-type professions, but when people do, it can be very rewarding. There are different ways you can go too - signature brand, freelancer where someone else is the boss, some combination of the two... Some paths involve more risk than others, but limited risk also means limited reward.

Don't be discouraged by this, there are plenty of success stories out there. I'm just suggesting looking at your reality and building something that suits you. I would think your mum and dad would want you to do that with any career choice. Most folks graduating college these days are also faced with the problem of where they will work. So, even if you didn't choose music as a profession, what would you intend to do with your education and how would you intend to profit from it? Good luck!
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member.
Joined
·
8,947 Posts
I've been making a living doing music and nothing but music since 1964.

The good part:
  • It's not like working - they don't call it PLAYing music for nothing
  • You live life on your own terms
  • You don't have to get up with an alarm clock
  • You meet interesting people
  • You will get to play a lot of different kinds of music
The bad part
  • It's not stable, but then neither is any other small business you might start
  • No sick leave, etc. - same with other small businesses if you are the owner
  • No job secuirty - but I've always been able to find work
  • It's not all about music, you need business skills as well
  • You will have to play a lot of different kinds of music (notice this is listed in good and bad - for me it's good, for others it's not)
It's not as easy to make a living as a musician as it was in the 1960s through the 1990s.
  • Back then plenty of bars had bands, even small towns had bands in bars, and every hotel from a Holiday Inn on up to the 5 star hotels had bands in the lounge.
  • DJs were considered inferior and nobody would hire them in a bar (at least until the 80s)
  • TVs in a bar were for corner taverns, not for anything big enough for even a duo
  • Karaoke? What's that - someone who sings and plays guitar in Brazil?
  • Less profit in bars - people drink less due to DUI laws
  • No cable TV. TVs were small, with grainy pictures and tinny sound - not good for entertaining. Now we have 50"+ HDTV with 7.1 surround sound and a cable bill that can easily top $300 per month (there goes the entertainment budget)

My advice: If you are like me and absolutely, positively, have to play music and don't care what kind of music you play, and don't mind being a small business with all the risks involved, consider being a musician. If not do something else.

And in today's world, if you want to be a musician, get a music degree, preferably a Masters so if you don't make it as a musician, you can teach.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,138 Posts
+100 on CharlesRobinson's replies and on Pete Thomas too.

Sometimes,if you really love something, doing it as your living may not be the best thing ( I know that sounds weird...). Maybe pursuing music as an "avocation" rather than a vocation is the thing. Setting yourself up in a career path that will allow you to fully explore your passion (buy cds, go to concerts, have good instruments, software for composing or doing audio production) fully is a wonderful thing. Because as NotesNorton said if you don't care what kind of music you play, you'll be fine, but if you do care, you may not be so happy.

It is such a difficult decision and that is wonderful that you and your parents are talking about this. Best of luck!
 
1 - 20 of 131 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top