Wednesday, 31 March 2010

So, you're going to music college?

There are a lot of popular music colleges and courses popping up with a variety of performance courses for modern musicians. Some look a lot like a school for wannabe rockstars, but will they actually get you success in the music industry?

There was a time when you had to drop out of college to go pursue the dream of being in a band. You were a musician! You don't need qualifications! Especially if you didn't have the grades to go to Berklee.

Nowadays there are a whole bunch to choose from. Sounds pretty cool - instead of going to University and studying English Lit like other people, you can go to college and learn how to be an awesome rock star! Its a performance course so you assignments are gigs, you're marked on your latest album and your tutors show you how to windmill a guitar!

Or so it would seem.

I've been to one of these colleges, which I won't name because I don't want to appear slanderous. Its just that whilst at college, I saw a large amount of people who, like me, had signed up for the wrong reasons. All these reasons I have stated above.

First and foremost, these courses offer a qualification, which is anything from a lowly certificate to a full on degree. The most important thing to know if you want to get anywhere in the music industry is that these qualifications are essentially useless and meaningless. I'll explain more on this later.

Secondly, these courses do not teach you how to become a rock star. You don't teach that.

What they do teach, is a mixture of music theory education, business practise and culture. Which is a good thing, depending on what sector of the music industry you're going into.

If you have any qualms with "selling out" and are of the mind that "it's all about the music", then do not sign up to one of these colleges. Why? Because the objective of these colleges is to give their students a qualification and to get them to be successful in the industry, and being an innovative new post-rock-progressive-grindcore act is not integral to this process.

Being a successful session player, teacher or commercial act is, however.

There are two schools of thought within the music college. The first is that of the session player/teacher, who knows everything and anything about playing their instrument to a high level and can read a piece of music and play it on demand to a tight schedule in a professional manner, usually with less than a days notice and no preparation. These musicians are very high calibre, and are the only musicians in demand within the industry. No studio or touring pop act is going to hire you because you can put your own imaginitive spin on what they tell you to play. You'll get hired to do as your told and to do it perfectly, night after night if required.

To top it all off, it is a highly competetive field, dominated by a small cadre of seasoned pros who know everybody in the business and are relied upon time after time to deliver results.

Secondly is the school of the music business. How to sell your music - in essence, selling out in its purest and most perverse form. How to make commercially viable and innately sellable music with hooks, catchy choruses, memorable lyrics and a clean image. Yes, it is pretty much manufactured pop 101.

As you can probably tell, these two schools of thought are contrasting. The first is to be a whiz at your instrument, the second is to not necessarily need those skills but to sell out like a two-dollar whore. Most musicians can't keep up with either, let alone both.

But what else can a college teach? To get a degree certification, you'll be doing essays and dissertations. What has that got to do with being a successful musician? Nothing. But a degree is a degree, its what you have to do.

If anything, the most valuable part of these courses is the business knowledge, tedious as it may sound. Its all theory and no fun, but it'll get you places. In fact, if a college offers a pure business course, I suggest you take that and roll with the punches, be prepared to be back in school with reading and essays. But take my word for it - knowing the business will get you places.

If anything, buy this book and read it cover to cover. Most music colleges will cite it as recommended reading and they aren't far wrong.

But I digress. Earlier I said that these qualifications were essentially useless pieces of scrap paper. This is due to a fundamental law in the music business, which you have probably heard a million times before.

Its not what you know, its who you know that counts

Read any interview with any success story of any person in the Industry, and somewhere along the way they will say something along the lines of "I met xxxx at a party" or "I bumped into xxxx and it all went up from there". Which is something a college can't teach or give you with a qualification.

And when you meet these people at last, no piece of paper is going to impress them one bit. They want one thing and one thing only - EXPERIENCE.

All jobs in the industry are the same. People want to know who you worked for/with previously and if you were good at that job. The more prior experience, the better. You know whats coming.

Getting started in the music industry is the hardest grind you will ever experience. It involves a lot of inquiries and applications, all of which will be rejected. And then it involves doing all of this again. Several times.

See how this relates to the last post on starting a band? Its all the same - lots of hard work and no return. The music industry is evil, which is why you should get a real job and not go to music college.

Unless you really want to. I'm not going to stop you. Hey, you could be really successful. As long as you work hard for it.

Keep loving music,

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