Studying Music in THIS Economy? Heck, Yeah!

By Angela Myles Beeching –

It’s easy to find gloom and doom perspectives about studying music and careers in music. There’s plenty of concern about the US overproducing talented and well-trained musicians in relation to the number of available jobs.

Let’s do the numbers: according to the Higher Education Arts Data Service there are more than 110,000 students enrolled in US music degree programs and each year over 20,000 graduate into the ”real world.” In looking at statistics of available jobs, let’s look first at orchestras. The ones that pay a full-time wage (the ICSOM member orchestras) represent in total about 4,200 musician positions. In an available sample year, 2003, there were just 159 openings in ICSOM orchestras. Looking at another area—college teaching jobs—the number of doctoral music students is at an all-time high while many full-time college-level teaching positions, once vacated, are being divvied up to be filled piecemeal by poorly paid adjuncts. Openings for these jobs are routinely attracting 100-200 applicants. The concerns are well-founded.

While all this may seem dire, the situation allows for divergent thinking. There may be something positive to be had from the situation. Yes, it means that musicians—those creative, imaginative folk—need to think beyond the traditional jobs. And many schools are now offering excellent career development and entrepreneurial training.

But more than this, society as a whole may be the winner in the after-effects of an over-abundance of trained musicians. What happens to a culture that has an over-supply of musicians?  If we stick to the positive fallout, the fact that there’s an over-abundance of highly trained musicians is actually good because . . .

1. It requires musicians to be more creative, to actively build their own audiences, and to consider their role in a community.

2. It brings more awareness of the arts to the general population, simply because musicians create multi-track careers and so are active in their communities in many different capacities.

3. Trained musicians contribute a wide range of abilities developed through their music training, and the majority of these skills are transferable and highly desirable in the larger workforce and in society.

What transferable skills develop though music training and studying music?  I have yet to find definitive research on this, but in many workshops conducted with musicians over the years, these are a sampling of the skills and abilities musicians identify in each other:

  • self-discipline
  • communication skills
  • ability to concentrate for long periods
  • collaboration/team work skills
  • attention to details
  • problem-solving skills
  • resilience
  • strong work ethic
  • presentation skills
  • ability to conceptualize the abstract
  • creativity
  • interpersonal skills
  • persistence/determination
  • ability to synthesize abstract ideas
  • confidence
  • leadership
  • analytical thinking
  • ability to handle criticism/feedback

So, do I recommend people pursue music training and a career in music? If one’s talent, fascination, and willingness to work hard are focused on music, then, go for it!

Music career strategist Angela Myles Beeching is author of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music and has advised hundreds of musicians on a full range of career-related issues. This article has been excerpted and adapted from a piece she originally wrote for New England Conservatory’s Career Services Center where she was director from 1993-2010. She has also worked as a consultant to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Copyright, Angela Beeching, October 21, 2011 (Reproduction granted with credit to the author and

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