Talking to Students about Pursuing Music in the Era of COVID
Eight Considerations for Music Majors
By Barbra Weidlein, sponsored by NAfME Corporate Member MajoringInMusic.com
It’s not surprising that many students—and their parents—have been questioning the advisability of pursuing music as a college major and career after seeing the impact the pandemic has had particularly on live music. Despite innovative and amazing responses to teaching, learning, and performing music in the era of COVID, concerns about a future in music persist.
Before graduating from high school, students need to know that even the best training in their area or areas of music will not sufficiently prepare them for a viable career in music. While this was becoming increasingly evident before the pandemic, it is now something every student thinking about majoring in music needs to know and plan for as they approach their college applications.
I’ve been talking with career coaches and faculty at college-level music schools since summer 2020 to learn how they’re guiding music-driven students in developing their career plans. “A successful career in music has always been a long game,” said Joanie Spain, Career Advisor at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. This is true in performance and non-performance areas of music. It’s vitally important to develop and sharpen the skills, competencies, and mindset required for growing any music career.
Students will benefit from the following:
Entrepreneurship skills teach students “to recognize unmet opportunities and then to devise sustainable methods to capitalize on those opportunities,” said Jeffrey Nytch, Director for the Entrepreneurship Center for Music at the University of Colorado-Boulder College of Music. These go beyond the common business skills training most schools typically offer college music students by senior year.
Internships and other opportunities provide practical applications of classroom learning and school performance experience with the safety net of professors and career coaches available to offer corrections and facilitate new thinking.
Knowing when and how to pivot in a new direction
Students will benefit greatly from learning when and how to recalibrate their career plans. They may need to adjust their mindset away from thinking this indicates failure. Adding a minor may help prepare for more career options after graduation.
Recognizing music as a portfolio career
Students will benefit by thinking of music as a portfolio career, where they earn a living through multiple income streams. Learning to be flexible and adaptable and developing skills in a number of areas including pedagogy, communication, technology, and professionalism will be essential.
Injury prevention has always been important especially for performance careers. The pandemic has shed light on the fact that not all injuries are physical. Self-care is more important than ever. “Artists should approach self-care in the same way we treat other obligations (e.g., practicing, rehearsing, studying!)—that is to say, it should be habitualized and prioritized into one’s weekly schedule as much as possible,” said Jonathan Kuuskoski, Chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Recognizing that music career planning is a life-long adventure
The music industry is always fluid. Ever-changing technology drives many of the shifts in the way music is consumed. Therefore, any serious future in music requires staying current with all of it. Continuing education is a “must” in music. “To understand and prep for this new world that we live in,” said Blaire Koerner, Assistant Director of the Institute for Music Leadership at The Eastman School of Music, “incoming musicians should have an open mind and remember change isn’t a bad thing.” Learning to be proactive in accessing new skills and training while in college will serve musicians throughout their careers.
Understanding that skills learned in music are transferable
Music students learn skills that most career fields need. Knowing how to translate and articulate these “transferable skills” for other contexts will be extremely useful for pursuing any career.
Preparing early for a career in music
Students need to actively pursue the skills, knowledge, and support available on campus in order to build their skillsets and work towards their careers. This may be a major adjustment for those who are not used to taking a proactive approach to having their needs met (not unusual in high school). They need to be reminded that their college tuition includes myriad resources offered by their schools and which they may need to sleuth out on their own.
Find more information to share with students and parents about their concerns around majoring in music and pursuing a career in music here:
About the author:
Barbra Weidlein is co-founder and director of MajoringInMusic.com. For the past decade, the website has provided free access to high quality, objective information for all students interested in pursuing any area of music. Barbra has worked in educational publishing for most of her career in addition to working as a college counselor and consultant, educational writer, and adult education instructor. Her background includes BA and MS degrees in psychology and human development, support for high school music programs, and many years of piano study and women’s choral singing.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
September 28, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)