A fair question I get asked every couple of days is the following:

“Is college even necessary for a music career?”

I get what they are asking…

Beethoven did not go to college for music. Neither did Taylor Swift.

It is true that plenty of musicians did not go to college for music.

At the end of the day, what is true no matter what is that as long as you play music that people like, or do something in the music industry that is valuable, you can make a career.

photo by Ben Gesoff via Flickr Creative Commons

So, it might sound like I am saying that you don’t need a degree…

But the truth is hardly this simple.

Let’s examine the facts and see if a music degree is necessary…

Employment Opportunities in Ensembles

If you plan to be an employed musician, such as in an orchestra, university, opera, or even in Broadway, you most certainly need a degree in music.

Well over 99% of all musicians employed in a major professional orchestra, opera company, and in tenured professorships have music degrees.

Classical Music and the Bachelor’s degree are forever intertwined…

The world of classical performance is dominated by degrees.

Even the absolute most famous, rarefied individuals in the world of classical music, people like Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass, Lang Lang, Renee Fleming, Hilary Hahn, Nico Muhly, Joshua Bell…

Even these people have degrees from major music institutions.

But it does not end at classical music…

Almost everyone performing on Broadway either has a degree in music, or at least some level of university training.


Music Producing & Technology

It is true you can point to some very famous producers, such as Calvin Harris, and note that they never went to school for music.

The majority of musicians who make a living producing did go to college for music technology, production, and engineering.

Why is this?

Most musicians start their producing careers producing for other artists or for major companies.

The tasks one must be able to do include a variety of knowledge-intensive jobs; recording, mixing, mastering, editing, microphones, are all fair game.

When a professional artist, or sound company, is looking for someone to do work for them, they want to be assured that this person has tremendous experience.

These people, especially the corporations, know that four years studying the ins and outs of music production, recording, and technology at a university is more than enough time to learn the essentials.

As a result, most employed professional producers have a degree in music.

And I am not simply talking about solo electronic music producers.

I am talking about the majority of producers, those who run live sound for venues, recording for studios, programming for artists…

Almost all of these people went to school to do what they loved.