Maybe you are about to enter college, maybe you are already in college, or maybe you are a teacher trying to guide your students through this process. Wherever you may be on that spectrum, one thing is for sure: Having someone who has already been there, done that to take your hand and show you the ropes helps you avoid a lot of mistakes.
If I could go back and re-do my undergrad knowing everything I know now, there are more than a few things I would do differently. But out of everything, the number one piece of advice I would go back and give myself is that yes, college is for learning, BUT, if you want to do what you love when you graduate and not be forced into a desk job, then you need to work your ass off and set yourself up for success NOW.
So how exactly would I go about doing that, you ask?
1. TAKE BUSINESS CLASSES
Since I went to a University, I had access to so many things that I am now kicking myself for not taking advantage of. The biggest of these is not taking more business classes. Even if you don't want to go the full fledged entrepreneurial route, if you are a musician, you are going to be teaching lessons at some point in your life. And when you teach lessons, there is a lot more business that goes into it than you may initially think.
You're going to have to build a website, and if you want any hope of standing out from the crowd, then it needs to be freaking bomb. In order for it to be freaking bomb, you need to brand yourself. But it's not enough to just build a website, because what's the point in spending those countless hours making sure everything is perfect if nobody can find it? You'll also want to learn about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so said website can be found. (Ok so maybe those are more technology than business, but hey, Universities have those programs, too!)
And then once you get some students, you'll want to have a contract or handbook. You'll also need to learn how to do all your bookkeeping, because as musicians, there's a LOT we have to track for tax season! Not to mention you need to market yourself to get students in the first place.
I could keep going but basically there is a TON of back end work that goes into being successful. If you branch out from the music bubble and take classes and learn how to do all of these things now instead of figuring it out as you go, you will be way ahead of the curve, my friend.
2. GO TO AS MANY EVENTS AS POSSIBLE
This one is also related to taking full advantage of what your school offers. During my time at FSU, every instrument studio brought in incredible guest artists. But did I go to them? No. I went to (most of) the flute guest artist events, which were all incredible learning experiences. Honestly, when I am feeling uninspired I still flip back through my notebook that I took all my Masterclass notes in!
BUT. I really wish I would have taken advantage of the guest artists the other studios brought in, too. Sure, a lot of the technical things specific to each instrument may not be applicable, but hey, all winds and brass use tonguing, right? Maybe you can learn a new technique that is a game changer for you. Or maybe you'll learn a new way of thinking about phrasing from that piano masterclass that you had never thought of before.
Soak in as much information as you can, take notes like your life depends on it, and I promise you will thank yourself later. (Some of the best practicing techniques I learned actually came from a trumpet player!)
3. TAKE MORE AUDITIONS
If you are a performance major, you should be budgeting to take AT LEAST two auditions a year, but honestly, as many as you can afford. If you want to win an audition one day, then you need to get as comfortable taking them as you possibly can. And the time to start doing that is NOT after you graduate and are seriously trying to win one (because that is what leads to getting stuck in a desk job). The time to start practicing is when you are still in school and can use each experience to learn and grow. When you still have teachers and mentors around you to help you through the tough spots.
You should be honing your preparations and getting yourself comfortable in these high pressure situations. In my opinion, there is no other way to get truly comfortable auditioning other than actually taking auditions. I have not found anything that replicates the type of pressure that comes along with that situation. So the more auditions you take now, the closer you're going to get to walking into that audition room feeling like Beyonce, nailing everything, and winning that job.
Honestly, even if you are NOT performance, you should do at least one audition just to experience it!
4. DO COMPETITIONS
Also for performance majors.
I spent my entire time in undergrad and grad school loathing competitions and refused to do them. Why? Because who is the "winner" is usually entirely subjective, depending on the taste of the specific judge(s). And to me that is infuriating. I am very black and white. And music competitions are very...not.
I will be the first to admit that any competitions and auditions I've done created a different type of motivation within me. For me, it is usually the financial commitment that causes it. If I am going to spend that amount of money investing in this (and we all know how broke college kids are), you better believe I'm going to work my ass off to make it worth it! My preparations were much more thorough and planned out than anything else I've ever prepared for. And honestly they are worth it for that alone.
Now the other side to this is as a performance major, you have to have shiny career moves to fill up that resume and bio. Most auditions now require you to submit a resume first. If you have never performed with a professional orchestra, you are going to have a very hard time being invited to auditions. Unless.....you've won some baller competitions.
As recommended with auditions, I would try to set aside money in your budget to do at least two competitions a year. Freshman year I would set aside a weekend and just research the hell out of competitions. Look up flute societies for every state, then branch out to competitions that include woodwinds or are just for musicians in general, if you're feeling like going hard on the competition front. Most competitions are yearly, so this will give you a good route to plan out which ones you want to do. The general timings usually stay the same too.
5. BE OPEN-MINDED ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH
And last but not least! Always stay open-minded about where life may ultimately lead you.
I think performance majors have the hardest time with this one. But here's a truth bomb: We live in a time when we are watching orchestras close their doors, the base playing level expectations raise to nearly unreachable, and the success percentage of those setting out on the orchestral path seems lower and lower. So being open-minded about potential career paths is critical if you want to be successful in this field.
When I was in seventh grade, in all of my infinite wisdom, I made the decision that I wanted to be an orchestral flute player. And I held on tight to that all through high school, undergrad, and grad school. It wasn't until I got out into the real world that I started to think differently.
Sure, I will always love performing in orchestras, and that will never be something that I completely set aside and say, "Nah, I don't want to do this anymore." But, I have come to realize that based on how I function best, my life goals, and how I can best serve others, I am much more suited to (and dare I say enjoy more?) entrepreneurial ventures.
But it doesn't just have to be something entrepreneurial. As you go through school, you may find that you have a passion for music therapy. Or that you truly love teaching and helping others grow. Whatever it may be, just keep an open mind and don't shut down other possibilities just because you have a death grip on a single career path idea.
I can say if I had done this sooner I would have been happier and more successful a lot sooner in life.
If you have already graduated from college, what would you go back and do differently now?
If you have any questions, comments, or other topics you would like me to cover, please send me a message here. I would love to hear from you!
If you want to see more articles on how to build your career, subscribe here and follow on Instagram, @nicolericcardo!
Thank you for reading!