Do I stay or should I go

Hello all, figured I’d ask for some advice. I’ve been studying composition at an east coast university for a while. While it’s a great school with lots of opportunities I get this sinking feeling it’s not worth it for all the debt. I’m fortunate to have one scholarship, a pell grant, and some very generous help from my parents, but I’m still taking on a good chunk of debt to pay for my degree. Coupled with how expensive the city I’m studying in and taking as many credits as I can to get through my degree as fast as possible, I’m not working and haven’t had a ‘real’ job in a while. Needless to say the debt keeps rising, the income from music is laughable, the optimism from parents is still there but there’s no guarantees for me. Obviously don’t want to disappoint my parents or waste their financial support.

I feel like the responsible thing to do here is drop out, move back home, get a job to support myself and work on music on the side.

I used to take private skype lessons with a fantastic composer and a prolific orchestrator and honestly feel their instruction was just as good if not better than my teachers at university. And their prices were 96% cheaper. I also learn better from studying books by myself than from a classroom.

I guess I’d be giving up the opportunities to collaborate with my fellow musicians but I feel like if I had a job I could just find players easily and pay them to record my work. It would be unfortunate to give up the sample library deals but with a full time job and just supporting myself I think I’d be fine. I’d perhaps also be giving up opportunities to collaborate with film and game developer students, but I don’t need to be at the same university to reach out for collaboration.

Who knows, I’m sure there are a lot of people that would kill to be my age at the university I’m at, but when academic credentials mean nothing and all that matters is a portfolio, why spend six figures to get the thing that doesn’t matter. Maybe the contacts are important but I’m genuinely not sure how much my university would get my foot in the door to be an assistant for someone else. I feel like just knowing DAWS and Kontakt and being helpful is really all a composer would want from me.

So who knows, I don’t think I’m too good for school, I definitely need education. But the only guarantee here is the debt. Not my music career.

Would love some advice
 
OP
dexterjettser

dexterjettser

Member
Should add my parents really want me to stay in school, but I don’t think they really understand my degree means nothing to future employers (unless I tried to get a teaching position or something).
 

JohnG

Senior Member
In the end you really have to decide for yourself. But anyway...

You get a few things from formal education:

1. You learn information you can use;
2. There is some oversight of what's getting taught -- there are some standards and repercussions if they are not met;
3. You meet other like-minded people;
4. You have a chance to grow up a bit in a safe place where mistakes are expected and forgiven, and in which you can take yourself seriously as a creative person without being measured by how much money it brings in.

If you look at that list, you're right that the first one, "information you can use," can be gleaned anywhere, and often a lot less expensively.

But the other three are a lot more difficult to do outside of school. Yes, you can look at Youtube videos and even make notes and incorporate them. But who's cheering you on? If you are a motivation machine maybe you can maintain the self-discipline over weeks and months, but that's fairly rare. But if you research, say, "how to mix a song" on youtube, how many videos are going to pop up? A hundred thousand? IDK, but there's nobody to curate it for you in a thoughtful way.

And who, besides a professor or someone else steeped in your subject, can reliably tell you whether or not you're making progress? Sure, professors have their own hobbyhorses and biases, but many of them try hard to be objective and helpful.

The Value of Education

Most people who study music or studio art would be hard-pressed to justify it on purely financial grounds. But, depending on your situation, maybe it's worth it to study something you love so that you can at least pursue it on the side, or a bit later in life?

Only you can decide if the debt is too much -- how can anyone else really tell you what to do?

Studying music, history, art, and poetry have enriched my life immeasurably. I couldn't even assign a dollar amount to it. As it happens, I do earn a living now from music but of course it hasn't always been that way.

I can tell you this though; the satisfaction of conducting a piece for orchestra that you've written well -- pretty tough to measure the value of that for anyone but oneself.

That said, even if nothing had worked out financially in music / the arts, although I'd be disappointed, I couldn't trade it for anything. Humans have invented a lot of bad stuff, but the arts, broadly defined, are the one area in which we have a chance to touch the divine, or at least the sublime.
 

dzilizzi

I just hang around pretending I know something
How close are you to being done? I was thinking about the teaching part.

I take classes at a local junior college from a guy that does sample libraries and television music. He works one day a week teaching studio production. It gives him a regular paycheck because the music business can be up and down. Teaching at a school usually requires a bachelors degree.

And? I've have very good private teachers who don't have degrees but do have a lot of experience. But this should just be a fall back position, if you want to composing or orchestration. Experience is more important, but the degree helps, if that makes sense.
 

Wolfie2112

Senior Member
I guess it all depends on where you want to take this in life. If you want to be a film/game composer, I wouldn't keep going unless you're almost complete. If you want to be a teacher, then this degree is a necessity for sure.

One thing you DO NOT want to do is quit, and then regret no getting the degree years down the road. Listen to your gut.
 
OP
dexterjettser

dexterjettser

Member
In the end you really have to decide for yourself. But anyway...

You get a few things from formal education:

1. You learn information you can use;
2. There is some oversight of what's getting taught -- there are some standards and repercussions if they are not met;
3. You meet other like-minded people;
4. You have a chance to grow up a bit in a safe place where mistakes are expected and forgiven, and in which you can take yourself seriously as a creative person without being measured by how much money it brings in.

If you look at that list, you're right that the first one, "information you can use," can be gleaned anywhere, and often a lot less expensively.

But the other three are a lot more difficult to do outside of school. Yes, you can look at Youtube videos and even make notes and incorporate them. But who's cheering you on? If you are a motivation machine maybe you can maintain the self-discipline over weeks and months, but that's fairly rare. But if you research, say, "how to mix a song" on youtube, how many videos are going to pop up? A hundred thousand? IDK, but there's nobody to curate it for you in a thoughtful way.

And who, besides a professor or someone else steeped in your subject, can reliably tell you whether or not you're making progress? Sure, professors have their own hobbyhorses and biases, but many of them try hard to be objective and helpful.

The Value of Education

Most people who study music or studio art would be hard-pressed to justify it on purely financial grounds. But, depending on your situation, maybe it's worth it to study something you love so that you can at least pursue it on the side, or a bit later in life?

Only you can decide if the debt is too much -- how can anyone else really tell you what to do?

Studying music, history, art, and poetry have enriched my life immeasurably. I couldn't even assign a dollar amount to it. As it happens, I do earn a living now from music but of course it hasn't always been that way.

I can tell you this though; the satisfaction of conducting a piece for orchestra that you've written well -- pretty tough to measure the value of that for anyone but oneself.

That said, even if nothing had worked out financially in music / the arts, although I'd be disappointed, I couldn't trade it for anything. Humans have invented a lot of bad stuff, but the arts, broadly defined, are the one area in which we have a chance to touch the divine, or at least the sublime.
Your posts are always the best John. Thanks for your insight
 
OP
dexterjettser

dexterjettser

Member
How close are you to being done? I was thinking about the teaching part.

I take classes at a local junior college from a guy that does sample libraries and television music. He works one day a week teaching studio production. It gives him a regular paycheck because the music business can be up and down. Teaching at a school usually requires a bachelors degree.

And? I've have very good private teachers who don't have degrees but do have a lot of experience. But this should just be a fall back position, if you want to composing or orchestration. Experience is more important, but the degree helps, if that makes sense.
I've got about a year and a half left if everything goes according to plan. Teaching definitely is an option-even if it's just music theory. But even that neck of the woods is highly competitive as well. I'm trying to think how much I'd regret it if I dropped out.
 

Levitanus

Active Member
Well. I have bachelor grade, and, actually, now I'll have good (e.g. well-paid and about 25hpw) teaching job because of it.
BUT. I really don't know how western universities work, but with our "USSR classic height education", it's just wasting time. I should go out at the 1st year (and even not to get in). Then I have more skills, more psychically health etc.
 

Levitanus

Active Member
Now my wife also stands with this dilemma.
But she is an opera singer, She will need formal "paper" for working in any theatre. The solo carrier for this profession is less optimistic than for pianists or composers.

P.S. Does community know any case you need a paper for composer work?))
 

dzilizzi

I just hang around pretending I know something
Now my wife also stands with this dilemma.
But she is an opera singer, She will need formal "paper" for working in any theatre. The solo carrier for this profession is less optimistic than for pianists or composers.

P.S. Does community know any case you need a paper for composer work?))
Sometimes, until you have experience, the degree can be helpful, especially if it is from a school with a good reputation for teaching the subject. Then you have to show you can do the job or are willing to do what it takes to learn. At least that is my experience.
 

josejherring

Senior Member
The only advantage I got out of going to a good music school in a good city was that I had access to every major orchestra and performer in the world. I played along side of them and the most talented students in the world and once I started composing they were willing to play my pieces and my scores for lunch money.

So I say take what you can from it. If you're mounting up debt welcome to the club. This is America. Unfortunately education is for the wealthy or you have to go in debt.

In the meantime you are right. My 2 degrees from the most prestigious music institution in the world hasn't meant a damn thing other than to raise people's curiosity after I've been already hired.

I'm not being much help here when I say I'm so glad I went to Juilliard but if I had to do it over again, I probably would have just stayed at UofA where I transferred from. Once the accolades and the "ooo's and ahhh's" died down, people just want to know if you can deliver and if you have what they want and will pay money for. I personally taught 99% of what I know about writing music to myself. I can't think of one lesson at school that I held on to. I had to completely re-train myself when it comes to music theory, orchestration, ect... The only thing that I got out of it was that I studied with the principle clarinetist of the NYPhilharmonic and I became a top notch clarinet player at the time but never fully pursued it because I was more interested in composing professionally.

Also, my very first reel had live orchestra on it and in the day that was invaluable. But, samples were in their infancy in the late 90's and with samples today I probably could have gotten fairly good results with samples had I had them, so even that in this day and age, having a real orchestra is kind of optional.

It might be in the concert world where you went to school probably has some weight but I seriously doubt it. I've also worked in the concert world and nobody ever gave a damn were I went. Nobody asked me, I told nobody, it just never comes up.

All that being said don't discount that a teaching job is a good fall back for a freelance composer. Plenty of composers teach and it affords them the freedom to actually make good music and not take every crap gig to make ends meet.

In the end, if you're already say $30,000 in debt. Staying in school another year or two and getting another $30,000 may seem scary at your age but in the course of your life, there isn't much difference between the two. Maybe a few hundred bucks a month. If you got a good teaching job you could pay that debt in no time.

Just don't default. I did that and it was a nightmare. Still is.
 

Desire Inspires

To the stars through desire....
Don’t drop out; just change majors.

Get a business degree and minor in music. You need to make sure you get an internship in business so you will have some job experience before you graduate.

A business degree is useful enough to land a decent paying job without being too mentally draining like science or engineering would be. You would still have time to do music on the side while still in school as long as you complete your studies and don’t party.

You may have to stay an extra semester or two, but you will have a degree with value while also having some formal education in music.

Please don’t leave school without a solid degree. You are already in debt. Don’t be in debt with no degree. That is the worst of both worlds!
 

josejherring

Senior Member
Don’t drop out; just change majors.

Get a business degree and minor in music. You need to make sure you get an internship in business so you will have some job experience before you graduate.

A business degree is useful enough to land a decent paying job without being too mentally draining like science or engineering would be. You would still have time to do music on the side while still in school as long as you complete your studies and don’t party.

You may have to stay an extra semester or two, but you will have a degree with value while also having some formal education in music.

Please don’t leave school without a solid degree. You are already in debt. Don’t be in debt with no degree. That is the worst of both worlds!
This, right here.
 
OP
dexterjettser

dexterjettser

Member
Don’t drop out; just change majors.

Get a business degree and minor in music. You need to make sure you get an internship in business so you will have some job experience before you graduate.

A business degree is useful enough to land a decent paying job without being too mentally draining like science or engineering would be. You would still have time to do music on the side while still in school as long as you complete your studies and don’t party.

You may have to stay an extra semester or two, but you will have a degree with value while also having some formal education in music.

Please don’t leave school without a solid degree. You are already in debt. Don’t be in debt with no degree. That is the worst of both worlds!
Very good point, lots of debt and no degree makes no sense lol
 

miket

Egregiously untalented fanboy
I was in essentially the same situation during my sophomore year. My decision was to leave.

I've never felt stifled by that decision as far as what I know, what I can do, or what people expect me to have (a piece of paper). I was fortunate that my whole life prior to college was filled with music. I had a solid foundation to build on, determination and excitement to see it through on my own, and some degree of arrogance, which might have ultimately been a blessing. I've always learned better on my own terms. I do believe that I educated myself well, and that I continue to every day. I'm pleased with where I am right now as a composer, and where I seem to be headed.

Yes, I *do* wish I hadn't missed out on the chance to network and to constantly be around other composers and musicians, but you don't have to be in school to do that. You just have to find that community and join in. You're a fellow New Yorker. You're in a great place to do it.

Based on my own experience, then, I'd say there are three important questions to ask. The first is: can you get yourself where you want to be as a musician without someone to guide you there? The second: do you live somewhere where you can take networking and joining the right circles into your own hands? The third: what will you do to survive?

Only you can answer the first one. The second one is easy, since you're in New York. You may notice that I didn't address the third before mentioning it just now. That's the hard one. It will probably be what ultimately determines whether it's best for you to leave school entirely, or take on some other major to ensure your financial well-being. I don't regret leaving for the difficulty it's caused on that front, but you do have to be prepared for it and have some kind of plan.

I really wish you the best sorting all this out. If you ever want to talk to someone who went through pretty much the same thing, don't hesitate to send me a message. I don't know what I could possibly offer, but know that you're far from the only person to ever find yourself in this position.
 

NYC Composer

Senior Member
Another possibility is to transfer to a CC that has a music program (I'm not sure if City College has one-probably). Especially with a Pell grant and the new legislation, college is basically free in New York. I think it might be nice (since you're so close) to have a teaching certificate in your back pocket, and other than residential costs (substantial, I know) you can get it for a more reasonable cost and have a fallback position in employment.
 

Saxer

Senior Member
I've got a degree but I never needed it. Actually I don't even know how it looks and where it is. But that's because I stopped teaching long ago. I know some musicians who like to teach and having the security of a regular income. At least in Europe you get better teaching jobs or better paid teaching jobs with a degree. Especially in public schools.
Use the opportunity that you have full time to learn. It will never come back. Money comes and goes.
 

AllanH

Senior Member
Hello all, figured I’d ask for some advice. ...
A very good option is to consider teaching in K-12 when you've graduated. You only need a few more classes plus a teaching credential. It's far better paid that most realize and gives you tremendous freedom. Here in California, a teacher typically starts at 50k and maxes out at 100k a year, has excellent benefits, union protection, and works ~7.5 hours a day 185 days a year. There is a state-provided retirement plan paying up to about 70% of your pay at requirement after a full career. You'll have ample time after 3 pm to do independent music and you'll have much less stress.
 
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Desire Inspires

To the stars through desire....
A very good option is to consider teaching in K-12 when you've graduated. You only need a few more classes plus a teaching credential. It's far better paid that most realize and gives you tremendous freedom. Here in California, a teacher typically starts at 50k and maxes out at 100k a year, has excellent benefits, union protection, and works ~7.5 hours a day 185 days a year. There is a state-provided retirement plan paying up to about 70% of your pay at requirement after a full career. You'll have ample time after 3 pm to do independent music and you'll have much less stress.
$50k a year? Where in California? You could be living hand-to-mouth on that wage in the expensive parts of the state.