I could give you a list, right now, of a dozen students who will make their living in the music industry, and 120 who won’t.
There is a guy who got frustrated trying to explain to people what MP3 compression does to audio files. He took a few hours one evening to record a live string trio, then built an audio file for them to listen to that switches to lower and lower MP3 quality every 2 bars. Everyone who has heard it immediately says “Ah … I get it.” He’s going to be an engineer.
There’s a girl who has spent the last 2 years booking her own gigs as a singer-songwriter, begging and borrowing to record an album, and steadily building a following of fans who will regularly drive an hour to hear her play live. She reached out and got connected with indie promoters, has songs being placed on TV shows, and did a club tour of Singapore. She’s going to be an artist.
There’s a bass player ditching his final exams, in his last semester here, because he’s going to be on tour. He’s kills on electric bass, but for the last 9 months he’s been busting his chops on a series of Bach pieces for acoustic bass. I know because he insists on practicing in the hallway outside my office. He’s going to be a bass player.
There’s the kid who bugged his way into an internship with Lee Rintenour. Lee wasn’t quite sure what to do with an intern, so, as a joke, he gave the kid a recording of himself jamming over a loop for 45 minutes, and told him to transcribe it. Well, the kid transcribed it, the whole thing, then he learned to play it, and brought it back to Lee. He told him he wasn’t an intern anymore, and hired him to do session prep for his next record, charting the songs for the players. He’s going to be a session player.
Most of the music majors at our school, and I would guess that this is true of all music programs everywhere, believe that something magical will happen the moment they walk out the door with a diploma in hand. They will suddenly become self-motivated, practicing 3 hours a day. They’ll take the time to listen to all of those recordings that their teachers keep recommending, and they’ll magically know how to self-promote. In short, they’ll become musicians.
The difference is in how they see themselves. The engineer is already an engineer. The artist is already an artist. They aren’t on their way to becoming anything that they aren’t already.
I hear a lot of students talking about getting “their break”, and it’s the talk of a person who expects somebody else to step into their life, and rescue them from the responsibility of their own decisions. Truthfully, it’s the voice of the prolonged adolescence, wanting the patina of adulthood with none of the attendant obligations.
The students who will make their living as musicians don’t ever talk about getting “their break”. Really. Not ever. They talk about music, about what they’re listening to and learning to play, they get excited when they talk about their craft, and about other people who excel at it. They talk like musicians, not like people who are waiting for someone to turn them into musicians. They’re not waiting for anyone’s permission to become the thing they want to be. To pull a fantastic quote from The Departed, they are not content to be the product of their circumstances – they want their circumstances to be a product of who they are.
Do you want to be a songwriter? Songwriters write songs, and perform them for anyone, anywhere. Do you want to be a painter? Put brush to canvas. Do you want to be a writer? Put ink on the page. If you aren’t already doing those things you say you want to, then my guess is you don’t really want to do them.
Those who are waiting for the right circumstances to transform them are, I think, doomed to lead lives of quiet desperation, and will go to the grave with their songs still in them.