Graduating from music school is scary.
You’ve been in school for several years, playing six to eight hours a day. Then suddenly you have no more structure, no more weekly orchestra rehearsals, and your goal is to make a living at this craft that you’ve put A LOT of time and money into.
Whether you’re feeling a little lost or incredibly excited, here’s what you can expect after graduation. And for those of you who graduated long ago, this advice still applies!
You might be feeling burned out and hate playing at the moment.
It is OKAY to take time off. It might mean not playing your instrument for a couple of weeks, two months, six months or even a year. Recovering from burnout is different for everyone, and you should recover in your own way.
I guarantee that if you give your body and mind time to recover, you will intuitively know if you still want to play. The feeling that you had as a giddy, ambitious 18-year old going off to music school will still be there if this career is meant for you.
You will be okay without having a lesson every week.
It can feel liberating to take all of the knowledge and skills you’ve learned and try them out solo. During my two years of graduate school I was a full-time student and a teaching assistant, plus I had a dog-sitting business and a studio of 25 students.
I was playing a ton, but I really didn’t have time to practice at that time — nor did I enjoy practicing because I was so exhausted by the end of the day!
After graduation, I let myself be okay with not practicing. It wasn’t until I got settled in a new city and got a steady job, that I carved out time to practice every day.
Surprisingly, I started having the most productive practice sessions I’d had in years for a few reasons:
- I had the time and energy to practice every day.
- I could practice what I wanted and needed to practice without having to worry about being prepared for 5 different recitals and concerts.
- It was motivating to know that the time I was putting in now would get me my next gig, and I would be ready.
You will have to schedule your practice time to make it happen. Commit to it and do it every day. If someone asks to schedule something during that hour, it’s okay to say no.
You will probably have a “What do I really want to do with my life?” moment sometime in the next six months.
This is completely normal! When you go off to music school as an 18-year old, you know that you want to play your instrument, but you don’t actually know what it means to make a living at it.
A few music schools are adding entrepreneurship to the curriculum to give students an overview of the industry, but students sometimes don’t take advantage of these courses.
There are so many paths you can take in music it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You can become an orchestral player or soloist, start a chamber ensemble, teach, go into administration or management, try production or sound engineering, or a mix of the above. Now is the time to explore your interests and discover what meaningful work is for you.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you’re feeling lost:
- Why did get you into music originally?
- What purpose does music serve in your life?
- Who do you want to serve? (For example: an audience, fellow musicians, the health of the industry, your community, etc.)
- What skills, aside from playing your instrument, did you explore while you were in school?
- What are your hobbies outside of music?
- What is your big picture mission in life?
You might really enjoy sound engineering and be able to start a recording business by recording your friends’ recitals. There are so many jobs that might not be playing your instrument but are within the industry to build your network and skills as you pursue a performance career.
In the first two years, set new goals for yourself every few months.
Post-graduation was the first time in my life I didn’t have a huge next-step goal to work towards.
I had no commitments and could literally move anywhere and pursue anything I wanted. The beauty in this phase of your life is that you are completely free, but the downside is you have to make up your mind and focus your path.
My first goal was to move to Los Angeles. Once I got settled and found a place to live, my next goal was to network as frequently as possible and always have the next gig lined up. After I felt comfortable in my new home and had a semi-weekly routine, I set goals for my first self-produced project.
When you start over in a new place, it will take at least a year, if not two or three to get settled and get your name into the scene. Which leads me to my next piece of advice…
Be patient with yourself and reward yourself for the small steps.
You will not be able to spend six to eight hours a day in a practice room and be able to support yourself. So trust that the playing opportunities will come if you put yourself out there.
Network until you are sick of networking.
If you are moving to a new city or didn’t get to know your community during school, go to every concert and event that you can. Talk to audience members at intermission and stay after the show to get to know the performers. Bring business cards and follow up with the people you met.
Not a fan of networking? This will help.
And finally, be smart about your finances.
If you aren’t planning on pursuing a higher degree, save as much money as possible in your last year of school. This way you have a reserve to use for moving expenses. I would recommend having at least three months worth of living money saved.
And remember that if you have student loan debt, payments begin six months after you graduate. Mark in your calendar a month before payments are set to begin so that you can apply for an appropriate repayment plan BEFORE the first payment is due.
Got Any Advice?
Now I want to hear from you!
What are your words of wisdom for this year’s graduates?
What surprised you the most about the “real world” after you graduated from music school?
If you’re graduating soon, what will be your biggest challenge after school is over?
Leave a comment below.