Advice for recent music school graduates

Congratulations on your graduation from music school! Whatever diploma or degree you received, I’m so proud of all of your hard work, dedication, and commitment to music.

I know you’re probably experiencing a whirlwind of emotions right now – excitement, apprehension, fatigue (yay for final recitals, juries, exams, and projects!), uncertainty, and whatever else you’re feeling. All of these are completely normal, and they will help guide you along your future musical path.

So, what next?

After you’ve celebrated your graduation, you need to figure out what the next step is for your musical career. In addition to navigating my own post-diploma journey, I’ve also helped dozens of students prepare for the next part of their musical journey.

Here’s my advice:

  • Do some soul-searching. Once all the graduation festivities have died down, find a quiet place to reflect upon your past, review your present, and plan for the future. You probably already have a good idea of what kind of music career you’d like to pursue, but if not, now’s the time to map all that out. What do you want your daily life to look like? Do you want to focus on performing? Are you more interested in teaching? What other skills do you have that will enhance your career? (More on this later.) Create a list of goals and ideas you would like to pursue in the near and not-so-near future.
  • Make a plan. For each of your goals, break it down into bite-sized steps you can take to get there. For example, if your dream is to become an orchestral musician, steps to help you achieve this goal might be to learn all standard orchestral excerpts, sign up for regional auditions, aim to do a mock audition once a week, and learn a new orchestral piece every day. Breaking larger and seemingly insurmountable goals down into manageable chunks will make your lofty goals and dreams seem not so scary.
  • Plan for multiple income streams. As you’re probably already aware, being a musician in the 21st century rarely means one sole source of income. Even the greatest professional musicians usually balance performing, teaching, and several other activities.
  • Play up your strengths. Take some time to write down your strengths, whether or not they are related to music. Are you great at graphic design? Editing videos? Making budgets? Figure out how each of your strengths can be used to enhance your musical career, or how they can be turned into services to help others.
  • Organize your finances. Pursuing a career as a musician is expensive. In addition to instruments and their accessories, you have to account for travel to auditions, conferences, performances, and other opportunities. Start getting savvy about your finances sooner rather than later – your future self will thank you.
  • Never stop learning. Just because you’ve finished your formal education doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn more and perfect your craft – sign up for professional development opportunities, take a class to develop a new skill, attend conferences, and anything else you can to constantly improve yourself as both a person and musician.
  • Create a strong support system. Be sure to keep in touch with all the awesome people you met during your studies. It’s easy to let friendships fizzle away once you aren’t seeing each other every day at the music building. Build a supportive group of musician friends who understand the unique struggles of navigating life in the real world post-music school so you have somewhere to turn to offer encouragement and motivation.
  • Embrace the journey. You remember all those cool composers you studied during music school? As famous as they are now, only a few of them led clearly-defined musical paths. Unfortunately, the life of an artist is full of rejection, uncertainty, and other not-so-pleasant emotions the audience doesn’t always see. I know it can be difficult, but it’s important to appreciate your musical journey while it’s happening. You might not know what the future will bring, but you can look back and reminisce on all the wonderful stops along the way.
  • Make your own opportunities. There is always a naysayer out there proclaiming the death of music. Music is not dead. Music will not die. It will only evolve. It has survived centuries of war, famine, upheaval, social transformations, technological advances, and anything else human history has endured. Music is immortal and our imagination is infinite. We must embrace our creativity, our inspiration, and our eternal love of music and see what musical changes are on the horizon. Music might change throughout the years, but we must always grow and adapt with it. As long as you believe in the power of music and use your training to share it with the world, we will always have music.

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