You’d like to land a high-paying job in music, and you’re willing to do what it takes to make that happen. You’re thinking about getting a music degree, but you wonder if the expense and time are really necessary. After all, Kanye West didn’t finish college. Neither did Ice Cube, Lady Gaga, Roger Waters or David Bowie. For every Kanye West, though, there are hundreds of failed musicians who couldn’t quite make it big. Behind every Kanye West, there are producers, composers, arrangers, managers and studio musicians who all help to make the magic happen. Do you want to learn the range of skills necessary to work with anyone — and to earn consistent, reliable money — in music? A music degree gives you the best possible chance to get hired.
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What to Consider When Choosing a Music Degree
These are some of the most important things that you should consider before you begin earning a music degree.
- What degree should you earn? We list many of the most popular music degrees below. Generally, your best bet is to choose the degree program that most closely matches the career you’d like to have.
- What school should you choose? When considering a school, examine the quality of the faculty and the access you’ll have to job-related equipment. Does the school have a high job placement rate for graduates? Does the school offer a career advisor who can help you land a position?
- How much can you pay? Many schools offer financial aid, but it’s likely that you’ll still need a student loan to earn a degree. How much debt can you handle?
- Should you have a fallback option? It may be wise to attend a school with excellent academic programs in case you decide that earning a music degree isn’t right for you.
What Are Dual, or Double, Degrees?
In a double degree program, you’ll work to earn two degrees — usually from two different schools — simultaneously. For example, Harvard College offers a double degree program in which you can earn a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard and a master’s degree from Berklee or the New England Conservatory. The two degrees take five years to earn.
The benefit of completing a double degree program is that you’ll leave college with an academic degree and a music degree. If there’s another field that you enjoy as much as music, having two degrees makes you marketable and ensures that you’ll have a wide variety of career options.
The drawback of a double degree program is that completing it is difficult and expensive. You’ll have to gain acceptance into the double degree program, and you’ll also have to gain acceptance into both schools separately. You’ll have to pay tuition for both schools. You’ll spend more time in classes than most of your friends. Sometimes, you’ll even have two classes scheduled at the same time and will have to choose which one to attend. Double degree programs are only for extremely dedicated students who can’t choose between academics and music.
List of Music Degrees
To earn a music performance degree, you’ll attend a conservatory to hone your craft in a single instrument or family of instruments. Playing an instrument professionally isn’t just a matter of having the ability to wow a crowd with a great solo. A true craftsman knows how to sight read music. You’ll need basic knowledge of many musical styles, and you’ll need a solid foundation in music theory. A music performance degree is a good choice if you’d like to play in an orchestra or work as a backing or studio musician.
Many universities expect music education students to meet the same standards as performance students. You may also need to receive a teaching certification as part of the degree program. Many music education students go on to become band or orchestra directors. Others become private instructors. After earning a music degree from Five Towns College, Joe Satriani became a private guitar instructor before finding success as a solo artist. His students included Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett.
If you’re considering getting a music degree, it’s likely that you want a career in music because you feel that being a musician has made your life better in some way. With a music therapy degree, you’ll use your skills to better others’ lives. Music therapists use music to aid in the treatment of conditions ranging from dementia to post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you’d like a career as a composer or songwriter, a degree in music composition is ideal for you. As a composer, you could write a hit song or compose the score for a film or video game. Composers also earn money from writing music for advertisements and television programs.
Movies, television programs and video games all require sound effects ranging from squeaking door hinges to blood-curdling screams. As a sound designer, you may spend time in the field with a microphone trying to capture the perfect sound effect for a film. You’ll also spend time creating and manipulating sounds with computers.
A great album doesn’t just happen because of an artist’s talent or songwriting ability. A great song can only become a great recording if someone is there to capture the nuances of the performance. As an audio engineer, you’ll specialize in fields such as microphone selection and placement, acoustics, mixing board operation and digital recording technique.
List of Music Industry Degrees
These degrees don’t necessarily have to do directly with music, but they are related to music in many different ways.
Streaming services and rampant piracy have reduced the value of recorded music and made it more difficult than ever for musicians to earn money. Artists and record companies need smart businesspeople who can lead the music industry down a new path. Earning a music business degree could help you become one of those people.
Do you have the ability to identify a musician with the potential for mass appeal? Would you like to learn the marketing strategies necessary to help a musician find his or her audience? The top managers in the music industry earn millions of dollars per year. While earning an entertainment business degree, you’ll learn the techniques of the masters.
From Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig to Skrillex’s Spaceship stage rig, props and special effects have enhanced live music performances as long as the music industry has existed. With a degree in show production, you could become one of the behind-the-scenes professionals who designs stage props, light shows and pyrotechnic displays.
Musicians don’t become successful by accident. For an album or concert tour to sell, someone has to write the commercials, create the online ads and design the posters. As you earn a degree in media design, you’ll learn the skills necessary to conceptualize and execute marketing campaigns for the music industry.
Text content is the fuel that powers newspapers, magazines and websites — and many of the world’s most popular publications are about music. With a degree in Media Communications, you could one day land a position as a writer for Rolling Stone or Guitar World. You may also learn the skills necessary to start your own popular website.
Technology drives many of the great innovations in the music industry. Where would popular music be today without technologies such as multi-track recording, electronic synthesizers and sampling? Professionals in a wide variety of technology fields can influence the music industry. As a computer programmer, you could create the next great digital compression technology or recording software. As an electrical engineer, you could design microphones or effect pedals.
How does modern thrash metal draw from the contrapuntal techniques pioneered during the Renaissance? Did Johann Sebastian Bach intend for his cello suites to become performance pieces, or did he actually think of them as learning tools for young students? Music is one of humanity’s purest forms of expression. As a music historian, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how music relates to the human condition. You may one day become a professor at an esteemed university.
Who Are Some Famous People With Music Degrees?
Adam Sandler earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from New York University in 1988. Sandler went on to enjoy a celebrated career in acting, stand-up comedy and music. As a musician, Sandler has received two Grammy Award nominations in the Best Comedy Album category.
Carrie Underwood earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication from Northeastern State University — receiving the magna cum laude distinction — in 2006. Shortly before completing her degree, Underwood withdrew from school to win the 2005 “American Idol” competition. That’s a productive sabbatical!
Jamie Foxx earned a Bachelor of Music Arts degree in music composition from United States International University. Foxx’s career highlights include winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Ray Charles in the 2004 film “Ray.”
Ludacris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in music management from Georgia State University in 1999. Although Ludacris has recorded several successful rap albums, he is perhaps most famous for his recurring role as Tej Parker in the “Fast and Furious” film series.
Sheryl Crow earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music performance, composition and education from the University of Missouri in 1984. After years as a teacher, songwriter, and backing vocalist, Crow found success as a solo artist with the release of her album “Tuesday Night Music Club” in 1993. The album sold more than 7 million copies and established Crow as a superstar.