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Is a Music Degree a Good Value?

If you want to be a professional musician, you’ve probably considered getting a music degree at some point. Music is one of those professions that requires artistic skill more than formal education, but a degree can help you find work that offers a regular salary instead of payments for gig work.

Making Money as a Musician

Like acting, painting and film-making, music is a profession you can enter without a bachelor’s degree, but even if you don’t have a four-year degree, you still must have professional-level skills. In the music world, these skills are often called your chops. As a gigging or session musician, your ability to work will depend entirely on your ability to demonstrate your chops in an audition. If you aren’t good enough at your instrument, a degree won’t help you get work in music venues playing in recording studios or local bands.

A degree in music costs the same as any other bachelor’s degree, and the total cost depends on the school you attend. On average, bachelor’s degrees from public universities cost about $20,000. If you graduate after four years with $20,000 or less in debt, you should have no problem paying off your loans within a few years. Most experts say not to take out more loans than you expect to make your first year out of college. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at $23.50 per hour, musicians earn pretty close to the national average, but this amount includes the majority of musicians who don’t have college degrees. With a degree and professional-level chops, you can work as a teacher or as a player in a more formal setting, such as an orchestra. You can also continue on to graduate school and perhaps teach at the postsecondary level.

Job Prospects for Musicians

The job market for musicians is projected to grow steadily for the next ten years, but its growth is expected to be slower than most other occupations. A degree can give you the formal training that puts you ahead of the thousands of musicians who are mostly self-taught. Even though playing music is more fun than being an accountant or lawyer, college courses require discipline and focus. At the end of your training, you’ll certainly be a much better musician because you’ll have been forced to study music much more carefully than you would have otherwise. Without a degree, you can’t even be considered for jobs playing in orchestras or theaters, and you will have a much harder time finding steady employment.

Asking whether a music degree is worth the cost is like asking if there is enough work available to pay off the cost of education. Most music graduates work as teachers or session musicians, and a degree combined with excellent skills can ensure steady session work with relatively high pay. If you want to work in a more competitive environment, you will have to move to a city known for its music scene, such as Los Angeles or New York. These competitive markets require you to have the sharpest skills possible, and a degree can help you reach that level.

The demand for musicians isn’t expected to increase rapidly, but music is a profession that has been around throughout history. Musicians will always have work, and a music degree will make you a better, more marketable musician.