Podcast #2 – Should You Go To Music School? (Answered By Someone Who Did Go – Twice)

Hello everyone!  As promised, here’s a stream of the new Guit-A-Grip podcast:

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/01_Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Episode_2.mp3]

(Once again – this podcast was recorded in the same marathon session as the first one and there’s some weird gain issues going on.  So it’s a little gritty sounding on headphones and only slightly more forgiving though speakers – this will be fixed by podcast #4 – but in the meantime my apologies for the crunchy vocals.)

Man O-man!

This was such a deep topic and deserving of way more detail than my little 1/2 hour exploration.  In light of this travesty of brevity and over simplification I need to add a few basic points that will hopefully fill in the spaces.


Guit-A-Grip Episode #2 – Show Notes


The Flippant Answer (and the lengthy explanation)

I don’t want to cop out by answering this question initially with a maybe, but it really is situational.  No matter how well designed the curriculum is and how well developed the facilities are, there is no “one size fits all” solution.  Some people are going to thrive in   settings that other people will be miserable in.  But I hope the podcast addresses some of the economic realities of what people are getting into when they go to school, the realities of the job prospects when they leave school and the real reason to go to school (it’s as much about the why of your development as it is about developing the skill set of how you’ll develop).


The Community College Oversight

At an early point in the podcast, I set aside the issue of public/community colleges for private ones but I misspoke my motivation why.  Private ones are not necessarily where everyone seems to go, but they are the ones that seem to get the most attention in the public eye.

The only questions behind going to any college are questions of intent/purpose and long term cost. Since the cost behind going to state schools (for in state residents) is often a fraction of what private schools cost – I set state schools aside as the issues for or against going to one are largely the same.  So while there are large differences, from a motivational standpoint the issues are largely the same.


The sideman / private teacher money breakdown

At the 12:00 mark or so is yet another moment of me misspeaking.  I said that working as a side man that you’d likely be viewed as an independent artist – but I meant to say, “independent contractor”.  Both may be true but the independent contractor will have much larger financial implications down the road.

I quoted 40% for Independent contractor taxes – which is higher than standard with holding for an independent contractor – but is not completely outrageous as in addition to sate and federal tax withholdings – the additional taxes on self-employment put you in a much different tax bracket if you’re not writing everything off.

For example, for a $15/Hour independent contractor vs a $12/Hour for payroll employee, the take home pay after taxes will be about $9.75/hour for the independent contractor and (depending on withholdings) just below $10/hour for the payroll employee.

If you have a manager, agent or lawyer (and if you’re making $1500 a week as a side man it’s very likely that you have at least one of those people) – your expenses will have you holding back closer to 40% (if not more).  People filing Section C on their 1040’s are more likely to get audited and hopefully you’re paying quarterlies so you don’t get NAILED at the end of the year.

In other words 40% isn’t completely outrageous as a figure but it is high.  (FYI – When I paid taxes and penalties early on as an independent contractor for teaching at a music store my take home percentage of original income was closer to 50% all in.)


Networking – or emphasizing a big reason to go

In a speech I used to give entering art students I used to say something like this on orientation,

“Look around at the people around you – because these are the people you are going to rely on for the rest of your career.  These are the people who are going to throw gigs and referrals your way.  These are the people who are going to give you a couch to crash on when you’re in town and will lead you to the other connections that you need to make to succeed as an entrepreneur.  So get to know these people.  Make introductions, get to know what people do an work with the best people you can.”

The irony is that the value of this lesson is generally only learned years later and it’s the one that (generally) no one will teach you.


Expanding your aesthetic

This is one thing I largely skipped in this podcast.  One huge thing that I got out of college was exposure to a lot of things that I didn’t know about before.  I didn’t like everything I was exposed to, but the process of understanding why I didn’t like those things completely evolved my aesthetic.  You don’t have to go to a formalized school setting to have that happen – but when you have the right teacher to guide you and help you understand what to look for you’re going to get access to insights that would have ben much more difficult on your own.

The Faculty

I skipped this in the podcast entirely as I think it’s a given that you’re going to get access to professional faculty – but realize that you are going to probably find a few amazing teachers, some so-so teachers and some people who are just uninspired.  I had a few faculty members in my undergrad who made the material so listless that I couldn’t engage it either.  Having said that, there were some faculty in my undergrad were so amazing that it made up for the bad experiences (I should mention that almost all of the music faculty at CalArts I came into contact with at CalArts fall into the inspired category.)  But teachers can only teach if the student is willing to learn, and while every student may be present, without having a vested interest in the lesson and/or the subject matter – they may not be ready to learn.

Nothing says you have to do it at 18.

Boy, that was the biggest lesson I learned (and thanks to Reg Bloor for reminding me about that lesson!) I really was not in the headspace for my undergrad experience.  I’m really happy I did it for a number of reasons, but academically it was a wash for me.

Again, I was someone who read a lot – but knew very little.  I might have come across as mature and articulate on a good day, but none of it was based on knowledge of anything (and certainly not anything musical).  I got so much more out of my graduate experience years later just because I had a little living under my belt and knew what I wanted to get out of it (although that didn’t work out exactly as planned – more on that later).

Get the dumb stuff out of your system and then if you want to go to school – you’ll have a more solid reason for doing so (and a better chance of getting a deeper return on your investment).  Some people get the dumb stuff out of their system before they’re 16.  It didn’t happen for me until well after my college days.

A quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

When I was 18, an older version of myself traveling back in time to counsel me could not have talked me out of going to music school.  I would have done anything to go there.

A real key is to have passion and determination so take any positive or negative aspects of the experience with a grain of salt.  If you look at the downsides and say, “I don’t care.  I’m going to do what I have to do.” then you’re ready to go.  There’s a lot to be said for sheer determination and while that can get you somewhere – it generally won’t get you to your final destination on it’s own.

The secret agenda

This podcast has as much to do with the current state of the industry, as it does the current economics of going to school but really, it’s just another examination of understanding the why behind taking any course of action to work in harmony with the how.

As always, thanks for reading and listening!  A much shorter podcast is on the way next week!

Part three next week is the last of the weird initial edit/recording sessions so better sounding audio is on it’s way!

Finally, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated.

Thanks again!


Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

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  • or you can right click here to download it.

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