The Student of Today: Part 1

This three-part blog post comes from a presentation I have given at different colleges and music schools throughout the United States and Europe.  The subject is being a student in today’s world, and since the area where I make my living is music, it will deal with aspects of the world of music, specifically music performance.  But it is my belief that the ideas and principles that I will discuss pertain to being a student in any subject.  And I would like to state as strongly as possible that I believe that one should be a student for an entire lifetime – I hope that I am still curious and trying to learn up to my final breath.

The  possibilities of making a living as a performer are dwindling, and this decline now seems almost precipitous.  In a well-known study, the 1994 graduating class from Juilliard was contacted  ten years later, and of the 44 people the researchers were able to find, 12 had  left music.  If  one keeps in mind that Juilliard is one of the top music schools in the world and that things are more difficult now than in 2004, it is not overstating things to assert that the average student in a mid-level university has very little chance of a performing career in music.

Yet the great majority of students today think that if they are doing well in their college career it is an indication that things will continue that way after graduation.  Perhaps in other subjects that may be the case, but certainly not in the area of music performance. So I think that a student who wants a performing career must realize that the chances of success are not high.  And today’s student must be prepared to have an exceptional work ethic – only in rare cases is even a decent work ethic good enough.

That is the bad news.  But the good news is this – through technology the motivated student of today has a huge advantage over students of the past.  This use of technology will be discussed in a later blog, but the big difference is that during the time when I was a student the basic mindset was just to practice hard, keep improving, and finally get a job.  I grew up in the city of Los Angeles, and so I had the added advantage of being able to freelance while still being a student.  But even  in terms of freelancing I was still, in a way, passively involved.  Organizations would call me to play for them, rather than my acting as an entrepreneur and generating my own possibilities.  It was considered to be very poor form for a player to hustle for work – this was thought to be politics of the worst sort.

My belief now is that a student must not only work on developing performance skills but also entrepreneurial skills.  The student musician of today must be more flexible and savvy than the student of the past.  This may sound daunting because it means that  students must take far more responsibility for their future than before.  But I see this as positive, since it means that students can take far greater control of their lives and career.  But where to start?  I believe that success in anything begins with one word: passion.