Craft vs. Career

Every year, thousands of students graduate from music programs across the world. These are talented, dedicated students, and yet, many struggle to build fulfilling careers as performing musicians. Why?

Because they haven’t learned the skills required to build those careers.

Craft or Career?

What School Doesn’t Teach You

There is an enormous difference between mastering the craft of music – our instrument or voice, composition, conducting – and mastering the skills required to build a career sharing live music with people. Many people spend 10, 15, even 20 years figuring out the craft, but expect the career to just be there upon graduation. It doesn’t work that way.

Is it the fault of the music programs? Not really. University was never intended to be a vocational school. You have to look elsewhere to learn the day to day skills required to find and book gigs. You may need to beef up on your people skills or your selling skills.

In the movie, The Founder, Ray Croc, the man who brought McDonald’s to the world, realizes that he is not in the hamburger business, he’s in the real estate business. Similarly, you are not as much in the music business as you are in the people business. You must put the same effort into mastering your relationships with people as you did mastering your instrument.

Thankfully, there are some skills that transfer between music training and career building.

  1. Diligence: In order to master your music craft, you had to be extremely disciplined and dedicated. Think of all the hours spent woodshedding in practice rooms. The same diligence serves you well as you craft a career.
  2. Resilience in the face of rejection: Every time you failed an audition or were passed over for first chair, you experienced a little bit of rejection. Hopefully, you learned to take that in stride and keep going. Learning to deal with rejection is one of the most important career skills you can master. A lot of talented people leave music because they do not understand that frequent rejection is just part of the package. Nine times out of ten, you will hear no. That’s ok. That means that one time you will hear yes, and it all rides on that one time.

Insecurity is Unimportant

As a classical musician, you spent years before teachers, fellow students (competitors), and judges, having every single move picked apart. They focused on the three notes you could have done better instead of the 5,000 notes you played perfectly. That was their job, but it still leads to fear that everyone else is scrutinizing your playing in the same way. Years of that level of critique makes it easy to believe that you are less talented or worthy of success than you really are. Bam. Fear of failure.

But what if you’re successful? What if you land the gig, or garner the praise? Well, deep down, you don’t believe you deserve it. Someday, someone is going to realize that you are a fraud. This is called Imposter Syndrome, and it’s a big driver behind what people refer to as “fear of success.”

These are all perfectly normal, even common fears. Never should you imagine that you are not capable of having a successful career in music because you harbor these kinds of self-doubts. Nearly everyone does! The key lies in overcoming them and learning the other skills that will allow you to build a profitable, fulfilling life in music.

Tips for the Road

These tips are critical for building a career in music, but they apply equally to building a career in any profession.

  1. It’s not who you know; it’s who you know that wants to work with you. How do you make people want to work with you? Be your best self every time you show up.
  2. Everyone you meet in your field is a potential colleague. You never know what opportunities or connections are lurking behind a new face. Be nice to everyone.
  3. Be your own best advocate. No one is going to come knocking on your door to offer you your dream job. You have to go out and create it for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission – you’ll be waiting a long time.

You’ve mastered the craft of music and already overcome numerous obstacles. Spend time mastering the business of music (the business of people), and you’re on your way.

If you would like to hear the live discussion about this topic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.