Many aspiring songwriters (and parents of), have asked me if I think a college education is necessary if one wants to be in the music business. Necessary? No. Advisable, yes. Now, especially.
College isn't for everyone. But if you're someone who's on the edge because you're in a hurry to get in the room with Rihanna, I suggest thinking twice. Here’s why:
The Industry has changed drastically since I stepped into it. I’m not being a hater. Who could disagree? Oh, it’s had its downs and ups before. In the early 90s there was a mass exodus from both coasts to Nashville because the grunge era was keeping pop songs at bay. But there was a gold rush later in the decade and we all resumed our sanity. Pendulums do swing.
This time, however, it’s not so much about song fashion as it is about how the digital revolution has changed the way songwriters are (or aren't) getting paid. So the idea of having choices—a more diverse portfolio of interests (which may entail taking on related aspects of the business or minoring in chemistry)—is very important. This is not to say you won’t be able to make it in the music business. It’s just that until we amend some outdated laws, there is no guarantee you’ll be able to support a family (or yourself) even if you do. Having a back up plan to subsidize your obsession is prudent.
There is so much more to college than what one learns in the classroom. (See Exhibit A below—this is most definitely not a classroom).
"Education” comes from things like getting your heart broken, getting your heart fixed, being independent, making your own decisions, budgeting, navigating uncertainties and obstacles, working out insecurities, honing social skills. Going to college allows you to temporarily postpone grown-up worries while preparing for grown-up worries. It allows you some time to find yourself. After all, who knows who they are right after High School? I surely didn’t. (I’m still finding out.)
There’s nothing wrong with being obsessed with pop music. I've been all my life...and a lot of my inspiration for the songs I’ve written has come from, well, living! Of course, there's plenty going on outside the boundaries of a college campus. But there’s something to be said for taking the opportunity, if possible, to be “undecided” while filling your memory with stories to tell and songs to write.
If you are someone who is dead certain about going into the music business—songwriting, composing, publishing, A&R or management—there are many schools that offer extensive curriculums: The Clive Davis Institute, Berklee College of Music, Cal Poly Pomona, USC Thorton School of Music, Miami Dade College. Maybe you’ll be the one who comes up with the slogan that convinces young fans that music has value—and why it’s important to subscribe to paid streaming services especially after a year or two of sampling them. Maybe you’ll be the one who convinces records labels that it’s very bad Karma to profit on the backs of songwriters and recording artists—and that they should agree to a more equitable distribution of royalties before the bad karma kicks in! Maybe you’ll be the one who can out-talk the powerful lobbyists who argue on behalf of the billion dollar streaming companies in defense of status quo rates. You never know.
They call it a "gap" year when you take a year off from College. I think of gap years as the four years in college before real life begins. Admittedly, being the mother of a High School senior, I have seen my share of college campuses recently. I’m sure this triggered feelings of nostalgia for my own “gap years.” For me, they were four years about which I have no regret. Four years that have made my life richer in ways that have little to do with money.
Taking all this into consideration, four years is not such a huge delay in terms of getting on with your calling—whether it's brain surgery or winning a Grammy. I promise you, the music business will still be here after you graduate. And maybe by then it will be in better shape.