Poll: What Do You Think About The Numbers Of Students Graduating With Music Performance Degrees

Adaptistration People 009Last Friday’s April Fool’s post was a genuine hit but it seemed to simultaneously hit a few nerves. In particular, a number of reader replies (especially via email and social media) touched on issues related to the sheer volume of students produced by conservatories and schools of music vs. existing and potential job/opportunity capacity throughout the field.

There’s no shortage on discussion about concerns over the music performance graduates vs. opportunity syndrome, in fact, it is a well-worn topic that has garnered national attention for more than a decade. If the topic is new to you, here’s the nutshell version: enrollment at most conservatories and schools of music have increased since the economic downturn but employment opportunities have steadily declined.

Although we have examined this in the past, it has been several years; as such, I’m very curious to know more about what readers think in the post-economic downturn era.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, this little poll doesn’t really provide the necessary space for expressing your observations nor does it touch on the host of related ethical questions. As such, I encourage everyone to share your thoughts in comments or initiate the conversation via your social media profiles.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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10 thoughts on “Poll: What Do You Think About The Numbers Of Students Graduating With Music Performance Degrees”

  1. It seems there are pros and cons to both sides: too many keeps quality up (at least it used to before politics became the primary job allocator) but can also create life-silos for musicians. Too few and the lack of competition decreases quality, community support and knowledgeable audiences. Schools could do a better job of instilling lifelong passion and participation – how come so few music grads now working in other industries attend so few concerts or become politicians/ community decision makers?

  2. As long as there’s money to be made, there won’t be any incentive for conservatories to reduce the glut of performance graduates. It’s predatory, really – music schools take young people’s money knowing full well that a large percentage of these kids will never make a living wage based on their training.

  3. Music schools enroll/admit too many prospective music performance majors. I think there is a lot of money though invested by donors into this type of education given the amount of opportunities and scholarships available. As you know Drew, classical music performances have high labor costs. Why are those same donors so reluctant to fund the art itself?

  4. If the schools insist on pushing through so many performance majors, it should be a requirement that every student have a double major or a minor. Business, non-profit management, marketing, development, or teaching are all useful areas to have an educated background. All schools should do their students a favor by insisting that they learn practical skills beyond the practice room and stage. How amazing would our sector be if we had trained musicians who also had the practical knowledge needed to run arts organizations? A musician who excelled in marketing? Development? Leadership? I understand why boards like to go with a person with a business background as a leader, but that same person doesn’t necessarily understand what it takes to perform. I can almost envision a world where arts orgs are run by competent and knowledgeable professionals with music backgrounds, who made a deliberate choice to work in that field and are not bitter because they never “made it” professionally.

  5. Here are some replies from the “other” option that have been rolling in:

    There are simply too many music schools offering false hope, 500+ accredited by NASM yet only about 130 accredited medical schools, in US and Canada combined, that is the problem!

    I think thhink the number of classical performance graduates is reasonable, but I also think conservatories/schools of music are ethically obligated to provide realistic depictions of the career market and require career development courses

    I think conservatories and schools of music produce a reasonable number of classical music performance graduates with the unnecessary skills to be able to perform professionally in the Real world where the expanded professional field transcends the disciplines of music performance, conducting and composition.

  6. Several thoughts:

    1. I think music schools and conservatories should be transparent, and not lead their students to think that performing careers are out there waiting for them. To be fair, it would take a really oblivious student being taught by irresponsible teachers for that to happen in this day and age. Many schools are beginning to mitigate against the problem (way more qualified graduates than opportunities) by opening up curricula to non-traditional musical careers, and by encouraging and helping their students to develop entrepreneurial skills.

    2. When my son began his career as a piano performance undergraduate, we were informed that at that point (1999) American music schools and conservatories were graduating 8000 piano performance majors every year. Even less of a career path than an orchestral instrument. But my son, like so many people, used this degree to move himself forward into his true career path, and that start (and even, in his case, that degree) were instrumental in that career development. You could fill in the blank (English literature and art history come to mind) with examples of degree programs which don’t promise employment in the field as a likely outcome, but so many of those degree holders get launched in interesting and important directions after receiving those educations. I’m not sure what the latest stats are, but I know music undergraduates form a significant percentage of both medical and law school admissions.

    3. There are so many ways for an education in music performance to create relevant value. I make a significant part of my living as a performing musician, but not all (I am also an arts administrator and a teacher). That I never landed the full-time performing gig is certainly a result of there being fewer jobs than qualified performers, but I don’t think of my very interesting and varied career as a failure, either in its own right, or in regard to the education that led me to it.

  7. The one thing I always think about when this subject comes up is that there’s nothing new here, really. While a lot of people like to say that things have changed since the economic downturn of 2008, the fact of the matter is that there were always more people getting music degrees than there were jobs. This has been going on for a long time. It’s not really all that different from getting a liberal arts or humanities oriented degree. The rea question is whether or not the music conservatories graduate students who receive a strong general education. Can they read, write, think, and manage themselves at a high level, so that if things don’t work out in their chosen profession, they will be prepared to find work elsewhere?

  8. I find it very interesting and somewhat disappointing that the majority of comments made above still focus inwards to the performance industry. How come our music majors are not taught to be evangelists for the the music they profess to love so much? Attend lots of concerts themselves (not out of obligation, but fascination), and learn how to talk to the community, politicians (become one!), blue & white collar workers, education, etc… Surely skills like that are more valuable contributions to making society a better place to live than disgruntled, “failed” performers, no?

  9. In Europe they laugh and shake their heads at the North Americal practice of going to University to get a degree in music as though one was preparing for a job. Conservatories and Academies of music train players of a certain standard and talent in the art of music performance, composition, etc. They assume nothing and address nothing about jobs, marketing, business practices, or other courses which would make a graduate more worldly, more well-rounded in other areas. The end goal is knowing and making music whether the student becomes an amateur or professional. The reason why there are not enough pro music jobs to go around in North America has much more to do with ordinary cultural education and social values.

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