Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Go for it, but don't pay for it."

As we hit up post-holiday sales armed with gift cards, make New Year's resolutions to reign in spending in 2013, and hear more about the looming "fiscal cliff," I thought today would be a good day to talk about money. 

On that note, I wanted to emphasize something Dawn Webster said when I asked what advice she had for young people considering music degrees. She said:

"Go for it, but don’t pay for it. Having that debt is a very serious thing."

I could not agree more with Dawn's advice. High-level music training has many merits, so if you can land yourself a scholarship to a good school, go for it. You will learn a lot in the training even if you don't even up doing music professionally.

It may seem like a good idea to take out loans in order to attend a certain school you love. But you have to consider the long-term consequences and how much and how long it's going to take to pay back that loan.

A serious debt load is likely to limit your career possibilities after you graduate -- especially if you try to do music for a career. You will be motivated by the need to make a certain amount of money just to cover the monthly loan payment -- and that's not even counting other essential expenses like rent, instrument insurance, gas, and groceries. 

As a result, you may get locked into doing gigs that you don't like, have to skip auditions because the flights are too expensive, or skimp on instrument repairs or replacement.

Even if you don't have loans, it costs money at first to become a professional musician -- you have to pay for equipment, recordings, and travel for auditions and jobs.

Although it may sound harsh, I would add that students who do not get scholarships to good music schools should strongly consider what their career prospects are likely to be in such a competitive field. 

Dawn went on to say: "More and more people get trapped in [debt], and it really limits what you can do afterwards....You might not have as much freedom to do what you’d like to do, or even to change your mind if you take on a lot of debt. I wouldn’t be in acupuncture school right now if I had outstanding debt from before."

Another statement I couldn't agree with more. Every single person I've interviewed considers their music degree to be an asset to their other field. But if you've already got debt from your music program, that may limit your ability to pursue something that requires additional education and training -- and most likely, loans!

Dawn summed up the reality brilliantly: "[P]eople are really going to try to sell you on their schools and no one can guarantee you a job. You can work your butt off, but it’s just a fact that there are so many really talented, qualified musicians out there."

There are countless ways to be a musician, and there are ways make it happen without a six-figure student loan bill to attend a brand-name conservatory. If you're a student auditioning for music schools this spring, keep Dawn's advice in mind: "Go for it, but don't pay for it." Good luck!

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