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June 29, 2010


Jason Levi

First, I can understand the reason for the brash attention grabbing headline, but disagree on the notion that it's a 'waste.'

I should preface this by saying that I teach the Music Industry Entrepreneurship class at the University of North Texas.

With SO MANY graduating music majors competing for so few jobs, it makes sense for musicians to think like entrepreneurs to create their own opportunities. The entertainment industry has created the need for a new professional—one who understands not only music but also administration, accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship and law. A FEW music schools do a good job at arming their students with these skills, most do not. They teach you all about how to play Giant Steps and send you out into the world with great chops but no idea how to make a living.

I earned a BM and MM in jazz trumpet (from UNT, 2004,2007). They cost money and I'm pretty sure I've never gotten a single gig because of the degrees. Do I regret them one single bit? Nope. The experiences, friends, PROFESSIONAL CONTACTS, networking, are worth their weight in gold. The MBA classes are where I learned to make a living in music and a difference in the world. UNT didn't have a Music Business program so I made my own, literally.

The education is only worth what you make of it. You decide if it's a waste, just like anything else in life.


I'm one of those people spending $50k+($84k+ to be exact) on a music business degree only to be unsure of any job opportunity once I graduate next May. While my music business degree is basically a performance degree with basic business classes, even some of my music professors have said that everyone knows the same material, but not everyone knows the same people. I was fortunate enough to have a pretty awesome internship last summer and make some fantastic contacts because of that, but I know that doesn't necessarily guarantee a job. It's terrifying to know I could graduate college with no job opportunity in sight.


I enjoyed this post, then again I have always been a fan of 'hands on experience' vs class room theory. Regarding the music industry, the reality of the matter is - it's changing almost daily. Those of us already in the fold are creating our own rules for success, and more importantly, independence from the old guard. In this aspect, a four year program (or 2 year, for that matter) just doesn't seem feasible. Of course, it never hurts to take a few basic business, marketing, and/or accounting courses, depending on your career path within the industry.

"Do you need a degree to create your own job?" No! However, aside from learning the basic principles, I do believe you do need experience and a track record. In other words, you can't just become a band manager who commands top percentages from top bands without having managed a band before. Sure, it's going to take some time to learn through research, an internship, or mentor, but you're in the field, adapting to changes as they happen. Oh yeah, it won't cost you anywhere near 25k - 50k!


This problem/opportunity is everywhere. It's not just the music industry. Very few kids are coming out of universities with the capacity to execute like entrepreneurs, and this is a skill that's needed in any industry now.

Sean Mormelo

It figures Jason Levi the teacher would feel a MB degree isn't a waste but unfortunately he's out of touch and wrong. I'm not going to even waste my time trying to explain why is he is wrong but anyone who is making their living in the Music Industry knows the truth. A teacher of course has a vested interest in a music business program. Almost all college degrees are worthless these days. Just go to Starbucks or any restaurant and talk to everyone who works there. My bet is that many have advanced and expensive degrees for which they can't find jobs in their fields. High Education is heading for a reset just like the music business Jason, whether you want to be in denial about it or not. Plan accordingly buddy.

Sean Mormelo

Also, I agree that you should learn about entrepreneurship but you don't need to spend $50-$100K doing it. If you're intelligent you can learn anything taught to you in a music business program on your own reading books, using the web, a library and by experience and you know it Jason. I have also never gotten a gig from music school but I'm glad I went as well for the same reasons you did. However, I went to a CC and ended up spending nothing out of pocket for it. I could have gone to UM and spend $100+K and have been bitter:)


A music business degree itself is nearly useless - as in, that piece of paper isn't going to get you very far. That much I'll agree with.

However, the knowledge that you can gain from a good music business program could very well be worth it. Being able to take classes in things such as music law, finance, web design, etc etc etc... you CAN learn these things in the real world, and many people certainly do, but with the right mindset a year or two of studying at a good school could save you a lot of time.

Of course, if you aren't out there going to shows, meeting people, working with bands, doing internships, and generally getting involved in music in every way you can outside of school, you're wasting your time. Anybody who just wants to get decent grades and then deal with getting a job at the end of a four year program is making a huge mistake, and I think that's really what this article should be saying.


NOT a waste, if you then go on to get an MBA, J.D. or CPA... ;)


I recommend anyone who wants to work as a pro in any field get a bachelor's in something. It won't open doors for you but the lack of it will close some doors.

As for the music biz degree -- I don't know that much about it, but it seems like there are very few "jobs" in the music biz these days -- but there is a lot of opportunity for music entrepreneurship.


I am a graduate of the Full Sail Recording Arts program. As a woman I found it difficult to find a job in that field so I went out and I purchased my own Protools setup for an in home studio. That degree cost me about 40k for an AA degree.

I would like to go back to Full Sail and obtain my BA in Entertainment business (That degree is about 50k) and maybe even my Masters.

I know that these degrees do not garauntee a job and I originally went in to the program knowing that I probably would not have a job but also knowing that I wanted to gain the knowledge so that I could build my own business. That is still my intention.

To gain knowledge is not waste. In the case of Full Sail, you really are getting a "real world education". You get what you pay for and I really do think that I got my money's worth. And when I go back I will gain the knowledge of how to begin building my own business and also build some relationships with people who can help me and I can also help.

The education is what you pay for. The Piece of paper is just for show!

Be Blessed!!!

The Deacon

Teachers will always be needed to help others understand established concepts, ideas, methods, etc. But some things have to start with someone.

No one showed Les Paul how to record multiple, separate tracks, but there are now thousands of instructors on proper, multi-track recording techniques.

Rock Hard! Rock Sexy!
- The Deacon

E. L. Cantwell

Nobody learns entrepeneurship in a college class. You either have it or you don't. If you have it some tools will help but those tools are available to everyone for free. Contacts and internships are just bait (and for Kayla, everyone likes to have a cute chick on board) for the most part. You can always get a job for no pay. Here in Nashville most internships are a scam to bring in a little extra money and the inters roll cords and make coffee. If you want to learn how to use a console buy one and invite somebody over who knows something about it. As for "performance degrees", academia and trade schools like Berkley and GIT have ruined Jazz and schools like Belmont are on the way to ruining whats left of Bluegrass and Country. And when is the last time anybody heard about a major symphony performing music from a living composer. You hire an accountant and an attorney, pay a web designer and an engineer. Vision is what you can't buy.

Jonah Knight

I got a minor in music back in 1998 when I was planning to work in radio. The radio industry fell apart and I've never used the degree. Being a singer/songwriter however, the music theory, songwriting, and orchestration/arranging classes have turned out to be very useful. Would I have learned this stuff without the minor? Possibly. But I won't encourage my son to get a music degree if he wants one. Get out there and play.


T. Schemansky

Regardless of whether you have a college degree or not, you can still VOTE SMART in the next election. Then maybe you will have a better chance of landing a job when you get out of college.

Now that I have ranted a bit about politics, I will go on to say that my college degree has been extremely valuable. However, I got fired from my first salary paying "corporate" job out of college (for falling asleep in a meeting). As a creative person, and a Musician I had a hard time sitting at a desk job! Anyways, I did do something pretty smart while I was in college... I started my own business called "3000 Records" and created my own job. After college I turned it into a full time job (after I got fired from the salary paying job). Without college I would not have had the time to learn, grow, start a business, and enjoy life a bit before entering into the "real world". So... go to college but use that time well. (Join a band, start a business, get experience in low paying jobs, network with people, and have fun in college). The degree or "piece of paper" you get when you graduate may not be worth much, but the time and experience can be worth a fortune.

If you are not in a position to go to college, I recommend finding a way make a "clearing" for growth. Being stuck in a useless job will make it extremely hard to grow. In other words, keep moving forward and stay motivated.


T. Schemansky
Owner, 3000 Records


partly agree.. but i am one of those who do have a music degree, although in the UK, and i certainly didnt spend $50k on mine. Speaking from experience though, i think a degree here is really handy, and not so relevant to what the degree is in.

Ive worked with people in this industry who do and don't have degrees, and have to honestly say it's a lot more refreshing working with the ones who do; they are more switched on, more progressive towards personal development, more keen to learn, have more initiative and are generally more confident. Maybe thats just my department (marketing), but i think a degree brings value to a creative and logical approach to things.

Anyway, thats my view..


I know some friends that have consistent work as session players. They know lots of tunes and can play almost anything you ask them to. One of them has a degree and has a steady job as a teacher for a high school. I guess it helps that way since someone without a degree would not be able to get hired as a teacher. But if you can play, I'm sure you'll get lots of work. I also think you can meet some good friends to network with.


No you don't need a degree (from a college/university) to create your own job. But you do need to educate yourself in the real world!

See Tim Ferriss ("Author of the Four Hour Work Week") recent blog post titled - "How to Create Your Own Real World MBA"


Sam King

The BEST way I've been learning to approach ANY schooling for that matter...

1. Crash, burn and learn as much as you can on your own in the industry

2. Once you've learned all you can, THEN go to school. More time spent on learning all the cool stuff from the teachers and less time learning how to "press record".


I doubt that for most people, there is commensurate value in a $50-100K music biz degree, but that would depend a lot on the specific program & how much real-world experience it offers.

What I don't doubt at all is that knowledge is power. Some people aquire knowledge better in a structured, deliberately paced environment, while others do just fine browsing the Internet & their local library (the entrepeneurs & risk-takers, of course, get their chops by doing & taking their lumps). The most important thing is to honestly assess what personality type you are and proceed accordingly.

That said, I do think the commercial music degree programs are doing a piss-poor job of preparing students to survive in the business. My son took a dual-major degree in drumming & audio recording/production last year, and has been steadily building a decent free-lance career since. I am aghast at how little basic business practice they gave him: No tracking income/expenses; no income-averaging; no basic intellectual property law, etc, etc. This is stuff that should be included in ALL commercial music degree programs.

About the link to Huff-Po (The Mis-Education of America, or whatever): I hope that no one who followed it takes that adolescent drivel seriously. "(Passionate)Inventor and (Risk-taking)Entrepeneur" indeed - he's probably got a combination can-opener/fish-scaler & is bitter that none of the Mfrs will take him up on it. The essay is about 1800 words, but it would take 10 times that to give it the thorough dissection it deserves - there isn't a single logical conclusion in the entire thing - and I've got a song to score . . .


I think it's for people to start thinkting like entrepreneurs. After all, we're in the information age.


Nate Richards

The music industry is a dynamic industry that is unceasingly evolving as we speak. I believe that having a music business degree will not magically lead you to places but a degree can actually give you an edge in the music business as most curriculum offered today is packaged to have the dynamism, technological advancement, and hands on application, networking and digital distribution that will help propel any music business.

Tom Jones

My BS in Music doesn't mean squat to me...in fact it's sitting in my closet somewhere, but the experiences that happened in between are invaluable.

I learned what I like and don't like (Logic vs Pro Tools, Digital vs. Analog etc), what customer service is (internship at Dark Horse Recording in Franklin, TN), the difference between business/personal matters and how to keep emotions, especially negative ones out of them, learned how to play 4-mallet marimba on a pro level despite my kicking and screaming as a kit drummer, produced a concert event, lead teams to create those events, worked at some concert events, had successful events, and miserable failures, learned music theory beyond what I'll ever need, dealt with people and many bad situations of the administrative type that ended on a good note, pushed myself beyond my expectations and limits to complete the 4 years in 4.5 years...lol, and made a few great friends along the way. All the while in those 4 years I was ready to get out, and now that it's all over I wish I could go back.

So no it wasn't a waste, it is what you make of it (That's what everyone says). I only wish I understood then what I know now. I spent 4 years in a negative state of mind because I didn't like my school or the area I was in thinking it's so much better elsewhere. I also spent the entire time trying to figure out what the degree would be worth or what the point of it was, all the while letting the experiences pass me by along with the answer. Things would've been much better in a positive state of mind. So with that I say:

Get off the degree and get on the experiences!

Ryan S.

I plan on going to Belmont in Nashville to get an MBA with a concentration in Music Business courses. I definitely don't think it is a waste of money, because even if I don't end up working in the music industry...I will still have an MBA to go and work in another industry. :) Do you have any thoughts on that, Mr. David Hooper?

David Hooper

Belmont is certainly a well respected music business school and it may very well be a good investment for you, but it's certainly not guaranteed.

Questions to ask...

Do you really need a degree to do what you want to do in the music business?

Will a degree that will cost you $100,000 (or more) give you an edge over somebody without a degree?

If a degree does give you an edge, will it get you extra money so that the investment will pay for itself?

Danielle S.

I don’t think you need a degree to do what you want to do in music, however I think that having a degree makes it a hell or a lot easier to get a job or run a successful business. That being said, a degree alone will not get you very far in any industry and especially not in music.

I can definitely relate to Ryan because I did something very similar. I went to school in NY, and I recently graduated with a BA & MBA. I did both degrees in four years (to cut down on costs) and I plan on going back to school at NYU for my law degree. While I was in school I did several internships at major labels like Def Jam & Interscope as well as start up labels. I was also in charge of several of my school's concerts for acts like David Cook, Estelle, J. Holiday etc. I think that these experiences in and of themselves made my college experience worth the money because it adds credibility to what I want to do. It also gives me a certain level of confidence when working with industry professionals because I have a good contact base to build on and not many people have their MBA at 21.

On another note, this topic kind of brings to mind a funny situation that happened to me a few years ago. I’m from a really small town in western PA, and a sister of a friend that I went to high school with once told me that “mainstream music business professionals weren’t educated very well.” She went to a small local college for music ed, and I have no clue what she is doing now but I definitely wish her the best of luck because she’ll probably need it. I can name several very well respected people in the business that are very well educated. For instance, Clive Davis had a full ride to Harvard law, Don Passman went to Yale, Londell McMillian went to NYU, JR Rotem went to Berklee, and Lady Gaga got an early acceptance into Tisch. Does that mean that everyone from those schools becomes successful? Hell no. Can you be successful without a degree? Yeah. But know that those people are your competition and a lot of times they get an easier ride into the business because of where they went to school and the contacts that they made while they were there.

In my experience though, the defining factor in successful people is work ethic not a degree. People who know what they want and how to get it command a lot of respect anywhere. If you’re passionate about music and have a plan that doesn’t include college, I think it is definitely doable and music is probably one of the more open industries to that. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of people underestimate the competitiveness of the business. My point is success depends on the individual not on a loan that’s going to take you 30 years to pay back.


It makes it easier for the people who WORK to get something out of college when there are so many people more concerned with "living the lifestyle". It's not the degree, or lack of, it's the person.. in EVERY case.


I got a Commercial Music degree in 1990. Other than cementing my love for songwriting, nothing ever came of it. I was the only college freshman to finish the course of study (in my four years there). I did get an internship at a recording studio, but that was it. I worked at some radio stations after graduation; but basically the untold secret of the music business is you have to be "born into it" or marry into it (like Mariah Carey)...get an accounting degree instead--at least you'll have steady work during tax season...

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