August 05, 2013

What to Do in High School if You Want to Study Music Industry in College

Back when I was in high school thinking about college degrees in music industry , there were very few programs to choose from (and no, I'm not as old as you're probably thinking, music industry as a degree is pretty new). The good news is as these programs became popular more and more schools began to introduce courses, concentrations, and degree programs in everything from pop music to entertainment law. The bad news is that an increase in the popularity of these programs has also made them more competitive. There aren't exactly many college advisors out there who properly know how to help when you tell them you basically want to major in the business of The Beatles and Justin Bieber. So, how exactly should you prepare for a rockstar-style course of study and what will you need to do to get in?

Do Your Best in Your Classes and Challenge Yourself

You probably know that one of the first things a college admissions officer will consider is your grades. So, it's important to take your classes seriously and commit time to studying. Colleges use your grades as a sign to assess how well you will be able to handle the rigours of college courses because you'll be on your own to take responsibilty for studying without mom or dad reminding you. In college, there are few opportunities for extra credit and some professors won't even accept a assignment if you try to turn it in late. So work on developing your commitment and responsibility now. This doesn't mean you need a 4.0 though. There are plenty of different degree programs with widly varying grade requirements. Still, it's important to try your best and take classes, including college prep, honors, or even AP if you can, that show you are up to the challenge of succeeding in college and taking your education seriously.

Be Involved with the Music Program
Whether your school has countless ensembles to choose from or just a basic music course, try to get involved in some way. If possible, be involved in multiple groups and ensembles. Perform in the musical, sing in the choir, join an orchestra or jazz band. Ok, so maybe you play guitar and feel out of place in the band room? Then at least make sure you're getting some sort of outside performance experience and that you include it on your resume and college applications. Still, many band directors are happy to find a way to include a guitar player or bassist in their arrangements if they have room. Singing may not be your favorite thing ever, but it's still something worth learning about and working on if you're interested in studying music business. Partly because it will make you more well-rounded and better able to understand the vocalists you work with, but also because nearly every music degree program will require you take some form of ear training and these classes tend to require you to sing different intervals and scales in front of the class. Most importantly though, being involved in your school's music program will help you can gain as much musical experience as possible, give you a good foundation for your college courses, and really showcase your passion in your applications. If your school sadly doesn't offer any music program, try to find a way to get training outside of the classroom by watching videos online, reading music theory books, participating in a local after school program, or taking lessons.

Be Well Rounded
While it's important to be involved with music, it shouldn't be your only focus. Your future employers will want to know that you are well rounded (see Get a Life: Why You Need Non-Musical Hobbies) so that's exactly what college admissions officer will be intersted in as well. It doesn't mean you need to join every organization under the sun, but find something you like, stick with it, and consider taking on a leadership role. In fact, it doesn't even need to be a school activity. Sure, joining a sports team or student council is a great example, but you can also get a job or volunteer at a local charity.

Seek Additional Knowledge 
Perhaps you've already heard bits of the previous points from your advisors and college admissions officers, that's why this point may actually be the most important. If you want to get in to a competitive music industry program, you can't just rely on the knowledge you gain in a classroom because most programs will require you to either audition or submit a portfolio of information about musical projects you've worked on, performances you've done, songs you've written or recorded, etc. For example, here's a look at the portfolio requirement's for NYU's Clive Davis School.
Here are some examples of ways you can get the kind of experience and knowledge that will help your application stand out:

  • Do an after school internship at a local music company
  • Participate in a summer program that teaches you about business or music 
  • Find a local recording studio and ask if you can observe their sessions to learn about it
  • Join a street team to help promote your favorite musicians
  • Go to a summer music business camp such as GRAMMY Camp, McNally Smith, Drexel University, and Berklee  
  • For more, read our posts on Getting Experience 
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