I really enjoy getting notes and questions from other artists, both new to the freelance world and the ones that have been at it for awhile. This last week I was sent a question from a young singer in the states that got me particularly fired up, and so it’s birthed a new kind of post. Rags to Reasonable’s take on the advice column.

Dear R2R - Victoria's Question

Dear Masters Muser,

It’s a tough decision, especially in the US. We’re lucky in Canada because school is a bit cheaper… or at least less crazy expensive.

I don’t know your situation, so I can’t say what you should do, but there are a few things to consider.

Cost is the easiest way to look at something, but not necessarily the best. I think when we’re looking at programs to go to (whether they’re summer programs or colleges) we often try to find the best program there is. What we should be thinking about is the best program for you.

What I suggest is to really sit down and break down what you need to be a pro. Technical training? Stage time? Languages? Contacts? Exposure? Talk to a few mentors and get their opinion on that.

Make a list. Be honest.

What you need should be the main thing that decides where you go. If you need to work on your high notes, go to a place with a great teacher. If you need stage time, sometimes a big program isn’t the best fit… too many singers… a smaller program will give you more chances. But if you’re ready to go and you just need to be seen… then a big program can be a good place for you.

It’s easy to want to go to the place that sounds the best when you tell your friends and family about it. It makes family gatherings a little easier :-). But if your goal is a professional career then you have to keep your eyes on that goal, and make sure that you’re doing what YOU NEED to get there.

After you know what you need… then it’s time to think about money.

Take a look at that list of things you need to be a pro. How much would it cost for you to do those things on your own? Would it even be possible? Play around with the idea that you take the year off completely next year, and just fill it with traveling for lessons, and putting together shows with local people for stage time. What do you think that would cost? How does it compare to tuition?

Music is a funny thing, you don’t actually need a degree to do it… you just need to be able to do it.

Of course things get a little different if what you really need is exposure, and contacts. Those are hard to do on your own, and then grad school programs can become invaluable.

I’m not saying that you should take a year off instead of going to school. But I think it’s a useful exercise to look at what the PRIVATE cost of fulfilling your professional needs would be VS the educational cost.

The last thing that I’ll mention I’m sure has been mentioned to you… the cost of debt. I’m not sure how you would be funding your grad school education. But I will say that student debt is a pretty big weight to carry, especially in our career. People do it. It’s completely possible. But the honest truth is that you will, most likely, struggle to make much money in the first 5 years of your career. A few hundred dollars a month will be huge, and making loan payments can really stress your business.

It keeps you from being flexible, it can cause more debt. It’s hard.

Take a look at the amount of student loans you’d have to take out (over the whole period). Make a few calls… with that amount of debt, what would be the minimum monthly payment?

50,000 dollars is hard to imagine paying back, but when you break it down into a monthly payment it gives you an idea of what you’ll be living with.

Yet again, I don’t say this to convince you not to take out student loans. Education is a great investment, and there are tons of musicians that take them out.

What I don’t want anyone to do is to go into a situation blind. I want you to make the most fully aware decision as possible.

So. I know I didn’t give you any actual answers. Just more questions. But as an outside opinion from someone who doesn’t know you, or the programs in question… think about those three things.

  • What do you need to be a professional?
  • How much would those things cost to do on your own? Are they even possible?
  • What’s the long term cost of debt?
    • How much funding would you need? How long would it take to pay off? What would the minimum monthly payments be after you graduate?

There is no ‘right’ way to do this career. Grad school can be an incredibly valuable thing… but make sure that where ever you go, you’re going because it’s giving YOU what YOU need… not because you’re giving it what it needs.

Hope that’s helpful.

Have a great weekend… and good luck deciding.


What do you guys think? Working artists, did you go to grad school? Was it worth the money? What are things you wish you would have considered before making the choice?

And to all the others making similar decisions: what are you taking into account? What other questions do you have about continuing your training?