Trumpet Dynamics

An Unrealistic Profession

"My son Josh wanted to be a musician at his career day when he was in high school. He was told that being a musician was an unrealistic profession.
How would you advise your child if they were in this situation?"

I came across this in a Facebook post this morning. It intrigued me, so I thought I'd ask this question in the Trumpeters With Real Gigs Facebook group.

Here's what I said. 

"My teenage son wants to be a professional musician.

He expressed this to a high school counselor at Career Day and was told this is not a realistic expectation.

What should I tell him?

(Asking for a friend)"

I'll share the comments, some of which were quite thoughtful. Although the contributors will remain anonymous (I didn't have time to get permission from 37 commenters), I assure you that many of them are very well-accomplished, professional musicians.


#1 Tell him to get practicing and find a good teacher he can trust.

#2 He can have two careers. He still has to practice like crazy and have great instruction. I did both and have no regrets.

#3 So many careers in music are possible. Many, many of my fellow musicians found careers in music. There are ones I wasn't sure they had "the stuff" that have made a life with a music career. So much of it boils down to a willingness to explore opportunities and not just wait for them to come to you. Also, some of my fellow musicians have become teachers, composers, inventors, sales reps...all are music related careers that allow inroads for playing opportunities for them, albeit not full time musicians.

#4 Tell him to get a good education as well as practice as much as he can during all his spare time. If he can take such a grueling schedule, he might make it. Then, with an education he can make it no matter whether music works out or not.

#5 Who cares what other people think? If you work hard enough, he’ll be able to make it work. I also echo the sentiment of getting a good teacher. I’ll also tack on this as well, keep up with the guest artists that your local college brings in, ask the professor if your son may sit in on those classes or even participate in those classes once he starts playing more challenging repertoire.

#6 Tell the counselor they suck at their job. In all seriousness though, that's a very common problem. The best counselors know that if they are unsure about something they shouldn't give definitive answers like that. They are easily shaping young minds. The counselor should have looked further into the career possibilities or told the student that it was not their area of expertise. Best of luck to you and your son! There are many different music-based jobs as we all know. It comes down to who wants it the most, who has the drive, talent, personality, and who is willing to sacrifice Holidays and weekends or sometimes sanity or relationships if need be to get where they want to go. There is also always the possibility to have a stable "normal" job while teaching lessons and gigging on the side.

#7 I ran into something similar when I was in high school. I'n my humble opinion, high school counselors are great for helping you navigate the maze of college admissions and making sure you have all the credits you need to graduate. Dispensing serious career or life advice is above their paygrade.

#8 Tell him to get a qualified teacher that has lived his life as performer. Also tell him to consider going to school for music performance to perfect his craft and be around other like musicians.

#9 Look up Chris Botti's biography. I knew him when we were both in high school. He was committed to being a professional trumpet player and persevered through a lot of adversity and rejection.

#10 The counsellor is an idiot. "Johnny...become a "....." and become a good citizen with a cookie-cutter job". Why would they say it's unrealistic? Did they try it themselves? Being a musician was all I ever wanted to be so I became one. Yes, there are times it's been tough. But so what? Life is tough! But I have a family, I own my home outright, we have two cars in the garage and carry no significant debt. I think I did okay. You can only live your own life...why live someone else's idea of what is realistic? Life has no guarantees no matter what you do. But definitely get a good education and for God's sake take some business courses!!

#11 It’s tough but it can be done. Everyone is using the modern synthesizer programs for music nowadays so the demand for TV and movie musicians is way down.

My response to #11: Do you have a background in that field?

    #11: I have several friends who are composers in the industry and such things as ad jingles and tv/movie background music is often now done with Garage Band or Symphonia instead of bringing in a band or orchestra to record the sound track. Voice is the only live element in this case. Lots and lots of jobs went away. I played trumpet, guitar, and keyboards and background vocals for jingles back in the 80s and 90s in the Dallas area. No more opportunities there.

Me: Not to be cheeky here, but for a guidance counselor to say that particular field isn't a realistic expectation would be sound advice, correct?

    #11: I wouldn’t say unrealistic. I might say “very tough with a lot of competition”. I would say the same thing of a “physicist”, which I was for 35 years before retiring. The music side was just a hobby because as a senior in high school I realized I would rather have music as my escape instead of my full time source of money.

#12 It's a great hobby. Made a lot of pocket change during high school and college, and then decided to keep it as a hobby. Lasted about 40 years. Go for it!

#13 His counselor needs to get information about different careers before he/she starts doling out judgment calls. Like what schools to look at, what can he afford, how can he start making money now. Sheesh. Isn’t that what these people get paid for?

#14 Thst counsellor should be fired!

#15 Is that I think about it, if I was a guidance counselor I would start every conversation asking the question, “Is this a practical career choice?” And then start the investigation of the path, education, costs and commitment and it all answers that question. I thought Tony Glausi gave some good college choosing advice. Didn’t he finish debt free? I still have college debt and I have to admit that no matter what I do it’s hard to see those bills and “feel” like a success.

 #16 Tell them to never give up on their dreams. My High school band director told me the exact same thing. Roll forward 8 years. The next time I saw him He was Beaming as I was playing Principal with a full orchestra mostly comprised of members of the LA Phil playing to a full house on Main Street Disneyland. However, I strongly advise that he gets a degree in something besides performance prior to going after his dream. 
 
#17 I’d have a few choice words for that counselor but I can’t say any of them here. Lol. Needless to say that’s total BS. There’s a myriad of ways to survive as a musician. A few even thrive on it. About the same % of any profession.
 
#18 Guidance: advice or information aimed at resolving a problem or difficulty, especially as given by someone in authority.
Counsellor: a person trained to give guidance on personal, social, or psychological problems.
This really hit home with me. I feel as if my whole life I have had nothing but negativity when it came to my passion of music. So much that I was talked into doing something else when going to college. I’ll spare telling my own personal story and give my specific take on this.
To me the counsellor is not doing his/her job if the comment is “this is not a realistic expectation.” As a parent of someone who is showing interest in the trumpet specifically at a young age, if my son was to carry through school with the passion of making a career in music and had this guidance counselor give that advice I would go into that office and discuss this in a factual way with the counselor. To me, the counselor’s job is to provide pros and cons on what the student is seeking out. Saying things like “it’s a difficult career path which has a strong likelihood of having a low pay rate of return” is a valid statement.
 
#19 I would discourage anyone from suggesting to a high schooler who wants to be a performer to get a dual degree in music ed and performance. Not only does this inevitably lead to less practice time in college and a much lower chance of ever using the performance degree, but also it adds more educators to the music world who aren’t in it because they are passionate about teaching. It’s never too late to go into music (and start practicing your butt off) so be proud and support him!
 
#20 Just because a career entirely made in music isn't realistic doesn't mean a career in music isn't worth having. I feel very lucky to be making the majority of my living through music but at one point this statement helped me stay on track when I felt fairly hopeless.
 
#21 I was told the same thing... by three music teachers. If your friend's son wants it, truly wants it, nothing anyone says will matter.
That sound you just heard was a mic dropping all the way from Minnesota.
 
#22 Do you have a quality university music dept with a great teacher close? Take your son a grab a lesson and get a professional opinion rather then the counselor’s who probably has no experience in this field. Can your son play well? Does he have the discipline and will to take this career on? Living in Nashville I see thousands of people that came here to “make it” in the music biz only to wind up playing for free or quitting. Encourage him and set him up to succeed whatever his choice winds up being!
 
#23 Seriously tell him to learn and listen to all styles of music, start his own band, book his own band and meet many people in different business's. It would also help if he learns about advertising his services!
 
#24 The counselor is an idiot. Don't care to name call but to tell any youngster that his/her dream is not realistic tells me that the counselor has no clue about the profession, thinks that being a professional musician means trying to make it big or has a negative experience with a failed musician. There are so many teenagers out there that don't have a clue what they might be passionate about and here's one with a dream. I'd like to write the counselor a nice letter about doing his/her job which is not to attempt to ruin somebody's dream.
 
#25 Tell your friend to discourage his son. If the son quits based on what someone else told him to do, he probably doesn't have the passion and dedication necessary to make it work anyway.

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