Can my child make music a career?

Sapa students Group Singing

Music is an exciting field to be in today. There are many tools and technologies available for children to learn and excel. Then why did your eyebrows furrow when your child said that he/she wants to be a musician/singer? If you are an Indian parent, your comfort word is probably ‘engineering’. So, this unique direction that your child’s inclinations and interests are taking might not be too palatable. But as a discerning  parent, you will have to consider what it means to be a musician/singer. After all, the world is opening up with so many opportunities today and the traditional jobs may not see as much growth as they have in the past. So, why not explore how music as a career can be?

What does a musical career include?

What did you think of when you thought of music as a career – singer, dancer, or instrumentalist? These are the obvious ones. But there are so many more – music director, lyricist, dance teacher, choreographer, composer, entrepreneur, DJ, music show host or judge, music teacher, music coach, recording artist and record producer to give you an idea of the possibilities! So, did you think about all these when your child said he/she was considering music as a career? It is natural to think on the lines of pop diva, rock star, jazz player, Bollywood playback singer, Carnatic vocalist, or Western violist, but the field has so much more to offer today especially with technology throwing up even more options.

Clearly, choices are quite mind-boggling. It would be good to start with what your child’s real interest is before you go further into music education.

Challenges in making music a career

Having suggested these multifarious options, let’s also talk about what challenges musicians and performers face to get a balanced perspective of the industry.

  • The music and entertainment industry have variable and unpredictable revenue streams. Budget cuts are common. This could translate into downsized symphonies and orchestras, fewer songs in albums, cancellation of music classes in schools. 
  • The field is very dependent on the state of the overall economy – it is only when the economy is doing well and when people have high disposable incomes that  they indulge in music and entertainment as pastimes.
  • There is much talk about computer-generated voices replacing studio artistes.
  • Copyright infringement and disputes are also quite prevalent. 
  • Not many people pay for music especially in the internet age when everything is available for free.
  • The competition has become immense especially as social media has thrown up many stars all over the world. Even Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube.

So, to offset these challenges, it would be a good idea to have asound’ educational degree alongside your musical pursuits. 

Background of some famous artistes & performers in the music industry

Do music artistes and performers have an educational degree as well? In music or anything else? Naturally, there is no fixed path that artistes and musicians have adopted over the years. Some devote all their time and energy to music while some others ensure they have a back-up in case the unpredictable music industry does not add up to their expectations.  

  • In the field of Carnatic music, singer Sanjay Subramanian is a Chartered Accountant, Unnikrishna is an engineer, and Palghat Ramprasad is a PhD in Economics. 
  • American singer and songwriter, Carrie Underwood, has a Bachelor’s degree in mass communication. American singer John Legend also has a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Pennsylvania (he was offered admission to Harvard University). 
  • Greek-American pianist and composer, Yanni, has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology.
  • Art Garfunkel (of Simon and Garfunkel fame) has a Master’s degree in Mathematics Education from Columbia University. 
  • Indian conductor of classical music, Zubin Mehta, graduated from the Vienna state music academy. 
  • Indian violinist, L Subramaniam, is a doctor with a Master’s degree in Western classical music.

Of course, these are just a few names. There are several examples of others who were sure that they would become stage performers. Right from MS Subbalakshmi and D K Pattamal to Elton John, Bryan Adams, and Lady Gaga who either wholly pursued music as a career or got their breaks while they were studying and so never looked back. 

In today’s world, a good approach would be to pursue a degree that allows you to learn music as a part of your education. There are degrees in music and singing that help people start off with their own entrepreneurial ventures or to get employment in schools and academies. But, in the meanwhile, what can you do to help your child pursue music?

How can you forward your child’s music education?

  1. Take them to concerts of all genres so they are exposed to different music.
  2. Encourage them to participate in competitions to get a hang of stage presence as well as to get over stage fright. We would like to stress that you focus on non-competitive excellence even while you are competing seriously. Many famous stars such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé were discovered on Star Search, an American entertainment show. Back home, Indian Idol is a popular show that scouts talented children.
  3. It is hard to ignore the world of social media. Promote your child’s performances in your groups to get an idea of how the performance is received. 

Constructive criticism is a crucial step in climbing the ladder of success.

  1. Introduce music education at an early age – singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. As you test the waters, you will get independent expert views and won’t be basing your hunch about your child’s talent on ‘bathroom singing’.
  2. Listen to music together. Karaoke with your kids to enable them to develop tone, beat, tune, and rhythm, and an appreciation of different genres.
  3. Don’t narrow down on what you think your child should learn too early on. Learn all aspects, tips, and tricks of the trade before you specialise. After all, Taylor Swift was a country singer and Katy Perry was a gospel singer before they made it big as pop-rock singers. 
  4. Don’t give up too soon. Indian Carnatic vocalist Seemangudi Srinivasa Iyer was once told by a senior vidwan (scholar) that he had a rough voice and that he should give up vocal music. But that only spurred him to overcome it by indulging in rigorous practice and ultimately reaching the pinnacle of musical glory. 

If your child has decided to pursue music, a good way to expose him/her would be to ask him/her to:

  1. intern in the music industry – any capacity that will expose them to the dynamics of the industry. So, they step into it with their eyes open. 
  2. be a volunteer at music shows – so they can see firsthand what the ‘behind the scenes’ is like – what really goes on backstage?

If the hard work behind the glamour, media hooplah, big screen presentations, and die-hard fans still stokes your child’s passion, give it your best shot. This just might be his/her destiny! 

Age-wise suggestions for children learning music

Upto 8 years- Children should try out different genres, instruments, and learn vocals – explore all aspects and dimensions of music. Having fun is the point at this stage. 

8-15 years – This is a good time for children to learn vocals /and pick an instrument and learn the basics well. 

16 years & above – this is the first crossroad in life for children. By this time, children have some clarity about what they want to do in life. It would be a good idea to pursue advanced music courses and test their talent through competitions.

Teenage boys undergo some voice change as part of their secondary character development – this can significantly alter the way they sound. So, some schools might encourage you to start later. Don’t worry about being too late. Susan Boyle was discovered at Britain’s Got Talent at the age of 47! 

Scope of music in India

Today, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) has given students the choice of studying Carnatic music, Hindustani music, or Bharatanatyam as part of the curriculum in 10th grade – as an optional subject. You can continue this in the senior years and pursue Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. While certificates are important if you are going to become a teacher or to build your basics – getting the theoretical aspect of music learning right, it may not contribute to your getting a break in the music industry as a performer. But it builds a solid technical base and adds greatly to your confidence – indispensable skills to develop. 

India still works largely on the guru-shishya principle. So, a good teacher or guru is the way to transmit music knowledge and excel in music. We at SaPa have a variety of classes for budding performers – self-paced courses as well as those with teachers to guide you in your pursuit of music education and excellence.

We’ll let international singer and songwriter, Bindu Subramaniam, have the last word on this, “I completed my Master’s degree in Law, Masters in songwriting in the music business, and M Phil in cultural studies, as I wanted to know more about pop music; I did a Montessori diploma, and then I got my PhD in music education. In my day-to-day life, I am a singer, songwriter, a mom, an entrepreneur, an author, and educator.” So, you see life is full of possibilities – use them to the fullest!  

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