I have a music degree.
Pretty much since the 4th grade when I started Suzuki orchestra life was a musical journey. Switched to baritone in the 5th, went to my first summer “band camp” in 7th, started electric bass to join the jazz band the same year, marching band and tuba in high school, joined the orchestra on upright bass my senior year, switched 100% over to bass and guitar in preparation for 2 years of music business and recording school, switched to a 4 year college to pursue a music teaching degree, taught marching band for 2 years, and then finally 6 months after graduating college I hung it all up. Nearly 15 years of practice and dedication, tens of thousands of dollars spent on lessons, school, instruments, and auditions to then be faced with “wow, now what?”… So was it all a waste? Not at all.
The next few years I’d make jokes, often during headshot sessions, about how I wasn’t even sure why I bothered finishing my degree. The truth was I knew my junior year of college that I wasn’t cut out to make it as a musician. I had quit most of the bands I was playing with, stopped pursuing teaching jobs, and began selling off my arsenal of instruments (at one time I had collected somewhere around 25 guitars and basses). When I’d make my monthly student loan payment I’d chuckle and say something to my wife like “too bad I left the stability and constancy of playing music for a living for this photography thing” But as I think back on my musical pursuits I am reminded that the number one lesson that forget is that any creative pursuit takes practice.
The term in music school was woodshedding. Essentially, to relentlessly practice a passage until you couldn’t get it wrong. Performance needed to be second nature, flawless, like breathing. Now as a photographer for the last 10 years, I “test”
My camera needs to be an extension of my eye. Each time I acquire a new piece of equipment I obsessively test it to the point where I can operate it in my sleep. I rent a studio space not with the intention for client work, but to test ideas and concepts so that when I am on location for a project I don’t have to think about what tool I am going to reach for to accomplish our creative goals. I plan personal projects and self assignments to exercise my creative flexibility for unexpected things that can happen on an assignment. So, even though I am no longer super glueing my blisters shut to keep playing (common practice as a bassist) I never really left the woodshed.
There always seems to be a lot of debate on if one should go to art school or not. To be honest, couldn’t tell ya one way or the other, we all learn things differently and that perfectly fantastic. I think that the important take away for me is not that I have a bachelor’s degree in music, or any artistic medium, but rather that I spent years in a structured environment honing my ability to learn, dedication to craft, and above all instilled a tenacity to keep going for it.