If you're a musician who's fortunate enough to get to go to music school, it's important that you make the most of out it. It's surprisingly easy to find yourself at graduation with tons of regrets, and not nearly enough to show for your 4 years at a school where you're supposed to be learning to become the best musician you can.
The following is a list of things that you should think about so that you don't let your precious time at music school slip away from you.
I was lucky enough to get to go to Berklee College of Music. My biggest regret from my experience there is that I didn't make nearly as many connections as I could have. In fact, I was a bit of a hermit, which is seriously foolish at a school like Berklee. I regretted it a bit as I was leaving school, but every year that goes by, the realization gets bigger that I really missed a huge opportunity (partly because I'm seeing more and more old classmates on TV every year).
Making connections with other awesome musicians is probably the most important aspect of music school. Not only because many of these people end up doing great things (I went to school with Adam Neely, Betty Who, 3 of the guys from Imagine Dragons, Charlie Puth and many others), but more importantly, you're surrounded by so much talent, inspiration, and just simply amazing people at music school - missing out on making those connections is missing out on great friendships, musical inspiration, personal growth, and maybe even the world's next favorite rock band.
Most music schools have some pretty amazing ensembles. Getting experience playing with other musicians is actually the number one thing that you can't fake. This is something you can only get at music school. If you're at a school that offers a lot of ensembles, you should take as many as you can, and make sure they're as diverse as possible so you can get real experience in many different idioms. Why not take that Bossa Nova ensemble on Tuesdays and the Heavy Metal ensemble on Thursdays?
Learning to play well with fellow musicians is not something you can skip, so if you don't have a lot of experience yet, sign up for as many as you can your freshman year.
You're at music school. There are so many people that want to join a band, there's no excuse for not making it happen. And who know, you might just be the next Queen (who formed at London's Imperial College).
Even if the band doesn't make it for very long, this is not only a great way to improve as a musician and practice playing with others, but it's also a great way to meet the other musicians at your school.
If your school is in a big city like New York or Boston, what an opportunity to get some experience playing in the big leagues! And if you're already starting your career (read #12), this is an opportunity to get some real exposure that you definitely shouldn't miss out on.
If your school is in a smaller town, that's still great. You'll still get experience playing real shows for real audiences, and there's nothing wrong with creating a following in a small town - fans are fans. If anything, small town fans are more fun and more loyal, so don't be a snob about it!
If you're in a city with good live music, go see as many shows as you can. Take your new friends that you're totally making at music school, and create some musical bonds. If you are in a big city, that's even more reason to get out of your dorm and get some inspiration from musicians that are doing what you would like to do.
Some music schools have some pretty crazy majors to choose from. At the school I went to, there was MP&E (Music Production and Engineering), CWP (Contemporary Writing and Production), Jazz Comp, and a whole bunch of other crazy options. When choosing, you have to balance out what you want to do with your career and what you really want to do.
If your school offers music business, please, take as many classes as you can. One thing they don't tell you about a career in music is that no one will hold your hand. Even if you don't want to be a music manager, you'll likely have to be your own music manager, at least for a while, so in a way, this is the most important thing you can learn, assuming you're already pretty amazing at actually playing, writing, or singing.
The most special thing about music colleges is the teachers that they hire. Chances are, there are some pretty legendary people teaching at your school. Ask around, figure out who the best teachers are, and take the classes they teach. Obviously you should take things that are on the right path for your major, but you can totally piece together an epic schedule of classes that you'll remember for the rest of your life with the teachers that every one's talking about.
You should be practicing all the time EXCEPT when there's a party. Don't miss out on opportunities to connect with the other musicians at your school... That is unless you're getting invited to like 7 parties a week, in which case you gotta find your balance. But don't be a hermit!
This isn't a popular opinion among musicians, but the best thing you can do is carve out a consistent time in the mornings for practice. I guarantee you won't be getting invited to anything fun between 8am and 11am each day, so why not commit to that time to be for practice only.
Everybody thinks it's romantic to practice late at night, but that's how you end up missing out on meeting those amazing people.
I know it's hard to wrap your mind around when you're only 18, but you have to look at your teachers as professional peers. Of course you shouldn't act like you are actually peers, but do realize that they aren't just oldies there to scold you, but fellow musicians that are going to help you get to their level and beyond. And if you do things right, they're the ones that will be calling you for gigs, or passing your name along to their peers, so make a good impression. You want your teachers to look at you like a professional musician, not a snotty kid. And if you can be amazing enough that they remember you after you leave, now you're really talking!
Colleges normally have a plethora of professional resources, and Music Colleges are no exception. Spend some time in the Career Development Center. Are there jobs or internships that could give you a head start in your career? Are there other resources that could help with your career or education that you weren't aware of. I bet the answer is yes. And don't wait until your senior year. In music, there's no time to learn, you need to start your career now! Speaking of which...
Kids going to "normal" college are allowed to wait until their graduation to face their futures, but not you. If you are pursuing a career in music, you have to start thinking about your future career as early as you possibly can. You can learn music at the same time as pursuing it. It may sound crazy, but it lines up perfectly. A music career usually starts off pretty bumpy and grungy - wouldn't you rather be getting that out of the way while you're still in college? My classmate Betty Who was talking to record companies while we were at Berklee (I was watching Netflix in my room).
Do not allow yourself to believe that you get to just chill until you've graduated. It's always hustle season for musicians - what perfect training for the kind of career that's ahead of you.
Now hopefully if you're about to go to music school, you'll heed my advice and really make the most of it. If you're still trying to decide if music school is worth it, maybe this advice will give you some more things to think about.
For those of you that choose to go to college for music, make the most of it, and enjoy every minute!