The New York Times published an article in 2004 called “The Juilliard Effect – Ten Years Later”. It describes in detail the difficulties in becoming a professional musician, as is currently defined by our society. The concept of “making it” as a musician usually means to have a permanent place in a professional ensemble, likely an orchestra, or to be able to acquire enough freelancing gigs to get by on music alone.
Because of that definition, many musicians are starting to panic when witnessing the number of orchestras shutting down. And those musicians who thought teaching in academia would be their bread and butter are likely disappointed to see how hiring practices have changed.
The grim scenes in orchestral and academic circles as well as this definition of “making it” leads many musicians to feeling ashamed of failing to achieve their classically-defined positions. Despite hard work to improve technique and polish musicality, and despite rigorous graduate studies, they lack the spot on an orchestral roster or on an academic faculty.
Of course, not everyone can end up winning the ideal job in such circumstances these days, but it is possible to redefine a life in music. Multiple articles have been written fairly recently on the possible ways to build sustainable music careers. Many conservatories like Juilliard as well as universities see this change and have developed entrepreneurship curricula in their programs. The importance of a creative economy is growing, and some states are encouraging artists to develop a place for themselves that will also improve the cultural and educational environment.
The best action one can take to create a life in music is to ask oneself what s/he can offer to the world? What kind of interdisciplinary work can be done with music skills and something that could pair well with it? Above all, fail forward. Learn what works and what does not, then try again. Consider what one’s contribution in music can make in the lives of others. This makes a life in music for the musician and creates and opportunity to put music into others’ lives.