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A Life In Music

June 5, 2017

It was a musical nightmare. I was in the middle of a gig, performing in the pit orchestra for a musical. The house was packed. There was a poignant moment on stage underscored by an exposed accompaniment— “gentle strumming ala Radiohead” is what the part indicated. Suddenly, in the hushed moment, I heard a crackling. Notes began cutting in and out, and then, finally, just silence. The electronics in my acoustic guitar were malfunctioning, causing the signal from my guitar to my amplifier to fail. I managed to get the signal working again by (incredulously) “tapping” the volume knob on my guitar. But the damage was done. I was embarrassed, to say the least. As a professional musician, I pride myself on using reputable equipment. This wasn’t an entry-level model. I paid good money for this guitar. I expected it to work, and it let me down right in the middle of a performance.

When I took it t...

April 17, 2017

Recently I had a conversation with a student who was bemoaning the multitude of things requiring attention— assignments, projects, papers, practicing, performances, and outside activities, including the student’s band, which works regularly on the weekends. This is a pretty typical scenario for a college music major, and not surprisingly, music students report feeling stressed out. Sometimes I think the stress is self-imposed due to ineffective time management, and if students planned each day or week better, they would accomplish things more efficiently and with less stress. Merely starting their projects earlier in the semester would be a huge improvement. 

So thank goodness for graduation, when it all comes to an end, and these poor overworked souls finally have time to relax and get everything done they’ve been putting off.


Any college graduate knows this is false. Life doesn’t slow...

January 30, 2017

I am lucky to have many talented musician friends, world-class performers at the peak of their game who can perform music at the highest level. Sometimes I’ll ask them what they’re working on. The answer I get is frequently the same: fundamentals— getting a good tone, playing with good rhythmic time, you know, the basics. 

So why would high-caliber professional musicians need to work on the basics? I mean, don’t they already have the basics mastered? Don’t they teach you this stuff in fifth grade, how to produce a good tone and play rhythms correctly?

To answer in reverse order:

Yes, they do teach you this stuff in fifth grade.

Yes, professional musicians should have the basics mastered.

Because if high-caliber professional musicians don’t work on the basics, they will eventually lose their grasp on them and be unable to perform the more complex literature.

Let me illustrate. Years ago, when I was...

August 16, 2016

After being on hiatus for a few months, A Life In Music is back! With the academic hiring cycle just around the corner, I thought it would be helpful to have a post aimed at the entrepreneurial musician looking to make inroads into academia. 

I recently accepted my first full-time college teaching position. I applied to academic positions for two years before getting this job. It can be a tough market. With that in mind, a friend who is a former academic and well-acquainted with the challenges of finding an academic position, urged me to tell my “success story.” Truth be told, I was reluctant to do so, because it feels self-aggrandizing. She disagreed, however, and suggested that my experience could be insightful for candidates applying to academic positions. 

Fair enough. 

So in the spirit of entrepreneurship, I present an auto-Q&A about how I got my academic job.


Quick facts

Name: Ma...

January 25, 2016

Guest post by Stacy England

I'm excited this week to feature my first guest post! Stacy England and I have known each other since we were kids. We both pursued careers in music, and Stacy has built a diverse entrepreneurial career for herself. In response to my recent blog post, Say Yes, she said, "[Music is]... a word of mouth business based on reputation and referrals. Self-confidence and the chops to back it up [make] the difference." I found that entrepreneurially-minded analysis to be spot on. So in the search for my first guest poster, it was the perfect opportunity to invite Stacy to write about the "gig gone bad," a topic she suggested. (And it seemed like Stacy might have a story or two, as I suspect most musicians do.) I think you will find Stacy's perspective on this key aspect of building a sustainable music career insigh...

January 18, 2016

The third in a seven-part series on applying to academic music jobs.



Higher education has its own language. In this post, I’m going to explore some of the key terms. They’re organized in three categories: teaching and tenure; professor ranks; and types of higher ed institutions. These terms are decidedly arbitrary and by no means exhaustive, but I find them to be the most frequently used and sometimes most frequently misunderstood. Understanding their nuances can make a big difference as you navigate the academic job market. [Note: these terms are specific to U.S. academic positions, as terms in other countries can differ.]


Teaching and Tenure


Teaching load. The number of classes a professor teaches per semester. Institutions calculate loads in a variety of ways, but essentially, an average load for a professor is 2-4 courses per semester. Five courses would be considered high, though this...

January 11, 2016


One key aspect of building a sustainable music career is a willingness to adapt. Multiple research participants in my study on music entrepreneurship cited this as an important mindset. That is, while many musicians would like to have complete control over the type and content of the work they do, the reality is that it will likely be impossible to only the kind of work you desire. Bottom line: you will sometimes have to take music or music-related work that is inconsistent with your personal artistic vision, or (gasp) you may have to take non-music work. For some, this may seem unbearable. And it's understandable, as musicians invest years to hone their artistic skills, only to find that as they enter the professional world, there may be a paucity of work in their specialty. The ensuing frustration may lead some to abandon music altogether. This is unfortunate.


But I also think it’s...

January 4, 2016


Entrepreneurship is a term that’s become something of a buzzword in the 21st century. It seems everywhere you look, people are identifying themselves as entrepreneurs. But what is an entrepreneur? How might entrepreneurship be applied to a music career? Is it needed? I asked these very questions in my research on entrepreneurship instruction in college jazz programs and its impact on graduates’ careers. Here’s what I discovered.


The term entrepreneur originated in 1734 to “describe a person who bears the risk of profit or loss” (Moreland, 2006, p.4). More recently in 2003, the National Commission on Entrepreneurship (NCE) defined entrepreneurship as “the process of uncovering and developing an opportunity to create value through innovation” and noted that “we are living in an ‘Entrepreneurial Age’” (p. 4). 


In NCE’s definition of entrepreneurship, innovation is a key term. For example, the...

December 28, 2015

 The second in a seven-part series on applying to academic music positions



Where are academic music jobs listed? 


Not in the newspaper. 


It used to be that when you thought of finding a job, the classic image of scanning the newspaper’s classifieds came to mind. But technology has changed all that.


Colleges and universities tend to announce their faculty vacancies on one or more online job sites that specialize in higher education or in a particular field. Following is a list of sites that academic job seekers in music may find useful. Most are updated weekly, some daily. There is some overlap among sites, but many jobs are unique to each service. Therefore, it’s worth it to scour each carefully. You’ll need to visit each site to sign up for their job alerts.


  • College Music Society’s Music Vacancy List (http://www.music.org). The Music Vacancy List (MVL) is a paid service that is likely...

December 21, 2015

A few weeks back, I posted about my first audition for the first band I was in, Silent Fury. I got lots of positive feedback about that post and requests for more like it. So here's the next installment.




Silent Fury had been faithfully rehearsing every week for about a year. We had a lot of songs on deck, mostly Kiss and Def Leppard covers, but we had no gigs. Where does a group of 13-14 year old kids perform? Not in the clubs. We were too young. And how would we get there anyway? We didn't have cars. Heck, we didn't even drive yet. Our moms would have to drive us. I can just imagine a caravan of station wagons pulling up in front of the club and a group of acne-embattled teens jumping out, unloading gear, and then giving their moms a kiss goodbye before heading in to play a set of hard rock music for a bar crowd. Nope. Not gonna happen. So we had...

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