10 Misconceptions About Musicians & Music Students

I’m extremely delighted and excited to start my degree in music composition, coming August. I’d keep it low to avoid typically frustrating conversations, but they’re pretty inevitable when it comes to introductions and being asked about what you do or which school you’re going to study at. Some people are genuinely lovely about it, supporting you and being glad that you’re chasing your dreams and doing what you love, no matter how unconventional it is. Others have their own ideas and opinions about it, which bothers me so much to the point that I sometimes feel as if I have to restrain myself from strangling them. So here it is, 10 common misconceptions about Musicians/Music Students (though my views may not apply for everyone, of course.):

1. I did badly in my exams/couldn’t excel academically, hence I’m here.

This ISN’T the fall-back plan, or the only option I have. I didn’t drop out of school, or fail my exams. I chose this path, and I chose to pursue it and put in time and effort for it. Even if my grades aren’t stellar, it’s not because I’m dumb but because I’m not superhuman and striving in one area necessitates sacrifice in another. It’s called prioritisation and opportunity cost. 

2. I’m a rich kid, so my parents can support my fluffy endeavors and I don’t have to worry about earning money.

Faking rubbish. Some musicians or music student may come from wealthy families but it doesn’t mean ALL of us do, or rely on our parents completely. I actually work to earn money for my instruments, software, gears and lessons. I’m studying music because I’m privileged to have attained government tuition subsidy and financial aid from music school, not because my parents can afford private fees, and no my parents cannot and are not going to support me of the rest of my life — so there is pressure to make my work of value to the society so I can survive. 

3. I can only make it if I go overseas.

I’m a Singaporean (no, Singapore is not in China) and admittedly, Singapore’s music market is small and our country’s government may not be as supportive towards music in terms of funding as compared to pillar industries.  Not every country can be like Los Angeles but most are first world countries in the globalised, digital era. Music doesn’t work on vinyls and gramophones like the old days, with concerts being heavily reliant on big record labels. The scene and our demographics are changing. The mindsets of young people are also changing. There are opportunities and platforms to be a musician in Singapore — you just don’t know they exist since you’re making this statement. 

4. I’m not good enough to study overseas in famous music schools like Berklee and RCM.

This one really gets to me. If you’ve listened to my music, and you’re a professional in the industry who’s also aware of the requirements and expectations of renown music schools, then okay, you’re being reasonable. But as of now, I have not come across anyone like this. So, you would also, then, be unaware of how much it costs, cause mind you,  my parents aren’t investors or bankers or celebrities, and I also did not inherit lands and houses. You wouldn’t have any idea, as well, how hard it is to study abroad and miss out on all those years together with the people you love. Skype or text will never ever replace face to face interaction.  

5. I was born with musical talent.

We were all born musical, but talent isn’t genetics. It’s a hell lot of hard work and sacrifice, so stop giving less credit to that than it deserves. Read up on Mozart and his childhood years, will you? Stop assuming it comes to people like curly hair and brown eyes and height. Yes, perhaps some people may have more inclination than others but inclination only gets you so far, and a lack of doesn’t place limits on where you can go. Most people don’t end up doing music because they never loved it enough to stick with it, or were just ‘practical’ (aka pussies), not because they didn’t have talent.

6. I’m in it so that I can become rich and famous.

If I wanted to be rich, I’d go into business, medicine, accountancy or law. Check the statistics. If I want to be world famous, I’d become a celebrity – ramp up the sex appeal, do some notorious and wild stuff, produce and aggressively market poppy thrash and glamourise my image. Then I’d become pretty unhappy either being a mercenary workaholic or a product of mass media with no private life and a sense of exaggerated narcissism. No implied assertions or generalisations here to any groups of people, I’m just clarifying that I’m not in it for a big houses and cars and crowds of fans. I’m in it because music is my passion, and it’s intrinsically valuable to me. I want to make it my career, and I want to work hard so my stuff can be heard by people who appreciate music as well. 

7. I will eventually become rich and famous.

It’s the record companies that want to make you famous so they can earn the money too, but being a musician doesn’t automatically mean there’s money and fame. It takes a lot more marketing, packaging and opportunities than it seems, for those signed to labels and for those who aren’t, it’s years and years of writing, practicing, performing to gradually accumulate an audience who is willing to pay for your music. 

8. But on the other end of 7, there’s also: I’m going to be constantly broke.

Sleep under bridges, eat white bread and instant noodles, wear tattered clothing. Most musicians jump from pay check to pay check but they also hold a day job to support themselves, or make extra income by taking up freelance assignments in other disciplines so no, they don’t have starve on the streets. I can get what I need, just not luxurious extravagant holidays, grand mansions and sleek cars, all of which I don’t want anyway.  

9. It’s all fun and no work. 

I love music and I definitely enjoy composing and performing but it isn’t just fun all the time.  It isn’t the same as being a child when all you did was frolic around and people would compliment you even if what you did actually sucked. My fingers hurt, my back aches, I go through sleep deprivation and starvation to finish a production and hours of practice daily to perfect a song, and I’m constantly learning in order to improve. Some musicians in bands get into fierce strife now and then, and those who go on tours would understand how exhausting and truly lonely it is. But work and fun isn’t mutually exclusive, and most of the time, what I do is both. 

10. I smoke, take drugs, am covered in tattoos and am wildly promiscuous.

In the first place, no one is a saint. People don’t always vocalize it, but there’s a long-entrenched notion that such behaviours are contemptuous and sinful, a mark of being a bum, a wreck and a weirdo. These are the lowest on the spectrum compared to people who engage in backstabbing, betrayal, embezzlement, terrorism, mugging, murder and rape. Musicians, and most in the creative industries, tend to be more open-minded and flexible and perhaps this manifests in manners as such but correlation isn’t causal, nor is it a stamp of certification or shared physical sense of identity. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


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