American country music singer and songwriter, Kenny Chesney, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising. Thom Yorke, lead vocalist and principal songwriter of the Radiohead, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Literature. Why even country music sweetheart and 2005 American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication.
Grammy Award-winning American guitarist Tom Morello has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Songwriters Hall of Famer and Grammy Award winner, John Legend, has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and yes, even rock musician, songwriter, and photographer, Lou Reed, has a Bachelor’s Degree in English.
Art Garfunkel has a Masters Degree in Mathematics while his former duo partner, Paul Simon, has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature. Weezer’s lead singer, lead guitarist, and principal songwriter, Rivers Cuomo, has a Bachelor’s Degree in American Literature.
So what’s my point? Too often, talented young artists decide to jump feet first into the music business believing that they have what it takes to be that 1 in a million unknown talent that’s going to be discovered by some music mogul and return a year later as one of the industry’s biggest names. It’s a great dream. Lots of musicians have that dream.
However, there are other musicians who — knowing that life’s journey isn’t always as smooth as one would hope it would be — make plans with regards to other ways they can earn an income while they’re waiting to be discovered. They’re the musicians who work day jobs or seasonal jobs or casual labour jobs and practice their craft in between times. They’re also the musicians who enrol in post-secondary education institutions to earn a degree or learn a trade.
Of course, there will be some among you who will say, “But isn’t that the same as basically announcing that you don’t believe in yourself? Isn’t that going to tell a record label that you aren’t serious about your music?”
No. Taking care of business is what impresses industry people just as much as having fantastic chops, a killer voice and a unique sound. What young musicians don’t always take into consideration is that if they fail to plan for the future, they’re actually planning to fail in the future. You always have to plan for the unexpected, the unanticipated and the delay.
Queen guitarist and songwriter, Brian May, has a doctorate in Astrophysics. He was working on it over 30 years ago when Queen hadn’t quite hit the big time and he set his academic career aside when Queen broke. He didn’t have to return to his studies because he needed money. The money he earned from his musical endeavours were more than enough to keep him well set for the rest of his life. But he returned to his studies and earned his PhD in 2007.
Greg Gaffin hit it big as the lead singer and songwriter for Bad Religion. What most people don’t know is that Greg Graffin has a PhD in zoology from Cornell University. Guess where people can find him these days? He teaches geology courses at UCLA … as impressive a career as his music career.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, but those are musicians from way back when! They’re from the 70s and 80s.” That’s true. They are from the 70s and 80s, however, others came after them with impressive careers in music and impressive degrees as well. Remember Brian Cox from the 90s Irish pop rock dance band D:Ream? You may not know that while Brian Cox was making a name for himself as a musician, he was also completing a PhD in physics at the University of Manchester.
Undoubtedly there are still some among you who are saying, “But those guys obviously were different thinkers to begin with so they had ways to go to university for a degree and have a career, too.” In other words, there are some of you out there who are thinking that privilege and eccentricity made them so unique that they got all sorts of breaks. That might work as an argument if there weren’t people like the founding member of the 50s nostalgia band Sha Na Na. Yes, that’s the band the inspired a revival of 50s music and was responsible for Happy Days hitting TV screens and Grease hitting Broadway and then the big silver screen. Robert Leonard has a PhD in linguistics from Columbia University and if you’re ever wandering about Hofstra University campus, you might run in to him there. How so? He teaches linguistics there.
Yes, you might very well be the next big thing in the music industry, but until you wear that crown, don’t forget to plan for the future. Who knows? You might get to live two fantastic dreams at the same time. Just don’t sell yourself short by thinking you’re going to be the next multi-million dollar music lottery winner.
Oh, and before I go, did I tell you about that country fella, Kris Kristofferson? Well, he was a Rhodes scholar and you just can’t get much brainier than that.