By Morgan Pappas
When I was in school pursuing my masters in flute performance, I held the belief that this particular degree would prepare me for the “next step” and give me the resources I needed to have a successful music career in New York City. Reality set in fast as graduation approached and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do to make a living. Like many of my peers, I had private students and frequent freelance gigs, but this was not enough to survive the high costs of a major city. There was the idea to get a doctoral degree, which, in theory, would provide even more opportunities and musical success. But this meant taking out student loans, preparing for another round of auditions and all the expenses that go into pre-screening recordings and accompanist fees and preliminary lessons with professors. I had finished 6 years of education with my flute and felt ready to jump into the world. But how does one do this?
There are so many things they don’t teach you in a music conservatory that are pivotal in navigating post-college life. Yes, I walked away with a plethora of musical knowledge that has served me well in the music world, but to get to a place where I feel secure and stable as a working musician has certainly entailed important resources that were not shared in my music degrees. I wonder why so many conservatories lack basic courses on how to market yourself, properly network to build important connections, or explore entrepreneurial paths for greater success. So much of being a classical musician involves these vital resources. Having musical talent and a degree very rarely guarantees you performance opportunities or a chair in an orchestra. Ultimately, you have to learn to advocate and promote yourself. As someone who is still navigating post-conservatory life, here is my advice to those just finishing a degree in music:
Don’t underestimate the importance of personal connections. It is essential to meet people in your industry and create lasting partnerships. Make time to go to events, introduce yourself to new people, and reach out to those you admire. This is not an industry to be shy, and we have so many resources to connect us with other musicians. Use social media to meet new people and be inspired by your peers. Facebook and instagram is filled with interesting people who love talking about music and interacting with the music community. As long as you remain professional, use social media to make introductions and promote your contributions to the field. In-person introductions are just as important, and take time to connect with your local flute societies, ensembles, and music schools.
- You don’t have to say YES to everything
It took me a long time to feel comfortable saying “no,” and it is something I am still working on. Sometimes, you shouldn’t take the gig, the student, or the concert. Only say “Yes” if you believe the opportunity will inspire you to be a better musician and/or a better person. Don’t sell yourself short; if you are unhappy in an environment then you shouldn’t be there. You cannot open yourself to the right opportunities if you keep taking the wrong ones. Once you make space in your life for the right opportunities, they will start to become more present. Stay positive but trust your instinct. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to say yes to everything and preserving your physical, emotional, and artistic health is vital in keeping yourself creatively motivated.
- There is nothing wrong with promoting yourself
Many college students hold the belief that the only way to be successful is winning a position with an orchestra. However, this is not a reality for all musicians, nor should it be. There are so many unique and gratifying musical paths one can take outside of the orchestral world. Keep your options open and be willing to try new things. If people aren’t inviting you to perform, create your own performances- reach out to local concert venues, local presenters, composers and concert series. Create a press kit and a stellar resume so that you have instant resources available to share. Learn how to write a professional email pitch for performance inquiries, create a website for your teaching studio, or start a YouTube channel to showcase your playing. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there and be present in the music world. More often than not, you will need to advocate for yourself and ask for the concerts you want to play. There are so many talented flutists, make sure you let people know about the traits that make YOU unique and qualified.
- You don’t need to be in school to keep learning
In college you revere your professors because they are an extension of you in this moment of your life. You take stock in everything they say and how they instruct you to play without question or doubt. However, to those still in school, it is important to see your professors as guides and not divine gods who have control over your future. Learn everything you can from your mentors in college, and don’t stop your education once you graduate. Attend masterclasses, take lessons from instrumentalists outside of flute, take lessons from flutists who have jobs you would someday like to have, and be open to avenues of experiential learning such as Alexander Technique, yoga and meditation, breathwork, etc. Go to as many concerts as possible and listen to as many albums as possible. It is so important to stay curious and open to new ideas and approaches to learning. If you are fortunate enough to find a job that allows you to surround yourself with creative people, take advantage and be open to what they have to share with you.
Morgan Pappas has a versatile career as a flutist and business entrepreneur based in NYC. She is a Resident Flutist at The Flute Center of New York, Operations Manager for the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass Band, and runs a social media marketing and artist management business. Morgan graduated with a Bachelor of Music from New York University and a Master of Music from Aaron Copland School of Music in May 2016.