I have to say at the outset of this article that I am a big fan of higher education. I have a BA and an MA in Music and I have spent the last 11 years lecturing in vocals, until recently at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and now at the Institute for the Arts Barcelona. Regardless of what you choose to study, a degree provides the individual with more than just subject knowledge.
Employers tend to favour prospective employees who hold a degree, because a degree can say a lot about an individual’s character. A degree means that you can set and accomplish goals for yourself, work to a given schedule, and meet important deadlines. Studying at a university or college can help you to organise yourself, contextualise your art and expose you to different ways to think about, create, research, and promote your music. A good university will introduce you to people from all over the world and leave you with a much broader world-view.
Having said all of this, does that mean choosing to study Vocals at university is the right choice for you?
Well, ultimately only you can answer that question, but there are definitely things to think about before rapidly filling out your UCAS form and applying for your overdraft.
Firstly, can you afford it? Virtually every university these days is charging £9000 a year in tuition fees alone. Now, there are some degrees, like Medicine, for example that have more guarantees of employment upon graduation than others, and you can bet that Music and Vocals are pretty low down on the job-guarantee-upon-graduation list. To be willing to graduate with tuition fee debts of £21,000 and then lets say another £20,000 in living and accommodation expenses is quite a sobering realisation and not something to be taken lightly.
Secondly, what are you wanting from a degree? Is it just the piece of paper? Do you want the experiences that I mentioned earlier? Is there a specific tutor you long to study with or a unique specialism that is being offered by a certain college? These are all pretty valid reasons to go off to university. However, if you just want to learn more and to perfect your art, then there are less costly ways to do it, which leads to my next point.
Thirdly, can you do this yourself? For example, finding a good singing teacher to give you a good 30 minute (the normal length of time you would get one-to-one at university) singing lesson would probably cost around £30 a week. Multiply that by 52 (you would probably never have a singing lesson EVERY week, but at university you would only ever get 28 weekly singing classes per academic year) and you arrive at £1560. Not bad. That still leaves you with £7440 to play with. Now let’s double that figure to £3120 and say that you also get a guitar/keyboard lesson every week as well. A good EP could cost you around £2000 to record and master, but you could always recoup some or hopefully all of the cost by selling it yourself. My point here is that there are other ways to spend less than £9000 and still achieve what you want. Plus, if you are not studying full time you can also be working part-time, or full-time if you want to help fund your “other” career.
As an aside, if Musical Theatre is your passion, then I would strongly recommend that you go to university to study. You not only need a great voice, but you need to be able to dance in a variety of styles and act to a high standard. A Musical Theatre degree will also teach you about the workings of theatre in general and give you the opportunity to get some plays/musicals on your Spotlight profile. Good colleges will regularly hold showcases and invite popular agents along to watch their students and hopefully recruit some of them to work into the industry.
At the end of the day, gigging relentlessly and constantly writing and recording and promoting are the things that are going to get you somewhere within the Music Industry (as well as friends in high places, a lucky rabbit’s foot, prayer to a few choice deities, and a lot of luck), so it’s worth really looking at the reasons as to why you want to go to university before making a decision based upon what your other friends are doing and what your parents would like you to do.
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