Written by Peter Spellman, Berklee College of Music
“The worst assumption you can make is that your interviewer already knows everything about your major. In fact, it’s possible that not only is your interviewer not familiar with your major, but he or she may even harbor some negative or inaccurate views of it. So you need to become a star salesperson for your major and college degree.” (You Majored in What? By Katharine Brooks)
This is something I often encounter as both a career adviser and hiring manager at Berklee College of Music Those who major in music, in particular, don’t always understand their value as music majors.
This is an interviewing blind spot and can sell a student short.
So much of what makes up a literate musician is ‘first nature’ stuff, like the air they breathe, and is often under the radar of conscious thought. In my humble opinion, I believe musicians leave school with a set of skills both unique and highly relevant to employment in today’s mercurial economy.
Besides general skills like analytical thinking, written and oral communication, and problem-solving, and music-specific skills like notation, instrumental performance, harmonic technique, transcribing, and arranging, musicians develop additional specialized skills unique to those steeped and trained in music.
• technological fluency (stemming from curricular requirements involving digital communications and production technologies);
• the mental ability to synthesize disparate pieces into a “whole” (flowing from the nature of musical literacy which encompasses both formal analytic and creative intuitive aspects of thinking. This has been termed ‘Symphonic Thinking” and is explored more fully in Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind);
• an internal flexibility (due to the nature of musical work activities which are often characterized by improvisation and a network of flexible alliances. This has been dubbed the “Hollywood model” and is considered by many in business to be the emerging model for the New Economy);
• highly developed listening skills (stemming from music’s demand for strong ear training);
• a familiarity and comfort level with “multi-tasking” (evolving from the nature of musical work which often involves listening, writing, organizing, creating, and expressing simultaneously);
• the ability to build coalitions (related to the collaborative nature of so much musical work that involves heightened interpersonal skills with the ability to strike compromises among a diverse group of people);
• an appreciation for and interaction with diverse cultures (derived from the collaborative nature of musical work and the fact that most music colleges have a large percentage of international students).
All these specialized skills are highly valued in the contemporary business world, from micro-businesses to multinational corporations. Sometimes I feel like I am introducing the student to herself because this knowledge often lies hidden. But once a student becomes fully aware of each skill, then learns to articulate the skill in words, she then can apply it to the real and potential needs of companies she is interviewing for.
I hope you find this list helpful in your own music career advising and would love to hear other music-specific skills you have noted that can be applied to career development and employment success.
About Peter Spellman
Peter Spellman found his way into music as a guitarist in various New York bands and then switched to drums after seeing the Police perform in the late 1970s. Since then he’s performed and recorded with reggae outfit, The Mighty Charge, world music ensemble Friend Planet, and now with the
Underwater Airport crew. He’s scored films for the National Science Foundation, composed video games for Massachusetts General Hospital, and coaches music entrepreneurs at Berklee College of Music. He is author of “The Self Promoting Musician” and “Indie Business Power: A Step by Step Guide for 21st Century Music Entrepreneurs”. Find him at mcareerjuice.com