The trials and successes of music careers

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A career in music can be an inspirational way of living. Students who study music devote countless hours practicing their craft in an effort to make money doing what they love. This determination and work ethic should be respected, but in a world where music can be streamed from anywhere, some musicians have concerns about job stability in the coming years.

These concerns largely come from the expansion of music platforms like Spotify and Pandora. Because of the ease in arranging playlists for events, paying for live music isn’t as common as it once was.

Piano performance major David Kime has been working hard to increase his music capabilities at BYU. He and his friend, CJ Madsen, have been working on an oratorio inspired by The Book of Mormon. The two are getting ready to release their recording to the public through Apple Music and Spotify.

David Kime, left, helps Lindsay Bastian, right, with the music at a BYU devotional. Kime has a passion for music and hopes to play live throughout his life. (Preston Crawley).

“This was a really high-quality recording that cost tens of thousands of dollars to make,” Kime said. “You make a tenth of a cent for every play you get on a streaming service, but we sell an album for 25 dollars. It can be really hard to make money by streaming services alone.”

Despite the prevalence of streaming services, Kimes still feels positive about the future of live music. He said people are still going to want to see musicians create and perform in person.

“From a career perspective, it’s still the classiest to have somebody come play the piano at wedding receptions instead of just having music off a playlist,” Kime said. “Music brings people together; it unifies people. You generally don’t get that kind of experience from Spotify.”

However, Amaya Longshore, a music performance major, said there are some students with concerns that they won’t get to play live, but the primary concern still resides in making money off of the music platforms.

Joseph Carson playing the guitar with the band Muninn. Live music can inspire and bring people together. (Preston Crawley).

“One of the best ways for up and coming bands to market themselves is to put themselves on music-streaming websites,” Longshore said. “But the downside is that people who work in the music industry get more money than the actual musicians do.”

Even though she isn’t interested in going professional, Longshore said she is aware of the struggles many musicians go through to become known. She said some musicians “bite the bullet” and work with publishers and music platforms to become more public, but it might not always pay off.

BYU music professor Ray Smith shares Kime’s opinion that Spotify and Apple Music haven’t changed the role of live performance, but that they have instead improved opportunity for aspiring musicians.

“Some people believe that this is the greatest opportunity in the history of the world for musicians. There are so many ways to get yourself out there,” Smith said. “But there are always challenges in making a music career work.”

Smith has played the saxophone throughout his career but developed talent with other instruments as well. He said his success finding work was often the result of this flexibility in skill. His job experience provided him a satisfying career, and he has won several international awards for his jazz performances.

“If you prepare carefully and do your very best, the Lord will be able to help you better your skills,” Smith said. “Some people may not like that sort of uncertainty, but I think that trusting the Lord is the most certain thing you can do.”

Emily Trejo plays the violin with the BYU Mariachi Los Pumas. Music is a way to express cultural and spiritual beliefs, as well as a fun way to socialize. (Preston Crawley).

Smith mentioned that musicians typically live off of multiple sources of income, whether it be performances, teaching private lessons, selling their music and working with bands or other performing groups.

“It can be a tough way to live,” Smith said. “But for those who really want to play music as a career, it can be incredibly rewarding if you can make it work.”

Despite his successes, Smith said that by itself, music as a career is not for everyone. However, a music degree can provide students with opportunities throughout the job market. Music therapy, advertising or music technology can be excellent alternatives to performance.

“Some music students may want to reconsider what they do,” Smith said. “But if they have the passion for music, they shouldn’t just ignore it for fear that they won’t succeed — they should go after it.”

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