Empty-Handed, but Full-Minded.

From a young age, society sets up an “appropriate” path for success, mostly institutionalized and based on past formulas. We are taught that with certification comes success and intelligence. Thus, by this logic, outliers such as Steve Jobs or Richard Branson are the exception and not the rule. But what if they’re not? What if, instead, there are industries that promote this pathway to success….

The idea of having higher education be part of my life as an absolute necessity was never questioned. I never doubted why I needed College, but rather welcomed it as the next step in my development. I wanted a successful career, which meant I needed degrees to get me there. Imagine then my surprise when I set myself up for the most conventional success story, only to be left feeling empty-handed, but full minded.

I chose to enter the music industry because I believe I was destined for it. I am one of those, music-drives-my-heartbeat, kind of people, and I wanted to be surrounded by it every day. What I hadn’t realized was that I was joining the fight, armed with the wrong kind of ammunition. I came from academia, and instead, dived into a world of hardworking individuals who built their credibility upon years of experience and a network of references. This became more apparent to me as I sifted through job applications whose first line was always “must have 3–4 years of experience.” However, after countless failed attempts, I realized what was really written in the hidden cross sections of these descriptions; “Must come highly recommended from someone in, or connected to, the company.”

Let me be clear, everyone and anyone who has ever gone through the job application phase can admit that the process is long and incredibly frustrating. Aside from the ongoing self-doubt and obvious lack of income, the entire process calls into question life direction. However, within these doubts I understood that what could be delaying my immediate employment will be what drives my inevitable professional success.

I spent the last year getting a Masters degree, learning from industry professionals who see their place in the industry only as powerful as those who they can build up with them. They taught me how to think in thorough yet innovative ways, and to always ask questions. I spent months dissecting the state of the industry, where it came from, and where it will go. But most importantly, I learned the “why” behind it all. This comes down to the power of thought leadership; meaning, an intellectual leader and expert in a certain field. My higher education taught me the importance of becoming a thought leader, and the steps to take to get there. It showed me that choosing my own path within the industry, driven by my own passions is why I will continue to push through life’s hurdles.

The conflict then arises when I, and those who have taken a similar path, have developed this thought leadership only to be greeted by sympathetic yet belittling eyes upon muttering the word student. Why is it that my industry would have preferred I spend a year getting coffee under the title “assistant”, then analyzing the holes in their operations, and finding ways to fix it? This is not your typical game of chicken. I need experience to get a job but how do I get a job without experience? This is, I have the skills, qualifications, and drive that I need, so then why is my freshness a limitation?

I urge industry professionals on the other side of the application process to encourage the continuation of higher education in the music industry. This starts with changing the valuation of students, and learning to assess an individual based on their capabilities and not only their years of experience. By doing so, we will introduce the innovation and perspective needed to push this industry past its slow moving lull. It will show future generations of music industry executives that they should value time-spent reading, questioning and talking about new ways of improvement through education. But most importantly, it will reiterate the fact that success comes through learning, learning can come through education, and education can come with degrees. I can’t wait for the day when this industry catches up, and becomes more than just your cousin’s friend’s sister’s uncle.