A fascinating look at the (shrinking) value of higher “education”

We’ve spoken before in these pages about the growing lack of value in so-called ‘higher education’.  Tonight I came across a fascinating guest article by Matt Baldoni over at Aaron Clarey’s blog, Captain Capitalism.  In it, a musician looks at how he learned the trade, and what he’s experienced in dealing with the ‘big names’ in music education.  Here’s an excerpt.

I believe that being a full time musician who plays live (and/or in the studio) is the greatest badge of honor a musician can bestow upon himself. Why? Because it’s proof you can beat the odds. It shows you have no need for the “stability” of teaching music. See, we all think we need to be teachers because that is what MUSIC SCHOOLS tell us. They have a large stock in keeping interest in becoming a music teacher, for it keeps them employed, and the cycle continues. As of today, it’s spiraled out of control. Our families all want us to be teachers because they figure it’s the closest thing to a “real job” that a musician can have. It’s a lot safer than playing in bars, touring, and all of those “lifestyle” things that many people think are part of a music career.

When the recession began in 2007/8, things got interesting. All of the music schools, even the most prestigious ones, lost a lot of revenue and interest from young musicians. They were (are) far too expensive. So, young players began checking out smaller, cheaper, less prestigious state colleges like the one I went to. Well, the A-league schools said “We can’t have that!”, so they began slowly lowering their audition and testing standards while their tuition prices have continued to skyrocket, just like their skyrocketing endowments and assistance from state and federal governments. Today, they have more money coming in than ever, and lower audition standards than ever. They are now at their most expensive in history and are turning out the least talented and equipped musicians they ever have. And I am laughing my ASS off, because this whole thing is hilarious. They have literally dug their own grave, and they are a ticking bomb.

The music business itself has also changed drastically in the last 20 years. No one makes money selling records anymore, so everyone has to play live and stay out on the road more than they used to. The steady stream of studio work is gone, it’s no longer a requirement to have good musicians on your recording. The computer can fix everything, and the digital world turns talentless hacks into international stars. The ProTools engineer is now at the top of the music business food chain. Every two-bit asshole with a macbook and garage band software can call himself an “artist” or “musician” or “songwriter” or “producer”. The DJ, the karaoke bar, and the football game on large plasma screens now stand where the live band once stood.

Is there still room for highly skilled musicians? Absolutely. There is great demand for a good live band in thousands of places all over the world. Artists need sidemen to play behind them for their concert dates, churches need musicians, people need a band for their wedding or Christmas party, and the list goes on and on. These types of gigs are the bread and butter for a musician’s work throughout the year. Does music school teach you what you need to know to get these jobs? Absolutely not. I make a very good living at what I do, and I got 100% of my abilities from the street. I did have a few good teachers, yes, but even they aren’t making what I make or playing as much as me. Are there musicians better than me? Faster? Richer? More able to raise a family? Of course there are. But none of them are turning down as much work as I am simply because they’re always booked.

There’s much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.  You can read more from Matt Baldoni here, and visit his YouTube channel, and learn more via an Internet search.  He seems like a interesting character.

The article is a truly interesting perspective on how reality meets academic theory – and the latter loses, almost every time.  If you have children considering post-school education, it might be a good idea for them to read this, even if they’re not interested in music and are considering a completely different career field.  Challenge them to research their chosen field in the same way as the author of this article lays out what he learned.  They might be surprised at what they discover.



  1. Check out a movie called "The Wrecking Crew", about group of studio musicians in 1960s LA.

  2. I'm in construction, so my view of the world is small, but technology now allows "higher education" never available in the past. Those with the ability, and willing to advance their knowledge, have opportunities in fields so specialized, a "formal broad education" isn't necessary; and may even be a hindrance.

  3. Friend of mine is a pro Jazz singer, she gets frothing mad at some of the crap Julliard and the others pull…

  4. Larry Correia has said in his blog that the number one priority of any writer is getting paid. This also translate well over to the music industry, getting paid. If you don't get paid, you're not a working musician.

  5. This is what I'm afraid is happening to science fiction.

    It's no coincidence that most of the "SJW" side are people who make a living by teaching literature or writing, rather than by selling books. To them, reviewer praise, "social justice" chatter, controversy, and awards are far more important than sales numbers. Oh, sure, sometimes one of them wins the lottery and has a best-seller, but that's just a nice bonus. The real grocery money comes from a college or nonprofit foundation, and to them, sales are actually a disadvantage. Selling well is the mark of a "popular" writer, not an "important" or "transgressive" one.

    And that's why they've been so screamingly angry and vicious about the Puppy controversy: it threatens the foundations of their status and their employability. If Hugos are given out to popular works rather than "important" ones, then they won't be able to give each other awards to list on the C.V. at grant-application time.

    Their goal is to turn SF into something like the academic study of music, or poetry: a job which consists only of teaching people to be teachers. They don't care if the magazines disappear (as long as there are plenty of small-press unpaid journals with twee names so they can publish each other's stories). They don't really care if the publishers disappear (which is something that's going to create a split between them and the New York publishing crowd at Tor, etc.).

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