Episode: How Music School Grads Can Beat a Tough Job Market

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How Music School Grads Can Beat a Tough Job Market

As this year's college graduates frame their diplomas, the job market is the strongest it has been in nearly a decade. The economy is improving and salaries are up in many fields. But how these developments impact classically trained musicians is a more complicated picture. In this week's episode, we explore career prospects for the class of 2015.

First, we look at their earnings potential. A new study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce used U.S. census data to analyze wages for workers from 137 college majors. It found that the popularity of majors doesn't always match earnings potential: Music ranks 36th in popularity among bachelor's degrees but 113th in terms of earnings (graduate music degrees rank 31st in popularity, and 121st in earnings). The median national income for a musician with a bachelor's is $49,000 (top-paying fields are in science and business).

Anthony P. Carnevale, the lead author of the study, says that while music falls low in the pay scale, it is possible to make a solid middle-class living in the arts. "If you make 40 to 50 grand a year and you're married to someone who makes the same, that's 100, and if you get benefits that adds 30 percent of the value to your job," he said. "You can raise a family on that."

Carnevale added that students should follow their passion but be mindful: "What you take in college is going to have a lot to do with what you do after breakfast for the 45 or 50 years after you graduate and go to work."

Next, a reality check from two newly-minted graduates. Weixiong Wang, a clarinetist who just received a master's degree from the Juilliard School, says that while he has a budding performance career that includes a post in the Albany Symphony Orchestra, he isn't putting his eggs in one basket: he is also starting a recording studio in Brooklyn. "From second year of undergrad," he says, "I started to realize that even though I have so much passion for music, it's very important to make a living while you're in love with music. That's the problem a lot of us are facing after school."

Maria Natale, a soprano and recipient of a professional studies certificate from the Manhattan School of Music, has already performed with the Sarasota Opera and other companies. Now, she’s facing an endless round of auditions. "I never once saw opera from the business side and now that is the most difficult part," she admits. "Everybody has their definition of a dream job....I want it all."

We also ask whether conservatories are adequately preparing students for careers. Listen to the musicians' responses in the segment above and tell us in the comments below: What advice do you have for new college graduates?

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