Musical motivation

I have my heart set on being a composer — so why can’t I concentrate?

You don’t need to be too specific at this stage, says our elder. Explore a musical degree and find your direction later.

Dear EWC

I’m a senior in high school. The college application deadline is just around the corner, and in all my conversations people have been asking what I am looking to do for the next four years of my life. Quite a daunting question. My reality is that I want to pursue music, contemporary songwriting specifically. The only problem is I have very little classical training on piano and I feel that I may struggle to keep up with those who do. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life, but at the same time all the stress has discouraged me from playing and practicing anymore. So basically, I’m applying to competitive songwriting programs, yet I have no motivation to write right now because it is all so overwhelming. I know that this career path is a cut throat one, and if I want to succeed I have to put maximum effort in, seeing as I’m already at a disadvantage. I just don’t know where to find the motivation to keep going anymore. Any advice on my situation would be greatly welcomed!


I don’t know a great deal about careers in music, but I do know something about careers in general, and I think that at this stage of your life, you are ahead of most. You know that you want a career in music. To me, committing to any specific area of music at this stage is like a senior who likes math committing to be an aeronautical engineer. It is way too early to become that specific.

I assume that you will be going to a typical four-year college, but one that has a good music school. I would suggest that when those people ask you what you are going to do for the next four years of your life — you answer “I am going to study music to find out the area that I think that I will enjoy.” Your first couple of years of college will give you plenty of time to decide where you want to specialize.

You say that you want to pursue contemporary songwriting but that “all the stress has discouraged me from playing and practicing anymore.” I question that this is really your passion, or you would want to pursue it more, and the stress would be less. The stress may be coming from the fact that, although this sounds like the career you want, the effort and the ultimate reward are in question. That’s OK; you have plenty of time to make these career decisions.

I would suggest that, for the time being, you just concentrate on your passion for music. Just like, after some core courses and exposure to other options, that budding aeronautical engineer may find out he really wants architecture, you may find another area of music that suits you better. You may also find that you were right in the first place, and contemporary songwriting is exactly what you want. At that point in time, you will probably find the energy and drive to pursue it aggressively. In all, you won’t have lost any measurable time in your career pursuit, but you will be more ready to take on the challenge.

Anything that you decide to do successfully in music is going to take a great deal of work. Put the stress of the work off a couple of years while you explore your options to make sure you are going in the direction that you are best suited for and the one where your passions lie. If that turns out to be one where other people have more experience, your passion will help you bridge that gap and succeed long-term because you thought it out. The work, the practice, and even the frustration will be much more tolerable and the end result better.

Whether it is songwriting, on-stage performing, classroom teaching or any other of a thousand music-related careers, give yourself time to explore and don’t ever feel that time is being wasted. As long as you are achieving at your best during your discovery, your time will be well spent. Good luck.

Letter #: 449892
Category: Career

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