Where The Jobs Are

Non-classical styles. That term existed since the get-go until 2000 when I called for its end. The new term I suggested, Contemporary Commercial Music, was meant to call all of those styles together under one umbrella. They all come from the USA and have their roots in the common person. Classical music came from European aristocracy and nobility and from the church. Huge difference. Most of the CCM styles are about 100 to 125 years old or less. Classical music goes back to the 16th century or earlier, depending on when you start counting.

When we speak of “commercial theater” we are speaking of professional level theaters (as determined by the unions), that do professional shows, on Broadway and elsewhere. Producers, directors, music directors and others in show business (the business of doing shows) understand that they work in commercial theater. They consider themselves to be part of an artistic business. That has always been true.

Classical music can be “commercial”, too. Certainly when the first Three Tenors came along, they were very commercially successful. Opera on TV is a commercial success. It can certainly be that it makes money in the right circumstances. I suppose you could call it Commercial Classical Music. How’s that for making things even more contentious???

There are far fewer jobs for singers in classical music. The jobs for vocalists are to be found in the CCM styles…..many more of them. The educational system unfortunately turns out a new crop of classical singers every year. There are more graduates of classical vocal programs than there are jobs for even one graduating class.

What happens to all those young people with degrees in “applied voice”? Do they all get cast in operas or concerts? Do they all get to sing professionally as classical singers? I don’t have statistics, but my guess is that very few of them actually end up with careers as classical singers such that they can earn a decent living from singing. I imagine quite a few of them go back to school to get higher degrees or to enter another, perhaps related field, like teaching, conducting, composing or arranging.

We don’t have control over creating singing jobs. The marketplace isn’t really interested in promoting anything other than rock, pop, country and maybe R&B or gospel. We don’t really have major folk singers like Dylan or Baez coming down the pike anymore and we don’t have major vocalists in other fields like jazz becoming “household names” (although some few people do make it to a certain level of fame in the general public’s awareness). I don’t know if it’s lack of music education in the public schools (a lot of it is gone completely and what’s left is diminished in quantity and quality), or if it just lack of exposure (there are no sources on mainstream TV of other styles). It is certainly true that at a grass roots level there are just no paying jobs for musicians who are not well known. Wedding gigs, corporate gigs, maybe playing at the local bar, do pay, sometimes well, but even getting these kinds of jobs isn’t always easy. In the big cities there is a lot of competition. In the rural areas, there isn’t a lot of interest.

Looking at the divergence of the music business over the last century, CCM singers were part of the changing cultural landscape of the USA and of the world. Classical singing changed but by comparison, those changes were much smaller and less obvious. La Boheme sounds pretty much the same now as it did when it was first performed. The productions may change but what Puccini wrote does not.

The world has gone on. I would say that most of the classical vocal programs at the college level are operating out of the old model, expecting that singing will continue to remain the same as it has. The few universities that are addressing CCM styles understand that this isn’t true, but they have not yet let go of their need to prove their “validity” by hanging on to at least some vestige of classical training, even though no one really knows what classical training is or should be, anyway. In any case, the discrepancy between the number of jobs available anywhere in the marketplace for singers and the number of students who are prepared in college to go out and get them is enormous. That this is ignored by everyone is very interesting.

If anyone ever creates a school (not a university) that lets people get all the skills they need to become successful singers without having to bother taking other things they don’t need, that person could get very wealthy. Some day it might happen, and wouldn’t that shake things up!

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2 thoughts on “Where The Jobs Are”

  1. A couple different interesting thoughts here. The first being that there are a great deal of folks in public school music education who feel that the main reason classical music isn’t “popular” is because of, as you mention here, a lack of music education. Classical music is FAR more complex than CCM and therefore, harder to “understand.” Finding the recurring theme in a symphony (that reappears later at the V chord in retrograde inversion, for example) is far more challenging than recognizing the chorus in a pop song. A gross generalization, I realize.

    The other point I find interesting is the point about the discrepency between the number of students studying classical singing, compared to the number of professional performing jobs in the field. I believe one could easily say the same about college athletics. Thousands apon thousands of students receive a free ride to play sports, yet only a very small percentage of those students will get to play at the professional level.

  2. I think a lot of post-secondary institutions are quite afraid of National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) accreditation and the unknown of whether changing their curriculum to be more in line with real career preparation would mess up their accredited status. Although maybe places like Berklee have worked it out? I don’t think even all the voice teachers at Berklee are comfortable with using CCM repertoire and sounds as the “main thing” with which to train singers. I think post-secondary institutions will be discussing this issue more and more in the foreseeable future.

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