How to balance music & your degree (or side hustle!)

There are many ways going to university can benefit your music career – particularly if you study music. Even if you’re studying a totally non-music related subject, there are still a number of ways that being at university can help progress your music career.

But not everyone goes on to study at uni, so the tips below will apply not just to university but work as well, and will help you to balance your music and other work/study commitments. Here we’re going to cover

• The benefits of university or study
• How to manage a degree, job or side-hustle alongside your music
• Some practical tips & apps you can use to make your life easier

It helps to you find yourself

As cliché as it sounds – university really does help you to bring out, well, you! It is a time for learning and a journey of self-discovery. You’re living independently for the first time, and from my own experience, it was a bit of a musical journey as well! Mixing with some many different people is great to discover new music, ways of thinking and creating, which brings me onto my next point.

University is super good for networking.

Generally in the creative industries it comes a lot down to WHO you know, no matter how talented or skilled you are. You are bound to meet so many like-minded and different people, each with their own story. This obviously depends on the courses at your chosen university, but think about how many people there are studying subjects that may benefit you, such as promotion or journalism. Need a good artist bio written? Or where to start on your release promo plan? These are your guys.

The good thing about mixing with so many people is that you can help each other out. People can use your music as a platform, such as a videographer who wants to shoot a music video for their show reel, or a designer with new clothes they want larger audiences to see – this ultimately benefits you both.

If you study music, you’ll be surrounded by other musicians, which can be trying at times because we all are guilty of comparing ourselves too much. However, one of the best parts of university is learning and sharing ideas with others – you will not only discover yourself (again, apologies for the cliché), but you will open up fresh ideas and hidden talents. These people will be at mixed levels, but with the same passion and drive. You’ll also get a chance to form a band if you haven’t already done so.

You will be taught by people who really know their stuff, people who have worked in the industry for years. These people will be very important contacts as well, stay in touch with them, utilise them. You never know – your lecturer may play or send one of your tracks to someone important they know! Like I said before, this is all part of networking, and the more people you do that with, then the broader your horizons are and the more your confidence will grow!

Opportunities galore.

When I studied a music course at university one of the most amazing things about it was the opportunities we had. You’ll get the chance to meet industry personnel, musicians, and songwriters at various conferences and get the chance to go to important networking events.

It’ll give you a platform build a repertoire

If you are one of those people (like me!) that need some sort of direction or foundation to work on, then your university projects will be a great for building your repertoire, and assessments may tie in with what you’re working on musically anyway – so you won’t have to see it as uni work but something you’re really enjoying, and getting a qualification out of at the same time! Also, it means at the end of it all you will have a great portfolio of work to show for it.

Choosing to study in a city that has a large music hub can be of great benefit, for example London, Manchester or Brighton. Moving to study in these cities can open up doors that you would not have necessarily had in your hometown. These cities bring gig opportunities, artist communities, venue spaces, music labels/companies, and events.

Professional facilities

By studying a music degree you’ll have access to facilities and professional equipment. This means professional recording studios and rehearsal rooms – all free of cost! (not including the university fees you’ll have to pay for of course)
Once you leave uni and actually have to pay real world costs for gear and studio time you’ll miss it, trust me!

Okay, but how the hell do I budget this?

You will get your student loan and let’s be frank, after rent, bills and food you’re not left with very much, but there are little ways you can minimise costs. On food shopping for example try going to Aldi instead of Asda. Have more pre-drinks than drinks out on the town, and think of every little bit of money you save, however small, as an investment in your career.

There are many little ways you can save and get extra cash, like getting a weekend job and putting the money into your music. There are some pretty cool money budgeting apps out there such as Loot. A good ol’ spreadsheet wouldn’t be a bad idea either! Most programs like Excel and numbers have great budget templates available for free. Also, here’s a handy article from The Guardian with a list of good budgeting apps that you can use right from your phone!

It’s worth noting that most universities offer the chance to get a grant for a business project, and for this you will need to make a business plan – which is pretty important for your music career anyway! In most creative and industry related degrees you will come across a business project of some form or another. You’ll want to include an overview of the project, market information and your costs and returns. This sort of grant can be a great starting point to push your music. Obviously what you put in is what you get out, and putting money into promotion, better equipment and studio sessions is vital! Make sure you put every source of support and direction from your university to good use – that’s what it’s there for.

And how do I manage my time and workload?!

If there’s one thing EVERYONE wishes they could do at university (this goes for any work) is manage their workload. Just like money, you need to budget your time as well. Well, luckily if you’re studying a music degree you can tie in your assessments to what you’re working on musically, and when you have free time on the weekends you can always work on extra projects, even if the subject you are studying doesn’t even relate to music at all. If you’re serious about your degree, then it has to take priority, but there are many ways to manage your time effectively to ensure you have a life too.

Make a to-do list

I spent a lot of time at university stressing about something I was currently working on, whilst stressing about the work I was not currently working on and this is definitely not an effective way of working! Write down all of your tasks, how long each will take, and the day you are going to do them or do them by. This way you can focus on one thing at a time. Be mindful and work in the present and put all of your focus into the task at hand. Then set aside some specific time for your music. Even just half an hour, every small amount adds up. Check out some to-do-list apps, our favourites are:

A great way to manage your time is minmizing the time the task takes. For example, ordering your food shop (back to the food shopping example again) will take you half an hour maximum rather than doing the trip yourself. Little things like that can save valuable time for your music.

Get up earlier

Spending a few less hours in bed in the morning can be so productive! We musicians are usually night owls, but if you get up at say, 8am everyday – which let’s face it is not that early – you’ll instantly have a lot more hours in your day. Use the time you would normally still be snoozing to get a few items on your to-do list out of the way. Think admin jobs like paying your rent and bills on online banking, doing the washing, organising your weekly shop. Getting those done early then leaves the rest of the day for big things like assignments and music-making. Going to bed/waking up earlier means you’ll sleep better as well!

Work in a work, break, work, break system.

We use rhythm in our music, so why not our work? By this I mean work for 20 minutes, then spend a bit of time on your music, then go back to your work. (But make sure you do go back!) Switching between the two will stimulate your brain and stop you from getting any sort of ‘writer’s block’ or hitting a wall with it.
Even when you have to stay up all night working on that essay that you (god forbid) left to the last minute (we all do it!) then why not listen to some music or a new playlist to get inspired whilst you’re working. There’s a really cool app that I used whilst I was writing my dissertation called ‘Forest’ where you plant a tree for a certain amount of time and the tree is killed if you leave the app. It’s a pretty nifty way to stay focused. It can be used for your music as well – remember what I said earlier about putting all of your energy into the task at hand!

Sometimes at University you’ll not only need to manage your own workload, but your team’s time in a group assignment or project. I would really recommend using Trello for this, it’s a good way to keep track of all the work that’s done/needs doing, and you can even set the board background to a cool picture to keep you inspired! This kind of app is brilliant for managing your projects as an artist, especially if you have band members or a manager.

Lastly, if you’re worried about how you’re going to fit in a social life as well then do not stress. Go to gigs with your friends, collaborate, have jam sessions as well as study sessions so you’re working musically as well as spending time with the people you love. Hell, we all need down time!