By KRISTEN GARAFANO
The sound of a piano being played echoes throughout the room that has power cords and amps spread from one side to the other. The drummer beats down on the cymbals as the guitarist strums a melody that resonates off the walls, and the lead singer passionately sings into a microphone.
This is what a normal jam session appears like for Henry Heissenbuttel, 21, and his band The Jersey Doors, a Doors cover band that he formed over two years ago.
“Ever since I was little, like really little, I have always been obsessed with music,” he said. “I remember as a toddler being in my grandma’s house and being fascinated with a music box she had. I would listen to the song and then I would make it play faster and slower. I would slow it down so it would only play one note at a time and really listen to it.”
Music is something that Heissenbuttel has been interested about since he was a kid, and now, he is sticking with what he loves by deciding to major in the field. But exactly how easy is it to pursue a career in the music industry?
Majoring in music does not guarantee a job directly after college. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of musicians and singers is expected to grow by 10 perfect from 2010 to 2020, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The reason for this is because of an increase in the demand of musical performances.
Ramapo professor Ben Neill, who teaches classes like music industry and more, has had to adapt his teaching to the changing job scene for those interested in the field.
“Careers in music have been going through radical changes over the past decade and one of the most important things that graduates need to do is continually follow the emerging trends, technologies and patterns within the various aspects of the music industry,” he said.
Turning Musical Interests into More
For Heissenbuttel, music has influenced his decision to form a career out of his hobby ever since he was young.
“When I was between 3 and 5 years old, whenever I would be in the car with my mom, she would always ask me to identify the artist on the radio and I could almost always be able to tell by hearing the voice or the style of guitar playing,” he said.
The Beatles became his first favorite band after constantly hearing their music thanks to his mother’s love for their songs. Once he was a little bit older, he would listen to their music from start to finish and would repeat some songs several times in a row in order to really learn them.
At around 12 years old, Heissenbuttel started to turn his interest in music into a hobby. He started singing in choruses and doing theatrical productions, and in three years, he did about seven plays from “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Oliver Twist” to “Guys N’ Dolls.”
“When I turned 14, my voice started changing and it would crack terribly when I would try to sing, so I became terribly self conscious about my singing and stopped,” he said.
But that didn’t stop him from finding other ways to express his passion for music. In eighth grade, he started to put more of an effort into playing the bass clarinet, which he had been playing since the fourth grade.
“I began taking private lessons and learned to really read music,” he said. “I played the bass clarinet everyday for at least an hour for years straight.”
Piano, which he plays in his band The Jersey Doors, was not something he took up until his junior year of high school. He began to teach himself some songs, and at the same time, he started taking a guitar class and learned some basic chords, finding it a lot of fun.
The Doors became one of his favorite bands during his freshman year of college, and that is when he really began getting serious about music. In about 6 months, he learned all of their biggest hits on the piano, sometimes playing up to 6 hours a day.
“It became my life and a great escape from reality,” he said.
Watch The Jersey Doors perform at GreenFest at Ramapo College on April 20, 2012.
During his first two years at Ramapo, Heissenbuttel took classes geared towards an environmental science degree. But after those two years, he decided to change his major to music.
“The more I played music, the more I loved it,” he said.
A Degree in Music – Necessary or Not?
Although having a degree in music definitely helps out when it comes to landing a paid job in the industry, many artists actually got their education in completely different fields.
Some other famous singers or band members have never even gone to college. When starting from a young age, it is easy for them to simply make a living based off of the profits they have received from album sales and concert performances. Stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus never attended college, their fame blasting off in the midst of their teenage lives, yet they make millions upon millions of dollars.
William Lange, a junior who goes to Grand Valley State University in Michigan, is a drummer in the ska/punk band Three Cents Short. He describes music as his life yet, unlike Heissenbuttel, chose to major in a different field.
“Basically my entire life from when I started playing at 13 to 14 has been about music. It’s significantly increased the quality of life and how I deal with things that are less than favorable,” he said.
Still, Lange is not interested in obtaining a degree based off his hobby.
“I’m not a very good teacher and I’m not very interested in getting a performance degree,” he said. “I chose Social Work because I want to help people, and if my music can’t be the thing to help people indirectly, then I am willing to directly help them.”
View Past & Upcoming Shows Played by The Jersey Doors in a larger map
Keeping Up With Trends
“Students need to have definite goals in mind as far as what they want to do, and then secure at least one internship in that field,” Neill said.
Some students who have been more successful post graduation completed two internships during their time at Ramapo even though only one is required. Quite a few even went straight from their internships into employment with the companies they worked for.
Neill also advises students to become experts in their fields by becoming involved in both physical and online communities that relate to their career goals.
“Keeping up to date with current technologies is very important. Many new careers in music have strong technological components so understanding those elements and continually refreshing their knowledge of them will also be helpful,” he said.
While Neill adds that it is difficult to find a job in the music industry, he doesn’t completely rule it out as being impossible. He explains that students must possess a lot of passion, perseverance and willingness to accept rejection.
“The music industry has gone through a tremendous upheaval in the last decade, but many people feel the worst is over and with the emergence of new business models such as streaming services and online aggregators that we are entering a new phase in which things will be improving in the coming years,” he said.
What Lies Ahead
In the future, both Heissenbuttel and Lange hope that they can transform their passion for music into a career.
“I see myself making my own music and I either want to be a solo performer, a jazz pianist, or a music teacher for high school students,” Heissenbuttel said.
“In the future I’d love to play professionally in any way that I possibly could,” Lange said. “But it’ll forever be a hobby and ambition if I am unable to do so.”
As The Jersey Doors set themselves up on stage in preparation for a show, Heissenbuttel sits himself down behind the keyboards, his hands moving swiftly across the black and white keys.
“I get a great deal of satisfaction from playing and making people happy,” he said. “Music is my life. It is something I am good at, if I may say so, and it is a great escape from reality for me.”
Music isn’t just a meaningless hobby; for some, it is simply part of who they are, giving them the ambition to turn it into a profession. Even though there is a ton of competition out in the music industry to become successful, with the proper education and determination, it is achievable.
“As Nietzche said, ‘Music is something for the sake of which it is worthwhile to live on earth,’” Neill said. “I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, and other than my family, there is nothing else that means more to me in my life.”