Why Covid-19 will entirely change how musicians approach their careers
Andrae Alexander is an accomplished pianist, songwriter, composer, Amazon best-selling author, producer, and performer who has traveled around the world and earned multiple Billboard №1s. A veteran of The Marine Corps and The United States Navy Band of Washington, D.C., he has performed for the Crown Prince of Norway and countless government officials. Andrae also works as a part-time lecturer at the University of Southern California, teaching courses on the music business.
Photo of Andrae Alexander, provided by Andrae Alexander
In most universities, the traditional professorship is comprised of people who have got their Bachelor's degrees, then graduate degrees, and went on to get a PhD in their program — they've mastered every technique they possibly could. "In today's world, we must have a combination of academic excellence and absolute real-world experience: faculty members that have not just gone through school and are now teaching, but have the ability to make money," Andrae says. He explains that one of the reasons a lot of schools fail is because while students are trained how to play the instrument, they aren't taught how to make money in the music business. "The USC network is strong and we also focus our students on practical industry skills," the musician notes.

Thinking about how he would approach his career if he were to start now, Andrae places a heavy emphasis on the technology and digitalization that this past decade brought. When he was in his mid-20s, he would go on iTunes, which was the biggest platform at that time, listen to whatever the top song was and try to learn it in one minute. All while being live on camera. "If I had to start today, I would just keep that same format," Andrae shares. "I would go on Tiktok, whatever the dance is, I would learn and play that song on my instrument while doing the dances." This would let musicians stay relevant, grow their following, and earn sponsorships. "What sucks about being a musician today is that you can't just be a musician," he states. "You [also] have to be a marketer, promoter, record producer, and engineer."

While the pandemic and the new realities it brought leave us thinking about how the next years will look like for the music industry, it also opens a lot of opportunities for new ideas and disruptive innovations. With people being afraid to go out and participate in events, the musician predicts that technology, especially augmented and virtual realities, will step up and make its way into the masses at a faster rate than before. "I think [this situation] is forcing people who didn't embrace technology to embrace it because we have to," Andrae believes. "We have reached a tipping point where we need better technology."

Under the current circumstances, musicians have no other choice but to work from home, with many learning how to produce, write their own songs, mix, master, and even put on their own concerts, all from the comfort of their homes. This, in turn, eliminates all the costs for having to rent a venue and equipment, among other things. "I just feel like there are so many opportunities for us, as an artistic community. If we embrace technology, we don't ever have to go back to that model of giving venue owners and agents the chance to say no," Andrae thinks. Musicians can also find new ways of monetization, with platforms like Patreon and Twitch. "The things that you do anyways, people are willing to pay to watch you do it, so why not?" he smiles.

Over the years, there has been a significant shift in the mentality — the musician discusses the beliefs of the older generation that if you are a great musician, you will be playing in a random club, and all of a sudden someone will find you and make you famous. This current generation, on the other hand, embraces technology to the point where they don't need anyone. At the same time, the exchange of information has increased at lighting-fast rates, and now any student can learn something through Google or Youtube and ask all of the necessary questions they were too afraid to ask in class. With that comes the acceptance of each other and the different cultures around the world.
With the music industry changing so fast, music schools have to prepare students in a way that would allow them to adapt to various changes in their careers. The pandemic being certainly an unexpected change, USC has been ready to switch to online classes long ahead of time. "We had brilliant staff and IT personnel who had all of the training ready weeks before we needed to roll out any online schooling," the professor mentions. "We prepared and rehearsed before it was a necessity."

Looking at the education musicians get in general, Andrae feels that educators fail their students because they don't give them real-world skills — you can be an amazing musician, but how do you make a living? The education is so clear on how to teach you these phenomenally brilliant musical concepts, but it doesn't tell you how to go to your country's copyright website and protect and monetize your intellectual property. "We now have musicians who have devoted hours and hours on being a phenomenal musician, but have no idea how to feed themselves everyday," Alexander points out. He suggests endorsing mandatory classes on topics such as the importance of social media, marketing, and networking.

To be successful in the music industry, however, is simple: tenacity, discipline, and networking. The musician himself isn't a firm believer that the people with the most technical skills become the best musicians. "They only have a year or two lead when it comes to success, because that student, who isn't that great of a musician, but is tenacious and will practice 12 hours per day and give it all they have, is going to catch up, and when they do, that's it," Andrae tells me. To stay current or even ahead of trends, one must be sure to know who the key players are in the music industry: as one of his mentors once said, "networking is one letter away from not working."

To inspire students to find their voices, Andrae gives them an opportunity to speak. "I've seen professors who facilitate discussions and are afraid of silence, so [they] move on. No! I allow us all to be awkward, I walk around and I laugh at [students] and they laugh at me," he says. This allows some to have a little more time to speak, not feel like they're being rushed, and realize that everyone's opinion matters. "The thing that will make us all better as a whole is the fact that you can hear someone's opinion who thinks completely different from you, and you don't have to agree with them, but now you've figured out that that way of thinking exists," the professor elucidates.

Andrae's career pivoted at an early age. Studying at the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts and growing up in a musical family, he started playing jazz and taking jazz theory when he was around 13 years old. "My first gig was at Barnes & Noble's as a piano player for a Christmas thing, which was crazy," he remembers. "I literally just sat in the corner, jamming out." During his time in high school in Washington, D.C., Andrae got the opportunity to intern and play for a lot of Congressmen, which is an experience he is very grateful for. "At 13 or 14, when you're walking into one of these governmental buildings with marble everywhere, a million feet tall columns, and huge buildings with brilliant acoustics, it really boosts your confidence to say: 'If I can do this at 13 or 14, anything is possible'," the musician smiles.

Having participated in a wide variety of projects, Andrae discusses just how much he has learned from all of them. "I was a presidential pianist assigned to the White House in The United States Navy Band of Washington, D.C., at 20 years old," he recalls. "I absolutely loved it: I traveled the world, played for the Crown Prince of Norway, princes of Arabia, and learned discipline and culture. I just learned so much!" Being a musician on a cruise ship for four months, he traveled to Greece, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt, Argentina, and even Arctica several times. Looking back at this experience from a social perspective, Andrae's musical abilities took him around the world. "My career is something that lives, breathes, and evolves," the musician concludes, feeling thankful for all of his experiences.
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