Life After Directing…

Mike Lawson • Perspective • February 8, 2019

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We all got into music careers because we love music. I got into the world of music how-to book publishing, non-profit music education management, and music education journalism because I am a musician first.

I have been since I was a kid, and I still am. I have no interest in publishing, writing, and editing outside of music. I will always be a musician.

It is my identifier. I still do over 35 shows a year with my band because my whole world is rooted in my love of performance. Fortunately, I found a great way to stay involved in all these things I love, and still make a stable living. And for you, with a career as a music educator, which began for you because you love making music, you also enjoy the joy of combining that which inspires you with your career.

This issue is put together during the Winter NAMM show period, and smack-dab in the middle of “MEA” conference season. One common thing at all of these conferences and tradeshows are the exhibits, some large, some small, of products specific to the music education world. It is at the Winter NAMM Show, in Anaheim, California, where we send a jury of amazing music educators around to explore new products that they will debate over and ultimately select to receive our “Best Tools for Schools” designation.

At the MEA shows, the exhibits are a microcosm of the range of products shown at a gigantic music product show like NAMM. The exhibits at NAMM are legion. Everything you can imagine, and some products you probably could not imagine and might even leave you scratching your head, are shown. From print music giants, to woodwinds, brass, percussion, cases, cleaners, reeds, mouthpieces, strings, stringed instruments, metronomes, technology of all manner, live sound equipment – if you see it in your band room (or would like to), it is at this show and on a much smaller level, at the MEA shows.

One common thing at many, if not most of the companies selling products for use in your program, is the presence of former music educators, band directors, general music teachers, and more working for these companies. Some made it decades teaching, some a few years, but they tend to have all traveled the same path from growing up in a school music program, continuing to higher education music programs, then on to teaching. For a multitude of reasons, ranging from burn-out, to better income, to retirement, and more, some really great people who leave teaching end up in the music products business. And for you still working in teaching, that’s a really good thing. For the most part, these former teachers bring your unique perspective and needs to the table as products are developed, marketed, and sold. They understand what you can afford (or not), how often you can buy, the often-complicated process of navigating the minefield of purchase orders, payments, budget cuts, grants, and other finagling you often have to do to equip your programs.

I hope you continue to teach at your school music program for as long as it brings you joy and enriches the life of your students. We need great directors to keep teaching. But have no fear, if you hit that point of retirement, or burn out, or whatever life change may be in front of you, there is a thriving music products business that greatly values who you are, what you do, and the knowledge you have gained from doing it.

It never hurts, when you are finding yourself with a little time to hit the exhibits floor at Midwest Band Clinic, or whatever MEA you find yourself at with exhibits, to introduce yourself to the exhibitors, find out who is running the booth, and chat about their path to that job. You may find out there is a whole other career path waiting for you that allows you to stay hands-on with music education from the other side of the fence. Whether it is working as a trusted clinician for a major instrument company, or helping shape a marketing program, or product development, your perspective is invaluable to these companies, and they need you when you’re ready. So, keep teaching, but keep this in your back pocket. Options are always good.

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