Worried about transitioning into music? You're not too late.
JEREMY LEE | JULY, 1 / 2021
Photo provided by David Carter
Countless people discover their passion after spending a great deal of time investing into something else. This can happen to anyone, yet it can still be hard to shake the accompanying insecurity. Whether this thought occurs because of "wasted" monetary investment — like spending full college tuition to obtain a degree in something that no longer is of interest — surrounding competition, or simply lost time, the concept of "being too late" can be quite daunting and feel more paralyzing than many of us would like to admit.

However, Dr. David Carter, Assistant Professor of Music (Theory/Composition) at Loyola Marymount University, is one individual who can demonstrate that being too late should not be of concern. Dr. Carter was interviewed by Composium to discuss the future of music technology education at LMU, but we spoke with him again to highlight some of the insights he had about transitioning into music later on down the line. As described in the previous article, Dr. Carter graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Yale University and obtained his J.D. from the University of Southern California.
During his time in college, Carter was looking into the possibilities of becoming an English professor or pursuing a career in journalism. "I ended up deciding to go to law school because it seemed like the most practical thing to do," he explained. "With the other things, I didn't know whether I'd be able to get a job." The allure of practicality can hold many people back from pursuing something more unstable, like music. Reality can be scary and there is so much pressure to secure a stable job, whether or not that is something you enjoy. However, after practicing law for four years, Carter set his sights on music, something that he was more passionate about and therefore more willing to commit long hours to studying.

When asked to provide any advice about making this change and overcoming that feeling of being "too late", Dr. Carter emphasized that there really is no such thing, especially for undergraduate students, or new musicians in their 20s. Carter began his combined Master's and Doctorate program at Northwestern when he was already over 30 and was still able to secure teaching positions at multiple universities and compose his own original works.

Additionally, Carter's upbringing was very beneficial to his move into music, as he grew up in a very musical environment. His uncle is a decorated singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, and he himself had many musical outlets growing up, including piano and voice lessons, conducting, and choral singing. As a fun fact, he also has a form of absolute pitch (not perfect, but very close). "[My absolute pitch and musical upbringing] was something I felt like I [could] fall back on because it gave me a lot of confidence...to pursue music in graduate school," he said.
This story illustrated the need to build up your skills to supplement your passion. While Carter says there is some truth to the idea that people can do anything they want as long as they are passionate about it, he also believes that it is necessary to build up skills to serve as a strong foundation. "No matter how passionate I would be about playing in the NBA, I know I could never play in the NBA," he joked. Ultimately, though, the biggest factor to success when coming back to or starting something new is the amount you enjoy it. Putting in the long hours will not seem so hard if there is genuine enjoyment underlying the work.
"I think your level of interest and passion...can make a big difference in terms of whether you can be successful at it."
When it comes time to actually change paths, however, it can feel overwhelming because there is some pressure to take a hard 180 and drop everything. However, taking incremental steps like enrolling in extra classes, pursuing outside instruction, and exploring topics individually, is just as valuable, and can help minimize this feeling. For Dr. Carter, these first few steps were the UCLA Extension classes that he took during his transition from law to music.

Making big life transitions can be scary, and dipping your toes in the water allows you to see whether this new world is a good fit. Other baby steps pertaining directly to composition included composing one piece at a time, connecting with musicians, and finding opportunities to get it performed, to feel out whether you are willing to see projects through. Being in a university program can make these last few steps a lot easier, but it is not necessary.

His last tip about composing and about making the shift to music was to build a community around yourself and connect with like-minded people, through university programs or even through social media and the internet. Especially after this past year of isolation, community is more important than ever.

Whether this manifests as composition lessons with fixed deadlines/classes or as a group of fellow musicians that are always willing to collaborate and offer feedback, having a support system can benefit everyone involved. "You can...spur each other on and on, because...it's much easier to be creative and to keep producing things if you know you have a friend who's doing the same type of thing," he explains.
Jeremy Lee is an undergraduate economics and music student at Loyola Marymount University and Composium Ambassador
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