The Music Job Market is Poorly Run

As part of my series on leaving academia: the music job market is poorly run. Applying for jobs is inefficient. It makes it harder to stay on the market than in other fields.

Take Philosophy. Well, take philosophy a few years ago; it looks like it might be in the process of degenerating now. But when my partner was on the market, they had a really amazing process. Philosophy had a single repository of jobs and a fixed yearly job cycle.

At the beginning of the job search, anyone on the job market simply had to check a publication called Jobs for Philosophers. I think it went out twice in the fall, then that was it. If a department wanted to hire someone, that’s where they’d announce it. If they changed their minds later in the year, tough. They had to wait until next year.

When I was serious about the music job market, I was subscribed to several professional association job listings. They all cost money that I didn’t have. None of them listed anything approaching a reasonable subset of the available jobs. My partner was able to go on a big binge and put his life on hold for a couple of weeks to apply for every job he qualified for. He knew when he was done that he wouldn’t have to even think about it for another year. He could get on with his life.

Philosophers only have to prepare job applications once a year. That means update your CV once. Write up your teaching experience to date once. Beg your letter writers once. Write a few targeted application letters for different types of institutions once (e.g. a teaching college letter, a research university letter) then systematically go through and tweak them for the particular jobs while it’s still fresh in your mind.

I, on the other hand, might find out about a job at any time. There’s a weird lack of utility in hoping and waiting for enough jobs to show up in a cluster to get applications off for all of them at once. Applications will be due at different times. Even if I wait for the earliest due date then apply for a bunch of things at once, I might have to do it again in a week, or a month, or three months later. My CV will have to be updated each time. My letter writers will have to be nagged each time. My teaching experience might change between applications due within weeks of each other, particularly if I’m teaching at a quarter system school. What I’ve done professionally might have changed enough that I have to redo my application letter from scratch each time, not just enough to tailor it to an institution but to reflect changes in my professional life. All that takes away from time I could be spending composing or programming.

All Philosophy initial job interviews happened at the Eastern APA meeting (although I’m sure some of them are on Skype now). But philosophers know they have to go to the APA if they’re on the job market. By the time it rolls around, they know if they had an interview or not. They know where they stand. Whether or not they got a job, they will not have to think about the job market until next fall.

I had an interview once at ICMC. I found out at the last minute. If I hadn’t planned on going to ICMC that year, I don’t know what I would have done, since I was told about the interview a good several months after the less-expensive registration deadline. Last time I went to an ICMC paying student rate, what I payed was more than ten times the current price of attending APA as a student. I have to assume there’s some inflation (just look at the increase in the price of ramen since then!), which makes me just scared to even look up what the next ICMC is going to cost (hence the lack of links–fear of big numbers makes me afraid to even type ICMC into my browser).

That’s a bit of a digression. That point is that the ICMC-interviewing department was just assuming all their candidates would be there. I think they saw it as a proxy for being active musicians and researchers. I don’t think it’s occurred to them that people exist who don’t have lots of money. Conference registration deadlines don’t necessarily line up with job postings. No one knows which conferences they might have to go to for an interview. If people can’t afford the early, cheap registration rates, how will they come up with money at the last minute when it costs more? Will departments who want to interview at conferences simply disqualify candidates who aren’t flush with cash?

If there were one place to look for a job and a commonly observed job cycle in music, it would probably be worth staying on the job market. I still passively keep an eye on the job market; if a job that’s a really good fit shows up, I might apply. But under the circumstances, there’s no way I’m putting my life on hold every time a job gets posted. I won’t be applying for every job I’m qualified for. If there were a single job repository and a standardized job calendar so I’d know when to look and when I was done, I imagine I’d have a good several years of applying for everything that might be a good fit before the burn-out caught up to me. But in it’s current state, active participation in theĀ  music job market just seems like a really poor use of my time.

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