I’m 19 and attending college right now working on getting my bachelor’s degree in engineering. I love Darkest Hour and I see you’ve gotten yourself a college degree so maybe you could give me some advice. How did you handle managing your time between playing music and schoolwork? I know that a lot of guys in bands never went to college and dedicated their time to music but I really want to be able to support myself in case things don’t go my way.
Student of Rock!
Dear Student of Rock,
Playing in a full time band and going to college full time go together about as good oil and water. Both lifestyles seem to work directly against each other. Parents often times pressure you to quit your band because they fear it will interfere with your studies (which they always think are more important) and your band mates pressure you because they are afraid attending college might in some way hold the band down or keep them from opportunities. Is there a way to do both? How do you handle schoolwork, playing music, developing a band, and still keep your sanity? I can help with the fist couple but the sanity part, well that might just be up to you.
When I attended college it was for a total of five consecutive years. Darkest Hour existed the entire time since we had started in high school. We were a signed touring band for the last 2 1/2 years of my college life and let me tell you it was not easy by any stretch of the word. Here are some tips that can help:
- Use Your Breaks: The number one thing we did to work around my school schedule was to schedule touring around college breaks. We went on tour anytime I had a 4-day break. We would do weekends up and down the east coast, and on winter and summer breaks we booked longer tours. There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure to tour (and we had to book it ourselves which was hard as shit) so that made it at least easier to sneak shows in between class days without worrying about having to tour and miss class.
- Schedule Your Life: Another thing I would do was stack all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was also working as a bike messenger for 4 of those years and was able to only work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This allowed me to work and go to school all during the workweek. Since Friday’s and Saturday’s are the key nights to play when your doing one off shows this worked out nicely. The other thing this allowed me to do was book long weekends. Since I didn’t have to be back to class until the next Tuesday I could leave Thursday night and we could play shows Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. That’s a nice four-day block I could do anytime.
- Talk to Those Teachers: It’s a common misconception that college teachers are hard asses. Honestly, I got along with almost all my teachers and it was pretty clear that I didn’t fit in. In my graduating social work class there couldn’t even have been more then 10 men total and I was one of five or so in his twenties. Oh, I guess the tattoos and fact that I was always doodling Van Halen and Pantera logos all over the place didn’t help. All my teachers knew my situation and all were pretty understanding, as long as the work I turned in showed that I had put in the appropriate amount of time and thought. Get them on your side, everyone loves a story about someone chasing their dream. Especially teachers.
- Learn How to Study: I’m not going to lie I didn’t go to class all the time. I now wish I had paid a bit more attention. But what I did learn fast was how to study. You need to look at how your teachers present information and learn how to pick out what is important and what you will be tested on (hint: they are usually the same thing). Doing all the reading assigned to your course goes hand in hand with learning what to study. All those weekend tours and trips, those drives are the perfect time to get that reading done.
- Manage that Time: In this instance college is a perfect way to prepare you for the world after it. If you continue to pursue that career in music you are going to have to learn how to juggle a whole bunch of shit at once. My fifth and final year of college I held down a forty hour a week internship, recorded So Sedated So Secure, went to school full time, and worked on the weekends. It was unforgiving and brutal most time but that’s what college is about. If I were you I wouldn’t get sucked into all the parting. It’s fun but really you will have plenty of time to party back stage. Its best to just focus and get’er done. That way you can get the hell out and start rocking the world.
- Don’t be Afraid to Lean on Your Friends: Lets be clear I couldn’t have made it through all those years in school and kept the band alive if my band mates weren’t cool dudes. They were always very supportive, and I owe them for that patience. I also had the very awesome support of my now wife but then girlfriend. Without her there is no way I could have made it mentally. It’s good to have friends that you can talk to especially ones that have graduated college. It can help keep you focused to draw on their experience for needed guidance.
I’ll never forget the summer before my last year of college. We had signed a record deal with MIA records. We had recorded Mark of the Judas (my sophomore year of college) and it was about to be released. I thought for sure I was about to be on tour for months straight. I couldn’t handle the idea of waiting any longer to start my real dream. I was determined that summer that I was going to tell my parents “Fuck it! I only have one year left I’ll just come back to this later, lets rock!” I went to talk to my parents knowing they were going to be pissed, but I didn’t care. Turns out my dad was real weird about it. He didn’t get mad or anything we just had this strange conversation about how I just didn’t understand. He said once I left college I wouldn’t go back, that everything changes and it just would be to hard. We kind of left it unresolved and I left for tour.
On the last day of the tour we played New Jersey and all the MIA staff came out. Yeah, they all came out to tell us that on the day our first record was coming out we were going to be dropped. Turns out the record label we had just signed to went bankrupt. I took that as a sign and decided to finish that final year of school and get my degree.
Looking back on it I can tell you how right my dad was. Dude, I couldn’t hold my shit in college right now. It would be so hard to go back I can’t even explain. In the long run, staying in school while still rocking gave me the ability to grow as both an artist and a person. I believe it was facing all of those challenges that prepared me to live life as a modern musician. It’s funny, but the one thing I always felt was in the way of my musical career (college), ended up being the one thing that prepared me most for life as a professional musician.