Navigating Life after Music School: Believing in Yourself with Matthew Jermiason
Thank you to Matthew Jermiason for being this week's blog interview. It was great to have the opportunity to learn more about his current projects and musical career so far. Matthew took a big chance and moved to New York City after music school. He only knew one other musician in NYC at the time! I'm so impressed with his persistence and determination to make it work.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do. MJ: I am a freelance trombone player based in New York City. Before the pandemic, you could find me playing in pit orchestras for musicals, horn sections, pop up symphonies/operas, brass bands, chamber groups, and jazz big bands throughout the city. These days, I am focusing on remote studio work, producing content for my social media platforms, and working on my passion projects.
I grew up in North Dakota in a family of musicians. My Dad is a viola player, my Mom is a flute player, and my twin brother is a trumpet player. I grew up attending the concerts that my parents were involved in and learned to appreciate music along the way. I received my undergraduate degree in music education from Minot State University and went on to receive my master's degree in trombone performance at Bowling Green State University. During my college days, I held the positions of Principal Trombonist of the Minot Symphony Orchestra, Principal Trombonist with the Western Plains Opera Company and the Minot Summer Theater Company, and Live Entertainer playing trombone at Cedar Point Amusement Park.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? MJ: There was a point in my master's degree where I realized that there was "life after school." It seems a little silly to think on it now, but when I was immersed in the academic music atmosphere where all I did was practice and study, I forgot what the point of my music education was. I decided to do something practical while I was still in school that didn't have anything to do with my school work. I started by listening to podcasts (while I was working my part-time job at Panera Bread) that focused on building music careers after school. The two podcasts that I listened to religiously were the "Brass Junkies Podcast" and the "Entrepreneurial Musician," both hosted by Pedal Note Media. It was through these podcasts that I discovered that I did not have to be a symphonic musician to be successful. After absorbing the wisdom from each episode, I decided to take my first non-symphonic audition for a live entertainer position at Cedar Point Amusement Park and I was accepted! In summer of 2017, I had my first full-time musician job as a member of the Beach Brass Band where I jammed out on pop tunes for the amusement park guests. It was a wonderful job and opened my eyes to the world of freelancing.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? MJ: My biggest challenge after school was finding a network of musicians in NYC. When I moved to NYC, I only knew one musician that lived in the city and none of my collage friends moved with me. I had to start completely fresh. It took me quite a bit of time to be recognized as a trombonist for hire (or at least available to play!) in the NYC music scene, but I kept putting myself out there to the point where networking became "part of the job" and a great habit!
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? MJ: Absolutely! I feel like most musicians go through lots of disappointments in their career and I am no different. A big disappointment that stands out for me was being rejected from the music schools I wanted to attend for my master's degree. I was only accepted to one school which was my last choice. This was very discouraging for me at the time since I thought that I would never amount to the musician I thought I wanted to be. Little did I know, the time I spent in my master's program gave me the practical tools I was missing to become the freelance musician I am today. The biggest lesson I learned from this disappointment was to use what has been given to me and be grateful for what I have. I never would have predicted that my career would shape out to be as it is today, and I expect it will shift and change as I live out this important lesson.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? MJ: My career goals have drastically changed since I first started seriously studying music. My initial goal was to win an orchestra job and live happily ever after (oh my naïve heart!). That is a far cry from what I want to do now. In short, I want to be creatively free and share my experiences with others and make a sustainable living doing that, both mentally and monetarily. Here is a glimpse into some of my goals: record a CD with new music, create a YouTube channel that engages musicians' sense of creatively, play on Broadway, be a mentally/physically healthy musician, write a book that inspires the next generation of musicians to tell their story.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? MJ: I took a few actions that I would like to point out that really helped me. First, I sought help. Yep, right after I finished school, I immediately found someone to help me figure out how to navigate the tricky "transition years" out of school. I hired Karen Cubides who helped me form the building blocks of my career. She coached me weekly in a program called "The Emerging Artists" where I immediately found a network of other musicians who were working through similar transitions in their careers. I highly recommend her work!
The second action that I think is worth noting is I started an Instagram account and became very active on it. This is a way for me to create, share, learn, practice, try new things, network, be inspired, build a body of work, etc. This was (and still is!) a wonderful way for me to practice being a musician publicly. By doing this, I am able to share my story and musical voice to the world which is very empowering!
ER: Tell us about moving to New York City. What challenges did you encounter? What are some of the best parts of living in NYC? MJ: I never thought in a million years that I would be living in NYC. When I first started studying music with the intention of making it my career, it never once crossed my mind that I wanted to live in NYC. In fact, growing up I had never even visited the East Coast, much less NYC. It was only after I completed my master's degree and was working in the premier band at Cedar Point that I realized I needed to figure out my next move. I only had the summer and spring to figure it out because that was when my contract was completed. I thought I would audition for a couple cruise ships, or maybe I would go back to Bowling Green and work full time at Panera Bread for a year to save up money. But then an opportunity arose. A musician friend of mine that I had met the previous summer (who was currently living in NYC) was looking for one more roommate to fill a vacancy in his apartment. I decided to take the leap (not really knowing what I was signing up for) and moved to the city in November of 2018. Seriously the craziest thing I think I have ever done, but it was so rewarding to do so!
It was definitely not all peaches and sunshine. I was hit with major culture shock. I also did not have any close friends or family members who lived on the East Coast so I had to battle major loneliness for a long time while I was figuring out my place in the city. Eventually, after much persistence and patience, it became easier. I learned how to ride the subway! I was able to play my instrument in a few community groups. I got a part-time job and started meeting the top players in the scene. Things definitely started to feel like they were going in the right direction so I could begin laying the building blocks of my career.
I think the best part about living in NYC is that I get to interact with some of the most incredible musicians on a consistent basis, either by playing alongside them or listening from the back of a bar. There is this incredible creative energy that lives in NYC and I am honored to be a small part of its history.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? MJ: Life is unexpected and so is a music career. Have a plan, work hard, and be patient. In addition, work to untie any self-worth that you may be tying to your successes or failures as a musician. Trust me, that is no way to live as a musician. You are enough, you are always will be. Believe it.
ER: How can people find you? MJ: I am most active on Instagram, but you can find me in other places listed here: