Students look to find balance between music and school

Musicians at ASU talk about balancing hobbies, dreams and classes

For ASU students with musical dreams, finding a balance between school and hobbies is an everyday struggle. 

Long days and hard decisions for future careers are common themes among student musicians.

For sophomore Zach Spiess, the solution is constant practice and learning to operate on minimum sleep.

Spiess is a student within the Herberger Institute at ASU majoring in music education and composition. He said his ultimate goal is to be a professional performer or studio musician.

Having a degree in music education solidifies more job opportunities, Spiess said. 

“To be a performer is hit or miss,” he said.

Spiess started playing in fourth grade when during band tryouts, the director said he had “trumpet player chops.” As a music major Spiess does a lot of playing through ASU, but he is also in a few off-campus ensembles and a fusion-Jazz group.

Spiess said that it can be difficult to keep balance of everything he has to do. 

“You don’t get to sleep very much,” he said. “And it requires constant practicing.”

While Spiess plans on going to grad school in a major city to continue his education and expand his network, other students plan to enter careers with little relation to music.

Jacob Browning is a junior at ASU with a double major in mathematics and computer systems engineering.

Browning is involved with the campus a cappella group ASU TEMPEtations, as well as lyrical opera theaters.

The TEMPEtations are actually attempting to record an EP to release in April, Browning said. They have an Indiegogo campaign set up to raise funding for the project.

In addition to singing, Browning said he also plays the guitar and piano. He occasionally plays the instruments at parties and private events, he said.

In order to keep everything in balance, he said “It’s about being passionate about it. Because if you’re not passionate about it, it becomes a chore.”

Browning said he made it a personal priority to make his academics come first. He’ll miss class if possible to work on music, but if not, it’s an easy choice to make, he said.

“I love doing music and I would love to keep doing for the rest of my life, but in terms of what I would like to make a career out of, I think I might be more inclined to be doing something with mathematics," Browning said.

Then there are students who are already making a name for themselves in the music world. Sophomore Marcus Leatham is a jazz performance student who is involved with multiple bands and performances not involved with school. 

Leatham said one of his projects, an “indie-jazz-hop-funk” band by the name of Nick Perkins is already finding levels of success across local venues. Starting at house shows they are quickly moving up to more well known venues he said.

The band has an upcoming show on Mar. 5 at the Crescent Ballroom as well as a show at the Trunk Space on Mar. 31, Leatham said.

Despite obtaining levels of success already, Leatham said “being a career musician is almost impossible.” He said that very few people are lucky enough to reach a point where they can earn enough simply by playing their music.

Leatham shares the view that in order to maintain a balance, you’ll have to give up sleep. 

“It’s difficult to give your all for everything at once,” he said. “Basically it comes down to a matter of sacrifice.”

Leatham said he keeps his personal goals at the front of his mind because that’s what allows him to grow and progress as a musician. If he is in the right place with his personal goals, everything else will work out he said.

“When I start getting caught up in all my projects, I have to think about the music and the art first and foremost,” Leatham said. When there is only so much time in the day to be passionate about things, he said, some things just have to go.

“It’s something I struggle with every day, something I’m struggling with right now, and something I don’t ever expect myself to stop struggling with,” Leatham said. 

“I hope I never find that balance though,” he said. “Because that’s the thing that keeps me driving forward.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @AndrewMcKenney on Twitter.

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