Hello Monitor and Dominic! :) Thanks a lot for your super informative messages. I'm so glad I signed up on this forum!
music graduates who succeeded in making at least a substantial part of their living either in performing, or in the music
I wonder if these ones who succeeded are in the field of classical or jazz music, which is where I am. These two genres are probably the only ones that are mostly system based these days (even jazz has been an 'institution' for last 30 years or so) - that is to say: music schools, music universities (colleges, conservatoires, academies), master classes (usually attended for contact hunting) and degrees (often getting you nowhere) and unemployment! I have some personal contact with musicians outside classical and jazz, who also have it very hard but usually these guys seem to be combining their music making and everyday life outside music (degrees and jobs not related to music).
What I am about to write now is totally just my observation, that is not related to my initial question of this thread, but since you mentioned you spent some time reading on this subject, I wanted to share my thought with you. The problem I find in music education at schools these days is that due to the current system we get much less time for actual music making and learning one's way in this world. At my Conservatoire and music university for example, they required us to do many time-consuming, seemingly useless and unrelated subjects just in order to meet the standard as a place of higher education. One particular Academy of Music, currently University of Music, had to introduce many humanistic subjects just in order to change its name and to meet the requirement as a 'University'... I heard from some music graduates from Scandinavian countries, as well as certain American schools (Berklee) that they had some lectures on how to make career in music (and things related to it, such as recording companies, agencies, etc.), whereas my mates and I were probably pretending to play ping pong just to get our index signed, or chasing around a priest to beg if we could not go to his lessons of history because we needed to of course play our instruments a bit.
Having written all this, so happy that I made up my mind to not undergo the trap of MMus degree. Since I am out of school, I finally have some time to play on my beloved instrument, earn some money to feed myself and my kitten and importantly read and learn just about anything!
unable to make ends meet on the income generated by performing alone, and often have to rely on skills, knowledge
This applied to school trained classical and/or jazz musicians - some are extremely lucky to become professors, their assistants or teacher of instruments. Outside Poland, there is quite a few cases where formality doesn't matter as much and very talented young musicians become professors at the age of 25 or 27 (I know such pianists in London, Cardiff and various towns in Germany). This is the best possible case, since it supplies them with regular income from only a few hours of lessons a week and the possibility to keep practising and concertising. Many of my colleagues from music schools make their living out of teaching instruments, ear training or theory of music. Some with talent get jobs in arranging, accompanying at ballet or theatres, composing but given its scarcity, competition is just sky high. Having said this, I also know people waitressing or flipping burgers as you said, possibly next to other humanistic graduates.
Shyness is the kiss of death in fields like music or business that rely on aggressive self-promotion.
Again, applying this to my field in music - self-promotion usually only works after winning one or twenty major international music competitions. Especially nowadays with all this Youtube, Soundcloud and etc. Some opinionated people can change their mind about the performer and playing just depending on successes in mad competition world, when music is just the same as you hear it. I personally detest this aspect in classical music, where winning usually involves reasonable amount of set-ups and other methods of bribing (yep, still happens!). Of course having done a bit of research on possible competitions for me, luckily there are some left with its winners playing matching up to their titles. I'm planning on participating in a couple of them next summer, if not to get the title - just to play in front of wider audience, meet new people and most importantly to have some fun (both playing and travelling).