Education vs. Music: My Personal Battle

Throughout my entire life, I never envisioned music as a career choice; music was always an escape or a hobby for me. When I felt down in the dumps, music was there to bring me peace of mind. When I was enjoying life, music was there to lift me even higher. But when it came to deciding whether or not I wanted to pursue a career in the music industry, the largest factor resisting this consideration was my education.

The expectations set for students in schools overseas is a little different than the expectations set here in the United States. Not that one type of schooling culture is “better” than the other, but attending several international schools gave me an idea of the role that education plays in an international student’s life. International students are expected to pursue the International Baccalaureate program, “a non-profit educational foundation offering four highly respected programs of international education that develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world” (IBO.org). This program offered classes where many credits transferred over to the university the student planned to attend after high school, making it a very attractive program for parents and students alike. Many of my friends pursued the IB program, and many of them were accepted into prestigious universities across the globe. In a nutshell, being studious was the NUMBER ONE priority in the schools I attended. The type of work ethic and competition expected at these schools was unparalleled to what I had experienced in the states, and this carried over into my college years.

“While all of this was going on, I also received a job offer from the company I had previously been interning with. The music thing was catching some momentum, but I hadn’t fully realized that yet.”

The years spent in college are one of the most formative periods of a person’s life. I headed into college as an accounting major, with the hope of getting accepted into my school’s business program, then intern for one of the Big four auditing firms in NYC every summer, then graduate with a job offer in hand. But these weren’t just the expectations of my parents – these were mine as well. At this time in my life, music was still a hobby to me; I’d work on music in my free time, play frat parties held in basements on the weekends, and annoy neighbors by playing my music too loudly in my dorm. Music was always in the passenger seat of my priorities, never thinking of it as more. But all this changed pretty quickly in the summer of 2014 when I put out an unofficial remix of “All I Want” by Dawn Golden. I still remember when the record label Mad Decent emailed my team asking to sign the remix officially. I was sitting at my desk at my internship in New York and I was freaking out. This was the first time one of my songs had gained that kind of traction; they used it in a Mad Decent Block Party recap video and everyone was hitting me up about the song—but I was still in the mindset that music was just a hobby.

This started a small snowball effect for my music career—I was given more remix opportunities from major labels and began getting booked for small shows around the states. I was then picked up by my agent, John Jung, at the AM Only Agency. I also started my second artist project called Hotel Garuda with my good friend Aseem. While all of this was going on, I also received a job offer at the company I had previously been interning with. The music thing was catching some momentum, but I hadn’t fully realized that yet.

MK
Photo Credit: Brandon Artis

“I was projecting financials based on how much I was being paid for shows and remixes at the time, and I was in the negative every time.”


Having financial security and a fruitful career that is able to provide for one’s family is the main goal for many children of immigrants. I was no exception to this; it was expected for me to “follow” the path that everyone in my family was following. My parents tried to make sure I had the best education and upbringing possible. I actually still remember the late nights where my mom chose to tutor me for my SATs rather than catch some sleep because she had to be up before 6am to take us to school. When we were moving around in the states, my parents considered what neighborhoods had the best schools rather than what our house looked like. Education was my number one priority, and I was set to carry that torch. But all this changed. Very quickly.

I started to think about those “what ifs,” and I started to watch Dead Poet’s Society a lot (LOL just kidding). It came to the point in my life where my passion for music was getting hard to suppress despite me being halfway through my college career. And for me to open up to my parents about it was no easy feat (sorry if you’re reading this Mom and Dad!). I finally dropped the bomb on my parents – I told them I was interested in pursuing music. My traditional upbringing made it a difficult for my parents to understand the music industry (or any entertainment industry at all). Since I couldn’t play shows (because of school), I was afraid of being kicked out of my agency, my management leaving me, and the loss of momentum would spit me out on the side of the road. It was a difficult four months of back and forth with my parents about whether or not this music thing could be sustainable. I was projecting financials based on how much I was being paid for shows and remixes at the time, and I was in the negative every single time. There were several times where I thought that a music career was impossible and that I should just give up. But during that time, my friends were the ones I went to for advice.

Manila
Photo Credit: Dash Grey

What I love about these guys like Brett (manager) and Redd (friend), Aseem (other half of Hotel Garuda), Sajeeb (Jai Wolf), John (agent), Julian (Julius Jetson), and the whole NPZ / TBH Unit crew, is that none of them ever forced me to go one way or the other. They all understood my predicament and were supportive of me regardless of the outcome, and I’ll love them forever for that.

It eventually led to an ultimatum – if I wanted to pursue a career in music, I had to finish my last three semesters in school with top grades and land spots on the dean’s list. But if I wanted to pursue a career in the corporate world, I could still work on music on the side, but it wouldn’t be my main focus. A few years ago, I read a quote (from author Kevin Claiborne) that never really left me: “Ignoring your passion is a slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for. Mold your career around your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around your career.”


Despite the fact that music put such a huge strain on my relationship with my parents at the time, and that it was starting to take off at a time when I was supposed to be focused on something else, I thought a lot about the positive role that music played in my life. It never left my side despite the fact that I constantly moved around as a kid. I didn’t have a consistent group of friends or mentors until I grew up, and it felt like I had that “new house paint” smell engraved in my nostrils. But despite all that, music was there for me through thick and thin; so I felt it was time to give back. That’s how my parents and I came to the agreement that if I finished school and earned my degree, I could give this music thing a shot. I agreed, and I realized that as a child with immigrant parents living in America, it’s important to follow my dreams but never forget who helped me get there.

And here I am now, with both parents happy and a personal sense of fulfillment and drive to continue developing a career in music.

Header Photo Credit: Brandon Artis

Manila Killa

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