Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan

Second Advisor

Kathleen M. Boyle

Third Advisor

Thomas L. Fish


This qualitative, phenomenological study sought to understand ways popular music artists experience and make meaning of their transitions from the role of college student to roles as professional artists and independent adults. During lengthy individual interviews, 15 young artists ages 23 to 28 described their transitions into multifaceted portfolio careers after graduation from specialty music colleges. The primary themes revolved around the formation of artistic identity, transitioning from college into professional life, managing financial challenges, and ultimately, becoming and being a creative artist by aligning artistic expression with life balance. While all participants intended careers as working musicians focused primarily on performance, 12 of the 15 began or significantly increased an emphasis on original composition after graduation to enact their artistic identities. A central finding of this study involved balancing this compelling creative drive with personal life balance at an early career stage.

A lack of paying work, competition, and self-doubts emerged as key early career challenges. Original composition may not provide significant income, and particularly in the United States, substantial student loan debt may further exacerbate financial challenges. Participants demonstrated effective reflective and proactive approaches to challenges, acknowledging personal temperament and individual circumstances while developing and adjusting artistic and life balance. For some, financial stability initially took precedence, enabling creative freedom, while others expanded musical activities to create sustainable and creative careers. Participants who began professional work prior to graduation demonstrated a clear advantage over those who waited. Four theoretical frameworks provided analytical lenses to examine transition issues of young artists: identity theory, emerging adulthood, self-efficacy, and systems creativity theory.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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