Professional musicians are not typically thought of as entrepreneurs. Given the difficulty of a career in the fine arts, however, most of them need to pick up the skills of one to survive and flourish.
In addition to performing, most musicians dabble in teaching, administration and business. Instead of leaving their graduates to cobble these skills together into a functional career, some music schools are now embedding entrepreneurship in their traditional curriculums in an effort to make their students more business savvy.
Later this month, the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester will host a three-day workshop, in which a number of music schools will participate, entitled “Preparing the Generation-E Musician ." The workshop will explore the place of entrepreneurship in higher education music school curriculums. This discussion comes at a time when many music schools are hoping to ease their graduates’ transition into a world where it is increasingly hard for fine arts majors to make a living.
In recent years, a number of music schools have developed additional academic programs to give students more practical skills to market their talents. The University of Colorado at Boulder, for example, started its Entrepreneurship Center for Music in 1998, while the University of South Carolina opened the Carolina Institute for Leadership & Engagement in Music in 2007 and has just recently started a search for its founding director. Elsewhere, schools that have emphasized entrepreneurship in the past are redoubling their efforts. Eastman is planning to open a Center for Music Innovation, complete with a business school-like project incubator.
Heidi Neck, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, in suburban Boston, said programs encouraging entrepreneurship have recently expanded from business and other professional schools to more liberal arts institutions. In recent years, the Kauffman Foundation has been spurring the growth of these programs by providing music schools such as Eastman and other non-business institutions with funds to integrate the skills of marketing individual talent into their curriculum.
“People equate entrepreneurship and business with profit,” said Neck, who will lead the Eastman workshop and advises music schools on how to create such programs. “Sometimes I have professors tell me, ‘Every time you say profit it makes me want to take a shower.’ We have to figure out what we mean by profit. But, with anything you do in life, you have to generate revenue. At the end of the day, it’s all about value creation. Just because you’re a fantastic cellist doesn’t mean you have the ability to make the most of your talent and make a career.”
It is essential, Neck said, to convince music faculty that such skills are worthy additions to their school’s curriculum. She added that if some faculty view entrepreneurship and business-related coursework as tainting the craft of performance, students might perceive it in a similar way. Liberal arts institutions that take on this new curriculum, however, she says, have to be careful.
“I worry that sometimes these schools are saying they're adopting entrepreneurship but are really adopting business basics, such as just how to write grants and how to file taxes,” Neck said. “Business fundamentals are essential but not all you need. If you’re really going to teach entrepreneurship, then you’re going to have to teach opportunity creation and not just the day-to-day activities.”
An ideal music course focusing on entrepreneurship, Neck said, would be case-based and analyze either successful businesses or individuals within the music industry, showing students how other musicians have marketed their talents. Alternatively, instead of providing independent courses for music students to take, she said it would also be possible and more seamless to integrate the lessons of entrepreneurship within traditional music curriculum. How exactly this could be accomplished in the music classroom, she said, is a matter for debate among the music school attendees at the workshop, as she herself is a business school professor. In many ways, she said, embedding these skills might require something akin to a culture change for many conservative and performance-centric institutions.
The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia requires all upperclassmen on track to earn a performance diploma or enrolled in a degree program to take two courses on entrepreneurship, said Mary Kinder Loiselle, director of community engagement and career development services.One of the courses, “The 21st Century Musician,” covers everything from creating a press kit and personal biography to working with taxes and becoming a freelance musician, she said. “Foundations of Engagement” focuses on outreach training and instructs students on topics as varied as how to properly speak from the stage to how to court donors.
“We’re still very clearly focusing on the performing musician,” Loiselle said of Curtis. “But this will help enhance their skill set and shape the career they want. Number one is being the finest musician that you can be, and the rest is how to make that work for you professionally. For me, when I teach, I instruct my students how to develop what they have into their own package. They don’t need it to get a job, but they need it to have a fulfilling job.”
In addition to the implementation of these new requirements, Curtis recently opened its office of Career Development Services. Loiselle said the office is different from those found at traditional undergraduate institutions. Instead of simply housing a job bank, its office counsels students about what they might be able to accomplish with their particular skills. For example, a student skilled in marketing as well as playing an instrument could run a themed music festival, or a student known to engage audiences particularly well could help work with his or her orchestra on a development project. This is helpful, she said, in directing students to alternative careers and opportunities outside of performing, such as managing a smaller ensemble or running a summer performance festival.
At Eastman, the idea of entrepreneurship in music is not altogether new. It began offering courses with titles like “Business for Musicians” in the 1970s and founded its Institute for Music Leadership in 2001. Currently, the institute offers its students about 25 courses in what it calls its Arts Leadership Curriculum . The courses range from digital portfolio creation and intellectual property law to grant writing and one called “How to win an orchestral audition.”
Ramon Ricker, who directs the institute and is working on a book entitled “Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools,” said Eastman has decided not to require these entrepreneurial courses of students, in order to leave them more freedom in course selection. He noted, however, that these programs are very popular among students and gaining acceptance among faculty, some of whom had worried the school’s performance degree programs might suffer from the inclusion of these courses.
“Although there wasn’t a lot of overt resistance, we did get some,” Ricker said of the introduction of the new curriculum. “We’re not trying to make music entrepreneurs. We’re trying to make musicians who have some entrepreneurial skills. When the faculty found out that we’re not going to dilute performance, there was nothing to argue about.”
The Institute for Music Leadership at Eastman has been received so well among students and faculty that the school recently approved a proposal for the creation of a Center for Music Innovation. The school plans to develop a new certificate in music innovation, centering curriculum on existing Arts Leadership courses  within Eastman. Additionally, the new center would host a “music company/project incubator.” Like similar models at business schools, the incubator would use business contacts as well as Eastman faculty and resources to help shape student ideas into “viable companies.”
For example, Ricker cited the latest winner of the school's “New Venture Challenge,” a contest not unlike the incubator they are about to create in which a student's music business idea is picked for its viability. The winning student developed an idea to sell tuxedo tails to performance students, who often enter school without proper concert attire. The incubator, Ricker said, would take this student’s idea and give him the resources to get it off the ground.
In additional to calming the concerns of the parents of music school students, who often worry about the value of their son or daughter’s education, Ricker said the new entrepreneurial coursework and projects have intrigued alumni. He added that he often gets letters of support from graduates, expressing their regret at not having had similar opportunities while they were in music school.
“As we say, you can’t make a living playing the piano,” Ricker said. “You can make a living teaching piano. Still, we’re teaching students how to tap into different income streams. This set of courses can bridge the ivory town and the real world and help our graduates have better traction out there. It’s an idea whose time has come.”