From Gerald Klickstein: Music education and entrepreneurship

[Jerry Klickstein commented on my own entrepreneurship post, and among other things linked to one he’d done on the subject, on his blog The Musician’s Way, named after his book with the same title. I loved his post. Thought it made the best case I’d ever seen for entrepreneurship at music schools. I asked Jerry if we could reprint it here, and he graciously said yes. I should add that last week I had the pleasure of speaking to students at Peabody, in an event Jerry hosted as part of Peabody’s new entrepreneurship center, which he heads. He’s just as dynamic — and helpful — in person as he is in this blog post.]

Isaac_Stern“To be a musician in the service of music is not a job; it is a way of life.”

   –Isaac Stern, violinist (The Musician’s Way, p. 299)

The music education community is swirling with talk about how best to prepare university-level students for modern-day careers. And for good reasons.

The music business is undergoing economic and technological upheaval, and many musicians and colleges are struggling to adapt.

Actually, some musicians appear to be thriving – those with entrepreneurial mindsets.

Entrepreneurial Musicians

Entrepreneurial musicians find multiple outlets for their talents. For them, loving music and making a living from music are one thing. Like Isaac Stern, they adopt ways of life that bring both fulfillment and income.

For example, a professional saxophonist I know combines teaching, performing, and recording with a penchant for technology; among other things, he’s developing music education apps for the iPhone.

Similarly, a Juilliard-trained violinist felt the tug of rock music and then built a career as a rock violinist while also presenting hundreds of school workshops and launching a successful line of electric violins.

In sum, entrepreneurial musicians don’t wait for job openings to appear. They make opportunities by forming broad artistic visions, expanding their skills, and generating demand for their work.

Some are self-employed and carve out distinct niches for themselves. Others hold traditional sorts of posts in orchestras, bands, universities, or schools, yet they extend their horizons beyond the conventional.

Music Schools and Entrepreneurship

From an educational standpoint, then, how can music colleges equip students to be high-level performers – with all of the intense practice and study that musical excellence requires – while also arming them with the entrepreneurial tools they need to succeed in the new economy in which traditional music jobs are scarce?

Although each school needs to answer that question for itself, taking into account its particular mission and resources, here are a few things that I believe undergraduate music programs would do well to consider.

  • A required one-semester freshman seminar that enables students to be introduced to arts cultures and economies, draft preliminary artistic & career plans, establish e-portfolios, and learn about basic practice, performance, and collaborative skills during their first semester.
  • Workshops, summer courses, and private consultations that allow students to develop their career plans, study case examples of music entrepreneurship, build up technology skills, assemble content for their websites, take on supervised projects, and access internships. Such educational offerings could be coordinated through an on-campus entrepreneurship center.
  • required upper-level career development/entrepreneurship course. Students would, among other things, refine their short and long-term objectives, gain insight into the music industry, amass literacy with business concepts, craft professional materials, and sharpen their networking, grant-writing, and technology chops.
  • Student career-development grants. Students would submit proposals that could fund experimental productions, pay for conference/festival/competition attendance, support touring and community engagement projects, and help defray the costs of photography, recording sessions, mechanical licenses, website upgrades, and the like.
  • A greater emphasis on creative thinking across the curriculum. Given that entrepreneurship grows from creativity, one of our primary educational missions should be to encourage creativity. For instance, we can incorporate composition exercises into music theory classes rather than focusing solely on analysis; we can sponsor competitions in which students submit proposals for ensemble concert programs and a winning proposal receives an award or is even performed; students in entrepreneurship courses could present competing business plans with the winners earning prizes.
  • Added cooperation among faculty and administrators to allow room in curricula for students to ripen their entrepreneurial plans. All too often, music students are so overburdened – say, by being obliged to perform in several ensembles each semester – that they’re unable to pursue goals of individual interest. In effect, some students wind up serving the institutions where they study instead of the educational institutions serving the students’ needs. As a result, many students learn more about conformity than independent thinking. Let’s ensure that the college experience prepares students to flourish as self-directed musicians after they earn their degrees.

Of course, implementing these sorts of ideas would require substantial funding and planning. And I’m not suggesting that we should sacrifice high-quality education for some sort of ‘vocational training.’

I believe, however, that we must think expansively to transform applied music education at all levels.

GeraldKlickstein1Gerald Klickstein directs the Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center at the Peabody Institute, which launched in 2012. His book The Musician’s Way and its extensive companion website have drawn global praise for their insightful handling of the issues that today’s musicians face. Related posts on Klickstein’s blog can be found under the Entrepreneurship category.

© 2009 Gerald Klickstein

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  1. says

    Well stated Jerry. As part of its Artists-in-Residence appointment at Castleton State College, the Vermont based Burlington Ensemble will launch the “Center for Innovative Chamber Music Studies” in August, 2014 to provide a curriculum which nurtures chamber music playing and teaches business elements necessary to help sustain classical music in the community. The curriculum will serve music students, amateur players and volunteers serving music organizations. Topics will include comparisons between non-profit and for profit type corporations, public relations, critical needs, etc. The curriculum will allow participants to observe the activities of Burlington Ensemble first hand ( and The program will be unique like no other in the country.

  2. says

    Spot on as usual GK! At first glance this reads like the DSM/dlp manifesto. I hope we get to meet sometime or if you are ever in Dallas you’ll swing by to see what we’re doing. I look forward to reading more closely this afternoon – and may I please re-post and tweet to this? Cheers.

  3. Scott Kehoe says

    Nice. I would also like more student collaboration. Have a marketing student, a performance student, and a composition student group together to work on an entrepreneurial team project. Or a philosophy student, a literature student and a composer could work togehter. I realize interdepartmental collaboration would be tricky, but it would be fun. There’s nothing like getting two heads together to create the necessary drive and excitement to make a project work.

    • says

      Collaboration is vital for music schools. That’s going to be my next post about schools, in fact. The various music school specialties are for the most part locked away from each other, so instrumental players (for example) know nothing about what singers do, and singers and composers never talk. I think that’s even trickier to fix than the collaborations you mention with people outside the school, but it’s all important.

      • Suzanne says

        Amen! My academic training is as an wind instrumentalist. Because I had a piano background, I started accompanying my wind playing friends who took voice lessons as a secondary instrument. I still play my various instruments regularly, but also earn most of my living as an accompanist/vocal coach and church musician, which combines a whole range of disciplines.
        Since my undergrad days, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with student through professional composers, many who didn’t understand different practical things about different instruments they were composing for (when they sound fine in the notation software playback), though some are more willing to learn than others!
        As I’ve continued to learn about other specialties, it has helped me understand things in my own primary realm.

  4. says

    Personally I feel that innovation in education should be defined as making it easier for teachers and students to do the things THEY want to do. These are the innovations that succeed, scale and sustain. Music should indeed be considered as inovation in schools.

  5. says

    This is all entirely valuable advice, Gerry.
    It makes me think of something called “The Long Tail”, a concept of marketing where rather than sell to the fattest part of the market, target the niches, the specialty demands.
    That many are making a good living playing early music while racking up airline points, traveling all over the country to play in these quirky ensembles, is a good example.
    I am a big believer in the power of specialization. Rather than trying to appeal to the broadest group, be absolutely great at a few disciplines. Even better, create demand where there was none before by inventing something unique and special. There’s not enough of that. I’m looking at you, Eighth Blackbird!

  6. says

    Michael, Scott, Andy, and Eugene – Thank you for sharing your valuable ideas and for your supportive words. The change we need is coming about owing to people like you who take the initiative to act. Eugene: Feel free to link to this article, but I ask that you not re-post it on your site – thanks for asking.

    • says

      This provides an excellent framework by which aspiring musicians can gauge schools they’re considering for majoring in music. Thanks for articulating and organizing these ideas in such a straightforward way, to make them accessible to students at all levels. This equips them to know what they need –– and what they need to ask for, especially from music schools that don’t incorporate entrepreneurship into the curriculum from freshman year onward. We will post a link through and encourage students to utilize this information in choosing schools.

  7. Larry says

    Music students should also learn about how non-profit music organizations — symphony, opera, festival, etc. – work. There is often a real misunderstanding of what the administrative staff, board and volunteers do in these groups.

    • says

      I wholeheartedly agree, Larry. If music colleges claim in their mission statements that they prepare students for professional careers as performers and composers, then the education they provide should ensure that graduates go into the world with at least basic understandings of how arts cultures and economies operate.

  8. says

    Bravo, Gerry! You outline a beautiful curriculum that would prepare today’s musicians for the realities of our changing world, one with many opportunities as well as multiple challenges. I would underscore the importance of experiential learning. It’s great to plan and I teach a lot of planning in my course at the Yale School of Music. It is equally important to get out there and see what it is like to put on a concert for new audiences or create an iPhone app or do an interactive teaching performance for a group of school children. That’s why my one-semester class requires a project so that the students have an opportunity to put into practice the entrepreneurial and business skills that we learn.

    I hope that you will be able to accomplish your blueprint now that you are at Peabody!

    • says

      Thanks, Astrid. I agree that there’s no substitute for project-based learning. And schools can integrate projects into all sorts of courses – not just entrepreneurship classes – such that students gain real-world experience applying their musical knowledge in entrepreneurial ways.

      For ex., teams of students in music history and world music courses can design concert programs that use repertoire from the periods and cultures being studied; then, using funding provided via such courses, students could hire performers and present concerts on their campuses or in their communities, creating press releases, writing program notes, and otherwise marketing their work. In the process, students would take ownership of the course material and put on events that bring the social contexts of music to life.

      Such project-based learning requires funding, but the costs to music schools could amount to only a tiny fraction of what schools spend to put on large productions. The bigger challenge to many schools might not be the funding of project-based learning but to re-envision ways to integrate large ensemble work into their curricula while also creating the time and faculty support for students to take on entrepreneurial projects.

      Traditionally, music schools channel students’ time and energy into large ensemble productions (orchestras, operas, musical). If that’s what schools focus on, then they’ll be effective at producing graduates who function well in large ensemble contexts but will be ill-equipped to succeed as independent artists.

      Given that jobs in large ensembles such as orchestras are becoming fewer and there are more qualified applicants than ever for each job, school leaders are rightly looking for ways to prepare graduates for the realities of today’s arts economy while also providing students with crucial experience performing in large ensembles. I expect that in the coming years we’ll see more and more innovations appearing worldwide in which institutions of higher learning take on this challenge.

      • says

        Jerry, these are wonderful ideas. I’ll st…I mean borrow them. Astrid, your point is crucial. And Jerry, as far as I can see, is one of the people who walks that walk. So glad to have the two of you talking here!