Entrepreneurship is the newest, buzziest thing at music schools. I’ve been involved with it quite a bit, and I’m all for it.
But there’s one misconception I quickly want to clear up — that these programs are all about business, and have no relation to art. Not so! They’re a shot in the arm for musical creativity, because if they give students the skills to build whatever career they want, why can’t the students, building their careers, make music in ways all their own?
Though I do think the business skills taught might be too limited. Of course they focus on skills everyone agrees are needed — writing resumés, public speaking, fundraising, marketing. But I’d like to see a focus on building new audiences, especially among people the students’ own age. Especially in urban areas, and at big universities, where the potential new audience is all around the music school.
But more on that later. Let me first say that I’ve had contact with some of these programs, as visitor, as guest teacher, as guest speaker, as someone consulted when the program was being set up, and/or as a friend who keeps in touch with what’s going on. And I’m one of several people involved (though not in any policy-making role) with shaping the very new program at Juilliard, where I teach.
Set up independentlly
One thing that that pretty quickly seems clear is that entrepreneurship is best set up as its own silo inside a school. That may seem counterintuitive — if you really believe in it, wouldn’t you want entrepreneurship to permeate all the curriculum? Yes, you would, but that’s hard to make happen. For one thing, you’ve got on your faculty people hired because they teach harpsichord, or music theory, or trombone, or because they direct operas. Can they teach entrepreneurship, too? Very likely they can’t, and no blame to them for that. They might not be trained in it, they might not be entrepreneurs themselves, and nobody told them, when they were hired, that entrepreneurship would later be part of their job.
They may also not like the idea. The classical music world is changing, and that means that people have different ideas about what changes are good. If you’re one of the world’s top cellists, and you’re told that your students will now be studying entrepreneurship, maybe you think they’d do better to spend their time practicing. I might disagree with you, but I certainly can see your point of view. You got where you are by (among much else) practicing hard. Of course you think your students should do the same thing. One extremely famous musician, teaching at a very famous school, was told that entrepreneurship was coming, and answered, sardonically, “Oh, so the students won’t practice anymore!”
Even the students have doubts. Some don’t see the point. How will this help them get a job in an orchestra? Or they might feel conflicted. I was being interviewed at one big school for a consultant’s job (which I didn’t get), in helping set up their program. On the committee that did a terrific job interviewing me were two students, and both of them asked, with great feeling, how I thought something new could be added to everything (practicing, lessons, coaching, performances) they already did.
So it may not work — or, so I’d think, pretty much surely won’t work — simply to inject entrepreneurship into existing curricula. You hit a wall fairly fast, when the people who now have to teach it may not be able to. Far better, I think — and I think experience proves — to set up a separate entrepreneurship program, with an office, a staff, and a mandate to make some entrepreneurial noise at the school, with the strong support of the people on to p. That way, you inject entrepreneurship very strongly into the air of the school. People who want it will come to the program, which will typically offer speakers, workshops, courses, grants, and much more. Others, not sure at first, may get inspired, when they see what the program can do for them.
Even resistant faculty may come around, when they see that their students still practice, that nobody’s forced to do anything they don’t want to do, and that the program opens career options that weren’t formerly there. (Juilliard did something wise at the convocation that opened its current academic year. Entrepreneurship, as I’ve said, was the focus, and, in a series of videos, the school highlighted entrepreneurial projects some of its faculty had, including one from a teacher most people might have thought was completely old-school. Smart move, which may have defused at least some opposition.)
But why do these programs exist?
The most obvious reason is that the classical music business is changing — tanking, in some ways — and so students will have to make careers in new ways. The old ways won’t work, or might not be as widely available. To make a career in new ways, you’ll need new skills. If you followed the older models, and — if you’re a soloist — put yourself in the hands of a manager, who’d shape your career, fine, the manager has business skills, so you may not need them.
But if you’re doing something new, something old-style managers might not know about — like creating and singing in operas about superheroes (something one of my former students is doing), to interest kids in classical music — the manager who might get you gigs at the Met most likely can’t help you. So you’ll need to do business yourself.
But there’s more to entrepreneurship than this. First, there’s a not so happy (and not entirely secret) little secret about music schools. Looking back over time, a surprising number of their graduates never had careers in music. The first entrepreneurship program i know about, the one at Eastman, hoped to address this, by helping students find music careers — publicity, marketing, management, administration — outside performing and teaching. (Elite music schools, Juilliard, for instance, might not teach music education, but graduates of music education programs have a high employment rate — as much as 100%, which is what the number was, I was told, at two schools I happened to visit.)
And the second little secret is that even accomplished music school graduates, who go on to make big careers, may not know enough about business. In past decades, I was part of many discussions about music schools and orchestras, or more specifically about whether schools prepared students to do anything in orchestras besides play. Students would graduate, have the great good fortune to get an orchestra job, and then be plunged into a maelstrom of contracts, health insurance plans, unions, and much else they hadn’t been taught to understand. Many didn’t know how orchestras are managed and financed.
For each musical specialty, we could make a list of business things that affect comfort, income, and career success, and ask whether music schools teach about them. The answer would almost always be no. So it seemed — and Eastman took the lead here, too — that maybe these things should be taught.
And then came the classical music crisis, and the most dramatic reason to teach entrepreneurship, the one I’ve already mentioned — the need to find your own path in a world where the old ways are fading. As I’ve said, this can be wildly creative. Because what kind of paths are we talking about? New paths — which can mean just about anything, as long as you can make it work for you.
I can’t stress this enough: these programs open doors to creativity. Which they can strongly encourage, by giving grants to creative musical projects. Or by sponsoring creative student-produced concerts, as the program at NEC does (though I don’t see anything about that on their web pages). I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say that at Juilliard, discussions of entrepreneurship were tinged with extra excitement, as people (sometimes not too low in the hierarchy) found themselves saying they hoped that students would be encouraged to think outside the usual boxes.
And what happens, of course, is that they do. The mere presence of an entrepreneurship program, almost whatever its content, can bring new energy and new ideas to a school, freeing a lot of ideas and energy students might have.
And this can extend beyond music. As we were having some early discussions at Juilliard, there was sometimes confusion about what the goal of the program should be, about what kinds of student creations we ought to encourage. Was the program just about business? Or should business be only the grunt work the program would do, with high art as the goal?
I found myself saying that we shouldn’t set limits, or define the program by our expectations, or by our dreams and our values. Once you open the doors, who knows what will happen? One of your jobs, if you manage a program like these, is to make sure you get out of the way.
The program, let’s say, starts with talk about business. Careers, jobs, internships, mentoring. Fine. But then, as I’ve said, students come up with musical ideas. Like the student-directed Baroque opera performance that Juilliard presented at this year’s convocation, in which everything, toward the end, dissolved into darkness. So you run with that, overjoyed (as I’ve said) because now you’re fostering art.
But then comes a student with an idea for a business! As happened at Eastman, I was told, when they started giving grants for student projects. The first one went to a plan to develop a gadget that would help to tune drums used in Indian music. Indiana University, I’ve noticed, gave an entrepreneurship grant to a student who developed a device to help guitarists practice correctly. Who then won a prize in a university-wide entrepreneurship competition offered by the Indiana business school. Which suggests all kinds of synergies between business schools and music schools, especially since business these days can be so creative.
(The Indiana program, by the way, stands out in two interesting ways. It’s largely run by students, and it calls itself Project Jumpstart, which I like quite a lot better — it’s livelier, more descriptive, more hopeful, more enticing, and, not least, more entrepreneurial — than the usual riffs on words like “entrepreneurial musicianship.”)
So, in conclusion, I have some suggestions. Not quite best practices, because I don’t feel I’ve distilled enough of what happens in all these programs to come up with those. But some ideas that make sense to me.
NEC has a file of mentors, both inside and outside the school, who can help students with projects. Mentorship is essential. You can give a grant (I’ve seen this happen) to a student with a unique idea, only to find that the student doesn’t know how to make the plan work. I went to a performance once, that had gotten a grant, and involved music in many genres and styles, some of it improvised, moving around an unusual performance space. But the student needed, among other things, a stage director, someone to teach him to market the concert, and someone to teach how to write, edit, and proofread a program. Having a wide list of mentors will help find the right one for projects. And the more creative a project is, the more it might need very specific kinds of help.
The Manhattan School has a required entrepreneurship course, for all undergraduates, and for students in some of its graduate programs. This is a bold move, one that most schools might not make, because if you make something newly required, some older requirement most likely has to be dropped to make room for it, and fights over that can leave blood on the floor.
At Manhattan, things were simpler, because the school already required a course in business. Entrepreneurship simply took over the course. One thing they do, which charms and impresses me, is require each student to make a five- or ten-year plan, not set in stone, of course, but just a vision of where she’d like to be.
What follows then is discussion of what skills the student will need, to make the plan work. The course also offers individual counseling for each student, a wonderful touch, and quite a lot of work for the two people who run the entrepreneurship program, who seem to throw themselves into the job with lots of conviction and happiness.
Email blasts. What could be simpler? Bombard the school’s internal mailing list with email about what the program is doing. Make it lively, good-looking, and participatory. Invite responses. Put some of them in your next issue.
Involve alumni. Both as mentors, and as people whom the program can benefit. They’ll often have much the same needs as students. And may feel things more acutely, because now they’re out in the world, and discovering that their careers might not be developing quite as they’d hoped. Or else they might have dreams they want to realize, without quite knowing how. Why shouldn’t their school’s entrepreneurship program — with a better name, one maybe inspired by Project Jumpstart — help them?
Combine entrepreneurship with career development. Most schools have a career development office, and some have combined that with entrepreneurship, with entrepreneurship on top. Because once you’re committed to entrepreneurship, how can that not be something you’d focus on, in helping students (and alumni) with their careers?
[Added later] Inject entrepreneurship into music history. The music history I and many others learned is the history of composition — how composers developed their styles, who influenced them, which styles were which, which mattered most. Which is fine, but it’s only one part of the history of music. There’s also the history of how music was made, who the audience was, how the audience reacted — and how composers made a living.
Turns out they were entrepreneurial. Many of us in classical music think the great composers had patrons, but that’s not completely true, and not at all true, in any substantial way, before the 19th century. Haydn, writing music for Prince Esterhazy, didn’t have a patron. He had an employer. Likewise Bach in his Leipzig church.
And if they didn’t have employers — and often even if they did — composers were entrepreneurial. Beethoven’s Ninth, for instance, was produced as a profitmaking enterprise as part of a giant concert that included parts of the Missa Solemnis. When it didn’t make a profit — when it lost money instead — Beethoven was furious, and unfairly looked for someone other than himself to blame.
My favorite entrepreneurial composer story comes from F. M. Scherer’s invaluable book Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Telemann had a job like Bach’s, as music director of a large German church. Each Easter, he had to present a passion oratorio, just as Bach did, with the congregation singing along in the chorales.
This much isn’t surprising. But here’s something I’d never thought of. To sing the chorales, the congregation had to have the words. So the words had to be printed. This was a job for private enterprise, and there was a printer with a contract to print the words, and sell them to the congregation.
Telemann, as a condition of his employment, wanted a cut of this. And he got it! The printer had to give him, free, some of the booklets with the words, which Telemann then sold to the congregation on his own, counting every penny he made as profit.
Stories like these run throughout the history of classical music. From a marvelous book I’ve just read — The Castrato and His Wife, by Helen Berry (an incredible true story of an Italian castrato who scandalously married a respectable British girl) — I learned that musicians made deals with fashionable London tailors, to have their music sold at the tailors’ shops. If we want to encourage entrepreneurship now, we should rework how we teach classical music history, so students can see that there’s been entrepreneurship all the way through it.
This may not be easy, since the people currently teaching may not know the entrepreneurial part of the story. But it’s a change we somehow should make.
A few more ideas:
Support from the top. I said this already, but a program will, I’d think, have the most effect on a school, if the people running the institution make clear both privately and publicly that they value it. And, of course, make available whatever resources are needed.
Learning from other programs. I’m going to guess, based on what I’ve seen in several places, that most entrepreneurship programs aren’t fully aware of what the other ones are doing. This seems wrong. First, because you can learn a lot from what others do. You can get inspired, and avoid mistakes. And secondly because, when people involved in these things get together, the conversation gets lively quite fast. So some forum, some private website, some newsletter, that helped people keep in touch, would be good. And, if I were in control of a program, I’d make sure that the people in charge of it kept in regular touch with their colleagues. I’d ask them, in fact, for reports on what the other programs were doing. I’d want to know, as one way of judging whether my own program was as successful as it could be.
A new kind of outreach
And now my final idea, which I briefly stated close to the start. And it’s close to my heart: I want these programs to encourage students to find a new audience especially of people their own age. At one entrepreneurship function I’ve been at, someone high up said, with great wistful sincerity, that he hoped, in the future, that chamber ensembles would play not just on school concerts, but also in retirement homes, and in public schools.
Which is fine. Traditional outreach. Could be done with a lot of entrepreneurial flair. (And some of the entrepreneurship grants I’ve seen go to projects like that.)
But what about reaching, if you’re a student, people like you? People your own age, who don’t go to classical music performances. That, to me, is the most important frontier. Classical music needs a new audience. Why not encourage students to go out and find it?
They need encouragement, I think, because schools — not to mention the grownup classical music business — don’t talk about doing this. So students may think it’s impossible. Which means the idea has to be in the air. You can bring in people to talk about things that have worked — the students at the University of Maryland, who doubled attendance at symphony concerts by organizing other students in their dorms to go. Or the co-director of Classical Revolution: L.A., whom I Skyped with not long ago, and who told me about her own success, advertising on neighborhood websites to get younger people to come to classical concerts in clubs.
This is an idea, I’m convinced, whose time has come. And had better have come, or else classical music is truly endangered. WIth the old audience fading away…
A perfect place to do this, as I’ve already said, would be Austin, a place just exploding with live music. And famous for that. Project for students at the University of Texas Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music: Inject your performances into the Austin scene. In a way that does more than simply put classical music into some clubs, but starts to attract people who go to the clubs on other nights, to hear pop music, in all its variety.
Which could be done, of course, in any big city. Or on any big campus. The day we start doing it will be a great day for classical music’s future.