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US music colleges are starting to teach the business

An article in the Times Higher Educational Supplement shows that some music schools in US universities are beginning to invest in career guidance for students – both within the music world and beyond. Read it here.

This development is long overdue. British conservatories ought to do the same, but …. don’t get me started….


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  1. Considering the fading music scene, they should also improve their foreign langugage skills.

    • Well I can’t speak for the other conservatoires, but the RNCM offers both excellent language tuition (being arguably the leading European, – or even world-wide – conservatoire for opera singers), and very good career guidance – particularly of the necessity to follow a shall-we-say “varied” career in the modern day. Students there no longer expect a single career as an orchestral player / concert soloist / as applicable, they are encouraged to think more laterally and to work on the essential non-musical skills needed these days. That didn’t happen in my day there (although I was given free reign and kit to learn programming and the internet, back in 1995), but it does happen now, and a good thing too.

  2. It is all the rage in America right now to say that, in order to survive (let alone thrive) in the current economy, everybody has to be an “entrepreneur” and a “personal brand.” NY Times gasbag columnist Thomas Friedman beats this drum a lot. Needless to say, the economy as a whole, and certainly each individual industry, can’t really function if everyone is in the game as an independent player, and it just leads to big winners and big losers; plus, not everyone is interested in, or even cut out to be, an entrepreneur. I know I’m not.

    But I don’t think teaching everyone “entrepreneurship” is a good solution. Of course you need some entrepreneurial skills to run your own studio, or to manage your own freelance career, and it’s crucial that students learn some of these skills. But I don’t think every musician can “found their own ensemble” or “start their own festival” or really even run their own teaching studio, when you get down to it. It seems that the notion of going to work for an organization (perhaps even in a job that doesn’t involve playing your instrument) and getting paid a decent wage is less and less a part of the conversation anymore. Like I said, lots of people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs, but increasingly students are getting the message that you can’t really be a musician if you aren’t an entrepreneur in the first place. The article refers to them as “artistic leaders” and “business leaders,” but not everybody is a leader! That’s just life.

    The focus is not really on thinking laterally and working on essential non-musical skills, which is a great way to approach it, but rather on “being a musical entrepreneur” to succeed in an every-man-for-himself kind of environment.

    Anyway, this is just how I see it, but I get so angry when I see this idea being promoted in the American economy at large, so seeing it being promoted in the music world is very frustrating.

    • William says:

      I agree completely Tomas2! Academic institutions seem to be using “Music Entrepreneurship” as a cop out – “we can’t place you in jobs, so you have to create your own!” Oddly enough, people pushing this agenda and selling the books and workshops all seem to enjoy cushy tenured jobs. I’m taksed with teaching a “music entrepreneurship” class at a large State University and feel like I’m peddling snake oil.

    • robcat2075 says:

      I generally agree. It’s really not mathematically possible for everyone to be a valued “brand” or a “leader” any more than it possible for everyone to be “tall”. If everyone is then no one is.

      I wonder what that quote of 8.6% unemployment for music school grads is based on. I’m guessing that not just counting employment that is relevant to their music degree.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Finishing college with some knowledge about the market and life outside the ivory tower can give people a better head start in their careers, regardless whether they’ll be entrepreneurial or not.

  3. I’ve been talking about this very subject for a while. “Symphony Era – Say Goodbye”
    I’m so happy the schools are finally changing! The real question is: when will we see this change in the pool of musicians coming out of the schools? I am finding that the newly graduated students still don’t have this knowledge.

  4. This is not a recent development in the US. The Network of Music Career Development Officers has met annually for more than ten years. We have learned and developed a number of working theories.Such as: A good entrepreneurism program integrates: Community Engagement,Self Promotion and Entrepreneurism. .Typically it begins with goal setting and leads students and professionals through a number of tutorials that may include: Criticality of strong verbal and writing skills, strategy and tactics of media releases and how to structure them, defending one’s budget request, and social media marketing. [and of course...much much more] When addressing students I have come to realize that these topics are domains within the realm of something business schools call: Project Management. Nothing knew here? what is new is that concert artist reps/agents no longer develop careers. Unlike the old days. They now serve as “order longer sales people. And they survive on retainers. But this is another story! It is up to the artist who though becomes entrepreneurial understands the “Art of the Deal” Indeed not an isolationist the deal will always depend on developed relationships.

  5. David Hardie says:

    You are right in saying that the development is long overdue.

    It’s not that students need to graduate with a better skill set in response to a business paradigm that (as you have chronicled in detail through your books etc) been broken for decades, we need to change the business paradigm so the music can thrive and it’s the new generation of people entering the profession that will do it.

    Seriously, there’s a book in this.

  6. Trumpetmaster says:

    I was taught that at the Royal Academy of Music. We had one year of Business for Musicians and Music in Community. The first dealt with basics (creating a CV, a website, appying for teaching and orchestral positions, website creation) and other business/management elements (basic marketing, taxes, fund raising, self-management…). Music in Community included the following topics: Understanding Music in Community, Developing a Skills Base, Working with Disability, Developing Appropriate Business Skills, and Developing Programmes to meet Audience Needs… Also, there are career workshops during the summer term and recently has started a series of conferences and workshops for recent graduates and alumni for career development and a mentoring program for alumni.

  7. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Curtis started such a course 20 years ago and it was founded by the late Phyllis Susen, a leader and visionary in the field (former harpist with Pittsburgh Symphony, administrator of Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, Director of Education of the Phila Orch and finally Director of Education at Carnegie Hall). The course continues today, but are undergraduates ready to listen? Typical comments from former students: “I wish there had been a course like that when I went to school” or ” I wish I had paid attention and attended more classes” or “I know this was covered but would you please read over my bio and resume and make suggestions?” Even though almost every major music school in the world has been offering such opportunities for a few years, to paraphrase Sol Hurok: If they don’t want to listen, nobody can stop them. If Dean Henry Fogel is reading this, he might want to weigh in. Henry?

    • The Network of Music Career Development Officers {NETMCDO}has existed for over ten years. Attending the annual conference in NYC have been a number of schools from the UK who have contributed substantially to the dialogue. What the naysayers have complained about in this column demonstrates that they have overlooked the two other components without which the so called “entrepreneur” programs fail. Community Engagement & Self Promotion combined with Entrepreneurism comprise the programmatic DNA. Traditional “artist’ representation and agency affiliation now requires a “behind the scenes” retainer fee with no guarantee whatsoever. ( there are a few exceptions). The convention now exists that an agency will not consider the ensemble or artist unless the candidate has a proven track record of generatiing 100,000USD. The agency needs to net $20,000.00 for its revenue stream. The artist pays all expenses. The world is different as it always is.We artists have responded. We have evolved. Now that we have stepped out of the practice room” closet” and Now that the world is flat the “on-line” percentage of artist generated sales( bookings) would make Sol Hurok smile.
      Justin Kolb,Self promoted, Entrepreneurial Virtuoso.

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