Musician, are you an Entrepreneur?

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Musician, are you an entrepreneur?

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Teaching Musicians to Be Entrepreneurs

Why entrepreneurship training is beginning to strike a chord with faculty and students at top music conservatories?

By Kerry Miller

In most areas of higher education, entrepreneurship has long lost its stigma as a career path for those without one (see BusinessWeek.com, Fall, 2006, “Hitting the Books”). But at the nation’s top music conservatories that stigma is still very much alive, despite the fact that the “traditional” career path for classically trained musicians—one that ends with steady employment in a symphony orchestra—is difficult.

At Manhattan’s Juilliard School, one of the country’s preeminent performing arts conservatories, Career Development Director Derek Mithaug admits that the business connotation of the term “entrepreneur” still rubs a lot of artists the wrong way. “We try to avoid that word,” he says. But getting support for entrepreneurship training is about more than semantics: Some in music education still firmly believe that the role of the conservatory is to train musicians, not businesspeople.

That’s why at many conservatories, entrepreneurship training—where it exists—has tip-toed into curricula under less threatening guises. Most schools offer at least one elective or workshop in “career development” or “the music industry.” At the Eastman School of Music, entrepreneurship programs are run out of the Rochester School’s Institute for Music Leadership.

CONVERTING THE OLD GUARD

The Institute’s director, Ramon Ricker, says it took some effort to convince some old-guard faculty—firm believers in “art for art’s sake”—that the school wasn’t selling out by offering courses that emphasized practical skills. At one meeting, Ricker went around the room pointing at each faculty member: “You’ve got a summer chamber music program, you’ve got a string quartet, you publish books— you’re entrepreneurial!”

And teaching those skills, he says, is about more than building individual careers—as the nation’s symphony orchestras continue their struggle for survival, they’re also vital to the future of classical music.

Bringing music schools in line with the future of classical music is exactly what Manhattan School of Music president Robert Sirota is most interested in. “The whole infrastructure of music is experiencing seismic shifts, and music schools have to move with those changes,” Sirota says, and just adding a business course or two in isn’t enough to keep up with the times. Although getting even one required course on entrepreneurship into a packed conservatory curriculum is more than most schools are willing to commit to. “What’s really necessary,” Sirota says, “is a radical rethinking of the whole centuries-old conservatory model.”

One of Sirota’s sea-change ideas: Instead of requiring all graduating students to perform a senior recital, conservatories could give students the option of producing their own recording. “It sounds like a small thing, but it would be Teaching Musicians to Be Entrepreneurs. This is revolutionary,” Sirota says. “Can we do it? Well, that remains to be seen.”

As an end goal, Sirota envisions “a new generation of performing musicians who function more like individual small businesses, who work the hypersegmented musical marketplace in an entirely different way.” Figuring out how to get there, Sirota admits, is the $64,000 question. In April, he’s holding the first of several think-tank discussions with various music industry leaders to discuss just that subject. And in a year or two—as soon as he nails down the funding—he hopes to open a new Center for Music Entrepreneurship at the Manhattan School.

FUNDING FROM WEALTHY FOUNDATIONS

So far, most of the funding for arts entrepreneurship programs has come from a few wealthy foundations. Among the first was the College of Music at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which opened the Entrepreneurship Center for Music with a grant from the Price Foundation in 1998. Since then, the Coleman, Morgan, and Kauffman foundations have funded numerous other initiatives to further entrepreneurship in music, including grant competitions and mentorship programs.

But critics say music schools still aren’t doing enough to prepare students for the real world. “How in good conscience can we continue to graduate thousands of students a year who have no hope of getting a job in the field they were trained for?” asks Michael Drapkin, a business consultant and former symphony clarinetist who got funding from the Kauffman Foundation to support an annual conference in North Carolina on music entrepreneurship called BCOME.

A NEW WAY OF THINKING

He’s not the only one asking that question. “If you talk to people outside the academy, this is a no-brainer,” says Gary Beckman, a PhD student in musicology at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading academic researcher in the growing field of arts entrepreneurship. But in order for music entrepreneurship to gain more mainstream acceptance, he says the topic has to be academically legitimized. On March 31, he’ll present research at Pepperdine University, at the first-ever panel discussion devoted to arts entrepreneurship as an academic discipline (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/2/06, “Business Plans with Legs”).

Still, says Juilliard’s Mithaug, “It takes time to change culture.” From a very young age, musicians are taught how to take direction, to be the best by being the same. “[Entrepreneurship] is a new way of thinking for people who have spent most of their lives in a practice room,” he says.

And Juilliard is already a much different place than it was when Mithaug was a student there; the Career Development Office he now directs didn’t open its doors until 2000. Before that, he says, “there was no office, no nothing.” Now about 25% of Juilliard students participate in the school’s professional mentoring program, which matches students up with a faculty member or with an outside professional to work on a project of the student’s own design. Mithaug says interest in the four-year-old program has grown each year, and over the past decade he’s seen a profound shift in student attitudes.

STIGMA STARTING TO FADE

Gillian Gallagher, a 22-year-old viola player, says she has no qualms about identifying herself as an entrepreneur. After earning her master’s degree from Juilliard she hopes to play professionally with the string quartet she formed as a Juilliard undergraduate with three other students. Besides playing, Gallagher says the group members do all of their own self-promotion—everything from writing bios to contacting programmers.

While Gallagher says most students still seem focused on a traditional career path that begins with auditioning for symphony orchestras, “I can see the stigma starting to fade all around me,” she says.

“There are a lot of musicians who come here thinking that the most important thing is their art, and that other concerns—like making money—don’t matter.” Around the beginning of fourth year, though, “People start to get a little scared. They start thinking, ‘what am I gonna do next?'”

AN ALTERNATIVE TO RAMEN NOODLES

Angela Myles Beeching, career services director at New England Conservatory in Boston, says she sees her students go through a similar rude awakening during the professional artists seminar required of third-year students. But she says the point isn’t to scare students away from pursuing their dreams. “Whether you call it entrepreneurship or not, what it comes down to is helping young musicians see themselves as the masters of their future—that they can create opportunities, not just wait to be handed something.”

For some students, entrepreneurship is an alternative to what many artists have turned to in the past: the day job (see BusinessWeek.com, 7/10/01, “Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink”). At UT-Austin, Gary Beckman says that, while the students he teaches certainly don’t buy into the 19th century myth of the starving artist, they’re not interested in entrepreneurship for the same reasons as students in the business school, either. “They’re not looking for a six-figure salary,” he says. “The reason they want an entrepreneurial lifestyle is so they can continue to practice their art and maybe not eat ramen noodles every night while they do so.”

And Gallagher says that’s not the only reason. “Every conversation I’ve had about the future of classical music comes down to the fact that as musicians, we need to be more proactive.” For example, she says, “a major problem today is orchestras failing—maybe if musicians were more entrepreneurial, that wouldn’t be happening.” But no matter what, Gallagher says she’s convinced that entrepreneurship skills are useful for any musician in the long run—even those who aren’t planning to strike out on their own. After all, she says, “If you’re in some symphony that starts to go under, you’re out of a job.”

Kerry Miller is a reporter with BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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One comment on “Musician, are you an Entrepreneur?

  1. This article is a digest from the current issue of Arts Education Policy Review.

    Arts Education Promotes Emotional Intelligence

    As arts education is pushed further to the margins by the emphasis on standardized testing, a tool for nurturing children’s social and emotional development is being lost.

    Arts education, which tends to be something of an afterthought in many American school districts, is facing an even tougher time than usual. Twin threats — budget cuts necessitated by dwindling tax revenues and the push to focus on math and reading skills as measured on standardized tests — have left music and art classes in a particularly vulnerable state. In December, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District proposed eliminating its 350 elementary school arts specialists over the next two years.

    What is being lost — and what, if anything, can be done about this trend — is addressed in two scholarly papers published in the new issue of the Arts Education Policy Review. One notes students whose education is dominated by rote learning will not be prepared for “the jobs of tomorrow,” while the other explores the value of the arts in helping kids understand their emotions.

    In “No Child Left Behind and Fine Arts Classes,” Tina Beveridge of Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash., details the obvious and subtle ways a test-centric approach to education devalues arts instruction. (Obvious: School districts being judged on student test scores have little incentive to fund such programs. Subtle: The courses that remain are often classified as “fun,” which conveys the unintentional message “the arts do not require skill, knowledge, commitment or work.”)

    Beveridge finds considerable irony in the fact that the original stated goal of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated standardized testing, “was to close the achievement gap in education.” She argues that by narrowing the focus of education to a few testable topics, it ends up doing just the opposite.

    “If we marginalize all non-tested subjects, we create a system in which only the affluent members of our society have access to the most comprehensive and well-rounded educations, which widens the achievement gap rather than closes it,” she writes.

    Specifically what arts-deprived kids are missing is explored in “How the Arts Help Children to Create Healthy Social Scripts” by Liane Brouillette of the University of California , Irvine . She argues that for children to become successful adults, they need to know more than just how to read, write and multiply. They need to learn fundamental social skills, such as the ability to “persist in goal-oriented activity, to seek help when needed, and to participate in and benefit from relationships.”

    The arts are an invaluable teaching tool in this regard, in that they “naturally and frequently involve group tasks,” she notes. “Activities such as dramatic play or dancing in unison provide a venue for learning collaboration and cooperation.”

    Brouillette interviewed 12 first- through fourth-grade teachers who had participated in an artist-in-residence program for at least one semester. The program brought professional artists into their inner-city classrooms for one hour per week.

    “It was the teachers whose students had participated in drama workshops who spoke most eloquently about the impact of art lessons on students’ interpersonal skills,” she writes. “The teaching artists who taught drama had put a strong emphasis on teamwork, also insisting that children act as respectful and responsive audience members when others presented their work.”

    “Most drama activities were designed to explore narratives that were already covered in language arts or social studies texts,” she adds. “Through incorporation of creative drama, however, teachers felt that children experienced this familiar material in a deeper way. Acting out a scene required deeper exploration of the meaning of the words, and therefore led to better comprehension.

    “Teachers especially valued the opportunity that the acting exercises provided for discussion of emotions, bullying and friendship — sensitive topics that were difficult to address elsewhere in the curriculum without students feeling embarrassment or defensiveness.”

    Brouillette concludes by proposing arts advocates — and anyone else who realizes the skills learned in arts classes “are basic to the maintenance of a healthy democracy” — campaign to enlarge the scope of teacher training.

    “If all teacher certification programs at the elementary level were to equip teacher candidates with arts-based techniques for supporting the social-emotional development of children,” she writes, “this would not only benefit students but also create a broader base of support for the arts.”

    Rebecca Borden, PhD
    Senior Implementation Manager
    Arts for All: LA County Regional Blueprint for Arts Education

    Los Angeles County Arts Commission
    1055 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 800
    Los Angeles , CA 90017
    P: (213) 202-3965
    F: (213) 580-0017
    E: rborden@arts.lacounty.gov

    Los Angeles County “Enriching Lives”
    http://www.lacountyarts.org
    http://www.laartsed.org

    Rebecca Borden, PhD
    Senior Implementation Manager
    Arts for All: LA County Regional Blueprint for Arts Education

    Los Angeles County Arts Commission
    1055 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 800
    Los Angeles , CA 90017
    P: (213) 202-3965
    F: (213) 580-0017
    E: rborden@arts.lacounty.gov

    Los Angeles County “Enriching Lives”
    http://www.lacountyarts.org
    http://www.laartsed.org

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