Should Conservatories Train Entrepreneurs?

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Should Conservatories Train Entrepreneurs?

Post by Ralph » Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:47 am

Small Biz March 28, 2007, 1:11PM EST text size: TT
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, 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-y 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 (N.Y.) 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 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 [link to].
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 Mar. 31, he'll present research at Pepperdine University, at the first-ever panel discussion devoted to arts entrepreneurship as an academic discipline (see, 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, 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."

Miller is a reporter with in New York.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:46 am

Every successful musician I have known is an entrepeneur. You have to be to make it, there is too much competition.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Mar 29, 2007 11:37 am

Every arts organization that purports to train professionals should cut out some of the sniffy frou-frou and devote at least 12-15 hours to how to make it as a businessman. A friend graduated two fine arts degree programs, including one Masters, but it wasn't until she decided to get a technical drawing associate degree from Northern Virginia Community College that she encountered any courses on the business side of being a commercial artist. The starving artist in a freezing garret may be the stuff of novels and operas but it isn't very romantic in real life.
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Post by Donald Isler » Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:04 pm

Some of the most brilliant musicians are completely untalented business people. And the best musicians do NOT always rise to the top of the heap, career-wise, as I've seen, unless they won a major competition, have good business skills, or people with money and influence behind them. So I think it's a good idea for musicians to be taught something about the business world.
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:10 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:Every arts organization that purports to train professionals should cut out some of the sniffy frou-frou . . . .
While I cannot claim with any certainty to understand quite what our esteemed Corlyss means here . . . when I consider what might possibly be improved in the training of artists in this country, I can hardly think that the students spending too much time attaining fluency in their craft, is anything like The Problem 8)

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Post by diegobueno » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:28 pm

Of course it would be nice to have some guidance into how to get the products of ones craft "out there", once fluency has been attained. When I was in school, there was an unstated assumption that the old boy network would pave the way for your career advancement. Today, more is needed, much more. I'm glad some schools are recognizing this.

I don't know what the heck sniffy frou frou is.

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Post by piston » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:49 pm

18th century word which has acquired several meanings since then including the creole word for hummingbird and.... light, sexy and frivolous lingerie for women (Is this why there's a reference to "sniffy" :lol: ) I'm guessing that Corlyss meant something like of dubious real value and of a frivolous character. :D ... index.html
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Post by diegobueno » Fri Mar 30, 2007 3:00 pm

I would be very surprised if any music class had classes about hummingbirds (except maybe in connection with Messiaen), or sexy lingerie, and agree that if there is a music department out there that does have a class in these things, they should cease immediately.

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Post by rasputin » Fri Mar 30, 2007 3:16 pm

According to Corlyss, only conservatives should do that.

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Post by Opus132 » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:57 pm

One word:


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Post by diegobueno » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:15 am


and where are we going to find these patrons?

Do you know any counts or archdukes?

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Post by Evelyn Laden » Wed Apr 04, 2007 11:04 am

Music schools have been remiss for years in not providing their students with essential skills in utilizing their musicianship in such a way that they won't starve because music is their chosen field. It's equally certain that a music student's first obligation is to devote himself to the study music and his chosen instrument. Perhaps it's the word entrepreneurship that scares off faculty (brought up the old way, many of whom gained their positions through patronage or luck, and thus achieved a comfortable level of existence).
Possibly "career skills" would be a less frightening term. Whatever semantics are used - I speak from personal experience with a relative who became an excellent pianist but never had one minute's worth of guidance in how to shape his career - it's long past time to provide that kind of help to conservatory students. It is, and has been in my view, irresponsible for conservatories to send their graduates out into the world without giving them any idea of how they can profit from what they've learned, generally at considerable expense.
I am gratified to see that at least some music schools are finally recognizing their obligations toward their students, and hope not too much time is spent on think tanks, conferences, and other delaying events before students will receive the practical advice they must have to enable them to effectively shape their careers.

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Post by johnshade » Wed Apr 04, 2007 3:13 pm

diegobueno wrote:I don't know what the heck sniffy frou frou is.
For what it's worth, my dictionary has these definitions:

sniffy: [Colloq.] disdainful
froufrou: [Colloq.] excessive ornateness or affected elegance

Does this have anything to do with attaining fluency in one's craft?
The sun's a thief, and with her great attraction robs the vast sea, the moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun... (Shakespeare)

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:18 pm

karlhenning wrote: I can hardly think that the students spending too much time attaining fluency in their craft, is anything like The Problem 8)
That assumes that the only place they have for honing their craft is in school. The degree is just the beginning of their mastery. Meanwhile, they don't have a clue how to run the business end of their craft. 12-15 hours our their cirriculum would mean nothing in terms of perfecting their skill, while it might mean the difference between making a living and going bankrupt.
johnshade wrote:Does this have anything to do with attaining fluency in one's craft?
If one wants to earn a living, yes. See Evelyn's comment above.

Alleged professional schools in the arts completely disdain (sniffy) teaching their students how to earn a living, while focusing virtually all their credits on the craft alone. Surely some of those hours (the frou frou) could be sacrificed in favor of some practical advice. Most of the graduates are not capable of earning a living and have to try to deduce it from sometimes cruel experience although their degrees lead them to think they are ready to enter professional life. Surely the schools could spare 12-15 credit hours to teach the practical side of being an artist: this is how you hustle commissions; these are the advertising agencies that will give a beginning composer or commercial artist a job; we will have recruiters here on such and such a day; here's x number of hours to teach you how to account for your professional activities, what you can deduct from your taxes, etc. My friend who had the two fine arts degrees cracked that she had been educated mostly to starve.
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Post by John F » Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:25 am

The Juilliard School has such a course, "The Business of Music." Here's the description from their catalog:

"We all know how to get to Carnegie Hall, but do you know what it costs to rent it? Can you write a crackerjack résumé? Do you know how to find a manager, make a demo tape, negotiate a contract, prepare a press release? In this series of candid seminars, a number of top professionals in the field will paint a realistic picture of the world after Juilliard, helping the student to hone the non-musical skills needed to deal effectively with those and other practical issues to be encountered in a career in music."

The host/instructor is Robert Sherman, well known in New York for his work on WQXR; though not a musician himself, he's been professionally involved with classical music all his life (his mother was the pianist Nadia Reisenberg).

Without looking further, I'm sure that other major music conservatories offer such courses too, though perhaps not all of them and perhaps not for academic credit. The Juilliard course is for 2 credit-hours.
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Post by diegobueno » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:05 am

Yes, yes yes and all that.

The question is: what is "sniffy frou frou" in the context of conservatory training for musicians?"

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