In order for musicians to thrive in today’s economy, we have to first understand it. Even a basic understanding is essential if today’s musicians are to cultivate a viable career from their craft. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in economics to comprehend how the new economic landscape is shaping the careers of new generations of musicians.
A dictionary defines micro economy as “The study of how businesses, households, and individuals within an economy allocate limited resources.” I think musicians of all stripes can relate all too well to the bit about limited resources. But in order to make this more real to you—try to consider all the possible meanings of the word resources outside of just money. Practice time, planning time, energy, equipment, favors from friends and colleagues are all forms of resources that musicians commonly use as currency that is either spent or earned. For musicians, it is important to look at the term micro economy in a very broad sense and consider all the different activities we do that contribute to our overall career.
Do you remember those long lists of “music professions” that your well-meaning high school guidance counselor may have shared with you back when you first considered “going into music” (to your parents’ horror) as a profession? It listed jobs like: arranger, sound designer, composer, performer, copyist, music teacher, song writer, recording technician, etc. You remember those, right? You probably remember the sinking feeling you had of “Oh my God, how will I ever pick one of these?!” The good news is that you don’t have to specialize in just one area. Today’s musicians are expected to have basic skills in all these areas and many more. It’s the new Micro Economy that has placed diverse demands on musicians’ careers. The economy is reshaping our profession in ways we never thought possible even four to five years ago.
In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore numerous micro opportunities that musicians can pursue to build a portfolio career. You might already be doing some of them and there will be a few more you haven’t yet heard of. We’ll also discuss the many new markets that have emerged for musicians to either generate income from their music or help connect them to a greater number of potential audience members. It’s a whole new world out there for professional musicians.
Lastly, I’d like to put a disclaimer out there near the conclusion of the first post in this series—No one is telling you to let go of that dream of winning your big orchestra job, launching that solo career, or rocketing to stardom in classical music. In fact, it is my wish that you do make that happen for yourself. This series is for everyone else, for the thousands of other excellent musicians out there (some fresh out of school) who are trying to gain a foothold in “the business” at the onset of their professional career. This series is to help us all better understand our individual Micro Economy and how to best make decisions that will allow us to support the passion for music that we all share.
In recent years, there’s been a paradigm shift in what the career of the modern performing artist looks like. It is a difficult reality for many, as it was for me, that technical skills + talent are no longer enough to build a career in the performing arts. Make no mistake, these are still the perquisites if you want to (pardon the pun) play in the big leagues. But now we are asked to do much more than would have ever been dreamed of just a few years ago.
Sure– teaching, being a good orchestral musician as well as being knowledgeable of the standard solo repertoire, knowing how to lead a master class or give a pre-concert lecture– these have always been multi-faceted and reasonable expectations for a performing musician. But could you start an El Sistema nucleo or teach a room full of 9 year olds if asked to do so? What do you know about attracting and engaging audiences, marketing, and networking through social media? I mean more than just Facebook and Twitter; what about other popular platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Digg, Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit? How’s your
ability to run a rehearsal, or apply for grants, or make a budget, or itemize a strategic plan for any ensemble or group with which you might be performing?
Can you easily translate what you do when speaking to others? Or better yet, can you translate what you do when writing to others– and by others I mean potential funders? Can you make a clear
and simple argument about your passion for the art you practice? Do you want to play in an orchestra? That’s great– but how will you be able to contribute to the sustainability of your group? Are you familiar with good fiscal management? Do you have an arsenal of audience engagement ideas that you can offer to the Artistic Director?
And what about money? Do you have a plan in place to pay off those loans? Are you putting away money for a rainy day when work slows down? What are you doing to get more paid performance opportunities? Do you have a strategy to sustain your career over the long-term?
STOP. ENOUGH QUESTIONS ALREADY.
Okay— now breathe. I’ll agree that was a little rough. It’s okay if you don’t have answers to all of these questions (yet). I didn’t a few years ago. That’s when I confronted the reality that if I wanted to be a musician of the 21st century, I had to do more. The truth is, at first I didn’t like all the extra stuff. There once was a time when I thought that I would jump through the hoops of higher education, get my degree and win my orchestra job. Or at the very least, I would gig enough to make ends meet until I could win that big job. I wanted the simplicity of practice, perform, repeat.
But what I learned in my struggle to grapple with the enormity of all these new necessary qualifications was that I loved music more than I didn’t like all the other stuff.
I wanted a life filled with music, to perform, to champion music of others. I wanted to be on the scene, I wanted to be connected, I wanted to live the life of a performing musician. That’s when I realized that all the other stuff was present in the lives of nearly all the professional musicians I knew. This wasn’t knowledge I had to learn as a penalty for failing at a performance career as I had imagined and chided myself so many times. This was the real education. This stuff was what made the life I wanted possible.
I urge you to think big and embrace an optimistic attitude towards all that you do in music. When learning a new piece of music you might run across something that you can’t already perform. You know you will slowly learn how to bring it to life. It’s the same idea with these entrepreneurial-administrative-organizational-whatever-you-want-to-call-it skills (all the other stuff). If you don’t know how, just invest some time to learn. It’s an experience of growth, humility, and learning–ironically, it’slike learning to play a new instrument.
You are an individual with unique values, goals, passions, and interests. As an artist, you may have broad and often conflicting interests while simultaneously you are deliciously engrossed in the minutia of a singular niche. For the entrepreneur, there are no rules that say you must give up any of your interests or passions for a career. If someone says you can’t make a living pursuing multiple passions, then you need to run the other direction.
2. It’s a dumb idea to say that a music career can be defined by any one kind of job.
Yep, I said it. That’s dumb. The truth is there are as many kinds of music careers as there are genres of music—literally thousands. When you consider the how many possible combinations of music careers there could be, the options are seemingly endless.
3. Creative people need freedom to create—and it’s okay to honor that need.
Musicians can be wonderfully creative, frenetic, sporadic, and illustrious people. When we have our freedom to create and experiment, we can accomplish truly unbelievable feats. But what happens when you clip a bird’s wings? It can’t fly. The same is true for the musician. When our “jobs” take over we can forget or ignore or suppress our spontaneous creative urges. The creative flame grows dull. This feeling does not just express itself in the lives of many musicians who have taken on the thankless “day job”. It can also be expressed in the lives of performing musicians whose orchestra or ensemble has become more a prison than a blank canvas for their art. Music entrepreneurship is built on the idea that the job/income is built around accommodating your individual artist needs.
4. There is a difference between owning your life’s work, and wishing you did.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. When you pursue entrepreneurial projects, you undergo a dramatic mental shift. You realize that your success is now in your own hands. This knowledge will give you incredible energy to pursue the path(s) you love. No doubt, you will face struggles and obstacles between you and your goals. However, you will own that struggle and it will only serve to temper your resolve to see your goal to its realization. Entrepreneurs make their own decisions and for better or worse.
5. Entrepreneurs aren’t victims.
No longer are you the victim in a world where (shudder) “the arts are dying.” Rather, you view yourself as part of the solution the arts need. You will view yourself as a positive force that fixes problems or addresses conflict in the arts world. By setting your own course, you are free to be flexible and agile when making career choices. When you experience a setback, you can change directions in a second and minimize or avoid the setback altogether. You have complete control over your entrepreneurial enterprises and can be free to take the action you feel is best for you. In short, you don’t allow yourself to be the victim of someone else’s circumstances.
Though this list is far from comprehensive, I hope that it showcases some of the benefits that an entrepreneurial career has to offer. It takes bravery to be a music entrepreneur as you may find yourself breaking from your comfort zone. Just remember, there is no feeling like owning your own successes, taking charge of your life, and putting your creativity first. There’s nothing like it in the entire world.
Achieving greatness is a common theme amongst musicians at all levels. It is on the minds of the musicians I see who are in school and working night and day to have flawless technique. It is expressed in the frustration of those players who have played on the freelance circuit for years when they had dreams of landing that big symphony job. It is everywhere! “Greatness” is a value that many classical musicians use to motivate their hard work. So let’s take a look at how the issue of achieving greatness.
1. To be great requires a clearly articulated definition of what greatness means to you as an individual. You must define in explicit term what greatness means. For example, if you equate that greatness = fame, then what kind of fame? Fame in your city, your state, your country, the world? Fame in your instrument alone? Fame amongst all the other instruments? For each aspiration, we do ourselves an injustice by being vague. No matter how difficult, clearly define your definition of greatness. Don’t ask for outside input, just ask yourself. You may find that you do not fall within the same aspirations as your friends or colleagues. That is perfectly okay. What is right for you—is right for you.
2. Take a very close stock of all your strengths and weakness. Some may find this next step a bit overboard (but then the truly great don’t typically conform to standard norms right?). Make a list with two columns: Strengths and Weaknesses. Be incredibly liberal about each. This isn’t just about your performance ability; this is about your entire person. This is an incredibly private document that only you should be allowed to see. This is the forum for you to be incredibly honest with you. Keep writing until you can absolutely think of nothing else to add to either column, sleep on it, and add more the next day. Greatness comes from the combination of all aspects of your life. This activity can help you take stock of what you can be proud of and own as your strengths and where you need to focus on improving.
3. Build a community of supportive people. There is a reason for the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” You can be the most impressive virtuoso in the world, but if you are alone in the practice room, no one will ever hear you. You must relentlessly build your network of friends, colleagues, mentors, professional contacts, students, and contractors. No one is too insignificant for you to get to know. If you are shy or reluctant to meet new people, take advantage of the self-education materials out there about how to be a better conversationalist and how to improve your social networking skills.
4. Carve your niche. Though we want to do it all, we can spread ourselves too thin to be truly great at one thing. The phrase “Jack of all trades, master at none” comes to mind here. Understand what part of your musical life is the most important and engaging to you. Once you’ve discovered it, run with it and never let go!
5. Lastly, be authentic in what you do. Go beyond technical mastery. Search for meaning and purpose in the music you want to share with others. Be genuine and make sure the audience knows what you are trying to tell share with them. Do whatever it takes to help them understand where you are coming from. If you love a particular piece because it reminds you of someone you love and lost, then share this bit of yourself. Plainly tell them where you are coming from. This will forge the kind of connections with your audience that will last far longer than any one-hit wonder virtuoso. On your rise to the top, make sure to be authentic in all that you do.
- It Takes a Village To Raise A Child… (prweb.com)
- Respect, Power, Family Pride: How Do You Define Success? (entrepreneur.com)