The Entrepreneurial Musician: Creating a Musical Life

As musicians, what we do at the Lawrence University Conservatory is difficult.  Thousands of hours of intense practice,  endless self-analysis, endless external criticism and guidance, endless rehearsals, intensive study of music theory, music history, composition and improvisation, a full slate of non-music classes in which to explore the liberal arts, and  nuanced interaction with fellow musicians to create a communal representation of that thing about which we are most passionate: music.

If we weren’t passionate about our art, there is no way on earth we would go through what it takes to become a real live musician. I won’t go so far as to characterize it as monastic devotion, but four hours a day, alone in those tiny cells we call practice rooms, does have certain similarities.

So with all that on our young music students’ plates, why, oh why, am I suggesting that they need to add to this seemingly endless banquet just one more morsel called “entrepreneurship,” or more accurately, the development of an “entrepreneurial mindset?”  Aren’t our students busy enough?

Yes, our students are busy, but in an age where the chances of a conservatory graduate  leaving school and going directly into a professional orchestra, band, or choir are vanishingly small—and to be honest , the odds of this particular career path coming to fruition have ALWAYS been vanishingly small—we need to think more creatively and proactively about creating our own musical life.

Instead of sitting in a practice room waiting to be “discovered,” we need to proactively guide our own musical destinies.  We need to ask deceptively difficult questions like: what am I most passionate about? What are my unique skills? How can I best leverage my liberal arts education to create a musical life that incorporates my deepest passions?

These are the first questions my students will tackle if they enroll in The Entrepreneurial Musician, a class focused on nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset specifically designed for musicians and performing artists. The course will be offered next Winter term. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of co-teaching courses with on Entrepreneurship in the Arts with Adam Galambos and Gary Vaughn from our Economics Department, but the demand has been so great that we felt we needed an offering specifically for our musicians.

Nearly every week we will have musicians visit class that have followed an entrepreneurial career path.  They will share their wisdom and work directly with our students.  Since this is a project-based, hands-on, course, students will flex their creative, problem-solving, entrepreneurial muscles to launch their own brain child. 

This year, one project group is launching ILUminate, a music booking agency website for the Conservatory.  With the launch of this student initiative, the Appleton Community can find the perfect Lawrence musicians for their every musical need.  It is fantastic to watch eight students work together to conceive, create, and launch such an ambitious project.

This course will show students that the world of business, marketing, and yes, revenue flow, are not things to be feared.  The same creativity, passion, and joy that we experience as musical performers can be found a musical entrepreneurs.  Now is the time the unleash the musical entrepreneur in all of us!

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