Training musicians to be enterpreneurs

Christopher Foley pointed out an article today on his excellent blog, written by Kerry Miller of Business Week on “Teaching Musicians to be Entrepreneurs”. As soon as I saw the title, it felt like a no-brainer. Of course musicians need to be entrepreneurs! What a wonderful initiative! Yet, the proposals in several prestigious institutions in the US have apparently met with a certain amount of resistance and skepticism.
I can clearly remember the first time I realized that my education for life had been somewhat inadequate. I was 23.

“I owe how much? £1600!” The woman from the National Insurance stared back at me impassively. Luckily for me, my recently acquired accountant stepped in on my behalf and the bill was considerably reduced. I hadn’t been able to understand the letters from the National Insurance (UK equivalent of Social Security ), and so, foolishly, I had chosen to ignore them. After this incident, I began to take my fiscal and other responsibilities more seriously. Yet, over the years, I have sometimes wondered how musicians could be better prepared for life in the ‘great outdoors’.

At this point, I’m going to pause to offer the following off the top of my head:

What I would have liked to learn in conservatoire (apart from playing the piano)

Tax deductions for the self-employed – at least the basics
Fees – how to charge, when and how much
Advertising/self-promotion ideas
Preparation for the possibly vast and varied scope of future employment (see Chris’s article )
Injury prevention practices (these are more available nowadays)

And I guess, if I were to move toward the utopian for a moment, I would add a student advisor for the first year out of college– someone to run issues by– and maybe some training in cognitive behavioral techniques!

The skepticism among what the article refers to as ‘the old guard’ may relate to feelings of, “Oh well, we all managed in my day”, or “We don’t want to commercialize the classical music business in the same way as pop music” or “Well, it’s not our job to provide training in these skills– we’re here to teach music”. I understand all of these attitudes… and yet the deafening silence with regard to these issues when I was at music school was unhelpful to say the least. Of course, I could have found out all these things for myself, and I eventually did, but I learned the hard way, and I know I’m not alone in my experience.

If the conservatoires are going to continue to train such vast numbers of highly skilled musicians despite the relative lack of opportunities, it only makes sense to give them the best possible shot. So I heartily applaud the efforts being made here, and encourage those musicians without such training at their disposal to pull their heads firmly from the sand and look for sensible advice as early as possible!

I’d love to know what you all think…