Category Archives: entrepreneurship

“A degree in music is the best preparation for anything.”

Everyone in the music world has now sent each other Joanne Lipman’s NN Times article, Is Music the Key to Success? (We seem to agree that yes, it is.) Lipman writes about the many  people who are highly successful in other fields while being active musicians.

Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.

The article reminds me that Harold Best, who was the dean of music at Wheaton College for over twenty-five years, once told us at DePauw that “a degree in music is the best preparation for anything.”  (I’ve written about this before.)

We are very excited  at DePauw about our 21st Century Musician Initiative, supported by a fifteen million dollar gift from Judson and Joyce Green. I spent a good part of a sabbatical three years ago developing courses on music entrepreneurship and audience development and then participating in the process of developing this program.  Music entrepreneurship courses are fast becoming central parts of professional music education. We in the higher education music establishment collectively turn out thousands of graduates with performance degrees each year, while the job market for classical musicians seems to get tougher each year.

It can be hard on us. We know that music is a calling that does not always lead to a career. Some of us struggle over whether or not to encourage young people to study music in college.

My answer? Yes.

Even as we work to do a better job preparing music students to succeed as professional musicians through entrepreneurship and career skills programs, we can take comfort–even rejoice–in the fact that we are also preparing them for a life of making and otherwise engaging in music, regardless of their profession.  Their musical and  liberal arts education has been central to their development in every dimension.

I’m proud of my former students who make a living in music (especially those like Jon Silpayamanant who do it in an entrepreneurial, creative way). I’m equally as proud of those who grew into extraordinary people through the process of being a music major and make their difference–and earn their living–in other ways.
As Harold said, a degree in music is the best preparation for anything.


Filed under entrepreneurship, future of classical music

Branding? But I’m an Artist!

My good friend, admired colleague, and DePauw alum Jon Silpayamanant (“the world’s foremost Klingon cellist”) makes a great point in his most recent post.

As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ve Branded yourself well, then Marketing (to raise awareness about your music) and Selling (to get gigs) should be much easier to do.

The notions of branding and self promotion are fairly easy to accept, it seems, by every performing artist or entertainer other than classical musicians (especially performers–composers learn early on that no one will play their music unless they ask, to put it mildly, people to perform it), with classical ballet dancers coming in a close second.  Ballet dancers pretty much have to work for a company.  Classical musicians can put on one-person concerts, so the opportunity to be proactive is ever present.

Branding?  Sounds so commercial.  Here’s another way to see it: it’s about clarifying who you are, and what the difference is that you make (or if you were being genuinely authentic, could be making) in the world.  It starts inside, and in relationship with those who know and work with you well.

  • Who am I?
  • What do I do?
  • What’s unique about it?

So while the word “branding” may have distasteful connotations to some of us in classical music, being clear about who you are and what you do, and appropriately communicating that is something we all benefit from.



Filed under entrepreneurship, Jon Silpayamanant

Thanks, Greg!

If you read this blog, you know I am a fan of Greg Sandow and his blog.  (And like all fans I don’t agree with him all the time!)  On sabbatical last year, I had the good fortune to sit in on an entrie semester of Greg’s “Classical Music in an Age of Pop” course at Juilliard.  He got his students to shift–for at least a while–into a mode of sharing what their music making really means to them, and to imagine how they can use that to connect with potential audience members.

When Greg recently started offering online branding workshops for professionals, I was one of the first to apply.  Today we finished our three-session course, and I have a new sense of clarity of who I am, what I do, why I do it, and that it really is worth doing and telling people about.  Greg is imaginative, knowledgeable, encouraging, challenging, and most of all see what’s special and wonderful in other people.

My wesbite–and career planning–are about to take a quantum leap forward.  Exchanging ideas with other participants and was engaging, enlivening, and thrilling.

So if you’ve read about Greg’s online branding seminars, look into them. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I doubt he’ll be this accessible and such a low price for very long. I know he pisses some of you off some of the time–that’s part of his mission in life.  His work with individuals on getting clear on who they are and imagining how they can present that clearly to the world is totally independent of whether some orchestras need a new model or not, or if there is a classical music crisis or not.

I’ll be first in line for whatever he sets up next.

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Filed under branding, entrepreneurship, Greg Sandow, marketing

Life is tough in the big city . . .

. . . as my Peabody friend Donald Collup used to tell me 30 years ago, when I’d complain about something.  Now my more recently-made friend, cellist Peter Sachon (we met in NY last year), explains in a Billfold interview just how hard it is making a living as a freelance cellist in NY.

Peter, a wonderful cellist is a very intelligent, insightful and resourceful man.  Who is passionate about what he does.

Which is great, because if you don’t love it, being a free-lance musician in New York really sucks!

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Filed under entrepreneurship, making a living

Giant Cicada: Chamber Punk at the Thalia Café

“I have a band called Giant Cicada.  We play chamber punk,” bassist Jon Burr told me as he handed me his card.

“Oh, chamber punk. Sure,” I replied. (Or something to that effect.)

Jon was shocked that I took in “chamber punk” as easily as if he’d said “Mozart.”  (Once the son of a friend, about 11 or 12, came to let me know they were there to pick me up.  He was in full clown regalia, makeup and everything.  “OK, I’ll be right out,” I told him, purposely teasing him by ignoring his altered state.)

We had found ourselves eating next to each other in a soup place across from the midtown church where a Chamber Music America First Tuesday seminar had been held.  I don’t know how we got to talking, but we soon realized we’d been to the same event and introduced ourselves. And when I explained I was in New York researching, among other things, groups fusing genres and so “chamber punk” had quickly come to seem pretty, well, normal to me, we had a laugh.

Note to myself and especially my younger readers: remember that nothing is more important than networking.  Whichever of us started the conversation did the right thing. I keep working on getting better at this.  There’s an old saying that “it’s not how good you are, it’s who you know.”  The truth is that it is how good you are at what you do AND who you know that makes the difference.  If your work sucks, it doesn’t matter how well-connected you are.

We’ve kept in touch.  Jon lets me know about upcoming events, which led me to rush up to the Thalia Café last week, after a post-concert dinner with a friend after Thursday’s NY Philharmonic concert, to hear him and his Giant Cicada chamber-punk co-conspirators Lynn Stein (vocals), Carlos “Go-Go” Gomez on the cajon drum, John Hart (acoustic guitar–and he needs to get a website), and 15-year-old jazz-violin wunderkind Jonathan Russell.  (I even sprang for a taxi!)

Another note: inviting people to your concerts/gigs really works.  And yes, I’m rarely good at doing this myself.  That’s why people hire publicists and managers.  But unless/until you can afford that, you (or someone who loves you

It’s an attractive space with good drinks and food at reasonable prices. Giant Cicada (as described on the group’s website) plays a mix of music “from 60’s pop, jazz, the Great American Songbook of Standards, songs from around the world, as well as original tunes.”  Jon does a lot of bowed bass; the guitar lends both jazz and classical touches; Jonathan’s violin playing combines jazz, rock, and fiddling influences; and the cajon drum brings in a distinctively Latin feel.  Lynn is, simply put, a wonderful jazz/pop singer. It’s a wonderful, unique fusion of stylistic elements, performed by fun, inventive, skilled musicians.

They’ve got a great promo video (their next step, by the way, is probably to make a much shorter version):

At the Thalia, there were some, uh, challenges with the sound system, which made it near-impossible to hear Lynn and Jonathan. Not totally impossible, but it was if they weren’t amplified.  Which was too bad, because part of the crowd was quite noisy.  Get a bit of alcohol in some people who then get excited about their conversation, and they talk louder than the music.  To them, it becomes background music (or even a bothersome distraction), rather than being the reason to be there.  (I used to notice this when I played string quartet background music gigs.  If we couldn’t hear ourselves and played louder, the decibel level of the talking would increase in parallel fashion.)  It may be that given the lack of good amplification, these folks had given up on listening, but it still seemed obnoxiously bothersome.  You could look around and see the rest of trying to listen.

Anyway, it was a fascinating, fun,and musically enjoyable, regardless of the acoustic challenges.  The Giant Cicada folks are creative, good, and entrepreneurial. I look forward to hearing them again.

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Filed under Bassists, Carlos "Go-Go" Gomez, Drummers/Percussionists, entrepreneurship, Giant Cicada, Guitarists, John Hart, Jon Burr, Jonathan Russell, Lynn Stein, networking, videos, Violinists