The Importance of Entrepreneurship in the Performing Arts
When we decide to major in music, we tend to pick a track. Generally, we choose to take the education, performance, or therapy route. For those who choose performance, they are often met with reactions such as, “do you think you’re good enough? Are you ready?” The truth is, when I changed my major from education to performance at the end of my Freshman year, did I think I was good enough, or ready? Of course not! But I knew I loved performing and I knew I would work hard to one day win a job and make this my career.
But.. is that it? Is the performance field just about winning a job, or being a soloist?
It is a common belief that if you pursue performance you must specialize as a chamber musician, soloist, Broadway, orchestra, or freelance musician. You must be the best of the best to win a job, or know the right people to really make Broadway or freelancing work in your favor.
If you asked me 5 years ago, I would have also agreed with these ideas.
But it’s SO far from the truth!
The performance route is unknown, versatile, scary, exciting, and everything in between. It does take hard work and dedication, and yes of course you have to play your instrument well. There’s more to it than just, “pick a scene and hope it works out”. While we’re in school, our academic coursework includes a variety of skills, information and tools but the curricula often omit one important component. They leave out entrepreneurship. While some schools do have entrepreneurship classes that are a requirement for Performance Majors, most do not. After completing my first year of my Masters, I realized that there was more to performing than just being a good player. There is preparation, accountability, references, websites, business cards, networking, and so much more. There’s more than just playing in an orchestra. There is music technology, recording equipment knowledge, musicians health, artistic development, orchestration, composing... need I continue?
The point is, the field of performance grants you numerous opportunities to create something; to be something. You have the opportunity and freedom to take what you love and run with it in any direction that you want. For me, I’d love to win an orchestra job. I also love chamber music, specifically performing in woodwind quintets. However, I also love and have a major interest in musician’s health and artistic development and with these passions, have since created Mind Over Practice which has started to build a substantial following. I put my love for music not only into my practice and my instrument, but also into other areas that have the potential to make me more marketable, and versatile.
Let me rewind to May. I sat in on a lesson of my good friend Mikayla. She studies with Jeff Nelsen, who’s not only known for being in Candadian Brass, but also for Fearless Performance and Musician Mindset. He took his co-interests about overcoming fears of performing and turned it into something amazing. He gives countless workshops and masterclasses, along with touring and French horn business with Canadian Brass. In the lesson, she asked what she could work on over the summer, and instead of giving her an answer like, “practice your double tonguing”, he told her to use the time to create something. She could make a program of her own like Fearless Performance, or she could start a blog, a different kind of program or event, or literally anything. He encouraged her to do something besides just playing her instrument. As a listener in her lesson, I took his recommendations to heart as well, realized my passions for musician’s health and artistic development and made plans from there to create. And that’s exactly what I did.
Okay… so where do I start? How do I get my name out there? What do I create?
As musicians, we typically begin our careers by getting our name out there and networking, but the business and entrepreneurship aspects that tie into creating our name are just as important. Business and entrepreneurship can mean a lot of things. Some basic things that every up-and-coming musician should start with are business cards and a website. This allows for people interested in your work to be able to research you and have the ability to contact you for gigs, and other inquiries. These are both essential and really easy to create. Using an online printing company allows you to play around with different business cards and designs. While business cards may be considered out of date, I’ve found them very useful and I have been happy to have them on hand in quite a few situations. For my website, I use Wix. It is hands down the easiest platform I have found for designing a website, and you’ll probably have a lot of fun making yours! Designing a website can be a little time consuming. It is important that you include things such as good headshots/photographs, a well-written resume, and recordings. The more information you can include about yourself, the better. Internet presence has become exceedingly important! People love to see what you’re up to whether it’s on instagram, facebook or any other platform. So make sure you represent yourself well on the internet, because people are watching all the time!
You have to sit down and have a talk with yourself. What makes you more marketable than someone else? What qualities or abilities do you have that separate you from everyone else? Recognize your strengths and use them to your advantage. Do you have a great background and knowledge in recording equipment? Let people know! You can do masterclasses or have a blog that helps people choose the equipment that is right for them. Perhaps you have an interest in historical brass instruments. Find a way to tell us about them! Use the things you know, past experiences and interests to fuel your versatility as a performer. People look for and are interested in the things you’ve done. Have you taught somewhere? Given a masterclass? Published a book? Tell us all! Teachers, schools, future employers are interested in seeing what your passions are beyond the instrument. Are you proactive? Driven? People want to see that. You might be an incredible musician, but it’s great to demonstrate your ability to be successful in other areas as well.
The internet has allowed us to see that there are more people than we think there are. In highschool, so many people told me that I’d get full rides to schools and summer programs because there were limited French horn players in the world. While I do think there are probably more flutists or violinists than French horn players, having social media has made me see that there are so many hornist’s in the world fighting for the same jobs. We all might be great players, but again this leads me back to, what separates you from your competition? What’s on your resume that’s not on someone else's? What do you find when you google yourself on the internet?
After reading this take a minute to yourself. What are your interests, beyond playing your instrument? What can you create today that gives you that “leg up”? What have you done that is of a high caliber that you can put on a pedestal and make people notice? If you’re sitting there making a list, great! Keep going and hone in on the best parts of you. If not and you’re wondering what separates you from the rest, really take some time to make a plan. Entrepreneurship, creating, and self promotion isn’t an overnight thing. This takes time. Months, maybe even years, and that’s okay. Push yourself to be more than just a good player.
I once heard someone say, “stop telling musicians to be “entrepreneurial” if you’re not going to teaching them how to make money”. At first, I was not sure how I felt about this statement. When you start a business, it generally takes awhile to reach your financial goals. Things happen, people aren’t interested, there isn’t enough appeal in your program or product, or maybe you’re not marketing well.
As someone who is just starting to give masterclasses, I have yet to ask for any compensation for my presentations. I am excited to be recognized by these organizations who then put my name out there publicly and I in return, get more exposure within the professional community. My expectations for playing a gig are different, as I am currently more established in that area. However, as an entrepreneur, you have to start from the beginning. Even if that means giving your first few classes for free, or offering a free subscription fee to your blog posts. extra interests and specialties of the music field, You never know what response and feedback you will get to your special interest and specialties until you put a plan into motion. Know that there is a time when you exchange money for exposure. Don’t let anyone tell you that you ALWAYS have to EXPECT, and immediately make money off of what you do. If you ever have time, watch an episode of Shark Tank and listen to how much time and money some people put into their small businesses to get it off the ground. You have to give a little, to get a little. So when you begin, expect to put more work into what you’re doing, than what you’ll get back. If you’re persistent and keep pushing, I guarantee that it will be rewarding in the end.
So what have we learned? The music performance world requires you to be an entrepreneur as well. You should expand what you do beyond playing your instrument because it does make you more marketable and versatile, plus people like to see that you have other interests in the field of music! Social media is a big thing now and you should make sure to establish a positive presence. Pe
ople can see everything on the internet! You need to be persistent about what you love and what you’re doing. You need to believe in the product that you’re putting out there, otherwise, no one will buy it.
What will you do today to make yourself stand out from the rest?
Stay tuned for more entries of Mind Over Practice! Released every week on Friday at 12pm EST! Questions, comments, need advice? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on instagram @mindoverpractice.
That’s all for this week! Have a productive week of positive practicing!