The Business of Music

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Archive for November 2009

How Musicians Devalue Music

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Yesterday I attended a concert a relatively new Arts Center that recently began a chamber music series.  Not only was the concert fantastic, with literally world-class musicians, but it was free.  And, that free concert came with coffee and pastries catered by the arts center.

While I agree that outreach is extremely important, we musicians devalue our own work by performing for free.  In a recent conversation with a friend who is looking to freelance, she mentioned that she often plays for free in hopes to get paying gigs.

If you play for free, people think one of two things:

You’re making money doing something else, and therefore doing this for personal enjoyment only.


You must not be that skilled and therefore not deserving of payment for your skills.

I do not play for free, except for a gift or for charity.  Last weekend I performed at a friend’s wedding, and did the contracting work and played, but this was my gift to the couple.  What we do when we perform for free is devalue not what we do, but also devalue the market that we are a part of.  Living in Arizona, gigs with local symphonies will pay as little as $31.50, and this fall there was a local orchestra that charged musicians to audition.

One reason that wages are low is too much exposure for the demand.  If you can see a large orchestra perform 40 weeks a year, often with three concerts during one week, the local population has plenty of opportunities to see the orchestra throughout the year.  This overexposure leads to less value.  Coupled with the rise of local regional orchestras, there are places in the United States, including Phoenix, that perform similar concerts at varying degrees of greatness every weekend.  How does the local community sustain this oversaturation?

On the reverse side, there are musicians that make millions each year – they have a brand, are recognizable to different age and cultural populations.  This is not by coincidence, it’s by having a plan.

In thinking about what your goals are regarding being a musician, think about what kind of life that you want to have in ten years, and how to value to your ensemble or business model, Friday will start the discussion on the business plan for musicians.



Written by rosemfrench

November 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Get the Ed Degree

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I recently had the “so you want to go college for music” talk with a student. In relation to Tuesday’s post about setting goals and having skills, I think it’s important to address what high school and undergraduate students should consider when going into music. I have two VERY strong pieces of advice: save your money for the big name school for an advanced degree and get an education degree.

On the point of saving money: I have had this theory that if you’re not getting money to go to school for music, at any degree level, you should start thinking about another career. Think about it: if you’re not getting recognition, in this case financially, for your talent, then you need to asset where you are in your development. This idea ties into Tuesday’s post about taking an accurate view of where you are and what skills you need to have and improve upon.

The first point about saving money for a graduate degree: in discussing this with my student, I feel that many state universities offer excellent broad undergraduate educations that rival any fancy-schmacy conservatory. Plus, you can save your money for when you are actually able to focus mainly on refining your skills on your instrument and study with a big name teacher when you are actually able to execute what that teacher is asking you to do.

I have seen that undergraduates earning just a performance degree may have more time on their hands to practice and learn, but it ends up not benefitting that purpose.

Which leads me to my second point: get the education degree. I don’t feel that our current band/orchestra/choir/etc school programs prepare students for basic music school knowledge. In Europe, students intensely study theory, solfege, eurhythmics, and play chamber music before entering a university degree program. Therefore, their fundamental skills much more engrained at a younger age and by the time students enter a university, they are able to study and practice with much more skills under their belt. Getting an education degree will only enhance your musical development during your undergraduate degree.

Learning to apply fundamental skills (rhythm, accuracy, intonation, musicality) to a foreign instrument or by singing may seem that you’re taking away from reaching your ultimate goal, but for me it helped me with all of these things on the horn.

Having an education degree will also give you the chance to learn about education physiology, how others learn and how you learn. I found this really important in teaching privately and very helpful for evaluating my own practicing and progress.

Educators are natural leaders, and by spending your undergraduate degree preparing lesson plans, teaching in front of your classmates and finally in a student-teaching situation you learn how to manage a room full of people and get them to work towards a common goal.

As you might guess, I have an education degree. I didn’t own a metronome before going to college, so I was pretty unaware of what I was getting into. My parents had two rules going into my undergrad: if you’re going to be a musician you must get an education degree and something to do with technology. So I got three degrees in my undergrad: music education, music technology, and performance. In five years.

So how has this helped me since my undergraduate? When I moved to Phoenix, I sent my resume out EVERYWHERE. And I do mean everywhere (this will be an upcoming topic, called “The New Kid in Town”). I KNOW that the reason I was successful in getting a lot of teaching work right away was because of my education degree. I have taught high school band, general music classes for pre-K into elementary school, and private lessons – I am able to teach private lessons, at least on a fundamental level, to all instruments (not that I do, or did, or aspire to). As a graduate student, this was certainly my main source of income and I was thankful for every student and job that I had.

What most aspiring musicians don’t realize is that teaching will always be a part of your profession. There are a lot of terrible teachers that are amazing musicians, and I am sure that you can think of several on any instrument. The unfortunate thing is that these amazing talents would be able to share their skills with just a bit of training. On that topic, I would highly recommend a book by Eric Booth: The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible. I first learned about Eric Booth through his “Edification” articles in Chamber Music America where he wrote on what a teaching artist needs to know and how to do it. This fundamentals approach is very valuable to post-graduate musicians who find themselves in front of a classroom or audience and making that experience an educating and aspiring one.

Written by rosemfrench

November 6, 2009 at 7:52 am

What does it take to “Make it” – A Plan

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What does it take to “Make it”

From Beyond Talent, there is a something that we all know, but aren’t willing to admit: talent isn’t enough.

Beeching list ten principles to success:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Know about the music industry. Get Savvy (which ties directly into Cutler’s book: The Savvy Musician)
  3. Schmooze (Network): such a dirty word in our world, but who knows how great you are if no one knows you.
  4. Research
  5. Cultivate an attitude
  6. Assess your interpersonal skills
  7. Think like an entrepreneur
  8. Have a hook
  9. Have short-term and long-term goals
  10. Feed your soul – what motivates you and why

Like in the last post, The Big Idea, Beeching writes about thinking like an entrepreneur and to see what is already being done in the music instrustry.  Study, learn, read, and keep current with all aspects of music, or especially what is relevant to your key area of interest: education, orchestral music, rock, jazz, composition, etc.

On this idea, I think it’s important to join professional organizations related to your areas of interest.  It’s instant access to learning who are the leaders in your area of interest, what they are doing, and where you might find your place.  Once you have done your research and developed your idea, these professional organizations are some of the first places to return for sharing your finished product.

Setting Goals: Beeching vs. Cutler

Beyond Talent Suggestions:

  1. Write your definition of success.
  2. What specifically do you love about performing?
  3. What specifically do you love about being a musician?
  4. What is your long-term goal?
  5. Describe in detail the like you’d like to be leading ten years – where, what kind of work, income, family?
  6. What is your short-term goal?
  7. How does this lead you to your long-term goal?
  8. What do you want to accomplish this month that will lead you to this short-term goal?
  9. What’s your to-do list this week?

If Beyond Talent’s first chapter is the How, the Savvy Musician is the why.

Why be an Entrepreneur?

Is it?

Financial Gain

Creative Freedom and Gratification

To Stand Out

Address job Demands

To Be Relevant

To Ensure a Legacy

Asset what you already have.

What are your skills inside and outside of music? Where would you like to grow or what do you feel that you need to learn to reach your goals?

So this week: make a clear plan.  Set goals.  List your assets and where you would like to grow in knowledge and skill.  Answer these questions honestly and be prepared to start producing physical evidence of where you are headed!

In the Savvy Musician, Cutler has vignettes of well-known musicians and aspects of their success and how they got there.  Jeff Nelsen, hornist with the Canadian Brass and currently teaching at Indiana University has a Master To Do List mentioned book in Cutler’s book and at Horn Matters. A quick Google search didn’t produce the document; so if anyone out there finds it, please leave a link.  See how the pros set their goals and follow through!

Written by rosemfrench

November 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Music business

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