Stevie Wonder singing“We all have ability. The difference is how we use it.”
–Stevie Wonder

In Part I of this post, I claimed that industrious musicians can earn ample monetary and psychic incomes owing to the vast demand for music products and services.

But I questioned whether students typically acquire the know-how they need to attain lasting careers in the new music economy.

Here, I contrast the old and new music economies and highlight the traits of musicians who are angling for success. 

The Old vs. New Music Economies

The New Music Economy Rewards Entrepreneurs

The decline of the old economy, with its lumbering institutions, has given way a new one that rewards entrepreneurial musicians.

Such nimble performers and educators enjoy having control over their art and livelihoods. They can work effectively within large organizations and also venture wherever their imaginations lead.

For instance, educators who are primed for the new economy can take conventional teaching positions, start their own music schools, or both. Performers can work for established ensembles and launch new groups.

Preparing for a Contemporary Career

From a career-preparation perspective, I propose that rising performers & educators should strive to be:

  • Musical polyglots who can read music fluently, improvise, compose, and arrange (at least at a functional level), and perform more than one style
  • Facile practicers and performers who learn music quickly, perform fearlessly, and work within healthy limits
  • Adept collaborators who excel in both leader-run and egalitarian groups and also have elemental conducting and keyboard chops
  • Tech-savvy, with the ability to administer websites, navigate Web culture, employ MIDI applications, use notation and recording software, and absorb evolving technologies
  • Agile with sound reinforcement techniques as well as audio/video recording and editing
  • Connected with musicians in their local communities and worldwide via the Internet
  • Comfortable with business basics such as finance, contracts, negotiations, marketing, and licensing, and eager to learn fresh tactics as needed
  • Competent educators who are familiar with a range of pedagogical methods and materials
  • Confident communicators and arts advocates who can express themselves in writing and in front of groups, and who engage diverse constituencies in their communities
  • Passionate about creativity and armed to handle the rigors of the creative process

Inclusive Skills Bring Boundless Careers

With inclusive artistic and career skills in hand, musicians can make opportunities for themselves and pounce when employment prospects arise.

For example, depending on their interests, they can perform in all sorts of venues, build a Web presence and fan base, produce recordings and tours, serve as music directors, contract other performers, create online educational products, advocate for school music programs, donate their talents to disadvantaged children, and much more.

Some people might ask, “Does the market have room for those hordes of student musicians?” Yes, but not in traditional roles. “Can students amass career skills given the time and effort involved in becoming musically proficient?” Absolutely, but schools must integrate career development into every stage of students’ educations (see my post “Music education and entrepreneurship”).

Are Music Schools and Students Up to Date?

By and large, music schools have been slow to transform their curricula. Many students, too, resist acknowledging present-day realities.

For instance, thousands of students hanker to be professional orchestra players, and universities and conservatories oblige them with fine training and fat scholarships.

Yet full-time orchestra positions are scarce, and the odds of a musician landing one border on astronomical. Not long ago, the Pittsburgh Symphony took in more than 500 applications for one flute opening. Moreover, orchestras worldwide teeter financially.

Don’t get me wrong: orchestral repertoire represents a pinnacle of human artistic achievement, so it makes sense that musicians would yearn to play such music full-time. To boot, top orchestras pay well.

But for musicians to shoot solely for orchestral careers at the expense of picking up other artistic and entrepreneurial skills seems impractical in the extreme.

That’s not to say that music students are the only ones boarding the train of impracticality.

College athletes who exclusively aim to play in the NBA or WNBA similarly ignore the odds. However, those who gear up to be comprehensive athletes who can play, teach, coach, run athletic training businesses, and so forth, are equipped to flourish in life.

K-12 educators also must keep up with the times. Beyond a flair for technology, they need to know how to promote their school programs, network in their communities, conduct new types of ensembles, and renew themselves artistically. Otherwise, they and their programs might not hold up.The Musician's Way book cover

Change = Opportunity

The world economy churns with change. Still, change brings opportunity. The public remains hungry for music, and there are more channels available to us than ever to satiate that hunger.

In the quotation that heads this post, Stevie Wonder reminds us that we’re responsible to use our abilities wisely. We may love and excel at music, but zeal and talent alone don’t make a career.

For music making to become our way of life we must couple our musicianship with the imagination and skills that fit the new economy.

How do we do that? In Part III, I lay out key strategies and summarize the career guidance found in my book The Musician’s Way.

Read Part III

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein