“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
Henry David Thoreau

In a classic episode of the animated comedy South Park, the main characters track down a clan of gnomes who have been stealing the townspeople’s underpants.

The gnomes explain that their actions are part of a 3-phase plan – shown here – that’s guaranteed to bring in handsome profits.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that aspiring musicians often pursue comparable half-baked scenarios.

Musicians as Underpants Gnomes

The musicians’ version of the gnomes’ business model goes like this:

1. Practice until good enough
2. ?
3. Be successful

Like the gnomes, young musicians who live by this model conclude that acquiring an ample amount of something automatically brings success.

So they’ll practice intensely for years, believing that, despite long odds and scant knowledge of the music industry, they’ll get “discovered” or win lucrative auditions.

(In case you’re wondering whether gnome-like musicians might be in the minority, see this study by Hoverman, et al: 61% of surveyed music students who had access to entrepreneurship resources and knew that they were available didn’t access them.)

Musicians as Insightful Entrepreneurs

As an alternative to the abovementioned ill-conceived model, I propose the following oversimplified but empirical outline for cultivating music career success:

1. Practice and study deeply, build creative skills, learn about yourself and the music industry, develop a meaningful and realistic artistic vision.
2. Incrementally implement your vision in real-world situations under the guidance of mentors, multiplying your expertise and earning power.
3. Live a fulfilling creative life.

Musicians who take on this sort of approach grow their artistic prowess in tandem with their ability to thrive in today’s music profession.The Musician's Way book cover

Their creativity burgeons, their work permeates with meaning, and they generate ongoing demand for their work regardless of whether they function as performers, educators, composers, conductors, contractors, arrangers, recording engineers, artistic directors, or whatever.

Gnome-free Music Education

What’s stopping young musicians from adopting this sort of expansive model?

For many, they are. The requisite resources are available; they have to adjust their attitudes and then access them.

Others may find themselves enrolled in schools that cling to 19th-century curricula. I hope that such students will speak up and help bring about constructive change in their institutions.

Gerald Klickstein provides consulting, workshops, and coaching for music schools and individual musicians. For more information, please write via the Contact Page.

Related posts
Are Conservatories Keeping Pace?
Artistic Vision 
Competitive Advantages
Entrepreneurship: Not a Slice of the Pie
Preparing for Portfolio Careers

To learn how arts organizations are replacing gnome-like business models, see “Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem” by Ian David Moss (May 2012), which inspired this post.

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Image via Wikipedia