At many music colleges, the same ideas for what general classes, initiatives, and goals students should have has stayed relatively the same for the last thirty years.
One example: I’ll never forget in a private lesson during college when a professor of mine once told me the reason he felt he never was able to accomplish much in his youth was because he felt he had to “stand in line” and wait until his teacher gave him permission and the connections to do so.
The idea that students have to receive the permission and blessings of their music teachers in order to succeed is a remaining artifact of an older generation of thinking. Listening to your teacher is good, but having the initiative to work on your own is the best determining factor for your personal and monetary success. I absolutely guarantee it.
Perhaps I am committing marketing suicide, but I’ll happily admit it to the grave – your initiative as a musician is far more important than the music school you attend.
On top of the aforementioned, with orchestras going on strike, established opera companies disbanding, positions for professional ensembles more savagely and brutally competitive than ever, and, in my opinion, music competitions becoming more and more irrelevant, the old-world way of teaching, one that tells musicians that becoming an orchestral musician (or a composer) who wins lots of competitions and listening to every word of your teacher is the truest path to success, is becoming more and more of a lie rather than a dream.
Arts organizations are seen frequently collapsing. Even dance companies are going out of business. Obviously, music education is not to blame for this – we can thank the economy, among other factors, for the fall of these important businesses.
Still, it is without question the truest responsibility of music schools to prepare every single one of their student musicians for the real world of music.
I think two reasons – one, for the moral and ethical responsibility of a school to students who shell out over $200,000.00 or more for a four year education. These students deserve to learn how to make a living in music either in an orchestra or by other means with their instruments and skills. Can you imagine paying hundreds of thousands for a JD, MBA, PhD, or MD and not expect to make any money, or that each job opening in your field had a 1-2% acceptance rate? Musicians deserve to learn the skills that will let them have a real good shot at making money.
Secondly, and possibly just as importantly, because every college music institution is subject to an impending doom of a highly possible student loan bubble burst.
What’s that second one? I’ll go into it briefly.
A famous entrepreneur named Mark Cuban (one of the investors on the hit ABC show Shark Tank) recently stated the following about colleges and student loan debt:
It’s inevitable at some point there will be a cap on student loan guarantees. And when that happens you’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the housing market: when easy credit for buying or flipping a house disappeared we saw a collapse in the price housing, and we’re going to see that same collapse in the price of student tuition, and that’s going to lead to colleges going out of business.
When I first read this, all I could think about was how applicable this is to college music programs! If (and in reality, when) the proposed cap on student loan guarantees for music students occurs, how will musicians, taught in the traditional manners of waiting around for the permission of their teachers to take on interesting initiatives, who don’t have access to entrepreneurial resources at their colleges, who have been hammered by the idea that the only true route of success is advancing to a well-paying orchestral position, ever be able to pay for their educations?
It’s not like every musician gets to go to a free college music program like Curtis or Colburn! Although a stereotype exists where music students are often the product of rich families, many musician’s parents aren’t actually super wealthy.
Essentially, if you apply exactly what Mark Cuban has said specifically to college music programs, you can easily deduce the following: with a cap on student loan guarantees, musicians will not be able to pay for their own educations, which in turn will make tuition prices inevitably having to drop, which will ultimately put music colleges out of business.
If music schools do not take on initiatives to train their students to make money with their unbelievable gifts and hard work outside of the traditional methods of ensemble employment or making it as a chamber and orchestral soloist, then they themselves will go out of business.
So how can we make sure this absolutely never happens?
I was reading a really fantastic article the other day by a musician named Ivan Trevino called “My Pretend Music School.” In the article, Trevino talks about different things music schools can do to better educate their students. His points are super smart, and they really got me thinking more when I read them.
Here are five simple ideas that would absolutely improve the educational quality of college music programs. Of course, these five only scratch the surface of the things that could be improved. Some of these overlap and draw upon Trevino’s ideas as well.
5. Make Entrepreneur Initiative Courses a Core Requirement Over Super Advanced Music Theory Classes
When I was in college I actually was required to take 15 music theory courses. Of course, basic music theory knowledge, like scales, diatonic & chromatic chord progressions, playing in even + odd time signatures, and the like are critical to the success of a musician. Even fundamental 20th century analysis is important. I would never argue against that.
However, how important – in the grand scheme of an actual music career – is it to be able to properly execute hexachordal combinatoriality, understand Schenkerian Analysis, and write a fugue abiding properly by the rules of the 17th century text Gradus Ad Parnassum?
If you want to be a music theory teacher or scholar than that is all good and exceptionally important stuff.
But at the end of the day, learning how to make money with your music degree that your family spent $200,000.00+ on is more important than learning ultra advanced musical theory concepts. There’s not even an argument to be had here.
And this is from someone who could talk all day about how great Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez are!
Look, I’m not saying advanced music theory and entrepreneurship courses have to be mutually exclusive. That said, I do believe instead of using all the credits on ultra advanced music theory courses, schools could be better utilizing that time teaching students the art of becoming a musical entrepreneur, or how to start a music business. I am not saying that every musician has it in them to become a full-fledged entrepreneur, certainly not.
Without question though, understanding exactly what it takes to be a musical entrepreneur – from incepting an entrepreneurial concept to the art of fundraising to being taught exactly how different business models work – would be of unbelieveable value to music students. This is a good article that addresses the need for artists to become entrepreneurs. Some schools have caught on to this, like the New England Conservatory and NYU’s Clive Davis program, and are beginning to teach their students the art of entrepreneurship.
If artists all of the sudden could become entrepreneurial with their talents, then perhaps they could become more adept at paying for their educations and their student loans, which would ultimately detract dollars from the national student debt.
This all leads to my next point…