Music Entrepreneurship

April 23, 2015
Students plan for life in the music business

A common refrain that music majors hear from those around them is, “It’s hard to make a living as a musician.” However, in today’s ever-changing entertainment business, the career outlook for music students today is much brighter. Musicians are creating careers on their own terms, whether that includes playing with a professional ensemble, performing as a freelance musician, teaching, or a combination of different opportunities, and sharing one’s talent has become infinitely easier through the Internet and social media channels.

No matter the path, making a living as a musician does require skills that a student may not pick up in weekly lessons or courses on music history and theory: understanding contracts; knowledge of copyright; how to file taxes; building a website; and setting up and operating a teaching studio. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. But music professor Jennifer Cable’s new class on music entrepreneurship aims to demystify it all and equip students with tools to build a successful career.

“The course allows us to focus on the multiple facets of building a career in music, considering the skills required beyond musicianship that contribute to success in the field,” Cable says. “Each student will leave this class with a wealth of knowledge and new tools with which to work, but also resources as to what to do next to develop your skills or answer their questions.”

Cable is passionate about teaching the course because she remembers starting her own career as a musician. “Everything you’re not supposed to do, I ended up doing when I was younger,” she recalls with a smile. “I had a friend take my headshot, I signed contracts without being 100 percent knowledgeable about what I was signing. It’s not like I couldn’t read a contract, but when you’re so hungry to get that work, you don’t understand that it’s OK to step back and take a look and review things.”

Cable’s students have appreciated the opportunities that the class provides. “This class has surprised me with how many different paths there are in the arts,” says Britta Loftus, ’17.

“As a music student, you hear a lot of talk about promoting your brand and that didn’t seem like something I could do, let alone something I wanted to do,” says Jen Swegan, ’15. “What it comes down to is not that you love to toot your own horn, but that you love your craft and feel confident that you perform in a way that can enrich people’s lives. So you do what it takes to find performing opportunities.”

Each week, students learn firsthand from experts in the field who share their knowledge and experiences with the students. “I’ve had colleagues from communications, the law school, and the music department, as well as the director of the Modlin Center speak with the class,” Cable says. “Everyone is being extremely generous with their time and expertise.”

Cable is thrilled to see that each week’s topic generates interesting discussions with the students. “I love that the class is small,” says Katherine Cook, ’15, “because we can really go into great detail about plans for each of us as a musician. My favorite part is learning about all the behind the scenes work that people never talk about.”

Cable says discussions arise come out of everything. “For a teacher,” she says, “that’s been immensely exciting and rewarding to see that stuff comes up in every class.”

The students will put the advice from their guest speakers, as well as the skills they’ve gained throughout the course into practice for their final projects. Each student will present a business model for a freelance music career and a teaching studio to their classmates. The students will walk away with these two blueprints and be able to put them into practice immediately, if they choose — something that excites them.

“We’ve talked about budgeting, keeping records for taxes, and how to open a studio for private students,” says Rebecca Quillen, ’16. “I know putting these habits into practice now will aid me tremendously as my music career picks up steam.”

Swegan agrees that the chance to learn skills now will benefit her career down the road. “I think we’re better equipped to make the most of our artistic education for having picked up all this practical savvy while we’re in school. It’s the kind of know-how that many artists have to learn through experience, which takes time and mental resources that could otherwise be devoted to making music.”