The “E” Word

The “E” Word

For the past few weeks I’ve been musing about composition education at the college level, working through some suggestions as to how the pedagogy and curriculum of teaching composers might be reexamined. In addition to integrating a composition curriculum with that of an institution’s music education area and expanding that curriculum to include a composition pedagogy course, my third and final suggestion is in the realm of entrepreneurism. As I mentioned before, feasibility, relevancy, and sustainability will continue to raise their ugly heads as the three primary concepts that are endemic in composition education today, and all three point to the necessity of emphasizing entrepreneurial skills throughout a student’s time in school.

Most examples of undergraduate composition education I’ve come across tend to hew towards the models of either a) basic music major + composition lessons or, if they’re lucky, b) private lessons + skills-based courses (orchestration, counterpoint, analysis). Graduate programs often will more likely resemble the latter of these two models—lessons + required theory/musicology courses + skills-based courses—with additional elective seminars, usually in theory or electroacoustic subject areas. These models, while adequate for increasing the students’ objective knowledge and hopefully giving them subjective opportunities for artistic growth, usually do very little to address career-based needs. To put it another way, most composition programs are built along the business model of South Park’s underpants gnomes [collect underpants + ? = profit].

While there is obviously no one solution when it comes to incorporating entrepreneurism into the educational experience, a curriculum could be improved by both course-based and project-based opportunities for composition students. While many universities offer a basic music business class, composers could be asked to take courses in business, marketing, graphic design, or even copyright law, either as electives or as specific requirements. A composer today is a small business owner to some degree and the coursework they take might need to reflect that new reality.

As valuable as these courses might be, their potential worth would only be fully realized if combined with experiential projects that require composers to create their own entrepreneurial goals and follow them through. Whether these projects are collaborative in nature or lean solely on the wits and wherewithal of the individual, they will, in effect, drop the student “into the deep end” and force them to fend for themselves in ways that no classroom project or assignment could. A good resource for projects like this is David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician; both David’s blog and his book by the same name are full of examples, ideas, and questions that any burgeoning musician can find useful.

This brings up an important question: should a composition curriculum be concerned with career issues at all? Some might argue that the composers need to be focused like a laser beam on becoming world-class practitioners of their art. I can see their point—some composers have done very well by simply putting their blinders on, focusing on their artistic output, and winning over performers, conductors, and publishers through the sheer brilliance of their work. But more often than not, composers today who have become successful have done so because they have been able to teach themselves how to collaborate, how to network, and how to look at their own skills and talents objectively and recognize how they can fit within the greater musical community.

Examples of this new entrepreneurial mindset abound, from multi-layered composer-run organizations like Bang on a Can and New Amsterdam to self-publishing mavens like Jennifer Higdon and John Mackey, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Not everyone who intends on having a career in composition will be successful, but by incorporating these ideas into composition training, chances for success should be strengthened.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

27 thoughts on “The “E” Word

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Career? Is that it? I don’t think so.

    Yes, there should be an optional career component, just as there’s an optional education certification, an optional studio component, etc.

    But career? A ‘entrepreneurial mindset’? Does that produce powerful and moving art? I guess I’m from both a generation and a philosophy that despises the notion of a career composer. I’ve heard enough of them to wonder why they even became composers. Maybe my reaction is because I’ve had my fill of career composers whose work is proficient but flat, dull, and rarely on fire.

    Career musician, yeah, okay. That would help composers find related musical options — concerts, criticism, teaching, production, studio work, recording, audio editing & mastering, music engraving, intellectual property law, and even utility composition (etc., etc.) — to stay alive. And maybe that’s really what you mean.

    But for me, all of the arts begin as and remain an internal drive, what some describe as a ‘calling’, and never a career. It’s about a deep passion for the work, uncompensated or unrequited perhaps, and taking the artist wherever it leads — straight to hell, if need be.

    So in preparation for a ‘career composer’ with ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, don’t forget the hell part.


  2. Phil Fried

    Be your own gatekeeper? Sure. Yet even with the “self made” ensembles mentioned here connections with major institutions are implicit and have never been despised (though oddly not mentioned).

    Composers compose. Happily some composers have a body of work that possess a natural proclivity to find resonance with the public.

    On the other hand attempts to “science” that public resonance through any means necessary can certainly be achieved, but for what result?

  3. Abbie Betinis

    Great article, Rob. I’m reminded of Judith Zaimont’s “Composer Seminar” she developed for the University of Minnesota’s graduate-level composers. This was a required, semester-long course, where we were taught self-promotion basics (how to prepare a CV, write a bio, apply for grants), but — more memorably — we got to ‘get our feet wet’ in a variety of arenas where one finds composers in the ‘real world’: as recording engineers, producers, publishers, music critics, etc. We spent one entire class period studying the art of giving face-to-face constructive feedback to composer colleagues while staying true to our own aesthetic. (a truly valuable lesson!)

    I didn’t realize this at the time, but in retrospect it seems to me that her goal was not necessarily to teach entrepreneurism. If that happened (which it did, for many of us), it was a by-product of a greater goal: learning how to love the process — the ‘composition’ really — of cobbling together a career in music. The need for balance, for design, for intention, self-reflection and analysis… these were the same lessons she was teaching us in private composition lessons, only applied to business.

    I’m smiling thinking about it now, even as I start to feel mired in the business of this career. I spent most of today reconciling my ASCAP catalog with my Harry Fox account. (Blegh.) But you can’t write music ALL the time, right? Might as well use the rest of the time to get paid for it.

    1. John Mackey

      How much do I love Abbie’s comment – “But you can’t write music ALL the time, right? Might as well use the rest of the time to get paid for it.” The answer: a lot. I love it a lot.

      I’m jealous of the class at Minnesota, and it sounds like a great model for what composers should learn. At Juilliard, we had a “Business of Music” class, which consisted primarily of various arts managers coming to tell us why we really just needed an agent/manager, or at the very least, a publisher. Never discussed: self-promotion, self-publishing, or much of anything useful. I argued (as I’ve argued on my blog) that the traditional publisher model was a bad one for many composers. I received the worst grade on my entire college transcript in that class.

      This claim that learning business skills somehow results in bad art is ridiculous. Nobody is suggesting that there should be a class called “The Business of Writing Music That Will Make Lots of Money” (like the music equivalent of those cheesy Get Rich Selling Real Estate seminars of 10 years ago). As Abbie points out so well, writing and promoting are two different skills. Step 1: write the best music you can write. Step 2: when the piece is done, figure out how to get it into the hands of people who will hopefully compensate you for it. You can’t skimp on step 1, though.

  4. Reinaldo Moya

    I agree with Rob and Abbie. It is so important to expose students to the realities of the business side of music. We would all love to be in a situation where we can just write the music that we want to write and money, success and recognition follow, just because we’re that good.

    The reality is that at this point, there are so many talented and skilled composers out there, that in order to stand out from among the crowd, one has to know how promote oneself, make meaningful connections, and reach out for help, all while trying to remain honest with yourself.

    Regardless of what type of music one writes, there is enough variety in the field today to be able to find a place for one’s work. But if we don’t know where or how to look, we might not figure out our place in the complex world of contemporary music.

    One could argue that many of us are not “career composers”, but “career musicians”. Many of us compliment our incomes by teaching, engraving, etc. But even still, the skills that Rob is alluding to are absolutely necessary if you just want to get you music played and heard. I think we do a disservice to the students if we don’t make them aware of life after school when “people are paid to listen and like your music.” Thanks Rob for writing this article, hopefully we can start to move towards a way of teaching composers that addresses the multitude of skills that are needed to make it work.

  5. Phil Fried

    This claim that learning business skills somehow results in bad art is ridiculous.

    I agree. Yet the ratio between the quality of the product and the quality of the marketing tends to vary.

  6. Jessica Lustig

    As someone who sees and works with composers mostly when they are finished or nearly finished with school, I can say without a doubt that there is a serious lack of teaching and an overall lack of interest from composers when it comes to developing career skills outside the world of composition. This structural issue is most influenced by composition faculty, many of whom are struggling to get their own music played. Their overall attitude of fear and ignorance bleeds into the lives of students, who somehow believe that they are going to be artistically compromised, or — even worse — viewed that way by their peers (i.e. “selling out”) if they implement some basic techniques about promotion for their music, seek to learn about copyright and publishing, or (heaven forbid) pursue possible commercial applications for their art.

    This helps absolutely no one. Not the teachers, not the students, and certainly not the music. Part of the training of being a composer and a creator means understanding how the system operates by which the composer may someday be paid. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignorance means missing opportunities, not knowing the worth of the art in the current market, and possibly not being paid properly.

    It’s critical that composers graduate from “leading” composition programs with completely up-to-date business skills and knowledge. But before any of these entrepreneurship programs can actually work successfully there needs to be an significant shift among the directors, deans, and faculty of the leading departments to take this issue seriously. This will require a change of attitudes among faculties, funds to hire or retrain staff so that this information can shortly be required learning, and acknowledgement that the future of the art and its value in our society will continue to erode without significant change inside our educational institutions. Otherwise Starbucks, realty companies and temp agencies can look forward to welcoming even more new composition graduates with big loans to pay back.

  7. Jeremy Howard Beck

    Just for the record: I’m fresh out of conservatory (MM, class of 2010!), and the extent to which I am underprepared for just about every aspect of a career in music that is *not* actually writing actual music cannot be overstated. I got a 19th-century European-style musical education, which is a really cool thing to have gotten, but we unfortunately don’t live in 19th-century Europe, and I’m finding that I’m about as busy learning skills now (negotiation, contracts, web design, marketing, branding, fundraising, business structuring, taxes, recording techniques, anything having to do with self-publishing, etc.) as I was when I was actually *in* conservatory, except for the self-teaching part.

    There is literally no good argument for why music students shouldn’t be forced–er, required–to take business classes, recording classes, contract law/copyright classes, etc. Learning that stuff won’t make a good composer bad. It’ll prevent a good composer from falling through the chasm-wide cracks in the music world where record labels and publishers used to be.

  8. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Perhaps there is “an overall lack of interest from composers when it comes to developing career skills outside the world of composition” because those are skills, and college is not a trade school. And there won’t be a “significant shift among the directors, deans, and faculty of the leading departments to take this issue seriously” because this in fact is not a serious issue of education.

    These issues are the purview of marketers and agents. Of course composers should be aware of issues that bear on them and their work, including IP rights and applications (such as commercial music techniques). But making the classroom a trade fair? I don’t think so.

    As strongly as Jessica advocates for it, I oppose it. Jessica writes, “the training of being a composer and a creator” — and there is where it goes off the tracks. You don’t “train” a “creator”, and the very idea that this phrase can be written unblinkingly is evidence that the co-opting of imagination is acceptable. Yes, they are going to be artistically compromised. And no, this is not the same as “selling out”, which she lumps together in the same sentence. Selling out is a self-excused betrayal of principle vs., say, an externally encouraged betrayal that would take place in the marketing-driven classroom.

    Co-opting the imagination is not acceptable. Any artist faced with such an argument should be stunned, and run screaming from a program which requires it.


      1. Mary Jane Leach

        This remark is uncalled for. I certainly hope you aren’t as rude dealing with people in your pr firm. There are far too many composers graduating these days who are very good at crafting a career without, unfortunately, a compositional voice of their own.

        1. Jessica Lustig

          You are right. My comment was overly harsh and for that I apologize. Also your point is well taken. There are some very “successful” composers who have many commissions, are frequently performed by major ensembles and leading musicians, and have posts at top universities and conservatories. They make good livings and may even get some ink from the media because they are good at marketing themselves, but their musical contribution may not amount to much in the end.

          I think my strong reaction came from a deep frustration and true sadness for the many composers, young and old, who want to be heard, and have something to say musically, but just have no idea how to go about helping themselves get there. Some are still hoping to be “discovered”–waiting for the proverbial phone call or email that will be their big break, but others WANT to know how to move their careers forward. They are concerned that they will not have the opportunities they wish for because they don’t know how to pursue them effectively.

          I guess I believe that more information is better than less, and although there is certainly a lot to learn and study in music school, and there are specific skills to develop, and I am not sure you can “learn” to be a composer. That is for another debate. However you CAN learn how to read a royalty statement, figure out how much to charge for tickets to your concert so you can break even, and calculate the interest on your credit card debt so you know how much it will cost you to borrow money for your project. Some may disagree, clearly, but I believe that ignorance is NOT bliss for many young artists who, unlike accountants or engineers, generally cannot look in the want ads, go to a career fair or meet with a job recruiter to find a way to make a living.

          Clearly we will just have to agree to disagree that learning about the business of music is helpful and not harmful. I believe that a truly gifted and driven artist will never be held down by more knowledge, but but sadly the reverse does not apply.

    1. Jeremy Howard Beck

      How is a music conservatory not a trade school?

      And what’s so bad about trade schools? Before the last century or so, any artist in any medium would have been trained in a manner more in keeping with what a trade school does. There were apprenticeships, not degrees.

      The whole idea that you can either be a pure, untainted creator or you can learn how to make a living is the worst kind of false dichotomy, and it seriously needs to stop. Jessica’s Starbucks comment may be harsh, but **she’s not wrong**: in today’s world, any composer who categorically rejects the acquisition of business skills on the grounds of maintaining “artistic purity” (as if such a thing even exists) is going to suffer the economic consequences. Working a McJob (or any non-music job) is often one of those consequences.

      1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

        The only person using the word conservatory is you, Jeremy. Rob began the discussion by talking about “composition education at the college level,” of which the conservatory is a subset that includes trade-school tasks.

        And I’m certainly not setting up a dichotomy. The very first sentence of my very first post read, “Yes, there should be an optional career component, just as there’s an optional education certification, an optional studio component, etc.” Yes, there should be. Optional.

        My main points are…

        …that career composers represent careerism and marketing, not art — which Mary Jane sharply defines when she writes, “There are far too many composers graduating these days who are very good at crafting a career without, unfortunately, a compositional voice of their own.”

        …that requiring job-fair skills for a degree can push aside opportunities for growth as an artist, and these skills are less a part of compositional development than the dozen other areas that I listed in my 3:32pm post from yesterday.

        If you want business skills, take a business course. If you want marketing skills, take a marketing course. If you want basic information about copyright, licensing, etc., read one of the great websites set up by licensing agencies and the copyright office, pick up a copy of, say, Marc Lindsey’s “Copyright Law on Campus”, and read (as I’ve mentioned) Shapiro, McManus or Tobenski. Don’t ask someone to craft college-level courses in easily acquired information. Remember, marketers are also marketing themselves and are not looking out for your interests! They want to sell you stuff!

        I’m not some disaffected composer talking out of a crooked embouchure. I’ve founded and run a corporation as well as taken a major role in early digital technology. Some of my projects have inspired many followers, from the first online new music radio show through the “We Are All Mozart” project (that Rob mentioned) to raising private contributions to mount my opera last year. I’ll be starting work on a project for 2014 that will include 480 performers over six hours. In terms of challenges, “today’s world,” as you call it, isn’t much different from the past. Things are actually easier for composers today with a powerful interest in new music, online communities, and active performance tracking. The economy is tough? Big deal. Ask an out-of-work engineer or teacher with a lifetime of experience trying to make ends meet.

        All that composers will learn in a time-stealing course is stuff they can get on their own, if they actually have the commitment to do that. Have them get out of that college desk (or college-desk thinking) and hustle without asking somebody to ‘teach’ them your whole list of “negotiation, contracts, web design, marketing, branding, fundraising, business structuring, taxes, recording techniques, anything having to do with self-publishing, etc.)” as part of a degree program.

        That stuff is already out there. What isn’t out there is how to engage deeply in musical creativity, maintain artistic integrity, and acquire a whole panoply of actual knowledge as a composer that would be pushed aside by required business courses. Take advantage of what’s available but above all be a composer with imagination and integrity and commitment.

        In other words, if you want it deeply enough, then hustle to get it.


        1. Jeremy Howard Beck

          My point is largely this: it’s not that I “want” business/copyright/contract/etc. skills; I need those skills, and so does every other composer working today if they want to work with their art. Any educational program that presumes to train musicians for a life in music should not–cannot, must not–shun the requiring of certain skills because they’re “unartistic.”

          “What isn’t out there is how to engage deeply in musical creativity, maintain artistic integrity, and acquire a whole panoply of actual knowledge as a composer that would be pushed aside by required business courses.”

          Now THOSE are things that cannot be taught. Those things must be learned the hard way, out in the real world, through trial and a lot of error. What I take issue with is the idea that any required course is even capable of pushing aside any of those things, as though Contracts 101 conflicts with Advanced Artistic Integrity, or something. That’s a load of nonsense. Classes on those things are not taught because those are things you cannot teach, and which cannot be absorbed in lesson form.

          I attended a university as an undergraduate, and believe me, I had a SLEW of required classes (Writing the Essay! Japanese! World History!) that had absolutely nothing to do with any of the artistic concerns you cite. But those courses ultimately taught me a lot, in various oblique ways, about creativity and artistic integrity and everything else. A creative person will find the lessons wherever he or she is. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

          This is really what it boils down to: when we teach artists of any kind, we have a choice. We can train them for the world as it is, or we can train them for the world as we wish it were (and end up throwing them to the dogs on graduation day–good luck out there, kids! You don’t know how to negotiate your fee, but use that counterpoint we taught you!!).

  9. Rob Deemer

    I respect your position, Dennis, but I really do think that a discussion like this does not have to be of the “and/or” model. You cannot “train” someone in the strictest sense to be a creator, but you can give them a strong foundation in the theoretical, historical, aesthetic, and technical aspects of their art as well as opportunities to create. In the same way, you cannot “train” someone to have a successful career as a creative artist, but you can give them a strong foundation in the basics of publishing, marketing, networking, etc. so they have a fighting chance to succeed as well as opportunities to put these basics into practice. And most important – you can (and should, in my opinion) do both concurrently.

    Your own use of crowdsourcing concepts in your project “We Are All Mozart” is a perfect example of how a composer can be successful in the public sphere – 100 works, all commissioned and written within a year. Why not have a class that examines the myriad options that composers and other creative artists have come up with over the past 10-15 years, then gives the students a chance to come up with their own ideas and try them out?

    As I mentioned, there are always going to be composers who only write and leave the rest of the business side of things to others – nothing wrong with that (if you can get it), but it is irresponsible for anyone to suggest that the only duty for higher education is to allow student to focus on the artistic side of being a composer without giving them the means to fend for themselves once they graduate. President Obama himself is putting universities and colleges on notice that they need to make sure that the education that students receive is not only worth the enormous price tag but suitably prepares all students for life after college. Why should the niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche subject of Music Composition be immune from that request?

    Composers are different than other musicians in that while a professional violinist or pianist or singer will usually begin their training early in childhood and (usually) have a fairly linear trajectory that brings them up to a level of excellence by their early to mid-twenties, composers can and have had an enormous range of experiences that mess up that linear trajectory. They may start writing in their teens, stop, and pick it up again ten years later…or they may start writing in their mid-twenties and not reach that level of excellence until well into their thirties or forties. I do not teach my own students with the mindset that after four years I’ve “taught” them how to compose – I know that they won’t really figure that out until later. But I strive to ensure that they’ve been given opportunities to begin that journey both as artists and as working members of our society.

    1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz


      I think Obama is wrong, but that’s probably another discussion. I think colleges should push back on this (and this is me talking, Mr. Anti-Academia).

      Like you, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview hundreds of composers. From what I’ve seen and heard many basics of contemporary musical education are still missing without adding a trade-school component. Aside from the artistic integrity I’ve been going on about, there are notational advancements in symbology and graphics to be dealt with, working with and creating software and hardware outside special niches, the dynamics of working with performers that isn’t only internal, cross-media and cross-field experiences, intense compositional artistic challenges, overcoming wheel-reinventing, sensory experience and expectations, external audience experience and expectations not limited to self-motivated students, alternative forms of communication that need more budgeting and encouragement, etc. Are some of these part of the curriculum? Sure. But how do you divide it up, considering the great swath of music history and historical theory and technical skills already included in the compositional core?

      As for “the basics of publishing, marketing, networking, etc.”, my feeling is that these are ancillary job-fair learning. Should everybody be required to take business and marketing courses in all fields? Engineers? Journalists? Physicists? They’re all out of work. Only accountants have the lowest unemployment of all professions. Should that fact be guiding a program in composition? Is marketing helpful? Sure, everything is helpful. Creating neat scores, perfect parts, great demos are important. So is knowing the cross-influence of philosophy and the other arts. Literature. How important? In weighing whether or not to include them, consider what is pushed aside. Something will be. Just look at the monster that education certification has become … without improving the quality of schools as a result. You can hope that won’t happen once you add trade-school courses to the composition curriculum, but it will. No one voluntarily gives up power, and once you’ve got the marketing people hired into your department, they are not going away. Because their results will always be more numerable than artistic meaningfulness, you’ll never be able to demonstrate whether having sacrificed time on the art has ultimately been worthwhile.

      Me? I’m a terrible example. I’ve marketed the hell out of my work to little avail. “We Are All Mozart” was a one-time project. So I earned my income as a composer for a single year out of 42 since I left college; I sacrificed more than I made, and only a third of the music has been heard in the five years since. I’ve been outside academia that whole time and you won’t see any of my artistic breakthroughs in articles or books about music. Ultimately it’s not about the marketing. It’s about who you know, and your post-academic network. There’s no course needed to work that network.

      And all my comments still dance around the heart of my disagreement — that marketing is a distraction for the lifetime artist, and unnecessary in historical terms. So many major breakthrough in the arts take place without marketing in the trade school sense. Pulse minimalism — where was the marketing? Sure, these folks went out and created ensembles to play their stuff, but does that count as trade-school marketing? Do the house concerts of the Second Viennese School count as merketing? The two biggest changes in a century of Western music seem to have taken place with no trade-school marketing.

      I’m not defending the reclusive artist in the garret. I’m warning against subverting the art by teaching — and believing — that “the basics of publishing, marketing, networking, etc.” need to be included in a curriculum where once you do just as well reading the advice and experiences of, for example, Alex Shapiro, Drew McManus and Dennis Tobenski (none of whom, I think, would agree with me).


  10. Phil Fried

    Good luck at Starbucks…..

    I might point out Jessica that even for a professional marketeer your response is way harsh. You might have said that blogging in itself is marketing. It is. You could point out that many universities etc. do their own publicity in house so for them folks marketing is unavoidable. Also, Dennis has his own radio show which is not a bad place for product placement, that is new music. In fact Dennis is actually quite good at marketing himself.

    Why then the fuss? Well for some that’s because the unfortunate image of the composer as a glad handing, log rolling careerist is not easily displaced even by those who would be curmudgeons.
    Myself included.

    I do love coffee. (see the picture).

  11. Jonathan Manness

    Saw this on twitter (thank you @ComposersForum) and am so happy to see fellow composers talking about entrepreneurship and its role in academia and our careers.

    Because of sky-rocketing tuition and the poor ability for most graduates turn those degrees into income, universities and conservatories should have music business courses in addition to an alumni network and career development department so that graduates can build their own map towards a sustainable career composing. As information continues to be more accessible (and free) via the web, the only remaining assets music schools will have are ensembles, private lessons, and their network of alumni. If schools want to stay relevant in the 21st-century, they better give more reasons to take on debt than a traditional 4-year education.

    Thank you, Rob and NewMusicBox, for discussing entrepreneurship in composition! Will be keeping an eye on this topic.


  12. Marcos Balter

    Beethoven was a revolutionary artist and a fierce businessman. Chopin was utterly aware of his public persona, and invested on the mythification of it as a way to promote himself. Liszt was as aware of his physical image as he was of his music. Both Lizst and Chopin were fashion idols. In freaking Paris! Schumann and Debussy both used social media to manipulate aesthetic discussions toward their own musical tastes, even through fictitious debates and other blatant PR moves. Let us all skip Wagner, shall we? Mahler and Boulez are two examples of savvy careerists who used their administrative powers to solidify their own reputations as composers. Steve Reich and Philip Glass both became ensemble directors and curators, and their entrepreneurial minds undoubtedly advanced their careers, and both are keen finders of commercial support for what they do. I’ve witnessed many prominent composers talk shop, and all know what they’re talking about when it comes to business.

    Career-mindedness does not equate mediocrity. It is definitely not the primary force behind a successful career as a composer – musicianship will always win -, but history has shown that talented composers with an entrepreneurial mind have a much easier time navigating through the perils of such a low-demand profession (yes, I do call it a profession) as ours. Artistry PLUS career skills is a powerful combo. One should not deny access to it to college students. That is downright dishonest and reprehensible.

    Music business needs not to be forced into a university music curriculum. It just needs to be acknowledged since it’s always been and forever will be there.To TRULY study music history in school and to not cover these facts is to miss out on a crucial point in the formal preparation of any composer, besides being an incomplete and inaccurate retelling of the history of our field. And, to not use historical modesz as a trampoline to today’s music business models is not only a waste of opportunity but also a crippling omission that has caused far too many talented composers to not be heard, in spite of how good their music may be.

    1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

      In what colleges did Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, Wagner, Mahler, Boulez, Reich and Glass study marketing and business? And isn’t it a pity that Bartók, Bach, Schubert, Prokofiev, Boccherini, Berlioz, Vivaldi, Moussorgsky, Foster, Billings and Mozart failed those classes… would’ve made all the difference to their artistic impact, I’m sure.

      Seriously, though, I don’t disagree with you. Paying attention to career, marketing and money issues is helpful for anyone, although pretty much every college has such courses. Lemme look at the crappy school where I just taught for a few semesters… yup, there they are: Principles of Marketing, Financial Management, Advertising, Public Relations, and many more. Being aware of them can help a professional or artist — although I’m not sure what rock all these student composers are living under that they’re uniquely unaware of them.

      Just watch out for the epic I-told-you-so: Allow the marketers’ hooks into your music department and they will never, ever leave.


      1. Marcos Balter

        In the past, what one now studies in college was taught by mentors, some inside academia, some not. But, rest assured all those names you’ve mentioned were mentored in business practices at some point in their careers. I’m afraid your view of the profession is rather romantic and Hollywood-like, with all due respect. And, there’s a big difference between cold marketing courses and applied business practices. Plus, as I said, one thing does not replace or compensate for the other. It’s not a either/or situation. It is an enhancement, an addendum, and ultimately a reinstatement of a skill that was once common knowledge to composers and nowadays isn’t anymore. If you are to consider yourself a purist within the profession, it actually makes no sense denying the importance of business knowledge. The tortured creator in black turtle neck dreaming in an ivory tower is a 20th-century invention. A flawed one, I must say.

      2. Jeremy Howard Beck

        I guess no one should study quantum physics, or organic chemistry, or virology, because those weren’t around in Mozart’s day either?

        There is a point at which a reasonable argument against commercializing art jumps the shark into Hollywood-romantic hero-worship. We’re past that point now.

  13. Garrett Shatzer

    I agree with Rob that these issues need to be discussed in our university programs. And while it would be nice if they were also *taught* to those students who wanted to learn, I think that it’s even more important that the issues are explicitly raised/acknowledged. I have met many “emerging” composers who are ignorant of royalties, marketing, etc., not because they are lazy but because they simply haven’t been told that they *should* know about them. Heck, I was one of those composers…and still am in many ways.

    So while Dennis is perhaps somewhat correct in saying universities shouldn’t devote too much time to these extra-compositional realities, I do think it’s best that young composers are at least shown that they exist.

  14. chris

    I offer one simple answer to a question implicit – does the school have an obligation to “teach” how composers and musicians should be more entrepreneurial or is this something that may be outside the classroom? My answer: there exists I believe the career development office. Granted universities would benefit to make their career counseling offices extend beyond their usually extremely proscribed function.

    For those recent grads or even those out of school for a long time but seeking a resource for knowledge and networking – use your alumni office. Alums like to offer a little mentoring and provide info to college grads.

    Also, if you enjoy chamber music or play it join a volunteer organization such as Classical Revolution or participate in your church’s music program when starting out. Look for similar organization to network – volunteer a service for ensembles you love.

    As for the initial question in my post – I agree the majority of business skills courses in a composition program is out of place. What MAY be helpful (in addition to the resources I suggested) is to have composers do summer internships working with established composers on the business matters (they would love help with the paperwork!). It may not sound as exciting as summer working in the country to prep that musical drama brimming in your head, but sometimes (as another poster said) it is OK to not seriously commit to a piece. As a composer I would think you are always “writing” music subconsciously, so I think a few weeks of such an internship doing the business matters for a composer would be OK.

    Finally, the business of getting your composition out and sell is, for many, why one composes but does not make it their profession. It really isn’t so sad as one poster implied. You have the freedom to write, to go to another composer for some coaching, and then find performers or performance opportunities. One is free NOT to find music engraving work, creating orchestral midis of another composer’s work, taking on some classes that may not be your first choice, taking composition projects I really would not like to do but have to …

    Oh, and to close. I wouldn’t knock Starbucks too hard, if you work over 20 hours a weeks consistently you qualify for health insurance coverage and they consistently pay several dollars above minimum wage. So for a survival job – or, if you enjoy being a barista and want the experience to get a better paying job, it isn’t too bad an option. Consider many church musician jobs are part-time or less and pay no health benefits, many private music schools only pay for the lessons you give and do not offer any benefits or paid vacation/sick time, and if you do music teaching (or other activities) privately you should calculate that at companies which provide a salary + benefits, the cost of ALL benefits is 30 – 40 % of your salary. So for the entrepreneurs, realize that your hourly wage, when you subtract 30 – 40 % of your fee and take into account the time needed to promote your business, negotiate fees and services, and send and communicate info, your hourly wage may turn out to be about equal to a temporary junior executive assistant at an investment firm.


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