In a Rough Job Market, More Conservatories Stress Business Skills

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Students at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music Students at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music

In the current violinist-eat-violinist atmosphere for graduates of conservatories and university music schools, some institutions of higher musical learning are trying to bring academic training closer to the realities of the job market.

"Curricula that might have been relevant in 1890 or 1990 might not be as relevant today,” Richard Kessler, dean of the Mannes College, The New School for Music, explains in this Conducting Business podcast.

Mannes, one of New York’s three big conservatories, is in the process of revamping its entire curriculum, adding required courses in music entrepreneurship along with studies in technology, composition and improvisation. It is aligning itself more closely with its parent institution, the New School, while scaling back traditional music theory and history coursework. The idea: to broaden the range of skills music students have to compete in the real world.

“If you’re really committed to learning, you can assess these programs, no matter how traditional, no matter how long-standing and in some cases no matter how revered,” Kessler added.

New for-profit models are also being explored. The University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and Universal Music Classics, the world’s largest recording label, last month announced a partnership designed to “grow the next generation” of classical music artists and audiences. A new curriculum requires all of the school’s undergraduates, regardless of major, to take classes in music business, technology and entrepreneurship.

Elizabeth Sobol, the president and CEO of Universal Classics, said that the venture "addresses a bigger problem we’re having right now: we’re not training the next generation of industry impresarios and industry business leaders." Conservatories, she said, are also not reflecting a growing desire for nontraditional concert experiences in spaces like bars, clubs and parks.

Performance opportunities for classically-trained musicians have long been limited in a pop culture world. A 2010 study by Indiana University underscored that point, finding that 49 percent of recent music conservatory alumni are doing work “somewhat” or “closely” related to their training, while just 19 percent spend “a majority of their work time as musicians.”

But curricular reform can be difficult for tradition-bound conservatories, where elite private teachers have considerable clout and a business course may seem like a distraction. What's more, young artists may not have an aptitude for formulating marketing plans or booking tour dates. David Cutler, author of The Savvy Musician, and director of music entrepreneurship at the University of South Carolina, argues that there are ways to fold entrepreneurial training into an existing school curriculum.

“An example of this might be the traditional degree recital,” he explained. Most undergraduate performance majors are required to do a recital as a requirement for their degrees. "If it’s important for us to attract new audiences, maybe we can use this as a playground for doing actually that. So perhaps part of the recital requirement might be: you need to get 200 people there to get an A, or 150 people there to get a B." Students might also be graded on how they can rethink the presentation to include multimedia or other visual elements.

Cutler added, “There’s some good news here in that more schools are changing their model to include more 21st century skills.”

Listen to the full segment above and tell us what you think in the comments box below: How should conservatories better prepare students for the realities of the job market?

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Naomi Lewin


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Comments [9]

Anna Seda from United States

This article is spot on about the times changing. All my life I thought I would stay in grad school through the doctorate level, but tenured positions are essentially nonexistent for my generation. And besides, even if I had the diploma, I still would be competing for the job alongside people without doctorates because it's not a requisite for most music professorships. My next logical post-master's move was to take orchestral auditions; I moved in with my parents and had a summer of solitude, obsessing over excerpts. Flying across the country, unemployed with nothing going for me, I got shot down the first round. I needed a bigger picture game plan- get training for arts administration to keep afloat and take auditions when the time is right. I moved to Boston to study with my all time idol teacher, and interviewed at several internships; the ones willing to take me in essentially told me they were floundering- ticket sales and patrons were drying up. It was horribly depressing; I was essentially offering free labor for organizations that were likely to tank in coming years. Maybe it was out of desperation, boredom, or pessimism that I interviewed for restaurant work at a high end eatery downtown- after all, if you think about it, nobody HAS to eat out. They go because they want to be impressed, entertained, satiated in lots of ways. I think I have a lot to learn about public relations, business, psychology, appeal, and ultimately art from this side job. Maybe a business class in music school might have helped me out, but ultimately we are pushed into it in the real world. I've learned I cannot do business exclusively on my own; I'm constantly running into students failing to pay me, gigs promising a check that never comes, and spending the day in dread of having to handle naughty children in group string class. I have to consider my own personality limitations for doing what is the best vocation for me. I'm not even sure if any vocation in classical music fits the bill if I'm being truly honest. Mastering my instrument is this personal vendetta- music is this etherial, unattainable delight that somehow had a mortal being create it- how puzzling! Maybe money is soiling all of that for me.

Nov. 29 2014 01:19 AM
John H. from Connecticut

We just recently visited Carnegie Mellon and some other conservatories. Carnegie actually highlighted their program to teach necessary business skills as a fundamental element of being a successful performing musician. They were the only one we visited so far that attempted to highlight it as a strength.

Mar. 24 2014 11:59 AM
Helen S. from Boston

I graduated Mannes as a violin major just three years ago and there was nothing of the sort taught during any of my years. I didn't think much about it then and none of my teachers did either. Looking back, I feel that it was something that should have been taught. I have had to learn it all trying to make a living as a professional musician.

Mar. 24 2014 10:59 AM
Ileen M. Zovluck from Teaneck, NJ

This is not the reason I went to a conservatory. I'm sorry to see the curriculum turning towards a business school.

Mar. 22 2014 06:23 PM
Matt Rosenberg from Oceanside, NY

I graduated from a NY state school in 2011 with a B.A. In music and communications, hoping to get an arts administration job. Going on 3 years with no luck. In too many schools the only programs they offer are education or performance, with little to no focus on any other aspects of the arts world. If programs suited towards other musical careers had been available, maybe I would be well into a career by now.

Ps. If anyone knows of any good jobs, I'm always looking for help or advice

Mar. 22 2014 04:57 PM
Paul G. from Chicago

I went to Mannes and all they seemed to care about was how much ear training and theory you took. I graduated without any knowledge of how the music business worked. I think this trend makes a lot of sense and am only sorry I didn't get the chance to take courses like the ones these people are talking about.

Mar. 22 2014 04:05 PM
Eileen from New, NY

My son went to Eastman back in the 90's and they taught absolutely NOTHING about the business world. It's about time the conservatories joined the modern age and starting teaching surviving skills as well. BRAVO!

Mar. 21 2014 10:11 AM
Bernie from UWS

It's a no-brainer to add business skills training, assuming they get the right teachers who know what they're doing. All too often, I'm less than impressed with the kind of arts management you see out there. Opera companies are folding or cutting back, orchestras are going bankrupt. Let's get some people with experience running successful businesses to teach so we don't repeat the cycle of mismanagement.

Mar. 20 2014 07:46 PM
John Porter from NYC

It's funny, listening to these three guests, it all sounds like such no brainer. But, my nephew is a young bassoon player and its hard to imagine him wanting to do anything but practice. I would imagine it's a bit of a dilemma in how you make these sorts of approaches appealing and what you have to reduce in order to teach this stuff.

Mar. 20 2014 05:02 PM

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Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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