I read about #39 in history books. Though I have distinct memories from the 80’s, #40 came and went in the fog of my preteen years. #41 taught me the power of patriotism, yellow ribbons, and pride in my country.  #42 arrived during my coming of age years and helped me grow my progressive roots. I found my political voice when #43 was in office and it marked the first time I remember bonding over politics with my father.  Both of my children came into this world during #44, thank you for making the world a better place for my children.

40 years of Presidential power.  40 years of life. Every single moment fleeting.

Today, we welcome #45 to the world stage, his chapter just beginning. As we celebrate, curse, pray or even laugh about this inauguration, take in this moment, for it is in these times of transition that the rawness of our emotions become the most visceral. As the pomp and circumstance of today dissolves into night and our new leader of the free world gets down to business, remember that our next President is being sworn in to work on behalf of us, the American people. Like the six Presidents that have come and gone during the course of the past 40 years, his time will also be fleeting.  Our lives will go on and his time in office will have his own defining moments.

If there’s a silver lining around this election, it’s that for the first time in my life, I get the sense that individuals on both sides of the aisle are sitting up and aware of the world around them. The divisiveness in our political system has always been there and it always will be. Exacerbating our political differences has been the obnoxious churn of our over-sensationalized 24 hour news cycle and vitriolic online posting by those of us looking for validation in our echo chambers.  Our political system isn’t built upon a world of always getting what you want, it’s a world of compromise. The time has come to get to work together in pursuit of a more perfect union.

It is incumbent upon us to stand up for the things that we value most in this world.  That doesn’t mean reposting a pithy article or chastising your neighbor for having an opinion in opposition to you.  It means taking real action.  The wall I’ve been hitting in recent months is that fact that there are such large, seemingly immovable issues that I don’t know where to begin.

In the pursuit of moving from talk to action, I’ve been searching for a way to make a difference in my world.  Recently, I stumbled upon the notion of Micro-Movements. In her book Make Your Creative Dreams Real, author SARK defines a micro movement as “a very tiny action, 5 seconds to 5 minutes in length, that you can do to take action toward achieving a creative dream.” I have found this to be an incredible course of action for these seemingly insurmountable issues.

My challenge to you is this: Pick one issue and micro-movement the shit out of it. Forget politics, do what feels right to you in pursuit of making this world a better place.  (There is one rule, posting on social media doesn’t count.)

Based on his predecessors, #45’s time in office will end as quickly as it began. Life goes on, but don’t let this moment dissolve into the backdrop of the lives we live. Today, celebrate the smooth transition of power.  Tomorrow, get to work.  More than ever, we need you to be a part of the reason this country is so great.

Photo Credit: Eric Lynch

5 Things Artists Can Do, Post-Election

Featured5 Things Artists Can Do, Post-Election


The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their nature and their shapes and their uses survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and societies, even the very civilizations that produced them.  They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality.  They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.

—Katherine Anne Porter

I’ve spent most of the past week off line. At first, I followed my normal course of action when the results of the election became clear: I went online to research the election outcome and attempted to come up with a rationale for why the world is the way it is.  This time, my pursuit for answers through social media and online searches only left me feeling hollow inside.  The following video pretty much sums up how I have felt for this past week.

Offline, I attempted to make sense of our country by seeking out discussions with friends & family while simultaneously diving into literature about the state of our world.  At this point, the one thing I know for sure is that this country has a lot of work to do.

Artists have an important voice in this country and I fear that we have allowed ourselves to sit on the margins for far too long.  Lack of arts exposure for large parts of the country while we simultaneously live in an artistic bubble is part of the reason we find ourselves in the position we’re in today.  The arts have the ability to bring beauty, context, critical thinking, and diverse thought to an otherwise mundane world and it’s time to start thinking about ways we can positively influence the state of this country.

I am inherently a person who thrives on action. For those of you trying to figure out what to do next, here are five action steps artists can take today to make a positive change in this country:

  1.  Get out of your echo chamber. Making great art with other like minded artists often reinforces our view of the world.  Getting out there to better understand how non-artists and people with opposing viewpoints see the world has the power to make our art even better.  Some of you may be thinking about ignoring those who see the world differently than you.  Don’t do it.Challenge: Gather a group of friends, choose a hot button topic and debate the issue. Use some of that compassion you have been given as an artist to look at the world through those with opposing viewpoints eyes.  Read, ask questions, and really listen. While we may not see eye to eye on some of the most pressing issues of our time, my guess is that our worlds are not that far apart.


  2. Question the “news” you read on social media.  While most people feel that artificial intelligence is still decades away, in a twisted way, we’re further along than we think.  Social media has become our one stop shop for understanding the world and with it has gone any deep exploration and contemplation of the issues at hand. Instead of objectively looking at the issues, we are letting articles like this shape our opinions, often without any sources to back up the information.Challenge: Find another trusted source for information besides social media.  I like a news sources like Reuters, who attempt to remain neutral with the information they push out.  When you see someone post something that isn’t based in fact, instead of attacking them, ask questions and try to share your point of view on the subject.
  3. Support great art.  I’m going to ask a hard question of all you artists out there.  How many of you have paid to attend an artistic event in the past month or even the past six months? My guess is that the percentage of those of you answering yes would be quite low.  One of the fallouts behind our reliance upon the internet is that we no longer go to see and hear great art.  The Arts need artists like you more than ever before to be patrons, so get out there and find some beauty in the world.Challenge:  Buy a ticket to see great art this week.  Besides the real benefit it has on arts organizations, seeing the performing arts live is an amazing way to reflect, digest, and move beyond the results of the election.


  4. Write to your government officials. Your political leaders need to hear from you.  It turns out that artists play an incredibly important role in the vibrancy of our country, states, cities, and neighborhoods and your voice needs to be heard.Challenge:


    1. We have seen what the first 100 days may look like under a Trump presidency.  Look at all of the issues and create your own platform from the perspective of an artist, filled with the things that are most important to you.
    2. Know who your leaders are at every level of government, know their platforms, and write to them with your thoughts.  Ask how you can help.  Artists are often incredible organizers (it’s kind of what we do) so you may be in a position to support your leader, or act in opposition to a policy they support.  Note:  Actually sit down and write a letter.  Politicians rarely get well thought out letters from their constituents.  Take a moment to get your thoughts down on paper and take civic pride in sending something along.
  5. Make great art.  For those of you who are not certain about what you can do as an artist in this environment, the answer is simple: Make great art.  Show others what beauty is and share it with the world.


    1. Give a performance for performance sake.  Invite your friends and let them know that experiencing great art is a great way to reflect about the issues facing this country. 
    2. Find an advocacy group that supports an issue you feel is important and ask them to speak on behalf of their organization during your performance.  You’ll get two diverse audiences in the room at once to hear great art.

The Arts will live beyond the problems of today.  Now more than ever, lean on your art for inspiration, contemplation, and action.  I need it.  You need it.  The world needs it.

How will you make a change in this world?  In the coming weeks,  I’ll be sharing ways that I intend to make change and I’d love to hear from  you.  Please leave your thoughts below.


3 Career Fears To Tackle In 5 Years

Featured3 Career Fears To Tackle In 5 Years

Before declaring my major in college I remember losing what felt like weeks of sleep trying to decide if the path to become a music educator was right for me.  Choosing the wrong path or worse, choosing the right path and ultimately not finding success in said path was all consuming.  What I didn’t know then was that the pursuit of a music degree was preparing me incredibly well for work in the 21st century.  Like you, I was passionate, intellectually curious, and incredibly interested in becoming an expert in my discipline; all characteristics for a successful career.  Fear be damned.

My career fear has led to a deep exploration of careers in the arts, an exploration that continues to this day. Most recently, I’ve been podcasting a course out of Stanford called “How to Start a Startup.”  Paul Graham, Co-Founder of Y Combinator, argues that genuine intellectual curiosity in pursuit of domain expertise in the traditional sense will enable you to thrive in the 21st century economy.  For example, if your intellectual curiosity involves becoming a scholar on the compositions for Dulcian by Giovanni Antoli Bertoli, great.  Your job is to know Bertoli deeply first, then be able to contextualize his work in a way that can propel you into a sustainable career.  Paul points out that:

“The optimal thing to do in college if you want to be a successful startup founder [read: successful artist] is not some sort of new vocational version of college, focused on entrepreneurship.  It’s the classic version of college, [which] is education [for] its own sake. If you want to start your own startup [read: arts centric arts career], what you should do in college is learn powerful things.”

In spite of this very open approach to learning, my hunch is that many of you don’t feel that you’re learning the “powerful things” necessary for a sustainable career in the arts.  It’s time to take control.  Paul’s words only work if your pursuit of knowledge is the type of knowledge that empower you to build a career.  Below are three fears to tackle in the next five years.  Consider it a self-directed pursuit of powerful things.

Fear #1: I won’t have a financially stable career.

  • Start a budget, now!  I’ve been using You Need A Budget, and I love it.  Getting your personal finances in order is the single most important thing you can do to be financially stable five years from now.
  • Understand your student loans.  The less debt you have out of college, the more flexibility you have to do the things you love.  If debt is unavoidable, know exactly what you need to do to get out as fast as possible when you graduate.
  • Understand the job market for your chosen career path.  Start reading trade magazines, interview people in the field you wish to pursue, and know about the community in which you’d like to live.

Fear #2: I won’t have a job in my field of interest.

  • Become an expert in something. Your current degree path is attempting to help you achieve domain expertise.  However, the prescribed course of study often only gives you a broad understanding of the discipline. 21st century experts know their field deeply, but it’s less about the facts and more about the context of that expertise combined with your ability to convey your ideas.  If you want to be a true expert in five years, start reading, asking questions, and writing extensively about the discipline you’re passionate about.
  • Start something new, now! The best way to ensure that you will always be able to do something you love is to create a career path based on what you love.  The arts entrepreneurship movement is based on the idea of becoming your own you centric, artistic startup.  A prescribed entrepreneurship curriculum is not as powerful as you putting yourself out there and launching something on your own.  Pick the thing you’re most passionate about, see what innovative things people in the field are doing, and launch something you could see yourself doing five years from now.  If it totally bombs, don’t worry!  Every time you put yourself out there, it’s a learning experience.

Fear #3: I might not achieve my goals.

  • Explore a small step off your path. Think about your “dream job.”  What aspects of that job that are attractive?  Over the next five years, isolate those aspects and see if there are other career paths that enable you to pursue your passions.  Try to have 2-3 potential career paths when you gradate, even if they’re a small step away from what you’re thinking about doing now.
  • Have Grit.  There are many studies being conducted on the notion of grit.  Angela Lee Duckworth has been studying grit for years and has concluded that people with grit often have the “perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals.”  Do you have grit?  Here’s a great article to get you thinking.

I think we all need to stop and take a deep breath when it comes to career fear.  Most of you already have the skill set to be incredibly successful.  My advice to you is to pursue the things you’re passionate about and become an expert.  College happens to be a great place for that exploration because there’s such a diversity of thought.  The trick here—and why I believe entrepreneurship has been embraced so deeply across the country—is to attach your deep learning with the skills to develop a sustainable career in your chosen field.

What things have you done to tackle your career fears?  Share your thoughts below, it would be great to hear from you!  Thanks for reading.

5 Ways College Students Can Jumpstart Their Career In The Arts

Featured5 Ways College Students Can Jumpstart Their Career In The Arts

I love this post by Ivan Trevino.  He raises questions many of us are asking at institutions of higher learning across the country.  The arts entrepreneurship  movement from the past few years has helped and many schools are working diligently behind the scenes to address the new needs of the 21st century artist, however, change is hard at the institutional level.

While I agree with Ivan whole-heartedly, the curriculum he desires in his post represents a shift in the entire higher-education system.  That is, a shift from the traditional, lecture-based, skill and drill type curriculum to a curriculum rooted in experiential learning, critical thinking and real world skills building.

What if you’re attending a music school that offers a great – but traditional – education?  You have to do more in today’s marketplace. No longer can you simply put in 100% effort into your degree and expect to be successful in your field upon graduation.  (This goes for just about every degree out there, not just music) That said, there has never been a better time to jumpstart your career while still in school.  Here are a few suggestions that you might find helpful as you navigate the college experience:

Know the industry.  Read and be curious about what is trending in the professional music world.  You will be there in less than four years.  College is the optimal time to become an expert in your field, but it’s also a time to figure out how you will contribute to your chosen field after you graduate.  Here are some suggested activities to get you started:

  • Find at least one trade magazine relevant to your chosen career path and read it every month for a year.
  • Find one local person in your chosen field, ask to shadow them, and take them out to coffee to see what their life is all about (don’t ask your professor, that’s too easy).
  • Set up a series of Google alerts (takes 5 min) for the topics you find most interesting.
  • Pick one social media source (I like twitter) and follow all the big thinkers (people and organizations) in the field.  Read your feed for 10-15 min every day. Here’s my feed.

Learn how to teach.  Regardless of where you see your career headed, you will teach in one way, shape, or form.  At the Colburn School, we have invested deeply in this idea.  It’s not just about training to be a teacher in the public schools anymore, it’s about being an artist who can teach.  K-12 education is changing before our eyes to the point that many schools aren’t able to offer arts in the same way we experienced growing up.  A lack of sequential arts learning in the public schools opens a huge learning gap that can be capitalized upon by you.  Invest the time and learn now.  Need help getting started? Read below:

  • Read this! The article should give you ample inspiration to dive into teaching.  
  • Set up a studio.  You’ll learn more about teaching-and about your own life as an artist-faster than just about anything else.  Need a way to build your studio? Approach five local middle schools and offer to start a group of students over the summer.  
  • Set up a week-long, mini-camp for kids.  Upon completion of the camp, offer weekly lessons (30 min) to each of the kids and their families.  I grew my bassoon studio from 3-17 in one year using the above method.  
  • Shadow your teacher. You can learn SO much from your studio teacher, especially when it’s not you shs diagnosing.  Sit in, listen, and take a ton of notes.  

Know your competition.  In the arts, your competition is usually pretty easy to suss out.  I’m not talking about competition on a personal level, I’m talking about how do you stack up against the competition nationally.  Generally speaking, you gauge yourself against others in your studio based on placement, and the type of feedback you receive from your teachers.  Regardless of your chosen place of study, you gauge yourself against others nationally by applying for competitions, summer festivals, and fellowships.  If you’re going to be competitive in your chosen career path, not only must you be at the very top of your studio and school, but you’ve got to be getting into national competitions, festivals, and receiving fellowships for further study.

  • Work with your studio teacher to identify 2-3 summer festivals and competitions and apply.  
  • Attend the international conference for your specific instrument.  Not only are they a lot of fun, they’re also a way to meet other great performers and teachers.
  • Be real, have an open mind, and listen to the feedback you receive.  Objective feedback from your studio teacher, summer festivals, competitions will give you a very real picture of how you stack up against competition.  If you aren’t getting into the competitions, festivals, or even rising up to the top of the studio, it’s ok.  Just keep the big picture in mind and make sure you’re focusing on the best next steps for you.  Try the 50 cups of coffee method to give you clarity.  

Be passionate.  I can’t stress this enough.  Love what you do.  It is so important, not just in your ability to be successful personally, but also in your professional career.  21st century employers are looking for people with passion.  Finally—this is important—take the time to identify what you’re passionate about.  So often I find people who say they’re passionate about one thing—for example, music—only to find that they’re really passionate about something else—for example, interacting with people.  Not a problem, just helps to define the direction you’ll go. Take a bit of time and explore the following two career development tools:

  • At Colburn, my colleague Laura Liepins and I use this values test to help our students identify what matters most to them.  Take 30 minutes to figure out what matters most to you.  You might be surprised.  
  • After you complete the values test, answer the following three questions:  What are you passionate about? (Your art form….and what else?) What can you do better than anyone else? (Your art….and what else?)  Can you name a time when questions one and two smashed together?  NOTE: The goal with this assignment is to explore ALL things you’re interested in pursuing.  A true self-study may surprise you!  This exercise comes from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.”  Here’s a little blog post that may help.

YOU control your future. Most importantly, you are in control of your destiny.  Never before have there been so many opportunities for recent college grads.  Pick a path and go for it.  Take some time and identify your goals:

  • Develop a list of things you could see yourself doing upon graduation and explore them deeply.  No longer should you wait for someone to tell you which direction you should go.

Institutions of higher learning are working to create the “dream school” Ivan speaks about and most of us are on the same page when it comes to the development of creating experiences that mirror the life of a 21st century musician.  This won’t happen over night.  While we’re working on a solution, take control of your own career and let me know how your exploration goes!

Check out my latest post here. 

The Real Reasons New Business Generation is Shrinking

The Real Reasons New Business Generation is Shrinking

Tim Askew’s recent post about the state of entrepreneurship in the US was filled with interesting statistics and a provocative, editorialized rationale for the reason people aren’t launching small businesses.  While nobody would challenge the diminishing  numbers, I think they have less to do with government overreach and more to do with our children not being adequately prepared to creatively lead businesses.

In 10+ years of advising students in entrepreneurial endeavors, I have not once heard a student say “I was going to start that business, but overreach by the US government is holding me back.”  For me, it is the constraints our education system has placed on student development that I find most troubling.  Here are three reasons I believe new venture creation is shrinking in America:

1. No Child Left Behind
In 2002, I began my career as an elementary school music teacher.  Unfortunately, that was also the first year of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Over two years I witnessed, first-hand, the deconstruction of the arts in the public schools.

We are now 13 years into this grand experiment of standardized testing, which leaves me in a unique position.  Many of the children who were kindergartners in 2002, are now freshmen in college in 2015.  I have worked with kids at the beginning of the pipeline as an elementary school music teacher, and now at the end, as a professor at The Colburn School in Los Angeles.

NCLB has created a generation of test takers who are only thinking about how to score well on said test.  Creative thinking, contextualization, and critical thinking skills are, sadly, missing from NCLB.  Common core is attempting to change this, but I am not surprised that many of the students now leaving our public schools are not thinking about creatively solving the world’s problems.  NCLB has created a generation of followers who demand that information is delivered to them instead of curious leaders who seek it out for themselves.

2. No arts and no play in the schools = zero time for creativity
Without the arts, and without play, students aren’t being set up to creatively follow their passions.  Thirteen years of learning to a test doesn’t leave much room for big thought and eliminating recess doesn’t allow for collaboration or imaginative play.  New business generation isn’t happening because Millennials have not been shown how to see creative pursuits in the business world as a career path.

The arts continue to be seen as ancillary to core subjects and, therefore are often on the chopping block when budget cuts arise.  Play, especially for younger children, has been reduced to a matter of minutes at most schools in order to maximize prep for standardized tests.

3. Collegiate Entrepreneurship Programs
If we look beyond the classroom to statistics on the American workforce, we find that only 12.7% of Americans are entrepreneurs. It is my belief that programs aren’t placing enough emphasis on culling out effective leaders as a way to vet potential budding entrepreneurs.  There is even an interesting study that suggests entrepreneurs (effective leaders) may need to be a jacks-of-all-trades, rather than specialists in order to thrive.

If only a very small percentage of students studying entrepreneurship will actually become small business owners, that means the rest will become employees.   Treating each cohort of students like a venture capital firm thinks about investing in businesses doesn’t necessarily make for an educationally sound model.  Perhaps we would have more businesses launching out of university entrepreneurship programs if more time was spent with a smaller cohort of vetted students.


The over-sensationalized process of entrepreneurship has been reduced to a 5 minute pitch on a TV show or an evocative blog post title.  Unfortunately, that’s not serving as a catalyst to create start-ups at the same rate as a decade before.   In my opinion, the responsibility for this rests squarely on the shoulders of an education system that has largely created an entire generation without the tools to creatively imagine business generation on their own.

Why do you think there has been a reduction of new business creation in the US?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Header image  “Startup Weekend Houston” by Ed Schipul, CC-BY-2.0.

Skip E-Ship Class, Read This—Part I, Opportunity

Skip E-Ship Class, Read This—Part I, Opportunity

Last week, I wrote an introductory post to get you primed for developing a new venture.  Today, I’ll help you identify and bring focus to your creative ideas from a business prospective.

Creativity is something all of us possess.  The trick is to develop your creative ideas with a marketplace in mind. The exercises below will help you focus your ideas and provide a step by step process to get you thinking about a new venture.

Part One: Identify an Opportunity
All great ventures start with fantastic ideas.  Get your team together several times over the next week and start to brainstorm about the following questions.

  • What are the needs on your campus that are/were not being met?
  • What are some needs in your community (local, regional, national, or global) that are not being met?
  • Is there something that you encounter in your day-to-day life that you think could be better?
  • What do/did you find frustrating in your arts and business degree path?

NOTE: Think broadly at first—you can always narrow your focus!

Hitting a road block?  Try these divergent thinking techniques:

  • Start with the central issue (need to be met) and write down whatever thoughts come to mind when you think on that topic.
  • Put a time limit on yourself in an effort to generate fast, impulse-driven ideas. Ideas can both obscure and wild.
  • Use bubbl to help focus your ideas.

NOTE: Let your mind wander–connections can be as far away from the actual central issue as possible. Your goal is to generate as many ideas as possible. Don’t constrain yourself: anything “goes.” It is often the most impossible idea that becomes the most intriguing.

Still stumped? Create a BugList

Identify at least 75 things that bug you. These can be problems related to business, your personal life, social ills, government, the university, your classes, the arts and so on. This should be a brainstormed list. As you brainstorm, do not worry whether there is a possible solution to the problem. 90% of the time, the things that bug you bug others.

Synthesize your ideas:
Take all the information from above and distill it down to 3 to 4 amazing ideas you and your team would like to explore further. Next, have each member of your team informally survey friends about the idea that you’d like to tackle in order to determine if the need you’d like to solve is relevant to others.  Ask them why this particular problem exists? What are some ways to solve it?  Try not to lead your friends.  Simply let them respond to the problem you present.

Over the next week approach no less than 5 people and have a conversation about your idea and meet back as a group to distill your 3 to 4 amazing ideas down to 1.  Step two in this process will be devoted to developing your great idea by focusing on how to create a sustainable venture.

Share your ideas below!


Header image  “Problems are Opportunities” by Bright Vibes, CC-BY-2.0.

Skip E-ship Class, Read This—Introduction

Skip E-ship Class, Read This—Introduction

Today, I’m launching a series of “how to” posts designed to help you create and develop new ideas.  These posts will save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary entrepreneurship coursework, help you work across disciplines to bring your great ideas to life, and provide a systematic approach to developing creative solutions to the problems we face in our 21st-century world.

Your ideas will take many shapes over the next several weeks including: on campus programs, partnerships, and new venture creation. Today I’ll set the stage, giving you five steps necessary for success in the weeks ahead.


  1. Don’t pay to learn about entrepreneurship.  Learn by doing.
  2. Do work with people outside your discipline.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Step 1. Start with you.
Above and beyond your degree, your guiding values are the most important.  What are you passionate about, outside your art?  How can you fuse your passions outside the practice room with your great work inside the practice room?  One of the best ways to find your path is to seek out opportunities that fuel your passions on your campus or in your community.   If you’re not sure about what you’re passionate about, start with this post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Step 2. Become familiar with these terms.
One of the biggest barriers between the arts and business worlds is often the terms we use to define what we do.  Each week I’ll define a few terms for you.  Here are four terms to get you started:

  • Action-based learning: Learning through real, practical experiences, not in the classroom. In entrepreneurship, action-based learning allows you to have the opportunity to try your ideas in a safe, low-risk environment.
  • Bottom Line: A company’s total earnings (or profit). Net income is calculated by taking revenues and adjusting for the cost of doing business, depreciation, interest, taxes and other expenses. This number is found on a company’s income statement and is an important measure of how profitable the company is over a period of time. The measure is also used to calculate earnings per share.
  • Double Bottom Line: A business term used in socially responsible enterprise and investment. While all businesses have a conventional bottom line to measure their fiscal performance (financial profit or loss), enterprises that seek a second bottom line look to measure their performance in terms of positive social impact.
  • Social Entrepreneur: Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.  Check out Ashoka for more information.

Step 3.  Form a cross-disciplinary team
Find 3-5 people who align with your values and work together towards a common goal of bringing your great ideas to life. With any new venture, diversity of thought is an asset.  Not only will you learn about other disciplines, you can lean on each others strengths as you develop your idea.

Step 4. Goals

  • Develop ideas that use community-based partnerships and principles of social entrepreneurship to change the direction of the business and arts fields.
  • Create sustainable programs that last long after you implement your ideas.
  • Begin at a grassroots level, then work to reach a broad audience.
  • Be socially empathetic and concerned about how you can make a positive difference in the world.
  • Become the arts and business leaders of tomorrow.

Step 5.  Get to work!
The process you and your team are about to embark upon is rooted in the idea that entrepreneurship is a state of mind and not just about new venture creation. These posts will help your team focus on your core values and develop the skills of an entrepreneur.  In addition to thinking like an entrepreneur, you must also understand the entrepreneurial process to cultivate your ideas in an organized and universally understood fashion.  Over the next six weeks, I’ll lay out the following step-by-step process for developing your ideas:

  1. Identify an Opportunity—Brainstorming activities designed to help you focus your ideas.
  2. Develop the Concept—A strategy for success, rooted in tangible, achievable goals to meet the need or demand you are addressing.
  3. Identify Required Resources—Who will you work with, where will you work, and how much will it cost to launch.
  4. Acquire the Necessary Resources—Raising capital, assembling a knowledgeable team, and recruiting great advisors.
  5. Implement and Manage the Venture—Develop a business plan, conduct additional market research and explore bootstrapping.
  6. Harvest the Venture—Exit strategy and sustainable venture development.

As you assemble your team, remember that the hardest part about all of this is getting started.  Your work over the next six weeks will be less about a for-profit, non-profit trajectory, and more about trying and seeing what feels right as it relates to your passions.

What barriers do you face in starting a new venture/project? What ideas do you have percolating?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.  Thanks and I look forward to working with you over the next six weeks!


Header image  “Dimension” by KT King, CC-BY-2.0.

Taylor Swift and Equity for Artists

Taylor Swift recently pulled her entire catalog of songs off Spotify, arguing that there “should be an inherent value placed on art.”  It appears that Taylor made about $500,000 last year in domestic streaming through Spotify.  Before her departure, she had millions of people playing her songs every day. Spotify argues that artists will reap the benefits of allowing their work to be streamed when a critical mass signs up for the service.  For people like Taylor Swift who already have a huge following, this potentially works out well.  For most musicians, Spotify is hardly an option.  This article in the Atlantic is a dose of reality, stating that it takes over 4 million plays per month on Spotify for an artist to make a paltry $1,160.

Historically, record label agents were the gate keepers who “picked” the artists they would represent.  Due to time and staff size, only a few artists were chosen to fill out a roster each year, leaving most artists behind.  Then, ten to fifteen years ago, many believed that the internet would flatten the music industry.   Instead of a top down approach, led by record executives who picked the winners, the internet would allow the artists themselves to promote their work and get noticed.

Though Spotify claims that the “picks” now come from the consumers themselves, the results are basically the same.  A few chosen artists reap the benefits of services like Spotify, while most struggle to survive.  The model that has evolved, heavily favors consumers who love to listen to great music but don’t want to pay for it.  Companies like Spotify claim to be thinking about the artists but really haven’t considered how most will carve out a sustainable career.

One prevalent argument is that lesser known artists can leverage services like Spotify to get noticed, create a following via streaming, and make their money through live performances.  This is a harder proposition than you might think.  Consider Pomplamoose, a successful band with a huge following that recently embarked upon a multi-city tour.  By all accounts, the tour was a huge success.  Yet, they lost money.  Here’s a band that’s “made it” and they have to hustle as much as anyone just to make ends meet.

At this moment in time, artists are not benefiting from online streaming.  However, there is great potential to consider your role as an end user, defined an individual who uses a product—like youtube or wix—after it has been fully developed and marketed.  Here are two areas to think about:

  • Consider using sites like Paetreon and Kickstarter to help sustain your career: Patreon, in particular, is a great way to directly access your fans to support your artistic output.  Imagine your super fan.  Is your music worth $9.99 or is it worth much more to them?  Chances are your super fans will pay a premium when they are free to pay what they think you’re actually worth.
  • Understand the meaning of the Long TailThink of a long tail on a dog.  The thicker part of the tail, closer to the body, represents the select few artists that, historically, record labels had to focus on.  Now consider the long, thin  part of the tail.  With the advent of the internet, this part of the tail represents every other artist.  The argument here is that now all artists have a place in the market because they can compete with the select few artists like Taylor Swift on the thicker end of the tail.  

Taylor Swift made the right decision to pull out of Spotify.  Like most businesses that primarily think about their bottom line, companies like Spotify are too focused on creating value for the consumer and ultimately, themselves.  Artists need an equitable model that places the same value on great art as it does to the customers who consume their music.  The company that creates a double bottom line that provides a platform for consumers as well as a way for artists to have a sustainable career in the arts will become the industry standard.

Do you currently use Spotify as a consumer?  As an artist?  I’d love to hear your story in the comment section below.

Ebola, The Arts, and the culture of fear in the United States

Ebola, The Arts, and the culture of fear in the United States

America lives in fear.  Our current nightmare is the Ebola virus.  Last week, ISIS.  Before that, Ferguson.  Each newsworthy event seemingly moves faster than the last.  Meanwhile, back in reality, many of the things that have made our country great are being threatened—and nobody seems to care.

Boring things like our nation’s infrastructure, education system, and yes – the arts – fall by the wayside when more urgent and newsworthy subjects like Ebola come into focus.  To be clear, Ebola is scary—especially for health care workers working on the front line.  But the current threat of the deadly virus is relatively small in this country.

The Obama administration’s appointment of an Ebola Czar is the latest governmental attempt to quell our fears, drawing our attention towards a singular human being to save us.  The media has been all over this newsworthy crisis.  Ratings are up.  Money is made—until the next “crisis” comes along. The Ebola Czar is a point person put in place to calm fears and show that there are steps being made by our government to solve a problem.  What if this whole Czar thing is really about shining a light on the biggest problems our country faces?  Perhaps we should all be calling upon the Obama administration to appoint an Arts Czar, effective immediately.

An Arts Czar makes good sense.  The lack of arts in schools or the closing of a local orchestra is actually a cultural epidemic of national importance.  Based on the work of some of our previous Czars, an Arts Czar could work to make us scared to death about the state of the arts.

Perhaps we need to raise the level of discourse in a way that incites fear into the discussion. Our “look at me, look at me” antics don’t seem to be cutting it in the 24 hour news cycle so I propose that we raise the bar in regards to our talking points.  Here’s what it might look like if we simply exchange “Ebola” with “Arts” or “Lack of Arts Funding” in the headlines, followed by a short description of a proposed article:

  • “Connecticut Family Sues Over School’s Lack of Arts Funding”
    • Citing a recent Wall Street Journal article as evidence proving that the arts help children have higher IQ’s, do better on tests, and, close the achievement gap, a Connecticut Family has decided to sue their local school district for their decision to withhold sequential arts learning experiences for their child.
      Source: ABC News
  • “Obama pledges support for Arts workers”
    • Today the Obama Administration announced further financial support of the country’s arts and culture sector, which amounts to about 3.2 percent ($504 billion) of the country’s GDP.  Artists are an unmistakable economic driver for communities across the country and the Obama administration is incredibly committed to making certain the arts continue to fuel our recovering economy.
      Original Source: USA Today

It is the sensationalized nature of our news cycle that drives people to watch, click, and share content that is truly troublesome.  I’m guessing that many of you clicked on this story because of the title.  I’m ok with that, I guess.  The challenge for all of us pursuing a career in the arts is to figure out how to get the attention of news outlets, news feeds, and people in positions to make decisions that benefit our field.

With this in mind, I want to hear from you.  How do we create a national call for an Arts Czar?  Would that even make a difference? Finally, who is doing great work out there pleading the case for a national movement in the arts?

4 things to consider as you find a place to call home

4 things to consider as you find a place to call home

This blog post is beautiful.  Stripped down and vulnerable, Amy effectively places her personal values in front of where she lives.   What role does “place” play in launching your career?  This post looks at the notion of “place” as it relates to career planning and attempts to help you think about your own values while deciding where you should call home.

Cool Cities
In 2002, Richard Florida wrote about the creative class and presented a new way for city leaders to think about urban renewal. Florida’s hypothesis for the movement was rooted in three interlinked factors that distinguish a cool city:

  • Talent—Manufacturing jobs are gone.  That means cool cities must have a highly educated workforce to thrive.   
  • Technology—Cool cities need tech companies, research and development facilities, and other creative economy businesses to provide a place for the highly educated workforce to be employed.  
  • Tolerance—Cool cities need a large gay and lesbian population, combined with a bohemian under culture often associated with artists to keep the highly educated workforce excited about living and working in the city.  

In short, artists make noticeably uncool cities, cool.  Rust belt cities invested in Florida’s trickle up ideas to drive economic development.  Michigan even rolled their Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs into the states’ business development plan, arguing that the arts drive economic development.  Florida’s work provided a path for artists to gain a seat at the table in the 21st century economy.

Florida’s ideas have not gone without criticism, which has little to do with the interplay between technology, talent and tolerance.  One of the biggest complaints behind Florida’s work has to do with the fact that when cities become “cool,” the cost of living goes up, driving out the very people that made the place cool in the first place.  The win for artists is that Florida has effectively made the case for a thriving arts scene as a moniker for great cities across the country.

Cool cities are a big reason Millennials are flocking to urban centers.  There are more jobs and city living provides vibrant idea exchange, cool places to hang, and a multitude of civic, cultural, and sports attractions to experience.  Like many Millennials, I suspect you’re either currently living in a city, or you have a desire to move to a large metropolitan area in the near future.  Here are some things to think about as you consider “place:”

  1. Financial Risk.  
    • Higher Risk—In large cities, more people may identify with your art or business concept, fueling your ideas, however, the cost of living is often higher, making it difficult to take risks necessary to launch a career.
    • Lower Risk—If you live in a rural area, there are less people to identify with your art or business concept however, a lower cost of living will allow to take more risks as you launch your career.
  2. Criteria. What makes a cool city?
    • Are there third spaces?
    • Are there good live/work loft type spaces?
    • What is the cost of living and how far out from the “good stuff” (concerts, bars, coffee shops, etc) will you need to live?
  3. Family.  Though it seems a bit removed, this is kind of a big deal.  If getting married and having kids are big things on your list, you might want to start thinking about where you live now.  Space, cost of living and the amount you are able to save should be huge factors in your decision.
  4. Location.  Many artists and entrepreneurs set up shop in the coolest cities in the country like New York or Los Angeles, only to find that it’s prohibitive to take any risk in their career.  Instead of shooting right for the places that are the most restrictive in terms of livability, think about setting up shop in a smaller metropolitan area where the cost of living is lower and you can take greater risks, especially if your idea or art is not location dependent.

Determining a place to call home is a personal pursuit.  Like Amy, I think you’ll find in the end that your location is actually secondary to the things you value most in life, like family, love, and following your passions.  Thanks for reading and please let me know how you came to a decision about “place.”

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4 Ways to save yourself from a soul-sucking college experience

4 Ways to save yourself from a soul-sucking college experience

By the start of the second semester of my masters degree in bassoon performance, I knew I didn’t want to be an orchestral musician.  I was lost.  Everyone was (seemingly) passionately pursuing their degree, determined to land that coveted orchestral position.  The pursuit of perfection and mastery on the bassoon drove me, but without the goal of attaining a job in an orchestra there wasn’t a clear path to a sustainable career.   The realization that my degree path might not be the key to my career success took me to dark places, quickly draining my passion for the work.  The soul-sucking, 21st century, college experience left one thing clear: The next steps in my college education would be on me.

If the 21st century college experience is not what you expected, you’re not alone. Many of you are questioning your degree path, the amount of debt you’re taking on, your institution, and your decision to attend college in the first place.  This is not your fault. Universities are going through an identity crisis, trying to preserve their great traditions, while attempting to better equip you for work after graduation.

I struggled most with the mono-dimensional focus of my degree.  Like many professional degrees that can’t be automated (education, medicine, the arts) if your desired path is an orchestral job, mono-dimensional focus is essential.  Historically, this type of focus was enough to catapult you into a sustainable career. Today, this same focus without real world context, makes it difficult to be passionate about your degree path.

Lack of context may be the reason many of you feel so lost.   Pre-internet, universities provided you with foundational knowledge for instant recall when specific information was needed.  Your degree is probably still rooted in the idea that content is delivered in a very siloed, non-connected way, while the rest of the 21st century world is rooted in synthesis and contextualization.  No longer do you need to memorize facts and figures, that’s what the internet is for. Instead, universities should be teaching you to effectively connect the abundance of information at your fingertips and provide context at a moments notice.  With this in mind, I’d like to offer you 4 ways to save yourself from a soul-sucking college experience:

  1. Explore why you feel this way:  It’s totally normal to feel like you’re not on the right degree path.  Take steps now to figure out why.  Here are a few suggestions:
    • Self-exploration, rooted in passion, is key.  Ask yourself what you’re passionate about.  If it’s not your current degree path, ask yourself why.  I laid out a nice path for self-exploration in this post under the passion bullet.
    • Check out your campus career development center for advice.
    • Check out places like The Muse for inspiration.  
  2. Put all options on the table: It’s always ok to course correct if a dramatic change will stop the soul-sucking:
    • Change your major. It’s ok!  If self-exploration helps you understand that your passions lead you to a different degree path, make the change now.  Better to spend an extra year on your education now than starting all over in six years.
    • Go to a different school.  It’s ok! Sometimes the soul-sucking has nothing to do with your degree path.  During your self-exploration make sure you take into account your school environment.  
  3. Explore opportunities outside your degree:  For many of you, your degree doesn’t allow curricular space to explore the things you might be interested in pursuing.  Co-curricular or extra-curricular activities can go a long way to round out your college experience. If you love your career path but determine that the soul-sucking is coming from the classes you take, engage with the world around you in the following ways:
    • Take a class or join a club across campus, in a completely different degree field. I like net impact.  
    • Study abroad
    • Look for arts venues in the community or on campus and volunteer to roll up your sleeves and help the organization. 
    • Give back to your community— Join pre-existing service organizations can help contextualize your degree work.
    • Start your own campus organization.
  4. Be Smart, Creative, and Passionate: If you’re not certain the degree you’re pursuing is right for you, don’t worry, most of the time your degree path is not as important as the skills you bring to the table in an employer’s eyes.  Your future employer is less interested in your knowledge of a specific content area and more interested in your ability to combine your knowledge with your passions, and then channel both to creatively solve the problems placed before you. Here are some places to explore:

Eventually, I escaped my own soul-sucking experience. In the darkest months of my 22nd year, I took control. Through self-exploration I realized that my strengths were in the relationships I had built with the talented people around me.  As a first step on a new path, I organized and performed in a chamber music concert that involved over 40 of my friends.  By all accounts the extra-curricular performance was a success. The organization of that performance was a small step away from a career in orchestral playing, and I loved it.  I don’t like to let one event define my career trajectory, but many things began to fall into place after that performance.  I once again found meaning in my playing and, for the first time in months, felt that there was a path for me.  I finished my degree and began to organize musicians in pursuit of my first organization, The Envision Chamber Consort. (apologies for pictures missing from the site.) 

In closing, know this: Regardless of what you hear from your professors, parents or friends, there are many different ways to carve out a living for yourself.  Have an open mind and embrace the skills of the 21st century workforce now, even if your degree path isn’t helping you build those skills.  What soul-sucking experiences have you had and how did you address the situation?  I’d love your thoughts below.

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Are you on a path that leads to a successful career in music?

Are you on a path that leads to a successful career in music?

Last week, I wrote this post with the hopes of providing advice to college students interested in working on their careers beyond the walls of their university.  That post got me thinking: What do students majoring in music actually need out of their education to be successful?

For those of you searching for meaning in your college experience, I would like you to consider two paths:

  • The path of a Mechanic.  Mechanics in music perform, teach, and recreate great music better than anyone else in their field.  Like an auto mechanic who fine tunes pre-existing cars, a music mechanic focuses on fine tuning pre-existing music. (Think, perfecting of excerpts for an orchestral audition.) Your path is one paved in tradition. Creativity is expressed in a very narrow, accepted window of performance practice which has been dictated by your teacher, conductor and the music written on a page.
  • The path of a Designer: Designers in music create new ways of thinking about the art form and quite often cross genres, disciplines, or even career silos to somehow bring something new to the field.  You’re comfortable with the unknown and the things that move you are beyond the predetermined field in which you’re pursuing at a university.  Unlike the mechanics in music, designers in music seek to break free of pre-existing art forms.

Seems pretty black and white, right? Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with either path as long as you have a complete understanding of the tools you’ll need to be successful.  Most music schools have been designed with the mechanic in mind, giving students foundational skills in their art that allow them to enter the “workforce.”  The problem is that our workforce looks a lot different then it did when the curriculum was set.

Let’s take a look at this from a workforce prospective.  A career in music requires human capital (IE, your time) and can’t be automated.  There are more musical mechanics entering the workforce than ever with fewer and fewer jobs in the marketplace.  With an oversaturation of musical mechanics, costs are driven down to the point that, quite often musicians are working for far less than they expect to be compensated.  No longer can you only rely on your technical prowess as a musical mechanic.  In truth, in this world you now have to be both a designer and a mechanic. (For more information on this, click here)

As individuals and institutions look out into the workforce, many see the path of the musical designer as a way to empower students to become employable, 21st century musicians. Designer centric skill sets for the 21st century musician such as recording skills, self marketing and creating a digital presence are making their way into the fabric of a college degree in the spirit of enabling students to become more well-rounded and career ready.  With this in mind, I believe there is a third path in which all music students should be thinking about:

  • The path of the Designer, who doubles as an amazing Mechanic: In the field of classical music, there is very little room for people who can’t infuse qualities from both sides of the aisle into their career.  Great designers in music will have little to say and won’t have credibility in the field if they aren’t great mechanics.  Great mechanics, for the most part, won’t have a sustainable career if they’re not thinking as designers.

You will be entering the workforce in less than four years and I strongly encourage you to explore ways to strengthen your skills as both a designer and mechanic.  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Don’t try to do it all: If you are certain that a career in music is in your future, my suggestion would be to focus on your work as an artist first and practice.  In order to ultimately be successful in this field, you must be an incredible mechanic so make sure any path you take allows time for you to focus on building your skills as an artist.  You also need time to synthesize that practice, relax, and enjoy time with friends and family. Here’s a great post about about finding balance
  2. Pick ONE design-related skill and own it:  One of the biggest fears I have is that an institutionalized, (think, classes for credit) curricular approach to building the 21st century musician will overstretch our students. Being a designer doesn’t mean being able to do everything. Instead, pick one design-related skill and own it.  Here’s a list of design-centric traits to consider:
    • Master Social Networking—Pick one, (Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, the new thing this 30-something doesn’t even understand, etc.) completely understand the platform, and use it as a marketing tool to build a following. Here’s a great article on the subject. 
    • Develop a music related skill (Video Recording, Audio Recording, etc) that will sustain you. There are tons of options.  Here’s one: Purchase a Cannon T3i and start making videos for youtube. Need some inspiration? Here’s a great video that one of our Colburn Conservatory students made completely on his own.  Here’s another.  
    • Create a chamber ensemble (band) and start performing.  Do NOT become a non-profit.  Form your group, find a venue, and play.  Your task is to get as many people to be passionate followers of your group as possible.  Hint: What you think paying customers will want is often far from reality.  Your goal is to create great art that attracts an audience without feeling like you have sold out.  Need inspiration?  Check out Christopher Rountree and his incredible ensemble, wildUp.  
  3. Consider a minor, or a double major: Nothing can prepare you for a hybrid career in the arts than a double major.  I strongly encourage you to consider this path. Check out this nice post about pursuing a double major.  
  4. Understand and become comfortable with the idea of Service Exchange:  Going back to the idea that the world is changing, Service Exchange is beginning to take hold nationally as a way to sustain orchestras.  At Colburn I have set up a Community Fellowship Program that addresses service exchange in a real and meaningful way for our students.  Each year, my office offers a menu of opportunities that mirror the type of experiences musicians find themselves in when they land a job with an orchestra.  These opportunities include experiences in Teaching Artistry, Interactive Performances, and Community Performances.  
  5. Don’t be afraid of the “f” word: Don’t be afraid of failure.  There, I said it. De-couple your work in the practice room from your work you do exploring new pathways for your career.  In the pursuit of new pathways, do not be afraid to fail epically, learn from that failure and keep going. You know, in other fields, there are conferences completely dedicated to failure.  Embrace it.  

What did I miss?  Are there other design related items we should know about?  Who do you know that is actively pursuing this area of our profession?  What skills or activities are you pursuing at your institution to develop your skills as a mechanic or a designer?  Please let me know with your replies below.

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