What’s the State of Career Development for Musicians?

Posted by Ms. Sally Gaskill, Sep 15, 2011 0 comments

Sally Gaskill

In his post, Ron Jones takes on the topic of career development for art and design students. I thought I would check in with Angela Myles Beeching, author of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music, for her perspective on the performing arts. As she says, “It takes more than talent to succeed in music.”

Beeching, who has a DMA in cello performance, is the former director of the Career Services Center at New England Conservatory. She currently directs the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at Manhattan School of Music and maintains a thriving private consulting practice.

Q (Sally): I once heard the dean of a prominent school of music say that typical undergraduate music students do not start thinking about what they might do after graduation until the spring semester of their junior year. Then they panic. What’s your response to that scenario?

A (Angela): Part of it is a developmental process: undergrads are so busy fulfilling their degree requirements and figuring out how to become adults, that the reality of graduation does not start to get real until junior year. However, students at every stage have entrepreneurial project ideas. So, the earlier you can engage students in developing leadership and entrepreneurial skills, the easier it is for them to think about longer-term career goals and the action steps needed to fulfill their dreams.

Q: SNAAP data from 2010 shows that most arts alumni are dissatisfied with the career development services offered by their institutions. Do you think that most music schools now ‘get it’ – that they accept that they have to do a better job?

A:  The good news is that there are many more schools providing career development and entrepreneurial training and programming than there were 15 years ago. So yes, I think most institutions ‘get it,’ but many struggle with how they can best address student needs.In a typically over-loaded curriculum, how do you make an impact? It’s not up to providing one class or a series of workshops, and it can’t all fall on the studio instructors. You need the emphasis to resonate throughout the program and institution. How to do this in a way that best fits a particular institution’s culture is a particular fascination for me and focus area in my consulting work.

Q:  There seems to be a new emphasis on entrepreneurship as a part of career development.

A: Yes, I see more and more emphasis on this, and each institution defines entrepreneurship in a different way. Essentially, most programs aim at encouraging entrepreneurial thinking, a forward-looking mindset, as in: “I want to be in charge of my own life and make things happen.”

Q:  What do musicians find most difficult in taking the leap to address their own career development?

A: Musicians often have habits of thinking that get in their way. One is the assumption that there will be a position, a job we audition or apply for, and that this is the only way to success. This thinking precludes creating one’s own opportunities.

Another common musician “blind spot” is not being able to put yourself in the shoes of the “other,” a potential networking contact, funder, employer, or media contact. We have to interact well with others as fellow professionals.

Career advancement begins with reflection and introspection: figuring out who you are as an artist, what you have to offer the community and the world, and how you want to communicate this to others.

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