I had the opportunity to appear as a guest lecturer for the orchestral studies seminar class at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts earlier this week, which was a lot of fun for me and hopefully a good experience for the students as well. I inhabited the role of grizzled freelance music veteran, regaling the class with stories of long-haul drives across the country, gas station coffee at 3 a.m., flying with a bass, and much more.
Although I constantly mine my past experiences for any humorous or cringe-worthy anecdotes, when it comes time to actually provide some advice for other musicians I find myself in an interesting position. Much of my own writings on the business are cautionary in nature, but I remain optimistic about the health and future of classical music in our culture.
What does make me dubious is the value of pursuing a position in a full-time orchestra above all other musical or career goals, and I attempted to convey this to the CCPA class, with some amusingly grim statistics on the statistical likelihood of attaining a full-time orchestra position (low) and the financial burden that often accompanies this pursuit (high). Many of the themes covered in my Road Warrior series were touched on during this talk as well.
I try not to be a downer or a discouraging force when discussing these issues, because I really do see now as a great time to be a musician. Several students contributed to a very good discussion about exactly how one can evaluate success or failure in the music business. Is winning an orchestra job an indicator? For many, yes. How about building up a private teaching studio? Absolutely, and one CCPA student mentioned this as her professional aspiration (which is really great to hear from a performance major).
Envisioning oneself as a musical entrepreneur rather than a punch-the-clock employee came up several times, and this is a direction that I see more and more musicians following over time. I have had the chance to sit down and interview several innovative project managers and musicians over the past year, and it has been illuminating learning how various people come to grips with and find success in our contemporary musical landscape.
I’ll be writing later this week about my interview with bassist Peter Seymour of the New York-based ensemble PROJECT. Peter and I conducted a phone interview yesterday, and the story of how he progressed from music school to creating and managing his own not-for-profit is both interesting and inspiring. You can check them out at www.whatisproject.org, and you’ll hear more from me on this cool new endeavor later.
I also have an audio recording of this talk, and once I get it edited I’ll be putting it up on both the blog and the podcast feed. Ah, audio editing…. it feels like I spend 20 hours a week editing audio files. Oh, wait, I do spend 20 hours a week editing audio files! I need an assistant…