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An Open Letter to Higher Ed Music Programs

I think it is long overdue that this issue is talked about publicly, so I am putting it all on the table. I hope that this post will spark conversation that will eventually enact some much-needed change in the current curriculum within music programs at colleges, universities, and conservatories everywhere. So if this post resonates with you, PLEASE SHARE! As the quote goes, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Music Entrepreneurs I Music Entrepreneurship I Nicole Riccardo I


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If entrepreneurship is not a required part of your curriculum you are doing your students a huge disservice. And even if you are requiring it, please keep reading. I promise this is relevant to you, too.

The reality of classical music today is that we live in a world where professional orchestras are closing their doors and going on strike (CSO, anyone?). Landing a full-time professorship is about on par with winning the lottery. And the salary for most of these jobs is barely even a livable wage.

Learning the craft of playing a musical instrument is simply NOT ENOUGH anymore. The fact of the matter is that the majority of students who graduate, especially performance majors, will not end up landing a music "job." They will get out there and give it their all, but eventually they will run out of money to keep taking auditions, maybe even racking up some credit card debt along the way because they are so determined to "win." They will have to get a normal 9-5 to pay their bills and try as they might to keep going and push towards their dreams, eventually the "aha" moment comes. The moment where they realize they are "X" many years out of school and their skills that were so finely honed have now dulled, and they might not even be competitive enough to have a chance anymore. And just like that, your world is flipped upside-down, and the dream you have spent over half your life working towards seems farther out of reach than ever before.

But how do I know this?

Because I WAS that person.

As were many of my friends and colleagues who graduated alongside me.

I could sit here and make a LIST of those who have since given up on their dreams. But here's the real question: did they give up willingly? Or did they give up because they simply didn't possess the knowledge they needed on how to actually create a career for themselves?

95% of the time, it is the latter. Because who WILLINGLY gives up on the thing they've dreamed of and worked toward for years? After investing tens of thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours of time? Literal blood, sweat, and tears.

If you are continuing to pump out students without providing them with any REAL education on how they can make a career in this cut-throat industry, how can you feel good about the education you are providing?

I want you to take a moment and think about every single student that you are allowing to walk across that stage to receive a diploma, only to have their dreams shattered when they enter the real world and figure out the reality of having a sustainable and profitable career in classical music. It blows my mind that this is still occurring, but what's worse is that it is occurring WITHOUT QUESTION. There are no protests or picket lines. Just more students throwing away tens of thousands of dollars they may never be able to repay into an education that will get them nowhere.

At what point do you, educators and administrators, begin to take responsibility for the fact that you are putting your students into debt without giving them the tools they actually need to succeed? Once we acknowledge this massive gap in the music education system we can begin to correct it.

So, what exactly is the solution here?

Every single school that offers a music degree should have entrepreneurial training as part of the required curriculum.

Students need to know how to market themselves. But what's more, they need to know the specifics on how to implement this marketing and how it is directly relevant to the world we live in TODAY. They should know how to build a website that incorporates SEO. They should know how to leverage social media and how to create an overall digital marketing strategy. They should know how to build landing pages and automated e-mail sequences. And if you are unfamiliar with any of these terms let that further reiterate my point.

But here's the kicker. While I appreciate the HELL out of the programs who are actively seeking to create entrepreneurship courses (and even centers!), let's take a look at the problem with these.

The methods currently being taught are outdated.

If you are still talking about creating flyers, pamphlets, and print marketing, what you are teaching is no longer relevant. Welcome to 2019.

The professors teaching these courses should be social media experts, SEO specialists, and digital marketing strategists. But, the fact of the matter is, most of these courses are taught by people who probably don't even know how Instagram works, what SEO means, or how to build out an e-mail sales sequence automation.

The music curriculum in higher education programs is desperate for change, and it is ALL of our responsibilities to enact it. We need to foster creativity, ideas, and passion in the next generation of musicians, because THESE are the ideas that will shape our industry for years to come. So, instead of complaining and feeling sad about the state of classical music in today's society, we should instead turn to empowering the next generation of classical musicians. We need to arm them with everything they need to get out there and create new businesses, form new organizations, and start the industry-altering events and movements that will keep classical music relevant.

So, if you agree with this letter, please share it. Share it on social media. E-mail it to your professors and administrators. Post it in forums. Because in order for change to happen, we need to first start the conversation. So, let's get the discussion going!


A Frustrated Classical Musician/Entrepreneur


1 comment

1 comentario

31 dic 2020

This is awesome and just what we, as educators, need to do. I want to give every single student of mine this knowledge and help them succeed in this "digital industry".

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