Back to music projects. Some of the things we do in the music curriculum are essential operational knowledge, such as theory, history, and aural skills. While we can (and often do) put together projects as assignments, the importance is primarily the underlying knowledge, not the “how to” part. Working musicians need theoretical, aural, and historical knowledge as a skill, not necessarily as a project in itself. As such, the business suggestions mentioned earlier don’t necessarily track.
Lessons, Concerts, and Compositions are all musical projects where the process is repeated: the work is never done. Composers don’t write one piece and quit, performers don’t just give one recital. These are (usually) discrete events that must be repeated to make a musician’s career.
And yet, this is the part that it appears we don’t teach. We have students give recitals, but are we teaching students how to give recitals?
I say appears, because all I see is the result. Perhaps our students are being taught a project-based view of the music curriculum, but they’re not internalizing it, and by extension they’re not displaying it.
Thinking back to the
list of things from the College of Business, they’re all project- or
product-driven. You don’t need Idea Generation for existing, you need Idea
Generation for improvement or for something new.
In Music, every new
composition is a project that requires Idea Generation, Business Model
creation, Audience identification, and so on.
In Music, every
concert is a project that requires the same or more.
In Music, every
ensemble is a project that requires the same or more.
In Music, every
lesson is a project that requires the same or more.
Some of the suggestions that the College of Business suggested we change or include in Music Entrepreneurship involve the following topics:
Creation, and Evolution.
As I mentioned, my
knee-jerk reaction was “But we don’t DO this in music!” And that
tapped in to the issue I have with a lot of books on music
entrepreneurship–several that I’ve read are along the lines of “You’re a
musician already! Here’s how to write a business plan!” (more on this
Getting this list
from the College of Business (and to be clear, the list was far more detailed
and informative than what I’ve included–I’ve excerpted to protect their ideas
and mine) forced me to question why we don’t do some of those things, and it started
becoming clear that we should.
About 10 months ago,
NDSU ramped up their Entrepreneurship efforts, all branded as NICE: NDSU
Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship. As part of that push, the NICE
Center started a faculty fellowship (called NICE Fellows. Seriously.) of which
I’m pleased to be a part. One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking
about since is how we teach music entrepreneurship at NDSU and elsewhere.
Entrepreneurship class is a music business class originally intended for
juniors and seniors seeking elective credit, and has become a requirement for
all music majors. Which is great to have in the curriculum, but it creates a
challenge in developing curriculum, especially as sophomores through seniors
take it. It’s in a perpetual stage of being tweaked.
Recently I submitted
the course in consideration to substitute ENTR 301, the College of Business’s
“Entrepreneurship Toolbox” course. Business responded with a list of
suggestions of how we could bring our course in line with their course, which
my first thought was “These are great, but we don’t…do…this in music.”
As I’ve been teaching composition and refining my own creative process, I’ve found that I think of composition gigs as projects: Write a tape piece, compose a tuba sonata, record an album, plan a recital, and so on.
This works pretty well for my own process, but some of my other students don’t have such a process. Instead, they have multiple works going on at the same time, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, it’s often paired with a lack of focus. To make matters worse, the works don’t often get played. Their composing is for the sake of composing.
This is related to three other issues with composition and with how we teach music in general. The first issue deals with delusions of grandeur and transformative change: The idea that “this is the best piece ever and it will make me famous”. Honestly, being delusional is an important part of my creative process, it goes along with the maniacal laughter part of my process. But the idea that one piece will change everything is a bit of a pipe dream.
Unfortunately, starting out as composers, our plan to become famous is by hope: The hope that someone will notice how brilliant we are.
The second point this touches on is project-based music making, which is something our music major curriculum doesn’t always address. I think composers have it better off than most musicians, since compositions are more project-formatted than education or performing, but we don’t really frame our curriculum around projects. There’s a lot more to say on that subject and how it interfaces with entrepreneurship at a later time.
Finally, there’s the idea of compositional intent. Intent is another big topic that will receive attention soon. For now, we’ll leave the discussion as “we need to know where we’re going if we’re going to get there.”
How do we do this with composition? And also, how do I get my students to do it?
In my process, I’ve introduced a form. a Music Creative Brief.
The Music Creative Brief forces me to address some of the big questions that come up at the beginning of a new music project. First and foremost, the deadline. It asks for which performance forces, what the piece should be about, how long it should be, what it can or can’t do, other similar pieces, and what inspires it. There’s also a section for marketing, which addresses the competition, how to sell it, and who might be interested.
For example, for my next piece, a clarinet choir piece, I have a physical copy of the form that lists what the scoring is, the other pieces on the program (so I know what to do/what not to do), who some of the major clarinet choir groups are, and so on. It’s been incredibly helpful since I started using it about a year and a half ago, and my plan is to start having my students do the same this spring.