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Music Educators are Entrepreneurs

What does teaching, writing, arranging, authoring, performing, recording, consulting, and publishing music all have in common? For me, they are entrepreneurial endeavors that have become branches in a diverse career firmly rooted in Music Education.

Music Educator Attributes

Music educators are skilled! We are trained to teach all aspects and genres of music. We are usually well versed in any number of musical instruments, and teach in a variety of music educational settings including classroom, ensemble, and private lesson. As educators, we are constantly striving to develop fun, interactive, age-appropriate lesson plans and outcome-based assessment goals for music education programs comprised of students ages five- to 17-years old (K-12); often, teaching all different age groups on the same day! This command of the language and practice of music, and its application to the educational development of students, is a powerful foundation that will support a wide variety of entrepreneurial endeavors in music for the educator-entrepreneur.

Music educators are resourceful! We have to be. For many of us, the weekly charge for our position is daunting: teach 500+ students, eight classes a day, going room-to-room with only a pushcart, and many times doing it all with no budget to purchase instruments or music. This common scenario for the music educator taps into one’s resourcefulness and begins to set the stage for innovative, entrepreneurial pursuits.

Music educators are effective communicators! Teaching in general prepares you for one of life’s biggest challenges: public speaking. Studies have shown that most people fear public speaking more than death. As a music educator, you’ll get very good at public speaking, crowd control, and “thinking on your feet.” You’ll develop and refine skills for interacting with and dynamically engaging large groups of people: students, peer groups, and audiences alike. You’ll gain the ability to read your audience, anticipate questions, identify needs, and make appropriate adjustments to your performances and presentations—in real time. Effective communication skills are critical to articulate entrepreneurial ideas and advocate support.

For those just starting out in the music education profession, know that you have what it takes to be a music educator-entrepreneur. The combination of expert skills in music and music education, resourcefulness, and effective communication skills provide fertile ground for the development of an aspiring entrepreneur

Over the course of the past 20 years, the opportunities that have come my way, the entrepreneurial pursuits ensued, and the preparedness I have felt to pursue these opportunities are due in large part to the years I spent as a music educator in the classroom.

So, What Is An Entrepreneur?

Simply stated, an entrepreneur is someone who identifies a “need” or a problem, and then figures out a solution. Of course, comprehensive goals, strategies, and execution plans must be developed and implemented in order to achieve success with any entrepreneurial endeavor, but it all begins with a “need.”

What Are Some Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Music Education?

Entrepreneurial opportunities available to music educators abound. They include writing and arranging band or choral music to serve a program’s needs or specific instrumentation; authoring music education methods to best accommodate students’ educational needs; writing articles on new approaches to music education; writing reviews in trade publications for new products and services; music industry board work to forge innovative partnerships; presenting new approaches to the profession at state and national conferences; consulting and advising for music industry manufacturers and publishers who develop music education products but are removed from the daily classroom experience; and the list goes on. These entrepreneurial activities provide professional development opportunities for the music educator-entrepreneur, service to the profession, and potentially, additional streams of income to fund a program, cause, or additional entrepreneurial endeavors.

As previously stated, the entrepreneurial pursuit begins by identifying a “need” and then figuring out a solution. Here’s an example:

Keyboards in General Music: I was a general music/Orff teacher in the early 1990s. At that time, portable electronic keyboards were becoming very popular, and many of my upper-elementary general music students were enthusiastically bringing their new keyboards to class. They would typically show me their keyboard and then push the “demo” button… that was it! They were not learning to play their keyboards. I knew this is was opportunity to get them started with some basic keyboard skills. The students and I found that the keyboards were a suitable addition to a traditional Orff ensemble, and began incorporating the keyboards into the classroom experience. After a series of successes, I video taped the classes and student performances, and sent a proposal to develop a Keyboards in General Music method book series to Belwin Mills, a music education publisher. The result was a four-book series and the start of a rewarding career branch in music education publishing. The original “need” was finding a way for my students to make music in my class with their new keyboards. It has been more than 20 years since the debut of Keyboards in General Music, and the method continues to sell and is used in hundreds of school music programs every year. Years later, I published another keyboard-centric classroom method with Carl Fischer Inc. entitled Exploring Keyboards in General Music. The initial “need” provided a path to more than one entrepreneurial opportunity.

Where To Begin?

Look at your current teaching situation. What are some of the needs not being met? What can your experience, insight, and skill set offer to address those “needs” for your immediate situation—and potentially—for hundreds of other music educators? How far can you take it? Start by making a list: “Immediate Need” on one side, “Entrepreneurial Opportunities” on the other. Here are some examples:

Immediate Need

Entrepreneurial Opportunities

A third grade teacher is planning a 100 day celebration at school and would like to do some cross-curricular planning and activities with the music program.

Write a “100 Day Song” for the class, arrange for two-part choral, seek a music education publisher to make the piece available to schools.

Write a short musical for the third-grade class incorporating elements from the 100 day math curriculum. Seek a music education publisher to make the work available to all schools.

Several students are flourishing on recorder and would like to learn to learn more challenging pieces and duets.

Start a before-school recorder club. Create recorder arrangements. Once a repertoire is developed, tested, and refined, seek a publisher for the material.

The concept of entrepreneurship is vast and has been greatly simplified for the purpose of this article. For more information on entrepreneurship, I suggest doing a search for books and online courses that focus specifically on entrepreneurship in music. In the meantime, I encourage you to dive right in. Take stock of your skills and address one of your program’s immediate needs with an entrepreneurial spirit. Find a solution for your immediate need and then and take it as far as you can. Remember, as a music educator, you have a solid foundation and the necessary skills to branch out successfully in many different directions. Have fun exploring the possibilities and becoming a music educator-entrepreneur.

Debbie Cavalier is the dean of continuing education for Berklee College of Music’s online extension school,

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Published: 07/23/2006