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What "Entrepreneurship" Really Means For Musicians, Part 3: Looking Towards The Future

In the first two parts of this series of brief articles on entrepreneurial musicianship, I provided a definition of entrepreneurship, and a model for critical reflection to practice entrepreneurial musicianship. In this final installment of the series, I am going to begin to discuss how we can apply this rethinking to our planning for the future, and why looking towards the future is one of our fundamental responsibilities as artists and arts leaders. This discussion will open from two major viewpoints—the artistic, and the business—then culminate in a synthesis of how these two viewpoints relate to one another, through the principles of the new economy.

The artistic side: how, why, and for whom will you be making music 20 years from now? The best-remembered composers, songwriters, and performers were absolute game changers in their respective fields. This fact behooves us as artists to hold fast to our impractical visions, and focus on macro-level goals, rather than simply the next gig, premiere, or residency. These may be important steps on a pathway to bigger goals, but we should take care to not lose ourselves in mission drift while working on smaller parts. This is how we can become dissatisfied with our work and take on pessimistic views, which distract us from the more important work that I described in the previous two installments of this series—how you and your ideas should affect positive change for people.

On a more urgent note, as artists we often do not consider that we can “take it with us.” Our ideas and visions can really only be realized by ourselves, and we only have so much time to realize the myriad ideas and visions that are constantly manifesting within us, and being refined and practiced by us more externally. This basic principle should motivate us to re-prioritize, critically reflect, plan, and make as much of our music actually happen as possible within our lifetime.

From here, the question may be “how do I make all of this happen?” Who we choose to include and exclude from our music making experiences will influence how we go about making music in this new entrepreneurial way, and by aiming to include more people and exclude less people, we can build a healthy community around us and that we are a part of, to make music happen. Thus, despite working to progress our own goals and make our own music, music making in the future will be more inclusive because of the basic fact that “a rising tide lifts all vessels.”

The business side: “just do it.” On a totally different note, one of the most important lessons to be learned and practiced in the music industry is that the best way to start doing something is to just start doing something. We can make small starts to big ideas, reflect upon our experiences in the process, and build as we go. For example, Jane Schmoe might have a grand business plan to start a “surprise” ticketing service, which distributes unsold tickets from non-profit organizations to people who may not usually purchase them (i.e. someone who is interested in learning more about opera, but does not really know where to start). In this business model, a subscriber to the service would select the days of the week they would like to attend concerts, select their concert preferences (orchestra, opera, ballet, jazz, etc.), select the number of events they would like to attend each month, and the number of tickets they would like to receive for each event. Through this, they will gain a more holistic view of the musical offerings in their area, and non-profits will sell tickets that historically would have gone unsold. Ms. Schmoe could very easily start this business with one subscriber (such as a friend), one envelope, and one ticket, because every idea has to start somewhere. To “ask for forgiveness, rather than permission” is an ongoing part of the entrepreneurial process and experience.

An introduction to the new economy: a new way of conducting business which is aligned with entrepreneurial musicianship. The new economy is a way of thinking about business and exchange in ways that are sustainable (both monetarily and environmentally), democratic (perhaps, a co-op, rather than a traditional organization including a CEO, managers, etc.), and cognizant of social justice issues (business is more inclusive, and seeks to acknowledge and dismantle systems of power and oppression). Thus, if our musicianship is to be more entrepreneurial—meaning, it is to include more persons in various roles in musical communities, and we are to help solve problems that are relevant to our musical communities—our music business should naturally incorporate the ethos and practice of the new economy. Because this topic deserves more thought and attention than I can provide here, I will not attempt to share more of my own thoughts in this piece. However, I implore you to personally interrogate how current developments in the music industry (i.e. music publishing and the streaming industry, the Music Modernization Act, etc.), and your own practices (your merchandise table, band structure, etc.), are aligned or misaligned with new economy thinking and practice. This new economy thinking highlights how our artistry and business practices are connected. When our music making becomes more meaningful to us and our audience(s), the business of connecting with people will naturally become more so too.

Recapitulation: throughout this series, I have worked to clarify “what entrepreneurship really means for musicians.” In the first part of the series, I stated that “entrepreneurship is about recognizing and treating problems as opportunities.” This thought was connected to the larger idea that entrepreneurs do good for people, rather than merely advance their own goals and art for their own benefit. So, entrepreneurship is not about shaking hands and gaining social media followers, but it is actually about making real, positive change within our musical communities (people will naturally want to meet and “follow” you because doing good generates social capital). Then, in the second part of the series I discussed how entrepreneurial musicianship is a cycle of music making, critical reflection, and planning, so that we may start to recognize how entrepreneurship is a socially-conscious act and process. By critically reviewing our music making experiences with the intention of learning more about why and for whom we make music, we can begin to expand our impact, and include more people in more relevant ways in our music making—which will translate not only into social, but monetary capital. This will occur because entrepreneurial—or, perhaps more simply, socially-conscious—musicianship is aligned with new economy thinking and practice. The future of our economy and the future of our music making depends on the acknowledgement of systems of power and oppression to allow more people to meaningfully participate in our (their) musical communities.

Thus, what entrepreneurship really means for musicians is social engagement. When we connect with ourselves and our environments, and recognize how we can affect positive change in our environments through and with our music, we engage in the act of entrepreneurial musicianship.

Nicholas Patrick Quigley is a music educator, composer, and cultural entrepreneur based in Boston, MA. He seeks to connect artists with the business practices and laws that allow them to live off of their art, and serves as a creative consultant to artists of various backgrounds through Q Music & Arts Management. More online at (management website) and (artistic website).

What "Entrepreneurship" Really Means For Musicians, Part 3: Looking Towards The Future

Reader Comments (2)

I am really glad I read this article. It is very true, and it touches me personally. My respects to Nicholas for such a great article. Such insight is very well appreciated, and I would say legit.

November 15 | Registered CommenterWaldo Diaz Miranda

I am really glad I read this article. It is very true, and it touches me personally. My respects to Nicholas for such a great article. Such insight is very well appreciated, and I would say legit.

November 15 | Registered CommenterWaldo Diaz Miranda

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