Book Review: A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship


Project 440 is an organization of professional musicians from the Philadelphia area which provides industry-specific mentoring and training programs for young musicians that equip them with the tools they need to become successful, engaging, and compassionate artists. One of their tools, a compilation of wisdom, advice, and experience, is now available to young and emerging artists in the form of two books published by the Savannah Chamber Players. The first one that I purchased was the 66-page College Edition aimed at guiding the quest of making music a meaningful and sustainable career. A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship opens with a venn diagram of an “Artist Teacher,” a modern career which blends the skills and talents of music educators, performing artists, and social entrepreneurs. “Not every musician who graduates from a college or conservatory can have equal skills in all three areas – that would ultimately dilute each specialty…A strong educational environment exposes students to all three so they become well-rounded, complete musicians with a comprehensive grasp on teaching, performance, and entrepreneurship (p3-4).” The publication goes on to address the ways that students can begin making music their career by addressing key questions regarding their definitions of success, their physical and social resources, and their choice of training programs.

My favorite part of this book was right in the introduction. After considering what role music will play in their lives, students are encouraged to create an artist statement or “a broad definition of goals as a citizen of earth, complemented by the role your artistry will play in achieving these goals.”Four of the contributors to the book, including executive director Joseph Conyers, provide their artist statements and brief background information, but there are also sample artist statements from students. This is a fantastic way to begin the conversations that this book inspires because it encourages the reader to proceed with introspection. It is also an activity that musicians of all ages can participate in to get them thinking about the role of music in their lives. I tried this out with my high school students and got some interesting — and varied — responses.

The next step in Project 440’s guide is building a “professional toolkit.” This toolkit is a collection of physical evidence of a musician’s accomplishments including, but not limited to, print resources, professional history, and marketing materials. It is in this section that the reader begins to see the “I Wish Someone Had Told Me…” offerings: quotes and advice from professional musicians which range from practical advice and professional warnings to philosophical motivators.

The entrepreneurial aspect of building a career is often what professional musicians struggle with post-graduation. Those with exceptional talent might even find more difficulty in this regard if they benefited from years of opportunities handed to them by teachers, parents, and youth ensemble directors who recognized the student’s abilities early on. Furthermore, the musicians at the top of their peer group talent might struggle with social interactions that come more naturally to people who did not spend hours of their childhood and adolescence refining the techniques of their passion. Project 440 highlights Yo Yo Ma, a phenomenal musician with ever-evolving social/ cultural, and educational endeavors, to begin the chapter on musicians as entrepreneurs.

This Musician’s Guide uses words and phrases like intention, community, values, uplifting lives, connecting, and social change to describe ways that musicians can structure their creative careers. As is the general approach of this book, the entrepreneurial section asks the reader to consider many personal questions in order to identify their “inner entrepreneur.” The ultimate goal is to develop a vision for their entrepreneurial plan . “Be SMART!” these authors stress: have a Specific plan with a Measurable impact. Be Ambitious, but also Realistic, and approach your plan with Time in mind.

These guidelines and suggestions would have made for a strong conclusion, but the book would not be complete without addressing the increasingly-popular ideas of community engagement and interactive performance.Throughout this country, professional musicians and orchestra associations are scrambling to re-establish the connection between artists onstage and the dwindling youth audience members. Audiences — that’s where the discussion always begins. Who are these people musicians can attract and how should they attract them? Even more importantly, how do you get them to come back? The diversity of audiences, the variety of venues, and the flexibility of programming must all be considered when planning an engaging performance, but that is just the beginning. Engagement must come before information, and this means a musician must also be both a compelling public speaker and a creative thinker. In much the same way a public school classroom teacher creates lesson plans, Artist Teachers must find ways to create meaning for a listener and interact with multiple intelligences (not just the usual Musical/Rhythmic and Visual/Spatial).

A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship provides college students and emerging artists with invaluable advice, especially in regard to self-promotion, maintaining tax records, and considering options for their careers. The book is very easy to read — both due to language and format — and additional resources are listed in-text so they can be explored at the height of the reader’s interest. Though some advice seems unnecessary to include because of how obvious it is to veteran freelancers (gigging etiquette, networking, instrument care, etc), the fact is that this essential information is not inherent and must be learned at some point in time.

That this book does not emphasize the need for a musician to have a sustainable income in order to dedicate sufficient time creating outreach programs in a community and that the exposure an artist receives through volunteer work rarely leads to a job that pays the bills is not one of my two criticisms of the publication. The title does not promise a guide to a financially stable career as an Artist Teacher, nor does it go into depth about how to develop the trio of skills that Artist Teachers should possess. Nevertheless, it is important for the reader to understand that most of the contributors to this book work and the people who work to promote Project 440’s mission of community engagement do so out of the goodness of their hearts. Musicians who seek careers solely based on this model will most often be met with frustration and disappointment.

My criticisms of A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship are few. The first is the hardest to address and correct, and it has to do with that vexing topic of “audience.” Throughout the book, the authors implore the reader to consider their audience and use their understanding of potential audiences to create performances. However, I found myself wondering just who I, as the reader, was supposed to be. Am I a recent graduate of a conservatory ready to make my artist statement and go out in the world? Am I building my resume and seeking experiences that best reflect my professional goals? Am I spending most of my time as a freelancer wondering how to broaden my horizons and share my talents (if so, perhaps a sentence or two on fingerprinting and other necessary backgound clearances would be helpful)? Am I a performing artist looking to reinvent my career with greater social relevancy? Am I already an Artist Teacher who is seeking new audiences? Or am I just starting college and wondering if my conservatory is preparing me for the modern world of music performance? I did not get the sense that this book was directed at each of these potenial readers, nor did I feel that any one or two were truly the target audience for readership.

The second — and most easily addressed — criticism is also a bit ironic given the authors’ efforts to guide musicians on a path toward professionalism, relevance, and promotion. I take issue with the book itself: how it is marketed, the writing style, and the price. At a whopping $27.50 ($20 for the book itself + $7.50 S&H), this 66-page (68 if you count the covers, as the website’s description must) publication is probably one of the most expensive pamphlets I’ve ever purchased. It looks and feels like a magazine (softcover, many photos, quotes, and anecdotes) which makes it a quick and easy read but detracts from the substantial material and lacks the feeling of authority that college students come to expect from career-building texts. These informalities might be perfectly suited for the High School Edition, but the College Edition editors should consider leading their readers to more successful grant writing, donor letters, and project proposals through example. If such a change in the dissemination of information is too drastic, I would propose that this Guide embrace the workbook format with more space for responses and increased use of writing prompts in its template. Finally, that cost must be addressed. Print materials are fading in popularity, but this need not prohibit the mission and message of Project 440 from being read. Applications for paid downloads, view-only .PDF files, and online rentals of texts are already available in mainstream use and save money for both publishers and consumers.

Criticisms aside, A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship should be on every professional musician’s reading list.

Conyers, Joseph H., Blake Espy, Rebecca Harris, Mary Javian, Peggy Curchack, and Stanford Thomspon. A Musician’s Guide to Social Entrepreneurship: Serving Your Comunity Through Music. Savannah: Savannah Chamber Players, Inc., 2014. Print.


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