All posts by Stan

“Can I make a living as a musician? Yes, especially if you think like a music entrepreneur!” (Part 2)

{Please note that this is a continuation of an earlier post on music entrepreneurship.}

In my first post in this series, I noted that some of the best music schools, colleges, and conservatories in the United States are getting serious about training students as musical entrepreneurs. But what is driving all of the entrepreneurship talk (and action) on college and university campuses?

Conversations about music entrepreneurship emerged on campuses before the Great Recession. Nevertheless, the economic anxieties of the past seven years and the broader economic situation of which the Great Recession was one—albeit large—part have helped to intensify the conversations.

Over long stretches of economic history in the West, when businesses grew, they hired workers. The Great Recession, however, was the worst in a recent series of business cycles whose periods of recovery were essentially jobless (McAfee and Brynjolfsson, Race With Machines [2011], p. 3; Cowen, The Great Stagnation [2011], p. 5).

Modern concert life began about 300 years ago.

Economist Taylor Cowen argues that current trends toward declining wages and declining rates of employment are symptomatic of a large-scale, multi-century process that began about 300 years ago.

For much of its history, the United States benefited from and built its social and economic institutions on the expectation of the availability of “low-hanging fruit”: free land, immigrant labor, and powerful new technologies (Cowen, The Great Stagnation, pp. 6-7). But this economic “low-hanging fruit” is disappearing, and we are entering a period Cowen calls the “Great Stagnation.”

He points to the following as evidence of this change:

  • stagnant wages since the 1970s (p. 5);
  • declining high school and college completion rates since the 1960s (pp. 10-11);
  • test scores have not improved even though funding to K-12 schools has increased since the 1970s (pp. 38-39).

Those symptoms of structural problems go back to the 1960s. Indeed, my research on American social and cultural thought in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s for my publications on the history of film and television demonstrates that American social historians and social critics were voicing concerns about the long-term health of the economy in the first half of the twentieth century. They believed economic decline was the likely outcome of the so-called “Closing of the Frontier” and of the increasing importance of machines in the economy and the machine-like organization of workers. (You can read more about this in the first chapter of my book, Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age.) But remember: Cowen says elements of these problems are rooted in economic processes at play for centuries!

Furthermore, since the 1940s and 1950s, we have made only “marginal improvements” to existing technology and social systems. Much of our consumer technology, such as cars, TVs, and refrigerators, was in place by the middle of the last century. For decades, there have been no new developments comparable to the train or automobile that have transformed American social and business life and caused significant, net economic growth and led to sustained job growth. The internet is transforming our social and cultural lives, but it has potentially driven net job loss across the economy as a whole. It remains to be seen if the content available on the internet will stimulate substantial economic growth (Cowen, pp. 9-10).

New technology tends to displace human labor (McAfee and Brynjolfsson, p. 7). The good news is that since the Industrial Revolution, the Western economy has been able to redeploy many of the workers displaced by new technologies (McAfee and Brynjolfsson, p. 51). The acceleration of technological change in the past 40 years, however, is unprecedented; labor redeployment within the economic system is falling behind.

TV, video games, and portable playback systems have created “digital outsiders” less likely to sing (Winstead, pp. 234-235).

Let’s take an example from the world of music. In his book, When Colleges Sang: The Story of Singing in American College Life (2013), J. Lloyd Winstead addresses “the loss of casual singing” on college campuses (p. 211). Campus musical cultures declined with the social transformation following two World Wars, the rise of the automobile, and changes to ritual life (such as the elimination of required chapel attendance). But new recording and playback technologies went further: they turned Americans, including college students, into listeners to (rather than makers of) music.

Here’s the thing: college students and observers of campus life in the 1920s were already identifying the negative toll that recordings, radio, and film were having on singing on campus!

Robert Putnam also argued in Bowling Alone (2000) that TV and cars “hollowed out” direct, personal participation in American civic life.

OK… so you get the point:

Bad Economy = the rise of Entrepreneurial thinking (at least in part).

“But Pelkey, the economic news has improved since 2011, when McAfee, Brynjolfsson, and Cowen wrote their books!”

You are correct on that point, fearless reader!

Reports late last week (November 6, 2015) indicated that the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5%. Even the broader measure that includes the underemployed and those who have given up searching for work dropped to 9.8%. Growth slowed in the third quarter of 2015 to 1.5%, but the general economic outlook is much improved since 2011, let alone since the height of the Great Recession! And even though the Labor Participation Rate is currently at its lowest since 1978, this decline was anticipated all the way back in 2000—years before President Obama was at the helm or Obamacare became the law. (http://www.factcheck.org/2015/03/declining-labor-participation-rates/)

Does this mean musicians can stop talking about entrepreneurship?

NO!

The relatively good economic news during the past twelve months changes nothing regarding the manner in which technology is transforming and will continue to transform the economy and the means by which most Americans access music. Musicians must take those two factors into account when considering the shape of their lives and careers.

More importantly, despite the improved economy, participation in and live exposure to the arts remains woefully low.

The National Endowment for the Art’s report, “How A Nation Engages with Art: Highlights from the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” is sobering! According to that report, only 12.1% of adults (those over 18) plays a musical instrument; only 3.2% sings in a choral groups; only 0.8% participates in musicals. Numbers are only a little better for attendance at live musical performances.

Contrarily, when asked if they had attended a movie at least once in 2012, 59.4% adults answered affirmatively. When asked if they had had some sort of experience with the arts through electronic media, affirmative responses jumped to 71%!

Yet only 8.8% of adults attended a live performance of classical music at least once in 2012! And that was down from 11.6% in 2002. (Jazz fared no better, with only 8.1%.)

Only 2.1% of Americans attended a live opera performance in 2012.

And these are the numbers despite the fact that colleges and universities all over the country—including my beloved Florida State University—offer free concerts and recitals nearly year round!

Those sobering statistics are the reason musicians need to become more entrepreneurial: we must rethink how we engage audiences, share our music through both live and technologically mediated means, and create new kinds of musical experiences that will fit (perhaps unexpectedly) into people’s established patterns of social and cultural life.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share some specific ideas you might consider adopting to become a more entrepreneurial musician.

(Originally posted on November 9, 2015.)

IMG_1774

A Tribute to My Musical Father

November 8, 2015

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve been increasingly aware of theIMG_0048 truth of that old saw as I have pushed into middle age. Every time I get a hair cut, I swear my father is looking back at me in the mirror! That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. I have had a very positive relationship with my father, especially during my adult years, and this is something for which I am deeply grateful as more and more of Dad has been lost in recent years to dementia. It’s just that I do not like being reminded that I am middle aged, nor that my life-long tug-of-war with weight gain has become decidedly more challenging in the past five years!

But let’s face it: sons often want to create points of distinction from their fathers. I’ve certainly felt that way over the years, despite my good relationship with Dad. At the same time, that did not stop me as a teen from practicing how I answered the phone so that I sounded exactly like Dad! Nor did it stop me from developing a legible but fairly distinctive handwriting style inspired by Dad’s penmanship. Nor has it stopped me in more recent years from taking a page from Dad’s playbook as I try to dress professionally for work. I’ve even appropriated a few of his ties (’though not all of them – our tastes are similar but not the same!) and old watches, which I occasionally wear for good luck, or to keep him close to me. And of course, at the very root of my professional life, I became a musician, and an organist to boot, in large part because being a musician ran in the family!

LymanAtOrganScone_Stan

(Photo above: Lyman Pelkey playing the pipe organ at First Presbyterian Church in Syracuse, New York, January 1994. Photo on right: Stan playing the in Scone Palace in Scotland, Summer 1997.)

Still I was surprised recently when I watched a video of myself playing the organ and realized that even some of my performance mannerisms reflect those of Dad. HA! And I had thought I had avoided developing those! And then there was recently a photo of me talking to a guest at the Florida State University, and it could have been Dad in that photo. The apple… well you get the point.

So in the spirit of gratefulness to Dad (and quiet resignation that genetics, environment, and probably unconscious mimicry are winning out over overconfident free will each time I perform and in many of my daily quirks), I wanted to share a bit about my father’s musical background and that of his father, too, as a tribute to the power of family in the construction of our musical selves. (I could also write about my mother’s influence on my musical life: I have spent years trying to emulate her gospel piano playing! But that will have to wait for another blog post!)

My father had a habit of recording family history and self-reflections in his books and musical scores. I have inherited many of these items, and I have drawn on their notes for the following summary.

 

In July 2003, my father wrote across the cover of a signed copy of a violin method book by Claude Case (Carl Fischer, 1910) that it had belonged to his father, Stanley C. Pelkey I (April 14, 1901—January 1, 1976). Grandpa grew up in a tiny farming community (Jay, New York) in the Adirondack Park. In those days, many rural youth of my grandparents’ generation did not attend high school. As my father notes, Grandpa’s parents were urged to send him to high school by his grammar teacher, but that would have required rooming and boarding some distance away in Au Sable Forks, New York. This proved impossible. My father—who also spent his early childhood in the Adirondacks—remembers that before World War II, the “extremely hilly and narrow” roads in the mountains were often impassible throughout the winter and sometimes even into May. Although he did not finish high school, Grandpa Pelkey was foresighted enough to move his own family (ca. 1949) out of the mountains and to Massena, New York, where there were more job opportunities. He was also naturally gifted as a salesman, and ultimately he and my grandmother were able to send their three children to college.

StanAndPhilipStanAndLyma.Youth

(Photo above: my grandfather, Stanley Pelkey, and one of my great uncles, Philip Strong. Photo on right: my paternal grandparents, Stanley and Lyma Pelkey.)

Grandpa played fiddle in his youth. It must have been important to him because even after he stopped actively playing, he kept his old violins. My parents owned them afterwards for a number of years. I never heard my grandfather make music, and he died when I was 3 years old, so I only have one or two memories of him. But there was always a piano in my grandparents’ house in Massena (it is now in my mother’s apartment), and they had an old pump organ in their summer camp along the St. Lawrence River. Grandpa’s fiddling laid a foundation upon which three generations of musical lives were built and continue to be built. (I count my own children’s musical lives among these three generations.)

I am now in possession of a small music manuscript book in which Dad wrote down an arrangement of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 that he prepared for organ for his use at the Congregational Church in Massena. In that little manuscript book, Dad recorded much of his own musical history. He spent his first years of life in Burke, New York, and he began taking piano lessons (as he recalled) in 1945 with Mrs. Sadie Mason, the organist at the Burke Methodist Church. After the family moved to Massena, Dad studied piano with Mrs. Ivah Church from 1949-1955. He must have made reasonably good progress, because he started playing the organ for the Methodist Church in Massena in February 1953 and continued to do so until he graduated from high school in 1955. He then went to Syracuse University to continue his musical training, but he returned home each summer to serve as organist at the Congregational Church in Massena until 1959.

During his first year at Syracuse University (1955–1956), Dad was an organ student of David N. Johnson, a piano student of Ada Shinaman Crouse, and a tenor in the Chapel Choir of Arthur Poister. Dad’s freshman theory professor, Franklin Morris, had been a pupil of famed composer Paul Hindemith (one of my personal favorites), while Poister had been a pupil of Marcel Dupré in Paris. Dad later transferred out of music and became an English major and spent his career as an English teacher in the Syracuse City Schools. He second-guessed the decision to change his major for most of his adult life. But Dad continued to be active as a parish organist into his 70s, and he even took organ lessons again for a time after he retired and before he went back to school for another master’s degree, his M.Div. from the Colgate Rochester Divinity School (1994–2000).

StanDadNateHeidiSeminary

(Photo: Three generations of Pelkey men: Lyman, Stanley, and Nate, with Heidi Pelkey, at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where my father completed his M.Div. during the 1990s.)

My parents met while they were both teachers in Syracuse, and after marrying, they remained in the City. I grew up—musically and otherwise—in the shadow of Syracuse University. Although Dad spent his career as an English teacher, he continued to nurture his musical interests, as well as my sister’s and mine, in part through the musical opportunities made available to the community by the University. I have very fond memories of attending organ concerts by Will Headlee and ever-popular piano recitals by Frederick Marvin at Syracuse University with Dad and my sister while I was in high school. Another especially powerful memory for me is playing in a master class with famed Eastman School of Music organ professor Russell Saunders during a regional conference of the American Guild of Organists held on Syracuse University’s campus. Dad was there with me.

Music and music making were just natural activities in my home while I was growing up. I was playing piano and teaching myself to read music before I was 5. We lived and breathed music. I am grateful for the many times in my life that I was able to talk about music with my father and for the times we were able to play for each other after I began my own journey as an organist. Indeed, I wish I could have more of those conversations with him now. But I am also very grateful for the musical conversations I can now have with my own daughter and son.

I would love to hear some of your stories about how you and your parents or you and your children have shared music together in your personal and/or professional lives. Please feel free to comment.

 

“Can I make a living as a musician? Yes, especially if you think like a music entrepreneur!” (Part 1)

Some of the best music schools, colleges, and conservatories in the United States are getting serious about training students as musical entrepreneurs. A few have been in this business for over a decade.

Career development and entrepreneurship for music majors and recent graduates is very important to me, and not just because my current job title is “Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Entrepreneurship.” So I am going to share some of my thoughts on the topic in a series of blog posts. Hopefully recent music graduates, current music majors, and young people considering becoming music majors when they enroll in college will find these valuable. (Parents are welcome to read, too!)

In this first post, I want to get started with some definitions. In future posts, I will summarize the changes in our economy and higher education that warrant thinking about musical entrepreneurship. I will also offer some very practical suggestions on how you can become an effective entrepreneurial musician.

So what do I mean by “musical entrepreneurship?” Based on my professional and artistic experiences, the conversations I have had with business and academic leaders, and my reading across several fields, here’s how I define musical entrepreneurship: “Taking the initiative (and necessary risks) to build a strong career by making intentional tactical and strategic decisions that create new possibilities for deeper and more rewarding investment in the musical life of a community.”

My definition of the entrepreneurial in music is not too far from David Cutler’s in The Savvy Musician (2010). To become a musician who pursues “vibrant and varied” work, achieves “personal satisfaction,” and “adds something of value to society” (p. 2), one must “create opportunities, think outside the box, get the ‘big picture,’ and not be afraid to question conventional wisdom.” (p. 10)

Nor are we far from the characteristics of musical entrepreneurship offered by Angela Myles Beeching in her book Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music (2010): “talent plus hard work; winning attitude; sales skills; support systems; strategy.” (p. 8)

I appreciate that both Cutler and Beeching (p. vii) focus on personal satisfaction and adding value to the community. Furthermore, they acknowledge that we’ll need to cultivate broader conceptions of “musical success” (Beeching, p. 6). In other words, musicians and those of us in the institutions that train them need to be open to many kinds of career paths as legitimate outcomes for the training in the ideas, repertories, and scholarly systems that we hold dear.

Often on college campuses, as discussions of “entrepreneurship” and its cousin “innovation” unfold, these two terms come to function merely as buzz words masking “product development” and “marketing.” Conversations may turn too rapidly toward anticipating the next new technology, creating “maker spaces,” or building business incubators before the broader world of entrepreneurship and innovation – including “social entrepreneurship” – is thoroughly considered. I’ve watched this happen on campuses were I have worked. (If you’d like additional anecdotes beyond mine, read Beth McMurtrie’s thoughtful article, “Inside Startup U: How Stanford Develops Entrepreneurial Students,” which was posted on the Chronicle of Higher Education website on October 25, 2015.)

But complexity and conflict around the idea of entrepreneurship should not discourage us as musicians from cultivating an entrepreneurial attitude.

In my next blog in this series, I’ll write about what’s happened to our economy and how musical entrepreneurship can help you to succeed in the new economy.

Boost your productivity with four simple strategies

Whether you are a college/university faculty member expected to achieve a certain level of productivity before tenure and promotion review, a scholar with a non-teaching role on campus, an adjunct scholar-teacher, or an independent scholar, you probably want to be a productive researcher or creative artist. After all, you pursued graduate training because you loved carrying out research or doing creative work, and you also want to make a contribution to your discipline and community.

So given the importance of research and creative activity, both personally and professionally, it is frustrating that we often feel we have insufficient time to research and write well, or to engage substantively in creative work. Maybe you keep looking forward to a “big block of time” when you can finally be productive. The problem is, “big blocks of time” rarely materialize, and too often we put off our important writing or creative work until “tomorrow.” … And then tomorrow never comes.

After spending too many years waiting for the “big blocks of time,” I realized I had to completely transform how I approach the first part of my day. I’d like to share a few simple strategies that may help you to capture more time to research and write or to engage in creative activities. They have helped me to complete much more writing than I did in the old days of waiting for the weekends or school vacations, and I think they can help you, too.

  1. Practice an incremental but consistent approach to being productive. If you have found that the “big blocks of time” approach has failed you, try the opposite approach: commit to working a few minutes every day on your major project. Set small goals and complete them, whether that’s two hundred new words, several more footnotes, another phrase of music, several more lines of poetry, or fine tuning a paragraph you wrote yesterday. I know such small goals do not seem like much, but two hundred words per day adds up quickly, and it’s more than no words per day! Be honest: haven’t you logged too many days when all you had at the end of the day in terms of your latest research project or composition were just good intentions? Two hundred words would be an improvement over those nonproductive days. Furthermore, by working a little every day on your major project, you will not lose your momentum as often happens between the “big blocks of time.”

2. Work on your research or creative work first. There’s simply no way around this. For years, I worked busily all day on everything except my writing and composing. I was convinced that I’d finally get to the important stuff after I finished everything else. The problem is that the “everything else” is never done, and by the end of the day, I was too tired to concentrate on the important work—my writing and composing. So flip your day! Commit to an incremental but consistent approach to being productive and set aside your first 30 minutes each day to work on your research or creative activity.

 

3. I can hear the push-back: “I cannot write for the first 30 minutes, I have to teach a class first thing in the morning!” But that’s simply not true. Even if your first class or your first meeting or your first deadline of the day is scheduled at 8:00 AM, you can work from 7:00 to 7:30 on the really important stuff! You just have to commit to go to campus earlier! I know, that sounds awful, but it works. I am not a morning person, but when I moved to Tallahassee, I decided to get up (consistently) much earlier than I had since the last time I taught 8:00 AM freshman music theory. I have been arriving on campus most mornings between 7:30 AM and 7:45 AM. On mornings I practice first, I arrive on campus by 7:15. The impact on my productivity has been amazing. How? Well, fewer people are on the road at 6:50 AM, and I am saving 10 to 15 minutes on my morning commute because of that. Yes, I am leaving an hour earlier than I would really like or really have to, but it is worth it. Second, by arriving earlier, I start my work day before others begin to call me or email me. If you are an independent scholar working from home or commuting to a non-academic job, the principle remains the same: start the day earlier, get a jump on the commute, and get some writing or creative work done before others begin to demand your time.

 
4. Keep your email application closed until you have completed one or two small, manageable components of your current research or creative project. You know as well as I do that once you start to read email, your daily productivity drops! So consider waiting until 10:00 or 11:00 AM to begin checking email. On days that you arrive early and do not have early morning classes or meetings, waiting to check email until 10:00 AM means you’ve had nearly three hours of uninterrupted productivity. Even if you only spend the first half hour of those three hours on your writing or creative work and the rest of the time on other tasks, such as grading, class preparations, or committee work, you will find that you make a much bigger dent in your daily task list than you normally do when you begin to check email too early in the morning. Once 10:00 or 11:00 AM rolls around, then you can spend the rest of the day answering questions from your students, staff, faculty, or administrators. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing you actually completed important work before the pressing need to answer emails began to drag down your productivity and transformed your “to do” list for today into your “should have done yesterday” list for tomorrow.
Following these strategies will improve your productivity; 30 minutes each day will move your important writing or creative projects forward. The first step, however, is deciding to stop waiting for the elusive “big block of time” to arrive.

(originally posted on October 26, 2015)

Boost your Productivity with Four Easy Strategies

Whether you are a college/university faculty member expected to achieve a certain level of productivity before tenure and promotion review, a scholar with a non-teaching role on campus, an adjunct scholar-teacher, or an independent scholar, you probably want to be a productive researcher or creative artist. After all, you pursued graduate training because you loved carrying out research or doing creative work, and you also want to make a contribution to your discipline and community.

So given the importance of research and creative activity, both personally and professionally, it is frustrating that we often feel we have insufficient time to research and write well, or to engage substantively in creative work. Maybe you keep looking forward to a “big block of time” when you can finally be productive. The problem is, “big blocks of time” rarely materialize, and too often we put off our important writing or creative work until “tomorrow.” … And then tomorrow never comes.

After spending too many years waiting for the “big blocks of time,” I realized I had to completely transform how I approach the first part of my day. I’d like to share a few simple strategies that may help you to capture more time to research and write or to engage in creative activities. They have helped me to complete much more writing than I did in the old days of waiting for the weekends or school vacations, and I think they can help you, too.

  1. Practice an incremental but consistent approach to being productive. If you have found that the “big blocks of time” approach has failed you, try the opposite approach: commit to working a few minutes every day on your major project. Set small goals and complete them, whether that’s two hundred new words, several more footnotes, another phrase of music, several more lines of poetry, or fine tuning a paragraph you wrote yesterday. I know such small goals do not seem like much, but two hundred words per day adds up quickly, and it’s more than no words per day! Be honest: haven’t you logged too many days when all you had at the end of the day in terms of your latest research project or composition were just good intentions? Two hundred words would be an improvement over those nonproductive days. Furthermore, by working a little every day on your major project, you will not lose your momentum as often happens between the “big blocks of time.”
  2. Work on your research or creative work first. There’s simply no way around this. For years, I worked busily all day on everything except my writing and composing. I was convinced that I’d finally get to the important stuff after I finished everything else. The problem is that the “everything else” is never done, and by the end of the day, I was too tired to concentrate on the important work—my writing and composing. So flip your day! Commit to an incremental but consistent approach to being productive and set aside your first 30 minutes each day to work on your research or creative activity.
  3. I can hear the push-back: “I cannot write for the first 30 minutes, I have to teach a class first thing in the morning!” But that’s simply not true. Even if your first class or your first meeting or your first deadline of the day is scheduled at 8:00 AM, you can work from 7:00 to 7:30 on the really important stuff! You just have to commit to go to campus earlier! I know, that sounds awful, but it works. I am not a morning person, but when I moved to Tallahassee, I decided to get up (consistently) much earlier than I had since the last time I taught 8:00 AM freshman music theory. I have been arriving on campus most mornings between 7:30 AM and 7:45 AM. On mornings I practice first, I arrive on campus by 7:15. The impact on my productivity has been amazing. How? Well, fewer people are on the road at 6:50 AM, and I am saving 10 to 15 minutes on my morning commute because of that. Yes, I am leaving an hour earlier than I would really like or really have to, but it is worth it. Second, by arriving earlier, I start my work day before others begin to call me or email me. If you are an independent scholar working from home or commuting to a non-academic job, the principle remains the same: start the day earlier, get a jump on the commute, and get some writing or creative work done before others begin to demand your time.
  4. Keep your email application closed until you have completed one or two small, manageable components of your current research or creative project. You know as well as I do that once you start to read email, your daily productivity drops! So consider waiting until 10:00 or 11:00 AM to begin checking email. On days that you arrive early and do not have early morning classes or meetings, waiting to check email until 10:00 AM means you’ve had nearly three hours of uninterrupted productivity. Even if you only spend the first half hour of those three hours on your writing or creative work and the rest of the time on other tasks, such as grading, class preparations, or committee work, you will find that you make a much bigger dent in your daily task list than you normally do when you begin to check email too early in the morning. Once 10:00 or 11:00 AM rolls around, then you can spend the rest of the day answering questions from your students, staff, faculty, or administrators. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing you actually completed important work before the pressing need to answer emails began to drag down your productivity and transformed your “to do” list for today into your “should have done yesterday” list for tomorrow.

Following these strategies will improve your productivity; 30 minutes each day will move your important writing or creative projects forward. The first step, however, is deciding to stop waiting for the elusive “big block of time” to arrive.

(originally posted on October 26, 2015)

 

October 2015 Recordings

Here are a few of the things I am listening to repeatedly this month:

Elmer Bernstein’s score for the film The Magnificent Seven.

Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

William Walton’s Piano Quartet and String Quartet.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 8.

DSCF0123
Charterhouse School in England. Vaughan Williams was a student here. I visited in June 2009.