Category Archives: Musical Entrepreneurship

Music Entrepreneurship at the FSU College of Music in November 2017

More “Pop Up Concerts” at FSU

November 25, 2017

Again this fall, students from my “Introduction to Music Entrepreneurship” class at the College of Music at Florida State University gave a “pop up concert” in the Strozier Library at the heart of campus. The students served on two teams that were responsible for planning and performing the music, creating marketing materials, preparing and distributing audience surveys, and producing audio and video recordings to help promote the course’s next pop up concert, which will be given on December 6 — off campus at the Wesley Foundation.

Each pop up concert is a chance to practice basic marketing strategies, project management skills, and audience development approaches, as well as to draw attention to the College and to share information about the College of Music’s upcoming events as we engage with the audience members.


[All photographs courtesy of Michael Kimbrough.]

Music Entrepreneurship at the FSU College of Music in February 2017

February 23, 2017

Students from my “Introduction to Music Entrepreneurship” class at the College of Music at Florida State University gave a “pop up concert” yesterday (Wednesday, February 22, 2017) in the Strozier Library at the heart of campus. Music included original arrangements of pop songs as well as a handful of classical selections.

Several weeks ago, the students formed small teams that were responsible for planning and performing the music, creating marketing materials, preparing and distributing audience surveys, and producing audio and video recordings to help promote the course’s next pop up concert. Students will give two more pop up concerts this semester, and they will use what they learned from the first to try to improve the second and third concerts.

Each pop up concert is a chance to practice basic marketing strategies, project management skills, and audience development approaches, as well as to draw attention to the College and to share information about the College of Music’s upcoming events as we engage with the audience members.

(Students perform in the first pop up concert of Spring 2017.)

I am enjoying seeing the fruits of my students’ labors as they take to heart and practice the ideas we are discussing in my course. In the link below, you can also read about one of those students, Jose Hernandez, as he attempts to compose, perform, and record a new piece every day in February. Jose also shares what he has gleaned from the course.

(Jose introduces his piece for the pop up concert, the 21st he has written in February.)

Stan Pelkey


What I’m Listening To This Month (December): Jerry Leake’s Latest Album

A Review of Jerry Leake’s latest album, Crafty Hands (2016)

Stan Pelkey

December 13, 2016

Boston-based world-rock-fusion percussionist Jerry Leake is a special kind of musician. He deftly moves in and through numerous traditions from around the world – with deep respect and gratitude – yet also comfortably resides in contemporary styles and forms. But more than that, in his latest release, Crafty Hands (2016), Jerry offers listeners new pieces in which he combines and recombines his many musical interests and passions. One could use words such as “eclectic” and “collage” to describe the results, but these do not adequately capture the coherence and musically satisfying nature of Jerry’s accomplishments. The image that comes to my mind is of a colorful kaleidoscope, where an ever-so-slight turn shifts distinct bits into an entirely new and vibrant pattern. One can listen to and for the distinct musical inflections or instruments from West Africa, the Middle East, and India, but it is the coherent new soundscapes—always delightful and often deeply moving—that really matter.

Throughout the 13 tracks of Crafty Hands, Leake sets up wonderful grooves over which he lays out densely textured but changing surfaces. Tracks such as “Crafty Hands,” “Apprentice,” “Do You Think Your Thoughts,” “Dub Clef,” and “Begin by Listening” start with West African rhythmic cells and/or textures that incorporate West African timbres but quickly add more and more component parts until their full musical vistas emerge. In “Crafty Hands,” Jerry’s own singing voice takes center stage by mid-track, surrounded by a halo of bells, shakers, and strings, before the opening textures and grooves reassert themselves. In “Begin by Listening”—one of my favorite tracks—an appropriately authoritative voice assures us “It’s all just sounds” as the West African groove provides the foundation for that voice, a turntable, distorted, sampled chanting, and a jubilant reed to each make contributions. And just when you think this track or others have settled into their final textural forms, still there are more twists and turns as Jerry continues to transform his materials.

My brief comments only scratch the surface of Jerry’s music, and they completely fail to capture the beauty of “Time Tunnel” and “String Theory,” two more of my favorites. Here again, Jerry sets up grooves and amazing, changing surfaces, yet the timbres and combinations are different enough in these two tracks from those in the others that the album remains fresh and unpredictable. And then Jerry drops into your headphones a track such as “Blue Water,” which diverges significantly from the others, and you are once more left in awe of his creativity and ability to synthesize new worlds of sound.

The bottom line? Crafty Hands is an album of gorgeous music that will reward repeated listening. But it is also an album with a powerful — if implicit — political message. While there are relatively few words, and those that exist are not overtly political, Jerry’s soundscapes both celebrate and embody cultural diversity and the new possibilities that can emerge as we draw upon the best of all of us. Whether intended or not, that is a profoundly important political, social, and cultural statement. As the final track urges us, “Begin by listening.”

I highly recommend Crafty Hands to you.

“Can I make a living as a musician? Yes: Cultivate these Entrepreneurial Strategies that work!” (Part 3)

In my previous posts in this series, I’ve highlighted why we musicians must become more entrepreneurial to achieve greater success. In this final post in the series, I want to highlight three practical recommendations that can become winning strategies for you.

No. 1 Use Computers and the Internet

MIT economists McAfee and Brynjolfsson have focused on the economic impact of developments in computers since the 1960s. In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that computer processor speed would double every 18 months. He has been proven essentially correct, and as computer processing speeds increase, computers are able to mimic more and more human cognitive abilities. This is cutting ever more deeply into markets for mid-level, non-physical skilled labor.

McAfee and Brynjolfsson predict that as processing speed continues to increase, each of us will need to find ways to use technology to enhance our abilities to perform our professional tasks (pp. 17ff). They describe this as “racing with machines”—learning to use machines as partners to create new combinations and re-combinations of applications, products, and distribution networks (p. 59).

Here’s the complication: McAfee and Brynjolfson acknowledge that the internet enables “superstars” to outperform everyone else and bypass local talent in the marketplace (pp. 39ff). At the same time, in The Savvy Musician, David Cutler argues that the internet frees musicians from central control by record labels and other vested economic and entertainment interests. So the internet can help us musicians break free of institutional control of markets and distribution channels, yet it can also richly reward a handful of individuals anywhere in the world whose success then drowns out our more local voices.

What should you and I do? Well, if we do not at least try to break into the digital marketplace, we may no chance to compete successfully. Every musician should strive to became (increasingly) savvy using computer-based technology and the internet to extend their reach, market themselves beyond their local, physical landscape, and expand their audiences. Indeed, using technology to eliminate distances between ourselves and potential audiences may be the most important thing we can do. Furthermore, to “race with machines” means developing efficiencies in daily professional operations; this can free up time to reinvest in our performing, teaching, or scholars activities.

No. 2 Cultivate Your Soft Skills and Customer Service Approach

The American economy has been shifting toward a service-dominated economy for several decades. If economic predictions are correct, it will not be enough to be professionally competent.

McAfee and Brynjolfsonn argue “the best therapists, managers, and salespeople excel at interacting and communicating with others” (p. 23). Those are critical “soft skills” that can help us improve our performance in the marketplace and our role in the community.

Likewise, on July 15, 2014, the PBS NewsHour featured a report by Paul Solomon about the importance of the emerging “artisanal” economy among many recent liberal arts graduates. The service-based start-ups he explored consistently focus on the experience and delight of customers within niche markets.

Furthermore, Cowen argues that we have to go beyond making “marginal improvements” to existing products, practices, and services (pp. 66-67). Therefore, Cutler may be absolutely right that successful musicians will have to focus on creating new musical experiences, and lots of new music. Re-interpreting, re-performing, and re-recording established repertories will probably become less central to music making and music careers as we move further into the 21st century.

For all of these reasons, performers, composers, and ensemble conductors should strive to develop the soft skills necessary to create live musical experiences that are “high touch,” customer-oriented, and “delightful,” and that clearly add value to all who participate.

No. 3 Cultivate your Distinctives … and then Market Them

On March 4, 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article, “The Employment Mismatch,” that summarized survey data from employers regarding the characteristics they are most looking for in employees. These included effective communication, adaptability, and the ability to think, solve problems, and make decisions.

Good musicians possess those characteristics! The good musician “problem solves” her way through a tough score, figuring out how to master difficult passages for performance; she makes decision about repertory to include on programs, which role to pursue in an audition, whether to practice an additional hour or study for a test. The very notion of analysis, whether in a formal music history or music theory project, one’s own work in the practice room, or one’s analytical discussions during lessons, embodies these kinds of fundamental questions: “Has this musical event or pattern happened before? What was different then and now?” Those kinds of questions about patterns within information or situations are at the heart of workplace success generally.

For the musician who may need to supplement his or her income while pursuing his or her core dream, being able to “translate” real skills into the workplace is essential. Musicians should build a vocabulary for explaining how their strengths translate across the marketplace, whether or not the particular opportunity they are pursuing at that moment is music related or not. If you are a good communicator, become even better – and market this skill. Are you a great problem solver? Do the same.

Here is another list of real-life workplace skills and characteristics that are essential for career success. I have culled them from a number of sources and have been pleased to hear them echoed in conversations among panelists I have hosted on campus regarding workplace readiness:

  1. Be able to foresee and manage change.
  2. Possess quantitative literacy and be able to engage in analysis.
  3. Be able to use primary sources. (Music majors, you know how to do this; you took music history classes!)
  4. Be able to organize information into a “work of art”: create composites that unite facts with a “story that people understand.”
  5. Be gifted at writing for a variety of media and communicating to varied audiences!
  6. Be able to articulate a vision and “enlist others to the cause.”
  7. Develop greater understanding of human nature and
  8. Develop greater understanding of organizational dynamics and management.
  9. Be collaborative and be able to manage projects. (This should be easy for music majors trained in conducting and nurtured as ensemble performers!)
  10. Be intellectually confident by engaging in life-long-learning; this will enable you to rapidly mastery new material and to “pivot” between or to new subjects. (1)

Mastering even just a few of these skills will strengthen your career no matter its particular shape, its balance between teaching, performing, or other activities, or whether it is more freelance or institutionally bound. Mastering even just a few will help you to stand out when you apply, audition, or interview for jobs, gigs, grants, or other forms of support. Mastering even just a few will improve your workplace interactions. These kinds of skills open doors and create additional opportunities.

Remember, professional competencies are no longer enough! Being a great singer, instrumentalist, composer, music teacher—these are table stakes. More is needed to “close the deal.” Entrepreneurship… excellence… leadership… these are keys to building a vibrant, meaningful career that adds value to the community.


(1) Chris McNickel, “A Historian in the World of Investments: How Historical Thinking Resonates in Business,” Perspectives on History (March 2014): 34–35; Clifford Adelman, “The Edges of History,” Perspectives on History (September 2014): 40-41; Emily Swafford, “Career Diversity for Historians,” Perspectives on History (November 2014): 18-19; Jack Cumming, “History as Preparation for a Career in Business,” Perspectives on History (November 2014): 32-33.

Live music making will be key… and new music at that.

“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. (

Does this mean musicians can stop talking about entrepreneurship?


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.)


“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.