The Musician, Enterprise and the Entrepreneur


In the last few blogs I have digressed from the subject of composition onto a music education soapbox.  An occupational hazard suffered by many composers, having opinions and concerns with the industry they are part of to the detriment of their real passion, writing music.  But I am back, inspiration in the head, enthusiasm in harness and the love of sound, music, the environment, art and live performance undiminished by the days of academic administration and educational changes.

One of the catalysts for this return of interest in composition has been the QAA, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and their new guidelines (or graduate outcomes) for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education (published in September 2012).  This, along with some interesting case studies posted by Inge Geerdens (Founder/CEO CVWarehouse, Advisor at Econopolis NV, Bryo Ambassador) on LinkedIn and reading autobiographies and biographies of some financially successful composers of the last century, has confirmed my belief that being a musician involves being enterprising and often leads to being entrepreneurial as well.

A few definitions may be helpful at this point and the QAA guidelines provide the definition of enterprise as being “the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations.”  Further explained by “It combines creativity, ideas development and problem solving with expression, communication and practical action.”  Their definition of entrepreneurship is expressed as “the application of enterprise skills specifically to creating and growing organisations in order to identify and build on opportunities.”  Later in the report another distinction is made between a business owner and an entrepreneur.  “An individual running his or her own business may wish to retain strong control and be resistant to changing structures and approaches.  An entrepreneur demonstrates enterprising approaches and attributes, such as creativity, vision, responsiveness to opportunity, and ambition for business growth, which are distinct from business skills and knowledge.”

The starting process for any musician is acquiring skills, these may be developed on an instrument or with their own voice, they may be computer based or written.  During the advancement of my own skills as a musician and then teaching others to develop their own musical abilities, I have observed a pattern – there are periods of rapid progress followed by times of consolidation.  As the musician becomes more technically assured, the periods of progress become more difficult to achieve and many musicians do not confront the new challenges needed to reach higher levels of ability.

This is not a criticism of the musician, often the skill levels they have achieved will serve them well in their music making activities, but I have seen this happen with the majority of students during my teaching career.  It could be that they have reached the goal they set out to achieve and as a teacher I will always strive to introduce new experiences that may change the student ambition and inspire them to work to new objectives.   The small minority of musicians that continue to question their abilities, and find ways to improve, are invariably the ones that progress to a career in music.

As skill levels increase and the musician becomes more confident with their musical ideas, there should be opportunities to play with these ideas; creative and imaginative periods when the musician can start to develop their personal voice or musical signature.  At this point in a musician’s journey, there can be many occasions of collaboration with others, in organised bands, ensembles, groups, orchestras or in a recording studio.  Associations started in these groups can lead to the formation of other bands and ensembles, the musician taking the lead and directing the musicians in the exploration of different music to the repertoire they have been performing as part of the established groups or ensembles.

The commitment of the musician to these groups often creates performance opportunities and the ability to plan, programme and negotiate become important skills to acquire; as well as the added skills in travel planning, finance, staging, presentation, promotion, audience relationships, organisation and management that are all part of coordinating an event.  This can be a difficult time for the musician, as well as enhancing their skills in music they need the aptitude to absorb many new principles in pursuit of their ambition.  Vigour and perseverance are essential characteristics required by the musician during these times.

The responsibility of leading a group presents the musician with experiences in negotiation, managing relationships and growing a network of colleagues, friends and business partners.  This can involve the musician in teaching, explaining, evaluating, reviewing and adapting as part of their management of relationships as well as initiating, consolidating and expanding contacts and networks.

The realisation by the musician that their performance, interpretation, composition, improvisation or recording has some worth, is appreciated and could be utilised by others, is often not immediately understood.  Teaching the use, value and legal implications of intellectual property in music, and artistic creations in general, needs to be part of any curriculum for the creative subject areas.

When all the skills and experiences that the musician has encountered as part of this journey are put together, they correspond with all the outcomes that are listed in the QAA guidelines.  The musician has a complete set of enterprise skills and experiences but is this then developed into entrepreneurial activities?  This will be the subject of a blog in the not too distant future.

If you are interested in the QAA guidelines, they are freely available to download at


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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