The Entrepreneurship Curriculum for Music Students: Thoughts Towards a Consensus

October 3, 2005

The increasing importance of professional development is one of the most dynamic trends emerging in the arts within higher education. Publicly funded institutions in particular are increasingly relying on entrepreneurship as a means to prepare students for musical careers. For example, the University of Colorado at Boulder and The University of Arizona offer internships, experiential opportunities, classes in musical entrepreneurship and professional development workshops. The University of Iowa and the University of North Texas have created undergraduate degrees and graduate certificates in musical entrepreneurship based on partnerships with their respective business schools. Other institutions such as The University of Texas at Austin, Western Carolina University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell have elective classes dedicated to the topic.1 However, there is no consensus on how to approach entrepreneurship curricula in this environment.

As these and other institutions embrace entrepreneurship for music students, the time seems right to address not only this issue, but also to reconsider older aesthetics. This paper will briefly discuss definitions of entrepreneurship by pivotal economists, examine the present state of musical entrepreneurship curricula and suggest new curricular, pedagogical and philosophical elements that may be useful to those crafting or enhancing such programs in the future. It is not the purpose of the author to make a value judgment about the merits of any one program presented or omitted from this examination.


What is Entrepreneurship?

One of the most interesting and critical issues confronting higher education is simply defining "entrepreneurship." Jean Baptiste Say, a French economist active in the first quarter of the nineteenth century wrote: "The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield."2 This perception of entrepreneurship as an economic phenomenon is still widely held. Peter Drucker, regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important entrepreneurial theorists, suggests that "Entrepreneurship rests on the theory of economy and society."3 Here, Drucker views entrepreneurship as a broader aesthetic, woven within the threads of social conventions. He further notes that the "entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity."4

Yet Drucker also sees entrepreneurship expressed beyond the bounds of business study; "entrepreneurship is by no means limited to the economic sphere."5 He cites the rise of nineteenth-century German universities and the building of hospitals as examples of entrepreneurship manifesting outside the economic realm. Drucker's emphasis on "innovation" as a marker of entrepreneurship is important because it suggests creativity as the principal source of inspiration.6 More importantly, he maintains that entrepreneurship "is not a personality trait."7 This opens the door to the view that entrepreneurship is a set of behaviors—a way to live one's life. If considered in these terms, entrepreneurship approaches the realm of a philosophical construction—perhaps broadly describing a method to better society.

While the importance of creativity remains a fundamental principle of entrepreneurship, many scholars note that this is not the only prerequisite. Jeffery Timmons, the influential Babson College economist, makes a distinction between inventors and entrepreneurs. For Timmons, an entrepreneur is someone who brings an idea to fruition. His entrepreneurs focus on the market and decide which ideas are profitable. They "recognize patterns and . . . seize and execute opportunities."8 Timmons also notes that there is a creative component in this process.9

Other noted economic theorists such as Kirzner, Knight, and Schumpeter have attempted to define entrepreneurship, yet there is little agreement between them. Low and MacMillan have observed that: "The problem with these definitions is that though each captures an aspect of entrepreneurship, none captures the whole picture."10 Given this lack of consensus and the implication that entrepreneurship is much larger than what major economic theorists have declared in the past, it becomes evident that entrepreneurship is not easily defined. Although economists are attempting to define expressions of entrepreneurship, they may have overlooked the transcendent nature of the term.

If we envision an entrepreneur simply as one who capitalizes on opportunities by discovering innovative solutions to problems, it becomes clear that entrepreneurship can describe a larger phenomenon based on the application of an individual's creative capital. If considered in these broader terms, entrepreneurship emerges as a philosophy that empowers, rather than limits, individuals. Thus the goal of entrepreneurship, especially in an arts context, becomes the manifestation of ideas through creative means.

When we take a narrow view of entrepreneurship we express, interpret and value the philosophy in kind; core principles of innovation and creativity diminish and lie fallow. It is no wonder then, that when speaking about entrepreneurship in the context of music curricula, we observe a variety of manifestations based upon a subjective understanding of entrepreneurship. These conceptions then become structures based on a term whose very meaning is interpreted so narrowly that a broader definition of entrepreneurship is antithetical to arts academic culture.


Who Benefits from an Entrepreneurial Education?

Music students majoring in performance and music business appear to be the most immediate groups benefiting from an entrepreneurial curriculum. Yet composition, theory and music history graduate students can profit as well. By advancing a set of principles within the degree plan that prepares them to be professionally proactive, they can envision and apply their skills in diverse modes. In fact, these non-applied students in particular have skills needed in larger markets.11

Additionally, an entrepreneurial education benefits music education majors. These students traditionally have the highest job placement rate of all undergraduates at the time of graduation. Given the perception of high attrition rates for first and second year K-12 teachers, an entrepreneurial component added to their professional training may provide them with options beyond the traditional model. When these teachers leave the classroom early in their careers, a substantial investment of time, money and potential is wasted. By including an entrepreneurial component in these degree plans, they would be better positioned to capitalize on their college experience if they abandon their careers prematurely. Without a meaningful reconsideration of degree requirements, however, adding another curricular component may be unrealistic.

Though student outcomes are the result of many factors, a Babson College study strongly suggests that an entrepreneurial component introduced into the degree plan has definable results. One study has shown that 48% of the students who participated in entrepreneurship courses either started their own business directly after graduation or chose a short term position to prepare themselves for an entrepreneurial career.12 Another study has noted that 92% of students were satisfied with their entrepreneurial career after taking entrepreneurship courses.13 Indeed, these studies sample an exceptional business school's graduates, but the outcomes are clear; students are more likely to have an entrepreneurial career if they are exposed to the topic during their college years and with this, job satisfaction skyrockets. If we envision these outcomes for music students, the arts would have a potent, creative and skilled workforce that may change the direction of the arts and arts higher education.


Entrepreneurship Curricula Today

The entrepreneurship curriculum in each institution mentioned above has a unique focus. The University of Iowa's Division of Performing Arts was the first to offer a B.A. degree in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship, and it requires business courses such as "Basics of Small Business Accounting," "Capital Acquisition and Cash Flow," "Entrepreneurial Marketing" and stresses the internship experience. The University of Arizona's Camerata program and the University of Colorado at Boulder's Entrepreneurship Center for Music both include an experiential component in the form of community-based concerts as well as internships, classes and workshops. In addition to these offerings, the Camerata program includes a number of guest speakers who visit virtually every classroom session.14 The University of North Texas' graduate certificate in Music Entrepreneurship, which was developed in partnership with the university's Murphy Enterprise Center, focuses on workshops and classes. With these representative examples, we can discern a number of consensus points: classroom instruction or workshops, an experiential component in the form of either internships or community performances, and a focus on the student as a freelance musician. The primary focus in these programs, however implicit or explicit, is the development of business acumen.

Unfortunately, this conclusion demonstrates the primary misconception about entrepreneurship curricula. We must remember that, as Drucker maintains, entrepreneurship is more than an economic concept. A reliance on business classes as the leading curricular component for the musical entrepreneur must be reconsidered. This is not to say that basic business skills are unimportant in this context. Yet there seems to be a mistaken view that musical entrepreneurship is "business school light" or "music with a business minor." Introductory business courses seldom address what music students really need; a view of entrepreneurship as an empowering philosophy which, when coupled with a solid musical education and basic business knowledge, allows them the freedom to explore the realities of audience development.

Perhaps the most veiled commonality between these programs resides outside the arts. According to a recent study in Entrepreneur magazine, most of the universities mentioned above are ranked as having the most innovative business entrepreneurship programs in the nation.15 One could make the case that those universities with a strong entrepreneurial emphasis in their business programs are more likely to embrace this methodology for their music students. While that may be true at this point, other universities with small entrepreneurship programs, and universities that are ranked in the lower tiers, have elective courses dedicated to musical or arts entrepreneurship. It seems then, that universities with strong entrepreneurial programs have taken the lead in offering musical entrepreneurship to their students, although this does not preclude others from offering this type of education in a limited manner.

Another emerging and important intersection in the curriculum is the adoption of some form of experiential learning, either as internships or community performances. Allowing students to apply their creativity by this method with instructor oversight is an invaluable opportunity. Restricting these efforts to simple performance opportunities, however, can undermine the endeavor. Thus, these efforts risk reinforcing the segregation of applied versus theoretical training so prevalent in the undergraduate degree plan. Instead, the experiential portion of the curriculum should become a testing ground for ideas nurtured in the classroom.

Many institutions use workshops to introduce concepts to their students outside of the classroom. This works both to the benefit and detriment of students. By allowing professional development topics to be delivered in this manner, institutions demonstrate their commitment and concern about student outcomes. However, without structured integration in the degree plan, students receive a patchwork of information they may not have the expertise or skill to apply. It seems then, that workshops may have a limited effect; information is transferred, yet not put into the context of the degree plan.

An encouraging intersection appearing in these efforts is an implication that may be lost on students—music is considered a commodity in today's world more than ever before. When offering entrepreneurial education, music departments affirm this message, acknowledge society's need for music and explicitly state that students can meet the demands of this market. When flung headlong into a more conservative pedagogical aesthetic, however, the perception of this implicit statement may be met differently.

Music departments appear to lead the arts disciplines in entrepreneurial education. To my knowledge, only one other public university in the United States offers another arts entrepreneurship degree: The University of Southern Maine's School of Art. This program is designed similarly to the University of Iowa's Performing Arts Entrepreneurship degree and is drawing students—especially from out of state—who realize that professional development is a critical component of their undergraduate education.16


The "Vocational" Question

Decision makers may question whether public universities should provide an entrepreneurial component to the curriculum or integrate professional development at all. Indeed, some continue to maintain that the arts are an end unto themselves, and the status quo pedagogy, methodology and current student outcomes meet the need of the market.17 By continuing this tradition, undergraduates receive degrees, the more talented students pursue graduate school and the most talented have meaningful performing or scholarly careers. Music departments in this context, then, act as gatekeepers who open doors to the professional world.

Hand-in-hand with the above attitude is a larger issue seldom mentioned: an aversion to professional development because it is equated with vocational training. If considered in strictly economic terms, college students are paying for a service. They expect a quality education and a degree, if requirements are met, and increasingly some sort of guidance to the practical application of their education. These expectations are not unique: students in some science disciplines secure employment in their fields after graduation, and receive significant assistance from their departments to meet that end. Is this vocational training? Given the persistent nineteenth-century aesthetic found in our music departments, many would answer to the affirmative.

Some believe that entrepreneurial education is an important aspect of the undergraduate degree, yet struggle to satisfy ever-increasing degree mandates while maintaining a program students can complete in a four-year period. Others simply cite the successful placement of music education majors as fulfilling their role as educators. Indeed it is the rare administrator who has the resources to act on the behalf of students' professional development in any meaningful way. Certainly, individuals or institutions are not at fault as professional development for undergraduates is a complicated and unique matter for every institution.

Many students realize fully that their musical employment prospects will be less than rosy. When music departments simply adhere to a "cream will rise to the top" paradigm, most undergraduates receive little more than a wall hanging and a pat on the back. Certainly students receive an education, but to what end? If undergraduates cannot fully apply their skills and contribute to society, what is the larger contribution to the community that helps to fund higher education? In this era of decreasing state funding for public institutions, this question has real and immediate consequences.

There is no shame in training undergraduates to have a successful arts career based on their talents and the efforts of faculty. In fact, there are incentives for music departments to adopt entrepreneurship as a part of their professional development efforts. By developing arts entrepreneurs, universities create a future funding stream, recruitment and retention would most likely improve and the institution adheres to NASM guidelines.18


The Delivery of Entrepreneurship Curricula

Two core trends are emerging in the delivery of entrepreneurship curricula for music students. The first is to immediately partner with a business school or, similarly, adopt a business focus in the curriculum. Certainly this seems like a logical course of action and arts entrepreneurship programs can benefit from these partnerships. But we must question whether relying on a business school curricular model is suitable for music students. Outcomes for business students differ from those in the arts. Music students must come to terms with a market that is more challenging than the established for-profit sector. While a myriad of positive outcomes exist for students in the arts, they are forced by an underdeveloped market to find innovative ways to succeed. Unlike their business school colleagues, music students do not have the luxury of walking into a career with a Fortune 500 company after graduation.

At this point, I would like to challenge the idea that any arts entrepreneurship curricula be defined as a "minor" concentration in business. Instead of investigating the broad concept of entrepreneurship as a philosophy and its finer points within the context of the arts, there seems to be an uncritical acceptance of business school curricula because it appears to be the path of least resistance. This reaction is understandable given that curricular development is a time consuming and frequently, agonizing process. Yet, designers of entrepreneurial curricula have an opportunity to stretch their conception of what higher education and professional development means to them, their students, their community and their institutions.

Perhaps the relationship between entrepreneurship curricula as it exists in a business school and entrepreneurship in the context of college music education should not be thought of as disparate disciplines to be sewn together, but rather as a series of intersections. Music undergraduates have vastly different needs in this regard than business students. For example, exposing the differences between for-profit and non-profit entities is critical. This curricular addition provides students the potential of additional funding streams in the future and an opportunity to integrate writing and research skills in the classroom. The formulation of a business plan is another excellent intersection between both schools, yet business plans cannot be the focus of any arts entrepreneurial curriculum. An emphasis on the creation of a single document may give students a false sense of security about their professional careers and, worse, may create a curriculum that leans too heavily on business pedagogy.

Music students do not need a business degree to succeed after graduation. Instead, they need the skills to identify, operate within and build new markets based on their talents and temperaments. In the end, music entrepreneurs can find financial professionals to answer their fiscal questions. Thus, the weight of a business component in an entrepreneurial curriculum can be significantly reduced. If the academy can free itself from the notion that musical entrepreneurship is ostensibly a minor in business, a new and innovative curricular focus develops; students are directed to develop audiences and markets, they can be exposed to non-profit business models and most importantly, they may become the agents of change who revitalize the arts.

A second trend demonstrates a further confusion with business curricula. Some students and teachers believe that "music business" programs are equivalent to professional development. Given its moniker, it would appear so. At its most basic level, music business programs teach students how the music industry operates. For those students who wish to pursue these opportunities, this course of study certainly meets their needs. Yet we must ask ourselves whether a music business degree is the most effective way to produce students capable of operating in the non-profit arena.

Some music business degree plans focus on creating small businesses within the industry (a small recording studio for example) and use small business principles to reach that goal. Although this is an excellent example of how entrepreneurship can be used in this context, its reach is limited. Therefore, much of the curricular focus remains on an industry that, unfortunately, leaves many promising students and audiences behind.

The larger question here is not one of appropriateness, but of perception. Offering entrepreneurship courses through music business programs explicitly places professional development under the purview of that degree plan. Again, the problem with this approach is a lack of integration with the core music curriculum. If entrepreneurship is offered through music business programs, students continue to participate in curricular segregation. This is not to suggest that entrepreneurship courses be omitted if this is the only delivery method possible. Integration with the music core curriculum, however, is a more effective way to demonstrate the commitment of departments to the professional development of their students.

Entrepreneurship is not better or more effective than a music business curriculum; entrepreneurship simply has a broader focus. There is little reason for an instructor of music entrepreneurship to introduce topics traditionally taught by music business faculty. I am suggesting that there lies a hierarchy in the relationship—but based solely on the theoretical content of the disciplines. If we can accept entrepreneurship as a philosophy, it follows that the music industry (and the music business curricula which introduce students to that structure) is an expression of that broader vision.


Components of an Entrepreneurship Curriculum

What should an entrepreneurship curriculum for music students include? At the start, departments and curriculum committees may wish to consider the following points. Empowering students must be the primary goal. By introducing the skills and framework required to function in the marketplace without "gatekeepers," students find their own unique path. Thus, conceptualizing entrepreneurship as a philosophy nurtures creativity and challenges students to confront the status quo. If they are taught that entrepreneurship is a lifestyle, then all that follows will be based on that philosophy: pedagogy, research, decision-making, curricular design, innovation, etc.

An entrepreneurial curriculum is not simply about a performance major creating and sustaining a successful teaching studio; it is also about student self-discovery. For some performance majors, a teaching studio may be the desired end. But for those who prefer not to teach forty ten-year-olds a week for the next thirty years, an entrepreneurial education affords them greater and more diverse options based on their own temperament.

Entrepreneurial education must be based on the idea of innovation.19 Without this crucial concept, students become part of an entrenched economic and academic orthodoxy. Creating a curriculum robust enough to give students the freedom to explore their professional goals and challenge them to innovate may be difficult. If instructors simply give students status quo employment models, both are robbed of the opportunity to channel their unique creative impulses both inside and outside the classroom. Also, instructors must guard against the "this is what I've done, this is who I know, this is how to succeed" methodology which can become a forum for the instructor's autobiography. An instructor's personal experience is relevant, but it must be balanced with the same attention to curricular trajectory as music history or theory. To alleviate this pitfall, the classroom must become an entrepreneurial incubator that fosters the student's creativity.20

Arts higher education must also confront the persistent nineteenth-century aesthetic that perpetuates the "art-for-arts-sake" paradigm. This ideology must be reexamined in our pedagogy as it results in net negative effect on music students' professional development. Encouraging students to take charge of their careers must be nurtured without the prejudices of entrenched beliefs. By giving students the opportunity to explore a career in music on their terms and challenging them to see beyond popular myths and outdated aesthetics, they empower themselves and communities as well.

Kathleen Allen has noted that teaching entrepreneurship cannot exist in the vacuum of a classroom environment—it must be experiential.21 This observation may be both the key to generating the entrepreneurial music student of the future and, simultaneously, an obstacle to music departments creating this type of curriculum. As mentioned above, adding entrepreneurship to the curriculum is challenging enough, not to mention the additional oversight required to assist students in experiencing their creative and professional goals conceived in the classroom. Yet experiential education such as this is a reality; one only needs to examine The University of Arizona's Camerata program as a model of how this can be accomplished.22

Entrepreneurial curricula should be holistically conceived. Restricting entrepreneurship to instrumental, vocal or music business majors segregates, rather than integrates the topic. Given that these students have more traditional options, those majoring in history, theory, education or composition need this type of curriculum more than instrumentalists for they face an uncertain future in an increasingly crowded academic market.

Though the following point may be somewhat controversial, it becomes important when thinking about emerging economic trends and how these topics intersect with the arts.23 When students are introduced to the concept of a "creative economy," they can participate in a defined economic sector.24 If entrepreneurial pedagogy and student outcomes are integrated with this economic effort, graduates and undergraduates can reap the benefits of preexisting entrepreneurial networks, organizations and incubators common in other disciplines. Likewise, entrepreneurship should not be viewed simply as a method of professional development. When applied across the campus to other disciplines, entrepreneurship can reinvigorate higher education and reunite the communities that support our public universities.25 Thus, by developing university wide programs embracing entrepreneurship, a vision of Intellectual Entrepreneurship can become the driving force of innovation across campuses.26



This is an important time in the history of entrepreneurial education. As entrepreneurship emerges in arts higher education, institutions will have an opportunity to place an individualized stamp on the curricula. Conservatories that have entrepreneurial or professional development programs in place, such as the Eastman School of Music and New England Conservatory, are models that public institutions should examine. Yet, as with all new disciplines, the codification of a curriculum may take time. Points of consensus, however, are emerging: some form of classroom instruction, the need for an experiential component in entrepreneurial education, collaborating with a preexisting entrepreneurship effort on campus and some method of introducing basic business concepts are significant commonalities. In an effort to help guide curricular development in this area, administrators and faculty should weigh the importance of "traditional" business knowledge with the greater need for audience development. What purpose does it serve to create money-managers when students lack audiences? Serious consideration must be given to methods that reach, identify and create new markets; without developing audiences, undergraduates will have little money to manage. Even with these efforts leading the future of entrepreneurial education, integration within the degree plan is critical and has yet to be fully realized. Without this commitment, entrepreneurship may remain segregated. Music departments have an opportunity to create, integrate and implement a new curricular paradigm which re-envisions the mission of arts education. The mission of an entrepreneurial curriculum should include the empowerment of students to stretch the boundaries imposed on arts culture and higher education; this is accomplished by embracing a broader definition of entrepreneurship.

As incoming students and parents demand professional development education, music departments will find themselves at a crossroads.27 To compete for students who are concerned about the professional outcome of their education, universities must find innovative ways to address this need. Entrepreneurship courses and degrees are springing to life and the institutions that take up this challenge will have a competitive edge that others may lack.



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Prioleau, Darwin. "Arts Education and the American Campus: The Leadership Factor." Arts Education Policy Review, 102/4 (2001).

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Ronstadt, Robert. "Does Entrepreneurial Career Path Really Matter?" Frontiers of Entrepreneurial Research (1982): 540-67.

Sandercock, Patrick. "Innovations in Entrepreneurship Education: Strategy and Tactics for Joining the Ranks of Innovative Entrepreneurship Programs in Higher Education." Coleman Council for Entrepreneurship Education.

Timmons, Jeffry. New Business Opportunities: Getting to the Right Place at the Right Time. Brick House Publishing Company: Acton, MA. 1990.

Urice, John K. "The Coming Crisis in Public Higher Education: Implications for the Arts." Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, 30/2 (2000).

Wacholtz, Larry, et al. "Entrepreneurship: The Vital Link to Financial Success in the Music and Entertainment Industry."

Wake-Forest University. "Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts."

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1This paper addresses the entrepreneurial curricula and programs emerging in publicly funded institutions. Conservatories, liberal arts institutions, performing arts schools and community colleges generally have different philosophical missions and therefore tend to approach professional development somewhat differently from publicly funded universities. For this reason, institutions such as the Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School and the Arts Entrepreneurship program at Chicago's Columbia College will not be addressed here. Note, however, that some liberal arts institutions have also addressed this important question as well: see Gustafson, "Liberal Education," 36-38, 62-63.

2Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 21.

3Ibid., 26.

4Ibid., 28.

5Ibid., 27. This is not to say that Drucker overtly accepts Schumpeter's "creative destruction" ideology without caution. See Jurgen Backhaus ed., Joseph Alois Schumpeter: Entrepreneurship, Style, and Vision.

6Drucker puts this simply: "Entrepreneurs innovate." See Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 30.

7Ibid., 25.

8Timmons, New Business Opportunities, 9.


10Low and MacMillan, "Entrepreneurship," 141.

11Gustafson, "Liberal Education," 37.

12Ronstadt, "Does Entrepreneurial Career Path Really Matter?" 551.

13Hornaday and Vesper, "Entrepreneurial Education," 529.

14See Powell, "Camerata Syllabus."

15Newton and Henricks, "Top 100 Entrepreneurial Colleges."

16Michael Shaughnessy, Art Department Chair, University of Southern Maine, personal communication, Feb. 2, 2005.

17Beckman, "Career Development."

18The 2003 NASM Handbook clearly states that students should be exposed to professional development via the entrepreneurial method. "Students should be especially encouraged to acquire the entrepreneurial skills necessary to assist in the development and advancement of their careers." See National Association of Schools of Music, Handbook, 86.

19Rentschler, "Culture and Entrepreneurship," 163-64.

20Ibid., 164.

21Allen, "Moving Toward a New Kind of University for Entrepreneurs."

22Powell, "Camerata Syllabus."

23National Endowment for the Arts, "2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts."

24See Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class. This monograph describes and outlines the importance of the Arts in the creative economic sector.

25Wake-Forest University, "Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts."

26See Cherwitz, "Intellectual Entrepreneurship." This program is the model for similar initiatives found at Binghamton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Syracuse University, Wake-Forest University, Brown University and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown among others.

27See Sandercock, "Innovations in Entrepreneurship Education."

4052 Last modified on October 4, 2018