Looking Back to Move Forward: A Reflection on Music Entrepreneurship’s Second Wave

November 5, 2023

In 2010, I had the honor of serving on several panels as part of the College Music Society’s (CMS) Music Entrepreneurship Education Summit held at Vanderbilt University. The tagline for the Summit still resonates with me: “Catching the Second Wave.” I remember thinking, who was in the first wave? Will there be a third wave? 

I realized very quickly that the first wave consisted of many of the early adopters involved in music entrepreneurship. Doug Dempster, Gary Beckman, Lisa Canning, Tayloe Harding, David Cutler, Angela Beeching, Michael Drapkin, and Kevin Woelfel were all people I looked up to for inspiration as I caught the proverbial “second wave” of this movement. It was great to see that many of the early adopters in the music entrepreneurship movement were going to be a part of the Summit, and I was thrilled to see the subject elevated within the membership of CMS.  

At the time, I was a relatively new guy on the block in CMS, the music entrepreneurship movement, and even collegiate teaching. When the Summit was held in 2010, I was halfway through my third year of teaching bassoon as a tenure-track professor at Bowling Green State University. However, the reason I was invited to be a part of the Summit was not due to my work in the bassoon studio; rather, it was due in large part to the fact that I ran a nonprofit organization called Arts Enterprise that paired arts and business students on college campuses through the vein of entrepreneurship. 

In the fall of 2006, Kelly Dylla, Chris Genteel, Mark Clague (our faculty advisor), and I founded Arts Enterprise (AE) as a student-driven organization at the University of Michigan exploring common ground among arts and business students. Within just a few months, AE secured university support, began recruiting members, and started offering programming. AE provided a forum for students of business and the arts to work together to develop ideas that enhanced not only their careers but also contributed to society by enriching lives in the public and private sectors through cultural engagement, social enterprise, and creative leadership. AE students enhanced their education by developing innovative cross-campus projects that connected them with the community. What made AE different from other music entrepreneurship endeavors at the time was that our initiative was faculty-supported but student-led. Students came up with the ideas, found the money to make them happen, and promoted them to other students. We saw students transformed by those experiences. By the time the Summit occurred in 2010, AE was a fully operating 501(c)(3) organization with ten chapters at universities across the upper Midwest. At a time when very few schools across the country had entrepreneurship or career development programs, AE was proof that students wanted additional training beyond the studio walls. 

I attended the Summit because of Gary Beckman. I had the pleasure of meeting Gary in 2007 at the Brevard Conference on Music Entrepreneurship (BCOME), which was founded by Tayloe Harding and Michael Drapkin. Gary was instrumental in providing a platform for those of us who were riding the second wave, and I am thankful for his continued leadership in the field. What I loved about the moment when Gary asked me to participate in the Summit was how he expressed his desire to hear the perspectives of student leaders involved in AE. He centered student voices at the Summit, and I remember feeling a sense of validation that the grassroots efforts we were making on college campuses were also making an impact in the field. The three students I brought to the Summit are now, of course, grown adults. Jonathan Kuuskuski now runs the EXCEL program at the University of Michigan; Kristen Gillespie (née Hoverman), a flute performance major in 2010, has spent the last ten years working at Google; and Emily Weingarten has had a successful career as a special education teacher. All three of these early adopters of AE helped turn the organization into a force.

AE closed its doors in 2012, about the time this second wave of music entrepreneurship education started to conclude. I believe this was largely because student-driven initiatives were so difficult to sustain when student interest varied so dramatically from year to year. In addition, 2012 was about the time that more college campuses began to engage their own faculty and staff to build and sustain music entrepreneurship programming through coursework. The second wave set us up for what we have today, which is essentially a field-wide acceptance that we need to be preparing our students more deeply for work in the real world after graduation. The Summit filled the music entrepreneurship education void for college campuses around the country and deepened conversations about the role the academy could play in the development of young artists.

While I am thrilled to see the progress our field has made, our work in this space is by no means finished. I have become increasingly concerned about the fact that the field of music entrepreneurship education, while almost universally accepted as a key component of a high-quality music education, still struggles to find a footing within traditional music degree curricula. My hope is that, in the next thirteen and a half years, we will see deeper efforts to make courses in entrepreneurship core to the curriculum. In addition, I believe that universities across the country must do a better job of supporting the upward mobility of practitioners in the music entrepreneurship space, many of whom have been deeply involved in this work for close to two decades yet often do not have a clear path to tenure or a secure position at an institution.

I was honored to be a part of the 2010 Summit, and I am equally honored to reflect on where the field stands at this moment in time. I cannot wait to write about where things stand in the year 2036!

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