Being a Business-Minded Musician

April 12, 2017

The following guest post was written by Kara Miller, Class of 2018.  Thanks Kara!
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As a dual degree student pursuing both horn performance and business, people often say to me, “Oh good, you have a backup plan that will actually make you money,” as if being a musician isn’t enough. Usually I just smile and laugh off these comments. In reality, however, saying that business is my backup plan couldn’t be farther from the truth. In my time here at Eastman, I have come to recognize that music and business complement each other. In my day-to-day life as a musician, I can use a business-oriented mindset and my business knowledge to give me a strategic edge within the music world.

When I first came to Eastman, I never planned to pursue two degrees. I didn’t want anything to take me away from my focus on music. However, as a musician in this day and age, I knew that learning basic business and management skills would be a good time investment and help me be more successful. In order to satisfy both of these desires, I planned to minor in business and use those business classes to fulfill my humanities (non-music) requirements here at Eastman. This plan seemed foolproof until I discovered that classes taken through the Simon School of Business don’t actually count toward my humanities requirement. This meant I would need to take additional non-business classes to complete my non-music class requirement at Eastman. I consulted with Dean Hain in the Office of Academic Affairs about my options. Since the course load would end up being similar, he encouraged me to go “all in” and add a BA in business. So I did, and I have not regretted it once!

Since adding my business degree in my sophomore year, I have sought to apply my business coursework to my life as an aspiring professional musician. So far the connections have been limitless. For instance, in my Pricing Strategies class, we were told to author a paper about anything we wanted that also has to do with pricing. In my paper I explored the pricing of classical music concert tickets across major professional orchestras in the US. Researching this paper gave me a richer knowledge of the inner workings of symphony orchestras while also strengthening my pricing knowledge and skills. Furthermore, in all of my marketing classes we have discussed the idea that marketing the experience gained from a product is better than marketing a physical product itself to consumers. This principal applies perfectly to the music world, as the best way to engage new audiences is by portraying a wonderful orchestral experience, not by creating hype around the physical ticket and chair given through a purchase. Finally, I’ve even been able to apply my business knowledge directly to my Eastman coursework. In music history we were asked to create a themed concert program and come up with a marketing plan to entice audiences to attend the show. I’ve truly enjoyed discovering all the ways that business intersects with music, and the above examples only represent a fraction of the ways the two worlds collide. My dual degree has shown me a new way of viewing the world that I plan to take with me my entire life.

By looking through this new lens of both music and business, I have actually shifted my way of thinking about myself. I see that as a musician, I am also a business with a vision, a goal, a product, and marketing plan.  I can summarize these elements as follows: 

  • My vision: To inspire others to love classical music as much as I do through high-level, emotionally stimulating performances that engage everyday people to listen to classical music in a new, enlightened way.
  • My goal: To win an orchestral horn position in which I can live out my vision. (Getting an additional management position within the orchestra would be an added bonus!)
  • My product: My horn playing and business knowledge (me!!).
  • My plan: To each day strive to be better than I was the day before by practicing thoughtfully and meaningfully so that I can audition well and, therefore, market myself in a positive light to future employers.

Playing well is one of the most important ways that I can market myself in a positive light. However, to truly market my product successfully I must also have a deep knowledge and understanding of  my target audience (who I want to market my product to, in this case orchestras). I also must understand what my target audience values in a product (each orchestra’s individual sound and stylistic preferences) and how I can best shape my product to match the needs of my target audience (how I play each excerpt). With each new job opportunity the specifics of each aspect change, but my overall ability and base product should not. With this sort of thought process in place, auditions are no longer a time where I try to play to perfection, but rather an opportunity for me to fill the need of an employer by  offering them the musical product they desire.

In the end, the goal of every great business is to differentiate itself from its competition, and my combined music and business experience does just that. When I’ve come to conceptualize myself and my life in the way of a business-minded musician, I actually give myself a competitive edge in the marketplace. I truly believe that my business knowledge has the potential to make me a more desirable asset for any orchestra. My mindset provides a unique perspective among my peers that can aid in the growth and longevity of the classical music world.

In my time here at Eastman and the University of Rochester, I have so enjoyed making new discoveries and connections both within and outside of music and business. While music and business don’t represent my whole life, the two combined accord me a rare point-of-view from which I learn and grow every day. So no, business is  not my backup plan or my “get-rich-quick” scheme, it’s a way of me living out my musical life and aspirations in a unique way.