A local program in Delray Beach, Florida, is making a splash as it trains local artists in business skills–a portion of the musician’s arsenal that is typically underdeveloped. According to the April 19 press release about the details of the program, “From Starving to Striving” Entrepreneurship Program for Artists is “a focused curriculum designed to assist individual artists of all disciplines (visual, musicians, writers, media, theater, performing arts and culinary) in expanding their foundation, strengthening their business skills, both in/out of the classroom.” As the title of the program illustrates, the idea of the starving artist is one that is both well-entrenched in the musical community and very much dreaded as a real-life outcome of the decision to go into music as a career. Most musicians come out of music school very well-trained in the specific skills on their instrument, and they’re usually well-coached in some other extra-musical aspects, like stage deportment and public speaking, as well as how to speak with audience members, benefactors, and personnel managers. That’s usually the point at which preparation for the “real world” stops, which leaves music school graduates–both of recent classes and classes long past–a little bit in the lurch.
The program seeks to equip artists with the necessary business-related expertise to build a strong base of income and a strong personal brand, both important elements in an increasingly dog-eat-dog freelance world. Registrants of the program will receive in-classroom and real-world resources, as well as one-on-one executive coaching. Over the course of the year, the 100 artists will participate in business workshops, be given one-on-one coaching, and compete to win over $8000 in grants. The workshops and business coaching sessions are free with a registration fee of $75. The aim of the program is to provide a comprehensive, supportive infrastructure for the participants in the month-long series of classes.
One of the principal attractions of the “From Starving to Striving” program is the list of speakers and guests who will offer their own take on “the business” and their own expertise to the registrants. The present term of the program, which began on April 21st and will end on May 19th, features a wide cross-section of artists and businesspeople of all stripes, including a jazz pianist, several conductors, two attorneys, an actor/philanthropist (thereby killing two birds with one stone, so to speak), a visual artist and gallery owner, and the owner of an entrepreneurial entertainment group. The program, although it is essentially a local, community-oriented program, seems to offer much as a model for adaptation, and its very existence speaks to the great need that the musical community has for this kind of support.
Without sounding too much like Bones from “Star Trek,” we’re musicians, not businessmen–but, more and more, we need to be both. The trouble is this: too many pillars of the musical community got that way without a whole lot of business acumen, since times have not always been like they are now. The business and musical communities are a bit like chalk and cheese–not the most logical of pairings, and it has historically been a set of communities that has not blended much. Times are changing, and, rather than letting newly minted musicians go into the world like lambs to a slaughter, perhaps the musical community should take the cue from programs like this one in Florida and incorporate such material into a performance degree curriculum. Some schools offer a music business elective course; few provide support to the extent that the real world really requires. Local programs like “From Starving to Striving” also address an important concern: what if you’ve already finished school, and there really is no centralized place to learn the skills you’re finding you need? Schools and communities alike should take notice of “From Starving to Striving” and its like-minded program cousins around the nations–it’s time to stop turning musicians into the world to starve without the necessary business skills to stay afloat, and it’s time to make sure that the idea of the “thriving artist” replaces the old stereotype in our minds and in reality.