Blog: Cutting Through the Noise

Blog of Cellist Joshua Roman

The business of playing music

Ever wonder how a classically trained musician from a conservatory background handles the day-to-day of being a self-employed businessperson? So do I. Actually, I think I'm getting better at this whole balance thing. But it's still quite a challenge, one that has unforeseen pitfalls and nuances around every corner. And I even have a great team and lots of help! I wonder sometimes if two of those practice hours every week back in school could have been more useful spent at the nearby cafeteria eavesdropping on the the MBA students. Or better yet, in an actual business class!

Such thinking is not unusual in these hard economic times. Some music schools are catching on, and several are starting programs to help students get a better picture of the real life, where skipping classes to go to the practice room may not actually be as effective as achieving a good balance between networking (and honing the required communicative skills) and developing your artistry on your instrument. There are also new books available on the subject. One such book is Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching. Browsing the internet you may also discover David Cutler's book on musicians and career building, or looking even further, discussion groups and blogs for those needing advice.

That's all very well and good, but sometimes I just want to play the cello! I've realized the importance of presenting the whole picture from the beginning. My generation grew up thinking that if we practiced, we'd have what we wanted. If we played well, we'd be a star. So even after creative-minded teachers and classes, and hard work to build effective habits, the default is to pick up the cello and let everything else sort itself out. And it's a hard default to resist! The magical pull of the "it" factor, and talent, are hard to take out of the equation. And rightly so, at least somewhat. No matter how savvy your hobnobbing may be, when it comes time to sit (or stand, for my vocal, viol-this-or-that, and otherwise non cellistic friends) on stage and deliver, you'd better have something more to give your audience than a well thought out program proposal and a sweet Facebook Fan Page!

My point is this: It's time to start training kids for the job. All of the job. It doesn't take that much, when I left conservatory I would have benefitted tremendously from a few simple programming guidelines and instructions on writing a proper email introduction, or knowing how to prioritize a weekly schedule. And there are even more shapes and sizes of opportunity out there than performers/entrepreneurs to fill them. Young musicians need to be well-versed in the parameters of those opportunities and the skills necessary to move from the practice room to the real world. Let the default be balanced. Lessen the surprise, angst, panic, and wasted time when someone who only knows how to tune passages realizes they need to grasp other skills as well. It's time for those of us already out there to be complete and transparent role-models even as we reinvent ourselves and as the music world works to find a diverse array of paths to overcome its current challenges.

Hmm... In the meantime, here I am, writing a blog when I should be practicing. Then again, I did put in quite a few hours with Midge today... Screw it! One more hour of quiet practice shouldn't hurt! After all, in sum of these things, the cello must be at the center, else all other efforts ring false and fall flat.

Oh, young reader who aspires to great things, may you never see your life as a musician divided and at odds, but as one continuous flow of skill, talent, hard work and communication as you reach people on, off, and backstage (or online, heh).

--- editor(that's me)'s note: I am honored to be chosen to attend the Association of Arts Presenters 2011 conference in January. I will learn more about the business of music, meet all kinds of fascinating movers and shakers, and perform a showcase in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie through their Young Performers Career Advancement Program. Practice, practice practice. And during those commas get lots of advice for your applications! ---