The Life-Long Journey of Music Entrepreneurship: Where are you now and how can you improve?

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8717457422 7bf84ecfe2 zWe hear a lot today about “arts entrepreneurship” but what exactly does that mean?

Let’s start with “entrepreneurship”:  the process of transforming an idea into an enterprise that creates value—economic, social, cultural, or intellectual– through innovation risk-taking and actualizing an idea.

To me,  “arts entrepreneurship” is:  applying the entrepreneurial mindset (including taking risks, creating and recognizing opportunity, grit and growth) to creative endeavors in order to create new value, often with less than optimal resources.

A few years ago, I offered a definition of the music entrepreneur of the 21st Century to emphasize that music entrepreneurship is both a mindset and a skill set which are learned and honed over time.  You do not emerge fully formed as a successful music entrepreneur but rather you start off at a certain level and with the “entrepreneurial mindset of success“, you acquire the skills to progress along a continuum. This is a life-long journey, full of rich opportunities for personal and professional growth and development.

Since the time of that initial blog post, I have refined that definition and now use it as a basis upon which my student can assess their progress over the course of the semester. Here is my latest definition:

The Music Entrepreneur of the 21st Century is an exceptionally talented and intellectually gifted artist/leader who

  • has a career vision and a mission,
  • innovates and creates value and successfully communicates that value to intended audiences,
  • knows and believes in his/her unique gift and himself/herself,
  • has a positive attitude,
  • sets inspiring and realistic goals,
  • has and/or acquires the necessary expertise to actualize his/her vision,
  • sets the right priorities,
  • looks for and creates opportunities,
  • embraces uncertainty and takes risks,
  • faces challenges and perseveres,
  • learns from experience,
  • consistently takes action,
  • uses context and is able to respond rapidly to changes in the environment,
  • is constantly growing and evolving,
  • reaches out to others to ask for support and to offer help, and
  • inspires others to join and/or support his mission

in order to create a financially sustainable enterprise that allows him/her to live his/her gift and contribute something valuable to society.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2015

Where are you in this process?

That was the question I posed to my students at the Yale School of Music on our first day of class and presented the inquiry as an opportunity to develop the growth mindset, which research shows is more likely to lead to success

 Let’s take a closer look at how they approached the journey of becoming music entrepreneurs using the growth mindset.

I had my students review the list to see where they were in the process of becoming a successful music entrepreneurs.

Two things emerged:

  1. All of them possessed at least some of these characteristics, which came as a surprise to a number of students who thought that they were in class to learn from scratch.
  2. There was obviously room for growth and improvement!

Each student then identified the area or areas that needed the most work and set a goal to achieve by the end of the semester, framed as a “get better goal” in order to adopt a growth mindset:

How can I grow and learn to get better in this particular area?

Here are the major areas flagged for growth and improvement.

Embracing Uncertainty and Taking Risks

Facing uncertainty and taking risks was a significant challenge for many of the students because it brought up a lot of fear:  in taking on new projects, talking to new people or even playing for others in studio class, not to mention performing in new ways that felt unsafe.  Other reported feeling “unsettled” when they could not plan out everything.  

It is no surprise that musicians would be risk averse. After all, in learning their musical craft, they get the message that unless they are “perfect”, they will never succeed. They fear the judgments of their teachers, their peers, their audience members and most of all, themselves.  This reflects the fixed mindset that encourages you to play it safe, yet paradoxically, leads to less success than the growth mindset!

Closely related is learning from experience and improving through “mistakes” and “failures.”

So to break out of the “safe” mentality, my students have created growth goals that include:

  • apply to festivals that I would otherwise consider out of reach;
  • perform in new venues and in public locations;
  • put myself out in the world with a new project;
  • make hard decisions based on my values and my mission, rather than out of fear;
  • meet new people and expand my network; and
  • get my compositions performed at a festival.

Seting inspiring and Realistic Goals

Many of my students have a broad vision for what they want to accomplish in their music careers, ranging from multi-faceted performance careers to community service and teaching artistry to forming new ensembles and creating new festivals.

Where they get stuck is in the goal-setting stage: achieving a result within a specific time frame.

Often, it is the time frame that gives rise to fear because it puts pressure on you to deliver on your goal. Again, there is a fear of failure that if you set a goal with a time period and you do not accomplish that goal, you are therefore a failure.

This has led a number of students to set a goal of getting better at goal setting and not feeling afraid of failure, as well as keeping on track with career goals in order to assess career development.

Taking Consistent Action

Closely related to setting goals is consistently taking actions in order to achieve one’s goals.

Some students found themselves getting stuck in the “planning” phase of a goal or a project.

Others felt the need to be more consistent when they took action, instead of throwing themselves into a project and burning out, with the result that they needed to recover and then did nothing.

Yet others found that they needed to get better in following through with their ideas.

So music entrepreneurs need to commit to their goals and taking the actions to make their goals happen. This is at the heart of entrepreneurship where you take an idea and actualize it!


Professional musicians are busy, balancing multiple streams of work, being on the lookout for new opportunities and attending to relationships, family, health and the rest of their lives.  The trick is to prioritize among their many opportunities and activities to determine what is most likely to lead to creative success.   Not surprisingly, our students came up with “get better goals” around prioritizing in order to focus on the most productive and meaningful professional development opportunities, as well as continue their personal development.

Communication and Networking

A number of students highlighted their fears around communicating with others and meeting new people. This is indispensable to entrepreneurs who need to inspire others to join in and/or support their mission.  Thus, they want to “get better” at

  • talking to new people and “they might actually find me as interesting as I find them to be”, as well as 
  • taking the initiative to speak up in front of crowds, peers and colleagues and not worrying about being judged.


Underlying many of these fears is a lack of confidence, which is critical to becoming a successful entrepreneur in order to inspire others to join in your venture.  Students recognized that they could work on their confidence by improving their underlying skills. They also wanted to get better at speaking about themselves and receiving recognition, as well as boosting their self-esteem in order to improve their leadership abilities.

Using Context

Music entrepreneurs need to understand the context within which they operate as musicians in order to identify the opportunities that exist in our changing world. One student plans on reading the digest of arts, culture and ideas published in the daily arts journal
in order to learn more about the professional world that she is about to enter.

Another student is focused on getting better at understanding the context of the music he performs in order to improve his musicianship.  Yet another student feels it is important to get better at understanding other people and the situation of the world in order to identify opportunities for career advancement.

Bottom Line:

Becoming a successful musician requires a lot of skills, determination, diligence and a mindset of success.  My students are committed to this journey and they are already starting to work on “getting better”. 

Take a page from these budding music entrepreneurs:   Assess yourself realistically as to where you are on this journey of success and fulfillment–and then set your own “get better” goals so that you can get there as well!