Music is a tough business, but carving out your own space is a viable way of satisfying your interests and making a living without having to compete against everyone else in the business.
When I graduated with my degree in music, I felt there was only one path for someone with an orchestral music performance degree: A job in an orchestra! So I started taking auditions while still working on my undergraduate degree. I began playing in professional orchestras while I was finishing my undergraduate degree and continued doing so during my graduate degree—for nearly 10 years. I was simultaneously teaching as an adjunct music professor when I began to feel disconnected from the orchestra because I had no control over repertoire.
After I had my first child, I left the orchestra and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do moving forward. I had done some solo playing and competitions. I had done a little chamber music here and there. I had even played in symphony orchestras and opera and ballet companies. I enjoyed them all, but I couldn’t decide which to choose.
Suddenly, I knew the answer: All of them!
There was no need to choose or limit myself. Since I had many interests, I decided to forge my own path by putting together all of the things that I loved. Thus, the South Florida Chamber Ensemble (SFCE) was born. It combined my love of classical music, opera, ballet, traditional music from around the world, music history, and singing and dancing. In addition, it included using music to teach core subjects to children and working with people with accessibility needs.
The first thing I did was choose a mission for the ensemble. What did I want to accomplish? Who did I want to reach? How was I going to be different from the other chamber ensembles in the area? Once I answered those questions, I moved on to selecting other musicians to join me in this venture. I made sure to choose people who were not only great musicians but also committed to the mission of my business. I’d learned it doesn’t hurt to work with people who have skills you lack. Then I secured funding to get started. In the first year, the SFCE was a part-time job, but over time it grew into a full-time job where we give 375 performances a year and do one tour every year. It was perfect! Well, until COVID.
The SFCE did not shut down during the pandemic. We were small and flexible. We were able to pivot to virtual programming almost immediately. While we did not reach the 375 performances of the past year, we were close. The best part was that I still got to do what I loved.
During this process, I realized finding joy in my work was most important, at least for me—more so than fame or fortune. Creating your own music business can be done. It just starts with the music you love to play.
Questions for Discussion
- What kinds of non-music courses do you think would be useful to take before creating your own musical business?
- How can you find funding to start your musical business?
- What are some niches or angles you can explore in creating your own musical business? What type of music do you want to perform? What impact do you want to make on your audience?