PEP Curriculum

Performance Entrepreneurialism Program. Overview by FEA Chairman Michael Drapkin.

One of the disconcerting things about the classical music world and fine arts in general has been the gradual and continuing decline in or lack of funding for the arts in America, the dearth of opportunities for graduates of too many music schools, and the huge imbalance between the supply of these musicians and demand for their talents. To address this, I have developed a new curriculum for music schools called the Performance Entrepreneurialism Program or "PEP."

PEP is an entrepreneurship program. It is a curriculum designed to take music performance majors and turn them into entrepreneurs for the arts - to have them go out and create demand for their artistry, rather than merely pushing them out of school falsely believing that if they practice hard enough, someone will unceremoniously hand them a job.

To my great surprise, my proposed curriculum has been getting attention from the top music schools in the country. I have to admit that I am somewhat chagrined that I am getting far more traction from PEP than from my previously more lucrative and in demand technology leadership skills. I have now had numerous meetings with the heads of the Eastman School of Music (currently ranked as the number one music school in America by US News) and the Juilliard School. This is the classical music equivalent of meeting with the heads of Harvard and Yale.

You can view my presentations on the web. You will need to be using a recent version of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser on a PC (sorry Mac folks):

Presentation at College Music Society National Conference - High bandwidth version, great graphics

Juilliard Presentation - High bandwidth version, great graphics

Eastman Presentation - Low bandwidth version, quicker to load

Both versions are roughly the same; the Juilliard version is more recent and has better graphics, but it takes longer to load.

Two years ago, I gave the keynote speech at a symposium called Putting Your Degree to Work at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts in Austin as a guest of Bob Freeman, the former Director from Eastman, New England Conservatory, Dean of UT's College of Fine Arts, and a great friend and mentor (I will post my speech at a later date.) One of the questions I posed was as follows:

"In the eCommerce world, we have incubators which help nurture the growth of fledgling businesses. Where are the incubators of the music world?"

It also got me thinking about the huge imbalance between supply and demand in the classical music world. How in good conscience could music schools continue to pump thousands of graduates - particularly performance majors - year after year into a non-existent job market? It appeared as if they were all both acting for their own self-aggrandizement and self-perpetuation and still following a 19th European century model for music performance education: If you practice hard enough, someone/somewhere/somehow will give you a job playing your instrument.

Yet, at least in our society, this elusive job market simply does not exist. According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, there are only 22 orchestras with full year full time 52 week seasons in the United States. 22! That means that there are only roughly 60 full time jobs for symphony orchestra clarinetists in the entire country! You have better odds of becoming the Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company than landing a job as a clarinetist in one of these orchestras!

When I was Chair of eCommerce Management in Columbia University's Executive Information Technology Management program, I was tasked with taking technology managers and helping them span the wide gulf to becoming executives. I crafted curricula that were approved by Albany, I hired the instructors, which included MBAs from the Harvard Business School and NYU Stern, and taught a course called Web, Internet and eCommerce, where I examined the business models and infrastructure that makes up web commerce, as well as bringing in major guest lecturers from industry: CEO's, CIO's Directors of Marketing, VC's, etc.

This laid the foundation for the program that I felt was needed in higher music education. Students needed to learn the basics of business in order to forge their own path and ply their art, as well as to understand the motivations of their audiences and patrons. I believe that they needn't leave their destiny to chance and the good will of others. They need to become the masters of their own destiny! My program will teach them about how the world works - strategy, marketing, organization, operations, management, forming corporations, sales - things you need in order to start your own business, albeit not-for-profit. Plus, I would not even touch their traditional music curriculum, as well as make this program optional. My classes would replace some of the regimen of non-music academic courses that these schools must offer in order for them to be accredited academic institutions, therefore making this program largely self-funding. I would also have them perform a "Field Study," where they actually go out and either create a new ensemble or group or create something new in an existing organization. I would make it a contest, and the most successful group would win a large cash prize or Carnegie Hall Debut. Those students who choose not to participate in the PEP curriculum would not be eligible to compete in this contest.

Of course I am merely modeling many of the techniques used by schools that represent other industries. I have stolen shamelessly from the MIT Media Lab, the UCLA Business School and others. My hope is that the adoption of my program by a major school will be a watershed for the fine arts in America (of course this program is applicable to any of the performing arts: dance, theatre, etc.). It will force them all to not only adopt some version of the program I am proposing, but also make themselves accountable to their alumni. Did they prepare their graduates adequately to the task of plying their art in our society, not European society, which has heavy state support for the arts?

I believe there are large numbers of opportunities for young (or not so young) musicians to forge their own paths and create their own concerts, instead of abandoning responsibility for their careers to the all or nothing lottery of the very few symphony orchestra jobs. These may not be lucrative enough opportunities to warrant the attention of concert promoters because of the low commissions yielded against the effort spent organizing small concerts. But if the performers could promote and organize these venues themselves, they could actually discover a way to earn a living as a performer. The ultimate success of my curriculum would be for the field study to turn into the job that they assume upon graduation. Imagine that - your field study turns into your livelihood! Imagine all of these entrepreneurial graduates fanning out across the country, starting a rebirth of fine culture in America through their home-grown concerts!

The last "deal sweetener" I came up with, most recently with the Director of the Eastman School of Music, was to present a way for my program to be self funding. As I discuss in my presentation, this program is approximately 75% self-funding. If I found a way to enhance the funding of this program in the early years to make it 100% self funding, I believe that would make a difference in a school's commitment to move forward today rather than two years from now. What I have proposed is coming up with an endowment through my personal resources or the personal resources of people I know who may be passionate about seeing such a project to fruition. I have some planned giving specialists at Merrill Lynch who have committed to helping me obtain commitments from charitably inclined individuals, family foundations and corporations to help endow my program.

While the last two years have been an unmitigated business disaster for me because of the meltdown in the technology world, especially in the New York City area, it has given me the rare opportunity to conceive ideas like the curriculum I have presented above and in my PowerPoint presentations. If I was involved in the usual all-consuming technology leadership position, I would never be given pause to conceive and refine an idea like this. It may sound cliche, but there is always a silver lining to every cloud. I am quite excited about the potential of this kind of challenge, and in addition to my ongoing technology job search activities, I believe I am making greater progress towards this particular endeavor, plus for the first time in twenty years I am seeing a model that would return me to earning my living through music - my first career - while combining the sum of the skills I have obtained across all of my personal reinventions. In a sense, it is a much more worthy goal. I know I won't change the world through the tech work I do, but it does provide income. On the other hand, I believe that the PEP program has the potential to make a fundamental positive change in an area that is of great importance to me. Perhaps in the long run that is much more important.