David Cutler
Duquesne University
Posted 11.11.2009

What prompted you to write "The Savvy Musician?"

My training at top music schools helped me develop into an advanced and well-rounded composer/performer. Yet I felt completely unprepared upon graduation to excel in the professional world. Noticing that many other schooled musicians experienced similar challenges, I began a long trek towards unraveling the mysteries of the music business. More than a decade later, I wrote The Savvy Musician to help my students, teachers, friends, colleagues, and other talented individuals achieve greater success.

Can you briefly describe what the book covers?

The Savvy Musician helps individuals 1) build a career, 2) earn a living, and 3) make a difference. Delivering the tools and entrepreneurial mindset necessary for musicians to thrive professionally, it focuses on a variety of issues such as product development (i.e. the art that we produce), branding, marketing, networking, recording, personal finance, and leaving a legacy. Throughout the book, strategies described are supported with 165 vignettes about actual musicians working to create meaningful and prosperous careers.

So, how do you define a "savvy musician" and in what ways have musicians NOT been savvy in the past?

In the past, musicians often chased a single objective: artistic excellence. Striving to be like the competition, only better, they believed that those with the highest level expertise were entitled to success. These purists viewed marketing and other business skills with apathy or disdain, seeing them as irritating distractions. As a result, performers and composers often designed events without consideration for the audience—either attracting one or providing relevant, resonating experiences. Instead, they expected others to revere their genius and priorities. (By the way, many of these musicians found themselves underemployed or unemployable.)

But success requires more than talent and musical skills! Today’s savvier breed of musicians balances a broader perspective. In addition to outstanding artistic ability, they embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, create opportunities, differentiate their work, market extraordinarily, exploit technology, are financially literate, and pursue meaningful projects. Business skills are part of the job description and taken seriously. Savvy musicians cherish their audience. Rather than pursuing “vanity” projects, they work to fulfill real needs. Being a great player isn’t enough. They are also engaged community members and world citizens.

Is the book more for educators or practicing musicians?

For me, it’s difficult to make this distinction. Just about all savvy performers I know have an educational component to their profile. And the most powerful music teachers practice their art in some form, even if they’re not actively touring. However musicians choose to balance these two aspects,
The Savvy Musician will help them (and their students) flourish.

You've linked the book with a website as well. Can you describe how the two work together?

The website, essentially an extension of the book, allows for additional material to be presented and updated regularly. The tag line for
SavvyMusician.com is “Home Base for Music Careers & Entrepreneurship,” and I hope you find it to be just that. In addition to book information, the site hosts:

A Resource Center. Over 1000 links to valuable sites: funding sources, summer camps, magazines, music blogs, free resources, and more. Access is free!
Blog articles. Expands on themes related to the book, exploring categories such as mindset, career, marketing, money, and education.
Videos. Issue Videos showcase inspirational and informative talks by leaders both in and outside the music world.   Music Videos feature creations by savvy musicians that are unusual, innovative, humorous, or otherwise "purple." 
A bookstore. An Amazon Affiliate, it "stocks" only books helpful specifically to musicians.  Many titles have special TSM reviews.
A newsletter. The rare breed of e-zine designed with readers’ interests in mind.
An opportunity to interact. Visitors are encouraged to leave blog comments, submit questions, and offer suggestions.

Do you have a second book planned?

My next book will focus specifically on creativity and arts entrepreneurship. I’ve also considered completing the series by collaborating with others to write The Savvy Actor, The Savvy Dancer, and The Savvy Artist.

How do you see "The Savvy Musician" fitting in with Arts Entrepreneurship (AE) efforts in higher education?

Please understand, my goal is not simply to create entrepreneurs. There are many approaches to a life in the arts, and if people find success solely through traditional outlets and non-entrepreneurial tactics, bravo. But the professional marketplace is flooded with outstanding individuals, forced to compete for a shrinking number of opportunities. The reality for most musicians is that long-term and widespread success is impossible without an entrepreneurial approach.

There is some good news. The battle over AE in academia has been fought, and won decisively. Most teachers in higher education are well aware of professional challenges, and truly want their students to succeed. “Music for music’s sake” is giving way to a new attitude which values both pragmatic and artistic concerns. As a result, many schools are looking to make curricular modifications.

The best way to do this, however, is still a question. Because AE is such a new field, few teachers have the background for effective instruction in this area, and even fewer resources geared towards artists are on the market. It is my hope that The Savvy Musician—my book, website, and talks—will help delineate an instructional model and set of priorities that can be adapted into existing and emerging AE programs.

Where do you see Arts Entrepreneurship education heading in the next five years?

In 5 years, many more schools will offer some kind of career development/entrepreneurship training. In 10 years, they all will. Without it, academic institutions simply won’t be able to attract students. Let’s face it, most budding musicians aren’t interested in taking on mountains of student debt just to become outstanding hobbyists!

But AE programs aren’t just a means for attracting paying customers. They represent an ethical obligation. And not just because this training helps alumni succeed financially. In today’s complex and quickly changing world, there is a genuine need for visionary leaders, opportunity creators, and problem solvers. With our creative training, artists can and should play these roles. Arts Entrepreneurship is good for our communities. It’s good for our world.