From Music to MBA: A Civic Scholar's Journey

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Image of Teddy NiedermaierThis past fall, I began the Weekend MBA as part of the Civic Scholars Program. It may seem weird for a professor and a DM (Doctor of Music) to head back to school. Indeed, one of the reactions I’ve received to my MBA announcement is, “so you’re giving up music?”

But I don’t see it that way. With an MBA, I’m interested in arts leadership and non-profit management, especially on the finance side. I’m not the first to make this move, and I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I find that the music and business worlds are now leaning towards each other: musicians think more about business, while businesses increasingly pursue positive social impact. This is why the Civic Scholars Program was the perfect fit for me: no other top business school provides a full-tuition scholarship for nonprofit professionals in a part-time program. Working full-time while taking classes on the weekend means that I can immediately apply my new skills. This makes the work-life-study juggle (and it is a juggle!) immensely rewarding.

Musicians + Business

When I graduated from Juilliard with a Master’s degree in 2006, I believed (naively) that if I worked hard and applied myself, I would turn out fine. Some more schooling, some more commissions, some teaching, and I’d be on the right path. There wasn’t a clear structure or program in place at Juilliard for me to study the financial and entrepreneurial side of a musical career. It simply wasn’t a big part of the discussion.

How things have changed. With an increasingly competitive market for classical music, and with significant changes in technology and audience habits, the focus has turned towards entrepreneurship. Professional musicians are now more likely to create their own studio, product line, recording label, partnership, or small business. And music students now expect some form of entrepreneurial training in college. Conservatories and music programs are now offering on-campus career centers and advising.

I think that many musicians and ensembles have reached a point of reckoning. Survival is not merely about brand distinctiveness, about a splashy website, and about handling grant applications and tax forms. Everyone has a brand and a website now. Being a talented artist or a world-class orchestra no longer guarantees that you can keep your doors open and your organization thriving. One needs actual management skills such as strategic planning, operations, organizational management, negotiations, marketing, and financial accounting. I knew that the MBA curriculum would cover a broad range of skills that will allow me not only to think about my own career, but would also enable me to help arts organizations maximize their time, talent, and resources.

Connections

As I embark upon this MBA journey, I’ll be looking for meaningful connections between the worlds of music and business. I am interested in how for-profit businesses’ efforts to be more conscious of ESG (positive environmental, social, and governance practices) can intersect with artists’ attempts to engage communities, enrich local culture and improve educational offerings. We have much to offer each other. How can musicians craft a powerful argument for the necessity of music in our communities? How can musicians command the attention of impact investors? And how can businesses think creatively, employing best practices and radical new methods for community engagement? What can the two sides achieve together?

While I’m definitely not sure where the MBA process will ultimately take me, I can confidently say: with the MBA, I’m not giving up on music or the nonprofit world.

Teddy Niedermaier is a Civic Scholar in the Weekend MBA Program. His new book, Orchestra Excerpts for Flute, Volume 2, was released this month. This post was adapted from Teddy’s blog.