What does teaching, writing, arranging, authoring, performing, recording, consulting, and publishing music all have in common? For me, they are entrepreneurial endeavors that have become branches in a diverse career firmly rooted in Music Education.

Attributes of Music Educator

    Music educators are skilled!

We are trained to teach all aspects and genres of music. We are usually well versed in any number of musical instruments, and teach in a variety of music educational settings including classroom, ensemble, and private lesson. As educators, we are constantly striving to develop fun, interactive, age-appropriate lesson plans and outcome-based assessment goals for music education programs K-12. This command of the language and practice of music, and its application to the educational development of students, is a powerful foundation that will support a wide variety of entrepreneurial endeavors in music for the entrepreneur.

    Music educators are resourceful!

We have to be. For many of us, the weekly is daunting: teach 500+ students weekly, eight classes a day, going room-to-room with only a pushcart, and many times doing it all with no budget to purchase instruments or music. This common scenario taps into one’s resourcefulness and begins to set the stage for innovative, entrepreneurial pursuits.

    Music educators have effective communication skills!

As a music educator, you’ll get very good at public speaking, crowd control, and “thinking on your feet.” You’ll gain the ability to read your audience, anticipate questions, identify needs, and make appropriate adjustments to your performances and presentations—in real time. Effective communication skills are critical to articulate entrepreneurial ideas and advocate support.

Music educators have what it takes to be entrepreneurs. The combination of expert skills in music and music education, resourcefulness, and effective communication skills provide fertile ground for the development of an aspiring entrepreneur.

Over the course of the past 20+ years, the opportunities that have come my way and the preparedness I have felt to pursue those opportunities are due in large part to the years I spent as a classroom music educator and choral director.

So, What Is An Entrepreneur?

Simply stated, an entrepreneur is someone who identifies a “need” or a problem, and then figures out a solution. Of course, comprehensive goals, strategies, and execution plans must be developed and implemented in order to achieve success with any entrepreneurial endeavor, but it all begins with a “need.”

What Are Some Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Music Education?

Entrepreneurial opportunities available to music educators abound. They include writing and arranging band or choral music to serve a program’s needs; authoring music education methods; writing articles on new approaches to music education; writing reviews in trade publications for new products and services; music industry board work to forge innovative partnerships; presenting new approaches to the profession at State and National conferences; consulting and advising for music industry manufacturers and publishers who develop music education products and publications; and the list goes on. These entrepreneurial activities provide professional development opportunities for the music educator-entrepreneur, service to the profession, and potentially, additional streams of income to fund a program, cause, or additional entrepreneurial endeavors.

Where To Begin?

Look at your current teaching situation. What are some of the needs not being met? What can your experience, insight, and skill set offer to address these “needs” for your immediate situation—and potentially—for hundreds of other music educators? How far can you take it? How far can you take it? Start by making a list: “Immediate Need” followed by, “Entrepreneurial Opportunities.” Here is an example:


Immediate Need:

A third grade teacher is planning a 100 day celebration at school and would like to do some cross-curricular planning and activities with the music program.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities:
a. Write a “100 Day Song” for the class, arrange for two-part choral, seek a music education publisher to make the piece available to schools.

b. Write a short musical for the third-grade class incorporating elements from the 100 day math curriculum. Seek a music education publisher to make the work available to all schools.

Take stock of your skills and address one of your program’s immediate needs with an entrepreneurial spirit. Find a solution to your immediate need and then and take it as far as you can. Remember, as a music educator, you have a solid foundation and the skills needed to branch out successfully in many different directions. Have fun exploring the possibilities and becoming a music educator-entrepreneur!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

Sandy Feldstein was a legend in the music education industry. He was also my mentor and my uncle. Sandy authored more than 700 musical compositions and method books in all educational areas, and held leadership positions throughout the industry, including the executive Vice President of Alfred Publishing, the President of Columbia Pictures Publications and Belwin Music Inc., the President of Warner Bros. Publications and the President of Carl Fischer Music before devoting his full time to his own company, PlayinTime Productions, Inc. More on Sandy’s life and career can be found here. Sandy helped to mentor and accelerate the careers of so many in the music education industry. He led by example and everyone lined up to be on his team.

In the following interview, shot in August 2006, Sandy discusses different types of career opportunities there are for music educators beyond the classroom including writing, arranging, and consulting. Sandy had a very successful career in the music education publishing industry and offers insight and an entrepreneurial spirit into the possibilities and opportunities available to aspiring music educators today.

For more interview clips with Sandy, click here.