Music Ed PD Workshop Reveals Key “Extra-Musical Skills” for Music Career

by Linda Flores


Pictured: Emily Ondracek-Peterson and Prof. Jeanne Goffi-Fynn


“What does a successful music career look like in the 21st century?” This was the driving question behind Dr. Emily Ondracek-Peterson’s Professional Development Workshop for the Music and Music Education community. Professor Jeanne Goffi-Fynn invited the recent TC graduate to address this important topic in the first of a series of workshops meant to prepare students with more tools for success, starting with simply acknowledging the many challenges of making a living as a musician.

After earning her B.M. and M.M. from Juilliard, Emily chose to expand her skills and marketability by enrolling in the Ed.D. program at TC. Her passion for this topic led her to write her 500-page dissertation about the careers of musicians (string players) who graduated from conservatories. She is the living embodiment of putting into practice all the research she obtained. In addition to working as the first violinist of the Voxare String Quartet, Emily is also a teaching artist for the New York Philharmonic, a studio teacher, researcher, writer, music contractor, adjunct professor of violin at Teachers College Columbia University, and a full-time, tenure-track Assistant Professor and Director of String Studies at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. Dr. Goffi-Fynn is “impressed with her thorough research” and is “happy to welcome back Emily and to share her continued good work.”

During this highly interactive workshop, Emily engaged the attendees in small and large group discussions, provided sample surveys from her research and asked the audience to list potential careers for musicians. Beyond the traditional roles of performer, teacher, and composer, the group also mentioned uniquely 21st century options such as “YouTube star” and “blogger.”

One such hands-on activity involved dividing the audience into pairs to look up the careers of past famous musicians such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Gustav Mahler. Through exploring the variety in these famous musicians’ careers, the participants acknowledged the need for entrepreneurship. In the end, the students agreed with Emily that musicians seem to have always needed to be entrepreneurs, piecing together various kinds of jobs in order to make a living.

However, there are specific and unique challenges that musicians have never encountered until the recent decades. Technological inventions that make music more convenient and accessible (and sometimes free) to the mass public prove to be challenges to musicians because people increasingly expect music to be gratis. According to Emily, this leads to devaluation and exploitation of the profession. For example, people may hear a five minute piece of music and do not consider the many years of training and hours of practice it takes to prepare a piece for performance.

Her research shows that the majority of the 120 conservatory students surveyed defined financial success as making over $100,000 per year for other professions, but only $50,000 or above for musicians. Emily argued that athletes get paid much more than musicians but both professions are at the same high level of skill. Musicians tend to not like to talk about money, which can lead to receiving less pay than they are worth.

M.A. student Jean Lee Duong described the workshop as a “stimulating experience,” one that she needed to hear. Jean reflected that the information caused her to think about the reality of financial issues a little more: “Where did I get this concept that musicians are poor and will always be poor? It allowed me to think more creatively and broadly about experimenting with more career paths.”

Emily’s research also revealed that most of the extra-musical skills she feels are necessary for musicians to be successful in the 21st century are not taught in school. These skills include creating presskits, maintaining websites, writing grants and “schmoozing.” She tried to gain some of these skills herself by taking elective classes outside of the Music Education program such as Career Counseling, Trademark and Copyright, and Fundraising. Emily showed three videos from one of her current projects, Noted Endeavors. Noted Endeavors is a project formed in partnership with renowned flutist, author, and TV personality Eugenia Zukerman as a means of discovering and recording through filmed interviews the nitty gritty steps musicians in the twenty-first century are taking to forge successful careers in today’s music industry. In one of the three videos she showed of interviews from her research, one musician, Daniel Bernard Roumain, stated that young artists need a practical sense of reality.

The workshop ended with a list of positive actions, such as “know your worth” and “don’t work for free” to elevate the profession. Afterwards, attendees appeared to be in contemplative moods and all lingered to speak with Emily personally.

Overall, Dr. Goffi-Fynn was very pleased with the workshop and thought Emily did a “terrific job of presenting ideas for our students to think about. The field is changing, and I think it’s imperative for us all to be aware of the changes and to help our students respond to these changes. Making a career in music has never been straightforward or easy, but always exciting.”

Stay tuned for more Professional Development Workshops in the Music and Music Education Program.

Read more from Emily about careers in the music industry on her blog, The 21st C. Musician.