Music professor teaches students to market their skills, as well as perfect their talents

Sunday, April 27, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Jonathan Kuuskoski teaches a class about musical entrepreneurship March 13. During the class, Kuuskoski discussed how to prepare for the future by creating budgets that mapped out student's projected income by calculating the price they would charge customer's for their work.

COLUMBIA  — Jonathan Kuuskoski never saw a division between being a pianist and making a living.

Coming from a family of artists, he understood what it took to be a performer and put food on the table.  

Kuuskoski brought his understanding of business and music to Columbia in 2011 when he accepted the job of coordinator of outreach and community programs at the MU School of Music.

While he was initially hired to coordinate local music programs, he soon spearheaded the task of building a new curriculum that would teach students how to self-start their careers.

The result is the Music Entrepreneurship Certificate, a program that will become available to both undergraduate and graduate students. The program is designed to help students market their talent to potential employers in the music industry. 

Classes for the certificate are already being offered. Topics include learning how to budget, event promoting and branding. 

In a course called Career Development for Musicians, Kuuskoski engages eight students in conversations about music lesson pricing, taxes and student loans. 

He encourages students not to undervalue what they do. He even had them fill out an algebraic worksheet to determine how much to charge for their time, whether it be teaching or consulting.

"If you are undercharging people, they will start thinking that is what you're worth," Kuuskoski told them. 

He knows that the circumstances of full-time musicians have changed in the past 10 years, and the way music is being taught should change as well. Although the certificate is not meant to replace the rigorous course work of a music student, understanding the music business can be as important as sustained music practice.

According to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 76 percent of music majors are self employed at one point in their lives, but many have no formal business education.

"The goal of the certificate is to prepare students to take the next step," Kuuskoski said "They need to know how to collaborate with someone else and develop a network." 

Students who aspire to work in the music industry but are not music majors can also benefit from the certificate. 

Communications major Erica Whyman is interested in the business side of music and belongs to the Mizzou Music Management Club. Her favorite course is Art Marketing, she said, because of its creative approach to entrepreneurship. 

"The certificate would show employers that you are self-motivated and you are willing to take risks," Whyman said. "Also that you have an appreciation for the arts."

While the courses let Whyman visualize her goals, Kuuskoski also teaches her how to execute them. He motivates students to be persistent when contacting people and identifying resources.

Whyman and the Mizzou Music Management Club recently put together a Battle-of-the-Bands-style benefit concert called Battle for Benefit to be held in May. The project was fostered through the music entrepreneurship courses. 

"He is always telling us to dream big," Whyman said. 

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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