Those who go into the arts rarely do it to get rich. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need money—or that they wouldn’t love to make more of it.
With that in mind, Michael Ketner, director of performance at Penn, has been teaching a class called “The Enterprising Musician and Artist” for the last four years—first as an LPS course, now through the Music Department. This semester he has his biggest group yet: 18 students, most of whom are in some way involved in the arts at Penn.
“This is the kind of class that more and more arts and music schools are trying to incorporate into their curricula because there’s a huge concern about student artists not having the professional skills they need to actually make a living,” Ketner says.
“I’ve seen so many people who are phenomenal musicians, for example, but they get to a point where they’re so concerned about where their next paycheck is going to come from and how they’re going to make next month’s rent that they forget exactly why they got into this in the first place.”
How do you teach an artist to make money? Ketner starts with entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity. He assigns books and articles, many of them drawn from the business world: Contagious: Why Things Catch On; The Curve: How Smart Companies Find High-Value Customers; Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
He also imparts his own views of art and enterprise—perspectives that often diverge from the usual advice.
“Rather than looking at it as how can I make money for myself so I can survive?, I try to take a different approach and say, ‘How can I take what I do artistically and make sure it has the most impact on my audience or my field?’ It’s an outward-looking approach rather than an inward one,” he says.
That outside-in philosophy extends to his lessons on networking: “Some schools will say, ‘You want to build up your network. The more you get out there and show people what you have to offer, the more work will come your way.’ I’m not arguing that point at all,” he says. “But in addition to networking for yourself, you can also find out what other people in your network are looking to do and see how you can help them with their goals. You tend to have a greater impact when you’re looking at it that way, instead of ‘what can these people do for me?’”
During the semester, the class commits, as a group, to assist a Philly-area arts organization with some of its business needs. In the last few years, Ketner’s students have developed a social media marketing plan for the Philadelphia Sinfonia youth orchestra and worked with Flashpoint Theatre Company and Prometheus Chamber Orchestra.
There’s also a semester-spanning individual project. Ketner asks each student to dream up an arts venture, assemble a business plan, and present it to the class. The thinking behind that, he says, is that if students want to follow through on their ideas later, they’ll already have a plan in-hand.
Ketner says he’s seen a number of interesting ideas arise from the business plan assignment. A student musician said he’s write and record snippets of original music, then sell them to hip-hop producers for sampling. Another student envisioned a music festival that married music with visual art: festival bands would partner with artists, who would help create merchandise and logos for the musicians. It would be an exposure win-win for both types of creatives. A third student developed a plan to buy a building and rent out practice spaces to local bands.
“I’m hopeful that this course helps keep people focused on why they got into [the arts] in the first place and what they can do for others,” Ketner adds. “But I also hope that in the process, they learn skills that help them get the money they need as well.”
—Molly Petrilla C’06