It wasn’t long ago that a graduate from a top-flight music school might count a symphony position as a fall-back career should his solo aspirations crash and burn. Today, not only may the first chair be gone but the symphony as well. With these kind of roadblocks, barriers and dead-ends, a typical channel for musical employment bears a closer resemblance to an Escher sketch than a career track.
Yet when a door closes, a window opens: The rise of the entrepreneurial musician is upon us. Brave artists, not content to change careers, are following their creative bliss. These mavericks are bending the rules, successfully growing their own niche audiences and developing new business models. To respond to this trend, a bevy of artist-focused entrepreneurial workshops have cropped up, many created by upstart musicians such as Melissa Snoza of fresh inc.
Like most entrepreneurs, Snoza wears many hats. As Fifth House ensemble’s executive director, she also leads fresh inc—a festival-cum-entrepreneurial workshop developed by the inventive chamber group. Snoza says the program has successfully provided a “launch pad for emerging artists wanting to take the next steps in their careers.”
The two-week session shines a light on nontraditional avenues and paths, teaching attendants how to balance entrepreneurial skills with program development, culminating in a festival of performances by participants at multiple venues. Fresh inc’s unique curriculum includes evaluating long-held traditions and synthesizing new modalities in the field. For instance, the graphic storytelling workshop “lets our participants listen to a musical piece so that they can find its dramatic content, then create a new artistic expression from it — be it a graphic novel, dance or something else,” says Snoza. “It helps to show the storytelling power of music. Whether the piece was meant to tell a story or not, the student can then take what they heard and explore it in a multidisciplinary way, as opposed to evaluating it with music theory alone.”
The legacy of fresh inc is embodied in the individual careers and accomplishments of some of its most notable alumni.
Prior to attending fresh inc, Rene recorded her first chamber opera but found few avenues to get her work in front of the right people. After attending the festival, she had the idea to create a Kickstarter campaign to make CDs for her recording.
“Having my first recording under my belt and a physical copy of it helped me in getting more projects,” Rene said. Through the guidance of the festival’s entrepreneurial courses, she became more comfortable with the grant application process, met a larger network and was able to “explore other resources she “…didn’t know about before.”
An alumnus of fresh inc’s 2.0 program (a second-year program for returning fresh inc participants), Danielle learned about fundraising and development, which gave her the tools to transform the music camp organization where she worked as music director. Using approaches and techniques learned from her classes she “focused on fundraising to increase inflow of resources while also providing for adequate teaching resources for the students.” Along with creating a five-to-10 year plan, she made significant improvements in the organization’s operations and raised the quality of the experience of her music camp participants.
“One of the things that drew me to fresh inc was the chance to work with composers directly,” Sarah said. “I knew a bit about the other aspects of fresh inc before I applied, but I had not fully realized the extent of the extra-musical guidance within the festival until I was immersed in it.” This unforeseen immersion for Sarah included the seeds of inspiration that led to the evolution of her small-scale business of making violin bags for herself and her friends into a full-blown self-sustaining business.
“Perhaps the most important thing I brought away from fresh inc was the confidence in knowing that my violin career and my violin bag making are both important, and neither will hinder the other.”
Snoza says, “The greatest value of the festival is as a launch pad for emerging artists to confidently take the next steps in their careers. We help them figure out if they are going toward the places that they need to in order to advance, and if not, we give them the skills to evolve their circumstances and create new opportunities for themselves.”
The 2015 fresh inc festival runs from June 7-21 and takes place at The University of Wisconsin, Parkside. Tuition, room and board is $2,000. To find out more, go to freshincfestival.com.