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Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Music Education: A research note

In his project, Ben examines how entrepreneurship education can help prepare music students to sustain careers as professional musicians. His work is therefore highly relevant to CEMPE as well. This research note will give the reader a short introduction to his findings so far. 

The World Needs Musicians

The world needs musicians – but what do musicians need? Like any human, first they need the basics – and then the meaning (Maslow, 1943). If you are a musician, or know a musician, or even just enjoy listening to music, you may recognize that we all have a meaningful story about our relationship with music – when our own musical journey began, how it felt, and how it evolved over time. And for those involved in higher music education (HME), these musical journeys and the meaning imbued in them may be at their most potent. Students in HME have chosen to develop and strengthen their understanding and practice of music through the highest levels of formal education and study, guided by their educators whom have developed their practice even further. For many students, HME is a critical time in which they may begin transitioning from an amateur to a professional musician, and pursue a career in music while forming a career identity (Burland, 2005). And, given the results I have found from a recent survey of 114 students and 37 faculty in Norwegian HME, in which 72% of the students and 73% of the faculty respondents defined a successful career in music as ‘making a living out of music’ (Toscher, 2020), one could argue that a primary goal of these transitioning students is to keep going further on their musical journey, and the meaning it gives them, while the sphere of economics likely becomes increasingly integrated into their daily adult lives.

Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Music Education

The journey ahead for these students may not be easy or effortless. Research into the working lives of musicians claims that entrepreneurial skills and knowledge are important for their careers, which often consist of a never-ending, self-managed series of simultaneous and overlapping “portfolio” of employment engagements (Bennett, 2016; Breivik, Selvik, Bakke, Welde & Jermstad, 2015; Cawsey, 1995, Coulson, 2012; Teague & Smith, 2015). And yet, at the same time, graduates from HME in countries such as the US have reported “a gap between the perceived importance of such [entrepreneurial] skills and their acquisition” (Miller, Dumford & Johnson 2017, p. 11). So how, then, can HME help these students? In response, many institutes of HME have integrated arts entrepreneurship education to help music students acquire these skills and knowledge to a greater extent (Beckman, 2005). In 2007, Beckman first found 37 institutions teaching entrepreneurship in the context of a music and arts education. The integration of arts entrepreneurship in the U.S. has only increased since then: in 2016, Essig and Guevara (2016) found 372 offerings by 168 institutions in the U.S. Arts entrepreneurship education is also offered in countries outside of the U.S., such as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK (Brandenburg, Roosen & Veenstra, 2016; Pollard & Wilson, 2013; Thom, 2017). Norway is no exception to this trend: Watne and Nymoen (2017) reported that entrepreneurship has been increasingly taught in Norwegian HME since 2011, finding that at least 35 courses had entrepreneurship as a stated competency goal and 49 obligatory courses had entrepreneurship as either a minor or major part coursework. 

Despite the growth in the teaching of entrepreneurship in the context of HME, research is only beginning to catch up and consider some interesting questions. For example, how do music students learn entrepreneurially? What exactly are the entrepreneurial competencies, skills and knowledge which are relevant for music students’ careers? And, given the reported controversy surrounding the term ‘entrepreneurship’ in the HME context (White, 2013) and tensions between artistic and entrepreneurial identities (Bonin-Rodriguez, 2012; Moore, 2016), what can research reveal about how ‘entrepreneurship’ is currently perceived and valued by music students? These are just some of the research questions I have answered over the past 30 months as a PhD research fellow with SFU Engage at NTNU, which, like SFU CEMPE, is a Senter for Fremragende Utdanning. I’d like to share some of the interesting results I have found as part of my research project, which is about entrepreneurial learning and education in the contexts of music and arts. 

How Do Music Students Learn in Arts Entrepreneurship Education?

The first question I tried to answer in the course of my research related to student learning. I found that despite a growth in research about entrepreneurship in the context of music and arts education, which often focused on the teaching of arts entrepreneurship, a conceptual and theoretical understanding of the learning of arts entrepreneurship was missing. So, synthesizing literature from theories of experiential learning, entrepreneurship education, careers in the creative industries, and arts entrepreneurship, I proposed a conceptual framework for understanding Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education (Toscher, 2019), which has undergone peer review and is published by Artivate. Readers interested in the full details of my argument, rationale, and evidence behind the framework are free to dive into the full-text, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s the framework: 


A Conceptual Framework for Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education – (Toscher, 2019)

Figure 1 – A Conceptual Framework for Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education – (Toscher, 2019)

I argue that when considering students’ learning and how they generate experiential knowledge through their experiences in the arts entrepreneurship classroom, there are 5 main components which arts entrepreneurship educators should perhaps contemplate. This includes a ‘reframing of entrepreneurship’, ‘career relevance’, ‘enabling student agency and encouraging explorative behavior’, ‘placing the student in the center of learning’, and understanding the musical, cultural, economic, and personal ‘context-specificities’ of a teacher’s own time and place. In the end of the paper, I provide an illustration of the framework using some examples of entrepreneurial learning activities in HME and which particular entrepreneurial competencies, skills, and knowledge they may help students develop. Ultimately, such an illustration begins to show how this conceptual framework may be applied to the design and teaching of learning activities in arts entrepreneurship education. 

How Do Music Students Define and Value Entrepreneurship?

However, after exploring the subject from a theoretical and literature-based perspective, I moved towards answering questions based in empirics and data, while still connecting it to the components I articulated in the framework depicted in figure 1. I must note that this empirical data was partly obtained through the generous assistance of leadership at CEMPE, who were instrumental in helping disseminate a survey at NMH. And for this I am grateful!  I first set out to explore the component of ‘reframing entrepreneurship’ in the paper Music Students’ Definitions, Evaluations and Rationalizations of Entrepreneurship (Toscher & Morris Bjørnø, 2019), where through survey data, my co-author and I examine how students from 5 HME institutes across Norway define entrepreneurship and evaluate the importanc

e of entrepreneurial skills for their future career. First, we argue that this understanding about how students define entrepreneurship is particularly interesting since some have reported a reluctance towards the subject due to its associations with neoliberal ideology (Moore, 2016), despite the body of evidence indicating the facts that students are likely to be ‘enforced entrepreneurs’ (Bennett & Bridgstock, 2015) upon graduation due to a very competitive market for full-time positions as a musician. Readers should note that the broader research field of entrepreneurship is full of debate and discussion concerning what entrepreneurship actually is, with a variety of definitions and perspectives on the term (Landström, Harirchi, & Åström, 2012). Bridging this body of knowledge from scholarly debate about entrepreneurship and its definitions into the context of HME, we found that the most common (31.5%) definition of entrepreneurship relates to ‘personal traits and self-employment’ in the sense related to the work of scholar McClelland (1961), with the definitions relating to ‘innovation and disequilibrium’ (Schumpeter, 1934) and ‘recognizing and exploiting opportunities’ (Shane and Venkataraman, 2000) being the 2nd (15%) and 3rd (13%) most common definition among the students, respectively. While 52% of the students responded ‘yes’ to the question of whether they think entrepreneurial skills are important for their career, 5% answered ‘no’ and 43% answered they ‘don’t know’. This finding is interesting for a few reasons. 

First, the majority of the students surveyed believe that entrepreneurial skills are important for their career, which, if we believe both what research tells us about the nature of working as a professional musician and the importance of ‘career preview’ (Bennett & Bridgstock, 2015) in exposing students to such realities during their studies, then this finding can be interpreted as a positive sign – some students are aware of the implications related to their career choices, which social cognitive career theory (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002) may argue is critical for students’ abilities to set their own expectations, improve their self-efficacy, and achieve their goals. Second, this also shows us that many of the students do not have a clear idea of whether these entrepreneurial skills are valuable – either due to unclarity over what entrepreneurship is or what a career as a professional musician is on a daily basis including its variety of administrative and self-management tasks (especially as a freelancer). The implications this has for those who teach entrepreneurship in the context of HME should not be understated: I would argue that how any teacher understands, frames and defines entrepreneurship will influence what and how they actually teach the subject in their classroom. And given the wide variety of approaches towards teaching arts entrepreneurship – whether through the ‘new venture creation’, ‘being enterprising’, or ‘career self-management’ approach (see Bridgstock, 2012, for a good overview of these three main pedagogical approaches to teaching arts entrepreneurship), these framing choices a teacher makes impacts the student in a substantial manner, including whether or not a student may be reluctant to or embracing of the subject, an aspect which the paper goes into further detail as well. 

Exploring the Knowledge and Skills Gap

The second empirical paper, The Skills and Knowledge Gap in Higher Music Education: An Exploratory Empirical Study (Toscher, 2020), also tangentially addresses the impact of these choices made by the teacher and directly addresses the ‘career relevance’ component of my conceptual framework. Based on a survey of 114 music students and 37 faculty at 5 institutes of HME in Norway, respondents were asked to rate the perceived importance and acquisition of a variety of non-musical skills as they relate to the relevance of the students’ future careers.  These include skills such as networking, marketing, business planning, market knowledge, and social media among others. They were also asked to what extent they felt they learned entrepreneurship through their current studies. Consistent with findings from a survey of over 16,000 HME alumni in the US (Miller et al., 2017), the results are derived using a form of exploratory data analysis (Tukey, 1977) to show that there was a gap between the perceived importance and acquisition of a variety of skills and knowledge. Figure 2 graphically illustrates these gaps, with the largest being found for sales/marketing, market knowledge, finance, social media, and business planning. Interestingly, the smallest gap of all was for music specific/theory skills and knowledge; which if a primary aim of HME is to educated skilled, knowledgeable, and technically competent musicians in the purely musical sense, this is a notable finding. 

Figure 2 - Graphical Representation of the Knowledge and Skills Gap Found in Toscher, 2020

Figure 2 - Graphical Representation of the Knowledge and Skills Gap Found in Toscher, 2020

Another important thing which this study accomplishes is it attempts to disambiguate the often-fuzzy concept of what ‘entrepreneurial skills’ actually are by exploring any patterns between the extent that students reported they learned entrepreneurship in their current studies and the closing or narrowing of gaps for other specific skills and knowledge. Indeed, as both my conceptual paper and the first empirical paper show, what exactly comprises ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘entrepreneurial skills’ is the subject of continuous debate and discussion.  Students were asked ‘to what extent do you feel you have learned entrepreneurship through your current study program?’, the results of which can be seen in table 1. Interestingly enough, as can be seen in table 2, a cross-analysis of the answers to this question along with the other skills gap data revealed that as students reported that they felt they learned entrepreneurship to increasingly larger extents, several skills and knowledge gaps are narrowed. Here is what I mean by this. In one of the clearest examples, if we take the group of students who reported they felt they learned entrepreneurship the least or ‘To a Very Small Extent’ and look at the skill of ‘networking’, the statistical mode (or most common response) was to assign a skill importance ordinal value of 5 (‘Very Important’) and a skill acquisition ordinal value of 1 (acquired the networking skill ‘To a Very Small Extent’). The difference between these two ordinal values of importance and acquisition is what is interpreted to be a skills gap. Now, if we take the responses for the same ‘networking’ skill by the group of students who felt they learned entrepreneurship the most or to ‘a Very Large Extent’, then this group most commonly assigns a skill importance ordinal value of 4 (‘Important’) and a skill acquisition ordinal value of 4 (‘To a Large Extent’). This shared tendency between the increased extent of entrepreneurship learned by music students and the perceived increase in the acquisition of various skills and knowledge is new insight for the field, and similar patterns can be observed in other skill and knowledge areas such as networking, market knowledge, financial, strategy/planning, and business planning. These patterns also help to potentially disambiguate what students really view as ‘entrepreneurial’ skills, by proxy of observing which skills they report to acquire in greater extents as they also report learning entrepreneurship to greater extents.  It should be noted that market knowledge, networking, financial, strategy/planning, and business planning skills are referred to as ‘entrepreneurial’ skills elsewhere throughout the literature on entrepreneurship education (Lackéus, 2015). While this research design is not the most suitable to make any causal claims about the effect of entrepreneurship education, it does provide some interesting ideas for future research to understand what is truly happening here. Table 2 displays the extents that students report they learned entrepreneurship in their current study program. Additionally, the findings provide some implications for educators, who can consider how they might adjust their teaching based upon the observations of these gaps and their views on what should be prioritized. 

Table 1 – Extent of Entrepreneurship Learned According to Students – (Toscher, 2020)

Table 1 – Extent of Entrepreneurship Learned According to Students – (Toscher, 2020)

Table 2 – The ‘Closing’ of the Skills and Knowledge Gap – (Toscher, 2020)

Table 2 – The ‘Closing’ of the Skills and Knowledge Gap – (Toscher, 2020)

Moving the Field Forward

Despite this progress, as I near the completion of my PhD, I am still concerned and occupied by answering other research questions. I’m currently working on an empirical paper which addresses the component of ‘enabling student agency and encouraging explorative behavior’ from my framework, in which I use qualitative data and methods from my experience designing and teaching a 5 ECTS course in entrepreneurship to masters level music students at NTNU and the University of Oslo. The results are exciting, and I look forward to sharing them soon as this article has gone through the publication process. But other questions remain. In an already demanding and full curricula with time and resource constraints, to what extent should HME prepare students for their careers and include subjects such as entrepreneurship? How are these ‘professionalization’ aspects an education reconciled with purely esthetic and musical considerations, which some may argue to be the core (or only) aim of HME? What’s the right balance here? But beyond this question of ‘how much’, there are also questions of ‘how should’ which linger. As I hope to have somewhat demonstrated, whoever teaches entrepreneurship in HME has a large degree of freedom in how they define entrepreneurship, the theoretical and practical content they introduce to their students, and which pedagogical approach they use in the classroom. Is entrepreneurship about registering your enkeltpersonforetak with the tax office? Is it about putting together, promoting, and executing a tour or concert performance? Is it, as I tend to frame it to my students, about identifying problems and creating solutions which create economic, esthetic, social, and/or environmental value? Is it about introducing them to theories like Sarasvathy’s (2001) theory of effectuation, a paradigm-shifting work that arguably has as much to do with an empowering philosophy of logic and effecting change in the world as it does ‘entrepreneurship’? Entrepreneurship may be all of these things, but in the context of music education, can it or should it? If not all, then which? To end where we began, I think we might consider the human, the musician, the music student. What do they need to continue their journey with music, and how can we help them? 

Ben Toscher demonstrates

Ben Toscher demonstrates

List of References

Beckman, G. D. (2005). The entrepreneurship curriculum for music students: Thoughts towards a consensus. College Music Symposium, 45(2005), 13–24. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374517 

Beckman, G. D. (2007). “Adventuring” arts entrepreneurship curricula in higher education: An examination of present efforts, obstacles, and best practices. The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 37(2), 87–112. https://doi.org/10.3200/JAML.37.2.87-112

Bennett, D., & Bridgstock, R. (2015). The urgent need for career preview: Student expectations and graduate realities in music and dance. International Journal of Music Education, 33(3), 263–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/0255761414558653

Bennett, D. (2016). Developing employability in higher education music. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15(3–4), 386–395. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474022216647388

Bonin-Rodriguez, P. 2012.What’s in a Name? Typifying Artist Entrepreneurship in Community Based Training. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 1 (1):9–24

Brandenburg, S., Roosen, T., & Veenstra, M. (2016). Toward an adapted business modeling method to improve entrepreneurial skills among art students. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 5(1), 25–33. Retrieved from  https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.34053/artivate.5.1.0025

Breivik, M., Selvik, R. M., Bakke, R., Welde, S., & Jermstad, K. N. (2015). Referat fra programrådet for musikkvitenskap 13.04.15. [Meeting notes from study program council for musicology 13.04.15]. Retrieved November 6, 2019, from https://www.ntnu.no/wiki/download/attachments/42339386/referat_130415_mvedlegg.pdf?version=1&modificationDate=1430396009000&api=v2

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Moore, Andrea. 2016. Neoliberalism and the Musical Entrepreneur. Journal of the Society for American Music, 10 (1):33–53. https://doi.org/10.1017/S175219631500053X.

Pollard, V., & Wilson, E. (2014). The “entrepreneurial mindset” in creative and performingarts higher education in Australia. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 3(1), 3–22. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.34053/artivate.3.1.0003

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Toscher, B., & Morris Bjørnø, A. (2019). Music Students’ Definitions, Evaluations, and Rationalizations of Entrepreneurship. The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 49(6), 389-412. http://doi.org/10.1080/10632921.2019.1646178

Toscher, B. (2019). Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education: A Conceptual Framework. Artivate, 8(1), 3-22. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.34053/artivate.8.1.0003

Toscher, B. (2020). The Skills and Knowledge Gap in Higher Music Education: An Exploratory Empirical Study. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 21(10). Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.26209/ijea21n10

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Watne, Å., & Nymoen, K. (2017). Entreprenørskap i høyere norsk musikkutdanning [Entrepreneurship in Norwegian higher music education]. In O. Varkøy, E. Georgii-Hemming, A. Kallio, & F. Pio (Eds.), Nordic research in music education:Vol. 18 (pp. 367385). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/11250/2490527

White, J. C. (2013). Barriers to recognizing arts entrepreneurship education as essential to professional arts training. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 2(3), 28–39.

Last updated: 23. March 2020