Oct
03

Career Mentorship: The Lost Education

Most of the artists I know are highly educated.  Many have multiple degrees in their field of expertise.  Along the way, they typically work closely with several mentors who move them forward in their journey towards artistic excellence: private teachers, classroom instructors conductors, etc. Obviously this form of apprenticeship is quite valuable. 

But most never even consider adopting a career mentor.  Without doing this, is it really such a wonder that we have so many outstanding artists who are unprepared to thrive when it comes to professional demands? Imagine how helpful this practice would be! 

In a class I’m teaching to musicians at Duquesne University called “Career Perspectives,” my students are required to identify and cultivate relations with two career mentors.  If you hope to become a working artist, or already are one but desire increased success, I highly recommend you do this as well. (In fact, I’m a huge advocate of the mentorship process for just about everyone on every level.) As a starting point, seek one mentor in each of the following categories:

  • Artist mentor.  An artist who has achieved success in an aspect of the industry that is part of your career profile.  For example, if you hope to work as a freelancer, find someone who does this now.
  • Entrepreneurial mentor.  An entrepreneur in the old fashion sense—someone who has started and runs a business. Serial entrepreneurs (people who have begun many businesses) are even better.  The best candidates often have little or no knowledge about music, so conversations can focus on business and philosophical concerns.

When identifying potential mentors, keep the following 7 points in mind:

  1. Don’t be shy. You’re not asking for a job or money or their child’s hand in marriage here. Just guidance.  Most people love to talk about themselves, and will be flattered by your offer. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? They turn you down or don’t respond to your request?  No biggie…So just ask and see what happens.  
  2. Find mentors you don’t currently know. Working with people you haven’t previously met has several advantages.  It not only expands your network, but gives you experience approaching someone new with a request.  This is a valuable transferrable skill that all musicians need from time to time, whether approaching a potential donor, presenter, contractor, or other new contact.  
  3. Look beyond the rich and famous. Sure, if you can make a connection with Wynton Marsalis, Steven Spielberg, or Donald Trump, go for it. But the rich and famous may be too busy to handle your request.  And the issues they face may be less pertinent to your situation than those of a mid-level artist.
  4. Geographical issues. The obvious advantage of having a local mentor is that you can meet in person, perhaps over lunch (on your dime!).  There is no better way to solidify relationships than face to face encounters. But even if your mentor lives far away, it is possible to have personal encounters over the phone, through video chatting, or other forms of communication. 
  5. Mustn’t be your mirror image. Just because you play the violin doesn’t mean your best mentor has to be another fiddler.  In fact, perhaps finding a saxophonist (or even a dancer) would be more helpful. They may be able to shed a valuable and contrasting perspective.
  6. Supplement weaknesses.  The best mentor is someone who has skills that you don’t. If you want to raise money, but haven’t fundraised before, find someone who has. If marketing terrifies you, locate a promotional wizard. The purpose of having a mentor is to grow.
  7. The mentor boomerang. You’re just asking for advice, no? But picking the right mentor often opens doors down the road.

 

 

Love music, but hate to starve? Hoping to achieve more success with your musical career? Visit www.SavvyMusician.com for a Resource Center with 1000+links, valuable articles, information about the most important music career book in print, and more.

  • Donna Kemmetmueller

    Great idea! How do you recommend approaching someone to be a mentor? Should a contract be created? Pay offered? Is it too much to ask someone’s expertise in exchange for lunch? Please tell me more!

  • Donna, This is largely what the school I am creating is about. Mentorship is like a small version of apprenticeship– the idea you learn by modeling behaviors and then adapting them into something of your own. Mentorship is a gift and something that you never will receive the most from if you feel indebted. You need to receive, from your mentor, more than you give. I know this is going to sound like self promotion, but forgive me when I say my time right now is worth $150 an hour. How can I help artists and still feel empowered to save for my retirement? How can I do good and do well at the same time?

    For me, that answer came in the form of opening a school. The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship’s annual tuition, $15,000, when divided into the number of hours of mentorship-apprenticeship hours each student will receive, turns out to be each student paying $10 per hour for their entrepreneurial education.

    Now, I will by no means be the only person teaching but, I think you see my point. True mentors ponder ” How can I reach the greatest number?” The financial “return” is always a compromise on the part of the mentor, because they believe what they can share of value truly is offering up something worthy and good.

    But I do think mentorship is a model that should be paid for, but only if it is truly an investment of time on behalf of both mentor and “mentoree”. (Is that even a word?)

  • Donna, what a wonderful question! In fact you must be reading my mind. My next post will address just this issue. So stay tuned…

  • anonymous

    Most people I know would want to know someone before becoming their mentor. Also, a mentor is someone I would have to have great respect for and look up to (not just because they have a career, though). If I’ve never met this person, how could I possibly know if this is the case?

  • David Cutler

    Every relationship has to start somewhere. Some savvy artists are quite good at approaching people they’ve never met before, and they reap the benefits as a result.

    Many of my students approached completly new figures (to them) for this assignment, and ignited vibrant new connections as a result. If you’re not comfortable contacting a complete stranger, there are many other ways to cultivate relationships over time.

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