Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Amanda Sewell

Additional Resources

for those wondering what other career options are available for PhD

a blog of the goings-on in the AMS community

different dimensions of public musicology and of musicologists working outside the academy

central hub for academic issues

resource for all things academia; their job postings include an alt-ac (alternative academic) section

blog posts, podcasts, and networking events for PhDs

Entrepreneur of the Month

Amanda Sewell

Musicologist, published writer and researcher, editor, small business owner, entrepreneur, and Jacobs Alumna!

With extensive research published in peer-reviewed publications, such as the Journal of the Society for American Music, Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies, Amanda Sewell is a musicological force. She’s also a highly motivated entrepreneur and has developed a thriving editing and consulting business, In the Write, that focuses on academics and documents related to scholarship, research, and higher education.

Project Jumpstart recently caught up with Amanda to discuss her work and her insights on the variety of career options available to students with a rigorous academic training. 

Project Jumpstart: Your recent career path is not typical for someone with a Ph.D. in musicology. Can you talk about how you discovered this path and the events that led you to where you are today?

 Amanda Sewell: By the time I defended my dissertation in the spring of 2013, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to have any offers for a teaching job the next year. I was surprisingly okay with this realization, and I started thinking about other options for myself.

How could I use my skills and specialization in a way that would be mentally satisfying and professionally lucrative? I decided to make a go of working as an academic editor, because I love to read, write, and revise. I gave myself three months to see if I could make professional editing work as a career, and that was two years ago.

Since then, I have written two online music course texts, proofed over a thousand music examples for a music theory fundamentals textbook, edited dozens of dissertations and master’s theses in every topic imaginable, coached a number of students through the dissertation or thesis process, and worked with authors who want to publish books with academic presses. Every week, I find opportunities to use my skills in new and often surprising ways.

Project Jumpstart: You are busy working "outside the box" of the standard career path for your training. What other applications (besides research and publishing at an educational institution) do you see for the skills honed in the field of musicology?

Amanda Sewell: One of the great things about musicology (and about PhDs in the humanities in general) is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to a specific career path. In an academic institution, naturally, we’re trained to be members of the academy. At the same time, we’re trained to think critically, come up with new ideas, disprove old ideas, and find our own unique interests. Those skills are transferrable to identifying and pursuing a career outside the academy.

sewell quote

Project Jumpstart: Musicology is often viewed as a strictly academic career route with the end goal of working at a university. How has breaking with this trend challenged you?

Amanda Sewell: There’s an erroneous assumption in a lot of academic fields that the only “true” success is a tenure-track job. Believe me, I wondered if I had somehow failed by not achieving a tenure-track position right away. But then, I realized that if I was using my degree and my skills, was able to pay the bills, and was happy and satisfied 51% of the time, then that sounded a lot like success to me.

I’ve found myself being a kind of ambassador for academic professionals who work outside the academy and am happy to advocate for myself and for others who are using our degrees in ways that our colleagues might find non-traditional. Follow the #publicmusicology hashtag on Twitter for some examples.

sewell with colleagues at conference

Public Musicology conference at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, with IU Alumni Christine Kyprianides (second from left) and Felicia Miyakawa (far right)

Project Jumpstart: Entrepreneurship is something we are defining as we go--especially entrepreneurship in regards to the arts. How do you personally define entrepreneurship?

Amanda Sewell: Entrepreneurship is all about finding a potential market and catering to its needs. For me, I identified the skills I have that many people lack, and I marketed those skills to people as a service.

Project Jumpstart: There are many studies about careers and employment opportunities for those earning degrees in the arts. And with every study there seems to be a different idea of what "success" is. Can you talk about your definition of success? How have you been successful? And on the flip side, where have you met failure?

Amanda Sewell: It’s a cliché, but each person has to define success in his or her own way. For some, success is a certain size of house or paycheck. For others, it’s the freedom to stay home with their kids. Still others want accolades, promotions, and the biggest office. For me, success is a balanced blend of flexible hours, sufficient income to meet my needs and put some away in an IRA, intellectual stimulation, and a sense that I really did help somebody learn something. Failure is all about perspective. Just because I did something poorly doesn’t mean I failed—it just means that I learned something valuable about myself in terms of my strengths and weaknesses.

sewell quote 1

Project Jumpstart: How have you dealt with challenges and failure in your career?

Amanda Sewell: I try to look at everything as a learning experience as opposed to either a “success” or a “failure.” If I’m trying to pound a square peg into a round hole, I haven’t failed at having a square peg—I simply haven’t found the square hole yet. If I never made any mistakes, I wouldn’t learn anything.

Project Jumpstart: You're an alumna of the Jacobs School of Music. What would you say to current students as they work through their programs and prepare to make a life and career in music?

Amanda Sewell: Listen to your professors, teachers, AIs, and others who have more experience than you have. I have received academic, professional, and personal advice from my mentors that initially really hurt, but the advice ended up being invaluable.

The other suggestion I would offer is to make sure to take off your blinders. It’s easy to get locked into the idea that there’s only a single career path available for a particular skill set, whether that skill set is piano performance, wind ensemble conducting, or musicology. It’s important to think about our talents in the broadest possible sense. Many musicians are experts at multitasking, time management, and creative expression, and these skills have much wider possibilities than just the concert stage or the academy.



For further information contact the department chair Daniel R. Melamed at musicol@indiana.edu.

Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.