Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Matthew VanBesien

Entrepreneur of the Month


Executive director of the Fifth House Ensemble, virtuoso flutist, and passionate advocate for chamber music, Melissa is an active educator who serves as Adjunct Professor of Flute at Carthage College, teaches a music entrepreneurship course at DePaul University, and maintains a private studio. Read Melissa's bio here >>

Project Jumpstart interviewed Melissa about her career as a musician and entrepreneur and the challanges musicians face today.

Jumpstart: Your career is multifaceted: you are not only a freelance musician, but you are also a chamber musician, professor of flute, professor of entrepreneurship, and private music teacher. How has your career compared to what you envisioned for yourself as a music student?

performingMelissa: I started my career preparing myself for the standard route – my goal was to
win a principal flute spot in a major orchestra. In a way, I’m actually glad that I took the steps needed to train for that path, because it made me bring my playing level up to an extremely high level in order to be competitive at professional auditions. I did hold regular positions with orchestras for the first few years of my career, and continue to perform on a freelance basis when my schedule allows because I do love orchestral playing. Somewhere along the way, though, I really developed a passion for chamber music and the unique way it can reach audiences of all types, as well as a desire to be in the driver’s seat of my own artistic projects.

Interestingly, I had been covertly preparing myself for this career path all along. As l look back on how I spent my time in my undergraduate degree, I not only fulfilled my academic requirements for my performance major and my studio-required solo recital each semester, I also loaded my schedule to capacity with courses from the Arts Leadership Program and organized one or more chamber recitals each year. When I wasn’t in class, I did freelance publicity work for other students and professional artists in the area, taught privately, and took an internship with the Rochester Philharmonic that allowed me to get inside the programming and contracting process of a major cultural institution.

Jumpstart: What inspired you to become a student and teacher of entrepreneurship?

school-2Melissa: Necessity. I graduated from the Arts Leadership Program at Eastman knowing how to be an arts administrator, but not knowing how to be an entrepreneur. I know their course offerings have changed a lot in the last 10 years which has been amazing to watch, but at the time I didn’t have the first clue what I needed to do to start a new business, form a nonprofit, file business taxes, or anything of the sort. I took a lot of people out for coffee and lunch, and spent a lot of time at the library learning what I needed to know to augment my skills, and then I just went out and started doing things one step at a time. The teaching part of it was also out of necessity, but this time it was because I was hoping to save the next group of students from some of the time I spent digging out this information in the first couple of years of my career. Some of the information is so simple, yet tough to find, and there are places in the start-up process where people just need some outside inspiration to get them un-stuck. That’s why we visit schools, teach, and formed fresh inc (www.freshincfestival.com). Especially with the festival, we wanted to give emerging artists the opportunity to put the creative presentation and entrepreneurship skills we teach into practice side-by-side with us. There’s no better way to learn!

Jumpstart: In your opinion, how important is the skill of entrepreneurship for young musicians?

schoolsMelissa: I’m probably biased, but I think it’s vital. There’s a weird misunderstanding that composers and musicians historically haven’t needed to have these skills because they were miraculously provided for, and that’s simply not true. We just tend to hear about them after they’ve already pounded the pavement. Some of the most exciting work happening these days is coming from independent organizations and artists, and mainstream arts outlets are really taking notice of that, so that’s really fun to see.

Jumpstart: Do you have any advice or tips for young musicians interested in creating a career similar to yours?

interviewMelissa: Don’t be scared! Job security has typically meant one position with benefits and retirement. But think about this: if you lose that one job, even through no fault of your own, it all goes away. If you have developed a portfolio career as a performer, teacher, writer, recording engineer and any one of those things has a down year, you can balance that empty space with your other activities. Even if you just have a private teaching studio and one of your students stops taking lessons, you still have many more and a waiting list. It’s a bit of a different perspective on job security, but one that has served me well even during an economic downturn. That being said, DO buy your own health insurance. Seriously.

View the full write-up >>

Join the Fifth House Ensemble and Project Jumpstart for a conference from Friday, January 24 to Sunday, January 26 for a meet-and-greet, workshops, and great performances. See our event page for more details, and sign up via our EventBrite page. See you there!