Creating Creative Business Under Uncertainty

The audience is sitting in their woolen pajamas, eating mackerel in tomato sauce, and ready to give you their money

By Ben Toscher , phd student, Engage

Some are in Alta, some are in Oslo, some are in Trondheim – and there is even a few tuning in from Kyoto, Japan. They’re spread out all over the world, unable to leave their homes and attend a musical concert because of the global Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic – and yet, here they are, tuning into you, the musician, as you live-stream a concert over the internet – and to your surprise, they are sending you more money than you had ever planned to make on your upcoming concert tour, which was just cancelled overnight due to the coronavirus and a ban on cultural events with crowds of people. Amidst the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, you took action, tried something new, and hey – it worked out fine.

Entrepreneurial skills and knowledge

This scenario is very real1 – okay, maybe I took some creative license with the part about eating mackerel in tomato sauce – and is just one example showing why entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education is important for musicians. As a consequence of the coronavirus, musicians in March 2020 face an economic environment which may be characterized as ‘uncertain’ (Knight, 1921) – and these types of ‘uncertain’ situations are those which entrepreneurship education can expose students to and equip them for their future. But even in the pre-corona world, research into the working lives of musicians has already shown 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). As a response, many institutes of higher music education (HME) have integrated arts entrepreneurship education to help their music students acquire these skills and knowledge to a greater extent (Beckman, 2005). In 2007, Beckman first found 37 institutions in the US 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. 

The majority of the students surveyed believe that entrepreneurial skills are important for their career

Ben Tocher, phd student

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. This is where I, and my research at Engage, comes in. For example, how do music students learn entrepreneurially? This is a question I address in my research paper Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education (Toscher, 2019), which has undergone peer review and is published by Artivate. I argue that when considering music students’ learning and how they generate experiential knowledge in their entrepreneurship education, there are 5 main components which arts entrepreneurship educators should perhaps contemplate.

Reframing of entrepreneurship

One of these components is the ‘reframing of entrepreneurship’, which is particularly interesting since some in HME have been observed to be ‘reluctant’ towards ‘entrepreneurship’ due to  associations with neoliberal ideology (Moore, 2016). Yet, there is a body of evidence indicating that irrespective of political connotations, music students are likely to be ‘enforced entrepreneurs’ (Bennett & Bridgstock, 2015) upon graduation. In the paper Music Students’ Definitions, Evaluations and Rationalizations of Entrepreneurship (Toscher & Morris Bjørnø, 2019), 52% of the surveyed music students responded that they think entrepreneurial skills are important for their career – while 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 including its variety of administrative and self-management tasks (especially as a freelancer). This may imply 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  entrepreneurship in HME – whether through the ‘new venture creation’, ‘being enterprising’, or ‘career self-management’ approach – these framing choices a teacher makes impacts the student in a substantial manner, including whether or not a student may be reluctant or embracing of the subject, an aspect which this paper goes into further detail as well. A course which reframes entrepreneurship as ‘being enterprising’ may help train a music student in taking the types of action under uncertainty that the current coronavirus pandemic has presented to working musicians all over the world.

52% of the surveyed music students responded that they think entrepreneurial skills are important for their career

Ben Tocher, phd student

Identifying problems and creating solutions

Despite this progress, as I move towards 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 how musicians can take action under uncertainty using 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. 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? Beyond this question of ‘how much’, there are also questions of ‘how should’ which linger. Whoever teaches entrepreneurship in HME has a large degree of freedom in how they define entrepreneurship and which pedagogical approach they use in the classroom (Bridgstock, 2012; Toscher & Morris Bjørnø, 2019). Is entrepreneurship about administrative tasks like registering 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? Or 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’? Some may think it is all of these things, other just a few – regardless, these are all things that need to be done along the way, and it’s not easy. But if you ask any entrepreneur, they may tell you that the pursuit of easy may just be an obstacle on the path of a meaningful and challenging adventure.


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

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.

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.

Bennett, D. (2016). Developing employability in higher education music. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15(3–4), 386–395.

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 

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

Bridgstock, R. (2012). Not a dirty word: Arts entrepreneurship and higher education. Arts and humanities in higher education, 12(2-3), 122-137

Cawsey, T. (1995). The portfolio career as a response to a changing job market. Journal of Career Planning & Employment, 56(1), 41–46. 

Coulson, S. (2010). Getting ‘Capital’ in the music world: musicians’ learning experiences and working lives. British Journal of Music Education, 27(3), 255–270. doi: 10.1017/s0265051710000227 

Essig, L., & Guevara, J. (2016). A landscape of arts entrepreneurship in US higher education. Pave Program in arts entrepreneurship. Retrieved February 10, 2020 from 

Knight, F. H. (1921) Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Boston, MA: Hart, Schaffner & Marx.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79–122. doi: 10.1006/jvbe.1994.1027

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

Sarasvathy, S. D. (2001). Causation and effectuation: Toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency. Academy of management Review, 26(2), 243-263.

Teague, A., & Smith, G. D. (2015). Portfolio careers and work-life balance among musicians: An initial study into implications for higher music education. British Journal of Music Education, 32(2), 177–193. 

Thom, M. (2017). Arts Entrepreneurship Education in the UK and Germany: An Empirical Survey among Lecturers in Fine Art. Education & Training, 59(4), 406-426.

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.

Toscher, B. (2019). Entrepreneurial Learning in Arts Entrepreneurship Education: A Conceptual Framework. Artivate, 8(1), 3-22. 

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