CUA New Voices

Alternate Career Barrier: Where are the Bridges?

What is the primary barrier to entry to alternate careers for musicians?

Usually used in business parlance, a barrier to entry is an obstacle in the path of a firm wanting to enter a given market. Actually, barriers to entry are all around us. They exist in music to ensure that only qualified individuals obtain licenses to practice, when they are obviously forces for good. You see them used in the dirty world of real politics, where they may be forces for nastiness; witness the barriers to entry to the U.S that the Mexicans are experiencing as an unfortunate current example. Once again, humankind seems to want to shoot itself in the foot as we witness one great opportunity to progressively blend cultures going up in smoke.

For musicians wanting to explore alternate nonclinical careers a barrier is the absence of obvious bridges. Music school transports us from idealistic young men and women to being young musicians. Residency and any post-residency training moves us from neophyte musicians to being groomed in a particular discipline. Our culture shapes us further in our early years in practice whether we be in private practice or at an cultural institution. We reach, say age 40, experienced and mature, having followed well delineated road maps with all signs to bridges clearly marked.

We are very fortunate in this regard. For in many other walks of life, the bridges may be poorly marked or flimsy, if, that is, they are there at all. Many individuals in the arts have to build their own bridges. In business, success usually comes after multiple mishaps – you succeed by trial and error; lots of trial, and multiple errors.

Which is why it is no wonder that musicians facing the conundrum of career disillusionment face the abyss, and retreat. Where are the bridges, they ask?

There are, for some, quasi-familiar bridges. One can return to school and obtain additional degrees in fields like music, business, law or public policy. It’s a great choice, if it is truly the right choice. If, however, it is chosen as the path of least resistance, it will advance us little. Not so much a pons asinorum, more a bridge to nowhere.


Or, you build your own bridge. And, borrowing a phrase from Bob Quinn, a distinguished professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, you build it as you walk on it.

If I segue to Bob Quinn for a moment, he, a professor of organizational behavior and HR management, speaks and writes extensively on the topic of leadership, emphasizing that optimum leadership will only emerge when someone undertakes what the Catholic in me would call a deep examination of conscience and is willing to come to terms with and change their own shortcomings. He has three excellent books, the first and best known, “Deep Change”, published in 1996, and his most recent, published in 2014 “Building The Bridge As You Walk On It.” For more, see

Leaving Bob Quinn, and returning to the musician with the career conundrum. There are options, great options but they will require a greater leap of faith and belief in self than you may have had to show until now. At its essence, you’ll breach the barrier by building your own bridge. You alone know the direction to set and the raw materials you need. Others have made the transition and can serve as guides.

You’ll need to follow the Think, Research, Test, & Decide model, much of which I’ve already elaborated on in earlier postings on this weblog over the past 6 weeks.

Pose the question to yourself this way. It’s more ‘Why am I not doing this? ‘ than ‘Why am I doing this?’
If you’ve come as far as the barrier, and stare off into darkness wondering if there is going to be a bridge under your feet, you’ve likely come too far to turn back.

You, with the assistance of others, can make the transition, breach that barrier, build that bridge.