Kick Starting Classical Music’s Startup Scene

By Julia Rubio, Executive Director

Because we hear a lot of bad news in the field these days, I’d like to share with you what we see at Astral—a bright future for classical music. We, as an industry, just have to get better at looking for it in the right places.

There’s a growing classical music startup scene that isn’t waiting on the establishment for validation. The best part of this trend is that it’s affirming what classical music is good at, but we forgot along the way. Inspiring ideas.

Young artists are expected to accept a permanently weak job market. They are told most doors will be closed until they can prove their worth. Measured mostly by their ability to generate ticket sales, not for their potential as creative problem solvers.

Here’s something our friends in the corporate world have figured out. Ideas keep industries relevant. Ideas make money. So it’s little surprise that corporate leadership training alone in the U.S. is a multi-million-dollar-a-year market, and startup business incubators have launched success stories such as Dropbox, Reddit, and Airbnb.Successful startups look for a particular set of industry conditions and they solve problems, not just meet a need. Unfortunately, classical music has been historically rich with talent, short on problem solvers. But, in recent years, there has been a steady shift in this reality. Emerging musicians have been gradually adapting to market conditions by creating their own organizations and ensembles outside of the establishment. These new models are nimble, leading with artistic excellence, open to experimentation, challenging traditions, inexpensive to operate, and connecting in interesting ways. And while small and fledgling, this scene is exhilarating to watch, and may be finding solutions to the big problems our field faces.

More and more music schools and conservatories are preparing musicians for careers as entrepreneurs. And organizations like Astral serve as an early career incubator for top talent. But is the field ready to receive them? Where will orchestras and presenters be in the diffusion of innovation? Will they lead or be late to the party?

Giving ideas and innovation a place to thrive is the single most important contribution we can make to classical music. If we do this right, we could witness the birth of one of classical music’s greatest generations. We see it in our work at Astral every day. With a little faith in and support of our young talent, amazing things happen.

The Seed Accelerator Project, lead by Drs. Yael Hochberg and Susan Cohen, studies business seed accelerators. Interestingly, they found supporting startups isn’t always about the money. The study states, the “best accelerators aren’t founded by those looking to make a financial return, but by those who have already made money and want to give back to the startup community.” Perhaps there’s a lesson here for classical music.

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