A new book, The Misfit Economy, hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago, and has struck a chord with this reader. While the authors may not have known it, this book was made for our “singerpreneurs”. With a perspective focused on the outliers rather than the typical, and urging action rather than mere understanding, Clay and Phillips have created a volume that is a must-read for creatives as well as those in more traditional business models.
In classical music, we are trained for a career that is built on centuries-old tradition, and is still rife with backwards thinking that can stalwart otherwise creative careers, and has damaged our little sector in the arts. Training programs of all kinds are finally becoming aware of this, and many are attempting to make changes. But that kind of sea change takes time. This book could be a dynamic force in that revolution, with fascinating examples of disruptors from a variety of fields, as well as a clear action plan for becoming a functional misfit.
The key here is actually in the subtitle: informality. In a very formal field, we’re seeing change on that front, in terms of concert attire, venues, and the effects of social media on the way classical artists interact with each other and with the world. But The Misfit Economy goes deeper, down to the root of the way artists and audiences experience classical music, and so much of this theory is applicable to the way we present and talk about our work. By turning our own culture on its head, it is certainly easier to see it from an outside perspective as well as from angles that may not have been fully explored… yet.
There is much in The Misfit Economy that will stand traditional teachers’ hair on end, including the idea in the very first chapter that formal education may not be necessary. That is a familiar trope right now, and must be applied to classical music education differently than elsewhere, as this field just works differently than most: very, very, very few musicians would find it possible to reach the level of mastery they need without being part of a learning community and going through some sort of group program. Learning to play in ensembles or sing in choirs, for instance, requires constant practice, and you can’t do that with YouTube, sitting in your living room. It’s just not the same. But many of the business- and marketing-related skills that have become absolutely necessary for musicians are indeed learnable outside of a university or conservatory system, and indeed, must usually be learned solo. This book shows how that can be done, and offers myriad (and very colorful) examples that can be obliquely applied to a creative career. (Yes, a cellist could learn something from a Somali pirate!)
The middle section of the book, “Unleashing Your Inner Misfit”, is where the real meat is, mapping out a vivid plan for Hustling, Copying, Hacking, Provoking and Pivoting your way into a different future. This is exactly the action-based nudge our community needs, so that the disruptors among us can revitalize a field that desperately needs a rethink. We’ve spent more than a century reworking what music looks, sounds and feels like. But there is work to be done in terms of how to make it applicable to mainstream society. This approach is essential, and can change things at the root. We just need our most creative performers to put it to work.
It’s refreshing that the authors don’t present their approach as a panacea that will cure all ills. But they do provide a surprisingly realistic view of modern innovation, and offer a lively journey through the stories of those who practice it. This book is a must-read for those who want to make their careers and their art a vibrant place to live. When you’re doing, be sure to share it with a friend, and then get out there are take some action!
Note: Links and images may have been updated since the original post was released.