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The Percussionist as Entrepreneur by Don Johns

Oct 19, 2020, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

A successful percussionist is one who can manage performing several tasks on a variety of instruments. A successful entrepreneur must do the same. Though the “instruments” may differ, an entrepreneur must navigate an abundance of responsibilities to create and sustain long-term success. Given the modern state of the arts economy, it is becoming increasingly imperative for musicians to develop savvy and creative entrepreneurial skills. What better way to hone those techniques than within the field of percussion? 

As percussion majors in college, students develop high-level techniques on snare drum, timpani, mallets, and concert percussion accessories. Additionally, many develop strong abilities on drum set, marching percussion, Afro-Cuban drumming, Latin percussion, steel pans, gamelan, and much more. Suffice to say, being able to competently perform all these instruments and styles of music requires the kind of multitasking needed for success in business. An entrepreneur juggles honing a craft, marketing/promoting, budgeting, forging partnerships, self-care, long-term planning, delegating, dealing with challenging personalities, rejection and other setbacks, family, and personal relationships all at once, often with little help (especially in the beginning). It is natural to be overwhelmed with such mounting responsibilities. The professionally trained percussionist, however, has the bandwidth and discipline to navigate this high level of commitment. 

Playing percussion also requires a great deal of confidence. In the concert percussion setting, every note performed is a solo. We must have the courage to take initiative and risk the embarrassment of having our mistakes exposed in front of the entire ensemble. We do not have a section of players all playing our same part to back us up. This sobering reality equips us with the audacity to take risks, face failure, and persevere after failing, which are also essential character traits for venturing entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur also requires great timing. In business, you must know when you push forward with full force, when to move gingerly, and when to patiently pause, skills obviously also embedded with musicianship. 

Today’s economy demands that people discover creative means by which they can sustain themselves. The narrative of working the same job for 30–40 years and retiring with a full pension is becoming increasingly nostalgic. As such, people are searching for innovative ways to craft a portfolio of activities that can provide a meaningful and viable career. For musicians, this requires creating a brand and collection of services that can foster a successful career. It will often include performing (a variety of styles), teaching (in several capacities), pursuing advanced degrees, becoming a member of professional organizations, etc. Once again, the tools and experience gained as percussionist transfer perfectly into the daunting, yet highly rewarding waters of entrepreneurship.

Being a percussionist is not easy; neither is being a successful entrepreneur. However, both employ enough similarity in multi-tasking skills, diversified passions, and creativity to suggest that percussionists interested in pursuing a portfolio career as an entrepreneurial musician can do so with success!

Don JohnsDon Johns is an active percussion performer and educator in the Washington D.C. metro area. He is Principal Timpanist of the Apollo Orchestra in Bethesda, Maryland, and a regular extra percussionist for the Richmond Symphony. He is Founder and Director of the DMV Percussion Academy ( He is also Adjunct Professor of Percussion at Bowie State University and serves on the PAS Education Committee. 

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