In 2012, the flutist Claire Chase, founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble, received a MacArthur Award for her work as an “arts entrepreneur and flutist.” The award's emphasis on Chase's entrepreneurship reflects the growing demand among classical musicians, educators, and critics for self-driven musical projects, promoted as an engine of classical music's concert culture and as crucial to its renewal in the United States. Entrepreneurship curricula are now in place at almost every music school in the country.
In this article, I offer a critique of the increasingly institutionalized push for musical entrepreneurship, demonstrating that it is rooted in the discourse and ideals of neoliberalism. Drawing on scholarship by economist Guy Standing and political theorist Wendy Brown, I analyze the discourse supporting musical entrepreneurship training, demonstrating the ways it advances neoliberal values through the association of “freedom” and “innovation” with the dismantling of collectivity and valorization of precarious labor structures. This discourse produces an expectation of radical self-sufficiency throughout U.S. society, across multiple economic sectors and including non-economic areas of life. I argue that musical entrepreneurship training serves not as a progressive alternative to other forms of musical career building, but instead habituates musicians to precariousness and insecurity through its rhetoric and institutional endorsement.