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February 16, 2011

‘Lessons from a street-wise professor’

New book aims to help aspiring musicians avoid becoming starving artists

Ray Ricker

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an extraordinary musician, perhaps history’s greatest composer. He should have amassed a fortune. Instead, he died penniless.

Many musicians throughout history have suffered a similar fate, unable to turn their dedication and talent into a successful career. A new book by Ramon Ricker, a senior administrator at the Eastman School, provides aspiring musicians with a new resource to pursue their career dreams.

Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools describes how entrepreneurial and marketing strategies can help musicians meet real-world challenges to succeed in the music business.

“Solid performance skills and dedication to your craft are essential requirements for a career in music, but they’re not enough,” says Ricker, senior associate dean for professional studies and director of the Eastman School’s Institute for Music Leadership. “A professional musician is a small business—and small businesses fail at an alarming rate. If musicians use entrepreneurial thinking and add it to high-level performance skills and artistry, they will not only survive but they will thrive in their field.”

Ricker said “the musician’s toolkit” must include entrepreneurial thinking, a strong positive brand, a proactive attitude, versatility, flexibility, business savvy, familiarity with technology, and people skills. Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor provides suggestions and advice aimed at easing the transition from music school student to working musician. The book covers many topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset; understanding the musical marketplace; separating oneself from the pack; navigating professional relationships; and maintaining artistic integrity while striving for financial success.

The book has relevance beyond current music school students, Ricker says. It offers a tool for prospective music school students and their parents researching whether a career in music is a reasonable option. Professionals already in the music business will find important reminders about how best to market themselves and their services, and the strategies the book offers can be used by students about to embark on any professional career.

Ricker, a graduate of the Eastman School, writes from his own experiences in a varied 50-year career as an active studio and stage performer, music professor, author of books on jazz improvisation and saxophone technique, composer and arranger, and contractor and performer for hundreds of radio and television commercials and themes. He has taught for 40 years at the Eastman School, where he has been instrumental in shaping the Institute for Music Leadership’s innovative courses, programs, and internships preparing students for entry into the professional world.

Ricker was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for 38 years and has performed and recorded with some of the most significant figures in jazz. His arrangements have been commissioned by the Rochester Philharmonic and the American, Atlanta, Cincinnati and North Carolina Symphonies, with works published by Advance Music (Germany), Alphonse Leduc (Paris), ATN (Tokyo), Alfred (USA), and Jamey Aebersold (USA).

Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor is available in paperback and carries a list price of $19.95. It can be ordered at bookstores and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, which also carry $9.95 e-book versions. More information is available at

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