by Dr. Paul Guise (originally published in 2005)

is an arts consultant, conductor and music educator living in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
Check out his website at

Having looked at career options in a broad sense last month, we’ll now move on to the preliminary stages of setting up your business. This could mean creating a business of your own, or going to work for someone else. For readers who are uncertain about their career goals, this article should help to narrow down the range of options. It is still strongly recommended that you look at a guide to careers in music (as noted last month) in order to broadly understand all the options before narrowing them down.

In order to figure out how realistic your career goals really are, you should conduct a brief Environmental Scan. This is a simple process involving your brain, a pen, and paper (add a computer as needed, infuse coffee, and cook for 45-60min). An environmental scan, at its simplest, looks at four things: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. For our purposes, we’ll also consider Strengths and Weaknesses in terms of both internal and external factors. If you’d like to wow your friends (or banker), you can call this a SWOT Analysis.

Before proceeding, it is essential to point out that having a variety of options (instead of just one or two) leads to better choices. If you want to be a grade-10 band teacher, live in a small town, and are unable or unwilling to move, your options are limited. If, on the other hand, you simply want to teach music and are willing to move anywhere in the world, your range of choices is enormous. Note that while neither choice is inherently right, one may be more right for you. This same point applies to playing a range of musical styles, writing a range of musical genres, or repairing a range of musical instruments, amongst other possibilities. So as you read through the material on careers in music, try to write down as many options as possible.

Back to the SWOT Analysis. Internal SWOT factors are those that relate to you, as an individual. Internal strengths or weaknesses could include your ability to play an instrument (or several instruments) well or poorly, your ability or inability to work with other people, or your comfort level in multiple languages. Don’t forget to consider your physical strengths and weaknesses, as music can be a very physically demanding sport!

External SWOT factors are those that relate to your interaction with the outside world. Simply put, think of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors (you don’t think you’ll be working in a bubble, do you?). Once you have an idea of your competitors’ attributes, review your own strengths and weaknesses and revise accordingly. The more thorough you can be, the better.

Once you’ve got a reasonable handle on the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your competitors, it’s time to go to OT: Opportunities and Threats. You may know plenty of well-qualified, personable, multi-lingual musicians, but if you’re the only music therapist within 500km, that suggests a significant opportunity. Similarly, if you live in a city with a vibrant music scene that turns out excellent pianists every year, you should consider the possible threat to your piano studio. However, such a situation might present a great opportunity to a piano tuner, or a piano mover, or a piano retailer!

As with most things musical, the best way to make sure your SWAT Analysis is thorough is through practice. The more often you consider your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your competitors, the more effective your professional decisions are likely to be. In an ideal SWOT situation, everyone is able to find their own niche, turning potential competitors into colleagues or collaborators. Your strengths are your competitors’ weaknesses, and vice versa. People tend to be very generous when they don’t see you as competition. Of course, people can also be extremely competitive when they do feel threatened. Find your niche.

Finally, make sure you take a complete inventory of your strengths and weaknesses: many people ignore their obvious attributes, which can be key to success or failure. By being thorough at this stage, you can make a business plan that will save you time and money in the long run. Any corners you cut now may come back to haunt you. That said, next month we’ll take a more in-depth look at strengths and weaknesses, completing the process (with opportunities and threats) in September as you develop a complete SWOT Analysis. Enjoy the summer months, and don’t forget your sunscreen