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

The end of our SWOT analysis is in sight! Last month’s focus was on strengths and weaknesses. This month we’ll finish with a look at opportunities and threats through the eyes of ETOP, an Environmental Threats and Opportunities Profile. What follows is a very basic overview, as the creation of an ETOP can be a complex, formal process (and we don’t want that, do we?).

At the most basic level, the creation of an ETOP involves making a list of career opportunities and threats in your environment. These can be related to internal factors (such as your level of training or musical preferences) or external factors (such as the state of the economy or your competitors). Starting with the positive, let’s look at opportunities. Your extensive training as a composer of accordion music could suggest a career opportunity, as could your skills repairing brass instruments or your talents behind a mixing board. Mark these down on your list, and don’t worry about your competition: that will be addressed later.

Often you will hear it said that an opportunity appeared as if from nowhere. Rarely is this the case (it usually takes years to become an overnight success). By carefully observing trends in the world around you, you will be much better prepared for these “sudden” changes. For example, it has been suggested that we’re on the edge of a teachers’ retirement boom, which could lead to significant opportunities for people entering (or planning to enter) a career as a music teacher. Of course, this assumes that those retirements lead to replacement teachers being hired, an assumption that is threatened by changes in educational policy, a trend towards part-time employment, and many other factors. Which leads us to threats…

When considering threats to their future careers, most people think of the same thing: competition. Certain musical professions are extremely competitive and overflowing with talented people, such that entering into those professions can be highly risky (there’s rarely a shortage of excellent pianists, lead guitarists, or sopranos). In addition, some musical professions that appear to lack competition are simply too small to accommodate more than a few individuals (such as bassoon teachers, organ tuners, or electroacoustics composers). Finally, consider that the less competition there is in a certain field, the more likely it becomes that other people will enter that field: competition will fill a vacuum, unless the barriers to entry (such as education or cost of equipment) are sufficiently high.

Some threats are harder to see, simply because they don’t seem threatening on a day-to-day basis. For example, if you’re hoping to make a living as a touring musician, having a family can be a threat to your career. Some people can thrive professionally while balancing a touring career and family, while other have to choose. The changing demographics of society can also result in threats to your career. Here in Newfoundland, the number of youth is expected to drop to one-third of 1980s levels within the next few years. This is an enormous threat to those entering the piano-teaching profession (unless the number of existing piano teachers also drops by a similar margin).

Finally, don’t ignore threats from outside of the music world. As musicians, we often compete against other arts, pop entertainment such as television, and sports for our audience. A hockey strike could mean boom times for musicians, if there’s a common audience. The invention of recording and playback equipment over the past century has meant the end of a wide variety of live music, and yet the current omnipresence of “canned” music might cause a rebirth of live performance. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between opportunity and threat.

As you develop your own ETOP, try to keep it framed in terms of your own career. Are there opportunities for your chosen career(s)? Are there threats? Be prepared to discover that your career plans need modification. For some people, this may mean small change (jazz saxophonist becomes musical theatre saxophonist), while others will have to spend more time re-assessing their goals. Finally, remember that no matter how crowded any market may appear, there is always room if you are the very best. Try to be objective about this: your mother may not be the best source. Statistically, most people are not the very best.

That marks the end of our look at SWOT analysis. Hopefully you’ve noticed a few gaps in your understanding of SWOT, which can be quite complex but is a great tool to use as a professional. There’s a great deal of information available on this subject, so pay a visit to your library and dig a little deeper. The last three articles for 2005 will clean up some remaining details about the making of a business plan. See you in October!