Navigating Life After Music School: Make the World Your Oyster with Allison M. Schweitzer
Updated: Nov 24
A few years ago, Allison M. Schweitzer (a.k.a. Allison Emm) started a Meetup group for musicians. I thought it was a great idea to have a place to connect with other musicians and made plans to attend a session. When I arrived, Allison and I discovered that, years ago, we had been in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra together! Though we didn't know each other well in MYSO I am so happy and grateful to know her now. We have become good friends and play music together as the Firefly Brass Duo. In the summer of 2019 Allison started Wisconsin Music Ventures, followed by a related podcast, The Musicians Venture. I'm so impressed with her entrepreneurial skills, persistence, and dedication to her goals. I know you'll enjoy reading about Allison.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
AS: I have been a musician, wearing many different hats - also a music director, and have done a lot in arts administration. I now have my own music business and host an associated podcast.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school?
AS: This is a tough question... I believe the most important lessons I learned from music school are also lessons I could've learned in a lot of different places. Meet people, stay connected with others, learn to work well with others and be sure to try new things - even if it means failure sometimes.
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school?
AS: My biggest challenge was that I was still very uncertain about what I wanted to do. I had changed my major every year in college, although it was always something music-related. I ended up finishing with a BA in Music (horn), Minor in New Media/Journalism. Although I enjoyed some of the music journalism gigs I'd done, it wasn't the right path for me. After graduating, I still hadn't settled on what I wanted to do in music.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed?
AS: My career goals changed constantly. I loved music, loved writing, enjoyed the business of music and event organization, loved telling peoples' stories, and when social media started becoming a thing I really enjoyed that field as well. I didn't know how to settle on one thing; also, I wasn't always happy with one thing. I've come to find out that may well have been because I was supposed to start my own thing... that could encompass all of those elements.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful?
AS: The first thing that happened following graduation which seemed like a necessity at the time - although I would really recommend it to anyone unsure of what to do - was landing a full-time job at the largest music retailer in the Milwaukee area. I really didn't like the job at all, but everyone in and around the store, from the employees to the teachers who taught there, to the customers, were musicians. Many of them were very good musicians. I was at a point in my life where I didn't have a lot of responsibilities, so I would follow all sorts of those musicians wherever they were playing. As someone who was raised and trained in the classical world, this was not really my scene - but I took it on and learned so much, from all varieties of music.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up?
AS: I have seen and felt so much disappointment. But, it is imperative to this business to be around it, through it, and past it. We, of course, always come out stronger, with greater lessons learned.
Probably my biggest disappointment was four or five years ago, when I was trying to really pursue professional horn playing at a higher level. I hadn't had the discipline for that when I was younger, but my very supportive husband agreed to work with me on putting a lot more time and money into professional lessons, a very high-end (Lukas) horn, and I started auditioning. Then, right around the same time I was starting to make progress on some of these auditions. (Some auditions didn't go well, but that's part of the process!) I started simultaneously having a lot of trouble with medical circumstances due to a rare congenital vascular issue called Nutcracker Syndrome. I had to undergo many abdominal-area surgeries, and there was a lot of pain. At one point in time, I was on prescription pain meds for a year and a half straight. It took three years to ultimately (knock on wood) get past this, as there were many complications. The horn playing was making some of these things worse. When I was getting called to play some of the pro gigs I'd worked so hard to get, I had to decline... and some of them were really good. But I was on my way in for another major surgery, or something.
Ultimately, I realized that if I was going to do anything professionally in music, it wasn't going to be the traditional orchestral route. I would have to find a different way.
ER: Tell us about creating Wisconsin Music Ventures. How did you get the idea and how were you able to get the business up and running?
AS: The idea behind WMV was at first, quite simply, to be a patron-supported concert series that would pay musicians appropriate fees to perform fun pop-up style concerts in a variety of places. This would, I'd hoped, also create an outlet for myself to perform, along with other friends in music. :-)
When I was working to pursue horn playing at a higher level, I'd not only invested in lessons and an instrument, I listened to a lot of podcasts. My favorite was "The Brass Junkies." I became a patron of the podcast, which allowed me the opportunity to talk 1-on-1 with Andrew Hitz, one of the show's co-hosts. In that chat he mentioned another podcast of his, which I hadn't been aware of: The Entrepreneurial Musician. That was exactly what I needed to know about at exactly the right time (as the medical issues kept lingering). Every episode was a new interview with someone doing something exciting, innovative, and music-based in their work. This started the wheels turning. It really allowed me to start thinking outside the box, and to think creatively as an entrepreneur.
I took all the things that I'd ever enjoyed - as mentioned before - plus a few skills I've learned along the way from other work I've done (fundraising, networking) and put them all into WMV.
Since COVID, which occurred less than a year into our existence, we have worked to become somewhat of a resource for musicians, on top of continuing to put on events. COVID also limited the type of events we could do significantly, yet also opened the door to a whole new set. It's been fascinating... COVID really shaped so much about WMV. I never could've expected everything that has happened.
ER: What positive impacts have you seen Wisconsin Music Ventures make for musicians and the Wisconsin community?
AS: WMV has been able to connect musicians from across the state with each other - and musicians from all sorts of genres. (That has been important to me). We even have some musicians from outside of Wisconsin interested in getting involved and becoming a part of our network. As long as they are willing to come to Wisconsin to put on a show, and are understanding of how our live music community works, we have been willing to try this. We have seen people find subs for their bands, mentors, and "forever-friends" sorts of relationships. There have been recording collaborations and a host of information shared. At this current point in history - and entertainment history, at that - resources such as this are crucial. We are grateful to play a small part in some musicians' COVID comeback stories.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school?
AS: I would say make sure to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. This includes meeting people, listening to new music, performing different types of music, going places, and trying different gigs. Experience everything you can - you will not like it all - but you will learn a lot about yourself and what you want to do (and who you wish to surround yourself with) in the process.
ER: Anything else you want to add?
AS: Follow-through is something that creatives seem to struggle with a lot. So many opportunities are lost, some which could've been complete game-changers for one's career, simply because of a lack of follow-through. I have been in this boat and have to work really hard not to fall back into it, myself. However, if you can be the type of creative that can not only come up with amazing ideas, but also follow-through with them, the world is your oyster.
Thank you, Emmy, for asking me to write for this!
ER: How can people find you?
Website: www.wisconsinmusicventures.com - Please visit the website. All of our social media handles filter into the bottom of the home page.