Ramon Ricker gives musicians real world advice in his innovative book. Courtesy of Drue Sokol

“Do your own thing, then figure out how to get paid for it,” reads one of the more recent posts in the ‘Lesson of the Week’ section of Ramon Ricker’s website. Another says, “Don’t make money the number one priority: Learn to wait.”
Perhaps waiting is easier said than done when a major in the fine arts is equated by some with a permanent residence in a cardboard box and begs a favorite question in today’s world: Don’t you know we’re in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?
Ricker, a renowned musician who has been teaching at the Eastman School of Music for 40 years and currently directs the Institute for Music Leadership there, recently published “Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools.” In Richer’s words, the book seeks to “ease the transition from the Ivory tower to the real world,” teaching practical, entrepreneurial and professional skills to music majors and college graduates in general struggling to persue their passions while seeking employment in today’s lagging economy.
In his book, Ricker (who operates under the philosophy of “don’t wait for something to come to you, make it happen”), describes what he learned in the first five to 10 years after he graduated with his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in music education and clarinet from the ESM. In the U.S., there are currently 330,000 music majors in higher education. Riker observesed raising the realistic concern that supply well exceeds demand. His advice: “Create careers, don’t plug into jobs.”
Clearly, he points out, it takes more than just being a good player to be successful in today’s economy. His book, therefore, focuses on skills that are often not taught in music school because of a lack of time in the highly prescribed and busy curriculum: how to interact with others and cultivate social skills, how to sell yourself, how to control your nerves, how to be a life-long student, how to build a career around your strengths and interests, how to understand the music marketplace and how to cultivate a business savvy attitude of positivity, flexibility, and versatility.
“Create channels of income,” Ricker advised. “Don’t worry about the other guy. Someone will always play better than you. You need to take care of business.”
Ricker has indeed taken care of business. In addition to teaching saxophone at the ESM, Ricker is the driving force behind the Institute for Music Leadership that was founded in the fall of 2001 and is the first center of its kind in the country. It offers 25 courses a year, taught by experts in the field, to Eastman students, alumni and professional musicians, on subjects such as grant writing, entrepreneurship and music professionalism — all designed to prepare students for their roles in the changing music industry. One third of all Eastman juniors, seniors, and graduate students take at least one of these courses.
Ricker has been a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since 1972 when he began as a clarinet soloist. He continues to play in and occasionally conduct the orchestra today and has been on its Board of Directors since 1996. He also serves as Editor in Chief of polyphonic.org — an Eastman sponsored website for professional orchestra  musicians, and performs as a saxophone and clarinet soloist and chamber musician at venues throughout Europe and North America.
Along with his wife, Judith, Ricker manages Soundown Inc., a music and contracting firm that produces Ricker’s jazz and saxophone pedagogy books and music compositions, contracts musicians for radio and television commercials, recordings, shows and works on research-based corporate and arts branding.
“It reminds me of why I went into music to begin with,” wrote Tom Christensen, a freelance saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, in a review of “Lessons from a Street-Wise Professor.” “As Ricker points out in the book, it’s not always easy to keep sight of that.”
Ricker’s pragmatic advice is applicable not only to music educators and music students but also to any college student with concerns about survival in the post-ivory tower world who needs advice on believing in themselves and separating from the pack. The book is now available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and can be purchased in paperback for $19.95 or as an eBook for $9.95.
Buletti is a member of
the class of 2013.

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