Sean Flanigan professional headshot
Associate Professor of Music Sean Flanigan, DMA, blends music and entrepreneurship to broaden the horizon for his students.


A new breed of musicians: Musical Entrepreneurs

Sean Flanigan, DMA, has a versatile skill set including performing as a professional trombonist, teaching music and business courses and running his own nonprofit. Flanigan emphasizes the importance of a diverse skill set to his students. “It’s about training musicians, regardless of the degree program that they are in, to acquire certain skill sets in order to be successful as a player.”

Flanigan grew up in a musical family in Illinois and spent a good majority of his early professional career in Chicago playing solo gigs or in the orchestra pit for traveling Broadway shows.

“Gaining a reputation for being able to play the different styles and developing a reputation as a very consistent player is what brings you professional work,” Flanigan said.

In the last six years, Flanigan has expanded his personal skill set to include teaching entrepreneurship, specifically in the music industry. He is a Coleman Foundation Faculty Entrepreneurship Fellow, a foundation dedicated to the interdisciplinary teaching of entrepreneurship in higher education. Flanigan has been invited to present on his methods of experiential learning in music business at the National Conference of the College Music Society in San Antonio this October.

Flanigan is partaking in some experiential learning of his own in the area of music entrepreneurship with MusicSparks, the nonprofit foundation he and his wife founded in February 2016.

“It is a leadership training and character development program for underserved students, through the power of music,” said Flanigan, who is MusicSparks artistic director and financial manager.

While Flanigan has been able to adopt the entrepreneurial mindset, he admits his students have a more difficult time making the switch. He explained the formative years of learning a musical skill are “all about playing the notes and rhythms correctly. It is either right or its wrong, so that does not jive very well with entrepreneurial thinking.”

Flanigan hopes to build his students confidence in their own skill sets by encouraging them to adopt more entrepreneurial ways of thinking. “Let’s apply the freedom of the improvising jazz player to the business world,” Flanigan said. What he means is musicians and entrepreneurs alike have to be unafraid of failure and willing to try new things. This way they learn there is more than one correct way to play a song or start a music business. 

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