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New music entrepreneurship initiative offers a unique summer experience

Participants from 21 states and Canada will descend on the USC campus in June for The Savvy Musician in ACTION, a unique 4-day experiential retreat designed to help musicians increase income and impact. Think “The Apprentice” meets higher education. The retreat runs June 6 through 9.

The retreat is designed for music professionals, faculty and students, and will teach what it takes to thrive professionally and increase impact in an unpredictable world.

Participants will pitch arts-based business ideas, vote on their favorites, then form teams to design a business model and marketing campaign, competing for awards. Attendees will experience a variety of learning opportunities including training sessions, peer-teaching, mentorship, an “expert expo,” field research, prototyping, reflection sessions, a competition and more.  

USC School of Music dean, Tayloe Harding says, "This retreat is a perfect collection of learning and doing experiences for delivering the profound message and companion skills necessary to make one’s way in the world of professional music. The USC School of Music has championed, through its distinctive SPARK: Carolina’s Music Leadership Laboratory, the very principles and visions for our musical futures that are at the heart of this intensive retreat. We are so proud to be able to offer it to musicians and music lovers everywhere who are committed to tomorrow's musically enriched America that is essential for our society."

Led by pianist, composer, “The Savvy Musician” author and USC director of music entrepreneurship David Cutler, the retreat brings attendees face to face with thought leaders and entrepreneurs from the arts world. Participants take part in training sessions and learn from experts including notables like Lance LaDuke of the Boston Brass, internationally known as a performer, writer, producer, speaker and educator, and Justin Kantor, co-founder of (Le) Poisson Rouge, a multi-media performance space, art gallery and cabaret in New York's Greenwich Village.

The Savvy Musician in Action is about both music and entrepreneurship. To emphasize this dual goal, one of the retreat’s initiatives is a Chamber Music Competition with winners chosen through a competitive juried process. Judging criteria included artistic excellence and innovative event design. Open to forward-looking students and young professional chamber groups, the winning ensemble C Street Brass was awarded full tuition scholarships to the retreat, a $500 stipend and an add-on professional development workshop with retreat faculty.

The winning ensemble and two runners up will perform during First Thursdays on Main Street, the city’s cultural festival, on June 6 from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. at Tapp’s Art Center (1644 Main Street). Information about the winning ensembles is found at

The retreat culminates with a Venture Challenge, where teams pitch their proposed arts businesses to a panel of judges including Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, and Greg Hilton, executive director of Midlands Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation, as well as a panel of local VIPs of Columbia-based leaders involved with the arts, entrepreneurship and economic development.

About Spark: Carolina’s Music Leadership Laboratory
Spark: Carolina’s Music Leadership Laboratory taps into the creative and imaginative energy of USC music students and faculty and organizes a number of initiatives that benefit the university community. Focused on success, innovation and community, Spark, formerly Carolina Institute for Leadership and Engagement in Music (CILEM), prepares music leaders for the 21st century. Spark’s formula for developing leaders is at the core of its mission: Success + Innovation + Community = Leadership. Spark and the USC School of Music are committed not only to cultivating outstanding musicians, but also leaders who are well equipped to succeed professionally.

For more information about Spark, visit


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