Why does the world need another guitarist? Why does the world need another conductor?
These are questions that Dr. José Valentino Ruiz asks his music students.
“The world doesn’t need those roles,” he tells them, “but they need you expressed in those roles.”
As the UF School of Music’s first assistant professor in music business and entrepreneurship, Ruiz is helping students define their creative and professional identity.
By combining elements of business law, communication arts and music technology, Ruiz brings his personal experience as a successful artist—which includes a GRAMMY® Award, multiple GRAMMY® nominations and an Emmy® Award—into the classroom.
Upon arriving at UF this fall, Ruiz started teaching a new course for music students called Strategic Entrepreneurship Development for the Arts.
In class, students are learning how to establish their own music enterprises, which includes determining the tax codes for businesses and organizations they hope to start, creating crowdfunding campaigns, and learning how to land endorsement deals.
Ruiz said the class is like a laboratory, with action- and project-based assignments that students collaborate on and present to each other for feedback.
Undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students all sit in the class, which allows for a diverse cross-section of learning. As undergraduates are establishing their first websites, doctoral students are presenting business plans for nonprofit organizations they lead.
“It’s all tailored based on what their aspired vocation of interest is going to be,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz isn’t the only faculty member in the school to hold prestigious awards and have a wealth of experience to pass on to his students. For years, the school’s faculty have been training students how to succeed as performers, educators and researchers. But the challenge was to find time to incorporate these lessons within an already packed curriculum.
When Associate Professor of Jazz Studies Scott Wilson returned to academia after a successful run as the music director for Universal Studios Japan, the first thing he noticed was the lack of skills his students possessed to promote their own artistry.
“They could go to school for four to five years and never get a promo photo,” Wilson said.
In addition to conducting jazz ensembles, providing one-on-one applied lessons, and teaching jazz history and theory, Wilson was also pulling in his students to help them build their own websites and get promo photos.
“We have students that are superstars,” he said. “They just had no idea how to package themselves.”
With the university’s Faculty 500 initiative, the School of Music had the opportunity to create and hire new professorships. This also meant the chance to formalize coursework for students to experiment with business principles, seek professional and peer feedback, and refine their artistic identity.
“With José here, we have a real opportunity to help our students learn about the music business,” Wilson said. “And they’re learning from someone who has just been nominated for a GRAMMY®. That puts us on a whole different scale of accountability.”
But Ruiz recognizes that not all his students want to become award-winning musicians. Some hope to open their own personal studios or become artist managers. He also knows that many of his students will wear multiple hats throughout their career and that the skills taught in his course will make them more marketable in a variety of fields.
“Having options is a luxury,” he said, “and in today’s world as a creative artist, you have to have multiple streams of income, not just to make it and thrive, but also to express who you are as an artist. We’re no longer in an academic setting that tells us we have to specialize in one specific thing.”
Video by Brianne Lehan / UF Photography
At UF, Ruiz said he has noticed how much synergy and enthusiasm exists among the faculty, and both he and Wilson credit the school’s director Dr. Kevin Orr for curating a collaborative and entrepreneurial environment.
For Ruiz and Wilson, their teamwork started the day after Ruiz accepted his position last spring. Immediately, the two began a chain of thousands of texts that manifested in the new strategic entrepreneurship course and the start of a broader music business curriculum.
Now that Ruiz is in Gainesville, their partnership extends into their classrooms.
“The beauty of how Scott and I are collaborating together is that while I’m addressing certain aspects of documenting students’ creativity, he is cultivating their artist expression in applied lessons and jazz ensembles,” Ruiz said.
The new course in strategic entrepreneurship is only the beginning. He also teaches Introduction to Music Technology, where students are learning how to record their own singles, compose tracks for television ads and film, and aurally discriminate cover tunes to replicate anything they hear.
Ruiz is also at the helm of creating a new certificate in music business for students.
Future courses will include Foundations of Music Business, to address topics on copyright, licensing and artist management, and Music Production and Commercial Media, which may include students developing their own podcast.
Already, Wilson and Ruiz have students landing sponsorship deals with instrument companies and winning prestigious awards for collegiate music.
In the future, they hope to obtain a recording studio for the School of Music to raise students’ marketability even higher.
“With a recording studio, we can actually produce the world’s leading artists who are going to be contributing and influencing and inspiring society in a positive way,” Ruiz said.
In all this work, the two professors keep the students at the heart of their goals.
“The students all have innate potential,” Ruiz said, “and we’re here to just water the seed of creativity that they have and help them secure their identity, who they are, so that they can develop their purpose and express their purpose through multiple roles.”
Wilson said that, to some extent, he and Ruiz have lived their dreams as musicians and artists, and all he wants to do is let students have the same opportunities he did.
Ruiz simply agrees.
“My dreams are the dreams of the students,” he said.
José Valentino Ruiz is an internationally acclaimed recording and performing artist, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, missionary, and educator who has worked for American Idol and X-Factor, produced 60 albums, scored over 30 nationally televised commercials, and performed in over 1100 concerts. Read more.
Scott Wilson is a renowned trumpeter and regarded as one of the world’s foremost proponents of the electronic valve instrument (EVI). He has served as Musical Director for Universal Studios Japan, staff composer for Grand Link World in Qingdao, China, and has been a featured trumpet soloist for Tokyo Disney Sea, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Orlando. At UF, he heads the Jazz Studies program and has developed a new Jazz Minor. Read more.
This article was updated on November 15, 2019 to reflect Ruiz's GRAMMY® Award win for his participation as flutist and audio engineer for Juan Delgado's Todo Pasa. The album won Best Christian Album (Spanish Language).
Read more about Ruiz's GRAMMY Award and his work at the university at UF News.