Friday, November 22, 2013

Get more gigs in less time.

How many times have you been invited to like a page for your friend just to find that the page serves absolutely no purpose?
I'm not hating on FB pages.  I think they can be really awesome and do wonders for communicating to your audience (if you have one).  But for the most part, they're absolutely useless when it comes to generating work.

Things like Facebook, Twitter, websites, and other things like that have a lot of value, but they're not something that your joe-schmo student looking to freelance should be spending time on.  I have a FB page for my quintet and it serves absolutely no purpose other than acting as a place for my friends and family to see what's going on with the group.  

That's it.

I have never gotten a gig through that page (and probably never will), Twitter or even from the website.  

While they all have a purpose, the bulk of your time should be spent directly interacting with potential clients and other people that could potentially be paying you.

Think about what kind of work you're currently getting and then ask yourself these kinds questions:

-Where did those gigs come from?
-Could I be expanding my opportunities in this area?
-Are there other areas I could be aiming for?

For my quintet, we do a lot of work with churches.  So....I emailed every church I could find an email for about my group.  Then I realized that not only do these churches hire for their services, I should be doing concerts there too.  Once I started digging deeper and expanding on work I was already doing, it opened up a ton of new opportunities.  With a little time and a lot of emails, I started developing relationships with hundreds or people around the area that pretty regularly reach out to me inquiring about our services.

Same goes for my personal freelancing.  The majority of my work is schools.  So, I reached out to every conductor with a brief intro and a resume.  Nothing pushy, just planting a seed with them.  I was immediately hired to play.  Simple.

Do they always pan out?  No way.  But both of these things have directly led to making money playing horn.

It's all just something to keep in mind.  When starting off, it's best to get some quick wins to give that motivation to keep pushing.  Designing websites and spamming your FB friends probably won't lead to opportunities immediately, so try focusing your efforts on the things that will get the results you really want.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The best concert I have ever been to.

By the time I even get half way finished with this post it will be out of date, but I'm going to write it anyways.

I witnessed something incredible tonight.  The Philadelphia Orchestra was supposed to be performing in Carnegie Hall tonight.  Due to a stagehand strike, the show was cancelled and they decided to put together a last minute free concert to the public.  In less than 12hrs of marketing via the internet they PACKED Verizon Hall.

For those of you who don't know, Verizon Hall is huge.  I mean really huge.

There was some serious spreading of the word (marketing!) going on today.  Unfortunately the hash tag (#philorchpopup) is a little clunky so it's not even close to being a fair representation of how much buzz was going on today about this concert.  I would venture to say (quite confidently) that this was hands down the most buzz about a concert they've ever had.  This orchestra is over a hundred years old.  That's wild.

What caused it?

I can't say for sure, but I have a hunch it had a lot to do with the fact that the orchestra was providing tremendous value to their community tonight.  They could've just gone home after hearing the concert was off in NYC, but they didn't.  Instead they slapped together a concert filled with favorites that everyone would enjoy.  Their world class conductor, Yannick Nezet-Seguin was talking to the audience the entire performance.  They had a little girl conduct William Tell.  The audience had out their cellphones and were encouraged to film and share the concert with the world!  They did all of this in casual clothes.

Everyone was having a blast and it shows online.  There are hundreds of posts going on around Twitter and Facebook.  Musicians were even filming from the stage.  Some of the posts I've seen have hundreds of shares, likes, and retweets.  If the hash tag were a little better I think we could track it even closer!

Like most businesses, organizations tend to try and buy the attention of their audiences.  Tonight happened all because it was exciting, a phenomenal product, and it was all for the audience.  They probably didn't spend anymore than a little staff time today getting the word out.

The time has come for organizations to rethink how they connect and engage with their audiences and I hope tonight starts a dialogue in every arts marketing depart across the country about what they can be doing to better serve their communities.

Also, just an FYI, Carol Jantsch's video from the stage has gained like 50 Likes and the shares have over doubled since I wrote this.  Just think about how many people The Philadelphia Orchestra reached tonight.  It really is amazing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

4 Steps to Jump Start Your Freelancing Career.

Well, folks.  It's that time of year again.

Many of you might be starting a new year of school or even moving to a new city.  Whatever you're doing this Fall and beyond, I bet you've got high hopes for what you're going to achieve in this upcoming year.  I know I do!

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what has proved effective in helping me get my freelancing career moving and I decided to write a little bit about it.  As most of you know, we musicians (and many other careers) depend a lot on freelance work for extra income.  So I decided to give my spiel on what has worked for me thus far.  I'm a big believer that by defining and measuring what works, you can not only achieve success, but replicate it by applying those principles over and over again.  The following have worked wonders for me (and many of my most successful friends) and I hope that you'll give them a try a let me know how they work for you.

1.  Acknowledge that it takes effort.----I know a ton of people that sit around moaning and groaning about how they never get gigs.  Some people seem to think that it will just magically happen someday.  Wrong!

This may seem super obvious, but it is amazing how many people will never take the time to put in the work it requires to really get yourself out there.  It takes some time and energy, but it's all a matter of making it a priority.  We've all got the same amount of time, it's just a matter of how we decide to use it.

2.  Reach out to others for guidance.----The only way to ever get hired for anything is for people to know that you exist.  You can spend hours everyday in a practice room perfecting some random 8 bars of some random symphony, but if nobody knows you're around, you'll never get called for anything.  Anywhere you go, there is someone who was in your same position at some point.  Reaching out those people for advice can go a long way.  Nobody starts out on the the top of the freelance scene, but everyone has experiences they can share that will shed some light on what might help you along.

I am still very close with some of the people that took time to sit and talk with me several years ago.  One of them has passed along countless gigs to me, I currently work for two of them, and another one hooked me up with my current teaching position.  Once you've started making these connections, you'll be in the perfect position to put the next step in to action.

3.  Create opportunities to hire other people.----Being in a position to hire other people is a very powerful networking tool.  Find the people that you want to work with that can and will return the favor.  Before you know it you'll have a nice little circle of people that are totally willing to help each other out as much as possible.  A huge chunk of my freelance work comes from my friends that referred me to a contractor or conductor.  The more opportunities you have to help others, the more opportunities you'll be presented with.

From my own experience, starting your own group is the most effective way to kick start this process.  If you're constantly generating opportunities to hire others on your own, that means that you always have the ability to expand your network.  This can take a lot of effort on your end, but again it's all about prioritizing what's actually important enough to you that you'll make the investment to get started.

4.  Be a good colleague.----All of these steps are useless if nobody wants to work with you.  Make sure you've got your shit together when you venture out in to the world of freelancing.  No one wants to work with someone that has a reputation of being difficult to work with, unprepared, or irresponsible.  In my opinion, the best people to work with are the ones I'm friends with.  Most people would rather hire someone that is totally awesome to work with over someone that is an amazing player, but a pain to deal with.  Again, this may seem like common sense, but I can think of a lot of people that I will never call just because I don't enjoy working with them.  It's nothing personal, but we all want to spend time around people that we enjoy being around.  I think we can all agree on that.

In closing, I think it's worth saying that the freelancing biz is very much a relationship business.  People want to work with people that they enjoy being around and that add value to their lives professionally and personally.  Like anything worth doing, developing a freelance career is a lot of work, but extremely rewarding.  I hope that all of you that have been looking to break in to your local freelance scene will take this formula and really give it a whirl.  From talking with a lot of my friends that are infinitely more successful than I am, I've found that these steps are universally used in everyone's career.

Take some time and really think about if you're where you'd like to be in the freelancing part of your career.  What could you be doing better and what can you change to improve?

Take a moment to leave me a message or make a comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

3 Reasons Why Everyone Should Learn to Sell (and what they mean to you).

I don't know about you, but I often find myself getting really frustrated when I know I have ideas that can  ake a change for the better for something/someone, and I just can't seem to successfully project my thoughts and ideas in way that makes anyone care.  This seems to happen to me in all aspect of my life from my social relationships, professional settings, and in my own projects that I'm working on.  I recently ran across a book that has totally changed my entire perspective and approach to moving others.

In Dan Pink's book, To Sell is Human, he argues that the ability to sell is universally necessary.  The idea that sales is sleazy and only belongs on the used Subaru lot is totally ridiculous when you really think about it.  According to Pink, selling is about more than getting someone to buy something, but more importantly it's about moving others.  This point about moving others is where I really got hooked and my mind starting running wild with ideas.  The whole time, I was thinking of ways that I could others excited about this concept and how potentially useful it is to anyone and everyone.

Here's some of the three big points I took away from the book:  

1.  Learning to sell, means learning to articulate the value of what you have to offer in a compelling way.

When you try to sell someone on an idea of yours, it's absolutely critical that you can clearly articulate the value of what your proposing and why they should care.  This may sound easy, but when you sit down and really try to define why exactly someone should care about your idea, it gets tough.  It's really telling when you speak with someone and ask them to explain why anyone should care about their idea and they can't tell you.  Try it sometime.  You'll be amazed at how often people draw a blank.  I mean, seriously if you don't believe me just look at most orchestra's mission statements.

2.  Learning to sell, means learning to effectively communicate.

Whether you're trying to sell someone over the phone, through a Facebook page, or through any other form of communication.  Selling is all about being to communicate your ideas to anyone through a variety of outlets.  I don't know anyone who couldn't stand to improve some aspect of their communication skills with others.  Getting out there and trying to articulate the value of your ideas in any medium is a great way to learn communication.  You'll learn tons about how to adapt your communication to make it effective with anyone. 

Who couldn't benefit from that?

3.  Learning to sell, means learning to help your ideas spread and influence others.

This is the big one.  We all have ideas that we want to spread and learning to sell will help anyone be more effective in their quest to make some kind of difference.  Whether you want to help your kid become more motivated to fill out their college applications, start a business, or win anyone to your way of thinking, investigating sales will help you accomplish that.  

Being able to sell doesn't just mean getting people to buy things with money, it means getting people to part with resources in exchange for something that will add value to their life.  These resources could be anything from time, attention, money, or virtually anything else.  Coordinating these various resources to help you accomplish your goals is what selling your ideas is all about.

Think about it.  Everyone has a friend or family member they'd like to influence in some way or maybe some big idea they'd like to implement at their job.  It's all a matter of coordinating the resources necessary to make it happen.  Whether you're a freelance horn player (like myself), a parent, teacher, or anyone looking have some kind of influence (which is everyone), the skills involved in sales will make you more effective.  

If you're interested in doing some research, I would highly recommend Dan Pink's book To Sell is Human.  It's probably the most "un-sales-y" book on sales you could possible find.  It's an extremely engaging read that is filled the brim with fascinating psychology to learn about.

The image up top is by artist Hugh Macleod, a favorite cartoonist/author/marketer of mine that totally gets it.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Doing stuff for free.

Well, it's been a few weeks since I've written, but it has certainly been very eventful month!  This past weekend my quintet had the great opportunity to perform in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center here in Philly.  We got to play for about half an hour on stage with (I think) the largest concert hall organ in the country.  Yes, it was totally bad ass, and no, we did not get paid.

Doing gigs for free is something that I've noticed can be a tender subject for a lot musicians (especially young musicians).  Personally, I have no beefs with doing things for free and I think people need to be a little more open to things before making judgments because it's "free".  Obviously you don't want to waste your time on a crappy gig that doesn't have anything to offer you, but I can think of a lot of examples in my own short freelancing career where a volunteered gig has led me to paying work.

Here are a few factors I take in to consideration when asked to volunteer my services:

  • Who is contracting?  
    • People understand that doing free gigs isn't always ideal and I think most people will look at it as a favor.  Having people owe you a "favor" is a good thing if it could lead to paid work in the future.
  • Who will I meet there?
    • Whether it's the conductor, other musicians, or someone totally different, it never hurts to get out and meet people.  Even if it's free, show up prepared and play well.  You'd hate to sit next to someone that could help you out and make a bad impression because you're playing poorly. 
  • Do I have anything else going on?
    • I have a confession to make that most other freelancers can relate to.  If I only played when I was getting paid to do so, I wouldn't be playing very much.  Sound familiar?  If it doesn't cost me more than a few bucks to travel and I'm not missing anything important, I'll always consider doing things.
I know some people (a lot more than you would think) that only want to show up and play when they're getting paid.  That's fine and dandy, but I think people are a little delusional about starting out careers in music.  I'll say it again, if I only played when I was getting paid, I would not playing much at all.  That would be totally lame.

Obviously every situation is unique, but I really think people should open up a little more to the idea of volunteering their talents.  For example, if you're a wanting to start a group that does wedding ceremonies, you'll find that it is incredibly tough to cut through the mobs of ensembles doing the same thing.  Would it be worth the time to volunteer your group to play at a local wedding showcase?  

Absolutely.  If it means an opportunity to prove yourself and legitimize your abilities to someone who could potentially pay you, then it is absolutely worth doing.  Keep an open mind with this and always be on the lookout for the next opportunity.

I'll leave you with a quote from my friend, mentor, and former teacher Jeff Lang that I think is an important thing to keep in mind:

"It's not about being in the right place at the right, but being some place all the time."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

3 Biggest Lessons Learned This Year

In the past few weeks, Philly has been abuzz with countless graduation ceremonies and other festivities that have caused me to sit and reflect on what I have learned since I have officially been in the "real world" for over a year.  I hope this list helps some of you who are facing the unknown of what's next in your life.  I've got a lot to learn, but these are just a few things have really made a huge difference in my life that I wanted to share with you all:

1.  Asks LOTS of questions.

If there is one thing that has directly benefited me more than anything else this past year, it has been my fearlessness in asking lots of questions.  No question is too dumb to ask.  In this day and age, you can get in touch with virtually anyone if you know where to look.  Find people that inspire you and reach out them for guidance.  I do this ALL THE TIME, and it has led me to some really great relationships with people I would've never dreamed of meeting.  In the last year alone, I have met business executives, world famous conductors, non-profit CEOs, legendary performers, and so many more interesting people that have offered me some kind of advice or guidance.  I have actually stayed in touch with many of these people and now consider them to be mentors that I can reach out to for guidance.  Not only can these mentors offer guidance to me, but they also act as a connection for me to reach out to infinitely more people that would have never been in my circles otherwise.  Emerson said it best here:

“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Truer words have never been spoken about learning from others.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.

My recommendations for learning how to connect are:  Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, and How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.

2.  Put yourself out there.

It is can be extremely difficult to take risks.  If you never audition, apply, or try anything, you'll never get turned down.  However, unless you're actively putting yourself out there, you will never actually be doing anything.  If I hadn't been actively trying to create my own opportunities this year, it would've been a very sad year of horn playing for me.  Constantly putting myself out there and always looking for the next opportunity to learn has really served me well.  

Seth Godin refers to this as "shipping", and I think it's something that everyone should get used to doing.  I generated well over half of my performing income this year from things that I created myself.  It only takes a little bit of legwork to get started and I can promise from my own experiences that it's incredibly rewarding work.  Getting in the habit of being proactive (and staying proactive!) is one of the key distinctions between people that people that make waves and the others that just bob in the pool.

3.  Pursue other interests.

Not only does this keep me sane, but I have actually learned more about how to create a career as a musician from reading books on totally different topics than in four years of music school.  (It's cheaper too.)  For me, reading has been a great outlet and has introduced me some people and ideas that have changed my entire perspective on careers and life.  Find what excites you and invest yourself in it.  Like I said, the most obvious benefit is that it keeps you sane, but it also develops entire new skills that you can bring to your career as a creative.  Having something unique to offer is so important in the crowded world we live in.  

Personally, the interest I pursued this year was business and entrepreneurship.  I can't even begin to describe the benefits my freelancing career alone has seen from me looking at the music business from a totally different perspective.  Not only has it helped me be more effective in my efforts, but it has even helped give me clarity as to what direction my professional life is headed.  Perhaps it can do the same for you too.

Anyways, so that's my top three list for the year.  I could blabber for days about this stuff, but I will spare you all from that.  I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this and even what you hope to accomplish in the coming year.  

Peace out, folks.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quick wins.

This past weekend my group, New City Brass, had our first official concert performance.  For those of you that are interested, you can check out samples from the performance HERE.  Now that we've got our first recital under our belts, I can say with confidence that it feels like a "legit" group!  Following this performance, I just had a few thoughts that I think are worth sharing with those of you out there interested in getting your own stuff started.

First off, I think the most important thing anyone should do when starting something from scratch is focusing on getting your first win.

What do I mean by "win"?

Well talking to people I meet, everyone always seems to have a list of things they are "eventually" going to do.  Very few people ever get around to actually trying these things, but the few that do often give up within a few weeks because what they envisioned is actually way harder to achieve than they originally thought.  The best way to combat this feeling of defeat is focus specifically on getting your first opportunity to do what you set out to do.

For me, I was trying to get a brass quintet hired to do weddings and other ceremonial music gigs.  It's actually funny, because I have yet to actually get the group hired for a wedding.  However, the minute that first response came from a church offering to hire us for Easter, I knew this could work.  Immediately following that email, I got that extra boost of motivation I needed to keep pressing on.  About 700 emails later, I have gotten more offers for Christmas and Easter than I could have ever possibly imagined six months ago.  In addition to that first Easter gig, I managed to get us a handful of other opportunities along the way, which have continued to open more doors for myself and the rest of the group.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's a huge ego booster to get that first opportunity.  You shouldn't be shooting for the top of the world starting out.  If you do, you're going to be totally bummed when you don't get any opportunities.  Even if it means doing things for cheaper than you want, it's worth it to start building legitimacy for yourself.  Delivering a high quality product will help you start building a pool of references that could help lead to other opportunities.

Yesterday alone, I sent out over a hundred emails to concert presenters all over PA and NJ.  I only got 2 responses so far, but one of them was an offer to do a Christmas concert at a church in December.  Will it be the most amazing gig ever?  Probably not.  However, just getting that opportunity and connection is a huge win for the group.

Peter Seymour said it best in the interview I did with him:

"The first gigs were all very random and spread out, but very important.  I have always believed the perception of something happening is something happening.  If you’ve got a CD, shows, a website….you’ve got an ensemble!  Once you’re doing gigs and getting out there, it leads to more gigs and more opportunities."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dealing with haters.

First off, I want to say that while I have my own opinions on dealing with the haters of the world, Julien Smith laid it down better than anyone HERE.  For those of you that are uncomfortable with "profanity", I would not recommend you read what he has to say.  Everyone else, go read it!

As I've mentioned a few times in the past few posts, I think one of the biggest things that holding most people back is fear.  There are oodles of things to be afraid of out there, and trust me, I have my fair share of things I fear.  To be quite honest, one of the biggest fears and obstacles I have dealt with while getting my group a little bit more legitimized, is worrying what other people will think about it.  

I have been working really hard on getting this group running this year, and it wasn't until like a week ago that I finally made a Facebook page for us.  Mind you, there was very little reason until recently to have a page on Facebook, but I seriously told myself I would make this page at least ten times since January.  I realized recently that what I was most afraid of was what the hundreds of music friends I have would think about what I was doing.

How dumb is that?

I was sitting here worrying about what they'll think about my website, what the group sounds like, who's playing in it, where we are playing, and all kinds of other stupid stuff.  Seriously, this is what was holding me back from making something as petty as a Facebook page that most people will never even pay attention to. I know for a fact that I have "friends" and colleagues that will look at the website I made for my group and judge it.  But it took me a little bit to realize that the people that are the most judgmental are often the ones that have the least going on.  Honestly, I don't care at all what those people think.

The website I created was to give people a place where they could learn about and hear the group play.  I'm not trying to impressive my friends that have graduate degrees in music performance.  My audience is people that are genuinely interested in learning more about the group.  It's just place for me to host information, not somewhere to impress people that will never hire us for anything.

It such a silly thing, but I think worth mentioning that people will always have something to say and everyone is always judging someone about something.  There is no reason I should give a shit about what other musicians think because they're not my audience.  So anyways, that is what's holding me back, what about you?  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Taking action.

Something I have been really noticing a lot lately is how few people actually take action and follow through when it comes to creating their own opportunities.  One of the most common excuses people have is that they "don't have time...."

Personally, I think that's a load of crap.

This is especially bad when it comes to students (but it applies to everyone!).  Now I know I'll probably offend some people by saying this, but students (again, not just students) are notoriously bad for mismanaging their time.  I understand the workload that goes in to being a student.  After all, it wasn't too long ago that I was a student and totally guilty of this myself.

When people say pull the "I don't have time" card (boo-hoo), what they're really saying is "I don't use my time wisely" or either "I choose not to make time because this isn't important enough to me."  There are very few people that actually would admit the latter.  Tons of people talk about wanting to get more gigs, but very few honestly put forth the effort of actually doing something about.

So for those of you interested in ever making money as a musician, which is it?

A true lack of time (don't care enough to make time) or are you just not using it wisely?

It's an important distinction to make.

One last thing that I think a lot of people have trouble with when it comes to actually comes to taking action is fear.  Now, I am by no means psychologist, but I do know from personal experience that one of the biggest things for me to overcome was my fear of putting myself out there.  It took me months to start this blog, and it took me over a year to legitimately start a group.  I still have trouble with it almost every time I go to make a new post that I know will probably (definitely) be criticized by some of my colleagues.  I can't tell you how many emails of mine have probably been deleted and just blatantly ignored when I'm trying to drum up some work for my group.

But when it comes down to it, these fears of rejection and failure are really pretty silly.  I have to say that I made it way more difficult for myself than it actually was and I have a good hunch that it's pretty universal.  Imagining the worst-case scenario makes these fears seem pretty petty.  The worst that could possibly happen is not all that bad.  There are millions of people that won't be able to eat or drink fresh water today in the world, and yet I'm sitting in my bedroom worrying that people won't want hire my brass quintet.  I think we could all agree that being rejected and failing are not actually a big deal.

I've been harping on this for weeks now, but I really hope that some of folks out there start taking action and acting on your ideas.  It's really a been a tremendous learning process for me and I know that it has offered valuable lessons to everyone else I know that regularly puts themselves out there.  Don't keep putting it off until "eventually".  That's bullshit and you know it.  There are people that go their entire lives putting things off and their whole lives go by and they never took a risk.

It's not that bad, I promise.

What's holding you back from something you want to do?

Friday, April 12, 2013

What works and what doesn't. Find a niche.

Hi everyone, it's been a few weeks since my last post.  I hope some of you are finding the recent information/resources useful!  Feel free to contact me anytime with feedback or if you'd like advice on anything.  My email:  hanes81@gmail. (don't abuse it, please!)

Anyways, I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can approve my approach to the ever daunting task of becoming a "professional musician".  I tried the "appeal to everyone all the time" approach with my brass group and I can say with 100% confidence that is does not work.  I seriously sent about 500 emails out to churches and wedding planners alone.  The original intention was to drum up some wedding gigs for me and my friends to generate some cash.  Care to guess how many of those we've gotten?

Zero.  I have literally no wedding gigs in the books for my group.

Now, before I throw a pity party for myself, I will point out that we have actually managed to get a handful of other gigs that have been great.  I have recently been reading a lot about strategy and how to successfully identify what works and what doesn't.  With this in mind, I encourage those of you trying to figure out what your next move is to explore the marketplace and find a niche you can fill.  Really invest some time poking around the internet learning about what others are doing.  In the process of this, you will slowly but surely start to realize what ISN'T being done.  Once you can start finding these gaps in the marketplace, you can really start getting an idea of what you can do to fill in the blanks.

I understand that this will be very difficult most of us creative folks.  I've said this many times before but it's worth repeating:  Take advantage of the lack of action in others!  There are opportunities out there just waiting to be created.  If I had to guess, I would say that most of the people reading this will do absolutely nothing that I encourage my readers to do.  This totally fine, but I really hope that some of you really do get crackin' with this stuff.

Again, please let me know if there is anything I can do to help any of you.  I'm really interested in this stuff and get really excited when I have to opportunity to help others start this process.

One thing I wanted to share this time is an interview about business stuff for creatives with Ramit Sethi and Chase Jarvis.  It's about an hour and a half, but well worth the time.  While you're there, take a look at other episodes on Chase Jarvis Live.  They're all really great!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Creating a group online.

One of the first things people claim to be stopping them from starting their own freelancing career is that they don't have a group.

Fair enough.

From my experience, the most difficult thing about getting a group going is finding people that you want to work with that will make the initial investment of time to get the group started.  Classical musicians in particular tend to be extremely defensive of their time and would rather spend it playing 6 bars of Beethoven by themselves in a practice room all day.  Most people I know don't want to show up to rehearse something unless they're getting paid to do it that weekend and I know from experience that the best way around this is to make the group exist on paper when starting out.

If you're willing to do all of the legwork yourself, you can get a group going with just an hour of time from everyone else.  Let's say you've got a wind quintet and you are looking to play some graduation ceremonies. All you really need from other people is an hour of their time to sit down and read some music down and record it.  Assuming that you're bringing in solid players that can just sit and play, you'll have more than enough quality audio to get your group started.

Once you've got a recording, no one else has to do anything if they don't want to until you get a gig.  Here are the steps you'll need to take and some free resources to help you do it.

Make an audio sample.

There are tons of programs out there for this.  Personally, I use Audacity because it's free and really easy to use.  Realistically, most people aren't going to listen very long (if at all) so make it short and sweet.  Attach it to all of the emails you send to potential clients to make it easier for them.

Set up a website.

There are countless places on the web that you can create webpages for free.  Here are few that I've used or know that other have used and had positive experiences with:

Weebly---I found this to be by far the easiest to use.  Very simple, clean, and easy design.

Wix---Wix is a much more involved website design platform.  It has a lot more bells and whistles in the free version than Weebly, but this also makes it a bit more to manage for a first time user.  Still a great website though. (.org is different, so be aware of that)---I know many people that host their blogs through Wordpress and have had great experiences with it.  I had difficulty figuring out .org, but .com is apparently easier.

All of these basic website designers come with more than enough gadgets for what you'll need to get started. Realistically you will only need a place on the page to talk about the group and what you do, a page where your sound sample is available, and a contact form.  These are all standard features and they're all you really need to get started.

I know what you're thinking, that sounds like an incredibly boring website.  But I'm a firm believer that simple is better.  This is especially true when starting out.

However, I know that it's nice to have some photos, visitors, domains, and all that fancy stuff, so here are a few more links you may interested in to make your page better: you will find thousands of images that are free to use.  There a some really great pictures here of EVERYTHING so this is a good place to start when filling space on a webpage. site has some free images, but most are for purchase. your audio files here if you like. your own domain name here!  Or at  There are tons of places to do this.  It just adds legitimacy to your site.  (Free sites will usually have the host in the name) you want people to actually find your site when they're looking for the services you offer, check out this website.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important so that your page pops up on Google and other search engines.  Here is help from Google themselves:

If down the road you want to get a logo for your group/organization, the following resources are all fantastic crowd sourcing sites that allow you to put up a description of what you want and have thousands of freelancers all over the world have a chance to design it for you.  You just name the price, what you're looking for, and time limit, and the designs will pour in.  This also works for merchandise, websites, brochures, and just about anything else!

This will take an afternoon to set up, but once you get it up and running your group will officially look as legitimate and professional as any other group out there!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Finding clients.

One of the most important things for kick starting your career in the music biz is to find some clients!  Everyone wants to get called for gigs, but strangely enough, nobody actually wants to do the work the really make that happen.  This is the most important part of the process, and it's also the part where most people will never do.  Which is great for those of us that don't mind investing time and energy in to spreading the word.  The less competition the better.
The most common excuses I hear from my friends are that they either don't have the time, or that they don't have a clue where to start.  This is a load of crap and everyone knows it.  You've always got time if you choose to make time, and it's not about the best place to start.  There is no right or wrong place to start, but the key to this is just doing it.  Most people will never start.

Hopefully the following tips will help you getting started:

Cast a wide net.
Don't be afraid to send a ton of emails to ANYONE that may be able to help get you a gig.  You just never know who will be able to help and the worst thing that will happen is they won't respond.  When I did my initial batch of emails, I was trying score some wedding gigs for my group.  I sent around 500 emails to church music directors and wedding planners within two days of making a sampler.  Guess what?  We didn't hired for a single wedding.  Not one.  As a matter of fact, we still haven't.  BUT, we actually got hired to put on a full recital at a church, we've got a really awesome Easter gig coming up (I got about 5 offers for that weekend which I was able to pass along to friends), a funereal, and we're also being considered for a concert series at  a church in Cambridge, MA.  Now this is only a handful of gigs to get us started, but in addition to these I have gotten the other guys a handful of individual gigs as well.

Be Efficient.
The argument of time always comes up when I talk to friends about this stuff.  People never seem to have enough time.  Most people (myself included) don't use their time effectively at all.  This doesn't have to be a major investment of time if you do it right.  I found that the easiest way to do this was using directories and other already compiled lists to contact.  It would take an eternity to go on every church/wedding planner website to find their contact info.  But if you work smarter, you'll save a ton of time and cast a much wider net.  No matter what you're trying to start, I think it is well worth the time to do some thorough research before starting this process.  You'll thank yourself when you save hours of time.

And one more quick thing on efficiency:  Make an email that can be sent to everyone and BCC every in to the same email.  It keeps all of the contacts together and will save oodles of time.  If you're looking for a playing gig, attach sound clip AND a link to your website to make it easier for the person receiving it.  People are very busy and get flooded with spam in their inbox.  Don't let your message go unread.  Slap a nice subject line on there and make it short and sweet.

Be prepared for that first call.
When you do get a bite, don't waste the opportunity by not being prepared.  You should have a fee in mind and everything figured out before you actually start a dialogue with someone that could potentially hire you.  Nothing makes you sound more unprofessional than not having your details ironed out.  If the gig is an hour away, figure out how much compensation you need for travel.  Is it outdoors?  Cover every base and leave nothing to chance.  People will not trust you or take you seriously if you're fumbling around on the phone trying to pull answers out of thin air.  Don't lose a gig by being unprepared.

Be Patient.
Since I started hustling this group around the area, I have probably sent around 750 emails.  Want to know how many people have responded?  I give you a hint, it's nowhere close to 750.  I'd ballpark the responses around 30 to be quite honest.  But I don't let it get me down, and neither should you because of those emails sent, I have already made a lot more money freelancing than I would've otherwise.  Even though most people didn't respond that doesn't mean that they won't eventually. 

I got a call just the other day from a wedding planner that is looking to hire us.  She probably received my email two months ago and just now called me back.  Even if she doesn't hire us this time, I have now at least had the opportunity to connect with her and that goes a long way.  She knows we exist and will hopefully spread the word to other vendors.  

The fact is, most people won't respond.  That's totally fine.  But if I had only sent 50 emails, I may have never gotten anything.  Again, don't be afraid to cast a wide net because quite frankly, it's the only way to really effectively get out there.

Doing this and everything else that I've talked about in the past few posts will seriously take you less than a week.  It really doesn't even matter what your situation is for this stuff to be applicable.  If I were moving to new city next week, I could use the same process to get started with a career and so could you.  You don't have to be the best player in town to get started, but you certainly do have to put yourself out there.  If you do even half of this stuff, you'll have a major leg up on the majority of your colleagues who are still waiting around for the phone to ring.

Get to it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

First steps.

I know a ton of people that say they want to be professional musicians, artists, dancers, and all kinds of things but actually have no idea what that means.  They have no idea what they actually want to do and therefore spend a lot of time waiting around for something to happen to them.  This fine and dandy, but unfortunately you'll never get anywhere with this method.  If you never put yourself out there, no will ever know that you exist.  This might be harsh, but unfortunately it's true.
But wait, there is good news...THIS CAN BE AVOIDED!!!!!

(See the bottom for picture explanation)

And it should be by everyone if they seriously consider what I'm about say.  

Figure out what you really want to do with your life.  And I mean seriously think about what makes you happy and how it lines up with your interests.  You have to seriously consider if what you love can actually support you financially.  Do other people do it?  Why does it work for them and not others?  It's pretty incredible what some people do for their careers, so I'm totally positive that if you've got a legit plan and put it in to action you'll figure out how to make it work.

It's tough to give your life direction when you don't actually know where you want to go.

Once you have given it some thought, the next step is to start doing some serious brainstorming to figure out how to get everything off the ground.  Maybe I'm a total weirdo, but I think this is so much fun!  I am constantly thinking about what I can do with my own ideas moving forward.  A good place to start is looking at similar people/groups are doing.  

Let's just say theoretically you're a violist and you want to start a string quartet.  Maybe you'd like to just get started with some extra income by doing things like weddings, church services, and other things along those lines.  First off, maybe you should do some research and find out how many string quartets are working in your area and elsewhere.  This will show you two very important things.  First, it will give you an idea of what the marketplace is looking like.  If there are a hundred groups that are all fighting for the same work, is there a niche not being filled?  If a group is getting a ton of work in NYC doing something that isn't being done in Philly, that should raise a red flag that maybe there is something else you could give a try.  Trial and error is a big part of this.  Even if there are a lot of people doing what you want to do, it doesn't mean you can't get in on it, but it does mean that you'll probably have to be really unique and creative with your approach.

The second thing that you can get out of looking at other groups is just seeing what kind of specifics you can learn about different niches.  If you dig around long enough, I bet you can find just about anything you want to know about the work that is available.  Do not be afraid or feel weird about going on a groups website and researching what they're doing.  Every successful business in history has gotten to know the marketplace they're trying to compete in.  Music is no different.

Continuing with the wedding quartet spiel, the first thing I would do if I were this fictional violist, is find out where I can get my hands on information of other groups.  This one is actually really easy because of websites like Wedding Wire and The Knot.  Any legit group in ANY city is listed on these kinds of sites when it comes to wedding music.  You can look at groups all over the country and get an idea of what they're doing.  I would (and have) looked at every single Philly area group's website and their calendar, rates, and organizations they're connected with.  All of this information is readily available to us and we should utilize every resource we have.  

Like I said, any successful business does this, and you should too.  Don't be so naive to think that someone else isn't doing this and getting a leg up on you.  If you're going to work in a competitive environment like music, you bet your ass that you better remain competitive to keep up.

It's pretty amazing how much information is available to us if we look for it.  I really encourage you to give this some thought and start doing some market research on the area you'd like to go in to.  Careers in the arts are very different than most other kinds of jobs and therefore need to be approached in a different way.  Figure what you want to do and go do it.  

Take those first steps and go make something happen for yourself.
P.S.---If you type in "freelance musician" in Google Images, that is the first picture that pops up.  Hopefully this guy just got back from a killer gig and is celebratory drinking instead of wishing he had more work, haha.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Start freelancing today.

For over a year, I have been wanting to start my own group and as of a few weeks ago, I finally did it.  I'm starting small.  Very small.  But I have found the mistake I made in the past was trying to do too much too soon.  I have talked with a lot of my friends about this and some people have expressed some interest in the process so I hope that some of you find this helpful.

Starting out, the most important thing is to decide what kind of group/work you're trying to get going.  For me, I just wanted to try to fill out some of my calendar with my own gigs.  I have done the "let people call me" approach for a few years and I can honestly say that it was pretty damn lame.  I got called for a handful of things and friends helped me out by passing stuff my way, but it's not nearly enough to even consider myself a "freelancer".  So I decided to take things into my own hands and start getting some work for myself.

I have always loved playing in brass quintets, so that seemed like a logical place to start.  I wasn't even sure I could get five people together, so I spent a few days arranging some general wedding/ceremonial music for a quartet of trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba.  I called up a few buddies that I know were around and we met up and played everything straight down while recording.  45 minutes later, I had something to work with.  That night I edited a short sampler together using Audacity and spent a few hours the next day sending out about 400 emails to churches around the area.  Within 24hrs I had us hired for a great Easter gig and a few handful of emails coming back with messages saying that they'd keep my info on file.

What a satisfying feeling it was to get that first gig!  The group had our first gig and I had more motivation to continue pushing ahead.  Since then I have gotten us booked for a handful of other gigs in the coming months and I'm expecting a little bit more to come in soon!  We did a funereal a few weeks ago, Easter is coming up, and I've gotten us booked to do a paid recital later this Spring.  As of this exact moment in time we'll all be pulling in an extra $600 this Spring.  This may not sound like much, but considering I got all of this work from a recording that took about 45mins to make, I'm pretty proud of this.

Money aside, the best part about this whole experience so far is that I've learned a ton about how to make things happen for myself.  It has showed me that if you really take some time to do the leg work, it's not actually that hard to figure out.  Anyone anywhere that ever wants to do freelance work can (and should!) take some time and do this.  All of the resources are readily available to anyone with a computer so there is no excuse not to start making something happen if you really want to.  You can record, edit, make a website, get contact information, and everything else you need to get started for FREE.

The best part about this is that if you really take the time now to start doing this, you'll have a huge jump start on many of your colleagues.  Everybody wants to get some gigs but most people don't want to actually put in the time and effort to make it happen.  I've learned just how far you can stretch a 2 minute audio clip of hokey wedding tunes and I hope you'll put the time in and discover it for yourself.

This will be an ongoing topic so be on the lookout for more about this coming soon.

In the meantime, I'd love for some of you to share some thoughts and experiences.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Creating culture.

It's been a few weeks since my last post!  I hope you all enjoyed the interview with Peter Seymour as well.

Over the past weeks I've been doing a lot of reading and I came across a really great quote from Hugh MacLeod on creativity.  In his book Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, MacLeod has a cartoon that says "Stay ahead of culture by creating the culture."

This really stuck with me.

I do a lot of poking around the web trying to discover groups that are presenting music and art in exciting new ways.  One of the most challenging things for groups starting out is figuring out how they can create a new and innovative way of saying what they want to say.  It's certainly a challenging thing.  There are a thousand string quartets out there all playing Beethoven and Brahms, but then you look at a group like Kronos Quartet who took a totally different path and is one of the biggest names in contemporary music.

Same goes for a group like Canadian Brass.  When they started, there were little to no opportunities for a brass quintet.  After 40 years of brilliant performances and forward thinking, they are probably the only truly household name in the brass world and have created a style of concert presentation that has inspired the work of countless other ensembles in and out of the brass world.

The impact that has been created by these groups is pretty astounding to think about and whether it was intentional or not, groups like these that thought outside of the box have created a culture that other groups have naturally followed.  No matter how hard any groups try they will never be able to top what the pioneers of these movements have achieved.  So this is where the challenge comes in.

What can you do to stand out and get noticed?

One last thing, please check out this video of Kronos Quartet members discussing this topic.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview with Peter Seymour of Project Trio

I had the great pleasure a few weeks of ago of making my first trip to Brooklyn to meet and interview Peter Seymour of Project Trio.  If there's one guy out there I've met that really knows what it takes to work hard to create your own opportunities, it's Peter.  I hope you will all check out the work he does with his group.

Also, for you Philly folks.  He and his group will be performing at World Cafe Live later this month.  Info can be found HERE.

Check them out on YouTube too!


Seth:  Hey Peter, would you mind introducing yourself to the readers and giving them some background info on Project Trio?

Peter:  Sure.  My name is Peter Seymour and I am the bassist, manager, and CEO of the chamber ensemble, PROJECT Trio.  When we started the Trio we were all in the same place.  None of us had won full time orchestra jobs and we found ourselves unsatisfied with our musical situation.   We’d always thought that having our own group was something we wanted to do and we decided to take one year to fully commit to the concept.  We didn’t know if it would work, but we knew we had to devote the time to trying it out.  And fortunately, through a lot of hard work (some lucky breaks, and some tough breaks) we have been able to make it a fulltime gig.

Seth:  How do you guys divide up the work?  Does everyone have specific responsibilities or how does it work?

Peter:  Everybody contributes.  At the beginning we didn’t have specified jobs.  We all got together and wrote the music and brought different ideas to the table.  Over time, I assumed the full time roll of business manager, booking agent, and travel agent….basically doing everything that needed to get done.  It is important for ensembles to have one person who is going to be the voice outside of the rehearsal/office space.  If there is too much going on and too many voices (too many cooks in the kitchen), it can be detrimental to the group.  I’ve always had a unique energy for doing this stuff and quite frankly, I enjoy it.
With that being said, all three of us are constantly coming up with concepts and direction for the group. Together we brainstorm tons of ideas and then my job to implement the strongest ideas.  For example, when we were first discussing the group, we decided to make the trio a non-profit organization.  I spent the next 6 months studying and doing the paperwork required to establish us as a non-profit; which was great, because now I not only understand how that works, I can do it again.  Of course, you can pay someone to do this job, but we fully believe that you can do anything that needs to be done to further your ensemble and your group will be stronger because of it.

Seth:  So once everything got off the ground, what kind of gigs were you guys doing?

Peter:  Ah, the first gigs……I remember them well.  The first thing I did was get in touch everyone I knew that could somehow help us get performance opportunities.  I originally scheduled three gigs for us.  The first was in Detroit at a chamber festival a friend of mine was running.  Second was in Boulder, Colorado at a small arts center that we actually paid to do.  The last gig was at the Jewish Community Center in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. We all came in town and slept at my parents house! 
The first gigs were all very random and spread out, but very important.  I have always believed the perception of something happening is something happening.  If you’ve got a CD, shows, a website….you’ve got an ensemble!  Once you’re doing gigs and getting out there, it leads to more gigs and more opportunities.

Seth:  Would mind elaborating on Project Trio’s CDs and how they’re recorded?

Peter: All of our albums are self-produced and we have had different situations for each one.  The first album was recorded in a crazy little studio that we got through a friend.  It was a wild session because we didn’t really have any money, so we did the entire session in 2 days. 
The second album we actually did in Eric’s mom’s house, again to save money.  But hey!  It still works and it’s got a nice homey feel and interesting qualities to it.  And for the last few we’ve had a larger budget to record, but we still self-produce and self-release.  That means doing everything from finding or making the art work, finding the space and the sound engineers, and everything else that goes into recording an album.  Recording CDs is extremely easy these days.  Releasing it and PR’ing it is a different story.

Seth:  Could give a quick overview of how the group handles the finances that fund these projects?

Peter:  Starting out we financed most things ourselves and with some help from our family.   Now it all comes from shows, residencies, grants, and selling merchandise.  Now we have 4 CDs, a DVD, T-shirts, and the whole deal. We’ve sold thousands of CDs over six years, and that provides income for the group and the ability to keep making music.
Also, when we go on tour we are working as much as possible.  We don’t travel to a city and only play the evening concert.  We may get up at 4:30am to travel, make it in early and head to an elementary school for an AM education concert.  After that we could do a high school show in the afternoon and then relax a bit before the concert that night.  Then wake up and do it again somewhere else. And you know what?  A lot of the times education concerts pay more than the concerts we are there to play. 
All of these things are sources of income that we pay to ourselves and also pay back to the group. 

Seth:  Now, when you guys go to these distant cities, how do you get in to so many schools and places to perform?

Peter:  Well at first, if we were booked in a particular city, I would start making calls and sending emails.  Now that we’ve been doing it for 6 years, we are building a strong network.  At just about every single show we’ve done, we have been offered some other kind of opportunity.  Maybe it’s an offer to play at the Horticulture Club, the VA hospital, another school….these show may not pay well, or maybe don’t seem important, but it’s a performance opportunity and I stay in touch with everyone.  It’s important to utilize your entire network.  Wherever we go, I reach out to performers and teachers in that city.
I also looked at where other groups similar to PROJECT Trio might have played and I find who is in charge of booking those shows.   At first I probably sent out a hundred emails and probably only got two responses.  But you know what?  I could probably write another hundred emails tomorrow and still only get two people to write back.  That’s just how it is and why it takes all the hours to book a season.

Seth:  Now, at what point did Project Trio make the jump from doing smaller concert series performances and education to doing performances with orchestras?

Peter:  It’s been gradual and we still try to do everything.  We have always done more education shows than evening concerts, because you CAN do more education.  Concerts usually only happen a few nights a week, but we can do an education concert anytime. The orchestra concerts are something all of us wanted to do, because that is our background.  I just started emailing every orchestra, especially the education directors, because I knew our family and kids show would be a blast. The first orchestra to write back was the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  We set up a meeting and he asked me what kind of music we had for trio and orchestra.   At the time, we didn’t actually have any music for orchestra, but I told him we had a bunch of great stuff!  Then, I went to the guys and said we had to get some material!  Eric, our cellist, jumped on it and arranged one of our trio tunes for orchestra and that was how it started.
After that show, I started writing everywhere again, but this time I could say that we had recently performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  Then more bookings started to happen, which meant the repertoire was going to have to grow.  Currently we have 8 pieces for trio and orchestra…5 originals and 3 arrangements of William Tell Overture, Brahms Hungarian Dance, and our version of Peter and the Wolf.

Seth:  Awesome, thanks so much for sharing all of this with me!  So what’s next for the trio?  Is there anything new and exciting on the horizon that you don’t mind sharing?

Peter:  There are definitely things brewing!  We are right now in talks with an amazing composer about doing our first big commission, which will be a concerto for PROJECT Trio and orchestra.  This is a few years down the road…we are looking at the 2015-16 season. More details coming soon….
We are also excited about our second annual Summer Music Festival, PROJECT: The Camp!  Last year it was in Bay View, MI and this year we are looking to have it in NYC in July.  Should be fun!
And we are pretty much booked through 2013 and working on new bookings for 2014.  We are going to be traveling the world, going as far as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine with the US State Department and also performing with orchestras like San Diego Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, and many more.  So, we are staying busy!

Seth:  Cool.  So to wrap up, do you have any words of wisdom you could offer the next generation of musicians and artists?

Peter:   Work hard.  I know its cliché and obvious, but it’s true.  No one is going to do anything for you and your ensemble.  You’ve got to do it yourself.  Think back to your early years of college and how hard you worked at becoming a great player.  You’re going to have to work that hard, if not harder, at doing the business.  When you are a musician in a chamber music ensemble, you must put as much creative energy into the business side of things as you put into the art you are creating.

Work really hard! Keep track of everything and write all of your ideas down.  Dream as big as possible and conceptualize what you want to be.  Then, when you put the plan into action, if you can get some of your dreams in, you’re doing pretty good!  It is a long process and if you stay at it, you can make all of it happen.  We are still working at getting our vision out, but we get closer every day.
The main thing is that you absolutely can do it.  Good luck!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thoughts on Community Engagement

I realize my last post was a wee bit unfocused after I went back and read it a few days ago, so I figured I would touch on the topic a bit more this time with (hopefully) more detail and clarity.

Cultivating new audiences has been a major priority for most non-profits in recent years.  As this new push has been gaining some steam and traction, it seems that orchestras stopped doing "Outreach" to reach new audiences and starting doing "Community Engagement".  I happen to be very passionate about community engagement so this is something I think about all the time.

Recently though, I've been rethinking about how orchestras approach community engagement and why it doesn't always seem to work as effectively as they hope for.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm a big advocate for orchestras getting out of their big and fancy concert halls once in awhile and create a consistent presence all over their cities.  I'm not for a second suggesting that orchestras should totally ditch the concert hall, but I am absolutely suggesting that maybe they spend a little more time making music for other parts of the community.  If these organizations actually went out on a regular basis and established a true presence and connection with their entire community, it would create a much stronger bond with those communities and would build community engagement into the performance experience.

I'm fully aware that orchestras often do "neighborhood concerts" and similar things, but one performance in a neighborhood isn't going to do much in terms of widening your audience for the long term.  Perhaps that's not the point of these concerts, but I think they're on to something that could really make a big difference for them down the road.  Many orchestras have existing programs within their communities that could be used to usher in this idea.

For example, here in Philly, I intern with their School Partnership Program where they have teaching artists teaching every week in about six schools across the area.  In addition to this, orchestra members do come out to the schools as well musicians from other partner organizations.  Each year all of these schools are brought in to see performances at The Kimmel Center and other venues around the city, but what if in addition to them going to the orchestra, the orchestra members regularly came to them.  They could make a big fanfare about members of the Philadelphia Orchestra coming to perform in THEIR neighborhood.  This way the students, teachers, family, friends, neighbors in that community could not only see the work the orchestra is doing there, but it would also give them a chance to have the concert experience with one of the leading orchestras in the country in their own communities.  Even if this happened twice a year at each school with different chamber groups, over time I think it would give the orchestra the opportunity to leave a much larger mark on that part of the community.

In addition to the expanded community engagement, I think this idea would have a lot of other benefits for the organization.  The main one being that I think if this was really done right, I think it would open the organization up to new opportunities for sponsorship and grants.  If orchestras were not only reaching their usual audience, but totally new audiences as well, it would appeal to a much larger base of potential sponsors and donors.  There are a lot of untapped markets out there of communities that are just waiting to experience the trans formative power that classical music and any art form can bring to a community.  I think orchestras should be actively pursuing those markets to create a wider impact and a last impression on their communities.

These are just some of my thoughts for what we could do differently as we move forward.

What are yours?    

***DISCLAIMER***  The Philadelphia Orchestra's School Partnership Program is only meant to be used as an example.  This idea I'm tossing out could be applied in a variety of ways to fit in with what organizations are already doing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inspiration from Seth Godin. Another idea for orchestras.

Last night I finished Seth Godin's latest book, The Icarus Deception.  It was awesome.

For those of you that don't know his work (if you're a regular reader you'll probably notice I often mention him) he is very much in to the idea of breaking out of the status quo and doing things differently.  So naturally, the entire time I was reading this I was thinking about how it relates to the music biz.

Many of the examples he gives throughout his writings often share tremendous similarities with how the classical music biz seems to be progressing.

This past week I spent some time reading through the Minnesota Orchestra strategic plan for the next few years.  Maybe I was missing something, but to me there was little to no change at all in the works for the organization moving forward.  There is lots of talk about fundraising, capitalizing on renovations to their hall (which by the way cost about $50 million), new revenue streams, record cycles of Sibelius and Beethoven Piano concertos, and all kinds of other goodies.  All of this seems great, but to me it doesn't really seem all that different from what every other orchestra is already doing(and what they were probably doing already).  Everyone wants to increase fundraising, have nicer facilities, and make an international presence through tours and recordings, but to me that just doesn't seem like it is going to make the organization stronger.

The one part of the plan I did really like was the part where they talk about getting a broader and comprehensive community engagement strategy.  There are mentions of partnering with school districts and other local organizations to collaborate with.  This is great, but something I think would be great for more organizations to explore would be explore a larger variety of venues as a community engagement strategy.  Perhaps there wouldn't be as much income from doing performances in different parts of the city and surrounding communities, but surely they could find a variety of places to do performances that would be either free or much less expensive than their regular hall.  This isn't specific to Minnesota, but all orchestras and other performing arts organizations.

This is where I think organizations could take a little bit of a leap off the beaten path.  Maintain a regular presence in their normal concert venues, but also get outside of the box a little bit and directly engage other parts of the communities by bringing their art to them.  It would save a fortune on venue costs if you didn't have to rent the hall out as much and I think it would successfully reach a much wider audience.

I know a lot of you may point out that many organization (most, I hope) already do this in some way shape or form, but I'm proposing that organizations incorporate this more in to their programming moving forward.  I think the strength of an organization can be reflected by the community that supports it.  Many of these organizations already have a tremendous following within their own communities, but I hope to see that support not only grow for all arts organizations, but really become a priority as well.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Interview with Benjamin Zander

Hi everyone, I'm very excited to post this first interview!  I had the great pleasure of meeting Ben at the El Sistema Symposium back in early December.  For those of you that do not know anything about Ben or his work, I hope you'll consider checking him out!  He's an absolutely wonderful man and one of the most positive people I've ever met in my life.  Find more info about him here:

Ben's website 

Ben's very famous talk at TED

An Interview with Benjamin Zander:

Seth:  Hi Ben, first of all, would you mind introducing yourself?

Ben:   I have been the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra for 34 years and am now also the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which was founded last September.  I also have a career speaking to corporations and organizations across the world about leadership.  I am the co-author of a book with my former wife and partner, the psychologist Rosamund Zander, called The Art of Possibility, which has been translated into 17 languages.

I began the cello at 9 but started intensive study at the age of 15 when I left school in England and went to Florence, Italy and Cologne Germany for five years studying under the great virtuoso cellist, Gaspar Cassado.   I taught at the New England Conservatory for 45 years and was the Artistic Director of the joint program between NEC and the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Mass for almost thirty years

Seth:  Do you think of yourself mainly as a conductor, a teacher or as a speaker?

Ben: Well, I think of it all as one package.  When I'm rehearsing an orchestra, teaching a class, or speaking to 1500 corporate executives, it's all the same thing. It's about creating a community of people that are open to possibility.  It's about enabling people to break through the barriers and assumptions that keep them from being all they can be.

Most of the time, we are limited or stuck because of the assumptions we are making and don’t realize that we are making. For instance:  “The little old ladies who love classical music are all dying, so there won’t be an audience for classical music” is an assumption:  The “grey-haired” argument about the future of classical music holds sway with many people, including people who are responsible for planning, and funding classical music education.  But it’s just an assumption.  We live our lives through the stories we tell and since the stories are invented, we can always create new stories.  Here’s one: “there are more people listening to classical music in the world today than ever before”.  “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”   Look at China, where there are 30,000 pianists and 10,000 violinists, and Venezuela, where 750,000 children have gone through El Sistema, which is now spreading all around the world, or Boston, for that matter, where there are more people playing instruments than ever before and there are three thriving separate youth orchestra programs overflowing with young players!

The story we are telling will determine how we behave and how we speak.   Also, whatever we put our attention on will grow, so we should be careful what we put our attention on!  If we meet someone, we immediately invent a story about our relationship with that person.  It's nothing more than a story and since it is a story, we can reinvent it and retell it. We always have this opportunity to reinvent ourselves and the situations we are in.  And since we can always do that, life can be seen as a creative act that is in our control.   Roz Zander says “Possibility is always only one sentence away!”

Seth:  Could you talk a bit about your experiences with creating your own opportunities in all of your various professional endeavors?  And more specifically, how the experiences in music, speaking, and writing have worked together?

Ben:  Well I recently had a very dramatic experience.  I was fired from a job that I had had for 45 years and a youth orchestra I had conducted for 39 years. The circumstances aren’t important, suffice it to say that it was not because of something I did myself, but rather because I supported someone who had done something wrong twenty years ago. I'm 73 years old.  Many people would just retire after something like that happens, but it never occurred to me to retire. Instead I thought "What else can I do?".  So I and a couple of colleagues started a brand new youth orchestra from scratch.

Founding an orchestra is quite a big challenge, especially these days.  First you have to find the players and then a place to rehearse.  We found a place, but it was acoustically unusable, so we brought in an acoustician who redesigned it.  Then we brought in mattresses, acoustical panels, and now, mirabile dictu, it's an ideal space for our rehearsals!   We have a home!   Now we needed chairs and stands for 117 players, timpani, percussion instruments, harps and music.

Seth:  Could you elaborate as to where you obtained the resources to acquire all of these things?

Ben:  Oh yes, the funds!  We started fundraising and spreading the word.  Some people who had studied with me in the past helped out with generous contributions and other gave small amounts.   People are inspired by our vision and they want to be part of it.

We don’t charge tuition, because we don’t want to make a distinction between those that could afford it and those who couldn’t.  Also, we are not just teaching these students to play wonderful music.  We wanted to create an institution with a purpose beyond playing an instrument.  The story we are telling is that “it is not enough just to play a violin or a trumpet, you have to be a leader who can make a difference in the world”.  We are setting out to create future leaders through music.  That's our raison d’etre.  It’s a wonderful story that we are telling.  And lots of people, including many of the parents, are coming forward who want to support that.  Incidentally, in the process, the bad feelings and upset over the fact I was fired have dissipated into thin air. 

Every Saturday is a thrilling experience, eagerly awaited by every member of the orchestra, most of all by me.  I give them assignments every week: transformational assignments that ask them to take a leap from where they are in their normal lives:  such as “Come From The Power of a Child”.  That asks them to think about what is it about a child that will help them to be a more effective grown-ups.  “Attune yourself to others”; “Throw yourself into life like a pebble into a pond and watch the ripples”.  These are not assignments that they can accomplish in three steps.  They call on different parts of themselves. Doing these kind of assignments will help them in their lives because they bring out their intuition and their creativity.

We have “white sheets” on which the students comment about the music and the process at rehearsals and a website and Facebook and we are constantly engaged with each other over the social network,
So, you see, all the aspects of my life are combined in this one venture.

The first concert in November sold out Symphony Hall in Boston and was chosen by the Boston Phoenix as one of the ten best musical events of 2012!   They played Ein Heldenleben in two months. It was really incredible!  One very experienced concert-goer told me he couldn't remember a concert where the excitement in the audience was as great as that on the stage!  I think that is because we're constantly going beyond the playing and bringing to life the meaning of the music and empowering the players to release all their passion.  

Now all of this came from a disaster.  I was fired.  Should I have quietly retired to the country to raise chickens?   Of course not!  We started something new and launched a new story about what a youth orchestra can be.  Now we are planning a tour to Holland in June with a performance of Mahler’s 2nd in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and we are intending to help reinvigorate music education in Holland!  Who would have thought it?  We just went past the assumptions and the reservations and invented a new story.  It’s so exciting.

Starting something new involves many levels.  Most important is a clear vision.  Once we had the idea of an orchestra of kids from 12-21, which was about developing future leaders, everything else fell into place: fundraising, chairs and everything else. We are run by a clear vision - run by the desire to make a difference in people's lives.  

Seth:  Do you have any advice you could offer to the next generation of musicians and artists?

Ben:   The main thing is to bring enthusiasm and passion to what you do.  The word enthusiasm contains the word theo, meaning God.  So enthusiasm means being “full of God”.  Of course that doesn’t mean you have to believe in God – it’s not about religion.  For me, God is simply the power of possibility - the power to create something where nothing exists.  So if you have a great desire to make a difference, the opportunities will arise.  The energy which we need to accomplish the things we dream of comes from possibility thinking.  That’s a story, of course, like everything else, but it’s one that gets me up in the morning.

My other piece of advice is to suggest that if you are going to compete in life, give up needing to win. I myself have given up the success/failure game. I have invented a new game:  it’s called I am a Contribution.   Now I have a new definition of success:  for me success isn’t about wealth and fame and power, it’s about the number of shining eyes I have around me. If young people can shift their attention away from the usual measures of success (competitions, auditions, grades, reviews, orchestral seating, etc) and focus on a life of contribution, they are likely to be surrounded by shining eyes.