The Business of Music

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How Musicians Devalue Music

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Yesterday I attended a concert a relatively new Arts Center that recently began a chamber music series.  Not only was the concert fantastic, with literally world-class musicians, but it was free.  And, that free concert came with coffee and pastries catered by the arts center.

While I agree that outreach is extremely important, we musicians devalue our own work by performing for free.  In a recent conversation with a friend who is looking to freelance, she mentioned that she often plays for free in hopes to get paying gigs.

If you play for free, people think one of two things:

You’re making money doing something else, and therefore doing this for personal enjoyment only.

OR

You must not be that skilled and therefore not deserving of payment for your skills.

I do not play for free, except for a gift or for charity.  Last weekend I performed at a friend’s wedding, and did the contracting work and played, but this was my gift to the couple.  What we do when we perform for free is devalue not what we do, but also devalue the market that we are a part of.  Living in Arizona, gigs with local symphonies will pay as little as $31.50, and this fall there was a local orchestra that charged musicians to audition.

One reason that wages are low is too much exposure for the demand.  If you can see a large orchestra perform 40 weeks a year, often with three concerts during one week, the local population has plenty of opportunities to see the orchestra throughout the year.  This overexposure leads to less value.  Coupled with the rise of local regional orchestras, there are places in the United States, including Phoenix, that perform similar concerts at varying degrees of greatness every weekend.  How does the local community sustain this oversaturation?

On the reverse side, there are musicians that make millions each year – they have a brand, are recognizable to different age and cultural populations.  This is not by coincidence, it’s by having a plan.

In thinking about what your goals are regarding being a musician, think about what kind of life that you want to have in ten years, and how to value to your ensemble or business model, Friday will start the discussion on the business plan for musicians.

 

Written by rosemfrench

November 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm

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Get the Ed Degree

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I recently had the “so you want to go college for music” talk with a student. In relation to Tuesday’s post about setting goals and having skills, I think it’s important to address what high school and undergraduate students should consider when going into music. I have two VERY strong pieces of advice: save your money for the big name school for an advanced degree and get an education degree.

On the point of saving money: I have had this theory that if you’re not getting money to go to school for music, at any degree level, you should start thinking about another career. Think about it: if you’re not getting recognition, in this case financially, for your talent, then you need to asset where you are in your development. This idea ties into Tuesday’s post about taking an accurate view of where you are and what skills you need to have and improve upon.

The first point about saving money for a graduate degree: in discussing this with my student, I feel that many state universities offer excellent broad undergraduate educations that rival any fancy-schmacy conservatory. Plus, you can save your money for when you are actually able to focus mainly on refining your skills on your instrument and study with a big name teacher when you are actually able to execute what that teacher is asking you to do.

I have seen that undergraduates earning just a performance degree may have more time on their hands to practice and learn, but it ends up not benefitting that purpose.

Which leads me to my second point: get the education degree. I don’t feel that our current band/orchestra/choir/etc school programs prepare students for basic music school knowledge. In Europe, students intensely study theory, solfege, eurhythmics, and play chamber music before entering a university degree program. Therefore, their fundamental skills much more engrained at a younger age and by the time students enter a university, they are able to study and practice with much more skills under their belt. Getting an education degree will only enhance your musical development during your undergraduate degree.

Learning to apply fundamental skills (rhythm, accuracy, intonation, musicality) to a foreign instrument or by singing may seem that you’re taking away from reaching your ultimate goal, but for me it helped me with all of these things on the horn.

Having an education degree will also give you the chance to learn about education physiology, how others learn and how you learn. I found this really important in teaching privately and very helpful for evaluating my own practicing and progress.

Educators are natural leaders, and by spending your undergraduate degree preparing lesson plans, teaching in front of your classmates and finally in a student-teaching situation you learn how to manage a room full of people and get them to work towards a common goal.

As you might guess, I have an education degree. I didn’t own a metronome before going to college, so I was pretty unaware of what I was getting into. My parents had two rules going into my undergrad: if you’re going to be a musician you must get an education degree and something to do with technology. So I got three degrees in my undergrad: music education, music technology, and performance. In five years.

So how has this helped me since my undergraduate? When I moved to Phoenix, I sent my resume out EVERYWHERE. And I do mean everywhere (this will be an upcoming topic, called “The New Kid in Town”). I KNOW that the reason I was successful in getting a lot of teaching work right away was because of my education degree. I have taught high school band, general music classes for pre-K into elementary school, and private lessons – I am able to teach private lessons, at least on a fundamental level, to all instruments (not that I do, or did, or aspire to). As a graduate student, this was certainly my main source of income and I was thankful for every student and job that I had.

What most aspiring musicians don’t realize is that teaching will always be a part of your profession. There are a lot of terrible teachers that are amazing musicians, and I am sure that you can think of several on any instrument. The unfortunate thing is that these amazing talents would be able to share their skills with just a bit of training. On that topic, I would highly recommend a book by Eric Booth: The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible. I first learned about Eric Booth through his “Edification” articles in Chamber Music America where he wrote on what a teaching artist needs to know and how to do it. This fundamentals approach is very valuable to post-graduate musicians who find themselves in front of a classroom or audience and making that experience an educating and aspiring one.

Written by rosemfrench

November 6, 2009 at 7:52 am

What does it take to “Make it” – A Plan

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What does it take to “Make it”

From Beyond Talent, there is a something that we all know, but aren’t willing to admit: talent isn’t enough.

Beeching list ten principles to success:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Know about the music industry. Get Savvy (which ties directly into Cutler’s book: The Savvy Musician)
  3. Schmooze (Network): such a dirty word in our world, but who knows how great you are if no one knows you.
  4. Research
  5. Cultivate an attitude
  6. Assess your interpersonal skills
  7. Think like an entrepreneur
  8. Have a hook
  9. Have short-term and long-term goals
  10. Feed your soul – what motivates you and why

Like in the last post, The Big Idea, Beeching writes about thinking like an entrepreneur and to see what is already being done in the music instrustry.  Study, learn, read, and keep current with all aspects of music, or especially what is relevant to your key area of interest: education, orchestral music, rock, jazz, composition, etc.

On this idea, I think it’s important to join professional organizations related to your areas of interest.  It’s instant access to learning who are the leaders in your area of interest, what they are doing, and where you might find your place.  Once you have done your research and developed your idea, these professional organizations are some of the first places to return for sharing your finished product.

Setting Goals: Beeching vs. Cutler

Beyond Talent Suggestions:

  1. Write your definition of success.
  2. What specifically do you love about performing?
  3. What specifically do you love about being a musician?
  4. What is your long-term goal?
  5. Describe in detail the like you’d like to be leading ten years – where, what kind of work, income, family?
  6. What is your short-term goal?
  7. How does this lead you to your long-term goal?
  8. What do you want to accomplish this month that will lead you to this short-term goal?
  9. What’s your to-do list this week?

If Beyond Talent’s first chapter is the How, the Savvy Musician is the why.

Why be an Entrepreneur?

Is it?

Financial Gain

Creative Freedom and Gratification

To Stand Out

Address job Demands

To Be Relevant

To Ensure a Legacy

Asset what you already have.

What are your skills inside and outside of music? Where would you like to grow or what do you feel that you need to learn to reach your goals?

So this week: make a clear plan.  Set goals.  List your assets and where you would like to grow in knowledge and skill.  Answer these questions honestly and be prepared to start producing physical evidence of where you are headed!

In the Savvy Musician, Cutler has vignettes of well-known musicians and aspects of their success and how they got there.  Jeff Nelsen, hornist with the Canadian Brass and currently teaching at Indiana University has a Master To Do List mentioned book in Cutler’s book and at Horn Matters. A quick Google search didn’t produce the document; so if anyone out there finds it, please leave a link.  See how the pros set their goals and follow through!

Written by rosemfrench

November 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Music business

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The Big Idea

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The Big Idea

I don’t know very much about Donny Deutsch, but I was at the gym watching the Today show while working out and Deutsch came on.  From what I recall, the story centered around his old show “The Big Idea.”  What stuck with me from the interview was: everyone can have a big idea. As a musician, as a horn player, I can go through method books, music, recordings, etc. and look for things that could I could improve upon.  The key is to follow through, roll up those sleeves and get to work.

Here is an interview, not the same one I saw, but you get the idea: http://preview.tinyurl.com/ykwf7px

One project I am involved with is the Pangean Orchestra.   In the most concise description, it’s an orchestra of world instruments, performing folk music and new works written for the ensemble.  The director, Colin O’Donohoe, sees that there is a great opportunity to have musicians from different cultures performing together, a group that reflects current populations around the world, much more than the standard orchestra.  Whoever thought I, a horn player, would be sitting in the same ensemble with a bouzouki, sitar, oud, and other world instruments?  Working on the admin team for this group, I see how much effort it involves daily to prepare for the first concert and to put the ensemble on the right path for success.  Colin put in his blog (http://colinodonohoe.wordpress.com/) that he started this ensemble for two reasons: “Social, “Leading a movement to showcase equality of cultures/instruments and breaking down the violent wall of ignorance  AND The music – this is the fun part. Life is way to short to not have fun, right?”

Not only do I really enjoy working with Colin, but he is taking a long term approach on how music ensembles function in our country and finding a way to have musicians be a part of the shape and focus of the ensemble.

So Monday starts the adventure into blogging about books written for musicians.  I was recommended to take a look at The Savvy Musician by David Cutler, which as a Duquesne University graduate, I was happy to do so.  In addition to Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching, I’ll take points with Cutler’s book that apply to the same subjects.  I definitely recommend purchasing both books, to get a full view of each subject area.  Feel free to comment, add suggestions, or ask for feedback as the discussion goes along.  My hope is to grow a community of musicians looking to develop business skills to reach their artistic goals.

Written by rosemfrench

October 29, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Musicians and the Culture of Complaining

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Last week I was performing outside of Phoenix, with what I thought is one of the nicest displays of appreciation for musicians: food.

This gig had provided a chartered bus for the musicians and dinner once we arrived.  A nice spread of sandwiches, a fruit and cheese platter, and a desert platter, plus drinks and utensils were all laid out for us.  But the first thing I heard from one of the musicians was, “well you would think they would give us mayonnaise or mustard for these sandwiches.”  And yes, while true, it sets a whole different tone for the evening and negates anything this contractor had provided.

So when does this happen? And why? Why do musicians feel the need and right to complain and criticize every move made by management, contractors, other musicians or anyone that may cross our path from the time we get out of our car to when we leave the gig at the end of then night?

I have a theory: it happens as soon as we exchange our artistic abilities for money and progresses into pure seething hatred by the time some people ever work full time.

The interesting thing that I have observed is those who complain the most are least likely to take any steps to meaningful change, including shutting their mouths.  Last year I started a music ensemble where I continually where I tried to get musicians to take an active role in running the group as a way of learning from each other the business of making music.  Most offers fell through, usually with the response of being too busy, and those who complained during gigs, never offered help.  Many musicians are fine with sitting in their chair for the contracted time, getting paid, and going home.  Just from one year of running the ensemble, I have learned how difficult, time consuming, and stressful it is to raise every dollar and sell every ticket to run a group.

I decided two things after last season: Musicians are available everywhere, but it’s those who are pleasant to work with that I want to be around AND I have a new respect for anybody that wants to pay me to play my instrument.  Sure, there are plenty of terrible things going on with contract negotiations for musicians and horrible gigs that we have all suffered through. BUT, we musicians can actually take control over our own careers, do things that satisfy us artistically and monetarily and learn to create a better working environment for everyone.

What I have realized is that I do have an impact on my career and what I do with my time.  If I want to form a horn rock band and get paid for it, I can do all the work to make that happen.

So this time next week, I invite you to join me explore the first book that will give musicians the skills to start living a life that is both musically and financially possible.  Don’t forget to pick-up Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching, which I will be focusing on starting Monday November 2.

 

For Thursday: Donnie Deutcch: The Big Idea

 

 

 

 

Written by rosemfrench

October 26, 2009 at 10:04 pm

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Teaching Private Lessons: Cutting out the Middle Man – Part II

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So how do you break free of the music store grip?

Start small but cast a wide net.  It takes about two years to build a healthy private studio.

Building your private studio:

  1. Meet your future student and their family before the first lesson.  If this is the student’s first experience having lessons, it’s extremely intimidating to play for an adult, and especially an adult they don’t know.  Take the time to get to know a bit about the student, the family, and what the student wants to learn, without an instrument.  This is also a great opportunity to talk about how you teach, what you do professionally, and to offer to play for the family.  If you’re teaching many lessons in a row, there isn’t a lot of time to converse, making this effort even more important.
  2. At this meeting, take the time to set-up your lesson schedule and talk to the parents about how you run your business.  This is how I run my studio: students pay for lessons by the month.  At the beginning of each month, I see what conflicts I have and what conflicts the family may have.  If time is valuable, this can be done via email, but I always do this on an individual basis.
  3. Why have students pay by the month? CANCELLATIONS. If students/parents have already paid for a month, cancellations are for true emergencies and illnesses.  I am flexible with my students, when my schedule allows, but during our first meeting, I am clear that I do not make up last-minute cancellations.  On the other hand, if I EVER cancel, I always make up the lesson and give students as much noticed as possible.
  4. Teaching at home versus teaching at a student’s home: do both. Especially when starting your studio, you might find that teaching at a student’s home will lead to other students in the same area wanting lessons, or other students playing the same instrument from the same school wanting lessons.  Just like freelancing, if you never leave your house, no one will ever know who you are.
  5. Teaching at a student’s home also brings music to the entire family, not just one student.  I have had numerous experiences where a child begins taking lessons and afterwards other members of the family begin taking interest.  I have parents and children from the same family taking lessons currently, and at the first opportunity, I find a way for them to make music together.
  6. Lead by example.  Teach your students why music is important and include them in what events are going on in your own career and development.  This does not mean only asking your students to attend your concerts, but invite your students to attend concerts with you.
  7. Make music with your students and have your students make music with each other.  Last year, I had three students in the same local youth symphony horn section.  Although they were at different points in their development (senior, sophomore and eighth grade), they enjoyed the opportunity to perform together and the occasional horn quartet afternoon we would all share.
  8. Recitals. I finally held my first recital this spring, and realized I should have done it several years earlier.  Although this is a different topic altogether, it is a great way for your students and families to come together to meet each other.  For your students, it is an opportunity to see how other students performing the same instrument sound and what they are performing.

My goal for this first recital was for each student to have the most positive performing experience possible.  For my younger students, I allowed them to select a favorite piece, even if slightly below their current abilities.  For my older students, I picked something that featured their best assets and had one short rehearsal with an accompanist the hour before the recital.

Some other notes about teaching lessons:

When you are teaching on your own, you get to create your environment.  Whether you are in your own home or traveling, you get to choose the tone for each experience and work with students that value your time and that you feel are interested in learning.  Most of the time there is no one being force-fed music when you teach on your own.

You have a much closer relationship with the family.  In the conveyor belt of revolving students at a music store, most parents will wait in the car or out of reach for a weekly conversation.  When teaching at a student’s home or at your own, parents are aware of what their child is working on and a respect for the teacher is developed.  When parents see the progress their child is making and the interaction you have with their child, they become aware and interested in how you are enriching their child’s life.

Students love mentors that are active in their field.  When I travel, I always bring something back home for them.  Even if very small, the fact that you thought about your students while away means a lot.  For example, I have brought back keychains from South Africa, soccer lanyards from Croatia, and bookmarks from Mexico.

Something to avoid: the music teacher database websites. They are a waste of time and I have never EVER seen one indication of getting a student in Pittsburgh, PA, Eastern, OH or Arizona using these sites.

Please feel free to add to this list of recommendations of starting a studio.

For Tuesday: Musicians and the Culture of Complaining

Written by rosemfrench

October 25, 2009 at 6:29 am

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Teaching Private Lessons: Cutting out the Middle Man – Part I

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Anyone that has ever taught music has had something similar to the following experience:

You walk into your local music store, past the band and string instruments, guitars, keyboards, drums, and pianos.  Down the fluorescent-lit hallway lined with uncomfortable chairs.  On your left and right, you see plain doors with small windows and know that you have found musical hell: your own holding cell to teach music in for the next four hours.  These rooms are small, impersonal, and lack anything that says: this is an environment for mentoring, musicianship, and education to take place.

Teaching lessons at a music store happens in several different ways:

  1. You’re hired as an independent contractor.  You teach in your cell, usually not on your main instrument – unless it’s flute, violin, or piano – and take home usually less than half of what students are being charged to study with you.
  2. You rent space at a music store. No one helps you find students, you have to collect your own payments from parents, and you have to pay for your allotted room time, whether you have students or not.
  3. You don’t teach at a music store – you teach at a high school/middle school/private school.  You’re not allowed to charge a fraction of what a lesson would cost anywhere else in town, and you have no guarantee who is going to show up from week to week.

Anyone reading this that isn’t a musician may think, why in the hell would someone do this to make money?  Well, for some, this is the best game in town: it’s better than waiting tables and more steady that freelance work.  I have experiences all three, and have been music store free for almost four years and have a thriving private studio.

Word of mouth is the best way to get any business, especially when teaching privately.  However, when you’re teaching at a music store, when you are recommended as a great teacher, it doesn’t mean that your work will be reflected in more pay or even more students…it really just means more business for the music store.  This is fine, and may seem very cynical on my part, but music stores are a business and they will exploit any musical trend out there to make money.  The goal is not musical achievement or recognition for having an excelling band or orchestra as a part of their musical outreach: it’s to have parents sign on the dotted line that they will pay for a SEMESTER of lessons.

So how do you break free of the music store grip?

Start small but cast a wide net.  It takes about two years to build a healthy private studio.

For Saturday: Teaching Private Lessons: Cutting out the Middle Man – Part II

Written by rosemfrench

October 23, 2009 at 8:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized