The Musician’s Micro Economy: Part II

Marcel

Let’s talk small. In my last post on the musician’s micro economy, I described how we should consider resources available to us as different forms of currency that can be used to improve our careers and more generally, our lives as artists. I also introduced the concept of the portfolio career, which is essentially a vibrant career that is the sum of many small projects, talents and skills—including performance—that all contribute to financial stability for the 21st century musician.

Now let’s explore what makes up a micro economy. Follow my logic; if businesses make up the economy (in the traditional sense) then micro businesses make up the micro economy. So now, let’s talk small. I mean, really small. Marcel-the-Shell-with-Shoes-On small. Let’s talk about how you can make your claim in the music micro economy by being excellent, by being focused and by starting out very, very small.

For many musicians, the word business makes us anxious, second only to the word taxes. It makes us want to run back to our practice room and play scales until we are calm again. Don’t laugh; you know I’m talking to you. Yet income, finances, taxes, and dare I say it—money—are essential to our everyday lives. So whether we want to think about it or not, money rears its green, ugly head in all parts of our career. The concept of the micro economy is applicable to all kinds of artists, but for musicians of the 21st century, it’s actually a way of life. Have you ever given thought to all the ways money influences your career? Whether it’s trying to purchase that new instrument, cashing a paycheck from a gig, travel costs for a gig, paying other colleagues fairly to perform with or for us, the list goes on and on forever. We need to make money and we need to spend it. That earning and spending is the most basic essence of what an economy is. Therefore, it’s not too far of a stretch to then think of individual artists as little businesses—micro businesses who specialize in creativity and art. We are micro-businesses in a creative economy.

I realize that I may have just lost some of you. I compared you to a business and you were like #bye. Just hang in there for a moment. The good news is that there has never been a better time in the history of the world to be a micro business in a creative economy. As you might have read on this blog, I’m fascinated with the millennial culture. After all, I am one myself. I’m constantly marveling out our rebellious nature, our determination to see ideas come to life, and the effect our sheer will has on society. Artists have always been a rebellious lot but millennial artists, those young people of the millennial generation from all artistic disciplines who identify as professionals in their respective art forms, are undeniably impacting the global society and economy in ways we never before thought possible. In the coming Tuxedo Revolt blog posts, we’ll explore how you can embrace the idea of being a micro business and also explore new platforms and marketplaces allowing the modern performing artist to grow their micro business. We’ll look at how small and excellent is the new model for the emerging artist professional.

Marcel-the-Shell said, “Some people say my head is too big for my body—I say, COMPARED TO WHAT?!” Marcel had the right idea. Another way of saying it might be though our size as a micro business is small (obviously), we can still have (and do have) an enormous impact on the world’s creative economy.

The Musician’s Micro Economy: Part I

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In order for musicians to thrive in today’s economy, we have to first understand it. Even a basic understanding is essential if today’s musicians are to cultivate a viable career from their craft. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in economics to comprehend how the new economic landscape is shaping the careers of new generations of musicians.

A dictionary defines micro economy as “The study of how businesses, households, and individuals within an economy allocate limited resources.” I think musicians of all stripes can relate all too well to the bit about limited resources. But in order to make this more real to you—try to consider all the possible meanings of the word resources outside of just money. Practice time, planning time, energy, equipment, favors from friends and colleagues are all forms of resources that musicians commonly use as currency that is either spent or earned. For musicians, it is important to look at the term micro economy in a very broad sense and consider all the different activities we do that contribute to our overall career.

Do you remember those long lists of “music professions” that your well-meaning high school guidance counselor may have shared with you back when you first considered “going into music” (to your parents’ horror) as a profession? It listed jobs like: arranger, sound designer, composer, performer, copyist, music teacher, song writer, recording technician, etc. You remember those, right? You probably remember the sinking feeling you had of “Oh my God, how will I ever pick one of these?!” The good news is that you don’t have to specialize in just one area. Today’s musicians are expected to have basic skills in all these areas and many more. It’s the new Micro Economy that has placed diverse demands on musicians’ careers. The economy is reshaping our profession in ways we never thought possible even four to five years ago.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore numerous micro opportunities that musicians can pursue to build a portfolio career. You might already be doing some of them and there will be a few more you haven’t yet heard of. We’ll also discuss the many new markets that have emerged for musicians to either generate income from their music or help connect them to a greater number of potential audience members. It’s a whole new world out there for professional musicians.

Lastly, I’d like to put a disclaimer out there near the conclusion of the first post in this series—No one is telling you to let go of that dream of winning your big orchestra job, launching that solo career, or rocketing to stardom in classical music. In fact, it is my wish that you do make that happen for yourself. This series is for everyone else, for the thousands of other excellent musicians out there (some fresh out of school) who are trying to gain a foothold in “the business” at the onset of their professional career. This series is to help us all better understand our individual Micro Economy and how to best make decisions that will allow us to support the passion for music that we all share.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

Finding Your Unmapped Territory

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On of the greatest benefits of being a musician is that our is career perfectly suited for for self-growth. But are you taking advantage? Are you seeking new things? When was your last adventure? The way we share music, they way we push ourselves to perform better when playing with others, and yes, even the practice room are all laboratories for improvement and heightened performance. But not applying those skills in new ways is a bit like the guy who buys a ton of state-of-the-art camping gear, reads tons of survival guides– but never actually goes camping.

Professional musicians have a lot to contend with both professionally and personally that can make it hard for us to be courageous. It’s true. You experience success with one piece or genre of music and that success or comfort can make it difficult to explore new repertoire later on. Many people advice young musicians to “find their niche” and while there is some good advice to this, it often means that musicians end up building their own gilded cages.

Remember, above all else, that you are an artist. An artist. An ART-ist. You have musical skills and training that are your tools to interpret and explore the world. Like the mountain climber with his rope, pulley and pick axe you have the tools in hand to do great feats. Don’t ever forget that. So if you are ready to take the next step, if you want something more, then try these 4 steps to exploring the unknown part of your artistry. You might be surprised at what you discover.

1. Step out of the comfort zone. It can be in the smallest of ways, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the first step to self-growth. Whether it’s picking new repertoire, collaborating with unlikely partners, or seeking new meaning in your music (among many other ways!), changing the status quo is the first step.

2. Understand that there is risk. For anyone, no matter the field, there is no reward without the risk. That is what makes the reward so, well, rewarding. You have to embrace the unknown. Embrace the notion that your new idea, or venture might not work– and that is okay. It’s not whether or not you succeed that matters most, it’s what you learn about yourself along the way.

3. Record your adventure. What great explorer or salty sea captain of ages past didn’t keep a journal of their experiences? Sometimes, we can’t fully understand the takeaway from a situation while we are experiencing it. Write it down. Take notes. Be observant. There will come a time for reflection and that is where you will learn about yourself. You’ll want to be able to remember your experiences vividly and writing them down will allow that to happen.

4. Move forward only. The hardest part of self-growth is fighting the urge to slip back into old ways. But think about that mountain climber again. Would he or she, when so close to the summit, turn back because it would be difficult to reach? If they did, we wouldn’t consider them much of a mountain climber would we? Why? Because the point of mountain climbing is to reach the peak– and so it is with you. Keep your sights set ahead of you. Imagine yourself as an adventurer. One step at a time, one tiny inch forward is a change that counts. Remember, everything counts.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

Old Ways Won’t Open New Doors

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If you are feeling stuck in your music career, take this to heart– old ways won’t open new doors. I won’t take credit for inventing this mantra, but it is true. Last week at the Chamber Music America 2015 National Conference in New York City, I served as a career counselor. The question that I most frequently received from my advisees was “How do I differentiate myself from other (insert: musicians, composers, administrators, etc.)?” In order to be considered as different or unique among others in your field, you actually have to be different. That’s right, you have to strike out on your own and take a different course of action.

In my past posts on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of breaking the mold and going against the grain of tradition in music. But you don’t have to leave the proverbial herd to differentiate yourself among your peers. Doing things differently can move you to the front of the pack instead.

But what does that mean? First it means being observant. Watch for the setbacks that hold others back and try to avoid them yourself. Often our awareness of others is much sharper (and also more critical) than the awareness of ourselves. Observe the setbacks you see holding back the careers and artistic projects of your peers. Study them. Listen. You can learn so much and save yourself from wrong turns in the future by observing others in a non-judgmental way.

Second, it means be skeptical of the status quo. Sometimes the way that everyone does something may be the best way, or perhaps it may not. The path taken by many is not necessarily the best path for everyone.  In contrast, isn’t differentiating yourself all about being different? In order to decide where to break from the establishment, constantly question the established traditions in all areas of your musical life. You’ll find yourself constantly asking questions such as “Can I phrase this differently than the tradition dictates?” “Can I engage my audience differently than program notes or speaking in the performance?” “Who says my music has to sound a certain way? What do I want it sound like?”

You’ll find yourself asking lots of questions. Though you may not have many answers at first, it’s the asking of the questions that gets your brain churning in new directions. It’s the enigma that boosts your creativity and passion. Keep asking questions, keep making your own answers and you’ll open new doors sooner than you thought.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

5 Resolutions for Classical Musicians

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundTo my readers, it’s been far too long since I last posted on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog and I apologize to you. But I’ve been watching and thinking, observing and taking notes. I’ve spent the past year being a musical participant, a maker, a creator, performer, teacher—and in many ways a student as well. I’ve been watching our world of classical music. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection into my own music making as well and there is much that I want to share with you.

Since it’s a new year, I thought we should start with a few resolutions. (I say we because I will be joining in these too.) While I’m not usually a big fan of them, I started to think about the meaning of a resolution, about how they demonstrate our “resolve” for change and improvement. A resolution is an opportunity to bring about positive change to our lives—and for musicians, to our art as well. As artists, we strive for excellence at all costs. We constantly seek to improve upon our skill, or repertoire, or musical achievement. This pursuit is part of our identity as musicians. With personal excellence in mind, here are 5 resolutions for classical musicians to consider for 2015:

1. Own your role in supporting the arts.

We are all in this together and as such, we all need to do our part in supporting the arts in as many ways as we can. Be active. Write a letter of support to your local school system or elected official supporting music education. Make a donation to a local arts organization (if you can) or at least make the offer to donate some of your time or talent. Share articles that advocate for the arts on your social media or write an iReport or Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Start a thread on Reddit. Do something to help us all.

2. Help stop the negativity in the classical music world.

“If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all,” my father said many times when I was young. Truthfully, I’ve not always taken his advice, but in the case of classical music, I’m pretty sure compliance is crucial. Let’s make this cut and dry: the general public has a clouded perception of our world and what we do. Many people see classical music as stuffy, outdated and worn-out. As many of us are working to change that perception, we face a further declining public opinion when vitriol over union conflicts, lockouts, and defamatory remarks come from both sides of disputes in our industry. We need a cease fire and moratorium on negativity. Do your part by only putting forth positive messaging about the importance of your art, your passion, and classical music more generally. Be on the side of peaceful progress.

3. Dig deep into your own emotions.

This is one is simple. Challenge yourself to find deeper emotional meaning from every note that you play this year. Take whatever commitment to emotional expressivity you currently have and add 30% to that. See how much more you can express your own range of emotion in the music you make. It might change the world.

4. Share your music with more people.

This year, make the effort to share your music with more people than you did last year. Sharing is easy in the digital age. Post a video on YouTube or Facebook. Upload a clip to SoundCloud. Get more of the music you love out into the world. There are bound to be others out there who will love it too.

5. Talk to your audience.

This is the year to change the way you engage with your audience. You have the power to transform an evening of great music into a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime in the mind of your audience members. You have to communicate with your audience. Do as little or as much as your feel comfortable, but do something. It can be as little as making sure you thank five individual audience members for coming to the concert at each gig you play this year, or as grand as completely revamping your concert presentation format. The approach is up to you, but we need to collectively do more to bond with our audiences. If we all did this, we could go a long way toward changing the public opinion.

So here’s to a great year ahead. Let’s do more this year than we have ever done before. Let’s make waves in the classical music world. Let’s change the state of play.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan