How “Understanding” Makes You Irresistible

Understanding is one of those nebulous words – it can mean comprehension, sympathy, mastery, agreement. Before we begin to unpack how understanding can play a key role in making you attractive as a classical musician, we’ll have to agree on a definition.

How Understanding Makes You Irresistible

Before understanding came to have so many shades of meaning, it was simply an adjective that described, “having insight or good judgment.” Seems fitting for classical musicians to settle on this classical definition.

The Trees AND the Forest

At heart, the kind of understanding we’re talking about requires having a deep awareness and appreciation of any given situation – be that situation small and specific (a particular performance, for example) or wide and all-encompassing (your life, your career, your relationships). It is about recognizing your role in the whole, identifying what is, and what is not, within your control, and always keeping your eyes on the whys. It’s about tuning into the small details, without losing sight of the big picture.

Your Role in the Whole

Let’s look at some examples.

In an ensemble, you must not only comprehend your part, but you must understand how that part relates to the whole. Are you a soloist? If not, don’t play like one. If so, how does the solo contribute to the piece?

What about conductors? As a conductor, it is my job to try to draw the very best possible performance out of the musicians I work with.

That involves a lot more than understanding a particular piece (though that’s obviously crucial), it involves understanding human beings and the courage that it takes all of us to do just about anything, particularly perform publicly. Truly understanding my role requires that I acknowledge that there are specifics that I do not know (whose car broke down on the way in, who got engaged last night, whose dog has been missing for a week), while keeping in mind general principles (someone is always going through something, compassion is always in order), so that I can help each musician access their very best. Achieving perfection is not my role (thank goodness, since perfection is impossible!) but guiding musicians toward their best performance is. Understanding the difference is critical.

What is Your Why?

As a classical musician, your job requires you to book gigs and show up at a particular time to give a particular performance to a particular audience for an agreed upon fee. Obviously, understanding (i.e., comprehending) all of those details is important. That’s very surface-level understanding, basic competence, if you will.

Deeper understanding requires knowing WHY this performance, WHY this audience. It requires looking at the big picture and how this one piece fits into the puzzle. What does the audience need from you? How can you provide it? What do you hope to achieve? What obstacles are likely to arise? And ultimately, is it worth it?

This isn’t an easy path. It will NEVER be an easy path. There are about a million things you could do with your life that would be easier than being a performing classical musician. But you chose this road. You didn’t have to. Most people don’t. It requires a great deal of courage, and courage is built upon a solid WHY. So why are you doing this? What’s your purpose?

Once you’ve answered that, pin your eyes to that why, keep looking at the big picture, and pay attention to how each small piece fits. Practice empathy – not only for the people around you but also for the circumstances of the situation.

This is true understanding, and people that possess it are naturally attractive. Not guided by ego, they understand that they are a piece of a bigger puzzle. That understanding draws others to them. And though it doesn’t make this path easy, it makes it worth it.

If you’d like to dive deeper into how to build a profitable performing career, while avoiding the feast-or-famine cycle, and playing the repertoire you actually want to play, I encourage you to check out my free webinar.

The Career Boosting Power of Creativity

Creativity probably tops the list as the most over-used and misunderstood term of the last several decades. Schools set out to “foster creativity,” corporations look for “creative team members,” new restaurants are touted for their “creative cocktails.”

The Career Boosting Power of Creativity

Once the sacred domain of musicians, artists, and writers, creativity has now become a catch-all for nearly anything.

So, how can focusing on creativity, as ubiquitous and meaningless as the word seems to have become, help you craft a profitable career as a performer?

The Princess Bride principle

In The Princess Bride, the 1980s movie that has achieved near cult-like status, Inigo Montoya, exasperated by the repetition of inconceivable, says to Vizinni, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We are too often guilty of the same thing. Ask someone to define creativity and you’ll likely get an answer such as, “It’s about making stuff up, doing something brand new, being original.”

While it’s true that those things are definitely creative, it’s too easy to dismiss the kind of creativity that can pull ideas from the clouds as the stuff of genius alone. The truth is that creativity has a lot less to do with inventing something unique than it does with seeing something familiar from a different perspective.

Just an idea

When thinking about creativity, it’s helpful to remember this one basic fact: everything around you – everything you see, hear, and experience (outside the natural world), was once just someone’s idea. Concert halls, concert series, festivals, competitions, compositions (not to mention the countless things that have absolutely NOTHING to do with music – Uber, anyone?), you name it…all originally just an idea.

It might as well be yours.

Flip the Coin

Being creative (and building a lucrative career) often just comes down to looking at the same thing from a different angle, and considering the possibilities that lie on the other side of the coin.

For example, many of us yearn to travel. We invest significant time and money into planning a trip out of town or across the globe. While there, of course, we look for opportunities to come back as a performer. In this way, we can think of our vacation (which is often costly) as an investment in our future career.

But instead of thinking as traveling as a grown-up version of college tours (i.e., an expense that may or may not pay off someday), why not book gigs as an excuse to travel?

Is there a conference or festival you’d like to attend, a city you’d like to explore? Look for performance opportunities in those areas to fund the trip. While there you can network and sightsee to your heart’s content while taking advantage of paid travel expenses and accommodations.

Profits from playing local jobs can fund your travel and your networking, as well as build your audience, without sending you into the red, but it may take some (dare I say) creativity to find the right opportunities.

Use What You Have

While considering performance possibilities, don’t overlook the connections and interests you already have. It is much easier to build on something that already exists than to try to reinvent the wheel entirely.

For example, a coaching client of mine is a yoga aficionado. One day, while in the studio, she looked around and realized that the space would make a perfect performance venue for 50 – 60 people. Furthermore, she realized that if that yoga studio could be used as a performance venue, other studios likely could as well. She focused her attention on implementing the five strategies I share in my free webinar (available here) to book gigs specifically in yoga studios.

Today, she performs up to 10 times a week in yoga studios across the city. Better yet, creating that niche for herself allows her to book performances in yoga studios in any town she’d like to visit. She has built on a network that already exists – yogis are a tightknit bunch. So, while yoga studios are admittedly not a traditional recital venue, this client gets to perform what she wants to perform for an enthusiastic audience, and she’s well paid to do it.

Creativity is about rethinking and repurposing. Not just thinking “outside the box,” but accepting that there really are no boxes, except of course, for the ones we create for ourselves.

If you’d like more information about my strategies for creating a profitable classical performance career I urge you to check out my free webinar: How to go From Just a Few Performances a Year to More Than Ten Profitable Classical Music Concerts Every Month (without a huge following, a best-selling CD, or even a press kit!)

Watch here.

Want more?

I recently had a chat about this with James Newcomb of The Whole Musician.

Listen here.

The Power of Inner Peace

We’ve all met people who seem to have a magnetic draw. A special something that pulls everyone around them into their orbit and keeps them there, wanting more.

One Attractive Characteristic is Inner Peace

We may meet them in passing – a cashier at a grocery store, for example, or we may be lucky enough to have them as close friends, but either way, there is no denying that just being in the presence of these people makes us feel better. We are drawn to them. We find them almost irresistible.

What’s their secret?

It’s inner peace.

When performers cultivate and communicate this peace, they banish fear, build loyal audiences, and unleash both their potential and their joy. In short, incredible things happen.

Authenticity, Integrity, and Purpose

Inner peace is likely to conjure images of Buddhist monks sitting for hours in blissful meditation. Though that is certainly one manifestation, it isn’t a particularly helpful model for those of us who must make our way in the sometimes chaotic work-a-day world outside the walls of a monastery.

It’s more helpful to think of inner peace as a fearlessness rooted in authenticity, integrity, and purpose.

It is the belief that you are doing what you should be doing and that what you are doing has a positive impact on the world around you. It is cultivated by understanding who you are and what you stand for, and it is deeply rooted in your Why?

That’s great news for musicians!

Assuming you didn’t become a classical musician to garner fame (if you did, you may want to reconsider) or enormous wealth (which is very different from being well paid for your talent and work –which you should definitely expect) then you probably set out on this path because you value the power that music has to communicate, connect, and delight. That, my friends, is a world-changing purpose, indeed.

Guilt and Fear

So, if we’re all convinced that our purpose is a good one, why do so many of us, professional musicians, in particular, struggle with achieving true inner peace?

A lot of it has to do with our training. For years, often decades, we’ve been surrounded by people who pick apart every note, every gesture, every phrase, looking for flaws and pushing us to improve. Some teachers were kind, some were not, but they all focused on what was lacking and imperfect, never mentioning the thousands of things we did exceptionally well.

That’s what they were supposed to do – identifying and strengthening weaknesses is necessary for growth. But unfortunately, after years of reinforcement, focusing on the negative becomes a habit we adopt for ourselves. To make matters worse, we allow imperfection to make us feel guilty. After all, we should have known better, tried harder, practiced more.

We become so afraid of making mistakes that we rob ourselves – and our audience.

Music is the language of emotion. Like any language, its purpose is to communicate. Once fear takes hold, real communication stops. The conversation becomes one-sided, the door is shut, and connection is impossible. Peace and fear cannot coexist.

Inner Peace on Stage

We’ve all experienced this: A performance is technically perfect and still leaves listeners cold and unengaged. Meanwhile, another performance is sprinkled with small errors and has the audience on their feet begging for more.

Why?

In the first case, we can feel the performer’s anxiety. He’s so focused on nailing every detail that he’s completely shut us out. It’s all about him.

The second performer radiates joy, sharing from a place of abundance. We automatically feel gifted, touched. He embodies inner peace. He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing; he accepts mistakes and surprises as part of the journey. He doesn’t have to worry about perfection or garnering universal praise because those aren’t his purpose. He’s done the very best he can, and he has nothing to hide, nothing to feel guilty about, nothing to fear. He’s free to enjoy the moment, and he invites us to enjoy it with him.

Finding Peace

Inner peace isn’t a technique you can pick up with a couple of hours in a practice room. It’s cultivated and cared for over time. Even so, here are two things to remember that may help:

  1. Music is a noble and important calling. It’s an ancient, universal language that speaks to the heart of humanity. Every time you perform, you make the world better.
  2. You are the right person for this job. You’re an expert. You’ve spent years learning to speak this language and you do it better than 95% of the people listening. (Don’t worry about that other 5% – that’s fear talking.) You are sharing a beautiful gift. Let yourself feel and radiate the joy that comes from being able to do that.

Want more?

I recently had a chat about this with James Newcomb of The Whole Musician.

Listen to that episode of James’ podcast:

http://thewholemusician.net/podcast/attractive-characteristic-inner-peace/

 

Musicpreneurs get the skinny!

It’s a British term, I believe.

Getting the skinny is slang that suggests there’s no fluff – we’re getting down to the skin of something without having to navigate layers of lace and denim or whatever else covers up the essentials.

Anyway, James Newcomb recently invited me back to speak on his podcast at Musicpreneur.com, and apart from having quite a bit of fun, we get into some serious eye-opening approaches to making the world a better place with live music. Listen to the episode here:

Why Are Classical Musicians So Sad? How to Express Your Joy and Find Your “Why” for Making Music w/ Stephen P. Brown

http://musicpreneur.com/podcast/why-are-classical-musicians-so-sad/

Then, on Thursday afternoon (September 6, 3pm Eastern time), James and I will be giving performers some great strategies for giving your life some direction.

Huh?

Think of it this way:

It is typical of most classical musicians who spend 10-15 years in practice rooms performing for critics (teachers, peers, audition panels) that they seem to be living simply in order to perform. That’s “living to work” and as most performers are, in fact, human, it is no way to exist.

Instead, we must understand that the work we do helps us live.

We need to give our lives some direction – not just career goals, but an actual, deliberate choice of lifestyle.

Let me share with you five steps to creating a sustainable performing career that supports a comfortable (or better!) lifestyle while still doing what you love.

Register for Thursday’s webinar now – space will be limited:

http://musicpreneur.com/stephen-p-brown-webinar/

Stephen P. Brown Webinar

Server Hacked

...including backups!

One of the usernames that controls this website was hacked, which resulted in malware causing issues.

Eventually my entire site got deleted, and when we were ready to restore a backup, found that that folder on a separate server had been deleted, too.

We found a backup from 2014, made a few adjustments, but all that content since then is…

gone.

 

A sample of the new concerto

 

British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown writes a concerto for bass clarinet and stringsMy next composition isn’t quite ready yet.

But I really like it and want to share it with you NOW.

So, there’s a sample below!

It may seem my 7 year #PsalmQuest has been on hiatus and maybe you even thought I’d given up already.

Well, I was ahead of schedule so after all the Christmas performances I did take some time off over Christmas and New Year to visit lots of people up and down East Coast USA, and then I embarked on my long-awaited Concerto for Bass Clarinet and strings.

It’s almost ready and we all have to be thankful to Calvin Falwell and Diana Hessinger for commissioning this piece upfront, as well as all the bass clarinet players around the world who are signing up for first year rights to perform – it’s very exciting being involved in such a forward-thinking, risk-taking consortium. Thank you!

So, without further ado, click on the video below for a sneak preview:

What do you think? Tell me below… if you dare!

Would you like to be part of the commissioning consortium? It’s very easy: promise to perform it at least once and send us some proof, basically.

Let me know in the comments below if you’re interested and I’ll make sure you and Calvin are connected – he has all the details.

Thanks for listening, and here’s looking forward to the full monty in the next week or two!

Flashing is popular again

 

More and more musicians are doing it.

Apparently there were over 40 reported incidents worldwide in 2013.

Fortunately, many of them were caught on camera.

Which of the following incidents from the past few years are worthy of international attention, and which are lucky not to find themselves in the Establishment’s penal custody for flashing in public?

I’ll tell you my fave if you tell me yours! Share your thoughts and your favorites in the comments below…

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

Haven’t reached my favourite one, yet! Remember – I’m a percussionist at heart…

5.

 

6.

 

7.

Er, yeah. That’ll be it. Love it! What a welcome off the commute train 🙂

8.

Share your thoughts below, as well as links to any other of your favorite orchestra flashmobs

I have to say, though, it was tough limiting this to orchestral music – there are so many dance and singing flashmobs I thoroughly enjoy, especially the original train station one of the Sound of Music that started the modern public movement, quickly heading to 30m views!

(Of course, this was, in turn, inspired by the 2001 prison “Thriller” flashmob, now on 53m views: http://youtu.be/hMnk7lh9M3o)

12 books for the growing career

ReWork everything you doI’m working hard on my next #PsalmQuest piece – a concerto for Bass Clarinet and Strings, and it is going well, but with the holidays and lots of travel it’s been hard to keep up. Should have something to share with you in a month or so.

In the meantime, here is a list of 12 books all budding/ growing… people should read (At first I wrote “musicians” but realized there is a great deal of info here that is relevant for anyone trying to grow a business or even just their own career, even in the music-related books!).

If you or someone you love is trying to build a [music or other] career, these books will come in most useful. And if they say they have no time to read, unsubtlely mention that reading 10 pages a day (about 10 minutes) takes about 20 days to read an average size book. All 12 of these recommendations can be read in 2014!

  1. Where’s Your Wow? “When was the last time a product or service made you say, ‘Oh Wow!’? This wonder of a book will show you how to create that same magic in your own business.” Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® – I love making people say “wow” and try to make everything I touch wow-able.
  2. Savvy Musician “As a music professor, this book has become required reading for all of my students. In fact, I recommend this book to everyone- professionals, amateurs, and students alike. The vignettes are fantastic, the writing style is enjoyable, and the content is superb.” James W. Doyle – It’s important to be savvy in any career. This is worth reading for both interest and gleaning ways to boost yourself in your own industry.
  3. Crush It! “The most important takeaway I found in the first read through is that honesty always wins in an established market that’s playing by an old set of rules.” Daniel, Ottowa – Just take it for what it is: a quick read with some motivational prowess.
  4. EntreLeadership “Full of excellent anecdotes and practical tips on entrepreneurship, hirings and firings, and leadership at its best.” Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Yes!
  5. The Indie Band Survival Guide “Finally! A comprehensive and practical guide for musicians that explains how to navigate today’s music world without a label. A must-read!” Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby – Detailed info for anyone interested in how media and marketing work, as well as lots of help for people traveling.
  6. ReWork “The clarity, even genius, of this book actually brought me to near-tears on several occasions. Just bloody brilliant, that’s what!” Tom Peters, New York Times bestselling author of IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE, THRIVING ON CHAOS and LEADERSHIP – It’s time we revisit everything we do, especially in the orchestral field. Whatever your industry, go ahead an re-invent the wheel. I am! (see: http://sunfonia.org)
  7. Do The Work! “The gloves come off! Do the Work explains who and what your allies are and how to embrace and utilize them in your creative life or in your day-to-day situations” Robert T. Kiyosaki – Totally in line with my motto since being a classroom teacher in the UK: “Just Do It!”
  8. How to be your own Booking Agent “Goldstein’s book takes a career from oblivion to stardom, on one’s own terms, while maintaining artistic integrity.” RAVI, singer/songwriter, former guitarist of triple GRAMMY nominee HANSON – Extremely useful insight for anyone speaking, selling, traveling, consulting, performing, etc.
  9. Word of Mouth Marketing “A primer chock-full of great stories, tips, and exercises to make you a better word of mouth marketer, no matter what size company you work for. Read it, and you will increase your influence with your customers and make yourself more influential in your company.” Ed Keller and Jon Berry, authors of The Influentials – Not everything is implementable by everyone, at least not immediately. Very useful for career ladders as well as small businesses.
  10. Artist Management “The book lays out all the facts, techniques and pitfalls involved in managing entertainers. I would say this book is very comprehensive and would allow a beginner in artist management the ability to get up and running in the business with ease.” J. Garton – Essential reading for anyone who manages people, whether for their own careers or within a corporate heirarchy. You won’t necessarily need the contract templates, but still…
  11. Ownability “Britton’s new book demystifies the complex world of intellectual property in a simple, approachable voice that’s both comprehensive and soulful.” John Maeda – If anyone ever has an idea, here’s how the US (and global) ownership rules work.
  12. Structural Hearing “This is the best book to help anyone understand the tonal coherence in classical music. It takes you through counterpoint, harmony and analysis.” Lan Qiu – Specifically musical, you may just find yourself a) more interested in live classical music, and b) able to transfer many of these skills, approaches and techniques to your own industry.

That’s a list of my favourite most useful reading over the past year (I read a total of 32 books). It’s one book per month if you want to take it slow during 2014. Or you can plow through the list and finish them sooner. The choice is up to you.

Question: What book would you recommend reading this year? Please share your recommendation in the comment section below and help out your fellow readers.

 

 

Why I’m the slowest car on the road

 

Over the past few years I’ve noticed I’m usually the slowest car on the road.

Today, find out why.

And hear about one of the decisions/ choices I’ve made that causes it!

And then, if you dare, listen to how your own driving decisions are directly affecting the society we live in today.

Click to play the video below to reveal all.

In case you’re wondering: yes, my wife gets totally embarrassed whilst everyone else is passing us!

We all have a multitude of decisions to make everyday, and I’d love to know why you think it is OK (or not) to exceed the speed limits. Seriously, whilst I am not yet convinced that my own desires and assessment of safety are more important than the law of the land I choose to live in, you may have some valid reasons for speeding that I’d like to hear about.

Please let me know in the comments below what you think about speeding/ ignoring the laws of the road/ whether or not driving has become a right more than a privilege, and any other related thoughts.

As always, I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.

Who cares about live music?

"Tell Someone Who Cares"Time for a rant/ rave/ vent, methinks. It’s been a while. Bear with me:

Who cares about live music?

Everywhere I look there are stories of musicians being yelled off their stage, performers crying for “decent” pay, orchestras and opera houses closing down, music schools diminishing beyond recognition, and a host of other music-related news that simply doesn’t play a pretty tune.

So, who actually still cares about music?

  • Musicians do (instrumentalists, singers, composers, conductors).
  • Politicians will if it makes them popular.
  • Some film producers and directors do.
  • Music writers and administrators do.
  • Music teachers and professors do.
  • Some corporate executives hoping to make their company look good by supporting local musical establishments might.

Who else?

  • And don’t tell me dancers do – if they did we’d still have live musicians at every performance.
  • And don’t tell me most audiences do – if they did they’d willingly pay the costs of every concert.
  • And don’t tell me clergy do – if they did they wouldn’t be promoting celebrities who sing to pre-recorded tracks.

But despite the seemingly exhaustive list of supporters, first: look how many people who experienced music directly in their lives are those who remain passionate about it, and second: I can’t help but feel an underlying podium of obligation and hidden-agenda persuasion.

The fact is, in 2013 there are very few people who care about one of humankind’s most fundamental forms of expression. “Music” has been around for as long as birds could whistle and people could control the pitch of their voices. For centuries it was just a part of everyday life for just about everyone.

16th Century Gregorian Chant Song Book

This 16thC songbook in Seville Cathedral contains many chants “composed” over hundreds of years

Then, about 500+ years ago, someone figured out a way to write it down so others could repeat what was being expressed. (Actually, music was used in the church to aid priests with their memorization of liturgical text – a trick that is still used today.) I’ve seen one of the earliest songbooks known to exist, currently housed in Seville cathedral, and when people stop to consider what it represents, it is an awesome thing. But, like so many museum pieces, most people just wander by and say ¡Qué Bueno! (“That’s nice.”) You can hear the apathy in their tone.

Since then, there’s been a direct split between formal music and popular music. Even these words seem insufficient to describe the horrors of classifying and labeling just about each individual’s specific tastes, desires, likes and academic output of organized sound-based expression.

But what really scares me are these two facts:

1. Older generations are telling younger generations that music is unworthy, not to be valued, and an interrupting annoyance. Instead, we are taught by decision-makers and influencers that it is a gimmick, a sometimes useful but very expensive tool of persuasion, and wholly unessential or unnecessary for anyone’s well-being. Example: “Our youth groups don’t want to see an orchestra on stage – that’s not our vision for them.” Example: “Oh! That youth orchestra is just way too loud whilst we’re shopping. C’mon, let’s leave.” Example: This whole flashmob was commercially staged, including the little girl at the beginning – the bank the performers were in front of was celebrating its 130th birthday.

2. Musicians are out to prove their relevance/ worth/ value, demand certain rights, and are using Music as a political means to get what they want (be that income, satisfaction, their own worth/ value, proof that they matter or haven’t wasted their lives pursuing something pointless, etc.).

Ouch.

And I’m fed up with it.

In today’s technological digitized world, is there even a future for music? At all? We have created machines that compose and conduct, and devices that source every piece of music that has ever been recorded or constructed as an audio file. [And that’s a whole other rant – are we listening to the performers, or the sound system? More on that another time.] Music provides some sort of background sensory stimulation in almost every activity many Western humans undertake, including shopping, using public toilets, driving, office work, jogging, and so on.

The recent spike in popularity of orchestras playing music whilst a film is displayed above them is an extension of the old piano-playing cinemas of… wait for it… not even a hundred years ago. In Beethoven’s time it was rare for concert halls to have seats. People mingled, chatted, ate & drank, and had a good old time hanging out. In Mozart’s time, operas told stories of faraway places and unknown cultures with drama and costumes and scenery and, of course, dramatic music.

Mention opera nowadays and most people yawn.

What’s happened? What’s going on? Where are humans headed next? Hardly the dearly desired World Peace, that’s for sure! And I fear the loss of music and the senses that rely on it for their useful/ proper/ full development, will transform humans into unthinking creatures of survival habit.

And yet we’ve come so far…

What do you think? Add a comment below and let’s talk about it…

Maybe it’s just in specific cultures. Maybe this is all totally imagined. Regardless, I’m upset so many humans around us are dismissing live music making, and I’m getting angry enough to do something about it in my little circle of influence. More about that soon!