Classic Jabber Ep. 31 “Calmness”

Classic Jabber
June 7, 2019

Have you noticed that some people are calmer than others, but we seem to find people who are calm as more attractive than those who are not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.

What shocks me may surprise you

With the latest old-school icon from the hippy era crumbling under accusations of serious misconduct, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile expectations with responsibility.

The #MeToo movement continues to reach deeper and deeper into society, and classical music is clearly not exempt.

Now that Placido Domingo, one of the original Three Tenors, is under fire for sexual harassment since the 1980s, to be perfectly honest with you I am utterly shocked at three things…

Actually, they are the same three things I have struggled with over the past few years as these various stories come to light.

And what shocks me may surprise you:

  1. I am shocked that anyone is surprised by these post-hippy-era stories,
  2. I am shocked that anyone would consent to any form of what is now considered gross misconduct under any circumstances (let’s explore that in a moment), and
  3. I am utterly shocked and saddened that there are STILL people in the classical music industry who use these very painful experiences as a hook to promote their services!


Yes, I just received an email from a cheap, multifarious classical music “coach” who launched an unsubstantiated attack on Domingo and then spent the second half of her missive justifying an upcoming event and incorporating the Domingo story into descriptive links for her coaching programs and social media accounts. 

That makes me almost as sick as when hearing about the original story itself.

To me, it signifies just how low our industry has stooped – that it’s become OK to sell our wares on the backs of those who endured absolutely awful experiences with lifelong impact.

It is, perhaps, one of the most underhanded, despicable and unprofessional selling tactics anyone could possibly imagine. 

Aren’t we better than that?

Why aren’t we better than that?

Now, I am not diminishing anyone’s victimhood AT ALL, but I am saddened anyone thinks it was ever ok to either ask for sexual favors or that actually giving or engaging in such behavior was ever necessary.

It doesn’t take a degree to understand right from wrong, yet for whatever reason so many of our peers seem unaware of the impact of their words and actions.

What may be said in jest by one person could actually be very harmful for another. Stack such comments on top of each other over time, and a mindset of self-worth and wanting to make our world a better place through music may be damaged beyond repair.

There is ALWAYS a way out, but many times it is REALLY DIFFICULT to see it, act on it, or prioritize it. Especially when a primary income is at stake. So we put up with the comments and taps and slaps not realizing just how bad our situation is.

We are NOT talking about rape.
We are discussing harassment.

Why would anyone think there is no alternative?

We live in an era in which sexual freedom is popular, that followed an era in which sexual experimentation was popular.

On top of which classical musicians are ensnared in an industry that promotes one way of thinking, one way of doing, and only one possible path… a path that was created 100 years ago and is no longer suitable for the real world.

Well, no matter how many options and opportunities there may be to get out of a potentially sticky situation, it doesn’t surprise me that sexual harassment is rampant in the established classical music industry. I witnessed it many, many times in my college days.

But it shocks me when others declare surprise.

And although it doesn’t surprise me that talking about such important topics occurs within our circles of influence (it’s what we’re doing right now), I DO remain SHOCKED TO THE CORE that some of our classical music peers ride on the lifelong pain of others in order to make a buck… and woe be coming to those who get swallowed up by such cheap Machiavellian antics.

Craft vs. Career

Every year, thousands of students graduate from music programs across the world. These are talented, dedicated students, and yet, many struggle to build fulfilling careers as performing musicians. Why?

Because they haven’t learned the skills required to build those careers.

Craft or Career?

What School Doesn’t Teach You

There is an enormous difference between mastering the craft of music – our instrument or voice, composition, conducting – and mastering the skills required to build a career sharing live music with people. Many people spend 10, 15, even 20 years figuring out the craft, but expect the career to just be there upon graduation. It doesn’t work that way.

Is it the fault of the music programs? Not really. University was never intended to be a vocational school. You have to look elsewhere to learn the day to day skills required to find and book gigs. You may need to beef up on your people skills or your selling skills.

In the movie, The Founder, Ray Croc, the man who brought McDonald’s to the world, realizes that he is not in the hamburger business, he’s in the real estate business. Similarly, you are not as much in the music business as you are in the people business. You must put the same effort into mastering your relationships with people as you did mastering your instrument.

Thankfully, there are some skills that transfer between music training and career building.

  1. Diligence: In order to master your music craft, you had to be extremely disciplined and dedicated. Think of all the hours spent woodshedding in practice rooms. The same diligence serves you well as you craft a career.
  2. Resilience in the face of rejection: Every time you failed an audition or were passed over for first chair, you experienced a little bit of rejection. Hopefully, you learned to take that in stride and keep going. Learning to deal with rejection is one of the most important career skills you can master. A lot of talented people leave music because they do not understand that frequent rejection is just part of the package. Nine times out of ten, you will hear no. That’s ok. That means that one time you will hear yes, and it all rides on that one time.

Insecurity is Unimportant

As a classical musician, you spent years before teachers, fellow students (competitors), and judges, having every single move picked apart. They focused on the three notes you could have done better instead of the 5,000 notes you played perfectly. That was their job, but it still leads to fear that everyone else is scrutinizing your playing in the same way. Years of that level of critique makes it easy to believe that you are less talented or worthy of success than you really are. Bam. Fear of failure.

But what if you’re successful? What if you land the gig, or garner the praise? Well, deep down, you don’t believe you deserve it. Someday, someone is going to realize that you are a fraud. This is called Imposter Syndrome, and it’s a big driver behind what people refer to as “fear of success.”

These are all perfectly normal, even common fears. Never should you imagine that you are not capable of having a successful career in music because you harbor these kinds of self-doubts. Nearly everyone does! The key lies in overcoming them and learning the other skills that will allow you to build a profitable, fulfilling life in music.

Tips for the Road

These tips are critical for building a career in music, but they apply equally to building a career in any profession.

  1. It’s not who you know; it’s who you know that wants to work with you. How do you make people want to work with you? Be your best self every time you show up.
  2. Everyone you meet in your field is a potential colleague. You never know what opportunities or connections are lurking behind a new face. Be nice to everyone.
  3. Be your own best advocate. No one is going to come knocking on your door to offer you your dream job. You have to go out and create it for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission – you’ll be waiting a long time.

You’ve mastered the craft of music and already overcome numerous obstacles. Spend time mastering the business of music (the business of people), and you’re on your way.

If you would like to hear the live discussion about this topic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

Classic Jabber Ep. 29 “Supportive”

Classic Jabber
June 7, 2019

Some people can be more supportive than others, but we seem to find people who are supportive as more attractive than those who are not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.

Can You Be Trusted?

Music is a uniquely personal business. It is the language of emotion, and in order to communicate in this language, we require that other people participate. We need an audience, and very often, we also need fellow musicians. The whole thing is built on relationships, and there are few things as important to relationships as trust.

Trustworthiness - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

Professional Trustworthiness

In a professional context, being trustworthy means being reliable. Doing what you say you will do, showing up on time, knowing your part so that rehearsal doesn’t have to stop while you get up to speed. Handle yourself and your emotions with integrity. Don’t fly off the handle when criticized or corrected.

Garnering trust doesn’t require being perfect; it just requires being honest and upfront about what you can do and then following through. The old adage, “under promise and over deliver,” is very good advice for building trust. 

It’s much easier to make plans with trustworthy people, and the only way to get things done is to make plans. It doesn’t take much sand in the gears to throw everything off. So, hold up your end – do what you say you will do and do it with quality.

Personal Trustworthiness

At its heart, trust is about honesty and truthfulness.

The music business can be challenging, and it can make a lot of performers desperate. There is often a mistaken feeling of lack, an idea that there are only a limited number of opportunities, and it’s every man for himself.

This isn’t true, and acting as if it is, is a sure way to lose the trust of everyone around you. Trustworthy people don’t betray others or stab them in the back in pursuit of success. As a result, people flock to trustworthy people. They build real relationships and connections – both of which are critical in an emotion dependent field like music.

The Trustworthy Performer

Finally, to build relationships and rapport with your audience, they must be able to trust you. When you get in a taxi in an unfamiliar city, you trust that the driver knows the way around. Similarly, your audience has to trust that you know your way through the emotional journey that you’re taking with them.

It’s okay to take risks and be playful – it’s wonderful, actually – but you must be certain that what you are going to do is going to work. It doesn’t have to be 100% perfect (in fact, your audience probably won’t notice if it isn’t) but you do have to arrive where you told them you were going to go. You have to provide the experience that they expect you to deliver. Like our taxi driver, it’s okay to take a trip down a scenic back road, but it’s not okay to end up out of gas in a dangerous neighborhood.

Ultimately, there is an element of trustworthiness that is out of your hands. You can act in a trustworthy way, but being deemed trustworthy is in the eye of the beholder.

No worries. Consistently show the audience that you are enjoying yourself. Display the joy and pleasure of the performance without anxiety. Stay calm, unharried, and confident, and your audience will trust that you will deliver them exactly where they want to go.

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

How to be Unawesome. Really.

I recently read an excellent book by Scott Stratten which is basically about communication. This is a book I do actually recommend and have given away several copies already – get it here (Amazon affiliate link). It includes many stories of excellent customer service as well as some examples we wouldn’t want to follow. Unfortunately we can all add to the latter and perhaps less so of the former. But if everyone was excellent, that would be the norm and none of us would have any chance to stand out against the crowd, right?

(Amazon affiliate link)

After moving to the Tampa Bay area I had a document to sign and return. It came to me with a pre-paid FedEx envelope so all I had to do was drop it off at a FedEx location or drop box, right? So I looked online for one, and saw some EXCELLENT news – there was one within walking distance! I clicked on the business’s link and it was confirmed in the list of that location’s services. Yey.

As I hadn’t had my daily dose of either chocolate or coffee that day, I was feeling particularly snarky and decided the walk outside would do me good. I walk and swim every non-wet day anyway, but this extra sojourn was welcomed.

The document was duly signed, sealed and my lazy afternoon walk began. Soaking up the sun was making me feel less snarky already.

I entered the strip mall store and noticed it was busy with things and two nicely uniformed young ladies. (In fact, the only man I’ve ever seen in there has been the owner. Hmm.) Two cheerful hellos bellowed throughout the store and my attention was immediately drawn to two bright white smiles. Nice. Customers are made to feel welcome, there’s a neatness about this mail/post/courier service store, and the sun is still shining upon this glorious day.

“Hi! Can I just leave this with you, please?” I held up my FedEx envelope.

“Oh, sorry, no we don’t take FedEx.”

“Oh. Really? Your website says you do.”

“Oh. Really? Let me just check with the owner – I wasn’t aware.”

It was a little annoying that there was a wait, but that was preferable to a “No” or leaving the envelope to get lost or thrown out.

Whilst on the phone the sweet service provider blushed, and I could already tell she was being put between a rock and a hard place. By now I was getting miffed and making up stories in my head about what the owner was saying. Eventually she carefully hung up.

“Sorry, sir. We don’t take FedEx packages.”


Remember my lack of coffee and chocolate was making me snarky earlier that day? It just resurfaced. I could have walked out, but I was feeling snarky. I’d been misled and wronged and wanted it righted, and it made me annoyed that the owner left it to an otherwise helpful and seemingly conscientious late-teen to deal with what might have been an irate customer.

“But your website says you take FedEx packages.”

“I know, but the owner just told me we don’t anymore.”

“OK. But I came here because your website’s list of services definitely includes FedEx.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Can I talk to the owner, please?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” She blushed again. Is her employer really that much of a bully? I was about to find out.

“Sorry? Didn’t you just speak to him or her?”


“Could you call them back, please?”

“We’re not allowed to let customers speak to him.”

Now I felt like an ogre that was putting this girl in an awkward position, and was just about to walk out when I realized it wasn’t me at all, but this owner. I could have left it, but… did I mention I was having a Snarky Day?

“I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle of your boss’s incompetence and my bad mood, but I would really like to speak to the owner, please.” Just at that moment a tall white haired chap appeared from the ‘back room’. Both girls blushed and immediately took a step backwards to let this Presence go wherever he wanted – right in the middle of the service counter on this occasion. Not being slow on the uptake, I looked at my nervous clerk and gently said,

“Hi. Can I leave this with you, please?”

The gentleman glanced directly at my FedEx envelope and answered on behalf of the clerk I was speaking to, “No. We don’t take FedEx.”

“Oh. Sorry, but your website says you do.”

“We don’t.”

(I’m thinking, who’s the “we” in this?)

“But your website says you do.”

“This is a UPS store.”

“Uh-huh. But your website says you take FedEx, too. ”

“We don’t”

“And United States Postal Service.”

“Yes, we do.”

“But not FedEx.”


“Even though your website says you do.”

“We don’t.”

“But your website says you do.” I winked at the clerk who was both blushing (still) and kinda giggling.

“That was probably from when we were a Mailroom Plus store about five years ago.”

“OK. But I came here because your website says you take FedEx.” (See? I’m not slow – I recognize an excuse when I’m thumped with one.)

“We don’t. Is there something else I can help you with?” At this point there was actually eye contact because the owner had finished taping a small box.

“Well, you haven’t helped me at all so far, but do you know where I can take my FedEx package?”

“No.” I guess I asked for that one.

“Is there a drop box around here, or another store?”

“I don’t know.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This chap has been in the mail/courier business in this location for at least five years and doesn’t know where there’s a FedEx drop off location?

“Thank you,” I smiled to the clerk. She smiled back and I walked out.

At which point a FedEx truck drove up to the store front and the driver jumped out with an envelope. When he came out of the store empty handed I asked if he would kindly take my envelope. “Sure!” he said, and scanned it straight away. I asked if he knew of a drop off location nearby and he said,

“Well, sometimes this guy will take them but when he doesn’t, there’s a Mailboxes Etc store in the strip mall about 1/2 a mile away.”

“Thank you.”

To me, that bitter old store owner who appears to bully his staff is delivering truly inconsistent un-doctored deeply-rooted medal-worthy Unawesome service. A perfect example of how not to earn new business or keep the customers you do have. At least I can drop off my UPS and USPS  pre-labeled pre-paid mail within walking distance, and I don’t have to give him any of my money.


When we talk about responsibility, we usually think of things we have to do in order to avoid being irresponsible. Take care of our things. Show up on time. Responsibleness doesn’t automatically spring to mind as an attractive characteristic, but it’s opposite, irresponsibility is universally unattractive.

As adults, one of the worst things we can be accused of is being an irresponsible person. It’s easy to come up with a list of things that irresponsible people do: show up late, or not at all, neglect their finances, take poor care of their belongings, or worse yet, other people’s belongings. But what does it actually mean to be responsible?

Responsibleness - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

The Buck Stops Here

There are a bunch of definitions for responsible, but for our purposes, we’ll use this one from the Oxford English Dictionary: being the primary cause of something so able to be blamed or credited for it. In other words, it goes beyond just doing what you say you’ll do. It means taking ownership and being accountable.

Of course, there is a difference between taking ownership and usurping authority. No one is the boss of everything. Very often, especially if you play in large ensembles under a music director, you are under the authority of someone else.

Even so, there is always something you can take ownership of – your own performance, the creative choices you make, the direction of your career. Being responsible means stepping up and letting the appropriate buck stop with you.

What Are You Responsible For?

As adults, we are all responsible for all the things that make our lives run smoothly. We’re responsible for paying our bills, feeding ourselves and our families, remembering to get the oil changed in the car before the engine blows up.

As classical musicians, we can add to this list showing up on time, knowing our pieces, getting promotional materials where they need to be. The list goes on.  But more than anything, we are responsible for delivering the outcome our audience has paid us to deliver.

As a performer, you are accountable not just to the director or the venue owner, but first and foremost to your audience. It is a fundamental principle of success that we will only achieve our goals when we help others achieve theirs. So what is your audience’s goal? Why have they come to see you perform? Are they there to relax? To get pumped up? To escape?

You must take ownership of the experience that you provide your audience, and do your best to ensure it is meeting their goals. That is being a responsible performer.

Sometimes you’ll get it just right, and you get the credit that comes with that. Sometimes you won’t. You win some; you learn some. Responsibleness requires looking at those misses honestly, without blaming it on someone else, and figuring out what the lesson is and how to do better next time.

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.

Classic Jabber Ep. 27 “Confidence”

Classic Jabber
June 7, 2019

Some people portray more confidence than others but we seem to find people who are confident as more attractive than those who are not! Why is that, and how do classical musicians come across in society? Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.