(The Right Kind of) Knowledge is Power

We’re all attracted to people who know what they are talking about. Competency, intelligence – these are universal values. However, there’s something even better than spending time with someone who knows what they’re talking about. It’s spending time with someone who knows what YOU’RE talking about, or more precisely, what you’re interested in talking about.

Knowledgeable

Know your Audience

Just as we wouldn’t wear jeans to a gala or a tux to a football game, different venues and different audiences require different presentations. This is something performers inherently understand but often take only half-way.

Matching a performance to an audience is about more than how you dress or even what you play. It’s about crafting an experience that will delight and in order to do that, you must know what is likely to delight in a given situation.

For example, an audience made up of primarily music department faculty may be delighted by hearing the hidden history behind a particular piece – telling that story makes the performer seem knowledgeable. However, that same story shared with a general audience at a summer festival could make the performer seem arrogant and out of touch.

We all know someone (let’s call him Uncle Fred) who will talk our ear off about the same subject, assuming we share the passion, never noticing our eyes glaze over or our desperate search for an escape.

Don’t be Uncle Fred. Don’t present what interests you, present what is most likely to interest your audience.  

How on earth are you supposed to know what that is?

Do Your Research

Music is the language of connection, and if we are to connect with someone, it helps to know something about them.

If you are traveling to perform, take the time to learn something about the place you’re visiting –  local lore, important events, the city’s claim to fame. Even knowing something about the local sports teams can build a connection with an audience.

Chris Thile, from American National Public Radio’s live weekly variety show, Live from Here, does an excellent job of connecting with diverse audiences across the United States. He tells inside jokes, refers to places and things as a local would, expresses admiration for the things that make the local community proud. He seems to know and care about his audience (despite playing in a different city every week), and his audience loves him for it.

If you are performing at home, spend some time thinking about the audience you will be performing for and the kinds of things that may interest them. Research the pieces you’ll present with an eye towards trivia that would captivate non-musicians. Keep it relatable.

Knowledgeable people are attractive, but only if they’re knowledgeable about things we care about. Put in the effort to discover what those things are for your audience and you will be rewarded with a loyal following.

For more tips about building a profitable career as a classical performer, check out my free webinar here.

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.

 

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.

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