Get Real: The Importance of Honesty

There’s a lot of talk these days about how dishonest our culture has become. People bandy about terms like fake news, spin, alternative facts. On a bad day, it can seem like people are willing to lie to anyone, about anything, just to gain some advantage. So, it’s no wonder that honesty is at such a premium. We’re all desperate for a little real talk, and we’re attracted to others who seem willing to cut through the crap and present the truth. But before we can be honest with others, we must be willing to be honest with ourselves – and that can be harder than it seems.

Honesty - A Characteristic of Attractivness

The Big Lie

Typically, when we say things like, “He’s living in a dream world,” or “She’s out of touch with reality,” what we’re really saying is that someone has deluded themselves into expecting the unreasonable, or believes that they are better, more successful, more important, than they really are.

However, the opposite tends to hold true for classical musicians. Many of us do live in a dream world, many of us are out of touch with reality – but the reality that we’re missing is how valuable our expertise actually is.

After years spent listening to expert teachers pick apart everything we do in order to help us improve, we’ve come to believe that this is how others experience our performance. We imagine a room full of people waiting for us to trip up, and then judging us harshly if we do. We forget that music is the language of emotion and that we are not only fluent at speaking it, but we are very likely the only expert in the room. Very rarely do we lie to ourselves by saying that we performed flawlessly; we tend to be brutally honest about our mistakes but we constantly lie about our victories. We disregard them; we undervalue them; sometimes we deny them entirely. This is the most dangerous kind of self-deceit.

Self-Deceit Causes a World of Hurt

As classical musicians, we are all passionate about classical music, about getting it back into the real world and using this language to communicate with people. Music helps people deal with challenges and emotions that they may not have realized they need to face. Your job as a professional musician is to make the world a better place by connecting with people using the language of music. That’s it. Not to play every note perfectly. Not to be lauded as the very best [insert your instrument here] there has ever been. To connect. To communicate. To improve. This is your mission.

How can you do that if you are lying to yourself about your abilities? You can’t. You’re too busy being self-protective and afraid of being found out. You’ve built a wall around yourself with a million tiny self-doubts and boulders of unworthiness – a wall of lies.

A Simple Exercise in Truth-Telling

We’ve become so conditioned to look for the bad and assume the worst that it can take some effort to learn to recognize everything we’re doing well and all we accomplish on a daily, even hourly basis.

Set a timer for an hour. At the end of that hour write down everything that went well. Not just everything that went well musically, but every little detail. Did you drink water without spilling it all over the floor? Write it down. Get through a measure without a massive mistake? Write it down. Learn to recognize what you do accomplish, not just where you slip. There are a lot of people who cannot do what you do, not only musically, but in everyday life. Chances are you have a lot of things worth celebrating.

Being realistic requires not only being honest about our opportunities for improvement but also our abilities.  

If you’re interested in digging deeper into how to create a profitable and rewarding career as a performing classical musician, check out my free webinar on Concert University.

If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to ClassicJabber.com to listen now.

Don’t be Desperate: Why Security Draws Success

Imagine you’re at a party, where you’ve been introduced to two strangers. One is laid-back and well-kempt. As you chat about your careers, you get the feeling that he has it together. He’s interested in what you have to say and happy to engage in a little friendly debate when your opinions differ.

The other stranger is a little frantic. It’s clear he’s at this party to make connections that will further his goals – though it’s a little hard to figure out exactly what those goals are. He’s quick to change his opinion to match that of whoever is nearby, and he seems like nothing so much as a drowning man searching for a life raft. He isn’t unfriendly, or inherently uninteresting; he’s just… desperate.

Which man would you rather talk to for the rest of the evening? Unless you are a glutton for punishment, you’d prefer the first. And why? Because he seems secure.

SECURITY - A Characteristic of Attractivness

Security and the Classical Performer

Security isn’t the first word to come to mind when thinking of classical performers – the word is more likely to conjure images of retirement fund managers. Even so, it’s an important trait to cultivate if you want to attract audience members, venue bookers, and yes, even strangers at parties.

So what exactly does security mean? What does it look like and how can you do it?

Security is simply the sense that everything will be ok – can meet your needs, your goals are obtainable, and no crisis is looming on the horizon. Is security about money? Yes. And also no. For most of us, meeting our needs and achieving the lifestyle we want requires a certain amount of money. Of course, that amount varies greatly depending on what we personally consider to be an ideal life. Thankfully, there are three steps that you can take to develop and display a sense of security, regardless of the size of your bank account.

How to Become Secure

Make a plan

Secure people know where they are going and how they’re going to get there. Things may change, they often do, but they have a plan in place. They are not just flying by the seat of their pants and hoping for the best. Consider your needs and figure out how you’re going to meet them. While you’re at it, make a backup plan.

Prepare

Now that you have a plan, gather the skills and tools you need to put it in place. While being prepared can bring to mind images of evacuation plans and basements filled with canned goods in case of natural disaster, it’s more helpful to think of being ready for the ordinary mishaps and unexpected opportunities that are more likely to arise.

If you know there is always a slow season, save money now to prepare for it. If you generally travel by car, make sure you have access to roadside assistance in case of a problem. If you spend a lot of time exploring unfamiliar places while traveling, bring an overnight bag so you don’t have to go all the way back to your hotel if the opportunity arises to spend the night somewhere new and interesting. Being prepared for any contingency goes a long way toward building a sense of security.

Expect the Best

The final piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most important. Security comes from having a mindset of abundance and possibility. Adopt the mindset that everything will turn out for the best. In negotiations, expect to win. This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily get everything that you want, but that you expect that what you end up with will be just the thing you need.

Remember that as a professional performing musician you are an expert. Very few people know as much about music as you do. You deserve to be treated well, and you should expect respect. Walk into any performance or negotiation expecting that you will be valued for what you have to offer. This expectation prevents you from being defensive and closed off and makes it much easier to present your audience with an authentic experience and your negotiating partner with the confidence that you can deliver.

There is, of course, a fine line between being confident in your abilities and worth and being arrogant. Interestingly, people that are arrogant are often the most insecure. They refuse to entertain other people’s opinions or praise other people’s strengths because they are afraid of being shown up. Avoid arrogance at all costs. It is the antithesis of security, and everyone can sense it.

If you’d like to learn more about creating a secure, profitable performing career as a classical musician, check out Concert University and register for our free webinar outlining Five Strategies for Success!



The Allure of the Single-Minded

In a world constantly bombarded with information, options, and distractions of all kinds, it can be difficult to remain attentive to one thing for five minutes, let alone long enough to see a goal through to the end. Perhaps this is why we are so impressed and attracted to people who know what they are about, what they are doing, how to do it, and how their contribution fits into the whole. Regardless of the reason, the calm energy of single-minded focus not only helps us achieve our goals but also draws people to us. 

FOCUS - a Characteristic of Attractiveness

What is focus?

Focus is the ability to aim at one outcome – zero in on one goal – without allowing yourself to be pulled off course by distractions or disappointments.

Imagine you are at a crowded gathering, speaking to an influential person. As you chat, that person never takes her eyes off of you; she asks interesting questions and acts as though you are the most important person in the room. That’s focus in the moment, and it’s a key skill of successful public leaders and entertainers. 

Now, imagine you are setting up a performance schedule. Instead of taking every gig that’s offered (a common problem for classical musicians struggling to make a living) you are selective – choosing only those gigs that serve your higher goal. That’s long-term focus.

Of course, it’s possible to focus on the wrong thing. If you’re focusing on technical perfection during a performance, focusing only on the dots on the page instead of communicating with your audience, your performance will come across as flat and you as performer – boring. However, if you are focused on delivering a particular experience to your audience from the moment they hit the parking lot until the moment they leave it is impossible to give a boring performance.

How to achieve focus

1. Eliminate distractions

We generally think of distractions as time wasters like spending too much time on social media or staring out the window. However, the most dangerous distractions are often just our second best goals.

Warren Buffet, the billionaire, was coaching Mike Flint, his personal pilot of ten years. Buffet asked Flint to write down his top 25 career goals on a piece of paper. Then he asked him to look at that list, and write the five most important goals on another piece of paper. When he’d finished this, Flint agreed that he should begin working on the first item of the short list immediately. Buffet asked him what he planned to do with the things on the second list, and Flint said since they were important, he would fit them in where he could.

“You’ve got it all wrong, Mike,” said Buffet. “The things on that second list are the Avoid-at-All-Cost items. Those are the things that will most easily distract you and lead you away from your most important goals. Don’t even look at that list until you’ve achieved the things on the short list.” It is impossible to do everything at once. Decide what you are going to focus on for now, and cross everything else off the list.

2. Learn to say no in service of a higher yes

Stop running around taking every gig offered. Decide on your desired outcome and only pursue and accept jobs that serve that purpose. This can be really challenging. It requires you to make a decision (at least for the short term) about what kind of performer you’re going to be. That’s ok. Eliminating options actually makes success easier and more likely – your energy isn’t diluted, it’s directed.  

3. Set your intention before every performance

Before you even arrive at a venue to perform, decide what outcome you want for your audience. What do you want them to feel? How are you going to facilitate that? Remember, your job as a performer is to communicate. Music happens to be the language that you’re using to do that, but WHAT you are communicating is more important than how you’re doing it. Decide ahead of time what your desired message is and focus on delivering that from the first moment until the last.

If you are ready to take charge of your performing career, avoid the feast-or-famine cycle, and achieve your goals, pop over to Concert University and find out how we can help!

(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.