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.

Why Youth Orchestras Don’t Equal Youthful Audiences

Today, there are more youth orchestras than at any other time in history. Yet, there is still the misconception that only people over the age of 70 enjoy classical music. Why? Because when one looks out over the average audience at a classical performance, there is a sea of white hair.

So, what’s happening to these young people involved in music programs across the country, and indeed the world? Why aren’t they filling the seats?

Soccer and Symphonies

Classical music is not alone in this dilemma.

On any given Saturday morning, nearly every park is filled with hundreds of kids wearing shin guards and cleats, chasing a black and white ball around a field. Youth soccer is a huge industry. However, here in the US, that young enthusiasm hasn’t translated into a big passion for what everyone else in the world calls professional football.

Far more kids play soccer than American football, but you’d never know it if you judged by the sports adults watch. Americans seem to have a very hard time drumming up enthusiasm for the World Cup, even as we take our children to soccer practice every Tuesday and Thursday.

Classical music faces the same conundrum. Every evening, thousands of children are diligently practicing their instruments, yet nearly every classical performance is devoid of these young enthusiasts.

Checking Boxes, Not Building Passions

So why does youth involvement not lead to adult participation? In part, it is because parents sign children up for band, orchestra, and music lessons (as well as soccer) not to foster a love of classical music, but to foster the skills that come along with diligent practice of any team effort – persistence, teamwork, comradery.

As students get older, it is often they who sign up for these same activities, not because they love them, or are even particularly interested in them, but because they check off some box on some yet to be completed college application. Music: check. Sports: check.

The Missing Piece of Music Education

For all of the diligent teaching of scales, rhythms, dynamics, and working in concert with other players, there is often very little instruction in one critical part of music – listening attentively. There is a lot of focus on the individual student and even the group as a whole, but not much on the importance of music as community and communication.

Certainly, some teachers break the mold. They vigorously encourage students to go hear professional performances. They keep an ear to the ground, looking for opportunities and programs that will enthrall their students, and then put together groups to go en masse. These are the teachers who are most likely to run into their own students at the local symphony’s performance of Harry Potter – they’ve instilled a certain enthusiasm that grows even without direct involvement.

Programs and Preferences Are Important

Of course, it’s not always as easy as it should be for these teachers to find suitable performances. While it’s true that virtually every single classical performance is open to young people, it is also true that very few of them go out of their way to engage younger audiences.

I once invited a young cellist to come see a performance of an orchestra I was conducting. This 12-year-old had some interest in perhaps pursuing professional music, and we both thought it might be nice for her to see what a real orchestra does. She was enthusiastic to be there but was sound asleep by the middle of the second piece. There was nothing she could relate to in the music at all. There was nothing familiar, nothing to latch onto, so she got bored. When I mentioned this to the director of the orchestra, he said, “Well, that’s not my audience.”

He’d just missed a chance to gain a new loyalist, an enthusiastic player who may have attended performances for ten years before becoming a professional herself, and he couldn’t have cared less.

This is the wrong attitude to take. No, it isn’t necessary to cater specifically to a young audience, as we’ve discussed before, but you can be certain that a program that at least considers the engagement of all audience members will certainly be no less popular among the typical (read: older) members. 

First Things First

Yes, classical music has been shown to have many benefits. It makes you better at math; it increases your attention span. But the real purpose of classical music or any music for that matter is enjoyment, beauty, and emotional connection.

If parents and teachers focus exclusively on developing the brains, skills, and resumes of young players, they are never going to instill that true love of classical music. And that love is the key to developing audiences.

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. 26 “Craft or Career?”

Classic Jabber
June 28, 2019

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.  Click the link above to hear SPB in conversation with his friends and learn more about this.

Craft or Career?

Benign Advice, Profoundly Mistaken

I can’t get enough of Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Yes, it’s old, but the topic, largely ignored by the Establishment (which includes educators and educational publishers), is still just as relevant today as it was 13 years ago.

I strongly recommend watching the entire talk, but if you’ve missed it until now, the gist of his argument can be summed up with this quote:

“Don’t do music; you’re not going to be a musician.’ Benign advice – now, profoundly mistaken.”

Sir Ken Robinson, TED 2006

Yes, Virginia, art is a real job

The vast majority of parents, relatives, and our circle of influence (including classical musicians themselves) were educated out of creativity and therefore deem non-business, non-management training to be non-essential.

After all, the point of acquiring an education is to land a job that will pay the bills, right? And, with the exception of a fortunate and famous few, who has ever made a living as a musician or artist?

In his talk, Robinson offered the example of Gillian Lynne, a little girl who could not sit still. She went to dance school to be with others like her and went on to choreograph some of the world’s most popular and influential stage works. She also became a multi-millionaire whilst at it.

How many of those around you who advise you to “Get a real job,” are earning as much as Gillian Lynne did?

Art is a “real job,” and you CAN make a real living pursuing your passion. But you have to know how.

You Need More Than Music Lessons

Creatives are really, really good at learning their craft but not so good at learning what to do with it – how to turn that craft into a viable living. It’s no wonder, we’ve heard for so long that it is impossible to make a living as a performer. We often don’t know where to turn, or where to look for good advice – advice that will help us turn our passion for live classical music into a decent income, a decent lifestyle.

We even hide (and I mean it, we HIDE) behind the seemingly altruistic conception that we are in it “just for the art.” That is a falsity just as bad as “get a real job!” I’ll say it again: art is a real job. And guess what? People get paid real money for real jobs.

Furthermore, there is nothing altruistic about struggling to survive, pay your bills, and live comfortably. If you are spending all of your energy just trying to keep your head above water, you have very little left to use for creativity. You aren’t able to use your gifts, connect with others, and help them make sense of their world through the language of emotion we call music. How on earth can that be altruistic?

You Need a Mentor

Despite what family or well-meaning friends may have told you, it is indeed possible to live comfortably as a professional musician. Thousands of people are doing it right now.

The problem is, as good as conservatories and music programs are at teaching the craft of music, almost all fall woefully short teaching students the business of being a performing musician. You have to seek out that education on your own.

Find a mentor or guide. Invest wisely in a relationship or program that can help you transform your life by taking your craft (in which you’ve already invested so much) and turning it into a lucrative career. Music can provide more than just enjoyment, connection, and beauty. It can also provide an income that enables you to live well and thrive not only as a creative but also as a human being. In other words, with the right help, music can be a very good ‘real job’.

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. 25 “Trustworthiness”

Classic Jabber
June 7, 2019

Have you noticed how some people are more trustworthy than others, but we seem to find people who are trustworthy 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.

You Don’t Have to Be So Serious to Be Taken Seriously

Classical music is serious business. Right? All those tiny notes, all that counting, all that Italian. Very serious stuff, indeed.

Many of us have spent years before teachers, adjudicators, and in competitions proving just how seriously we take our craft. We finally leave academia and discover that the rest of the world is just not that impressed with how seriously we take ourselves. They are, in fact, rather turned off by the whole stiff upper lip thing.


Because serious is BORING.

There’s a Reason It’s Called PLAYING Music

Hopefully, you began your life in music because it brought you joy, and not say, because you were forced into it by some terrifying schoolmarm who thought it would do you some good.

Learning to play well, being able to communicate real emotion through an instrument (voices included) is exhilarating! Expertly executing a tricky passage feels like flying down a rollercoaster at top speed and pulling into the station with your heart racing and your hands still in the air.

In other words, it’s fun.

And your audience should know it. They should see it, feel it, experience it right along with you because people like to see other people have fun. It’s how we spread joy. That joy that started this journey.

Cultivating Playfulness in Performance

There’s a misconception that playful equals sloppy. Not so. Playfulness is actually the masterclass.

We’ve all heard the expression, “Learn the rules so you can break them.” The equivalent here is, “Learn the music so you can enjoy it.” There is a difference between insisting on quality (which you should do) and taking it so seriously that executing a piece takes on an entirely different meaning.

Yes, some pieces are serious and deep. They call for a certain somber intensity. By all means, perform those pieces appropriately. But don’t include an entire program of that kind of music.

Make It a Game

Playfulness isn’t only an attractive characteristic for performance; it can also make the entire business of music more fun.

Turn choosing venues into a game.

Picture yourself playing in a particular space. Does it make you smile? Give you those little bubbles of joy? Book it.

On the other hand, if visualizing yourself on that stage makes you queasy or itchy, no matter what else it has in its favor, skip it. If you can’t even imagine yourself having fun, how on earth are you going to show your audience a good time?

Have a long list of business calls to make? Set a timer and see how many you can fit in before it beeps. Aim to break the record next time.

Joy is a Choice

Baring the few tragic events that inevitably occur in every life, each day, in each situation, you have the ability to choose happiness and joy. Playfulness is a way to get at that joy, and interestingly, it’s also what naturally happens when joy bubbles out of you.

Life is short. Look for ways to make it fun. You may be amazed by how many people will want to come along for that ride.

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. 24 “Responsibleness”

Classic Jabber
May 3rd

Have you noticed that some people are more responsible than others, but we seem to find people who are responsible 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.

Is Bigger Better?

The Western world is obsessed with size. Go big or go home. Be a big deal. Make the big time. And though these are just idioms, the sentiment carries over into the world of classical music as well.

Many academic music programs are focused on the old familiar model: eight semesters all leading to a big final recital, after which, of course, you’ll graduate, land a job playing in an orchestra and become a famous soloist like Yo-yo Ma.

News flash: that’s not the way the classical world works anymore.

With 50,000 music majors graduating every year in the United States alone, there simply are not enough orchestras and operas to go around. A big group of performers requires a big budget, a big venue, and big audiences. Based on cost alone, there are few cities that can support these big groups, and that means that many, if not most musicians graduating today will never hold a seat in a large orchestra.

This may seem defeatist, but it’s actually great news!

Without a clearly delineated path from graduation to an orchestra box, there’s much more room for performers to create new professional tracks and provide more engaging and emotional experiences for a much wider variety of audiences.

Small but Mighty

Who said bigger was better, anyway? What if we rethink the value of a smaller size?

Smaller groups, indeed even solo sets, electronic or otherwise, offer flexibility that is just not possible for massive ensembles. You can perform in smaller, more intimate environments, where filling a house requires drawing only 35 people, not 3,000. You can experiment with your programs and repertoire, creating different experiences to appeal to different audiences. Travel is a realistic possibility.

It’s much easier to make meaningful personal connections with a small number of people in a small room. And when you do decide to play a large venue, you can be confident that those people you’ve connected with will show up. They are invested in you because you’ve taken the opportunity to build a relationship.

Yes, it requires some creativity, some grit, and some persistence, but the pay-off is immense. You end up with a life of your own making – a career of your own design and that career can be as just as large as you like.

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.