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

12 books for the growing career

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Last “Substance Leader” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela BBC News Obituary

Click here for the BBC News Obituary about Nelson Mandela

Well, we can decidedly close an entire volume of human history: another era has come to a close. Although we still have a 110 year old pianist who remembers meeting Gustav Mahler, we have lost the last bastion of trustworthy social leadership. Nelson Mandela worked for a living despite his royal heritage, and all the while stood up for equality principles before finally leading an entire nation of different peoples into a more cohesive and prosperous future for all. At least for a while. I’m sure being in prison for 27 years imbued much substance that supported his convictions.

When any leader takes a stance on anything, many other people often choose to polarize themselves either for or against them (Conductors are not exempt!), so it will be very interesting to see how South Africans react to the death of Mandela: Will we see unprecedented collaboration or will it be all smoke and mirrors? Will there be continued peace or after a period of global mourning will the old divisions arise? Will there be no noticeable difference because our memories of his actions have faded and been overshadowed by so much else since then?

It is extremely doubtful we will ever see the likes of Mandela, Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev ever again: regardless of their politics, they were people who earned a living in a trade and who learned the ways of the world from similar places you and I stand, and who earned the positions we entrusted them with through hard work and matters of substance. Not funding, slick marketing or family connections.

It is clear that the last chapter in the volume of political honesty, integrity and conviction in social leadership has ended, and as we ride the journey of the internet and corporately funded politics, we are in a new age of human existence that will take us and our leaders lacking in their own substance through an existence never before considered. It’s quite exciting, really!

Back to Choral Roots

A couple of months ago I was appointed Conductor of the 40+ year old Clearwater Chorus. It’s an ensemble of people who like to sing, and encourages adults of varying ages and abilities to make and share music together.

At least, that’s what it is now.

The Clearwater Chorus

Although not titled a “Director” that is effectively my role and as a result, I’ve grabbed hold of the reins and am guiding the ensemble through a new perspective: who we have and what we do now is what we are, and as long as we work together to share music, we’ll be doing something of value to the world.

[Click here: I’m giving away four tickets to our concert on Dec 22!]

Why is this so new? Because like so many institutions that are founded and/or led by an individual for so long (in this case, Arthur Goetze who directed the group from 1975-2005), its members can become entrenched in “the way things were.” This is also a very typical perspective of older generations, especially those who have worked their whole lives and are now enjoying a few special comforts in retirement: they expect things to stay the way they know them. But that is so rarely beneficial for anyone, and certainly not how the world spins.

So whilst respecting the past and honoring those who have gained far more experience with this ensemble than I ever hope to, it is now time to focus not on what we don’t have but on what we do…

Doesn’t this pertain to life in general?

For example, over the past 12 years I have mourned the loss of an active performing and teaching career founded in music, something I have known to be a primary part of my existence since I was in single digits. My music career after moving to the USA has been patchy, fraught with unconfidence, some expensive decisions, and a distinct lack of industry contacts that don’t label me an outsider.

But this current appointment has, unexpectedly, brought me right back to square one – the roots from which my fascination with music grew.

British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown began his musical life as a choir boy in Cuxton Church

The Anglo Saxon village church in Cuxton UK, where I was a choir boy

I was 7 years old when I began playing the piano, but that was after I began singing in my English village church choir. I remember joining the village Junior School choir around the same time, as well, but by the time I had moved to my UK secondary school at age 11, I was fully immersed in singing, piano and clarinet. It wasn’t until just before I moved to the USA the first time that I showed any interest in percussion (and if you know me, it was an incredible 4 years of percussion playing that got me into college at 17 years old! More on that another time, perhaps).

During my college years a budding-conductor buddy of mine, Chris Kiver now a Choral Professor at Penn State University, and I would organize “Scratch” singing sessions in which anyone who wanted to play and sing the repertoire we had planned could do so. Of course we did much recruiting, but giving solo parts to multiple singers throughout each piece enabled them to get much needed experience, and Chris and I to learn many differing needs of accompaniment.

In the years that followed college I conducted various ensembles such as the Ealing Choral Society (thanks to the late great James Gaddarn), the Yalding Choral Society, the Medway Community College Singers, and a whole host of other one-off groups. Four highlights in particular were:

  • Conducting Handel’s complete Messiah with 5 days’ notice when the conductor who was booked fell ill,
  • Conducting a “Marathon Singing Session” in which almost 1,000 teenagers sang hymns, easy listening songs and some chart songs,
  • Conducting the European Premiere of Dawn Mantras (outside, at sunrise) by Australian composer Ross Edwards during the UK’s year-long Millennium Festival in 2000, and
  • Singing for John Rutter at Carnegie Hall in his own composition Magnificat.
British American Conductor Composer sang at Carnegie Hall for John Rutter

Melissa and I hanging out with John Rutter in NYC

In addition, I played timpani or percussion for countless choral societies around the UK in more pieces of music than I can remember – hundreds. And, being a percussionist usually with lots of time not actually playing, I got to listen to conductors rehearse their choirs, listen to the choir members mutter under their breath, and have choir members (usually altos) unsolicitally (?!) share their awe about how anyone could actually play the timpani: “I never knew they had pedals like that!”

Interestingly, only a handful of these choral activities “made the cut” onto my resume, so when most folk read my history of musical performance, they see “instrumental conductor” or even just “music teacher.” It’s quite annoying, really, because although conductors in the UK and Europe are trained to be teachers (hence the general reference to them as “Maestro“) in all genres of “formal” music – orchestral, choral, opera, musicals, some concert/wind band and maybe even ballet – in the USA conductors are labelled at a young age and ‘specialize’ not in leadership or motivation, but as a topical expert in just one of those genres. It’s such a pity.

Of course there are exceptions such as James Levine. Kind of. And the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. But generally, conductors in the USA are rarely recognized as even “capable” of conducting well in more than one musical genre. You can tell when a choral conductor has an orchestra in front of them, and you can tell when an orchestral conductor now has to deal with a choir, too. I’m quite proud of the fact that I was taught and expected to work with both, so now that I’m working with the Clearwater Chorus (this links to our Facebook page – please Like it!), not only do I feel comfortable and confident that I can help produce a good sound, help the singers sing together, and focus on sharing good stories and music with others (including the audience), but it is also bringing me back to my roots in music – as that little angelic Church of England choir boy in my village.

For your entertainment: This is one of my favourite Bernstein performances of showmanship, especially around the 5 minute mark. It’s even more engaging because of the video/ audio mis-synching!

I’ve got 7 years left – #PsalmQuest Compositions

Some of my compositions were recently submitted as materials for another Masters-level qualification which would permit me to teach higher education in the USA – something my experience and approach is well suited to. The application was not approved, and that hurt. When I shared the assessor’s report with my select circle, most of the reactions were along the lines of “These comments make no sense,” and “I haven’t got a clue what he’s on about.” One comment suggested how the assessor seemed to be looking for negative things to say and ended up saying the same thing about each piece that was submitted. There is no recourse to appeal the assessment, and therefore I particularly reveled in one friend’s description of the assessor as a “Schmuck” (all in good jest to lighten the weight I’d put on his career-jolting opinion.)

A colleague in the academic world seemed to corroborate but put it like this:

You have wonderful ideas and a sense of exploration. Maybe there is a voice in your head wondering if anyone will like what you are doing so you play it safe. As with any creative venture, safety does not result in efforts that fully show one’s capability. I also think you have been limited by [composing for] players with modest ability and so you have had to avoid writing anything that pushes the envelope too far. Break out of that. Quiet the voices of questioning that I can imagine are speaking to you and see what happens.

Wow! Nice! Thank you, G!

 

My action plan must be:

  • Something that doesn’t require seeking the participation of musicians I can’t afford or are of “modest ability.”
  • A project that doesn’t require coming to you with my hand out asking for funds.
  • Something with changing flavours, aromas and colors that last over a long period of time.
  • A project which produces results but is not dependent on what happens to them.
  • Something that can be created with the resources I already have, and that can be shared with you if you’re interested.

 

Major influences:

Heard of Chris Guillebeau? Several years ago he set himself the goal of visiting all the countries of the world by his 35th birthday. He just completed his quest ON his 35th birthday last month. 193 countries in less than 11 years. No-one else has ever accomplished it.

Most of Bach’s work, much of Mozart’s, Beethoven, Verdi, Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Taverner, Part and a multitude of other composers have written music influenced by the Bible, including two of the most amazing pieces ever: the ultra-famous Messiah by Handel, and the incomparable Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton (watch below). Even outlying members of the post-WWII British atheist movement, including composers such as Benjamin Britten and John Rutter, often turned to the Bible for source material. So why not me?

 

I recently heard a reading of Psalm 33 and it caught my attention. It is far from famous but its descriptive content is unique. There are many pieces of music in the world influenced by the psalms, but… all of them? Yes. Plenty. But that’s like asking if every country in the world has been visited. Until Chris G set his goal, no one person had visited every country in the world.

My Quest:

To advance my composition skills by writing 150 pieces of music based on each of the 150 psalms by my 50th birthday in 7 years’ time.

How on earth will that get done? I have a plan. [In fact, I’ve already started].

It’s going to be a fascinating journey! I hope you’ll stay the course with me.

 

keep-calm-and-stay-the-course

Update Jan 8, 2014:
Project going VERY well! 13 completed and two more underway. In the meantime, I’ve adopted the hashtag #PsalmQuest to help organize my composition project. Spread the word! [Click it to tweet it]

Update Sept 10, 2018:
Four years of web content got deleted through malware that also infected by backups. Regardless, this project was on hiatus for three years during my Dad’s rather cruel terminal illness (PSP) and I am only now figuring out how to re-incorporate the #PsalmQuest schedule back into my daily routine. I doubt the project will be finished by my 50th birthday, but the important thing for me right now is to simply finish.

 

Tell me in the comments below how you’ve overcome adversity or a big disappointment. Did it spur you into action? Did you setup a project or quest? Did you move onto something completely different? I’d love to hear how you managed to move on with your life. Go on, add a comment, and then share this post so others can benefit, too:

 

People Matter.

What are you working on?

One of the impressive train sets at Northlandz in NJ

Do you have a hobby or skill that you pursue outside of your day job?

Some people build model train sets, others go ice skating. Some folk coach Little League baseball, and others knit.

What’s your hobby?

(Tell me in the comments below).

It’s interesting that over the past 10 days or so something has come to light in my world prompted by several emails following my “Keeping up appearances” post last week. That something is a project. No, a Project. Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s a “Major Project.”

Much of the encouragement and advice you’ve shared in comments, tweets and emails has been very uplifting and very wise. Perhaps the most common public perspective was how incredible it can be to have a mentor or two, and that’s what Tuesday’s post was all about. But several emails fairly unsubtley told me to get my act together, cease and desist the doubt and negativity, and get back to what SPB does best.

Those emails from a handful of well-respected people, plus two from people I’ve never met in person, were intimate and direct. They were and will remain private, but the common thread between them all served the same purpose and mentioned the same solution.

What I was like, once.

I think the purpose of those emails was not so much to get me believing in myself again, but to remind me of who I was – jog my memory of what I was like – lift me above the dark thicket and thorny brush to survey the vast pine forest I’ve been wandering in (musically) for several years, and combine that with all that I’ve learned in recent times. In other words, transition from a floundering find-your-footing thirty-year-old to a mature expert forty-something (My older sister would probably translate that as “Grow up!“) OK, a little deep, perhaps, but isn’t that something we all hanker for once-in-a-while? Maybe that’s been my problem: I’ve been dealing with surface stuff for so long now that I’ve not taken care of the inner, deep things. Whatever your stance on that, I choose to acknowledge that we all have deep, personal issues to learn about, and I’m not going to brush them under the carpet or hide from them anymore (like the British are particularly renowned for!)

However, getting back to the real Me was only the first commonality mentioned in those emails. The second was this: a Major Project.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Before you sigh, roll your eyes up and shake your head at yet another SPB attempt at something, we’re not talking about the trite little videos I’ve been publishing over the past few years. No, we’re talking something different – something more in line with “me” – a project that will blow me (and hopefully you) away. This project will be something I can focus my energies on and produce a result that is actually outstandingly SPB-like, not a mediocre copy of what has (or appeared to have) worked for others.

People matter: I love chatting to audiences after a concert.

People matter.

It is clear my music career needs attention. No more fluff. No more scrounging around looking for something to do. Being a conductor is TOUGH because whatever you want to do, you need a bunch of people to do it with. Conducting 1 or 4 people is just dumb, yet finding players to form an orchestra is either nigh impossible outside the higher education environment or it costs a small fortune (believe me: my wife and parents know!) (It can be done, though – remember George Marriner Maull and his creation of the remarkable Discovery Orchestra in my last post?) And composing usually requires an ensemble who will play your music. Good luck with that! Well, I have been blessed: I am VERY fortunate to have many colleagues in the music world who have more confidence in me than I do myself, and they’ve taken on my music and performed it – most recently Jane Rondin of the Zephyrs Wind Quintet in New Jersey, and Alexandra Vago of the Blue Pointe String Quartet in Cleveland, Ohio.

You also matter. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

So I need a project. A big project. Something that will blow me away. Something I can do without relying on other people, and something that does not require me to put my hand out and ask for money. I need a music-related project in which I can find fulfillment.

Funnily enough, the disappointment that sparked this recent series of posts may provide just the right catalyst for that project.

Give me a few more days to figure out some nuances, and I’ll tell you what the disappointment was, and what it and you have spurred me to do.

Shall we say, Friday next week? It’s a date – look out for my next email then.

Your turn:

To help us all focus on what we do well in life, what is your hobby or Major Project right now? And how did you get into it? Write a comment below, and then share this post with your circles of influence – they will want to read what you write!

Unexpected advice and a possible way forward

What an incredible week.

My last blog post “Keeping up appearances” attracted the most views I’ve ever had, as well as the most comments. Thank you!

It is clear that many of you believe a small group of advisers or friends with whom you can share disappointments is a good thing, but even better is a mentor or two. I must admit to constantly referring back to the same handful of people on many matters, but unfortunately I have yet to come across a mentoring candidate in my industry who is on the same playing field/ experienced in what I’m trying to do/ ignoring staid industry norms.

Not even the adventurous Emily Wozniak and her Sound ExChange Orchestra can claim that no-one has done it before. Maybe the Aurora Orchestra is the closest thing to my kind of innovation. Certainly their marketing is – that’s a great 2013 season video:

 

 

The small, global Orchestra Establishment has its noose tightly wrapped around just about everyone, convincing them there is no other way. Certainly every Musical Director and Senior Administrator in the USA & UK, who are probably the closest candidates for mentoring someone like me, succumb to their ways if they want to keep making great orchestral music in the current climate. Emily is young, cute and has a plethora of eager college students at her disposal. I don’t know if she has a mentor or two, but even if she doesn’t yet it won’t be hard to find them. On the other hand, I’m not quite as attractive as she is, and at 42 years old most people would expect me to know what I’m doing and be mentoring others – probably people like Emily.

In fact, I am and have been for several years (I wonder if that explains why people started calling me Maestro a couple of years ago?). Many ex-students stay in touch and I often support them through their own career and life decision-making processes. Just earlier this month one of my longer-term online students came from El Salvador to Tampa for our first in-person sessions – a couple of lessons, a couple of chats about goals and career options, and participation in some rehearsals & concerts. It’s very different in person than via email, and the visit has strengthened the trust between us.

George Marriner Maull, the closest and longest music-related adviser Stephen P Brown has worked with.

The vibrant George Marriner Maull
Photo courtesy of aptonline.org

I definitely have advisers (actually, more like Friends) in business, spirituality and my personal life, but not in the break-the-mold, rip-it-up-and-start-again orchestra industry of the 21st century. [At this point I must give a nod to a dear, dear friend who has taught me a great deal about how to approach music, and makes time to hear my concerns as much as his schedule permits: George Marriner Maull of the Discovery Orchestra. Please buy their incredible DVDs. George has had a profound influence in my musical life since I was a teenager, and continues to do so, but his efforts are hampered by the old-school setup of classical music – which is what I broke away from many years ago. He is doing remarkable work bringing live classical music to children and generally interested people and I hope his passionate flame burns brightly for a long, long time.]

All in all, perhaps that is why last week’s post expressed surprise about sharing deeply personal disappointment – without a mentor it’s not something I’ve done or experienced before and I’ve been immensely touched by your response & support. Here’s an interesting twist, though: whilst many of the blog post comments answered my questions, and many others were boosting my confidence (thank you!), some actionable solutions actually came via email.

One reoccurring solution in particular caused me to think about it over this past weekend, and I think I’m going to look into it further.

I’ll post about it on Friday, but suffice it to say: it will have a HUGE impact.

 

Do you have a mentor?

Have you had a mentor in the past?

Have you been a mentor for someone?

Let me know what the benefits are in the comments below…