Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Think Big—or Go Home

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 6:59 am by
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When I was younger I’m sure I didn’t think “Big Picture” as much as I do now, but today with countless projects under my belt, I’m always thinking big.  I suppose it’s also a function of my job at the Eastman School.  As a senior administrator and Director of the Institute for Music Leadership, it’s my job to be forward thinking.

I’ve found that a successful way to approach any project, or problem for that matter, is to dream about what it could be if there were no constraints on resources, i.e., money and staff to make it happen (read:  the “staff” is sometimes just me!).  When working with others I try to neutralize the naysayers right away.  It’s very easy to throw cold water on an idea at the outset.  I try to have everyone think of all the positive things about the project.  After we have considered those, I ask for challenges or barriers to the idea.  There are usually workarounds for the barriers.  As suggested elsewhere in these blogs, envision the Cadillac version.  Put some numbers to it, then start making compromises if you need to.  This is what orchestra artistic administrators do in planning a season.  They come up with interesting concerts, but then the reality of the budget sets in.  How many extra players are going to be needed?  Leos Janácek’s Sinfonietta might look great programmatically, but with its large instrumentation and many extra players—including twelve trumpets, two bass trumpets, four trombones, two tenor tubas and one tuba—it just might stretch the budget a little.

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Don’t Dilute Your Product in Order To Make Money

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 6:41 am by
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Some musicians feel that they must dumb-down their music in order to be “successful.” I once had a conversation with Maria Schneider in which she made an interesting observation: many musicians who are focused solely on making money underestimate their audiences.  She commented that some musicians seem to think that if they write or present a particular kind of music, they will get a certain audience.  A dilemma can occur if they happen to get lucky and are successful in gaining an audience.  If they suddenly say “that’s not really who I am.”  “Let me show you what I really do,” they will lose that audience, because those fans were on board for what the artist was doing at the time.  They came to the concert just for that.

Of utmost importance is to be devoted to developing your own craft and your own voice.  If you follow your artistic calling with passion and belief, when your audience does find you, they will be getting the best of what you have to offer.   Be true to yourself.  Don’t pander.

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Do Your Own Thing, Then Figure Out How To Get Paid For It

Posted on January 2, 2011 at 8:38 am by
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I once was invited to be part of a panel discussion at the International Trombone Association’s annual convention. The subject was orchestra opportunities for trombonists. When I arrived at the venue, I looked at the sessions and concerts that had gone on in previous days, and I saw that a sackbut quartet had given a concert the night before. (The sackbut is a precursor to the modern trombone and dates from the fourteenth century.) I thought to myself, “What is that all about? Those guys must get together once a year and haul out their sackbuts and jam. They can’t make any money at it!” I voiced this thought to the trombonist friend of mine who invited me to the conference, and to my surprise at the time (but not now in retrospect) I learned that those guys are in demand all over the world! They were on their way to Europe right after the conference. They are doing their own thing. Their music is too specific to do it full-time in Des Moines or Denver or even New York City, but they apparently dominate the sackbut world market, and they do very well playing the music they love, on these old instruments, for lots of people.

Think about Bella Fleck or Jake Shimabukuro—banjo and ukulele virtuosi, respectively. They have taken their particular instruments and put them into musical contexts that were previously unimagined. The lesson for me is to do your thing, very well, and then figure out how to get to the audience that wants to hear you and is willing to pay for it. It’s not that big a stretch if you are very, very good.

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