How Finding Your Bliss Can Pay The Rent - Be Kind

Six Keys to an Authentic Career in Music

Beauty first

express yourself

know your audience

invent new ideas

never be afraid to ask

develop your own niche

There already exist many excellent reference books that provide constructive how-to manuals for musicians forging their own professional careers.  Less easily found are suggestions which help performing artists understand what attitudes, personality traits, and philosophical approaches best lend themselves to success.  After years of dedicated practice, many great talents sadly flounder due to the lack of such understanding.  Though some music schools now offer pragmatic coursework designed to teach promotional skills, it is rare that a student learns just how much character and outlook are going to influence his/her potential to thrive in our field. This article presents six clear and simple guidelines which illustrate some essential aspects of a healthy, productive career in music.

“Beauty first” is an edict that can be applied to many things.  The importance of a quality product is paramount to its marketability.  Some believe that creating profitable art means to “sell out”.  However, an artist of the greatest integrity can simultaneously incorporate a sophisticated aesthetic with a keen eye to their consumer.  One should constantly work towards mastering their craft while also considering how to package it in the most attractive and current way possible.  Start with impeccable materials.  Use striking colors and bold imagery in your brochures, posters and CD jackets.  Observe recent “looks” employed by ad agencies to appeal to the public.  Possess clear self-knowledge and make your materials representative of your character in order to create an authentic portrayal.  Think of 2 or 3 adjectives which best describe you and allow them to influence everything from your music selection and design choices to your outfits.  In other words:

Express yourself throughout your work.   Self-discovery is the first step towards creating art which is genuine.  Always remember that you are ultimately making music to share the feelings it inspires in you with others.  In the process, you have the great gift of bringing your audience to highly emotional experiences, so cherish this.  Never believe that you need to change yourself to “satisfy the masses”. Expression rooted in truth touches most deeply.  At the same time:

know your audience and find a common ground between what you love and what people want to consume.  It is important to seek out a home and a community that suits your individual quality of life needs. Many musicians whose choice of residence is motivated primarily by their need to follow scarce professional opportunities may find this option a luxury.  While this reality exists, ultimate satisfaction can be found by “having the courage to take one’s own thoughts seriously.” (Albert Einstein)  So, if you have done enough self-reflection to know where you want to live, then commit to move there, learn what people in this place love, understand where your passions and theirs intersect, and pursue work in that crossroads.  For instance, if you choose a family-oriented coastal town, open a kinder music day care program at the beach club or run a lunchtime chamber music series at the neighboring golf resort.  This leads to the fourth principle:

invent new ideas.  For young musicians, our profession cultivates fear about the dying art of classical music in America by highlighting folding symphony orchestras and school music programs being cut.  In order to overcome such fears, one must exercise imagination and create new musical outlets that resonate with the times.  Ours is both a museum culture and a contemporary craft.  Be creative about ways of fusing old music with new works.  Cleverly present the classics in original ways.  Set concerts in casual and familiar environments.  Present classical arrangements of popular music genres like the Kronos Quartet (Tool album) and Christopher O’Riley (Radiohead CD) have done so brilliantly.  Wear bright colors instead of funeral black in concert.  Pay close attention to what gets the people around you jazzed, which means:

never be afraid to ask.  Non-musicians can often be your best resource.  Get their raw, honest impressions after performances.  Analyze why they like and dislike certain aspects of classical music.  It is a valuable asset to possess the confidence to approach strangers.  One must find financial support in order to realize their dreams.  The sports industry is an excellent model for creating symbiotic relationships between sponsors and their athletes.  Using this example, musicians can often find instrument sponsorships by offering educational programs that promote their brand to students.  Music festival directors can raise funds by producing house concerts and seeking local business support.  Commercial sponsors will frequently donate food, product, venues or services in exchange for logos displayed on concert promotional materials or program ads. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that you have something precious to offer in exchange for many of the individual, commercial, government and corporate contributions that you may request.  You can accentuate the value of your product even more skillfully once you:

develop your own niche.  Each musician has something quite unique to share.  One can draw new audiences to their performances by combining their passion for music with their outside interests, be it ballroom dancing, rock climbing or dog shows.  If you are fascinated with astronomy, produce a concert at a science museum programming works inspired by the planets.  Maybe you love architecture.  Give a lecture recital at the local university tracing architectural and compositional parallels throughout history.  The possibilities are infinite.   And most importantly, have faith, never give up, and:

 be kind. Fostering healthy relationships with colleagues, students, your audience and your patrons is the true key to success.  Each person you meet has something valuable to share, so bravely smile at strangers.

In her quest for a full time flute position in a mountain town, Laura Barron was  fortunate to find her home and community in Flagstaff, AZ. There, she joined the Northern Arizona University faculty in 2001 and founded the Painted Sky Music Festival which presents over a dozen “chamber music with a twist” performances annually.  She fuses her passion for teaching, yoga and music of all idioms in many endeavors.  These include her Carl Fischer 2003 book/CD “Expressive Etudes for the Flute”, her “Whole Musician” workshop which she has led throughout the US and Canada since 1998, her folk music inspired recording, “Echoes of a Blue Planet”, and her crossover duo, Forbidden Flutes which was featured at the Nashville 2004 NFA convention.