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Angela Myles Beeching | Beyond Talent Consulting
The Professional Musician's Roadmap
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Curing Festival-itis

MONDAY BYTES — June 27, 2016

It’s summer festival time and like seasonal allergies, there are a set of common symptoms you may experience.

I spoke last week at the fantastic Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival and worked with a terrific set of musicians (YAY!). Afterwards I found myself thinking about the way many of us experience festivals.

Full disclosure: as a cellist I attended my fair share (Tanglewood, Banff, etc.). And more recently, I’ve presented workshops at festivals  such as Madeline Island, NRO, Music@Menlo, and more.

Along the way I’ve observed (and experienced) a wide range of symptoms of what I’m calling ‘Festival-itis.’

Festival

Festival experiences are often fabulous but there can also be challenges.

See which of these 12 ‘festival-itis’ symptoms you’ve experienced:

1. Getting inspired by new ideas, approaches, mentors, colleagues, or repertoire.

2. Experiencing nature. Many festivals take place in beautiful surroundings. This can increase energy, positive emotions, and the sense of being fully alive.

3. An increased willingness to take on challenges, make changes, and try out new ideas.

4. Being more at ease with performing. Many festivals require frequent performances and this can build resilience so that we’re less stressed about any one concert.

5. Extending ourself beyond our comfort zone to make connections with others. This is why chamber ensembles often get their start at festivals (and it also accounts for the high rate of festival romances and hookups!).

6. Bonding with the tribe: an awareness and appreciation of being part of a close-knit festival community.

And what about the possible festival experiences that aren’t so positive? Perhaps you’ve also experienced one or more of these . . . 

7. Feeling disconcerted by the feedback from mentors or colleagues so that you start questioning your abilities, value, and judgment.

8. Comparing yourself to others is of course problematic and leads to the comparison trap.

9. Getting self-conscious about your behavior and habits as you interact with people beyond your usual circle.

10. Over-extending: saying yes to too much repertoire, practice, or food, drink, sun, and fun.

11. Comfort zone withdrawal: you find you’re getting annoyed by and being negative about anything from the housing, food, and weather, to the repertoire and colleagues, so that you miss out on what’s positive and create negative feelings in those around you.

12. Festival envy if you weren’t accepted (or hired) at the festival of your choice. This can lead to a sense of disappointment that clouds the summer experience you actually have.

Whatever your festival responses may be, there are ways to minimize the negative reactions. And there are tools to help leverage the positive so you can take the best of the summer with you for the next year and beyond.

Here’s the Summer Festival Prescription: Game Your Own Cure

A. Get outside. Get your daily dose of vitamin D; boost your positive energy. Take breaks and build walking, swimming, or biking, into your regular routine.

B. Take time to reflect. At the end of each day, review what you did and learned, and think about the impact you had on others and that they had on you. Write it down—journaling a few lines each night is a great way to record insights and track your development as a performer, educator, and person.

C. Take notes on the feedback you get: the positive as well as whatever else you receive that you want to work on. Don’t dismiss difficult feedback or beat yourself up with it: just make a note of it so you can return to it and sort it out objectively later.

D. Note what inspires you so you can build this into your weekly or monthly routine when you’re back home. Whether it’s particular repertoire or project ideas, possible collaborators, or a brainstorming partner, make sure you’re getting regular doses of inspiration.

E. Note any new habits you started at the festival that you want to continue. These might include practicing first thing in the morning, taking a daily walk, a new rehearsal technique, or eating healthy. New behaviors take 30 days of consistent repetition to become habits.

F. Notice how you feel when you’re operating at your best. Memorize the sensations: how your body feels, your breathing, how you move, and what your thought patterns are. Then practice remembering or “dialing back” into that feeling, so you can routinely reduce stress and increase positive feelings.

If you relate to the ‘Festival-itis’ symptoms and want to talk about how to overcome the negative and maximize the positive, let’s do it. Click here to schedule a complimentary mini coaching session where we’ll tackle your ‘festival-itis’ plus explore what working together might look like moving forward.

And as always, I welcome your feedback and would love to hear your ‘festival-itis’ experiences and remedies: Angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com

Find info about coaching with me HERE.

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

OK to Perform for Free?

MONDAY BYTES — June 20, 2016

A question that keeps coming up:

Is this gig worth doing

In other words, when is it advisable or acceptable to work for free?

And is taking a gig “for the exposure” ever really a good idea?

Keep in mind how one evaluates any potential gig is relative to each individual at a particular point in her or his career. But to help you answer these questions for yourself, here are my 7 Gig Principles:

1. Don’t get distracted by the “free” in “freelance.” The term free-lance was originally applied to medieval mercenary warriors: these were unaffiliated or ‘free’ hired guns whose weapons of choice were lances. (So it makes some etymological sense when a musician refers to her/his instrument as an ‘ax.’)

In looking into the derivation of the word, I stumbled on a terrific article, The Origin of the Word Freelance and Why it Should Make Us Happy. Author Jim Blackstock writes:

“It turns out that word ‘free’ comes from a root word of Germanic origin, meaning to love. And ‘lance’ is related to the old French word for launch, meaning to hurl, throw or discharge with force. Beautiful, right? And not just for people who love to throw things.

It’s especially helpful because this concept can be interpreted in one of two ways. Freelancers may be happy because they are hurling themselves at what they love to do, discharging the force of their creativity into their work.

Or they may be happy because they are creating work with love before hurling it into the world for the rest of us to utilize and appreciate. Whatever the interpretation, freelancers are essentially given permission to be happy at work, from the very word itself, freelance.”

Moral: check your attitude. Make sure you bring your love of music and people to your freelance work.

2. Don’t equate the fee you make with your worth as an artist. Many musicians get hung up on this, as though their worth can be reduced to an hourly rate or the size of a fee.

Of course, you should be fairly compensated, and you want to avoid being take advantage of, but there are situations in which saying no may not be in your best interest.

If a particular concert presenter or contractor is legitimately unable to offer more (and there’s nothing wrong with asking), then you need to at least consider the other factors beyond the pay that might make the gig worthwhile.

3. “Exposure”: what does this actually mean? Ask yourself with this gig, if there’s a particular media, PR, or networking benefit to you as an individual. There’s never a guarantee that a particular performance will be reviewed, or that if it is reviewed, that it will be favorable or that you will be singled out in the review.

Exposure can also mean performing for a particular target audience or that you’ll be able to schmooze with donors or key performers. Again, no guarantees as to what the audience response might be, or how fruitful a stray conversation with a donor or fellow musician might be.

If you can get a copy of a good sound or video recording of the performance, that can be a good perk. Just remember there’s no guarantee on the recording quality. And make sure you check about the permissions you’d need if you’re hoping to use the recording on your website. With all these “no guarantees” I’d recommend evaluating the gig using other criteria.

4. Consider the opportunity cost to do the gig. Consider the time needed to learn the rep, rehearse, and travel there and back. Also consider whether or not any purchasing or borrowing of equipment, accessories, or attire will be needed and any travel expenses.

Look ahead in your calendar: what else have you got going on during this period? If you’re crazy busy and stressed, then your free time may be worth more than the fee you’d make on the gig.

5. The Bottom line two out of three ain’t bad principle: the gig is worth doing if at least 2 of these 3 essentials are good:

i. the money
ii. the repertoire (it’s music you want to learn or love to perform)
iii. the circumstances (the venue, ensemble, and/or conductor are worth listing on your resume or bio. Or the presenter and/or fellow performers are people you want to get to know).

If you’ve been asked to donate your services for a benefit concert and it’s a cause you really care about, then doing the gig may also be important for your soul.

6. Your reputation is everything! You’re hired because someone heard about you or referred you. So If you’re new to the freelance scene or starting over in a new city, how are people finding out about you? Who are you getting to know who can refer work to you?

Don’t agree to doing any gig unless you can do a good a job, come prepared, be professional, and do it with a positive attitude. You don’t don’t want to become known for coming unprepared, phoning it in, or being ‘Debbie Downer.’

7. Take the long view. Too many musicians make the mistake of treating each gig as an isolated event, and they get fixated on the immediate pay, in part because they may be handling their finances on a month to month basis with a “scarcity” mindset.

Taking the long view means having a financial plan to create some steady baseline revenue and then cultivating multiple income streams.

It also involves treating each gig as a platform for cultivating further opportunities. 

On any given gig, there are specific behaviors that can help you create more connections and additional opportunities beyond the event itself:

A. Professionals get and use business cards. Audience members and colleagues may want to connect with you about other work, and you don’t want to scribble them your cell phone number on a scrap of paper.

B. Have a gig arrival habit: get there early; seek out and introduce yourself or check in with the contractor or client who hired you. Smile, shake hands, and make sure you are clear any special requests. Being personable means showing interest others and showing your interest in making the event a success.

C. Don’t be a lone wolf: breaks are great for getting to know your fellow musicians as people—not as competitors. There are many other musicians these people might recommend for future gigs. Those who get recommended are not only good musicians, they are also easy to work with and a pleasure to be around. Be good with the hang.

In doing so, you may hear about upcoming auditions and teaching opportunities, as well as tips on how to expand your gigging and who else you should get to know. And be generous with any tips or suggestions you receive—pass these along to others who will be more inclined to reciprocate.

D. Check your social media compulsions: don’t be checking your messages or using any devices while on a gig. Unplug and be fully present. And after the gig, do NOT do any social media or in-person badmouthing of the event or any individual connected with it.

E. Play nice: if you’re having a bad day, dislike the conductor, or feel that any of your fellow performers aren’t up to standards, be a pro and don’t show it on your face, or in your voice or actions. Your job is to perform at your best as a musician and a person. This means thinking beyond your immediate needs and preferences to consider how you can help make the performance and experience better for everyone.

This week: Think about your next gig and then plan for how you will make the most of it.

As always, I welcome your feedback! Reach me at angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com

And if you’d like to find out about coaching with me, check HERE.

Related post: How to Get More Gigs

Find more tips on expanding your freelance work in my book, Beyond Talent.

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

Worth 1000 Words?

MONDAY BYTES — June 13, 2016

It’s time we talked publicity photos.

Are you 100% satisfied with yours?

Not sure if or how investing in new ones would help your career?

This post is all about getting you better photos so you can book more gigs, gain more students, and get more jobs.

Why photos matter

We live in a predominantly visual culture. Photos are what we look at first in any promotional piece. Photos create a sense of human connection. It’s the first impression we make on viewers who then make immediate judgments about us and our artistry based on the photo.

So if in your photo you come across as timid or lacking in confidence, for instance, the person potentially booking you may immediately assume you are inexperienced and not ready for prime time. If your photo looks like a cliché—like a zillion other talented young artists, then the presenter or employer may think “nothing special here.”

Ineffective photos actually hinder our abilities to get more bookings, students, and jobs, because the first impression we create can’t be undone.

Warning: Mindshift ahead

Let’s bust a myth. Effective musician photos are NOT about looking:
Glamorous
Sexually appealing
Confident
Successful

Of course there’s nothing wrong with looking like any of the above if that’s you, but your publicity photo as a musician should do something more important. It should give the viewer a sense of what you—the REAL you—are about as an artist and what your performances are like.

Descriptors to the Rescue

What adjectives or other descriptive words would you use to describe you and your performances at your best? What have people told you about your performances? Maybe one or more of these might apply . . .
Direct
Witty
Fierce
Intelligent
Surprising
Centered
Mission-driven
Generous
Focused
Bold
Introspective
Others?

There’s no right or wrong here: it’s simply about getting a sense of what you want to convey in your photos to give viewers a sense of what’s going on behind your eyes—what your sensibility is as an artist. Not simply that you are young and smiling.

In an artist we want more, right?

The Adjective Game

With the fab photos below, try what I call the “adjective game”—based on these images alone (not any prior knowledge of the artists), think what you would imagine their music-making and their performances are like. What aspects of their approach can you intuit from the image? What words or phrases come to mind?

Jennifer Koh

Jennifer Koh, violinist     Photo: Juergen Frank

[For me, the words that came to mind are: grace, power, ease, balance, intelligence, perspective, with grit. And yeah, she looks beautiful and the dress is great, but it’s her expression and calm but strong repose that packs the punch. What words came up for you?]

Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope, violinist                Photo: Harrold Hoffman

[This photo says to me: insightful, great story telling, honest, someone who “gets” the mysterious, and clarity of purpose. What do you hear the photo saying?]

Avi Avital

Avi Avital, mandolin             Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot/DG

[From this image I imagine his performances are: convincing, compelling, human, candid, full of life experience, warm, giving. What about for you?]

Margot Schwartz

 Margot Schwartz, violinist       Photo: Jennifer Brindley

[For this one I imagine a performance that’s haunting, definite, focused, lit from within, and presented like a jewel. Also it reminds me of a John Singer Sargent portrait. What did you get?]

The idea of this exercise is to help you understand what great photos actually do and help you help your photographer get shots that better convey your authentic self so that you can engage your fans and those who can book or hire you.

Pitfalls to avoid

Young female artists often come across in their photos as though all they have going is their attractiveness. Alluring but vacuous-looking photos are fine for fashion spreads but not for music careers.

How do we end up getting it wrong?

Musicians often try to “put on a show” and have their photos and image be something they don’t actually feel or believe about themselves. And then they imagine that by dressing a certain way, or using a certain location or backdrop, and holding their bodies in a certain pose, that they’ll get a great photo that shows them as professional.

Wrong.

It’s easy for musicians to come across as though they’re trying too hard, or trying to please, because that in fact may be what’s going on. The camera can only pick up what you are actually putting out—and it’s all communicated through your eyes, your expression, and the way you hold your body.

You can’t hide from the camera. So if you go into a shoot feeling awkward, intimidated, or self-conscious and you can’t seem to warm up to the photographer, then the shots you get will come across as somewhat stiff and it will be clear that you are “posing”—instead of as though the photographer simply caught you mid-insight or about to respond to an idea.

So for your next shoot, spend time well in advance thinking what you want the photo to say about who you are and what your music-making is all about. Prepare for your next shoot reminding yourself about why you are a musician, what makes you feel proud, and what it is about music that you fell in love with. Because you need to walk into your shoot embodying that clarity—so the camera can read it.

You’ll also want to spend time at the start of the shoot talking with your photographer and explaining in detail what you’d like your photo to convey and getting comfortable letting your real self be fully present. Don’t forget your own set of adjectives.

This week: Analyze 3 photos of musicians you don’t know using the adjective game. I’d love to see what you come up: send the URLs for the pics and your set of adjectives to me at angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments and I’m easy to reach at the email above or over on the contact page.

Want more help with photos? Read the chapter in Beyond Talent on creating promotional materials that rock.

Interested in individual coaching with me? Reach me HERE.

If this post is helpful to you, I’d appreciate you sharing it on social media and forwarding it to others who might find it useful. Thanks!

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well