Straddling artistic integrity AND artistic sustainability

I received an email not too long ago from a talented young musician who was looking for a way to boost his reach through his art, and to set himself up to have a sustainable life as a working musician. 

He sent me links to his music, filled me in on his process and goals, and mentioned he had hired a manager to help him reach new levels of success. 

His music really is beautiful, and I admired his purpose right from the start, but when we spoke, I noticed a couple of red flags which I believed were keeping him from really embracing his potential for sustainability through his work.  

The biggest one? He was giving away ALL of his music for free with the hope that people would enjoy his work so much that they would donate to him after the fact. 

Now, I hope you all know that I LOVE a good freebie, but you should also know that I am not in the business of encouraging you to give away your hard work and products without reason. To be fair, this artist did have a reason - he wanted to ensure "a lust of money didn't bleed into the act of creation”, and as a result, he was giving away his product for free.

Good reason? I'm not so sure. 

I thought this was really interesting though, because what I saw was not someone wanting to give away their art because it fulfilled them to do so, but rather someone who had decided that he was opposed to creating a balance between income and expenses (both creatively and financially), and he essentially believed that unless the income was donated through joy, it was tainted.  

What I believe he was trying to get at however, was that he didn't want his need for money to affect his art. He didn't want to come across as needy, greedy or desperate (sorry - I couldnt think of a third rhyme)

He had recognized earlier in our conversation the need for income to offset expenses - recording is not cheap! - which was why he was reaching out to me, to get help finding a balance.  We spoke about strategies for marketing and branding, and I wanted very much to help him break through this block of money = bad. (greatly simplified here of course).  

I think most of us have an image of the "big bad business world", with greedy corporate folk in grey suits and giant briefcases full of money that pops into our heads as soon as someone mentions we need to apply a business mindset to our work as musicians. My "ugly corporate business guy" rears his head on occasion when I have to follow up on an invoice or account, and he just LOVES to make it really difficult for me to feel ok about sending those late fees to people. BUT, without a strong business mindset, it is nearly impossible to make your art/music financially sustainable. 

I'm not talking about becoming SUPER rich (unless you really want to), but I am talking about making sure your books balance at the end of the year, and you aren't living off ramen and water.

I found my response to this artist recently and wanted to share it here for you all today. 

I’d like you to consider the idea that thinking like a business person, but not acting like the business person you picture, can actually enable you to straddle both artistic integrity AND artistic sustainability, so you can deliver more to your audiences while you establish your ideal financial and personal situation.  

Keep reminding yourself that you CAN lead an abundant life as an artist and once you embrace your inner business person, there's no stopping you!


Sustainability is what allows creativity to flourish!


What does your "business person in your head" look like? 

How often do you find yourself giving something away because you don't want to sound greedy?

Let me know in the comments below!





Myth Busters! Common misconceptions that might be keeping you small!

Who loved the show "Mythbusters" when they were younger? I TOTALLY did - especially when the experiments the hosts conducted were dramatic, full of fire, or explosive.

Ok, ok,  I loved the explosion episodes the most. I am a bit of a mild-mad scientist at heart (daughter of a chemistry teacher), so "Mythbusters" was my jam for a while. 

Anyway,  as I began to dig deeper with my career in the arts over the last few years, I realized that my interest in experimenting and myth busting did not end when I stopped watching the TV show. In fact, I found that the MORE I experimented with different ways to build my career, the more myths I busted in my own life. It was like, once I figured out the truth about my own beliefs and mindset, I was able to craft out a career that is unique, interesting and totally my own. 

So, I wanted to write a quick post today about a couple of big myths that I have "busted" in my journey as a working musician!

I'd also LOVE to hear about any myths you've busted in your own career journey - the more the merrier I say!


MYTH #1: I MUST suffer for my art (and my work) in order to be successful. 

Let me start out by saying that this one is MAJOR! THIS myth is one that needs to disappear from our minds right now.  The idea of suffering for art is often coupled with the idea that artists can't make a reasonable living from their work, and together, they form "THE STARVING ARTIST MENTALITY". 

*insert sinister music*

Art takes many forms, and just because someone suffers for their work doesn't automatically make it more valuable or legitimate than another person's. 

Many artists use their art to make themselves happier. I quote Elizabeth Gilbert a LOT, but as a creative writer, she makes her art with her words, and she is one of those artists who makes art that makes her happy. Her book "Big Magic" was written because it brought her joy to write it - not because it brought her great pain. 

You don't have to make yourself miserable to create "worthy" art. Many artists have tragically been lost to this idea, and just think - if they had realized they didn't need to suffer for their art, what else might they have contributed to the world?  I think of people like Jackson Pollock, Vincent Van Gogh, Tom Waits, John Coltrane - and so, so many more. 

Make art that is meaningful? Yes

Create a life that brings you creative and financial freedom? Of Course.

Suffer for the privilege of being an artist? Never. 

Don't do it to yourself. You CAN be successful AND happy!


MYTH #2: I don't deserve money - I'm just an artist

Henri Murger did us all a bit of disservice in the 18th century when he published his novel Scenes de la Vie de Boheme. This novel unfortunately romanticized the idea of the bohemian artist living a life of squalor (in Paris), but being fine with it because they were artists and just loved to make art. The worst part? Society hasn't fully realized that this is not at all ok, and has apparently forgotten the end of the novel which mentions this lifestyle is only temporary for the artist - it should not be permanent. 

Sidenote: you may be familiar with an opera based on this novel - La bohème by Giacomo Puccini

You NOW know you don't need to suffer for your work, so why should you suffer financially in order to do your work?

One of the biggest challenges we face as musicians and artists in general is that we don't understand how to value our work and our time. Because we love what we do, a lot of the time, we believe we shouldn't make money off of it. If its a joy to make, or teach or perform, should we really be asking people to pay for us to have fun?

With this in mind, I have a couple of questions for you: 

  1. How long have you worked at your music?
  2. How much money have you spent learning?
  3. What if an accountant told you they loved their work? Would you refuse to pay them?

Sure, we love what we do. I don't know your personal story, but I decided to pursue music rather than study law because I loved it and wanted to really stretch and challenge myself for the entirety of my career.  We get taught by society that making a decision like this means that we are choosing between financial stability (and abundance), and happiness, when in reality you CAN have both. 

You have worked hard to become a professional at your craft. You offer something valuable to the people around you. You have the ability to produce so much, but by believing you don't deserve to have an abundant life, you will limit the impact you can have on people around you. 

I mean really, by not believing in your own value and worth, you're doing a disservice to the people out there who are dying to work with you, purchase something from you, be inspired from you. 

I could go on an on about this point alone, but let me say one more thing on this topic. In other fields, barely making ends meet each month isn’t “successful”. That’s called scraping by, and unfortunately it has become normal for many to view the musicians and artists who are able to “scrape by” as those who are achieving great success. Imagine if we could make this mental shift as a community and show that we can be artists AND financially abundant!

MY money motto? Courtesy of Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation - "I don't like 'or'. 'Or' makes you choose".


MYTH #3: I know NOTHING (Jon Snow) about business

I always love a Game of Thrones reference. And in this case, its extra fitting. Did Jon Snow know how to lead the Knight's Watch when he was "elected"? No! Did he throw himself into it and do it anyway? Heck yes! 

I have three things for you to know here.

  1. You know more than you realize
  2. Most people don't know what to do until they just get started and do a little research (aren't google and youtube marvelous tools!?)
  3. You don't know what you don't know. If you feel really stuck, there are people all over the place who can help you. Find a mentor, a coach or just someone who has done it before and ask them for help. People are generally nice when you ask for help, and its WAY smarter to ask for help than to give up because you didn't know what to do. 

You don't need to have an MBA to start a business. You don't even need to ask permission to start a business (or an organization, non-profit, performance series, etc. etc.) You can actually just go and DO it. 

You can figure it out. 

Check out this podcast interview with Kendra Scott of Kendra Scott Jewelry to find out how she went from creating her first line in the back room of her house, to owner of one of the most popular jewelry brands on the market! (Even though she knew NOTHING about business when she started)



MYTH #4: The only "real" jobs have benefits, a regular salary and an office

To this I say "meh".  Look around you. People are making their jobs work for them in SO many different and wonderful ways. Sure, a salary and benefits can help, but they're not what makes a job "real". 

Guess what? Your career belongs to no one but you. A "real job" can mean anything YOU want it to mean.

Do you want to be a freelance performer as your job? Go for it!

Private teacher? Great! 

Professional unicycle air guitarist? Who am I to crush your dreams?!

The main thing to remember here is that as long as you're being a responsible member of society (paying your taxes, bills etc), and aren't bothering anyone, its no one else's business what you define as a "real job". 

Challenge these ideas and come up with something that is uniquely YOUR job/career. 


MYTH #5: There isn't enough to go around

We live in an abundant world. All around us, new things are made, grown, explored, created and shared. One of our biggest challenges as artists is that we worry that we won't be able to get our fair share of the *insert some sort of commodity*. 

One of the things you need to realize is that there is no limit on how much you can do, have, be, or desire.  

When I start to worry about whether or not there is enough for me, I give myself a little nudge and remind myself to stop thinking so small. 

It usually sounds something like this: 

"JVP (I call myself JVP when I need to start thinking bigger), what are you doing? Why are you so worried about this? Are you thinking competitively or creatively? It sounds like you're competing. Or at least trying to compete, which you know is totally boring and average. Get back to thinking bigger - think creatively - its way more fun. Think bigger. Stop limiting yourself. You've got this!"

I say boring and average when I talk about thinking competitively because there are only so many ways you can compete with the world (And the world usually wins). If you can move beyond the competitive thinking scarcity mindset, you find something much more fulfilling and interesting.

Train yourself to think bigger rather than smaller when you're worrying that theres not enough to go around. Be creative in your thinking and you will always find a solution. 


MYTH #6: I SHOULD want more than "just" private lesson teaching

Ok. I'm going to stop you (me) right here. Do you know what the biggest issue with that sentence is? 

Using the word "just". 

NEVER say you "just" do something. You never know how you're impacting others by the things you're doing, and the word "just" is going to keep you small. Instead, own what you do. 

"I'm a private lesson teacher" is so much more powerful, and when you consider what it is you're doing in this line of work, there's nothing "just" about it. 

Be bold in your ambitions and dreams. If you want to have the greatest private studio in the land, get going! Make it happen! Other people might try to make you feel bad that you aren't aiming to teach at a college, play in an orchestra or join the military, and career shame is REAL people, but don't let that discourage you from YOUR dreams. 

Do what makes you happy, and what you know suits your lifestyle, interests, talents and passions. And don't let other people's opinions make you feel that your work is "less than". Ever. 


Also, this is not only for the private lesson teachers out there. Whatever you're doing, planning to do, or are in the middle of finishing, never say "just". 

You are valuable, you are impacting the people around you, so you never need to be "just" anything. 


Do you have any myths you've busted over your career? 

Share them in the comments below!



Are you standing out in the audition room?

Its the end of January!  And for many aspiring music professionals, this signals the end of the first month of college auditions.

I know a few of my students have been going through the process lately and honestly, its my favourite time of the year.  As part of my work, I spend time helping students prepare for their college auditions - and I LOVE it. Not just a little bit, but a WHOLE LOT.  

I love the process of helping students get organized, excited, a little neurotic, and totally obsessed about their futures, and then to see all of their hard work pay off? Its SO cool!

I've had some pretty great experiences with my students over the years, and we've all worked together to come up with some strategies to help them stand out in the crowd during their auditions. 

A lot of it comes down to some basic concepts of going above and beyond the minimum expectation for auditions, knowing your music so well that you can answer loads of questions about the pieces you're playing, and a couple of other little things, but its really interesting to hear about how well received these extra things are. 

Now, I'm not saying you need to find out your future teacher's favorite type of candy and bring it to them in your audition, (although, i'm sure a few of my Professor friends wouldn't be upset by this...), what I'm saying is to ask yourself "How can I stand out?"

I was reading an article today about a number of students who received rejection letters from Harvard Business School. All of these students are INCREDIBLE people - massive GPA's, excellent GMAT scores, internship experiences with fortune 500 companies, someone of them were even CEO's of their own start-up businesses, but still, they didn't get in. Of course there are 10's of reasons why they may not have made the cut, (only 10's, not 100's -  these people are amazing), but that doesn't mean they weren't impressive enough.

The feedback they received was that they didn't sell themselves well enough to the selection committee. 

They hadn't made a big enough impact to be remembered, and therefore, accepted. 

Again, I'm not saying you need to be that one person who comes in showering gifts on the Professor, and I am certainly not saying you should aim to be known for playing your audition in basketball shorts (you want to be known for good reasons after-all). 

But perhaps before your next audition, have a think about how you can stand out - how you can showcase your talents, your determination and your personality through your audition.

What special or unique talents do you have that can bring something new to the audition room? Are you an amazing dressmaker? Why not wear one of your creations? Are you outstanding at poster design? Why not make a poster about yourself or your audition to hand to the professor? 

I mean, there are COUNTLESS ways you can show yourself as an exciting prospect beyond your fabulous musicianship, and with the standard of performance currently in our colleges and universities, sometimes that extra something can help you to be remembered after you've left the room!

Afterall, everyone plays well in auditions - how can you make it impossible for your selection committees to say no to you?


Top 3 reasons to start a business

Are you trying to figure out how, if or why you could start a business? As we know, its so important to have a purpose for your business beyond just “making all of the moneys”, and I wanted to share three really big categories with you to help you identify why/how starting a business could be right for you!


1. You see a need and want to fill it!

Many businesses are born from a passion to solve a personal problem, or a global problem or because someone has identified an unmet need in the marketplace.

When you see these businesses, you usually think “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

A prime example of this is the Spanx brand!

The founder, Sarah Blakely, (who, by the way is the youngest self-made billionaire in the world, who started out her career as a comedian and fax machine salesperson), was frustrated that she had nothing to wear under a pair of tight, cream pants, so she invented footless, body-shaping pantyhose!

Pantyhose have existed for years, as have shapewear, but Sarah couldnt find anything on the market to solve her specific issue, so she went ahead and solved her own problem! The really cool thing was that by solving her own problem, she undiscovered that SO MANY women were dealing with the same frustrations, and her initial project of trying making something to wear under her tight pants turned into her billion dollar idea!

These things can be so simple and so negligible that its likely you don’t even notice you’re working around a problem that you could solve each day.

If you’re interested in figuring out what you can solve,  try keeping a journal with you and every time you think, “I just can’t find anything to do *this*”, write it down!

Who knows, your next great idea could be right in front of you!


2. To make something better/ improve on an already existing product

Do you ever use something that you just wish was a little bit more functional? Maybe there’s an item you use every day that you’re always like “Man, I wish this *insert item* could do *this* better/faster/clearer/less terribly”.

Many of the world’s greatest inventions have come from changing previous things to make them better (or different). A prime example of this is the saxophone really. Adolphe Sax wanted to make the world of music better with the most amazing instrument ever. So he attached a bass clarinet mouthpiece to an ophicleide and bob’s your uncle! Well, kind of.

Look around you right now. Take in all of the things in the room.

Someone is behind the development of every single thing where you are.

Are you sitting on a swivel chair right now like I am? If not, find somewhere to sit down because I have a story for you that might just blow your mind (It totally blew my mind!).

So, some time in 1774 or 1775, a man was sitting in a windsor chair drafting a document he’d been working on. He was frustrated that the windsor chair wasn’t allowing him to have enough movement, so he decided to solve the issue for himself. He modified his chair by adding an iron spindle between the top and bottom half of the chair, which allowed it to rotate on rollers. Voila! the first swivel chair was born.  

I know, I know, that’s not really mind blowing. Bear with me though.

This man was so impressed with his invention, that he used it as he finished writing his important document, and when the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, the swivel chair was reportedly used by its creator when he finished his draft of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair!

You’re totally welcome for this random fun fact. I’m probably going to be telling everyone about it today.

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel to have a great business or product. Elon Musk didn’t re-invent cars. He just made them better for the environment and super cool. Who would have thought an electric car could be cool?! Speaking of cool - have you seen this video of a Tesla car floating like a boat? Seriously.


Its not necessary to create something super new and unique if there’s something staring you in the face that you Just. Wish. Was. Better.

Take that frustration or desire to solve the problem you’re facing, and go from there.


3. Because your unique skills enhance people’s lives

Is there something that you’re the best at in the world? Or in your niche? Perhaps there’s a talent that only you have which you know enhances the lives of people around you.

For example, I offer college audition preparation coaching for high school music students. This is an area which I know I excel in. I know my knowledge and expertise is one of the reason my students have been so successful (I mean, they would have had success without me of course, but I know the areas I worked with them on have enhanced their success).

Are you exceptional at something specific that people need? Perhaps it’s something you’ve been doing for free already because not only are you excellent at it, you also love it.

If this is the case, you’re on a winner! You know your service/skill is desired, you know you’re effective and successful at working with others in this area, and now you know it is something you can explore and possibly even grow into a business.

Of course, not ALL exceptional skills are business-worthy, I’m not so sure theres a market for my ability to select blazers (well, maybe there is?) but it’s definitely something I take pride in being excellent at.

Perhaps you’re looking to start a business to share this exceptional talent? If yes, explore all of the possibilities, find the place that your skill becomes desirable and useful to others, and you just might be onto something!

Starting a business is all about finding your viable idea, and working out how you can create something to improve your world around you.  


Don’t focus on the money, focus on the purpose and how your idea can create impact around you.

(IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Don’t ignore the fact that you do actually need money to start a business, so make sure you have some money coming in to bankroll your idea. Keep your day job and build an idea on the side if you must, an idea will not be able to flourish if you’re worried about how you are going to pay your rent this month, and an instant ramen diet will not help your body function at its highest capacity! )


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” - WARREN BUFFETT


This. Just this.


No one is good enough at anything to be anything other than kind.