My friend and former NYSMF alum Ben Kapilow had me as a guest on his new podcast All Keyed Up. The podcast is all about piano teachers and Ben has curated an amazing group of guests to chat all about creativity in the piano studio. On our episode, we talked about my methods of Improvisation and my online course Piano Improvisation for Everyone! plus some tips on how to teach jazz to classical pianists. LISTEN HERE!
As a freelance musician with an over twenty-year career, I am often asked for advice from younger musicians who are coming up. My number one piece of career advice? GET YOUR FINANCIAL HOUSE IN ORDER. Why? Because being a musician, an artist or any other freelance worker requires capital in order to maintain and grow it. Being a musician also requires tenacity and longevity, which means young musicians have to take a long range approach to their careers.
To create a truly helpful experience, I enlisted the expertise of Dave Roth. Dave is an Enrolled Agent, which is a federally authorized tax practitioner recognized by the U.S Department of the Treasury. He is also a professional percussionist who has been playing Broadway shows for many years. Dave is my family’s accountant and financial advisor and he has been a tremendous resource for both my family’s finances and the complexities of my business needs.
The goal of this post is to give musicians a chance to reflect on their financial lives so they can make better choices for the future.
Q: Financial planning can be quite terrifying for artists. What is the first thing you recommend someone doing when they decide to get their finances in order?
Dave: First and foremost get out of debt. If this is an issue for you then you should adopt an effective budget plan to assist in this. I recommend the 80/20 method. And then start putting money into investments. No amount is too small. The sooner you start the sooner that your wealth will start to grow. Remember that all this is about exponential growth. Every year that passes without putting money into investments can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in growth by the time one reaches retirement.
Q: How much should someone be saving every month? What categories do you recommend people save in?
Dave: That is dependent on their cost of living and their income levels. One of the most useful tools to help with this is a financial tracking program like Quicken, iBank, Mint.com, etc. Use of this style of tracking will assist in identifying areas of spending that can be curtailed. 9 times out of 10 it is cash withdrawals from the ATM machine.
Q: What are some of the mistakes you see your clients making in their financial lives?
Dave: Not “feeding the animal”. What I mean by that is continuing to put money into an IRA to invest on a regular annual basis.
Q: What about retirement savings. Is that something that artists should even think about?
Dave: ABSOLUTELY! In many ways artists need to think about it more than the average Joe because they may not work for an employer that provides a retirement program like a 401K.
Q: What do you recommend for people who live in high cost of living areas (like NYC or LA)?
Dave: Don’t live beyond your means. As a NYC artist I have always been realistic about the lifestyle that I can afford. Don’t rent or by an apartment that will drain most of your earning and savings potential.
Q: What do you wish you had done better, started/figured out sooner?
Dave: I wish I would have started putting money into my IRA much, much sooner. I also wish I would have educated myself on how to handle my own investments at an earlier age.
Dave’s Top 5 Pieces of Advice for Artists
- Learn to communicate effectively
- Remember that your art will not put food on your table if you don’t treat it as a business.
- Treat your fellow artists with the same respect as you expect would be paid to you.
- Learn all the intricacies of taxes as it relates to a sole proprietor business or hire a professional to navigate this for you.
- Practice! I’m not just talking about your art form but all aspects of life, love, health and financial wealth.
Covid-19 Pandemic advice from Dave: “Very few other industries have been affected by the worldwide pandemic more than the performing arts. So many have had to be creative and in some cases reinvent themselves. This too shall pass but in the meantime it is important to stay informed and look for all the resources of financial aid like unemployment assistance, the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and check with local arts agencies that might be providing help through private donations and possible federal programs that they have tapped into. “
Dave Roth is a professional percussionist in NYC. He is an active musician in the Broadway scene having played on nearly 40 shows and has also accompanied Sting, Sir Paul McCartney, Gladys Knight, Ricky Martin, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Cole and Aloe Blacc to just name a few. Dave also became an Enrolled Agent licensed to practice before the IRS granted by the United States Treasury Department and has an active tax and financial planning practice with well over 200 clients.
Check out Dave’s performance website.
Check out Dave’s accounting website.
This week’s #RandomSongsILike is my version of the Foo Fighters “Best of You”. I have loved this song for years and it was high time I sat down and worked out an arrangement. I use a hemiola pattern throughout and made sure to knock out Taylor Hawkin’s kickin’ hits at the end of the guitar solo. Fun!!
Career Assets for Emerging Artists
Now that winter is upon us and many of us still in lockdown, this is the perfect time to tackle a project that I’m sure has been in the back of your mind. Whether you are a music student, a recent college graduate, or a musician just starting out, there is a standard tool kit that each of us needs to have. These resources, or career assets as I like to call them, will help you to identify yourself as a serious artist to performance venues, media outlets and most importantly, your audience.
Every artist who wants to start their career needs a common set of assets, including photos, a bio and press quotes. This article will give you some clear guidance on what assets you need and how to go about gathering them. The ultimate goal will be for you to have your own website, which provides a centralized location for people to learn about you, hear and see you perform and get excited about your work!
I know that this list may feel daunting, but I urge you to not give up before you begin. Break down each step and give yourself a few days to work on each one. In the matter of a couple of weeks, you could be finished and ready to establish yourself as a professional.
Photos are super important! If you don’t have photos, then how are you going to have a press kit or a website? Everyone needs a professional looking headshot that shows them looking their best. Your headshot will be necessary to promote performances, to use on social media, to have on your website and for media to publish when they write about you.
Professional photos are ideal, but a friend with an iPhone and some decent lighting will also work in a pinch. (You can always upgrade them when you have the budget.).
New York City-based photographer Erika Kapin gives this advice: “It’s important to work with a photographer whom you trust and feel comfortable with.” She also recommends wearing something that helps you feel good and confident in your body – remember, these photos need to represent you at your best!
Do you want to pose with your instrument? Do you want the photos to be formal or casual? The look of the photos should match your music in some way. Look around to artists you admire to get some ideas for the look of your photo shoot.
To check out some create musician photos check out www.erikakapin.com.
2. A Great Bio
A bio is a document that tells the story of YOU. A successful bio will give the reader a clear picture of who you are, what you do and what your accomplishments are. Your bio will inform potential bookers why they should hire you and will tell your audience why they should listen to you. What makes you unique?
Every bio should include:
- What instrument you play
- The style of music you play and who you are influenced by
- Where you are from
- Where/with whom you studied
- Where/with whom you have played
- Accomplishments like awards and prizes
Your bio needs to be well written with accurate spelling and grammar (ask someone to read it for you!). It is ok to embellish, but it is important for you to be truthful. (Don’t say you “performed with Sting” if you went to his concert and sang along from the audience!). Are you a tuba player who sings? Do you play jazz oboe? Tell us what makes you unique and exciting so that we will want to hear what you do.
You’ll want to have 3 different bios – short (250 words), medium (450 words) and long (900 words). Make sure to update your bio regularly to include new projects and accomplishments. Read bios of your favorite musicians to get ideas on how you want yours to read.
3. Press Quotes
Press quotes are a staple of someone’s press kit, as they reinforce that you are an artist of a certain calibre and that other people in the industry have heard your work and respect you.
If you haven’t been written up in the press yet, don’t worry! You can gather quotes from notable people who know you and your work. Make sure that the person writing the quote is someone in the music industry. A quote from the principal of your school or the family you babysit for is not going to be useful here. This would be a great time to reach out to teachers or mentors who know your work and are willing to write a quote for you. Make sure to identify the person who wrote the quote, so you are making it clear that the person who is talking about you is knowledgeable.
“Brenda Earle Stokes has a creative approach to jazz improvisation and is a rising star of the Toronto Jazz Scene.” – Betty Jazz, Jazz Radio Host
Over time, try to build your list of quotes by inviting bloggers and local media to review your work, by sending them a recording or inviting them to your performances.
Nowadays it is nearly impossible to get away with not having video. Video has literally killed the radio star (please tell me you’re not too young to get the reference…), and you absolutely need to have video footage if you are going to be taken seriously. The good news is that it isn’t hard to get decent quality footage. Smartphones make it possible for us to film ourselves and video equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
First off, take an afternoon and gather any footage that you have from past performances. (Remember, you can download videos from Facebook – directions here). Once you have gathered the footage, pick 3-4 clips that represent your work well. Make sure that you use footage that has the best quality audio and video footage and shows you playing your best.
Using video editing software (iMovie or Adobe Premiere are both great), edit your clips so that they are approximately 3-5 minutes long. Make sure to add your name to the video clip, plus the name of the song and your website information. Upload it to YouTube and add links to your website and social media in the description box.
If you don’t have any good video footage of yourself, now would be a great time to get some. Video yourself performing in your home, making sure the lighting looks good. Using an external recording device like a Zoom recorder is a great way to get the audio sounding great.
If you have a lot of videos, you might consider putting together a performance reel. The reel should be under 3 minutes and give a quick snapshot into your work. This reel is one I compiled myself on iMovie, using a variety of footage I captured from past performances.
5. Audio clips
Audio clips are another non-negotiable career asset that you need to have. Just like with video, you want to take a few hours and compile all of the recordings you have. Pick three tracks that sound strong and showcase your skills as an artist. They should be of the highest possible quality and feature you performing your best. Professional audio recordings are once again, ideal, but you can definitely make your own if you don’t have the budget for it.
You can edit the tracks down using software like Audacity or GarageBand. Once you have your tracks sounding their best, you can upload them to Soundcloud.
6. Drumroll please…A WEBSITE
The good news is that if you have made it this far in my “to do” list, then you have everything that you need to make your website happen. It is easier than ever to have your own website: all you need to do is buy a domain name and then build a site. Your website is the home base for all of your work and will give yourself a single location to send people to learn about you and your music.
Your website should include all of the assets you have gathered, and should be assembled as neatly as possible.
Janelle Reichman, a saxophonist and website designer offers this advice to help you get started:
When musicians are creating their website, they often overlook these two simple but important questions: WHO will be using your website, and WHAT is your ideal outcome for each visitor who comes to your website? For example, do you want people to buy a ticket to your next live stream show? Purchase one of your albums or a piece of merch? Subscribe to your mailing list? Book a Zoom lesson with you? If you don’t know what you want your visitors to do, then chances are they probably won’t know either. Start with your audience and your end goal in mind, and then revolve everything in your website set up around that. From your navigation menu to your homepage headline to your call-to-action buttons and copy, everything should gently guide your visitors towards where you want them to go.
There are several website platforms that make it easy to build your own website. The three main ones that I have seen used are Wix, Squarespace and Bandzoogle. All three providers have a variety of templates that you can use to customize your site and they all look extremely professional on a budget. (There are free options and some cost around $20 a month).
Examples of Wix Websites
Examples of Squarespace Websites
Examples of Bandzoogle Websites
If you want to invest in a more customized website, then I suggest that you hire a professional website designer to create a site for you. Janelle Reichman is the owner and designer at Ellanyze and she builds stunning websites using WordPress.
Examples of Custom WordPress Websites (designed by Janelle Reichman)
Once you have build your website, you will want to make sure to update it with news, gigs and recordings and videos.
So, now that you have this list of instructions, I urge you to get down to business. Make a plan to tackle a few of these tasks each week until your have everything you need to build a website. Now is the perfect time to take this step!
This week’s #RandomSongsILike is a favorite B-side from the British rock band XTC. I lovelovelovelovelove them and their brilliant songs! I was reminded of this one when working on math with my son (I’m terrible at it).
“Well I don’t know how many pounds make up a ton of all the Nobel Prizes that I’ve never won, and I may be the Mayor of Simpleton, But I know one things and that’s I love you”
PS – Make sure to take a second and subscribe to my YouTube channel!
I was delighted to be a guest on Nikki Loney’s amazing Full Voice Podcast. Nikki is a fellow Canadian and is a wonderful singer and voice teacher. She also owns the totally AMAZING company The Full Voice, which is an amazing series of workbooks, songs an resources for voice teachers who work with children. I am such a fan of here, so I was extra excited when she asked me to be on her very popular podcast!
We talked about my online courses, especially Piano Skills for Singers and the brand-new Crash Course in Solfege Courses!
This is the third installation of my year long weekly posting of songs as part of my #RandomSongsILike series. Back in the early 2000s, I was a top-ranked cruise ship piano bar entertainer. I was the youngest performer ever booked by Royal Caribbean (age 23!!) and I worked night after night taking requests and singing and playing my heart out while traveling around the Caribbean islands. This song was always one of my favorites to play and is SUCH an amazing song!
This is the second installation of my year long weekly posting of songs as part of my #RandomSongsILike series. This song has resonated with me for several years. Taken from the Andrew Lippa off-Broadway musical “The Wild Party”, the song is sung in the aftermath of a party that makes the singer question everything. When I hear this song, it makes me think of all of the division and anger plaguing the world. With the attacks on the Capital building last week and the spread of lies and hate that are overtaking us, I wanted to offer this to anyone else who is hurting right now.
The Transposenator 3000TM is a brand-new
high tech low tech device designed to make transposition easy and fun. Use this to help you transpose notes and chords. Makes a great teaching tool too! (Perfect for a distance
Download The Transposenator 3000
Here is the first installment of my #RandomSongsILike project, where I will post a video of myself performing every week in 2021. I outlined my plan for this in my recent blog post Resparking the Creative in 2021: An Invitation.
I was reminded of this wonderful 90s hit early on in the pandemic. The words “Don’t give up. Don’t let go.” really resonated with me. I hope they do with you too! (Make sure to hit “LIKE” and subscribe to my channel while you’re there!)