I thought it was high time I shared a recent inspiring week before the memory faded and it was lost forever in the hum-drum of winter. I was part of the Vic Voices choir for a chunk of the first Trimester – a mix of staff, graduates and current students, including amazing Music students. We were all learning and then performing Fauré’s Requiem together in a lunchtime concert. As if that wasn’t enough of an intellectual and spiritual blast, the next day a guy called Ben Sosland gave a presentation to the New Zealand School of Music on Career Development and Entrepreneurship for Musicians. Ben is from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, where he is the Assistant Dean for the Kovner Fellowships and serves on the Graduate Studies and Evening Division Faculties teaching classes that range from the operas of Benjamin Britten to entrepreneurship for musicians.

Having just seen some of the awesome skills and qualities of Music performance students at play in the choir it was great to hear some techniques from Ben for musicians to channel and market those skills to the world. What follows is a snapshot of what I picked up. (For the sake of this blog I am pretending to be a musician, but let it be noted I will be sticking to my day job.) You might like to try his exercises when thinking about your next steps.

There is more music in the world than ever before – it’s a vast, untapped, huge and messy ecosystem that turns all around us. It’s up to us to write our own ticket and to create our own pathways. We can start by identifying our unique skills as musicians – where the outlet is. You can see from Ben’s bio that his background was as a trained classical singer. At that stage, as he developed his profile and skills, he did his share of waiting tables and also gained valuable experience by doing things such as directing a children’s choir.

After completing his Master of Music, Ben had one of those “Oh sh*t” moments”  (his words, meaning – what do I do now? Do I want to be a full-time performing musician?). He decided to stay in school and went on to complete his Doctor of Musical Arts. But in this process, he decided that singing performance was not for him and correspondingly, he changed his practice. As well as learning a ton about music, he made a point of meeting lots of people in the business. “With singing, I never truly, truly loved it. Other people are better at it.”

Ben says networking is a kind of swear word for musicians but it’s essential – it’s just about connecting on a human level. We did an exercise where we turned to a person next to us that we didn’t know and discovered two things we had in common. This was a bit nerve-wracking but also surprising. During his workshops, Ben takes a picture of people networking and they are always smiling – showing how easy it is once you get started.

Then it was onto writing an interesting bio or profile of myself – something that is essential for performing musicians. We always end up writing the more boring things, “Gill studied English Literature for four years at Victoria University …” So the first line of the bio is critical – a hook that you can remember. Of course, some bios need to be formal, and they need to be professional, but we were asked to consider:

What do I want the reader to remember about me?

How am I good?

What are my deepest wishes and desires?

To get started we thought about –  what is an object of mine that I would bring along to Show and Tell? What does it say about me? For example, if it is a rock from your favourite place in the mountains, does that love for that particular landscape inform my music-making?

Then we brought our bio and our networking together in another exercise, where we thought about and wrote down the:

  • most memorable musical experience you had
  • person you’d like to meet
  • place you’d like to go

So then we brainstormed as a group, using that whole idea of six degrees of separation and demonstrating how it is possible to take the first steps to realise visions if you think outside the norms. Or at least these ideas provide a starting point for getting our campaigns together. For example, if my most memorable musical experience was seeing Mavis Staples open for Wilco in 2013, the person I most want to meet is Jeff Tweedy from Wilco and the place I’d most like to go is Louisiana, I could work out how to recreate a way to bring those three things together. In asking “why?” over and over again the theme of being a music blogger/journalist and interviewing Mavis and Jeff about their collaboration, while based in Louisiana, might emerge as a real possibility which could lead to other ideas (this example is entirely made up….well, a bit fictional…well, maybe just a tiny bit real).

The last exercise was basically a paper snowball fight.  We wrote on the top of a blank piece of paper:

“Success is…”

Then we had to think about that. In terms of your whole life, what does true success mean to you? Write it down. Ok, so now screw up that piece of paper into a ball and chuck it across the room as you would a snowball. Yes, you can throw it at your friend but not too hard. Now go and pick up another piece of paper – the one nearest you. Each takes a turn to read out what they find and then group the success factors under main headings on the PowerPoint or whiteboard.

The interesting thing about that exercise, Ben says, is that at no point are the success factors about “playing the right notes” or “winning a competition”. They nearly always encompass happiness, giving back, family, relationships, prosperity and job satisfaction. Yes, learning the craft or skill is important but they are merely means to a bigger end goal that is totally unique to you. It’s not the reason you’re doing what you’re doing and it’s so easy for us to get bogged down in the ‘doing’ and forget why we are doing it.

We should be doing what we do in the service of the real definition of success – the one unique to us.

Music students: now you are all revved up and ready to get out there in the world, where to next? Try our Music Career View for starters. Check out all the transferable skills, possible job titles and ideas about organisation and work and best of all, some stories of Music grads, out there, living their unique kinds of success in the world.







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Advice, Interest, Motivation, Networking, Personal development, Reflection


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