Business

Life Update June 2020

Hello Everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, but I blame 2020. It has certainly made things “interesting.” Most of us would prefer this year end now, but that is not the case. When life becomes difficult, we must rise and adapt to meet it. Bruce Lee once said that we need to be like water—formless, adaptive, unpredictable, etc.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Like most musicians, the pandemic knocked out all my music gigs and my voice studio suffered. (Seriously, if anyone wants to take some online voice lessons over Zoom, I am available for a reasonable price 🙂 ; just contact me). I’ve got a 4 lesson package for beginning singers that is popular!

Anyway, I adapted by going back to work on other projects that I’d been interested in starting or finishing. Here are some of them:

#1—My 2nd, Full-length Novel in The Giftless Chronicles Series

I’d long been wanting to finish my second novel in my young adult series, but life had gotten very busy with music stuff. Once all of that disappeared, I had the opportunity to work on it. I cranked it out, and currently I’m in my 2nd round of editing. It turned out to be a fun to book to write. The characters are developed from my first book and the sequel novella, and the plot THICKENS. (dum dum dum!) Click on the links above to get caught up before the novel comes out!

#2—Songwriting

The secret to a good collaboration is this: Find a talented person who says “yes” to your crazy ideas and  follows through, then you do the same. Over the past couple years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of working with Evgeniya “Jane” Kozhevnikova on musical projects. She’s the Celebris Ensemble’s composer-in-residence. She and I have been working on a musical (or lyric opera, whatever you want to call it) on the book of Ruth from the Bible. It has been an awesome collaboration. So far, we’ve written 7 songs together! Here is one song that is sung by Ruth to Naomi, Ask Me Not to Leave You.

#3—Celebris Ensemble

Like most ensembles, our season was cut short. We even had a really cool collaboration planned with WMU that was canceled. But we’ve been able to post some recordings from our February (Valentine’s Day Concert).

Follow us on Facebook for updates on what this next year looks like and how the pandemic affects our concerts.

#4—West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts Received a First Rating at MSVMA

Three years ago, I started WMHFA’s secondary choir in Kalamazoo from scratch. I’m pleased to say that they received a first rating at MSVMA’s choral festival! So proud of them! Unfortunately, COVID-19 shut down all of the schools here in MI, and so we didn’t get a chance to go on to the state level. We sang Ave Verum Corpus (W. A. Mozart) and Hine ma tov (arr. Neil Ginsberg).

I’m sure that there are other things that I am forgetting, but these are things I am currently working on!

Five Struggles of the INTJ Musician

Understanding yourself can go a long way towards your success.  When I first started out as a musician, I definitely didn’t understand myself. This had a direct impact on my initial effectiveness, because what works for many other personality types didn’t work for me. But, if you can play to your strengths and work around/strengthen your weaknesses, then you can succeed.

As an INTJ-A (Enneagram 5w4), here are five struggles that have presented themselves.

#1—Being visible in your industry.

As INTJs, we sometimes think that being seen is a bad thing. Moreover, the introvert within us doesn’t really want to be seen. We often wait until other people fail to lead before we step up to take the reins.

This mentality may not suit you well. Unless all the doors open for you in your career (which sometimes happens), then you are going to need to step out in front of others. You must not only be excellent, competent, and collegial, but people must see you as being those things. Once this happens enough times, word of mouth spreads, and more work comes your way.

When I first started out, I failed to grasp the importance of promotion and marketing. My assumption was that success happened magically after working hard enough. That wasn’t the case. I realized that I needed to treat my music career like a business, and part of any good business is visibility.

#2—Letting people in on your plans and ideas.

As an INTJ, you keep much of your life private. You do not like to show much of your inner thoughts. This is often because what is going on inside your head is very individualized, and you’ve found that people have a hard time following the connections that you’ve made.

When I was a young person, I would make observations or come up with ideas that I thought were perfectly obvious. I remember being shocked that people would stare at me as if I’d said something they’d never heard before. This wasn’t because what I’d said was weird (I would turn out to be correct). It was because my brain operated differently than others.

You are an idea and thought factory. Own that creativity. It is a valuable way that you can contribute and excel in your craft.  Additionally, people need to sign on to your artistic plans for them to come to fruition.

#3—Realizing that, sometimes, conventional is best.

INTJs like to do things their own way. This works well when they are working by themselves, but more difficult when working with others. INTJs might think that rules are made to be broken, but most people do not like to stray out of their comfort zone. And traditions/conventions often exist for one major reason: they’ve been proven to work.

I remember feeling liberated when I understood that I was free to operate inside or outside the conventional. Now, I work with long-established organizations and I do my own stuff. It’s so much more enjoyable. Although, I will say that there are few things more fun than collaborating with a dynamic, motivated group of outside-the-box thinkers!

#4—Giving positive feedback.

INTJs don’t need a lot of praise.  We are a very independent group. This can be a strength, as it can enable us to doggedly move forward with an idea when others might give up. Unfortunately, this mindset doesn’t work when dealing with others. Many people desire a significant amount of encouragement. It is good to give it.

#5—Smiling more.

As I am writing this, the world is locked in the COVID-19 pandemic. Musicians and others have been forced to move online via video conferencing. I’ve noticed that, particularly in large group video chats, I don’t show much emotion on my face. In fact, I can look downright scary! This is known as the INTJ death stare.

INTJs are not known for their effusive faces, and this can come back to haunt us. Your students and collaborators need encouragement, and your face is an effective tool to do it. In my last master’s program, my conducting professor would tell me to smile more because the singers in the choir rehearsal would respond. It was true.

Well, that sums up a few of the things that INTJs struggle with. There are many others, but these came to my mind. If you think that I missed some, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to speak with you!

3 Tips for Saving Money as a Musician

The prudent see danger and take refuge,

but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.—Prov. 22:3 (NIV)

As I write this post, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has placed much of the world on lockdown. Schools have shuttered, concerts have been cancelled, and folks have been told to go out only for essentials. This came at one of the busiest times for musicians. For classical musicians, this is the build-up to Easter, with its plethora of cantatas and oratorios. Those of us going from gig to gig were especially hard hit. I personally have lost the majority of my performing gigs for the next few months. Even some of my voice lessons cannot be made up.
Why am I not freaking out, you may ask? I have learned through trial and error how to save up during the times of plenty for the times of scarcity. The past few months have been good ones for me economically, and I’ve been scrimping and saving. I want to share with you 3 steps that I’ve taken in this post. Please bear in mind that I am not a money professional nor a superb mathematician. If you’re like me and have a non-STEM brain, this might be the post for you.

#1—Make sure you have multiple streams of income.

This might seem obvious for some, but it is usually a bad idea to put all of your eggs in one basket. I like to have as many ways to make income as I can reasonably do. In my case, I not only sing for gigs but I conduct, teach voice lessons, write, and even work a part-time job at one of the hospitals in town. This hospital job allows me to increase shifts or decrease shifts as my musical life gets busy or less busy. In this way, I can maintain a certain amount of income stability while I make my musician life a priority.  You don’t have to work at hospital, but it might be a good idea to find a flexible yet consistent job that you can fall back on when the unforeseen happens.

#2—Make sure your housing situation is secure.

There are few things more terrifying than not knowing where you are going to sleep. Paying rent, utilities, and the like can be daunting. Obviously, you should create a budget and stick to it. You should also think about having a roommate—someone who can share expenses.

#3—Have a system for saving money.

I think of this as different than a budget. A budget tells you how to spend your money. A savings plan tells you how to save the money left over. Much could be said about budgets, but we’re going to only touch on one aspect of it today. Don’t spend money that you don’t have. Avoid debt like the Coronavirus. There, I said it.
The following system is one I learned from a wonderful book, The Money Book for Part-Timers, Freelancers, and the Self-Employed by Denise Kiernan. It was very helpful for me, and it’s one of the only books dedicated to this subject that I have found. You can buy it by clicking on the link below. (Full disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate, so if you buy the book through this link I will receive a little bit of money as well!).
the money book
First, you need to determine how much you can save during the times of plenty and still pay your bills. This includes everything from debt to utilities to rent to food to taxes. You should figure out about how much from your paychecks you can take out. Your income varies from month to month, so you’ll need to ballpark it. Make sure you have that money in your checking account when you need to pay your bills.
Second, you need to divvy up a percentage of every deposit (it doesn’t matter if it is $20, $200, or $2000, you take out the same percentage) then transfer those percentages into separate funds/accounts in an online bank that will pay you interest for your savings. I use Ally Bank. I have made accounts for the following:
Social Life: 2%
Emergency: Currently at 3% (it was at 7% when I was building it up. I lowered it recently).
Taxes: 12% (Some of my gigs take taxes out, but with some I need to reserve for myself so that I can pay the tax-man. You will need to determine what tax bracket you are in.)
Vehicle: 3%
Business Growth: 2%
Offering/Donation to Church: 10%
Necessities: 2%
Gift/Charity: 1%
Vacation: 1%
Debt: 7% (I recently ramped this one up because my emergency fund is built up. I want to start paying down all my debts, including school.)
I also have a 403b (the nonprofit version of a 401k) retirement account with my hospital job. They match up to a certain amount that I put in, so it’s a good idea for retirement.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Needless to say, I am still working on perfecting and honing my budgeting and saving skills, and life likes to throw curve balls.

On Fighting Old Mistakes and Welcoming New Ones

I am finally at the point in my life where I can look back with some objectivity. I’ve done things that I’m immensely proud of.  I’ve created events and institutions that are still running even after I’ve left that position.

I’ve also made mistakes. Plenty of them. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve fallen down. But the trick is to get up, wipe the metaphorical (or literal) blood from your nose and the dust from your pants, and then keep moving forward.

One quote that I tell my private voice students and my choirs is this: Never make old mistakes; only make new ones.

Now, on the face of it, this truism might seem simplistic. And it is. But it assumes a few things.

1) It assumes that you will make mistakes.

Making mistakes is inevitable. You will mess up. You will hurt friends and fail them in ways that you didn’t know that you could. You will get fired from that job, and it might even be your fault. You will bomb that test, show up late to that interview, and waste that money on what you thought was a sure thing. This will happen. I know that it will because it happens to everybody. You aren’t special.

2) It assumes that you often keep making the same mistakes.

This, for me, is the most frustrating part of the whole bit. It’s one thing to make a mistake. It is another thing to make the same mistake multiple times. How many times can you be late for work because you overslept? How many times can you double-book yourself for a gig? How many times can you selfishly choose to spend time and money on yourself when your friend is in need?

These are our blind spots—the problems in our lives that are of our own making, our sins and foibles. And yet we repeat them ad nauseum.

3) It assumes that we can stop making these mistakes.

This is the difficult part of this statement. It forces us to attack those sins and habits that continually rear their ugly heads. We must take proactive steps to ensure that we don’t repeat and repeat and repeat them. In lessons and rehearsals, I tell my singers to mark the mistake with a pencil. Double/triple/quadruple underline it. Circle it. Whatever it takes. Write reminders to not miss that note or rhythm.

Lasting change and personal growth must be intentional.

4) It assumes that we will make new mistakes in the future.

This, too, is inevitable, and we must not fear it. Fear of failure is debilitating. It stops us from taking chances. It hamstrings us from achieving the things that we will only accomplish with persistent trial and error (read: everything new thing that we attempt to do).

So when you fall flat on your face, get back up. Own it. When you fail your friend, do whatever it takes to make it right. When you fail that interview, make sure you are more prepared for the next one. If you are always late for work, get up 10 minutes earlier or buy a second alarm clock. Learn from your mistakes, change yourself, and move on.

The INTJ Musician’s Top 7 Nonfiction Books from 2018

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while, so I thought I’d let you know about some great books that I’ve read this past year. This year was a first for me. I don’t usually read nonfiction, but I decided I needed more skills and knowledge. To help matters, one of my jobs allows me to read during lulls. I’ve squeezed in a lot more reading this year than usual, and you are the beneficiaries!

Disclaimer: 1) Some of these books can be directly applied to life as a working musician. Some will not. They’ve all helped my understanding of the world, though. 2) I have linked to their Amazon pages, but you could do what I did, which was order them from the library. I don’t get any money from sharing these links.

Without further ado, here are my top 7 books of 2018:

your creative career

7. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino

This was an excellent book with a more philosophical take on being a creative. I would recommend it for those who need to get into the mindset of being an artist and a businessperson. It’s very pithy. It’s got great aphorisms that you can take to heart.

war_of_art

6. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This short book will inspire those of us who want to create but are too afraid of taking the plunge. I don’t agree with all the language in it or even all the ideas. However, it has helped me focus, and I read it every so often in order to reorient myself.

hillbilly_elegy

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I descend from hillbilly stock on both sides of my family, so this book was eye-opening for me. I even grew up in a place nicknamed “Hazeltucky” (that wasn’t a compliment, either). Even though I’m a few more generations removed than Mr. Vance, I still could see some of the same mindset struggles in my own life.

ren soul

4. The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine

Those of us with multiple interests and skill-sets often struggle. We don’t know how to use our skills to create an income and a life we actually want to live. Thankfully, Ms. Lobenstine specializes in helping people with multiple skills/interests find careers. I highly recommend this book if you are of this mind and are looking to change your life.

intellectuals and society

3. Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This was the first book that I’ve read by the great thinker, Thomas Sowell. To be honest, it was a bit dense. I struggled to read some of it. What kept me going was the fact that the material was so great. Having spent  a lot of time in academia, I’ve met people with the bias Mr. Sowell is attacking. All too often, people with degrees look down on people who don’t. We should value people’s opinions based on the merits of their argument, instead of judging them based on how wittily they express their opinions or how many letters they put after their name.

ethnic america

2. Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell

I know, two books by the same guy? This was much more readable than the other book I read, and it was a fascinating read. Learning about the struggles of the major ethnic groups (at least, up to the 1980s—seriously, it needs updated) in America gave me a lot of context. Highly recommended!

the money book

1. The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-timers, and the Self-employed by Joseph D’Agnese

The Money Book has changed my life more than any other book this past year. It contains a ton of helpful information on how to deal with personal finances when you have irregular income. Because of this book, I have saved more than I ever have! If you are a working creative, you need to get this book!!!!!!!