Promotion is Fun (Even if it’s not)

Dear Students,

If there is one thing I’ve learned from creating and growing my own business, it is the importance of promotion.

If you’re a musician trying to make a living, you are in a market whether you like it or not. More than ever, the laws of business apply directly to you.

There’s just one problem: there are simply too many other musicians, or mechanics or shampoos out there for somebody to notice you without promotion.

But here’s where being a musician is great!

Promotion is fun.

This is where most artists check out. They think their music is sacred and that to sell-out or sell anything is the death knell of their creativity.

But what if musicians started thinking about promotion as an extension of their creativity rather than being the enemy of it?

What if you started thinking of promotion as fun?

Last week, I saw a former student named Colin Huntley perform. It was a great performance. The following act was an experimental Belgian singer/songwriter/electronic musician who programmed her keyboard with all sorts of pre-recorded effects.

At one point in the show, she had audience members come up and play with some prerecorded spoken phrases during a song. What a great example of interactive promotion!

It’s a very simple change of perspective. Rather than resisting the godawful feeling of putting yourself out their, vulnerable and imperfect, what if you embraced the beauty of being who you are and having a darn good time doing it?

Remember, people don’t want to buy from a robot that spams their inbox, puts banners on their web pages and places pop ups where they’re trying to read the news. People want to buy from a real person just like you.

If you promote yourself as a person with value, rather than a robot trying to shove yourself in everyone’s face, people will be attracted to you.

My favorite example is Derek Sivers of CD Baby. When customers would buy a CD from CD Baby they received the following message:

“Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Friday, June 6th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year”. We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!”

Who wouldn’t want to shop from his store again? And I bet he had a good time doing it. You can check out his story.

Making a living as a musician only seems like a job when you think of promotion as something you have to do. But what if you thought of it as fun?

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The 27 Club

As I near my 28th birthday, I am reminded of all the brilliant musicians whose meteoric careers were ended forever at the tender age of 27.

Jimi Hendrix. Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse.

While I don’t want to go so much into the psychological here, I think when we talk about the musicians who occupy the 27 Club , we talk about artists who felt stuck making the difficult transition from kids into adults.

Kurt Cobain, a new father, resented the consequences of his popularity. Jimi Hendrix was still dealing with insecurity over his voice. Amy Winehouse, was riding the emotional roller coaster of sudden fame.

Students remember: if you don’t like something, work to change it. If you feel stuck with something, remind yourself of the best and worst case scenario. It rarely comes out as drastic as the above examples.

Instead, use that energy to try something that you’ve always been curious about.

Curiosity can be the best antivenom to this digital, routine existence and open up all sorts of possibilities for change.

In my case:

At 20, I was crazy about studying advertising. Then I did an internship and realized it wasn’t for me.

At 23, I thought all I wanted in life was to write great songs and play them for people.

At 27, I am a maniac about teaching voice so that I can share the same gift I received from other great teachers .

In each instance, I was totally convinced that that passion paved the only road for me at the time. But passion, with its black and white attitude, is a tad too simple for this exciting life.

There have to be failed experiments, Dr. Jekyls and Mr. Hydes for us to begin to realize where our true talents lie.

So when you are facing two roads, remember there is no correct path . There is only the trail you blaze yourself.

If you’re thinking about learning to sing, give it a shot. There are lots of inexpensive ways to do it. Just remember, everything is an experiment.

If you find this philosophy interesting, I urge you to check out the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.

Two Roads


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Life By the Half Hour

Dear students,

One of the most common questions I get as a voice teacher is: How long will it take to sound good?

It’s at these moments that I wish I had a string holding all the CDs of voice lessons I’ve taken strung around the room. It would probably stretch the length of the walls.

I have taken a LOT of voice lessons. And while I still think I’m a long way away from finding the vocal freedom that some legends make look so easy (Jeff Buckley, Hozier, Sam Smith to name a few), I know that I’m not a true beginner either.

For that, I have some great teachers and tons of practice to thank. Some experts claim 10,000 hours of dedicated practice is one of the requirements to achieve mastery at anything. I know I’m still pretty far from that mark.

So back to the question: How long will it take to sound good?

For me personally, I saw the difference in my voice in 3 months. But normally I advise people that it might take 6 months or more for them to notice a distinct difference.

As a teacher, I get the results that I want out of my students nearly every lesson, but that’s not always the same thing they want to hear. In every lesson, you have to set the bar in different places for different people. For every voice, there are strengths and weaknesses.

I often make the analogy of a $5 violin and a $5,000 violin. A virtuoso player can make a $5 violin sound flawless, while a total amateur can coax only shrill squeaks out of the $5,000 violin.

Which instrument do you have? Who knows?

I’m not even sure that’s the right question.

The right question is are you going to let a predetermined factor of your life (such as vocal physiology) stop you from becoming an expert with whatever instrument you’re blessed with? The choice is yours.

Happy practicing!


Is There Anybody Out There?

If you live too far away from your voice teacher or feel more comfortable taking a lesson in the comfort of your home, there is good news. Octave Higher East is one of a growing number of vocal studios that teaches over Skype.

Nearly everyone certified with the Institute for Vocal Advancement has taught or been taught over Skype. CEO of IVA, Jeffrey Skouson, estimates that nearly 50% the of lessons he teaches are on Skype.

And here’s the scary thing: it works!

I know a musician who swore he would never take a lesson over the computer because he feared something would be lost if he wasn’t in the same room as the teacher.

Taking this as an opportunity, I challenged that same musician to take a virtual lesson and he was amazed at how well a voice lesson translates digitally.

The truth is, it may be the only way some students can take lessons. I have students in Los Angeles, Colorado, and Central America. And even though I teach voice lessons in central Austin, TX, there are many students who drive to me from an hour away.

My colleague Monique Thomas-Ottaviani is based in France but teaches via Skype constantly. She explains:

“I have days when I don’t see anybody in person. And that’s pretty often.

I love [Skype] because I have access to people I would never have access to and they have access to me. That keeps me on my toes.”

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve never taken a lesson with me because I’m too far away or you feel more comfortable in your own home, sign up for a Skype appointment and see what you’ve been missing!

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