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The Sensible Flutist

The Sensible Flutist: May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The $100 Startup - My Thoughts
I just finished reading Chris Guillebeau's The $100 Startup. Full of real examples and even one related to us musicians (Music Teachers' Helper), I'm inspired and motivated to keep working on my own microbusiness.

Thanks to this book, I've realized a lot of my inaction is due to fear and perfectionism. One of my project interests at the moment is creating products to sell online, but what do I sell as a musician? I'm exploring this by looking at various options, but I want them to all relate to who I am and what I'm doing at any given time. This book has inspired me to jump in, and I'm writing my first ebook and giving myself only 7 days to do it.

At this transitional point in my life, I have the freedom and ability to just go for it. Like I said in my post last week, resources like this book and Lea Woodward have come into my life at just the right time for me to start working positive changes into my life and my business.

The $100 Startup also helped me realize that if I say I'm running a business, then I have to focus my actions based on making money. Focusing my time on 50 percent creation and 50 percent connecting is a relevant formula to take as a musician and begin tweaking your business. Whether you want to bring in more students, begin utilizing a secondary skill to draw more business or you want to introduce an array of products on your site, focusing your time is essential and can be tricky especially if practicing your instrument doesn't do a lot for income generation at the moment.

I highly recommend this book. It's an easy read. You can either read through it, or you can work through the book chapter by chapter. The accompanying website,, is a great free resource with downloadable PDFs to help you launch a product, a business, or you need marketing help. Everything is broken down into plain English and easily actionable steps.

The beauty of microbusiness is that it's often just one person. You can accomplish much by getting rid of the organizational red tape, and working for yourself. It's a powerful motivator. If you're looking for something to inspire and move you forward, read this book.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When is enough enough?

Graduation Day
I've spent the past three years finding my way. In the five years since college, I spent the first two years as a burned out musician in a full time day job, and the following three as an evolving musical masterpiece. When I started this blog in 2010, I had resumed serious playing and teaching to facilitate a return to school for a master's degree in flute. Boy, have things changed.

I'm still hopelessly addicted to music. I have really made strides in successfully overcoming the psychological and physiological effects of performance anxiety which reared its ugly head as a result of my hiatus. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together more fully for me and in a way that has been making me incredibly happy. I don't want to be known as just a flutist. My life has always indicated otherwise. It was when I stopped pushing forward in what I thought I should be doing was when I realized what I was meant to be doing.

Through this evolution and my incessant curiosity, I find myself questioning academia more and more. I admire and respect all my colleagues who have struck out on their own with only a bachelor's degree in music. While opportunities to perform and teach are limited with just this level of education, the real world experience gained is instrumental in shaping future life decisions. If you choose to stay in school and further your education to include graduate and post-graduate work, you could essentially be living in cloistered academic conditions for a period of upwards of 25 years before you even enter what I consider to be the real world.

When I think about these numbers, I cringe. How many talented musicians stay in school simply because it's what they're told they should be doing? If I had stayed in school to obtain my master's degree, I would have continued on my idealistic, naive path of dreaming of nothing more than playing the flute full time. This would have changed my path dramatically. Chances are I'd have wound up working a miserable day job anyway. The promise of returning to school was what ultimately drew me out of my burned out funk. What if I had already obtained that and then entered the workforce like a dejected nobody?

Perhaps it's the transitional times we live in where I'm growing increasingly distrustful of all large organizations whether it's a corporation or government bureaucracy. Academia is no different. I don't think academic institutions have students' interests at heart. There's too many other competing factors (hello, money!), and this is a reality that many don't think about. I am speaking from a purely institutional perspective. On an individual level, I know many professors who are aware of the realities of the outside world and are honest with their students. We need more faculty members like that.

I wouldn't give up these past 5 years of my life for anything. I've never done things the normal way. While I may have resented it at the time, I'm grateful for it now. When do the hordes of talented musicians making their way through loads of degrees say "enough is enough!" and find the courage to strike out on their own? I want my life to be an example to those who may be questioning their path. Anything is possible.

We are creatives. We have the ability to be free thinkers. If years of schooling is what you feel you need, then that's OK but think about the life waiting for you beyond the academic confines. What possibilities exist for you as you are? The beauty of life is our freedom to choose, even if it's the path less traveled.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Making a path

I'm in yet another transitional period in my life personally and professionally. I'm working on a great project that I'm very excited about. I'm not in a position at the time to hold a day job due to personal transition with my husband's job, so I'm using the time to my advantage to not only help him locate a job but to flesh out ideas and work on them as much as possible to bring them to fruition.

First off, if you haven't read my manifesto, please do so. This will give you the framework needed for this and subsequent posts.
Recently, two great resources came into my life. The first has been Lea Woodward's eCourse, Pathfinding for Idea Pioneers which she is generously offering for free on her site and which I previously mentioned here. Incidentally, she's also running a competition this week for her Pioneers Collective site which would give me greater access to resources and as Lea calls it, "on tap business advice" for the DIY person like myself.

The second resource has been Chris Guillebeau's latest book, The $100 Startup. I discovered the book the day it was released and I was lucky enough to be the first person to check it out of my local library. I'm only into Chapter 2, but it complements Lea's course well and has reinforced my evolving ideas about my project. Ultimately, these two resources have been well timed for my personal and professional transition.

So what is this idea I keep talking about? It isn't ready for release yet, but clarinetist Marion Harrington and I have partnered up and we're working on a new business geared towards musicians like us. This is the idea that we are fleshing out as work through Lea's eCourse together, and we both started it at the same time. Via weekly Skype sessions, we're sharing the work we've done on each task and we're taking the best points from our independent responses.

What Lea's course has done for me personally has been amazing. It's focused the foundational, groundwork process in a way that I don't feel overwhelmed. I can work on the task and feel accomplished and one step closer to launching this project. Since I began this course 3 weeks ago, Marion and I have made headway on our idea that may have otherwise taken months.

Lea has figured out so well how to make her services personal and valuable to potential customers and clients. Right now, I'm realizing how we have to be spot on with how any idea will ultimately impact people regardless of your goal. If your goal is to generate income, then this becomes more important as you'll need to tap into your customer base. As musicians, I think we sometimes lose sight of this. It's so easy to work on the things we want to do that I think we forget that we must actually work and connect with people in such a way that they want to pay you for your work. Figuring this out for yourself is very, very important and will go a long way towards building long term value across the music industry.

This is the start of my path. It aligns well with my manifesto, and I'm walking the walk now that I've so publicly talked the talk. I'm beginning to find the freedom I've always dreamed of. I'm only starting, but I'm excited what the future holds.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

My Manifesto: The Sensible Flutist speaks out

Dear Music Community,

I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now. With a couple of self produced concerts under my belt, the lessons I've learned along the way have opened my eyes to see things I didn't necessarily see before. In fact, I've been feeling intensely confused and frustrated as I notice walls where I didn't notice them before. No longer is making a living in music a dream, but it's a reality that I have to contend with. If this is what I want to do, I better figure out something.

The unfortunate reality is that I clearly see the division that exists in the classical music world. Music should be the unifying factor in our community but factions exist with multiple, sometimes unbending opinions. Some still hold true to the traditional system while others are jumping on board for the wild ride of the new economy. I want to post on The Sensible Flutist my aims and values so that I can start a conversation with others about the best way that we as a community can move forward and make a positive impact on our audiences. This is a conversation I desperately want to have with any willing musician. 

This is the mission statement I crafted for myself a few months ago when I knew I wanted and needed something to keep me grounded as I began working in a new way:

Empowering musicians and audiences through healthy movement in performance, education and collaboration.

This is a succinct statement that says a lot, and I feel now is the time to elaborate on this.

Here are the points of my manifesto:
  • Serve the community
  • Value yourself
  • Think outside the box
  • Teach yourself
  • Be fearless
Having come from a family of teachers, I was taught to value education and to help others in any way I can. Instead of teaching in a school like my parents and other family members, I have instead chosen to help people with my music via teaching, performance and writing. Furthermore, I am continuing my education to help musicians via Body Mapping and the wider population via Physical Therapy. My goal is to be as useful to as many people as possible, through music and wellness. This new path I'm forging for myself centers around music, but branches out to include a professional field in which musicians desperately need advocates and understanding.

Here's the thing - I know that as much as I love performing, my end game is to not pick up an agent. I have had to figure out a way to preserve my creative freedom so that I don't risk burn out. I have decided that as much as I love orchestral playing, winning a seat in an orchestra somewhere is almost statistically impossible. I would rather spend my time practicing solo and chamber music that gives me freedom and the ability to collaborate with wonderful like minded musicians. I don't find enjoyment in practicing orchestral excerpts ad nauseum. 

I'm interested in continuing to self-produce concerts, and finding ways to make them profitable for all involved. I'm also interested in figuring out how to use these skills to get invited to appear on a concert series, but one thing at a time. The bottom line is that I am a performer. I love performing and sharing new music with the audience and connecting personally with people that come to hear me play. New music is my passion and advocating for composers through performance is something that is very important to me.

Performing hasn't been a profitable thing for me. I pick up a paid gig here and there, but this has made me realize that I should not focus on getting paid more to perform. I am focusing on making my performance based projects financially sustainable. 

In the meantime, I'm choosing to pursue Physical Therapy that will give me the financial freedom to choose the projects I want to be a part of. Quite simply, I have realized that performing is a deeply personal thing to me and I cannot make that a commodity for my financial gain. 

You may be saying at this point, "Then how can you possibly make a living as a musician? Once you become a Physical Therapist, won't you just be a PT playing music on the side? You aren't legitimate."

This is where world views collide and here presents the source of my confusion and at times, frustration. My world view is that there is absolutely no job security for anyone any longer. We must work in new ways, and see the world as a fluid place in a state of transition. Anything can happen. "The Man" in the music world is academia and orchestras, and we see these once strong institutions failing with severe budget cuts. We see the facts, and there's STILL debate on whether these institutions will survive. Organizational change is slow to come by. 

When asked what they want to do, most every music student answers that they would like to play in an orchestra or be a college professor. This is what's familiar even though it is not sustainable. Unless music schools do a better job of showing to the outside world how a music degree prepares a student for success in any field or unless music schools are encouraging and educating music students to think outside the box for work opportunities, there's countless musicians out there being set up for failure. We have to stop the charade and start making changes NOW. Otherwise, the music that we love won't survive and we will no longer be able to make a living in this industry.

The question I want to answer is how can we serve our community and earn a living at the same time? In no way can we give everything away for free nor should musicians be expected to. Would you ask a surgeon to perform open heart surgery for free?

But everyday, there are musicians out there giving so much of their time away for nothing in order to keep performing and hoping that the networking and exposure will pay off at some point. What if you're stuck in the middle, between amateur players who can afford to play for free because they work in a different field and those musicians who teach at local schools and universities and pick up better paid work. That's me at the moment, and I don't begrudge those who are getting the work. All I want to do is make a living, and I want to make a living on my own terms. 

How do we start making these changes?

We need to have real, open and honest conversations about how to move forward. We each need to be willing to rethink our opinions for the greater good. We need to start putting into practice all these ideas we keep circulating and talking about. Musicians, composers, conductors, arts administrators, management and all the rest of us involved in music need to have this conversation together. We all bring unique perspectives, but we're all cut from the same mold - we love classical music and we want our art to survive. Our experiences have been uniquely individual and this enables us to innovate and change our community. These conversations may be uncomfortable, but it's important these discussions represent a cross section of our community. Solutions need to be proposed, openly discussed and implemented. 

I believe with all my heart it is possible to make a living doing what you love. Make it useful to other people, and you will find success. Perhaps we've spent so much time focusing on ourselves as musicians that we haven't given much thought to those we can serve. And for me, it all goes back to helping people. 


Alexis Del Palazzo, The Sensible Flutist
Flutist/Teacher/Writer/Andover Educator trainee (Body Mapping)/future Physical Therapist

Monday, May 14, 2012

What and how many income streams should you pursue?

In my last post, I asked you some pointed questions to help you identify potential income streams. As musicians, teaching and performing are primary income streams for most of us. What if that isn't enough? What if you have additional interests that still relate to music, but you would like to expand your list of income generating activities?

While some people may not have enough income streams, others may have too many ideas that they can't focus on one long enough to get any real work done. While my last article was meant to get you thinking about any additional skills you could bring to the table (including the possibility of getting a day job to help you build skills), this is going to be a post to help you focus and refine the income streams.

1) What do you value? Time with family? Fame? Money? You can determine the number of income streams you can handle answering this question first. As I refine my own streams at this time, I'm discovering that I must preserve a work/life balance and this is my current priority. My goal is to eventually be able to work no more than 4-6 hours a day, so I cannot handle more than 3 or 4 different streams. A great site to help you figure out your strengths is the VIA Character Strengths Profile which you can take for free. My profile says my best character strengths are curiosity, gratitude, judgment, appreciation of beauty and excellence, and honesty. All my current income streams of performance, teaching and writing play to these strengths.

2) Do you thrive on multiple projects or would you rather work on just one or two? Again, this goes back to determining your strengths and values. I'd argue that no one is able to multitask too much. Our brain simply can't function at its optimum level. Instead, determine your work preference and choose your streams from there.

I would also point out here that this question is important to consider when you get calls for gigs or new students. It's so easy to take any opportunity that comes through the door when we don't have a full performance schedule or teaching roster. I don't believe that it's necessary to take every opportunity. If it doesn't align with your values, don't do it. Instead, spend your time on efforts that play to your strengths. Long term financial security is much more important than the short term.

3) Do you have an idea for a new business but don't know how to get started? I discovered Lea Woodward through colleague Marion Harrington. Lea has now begun offering free e-courses to help you establish your path. Consider her latest offerings from her Path Finding for Pioneers site.

I am currently working through Path Finding for Idea Pioneers and working through it task by task (which come to you every other day in an e-mail so you can work on the course when it's convenient) has left me focused and energized. I see great value in what Lea is offering and I'm happy to be able to take these courses to determine whether I want to invest in her paid options down the road.


When we're working on our own, the hardest thing to do sometimes is to maintain laser focus when you don't have a separate office outside of your home. If you can discipline yourself to set work boundaries for yourself to preserve focus and concentration, I believe the payoff is worth it. If you begin laying the groundwork by answering these guided questions, finding your strengths and taking advantage of the resources available online, you can begin working in a new way that doesn't take every waking minute.

Regardless of whether people understand what you do, the key is to communicating what you do to prospective clients and customers so that they understand the benefit to them. Focus your income streams for maximum results.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How many hats do you wear?

Ask a classical musician what they do for a living and be prepared for a less than straight forward answer. We do a lot. Most of us perform, teach, compose, write and do many other things that all fall under the freelance title. The challenge of succinctly describing to laypersons what I do is ever present, and most time I simply reply that I play the flute.

I have many income streams that I'm in the process of developing. Currently, I teach, perform and write. I'm also working on capitalizing on my day job experience to create new work. My goal as a musician is to be portable and flexible; however, like any small business, income streams take time to develop into money making ventures. The key is to not give up.

What unique skill sets and interests do you have? Does being a musician completely define you or do have a broader scope of experience that you can draw on? I worked a full time day job outside of music for nearly three years. I treat that work experience as my business management education since my job consisted of accounting, human resources and operations components. Aside from that, my other day jobs have been primarily clerical in nature so I draw on my organizational and administrative skills there to handle day to day stuff and not get overwhelmed. Although I'm now beginning school to obtain my physical therapy degree, these skills will serve me well.

Don't be afraid of the additional experience a day job can give you. If you feel you need more business experience, try to find a administrative position. The hours may not be as flexible, but you're gaining experience, honing your skills and earning a paycheck in the process.

Another question to ask yourself as you begin to develop income streams is how many can you handle? For instance, if you're interested in self-producing concerts, the amount of work involved in handling all the details from securing a space, negotiating fees, hiring additional musicians and promoting the event to get an audience is a huge undertaking. I didn't even mention the hours of practice needed to prepare a program!

Instead of thinking about each separate hat you have to wear under the auspice of generating income via performance, think about the project in its entirety then break down the steps into manageable bits from there. You'll otherwise risk burnout and becoming overwhelmed with all the little bits of work that need to be done.

Become a self-sufficient musician means that you have to develop business skills. Choose income streams that reflect your interests and match your values. You'll be more likely to stick with it especially when the monetary payoff isn't immediate.

We're artists, but we're also forced into the tricky world of business in order to cobble together a living for ourselves. My next set of posts will attempt to give you some perspective on how to overcome these challenges and keep moving ahead even when it seems that you're stalled.

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