Posts tagged #arts and entrepreneurship

Two Mistakes to Avoid when You Get Advice from a Mentor

What should you do when you actually get through to a potential mentor, and get advice? How can you turn one-time advice into long-term mentorship?

In this short video (about 3 min.), I talk about the two big mistakes people make when they get advice from a potential mentor, and what to do instead.

Fight Against Perfectionism by Using an 80/20 Analysis: Productivity Deep-Hacks for Musicians, Part 2

Photo by John Cobb

Photo by John Cobb

In this post, I'm going to show you a tested strategy to get realistic about what actions really matter, and how to eliminate the ones that don't. This is the second post in a series of four, in which I will share with you one productivity hack that has helped me to bypass all of the distractions and really increase my productivity this summer.

These are not surface tricks, but deep strategies for deep work.

If you haven't already, read my first post in this series, where I share with you how to design your primary workflow to remove friction and stay in a state of flow.

Musicians? Perfectionists? Nah, couldn't be.

You're picking up on my sarcasm.

Musicians are notorious for being perfectionists; professional scholars are also notorious perfectionists. That means I have a double-case.

For a long time I didn't even realize that my perfectionism was severely hampering my productivity. I'm reminded of the story about the old fish who says to the young fish: "How's the water today?" The young fish looks around and replies: "What water?" I was swimming so deeply in a world of perfectionism that I couldn't even see its effects on me.

And no, this is not humble bragging—I'm not saying that I produce perfect articles, lectures, or workshops. Nothing I've ever released has been perfect. What I'm saying is this: 

I have failed to produce many potentially valuable services because my invisible scripts of perfectionism have held me back.

Has this ever happened to you as well? You have ideas about performances, products, or recitals, and have even worked dozens or even hundreds of hours on these projects. But do you feel like something is holding you back from sharing them with the world? 

You might ask yourself if that voice of doubt is the villain of perfectionism, whispering in your ear. 

Realize You're Swimming in Water

Like the fish who wants to notice the water it's swimming in, the first step to getting around the obstacle of perfectionism is noticing it is there. 

Before you write this idea off completely, it's crucial that you understand one thing: I am not suggesting that what you produce should not be excellent. You should make every effort to deliver a product, service, or piece of scholarship (in my case) that is world-class.

But even world-class does not mean "perfect."

Instead, you need to identify the parts of your work that will give you and your audience the most value, those few actions that will get you most of the way to the finish line. That's where an 80/20 analysis comes in.

What Is the 80/20 Principle?

The 80/20 principle has been around for a long time, and is already well known in entrepreneurial circles (see here for more on the principle). But few musicians and scholars I've talked to know of it. Here is a brief primer:

The 80/20 analysis is a lens through which to evaluate actions to discover which ones yield the most value to a particular desired outcome. It is based on the principle that not all actions yield the same value. It is sometimes called the "Pareto Principle" for Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist who discovered it over 100 years ago. It says this:

The 80/20 principle says that 80% of your results comes from 20% of your actions.

How to Do an 80/20 Analysis

It's simple: take a set of data and evaluate it, looking for the 20% of items that give 80% of the result. Then work on those in the 20% first, and don't stop until they are completed.

Here's a classic to-do list example: if you write out a list of ten things you want to do tomorrow, about two of them will give you 80% of the potential value of the day's work, and the remaining 80% of tasks will only give you 20% additional value. 

Think about that. Two tasks only will give you most of the desired result.

Try it now: look at your to-do list for today and ask yourself which are in the 20%. Have you completed them, or are you working on them now? Or have you been working on the 80%?

Here's the catch: the 20% of actions you need to be doing are also the actions that are the most difficult. They are therefore the ones we avoid.

Let's test this principle against broader criteria (remember that 80/20 is a principle, not a law; your numbers might vary a bit): 

  • Professional musicians: does 80% of your revenue come from 20% of your gigs?
  • Composers: do 80% of your performances come from 20% of your compositions?
  • Arts Entrepreneurs: does 80% of your business come from 20% of your products and services?
  • Scholars: do 80% of your citations come from 20% of your scholarship?

It may work in the reverse as well: 80% of your hassle probably comes from 20% of your vendors, students, or even band members (!). 

Cultivate the 80/20 Habit

What to do in response? Well I can't give you a perfect answer, but I can say that if you start practicing the 80/20 analysis, you just might change your mind about aiming for perfectionism. Instead, aim for the few actions that deliver the most value, and then press for completion. If you've done the 80/20 analysis, you know that the remainder of possible actions will only make the result incrementally better.

It's always better to deliver 80% of value than 0% of perfection.

Now it's your turn: What do you think of the 80/20 analysis? Is it a revelation? Hogwash? Let me know in the comments. Also in the comments, tell me where in your life or career might an 80/20 analysis be useful?


Posted on September 11, 2016 and filed under Arts and Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Writing.

Designing Your Primary Workflow: Productivity Deep-Hacks for Musicians, Part 1

Photo by: Alex Ruban

This post is the first in a series of four about productivity. In this and each the next four posts, I will share with you one productivity hack that has helped me to bypass all of the distractions and really increase my productivity this summer.

Introduction: Deep Work

I just came out of a long summer of being in "monk mode" writing a research article.

I am at the tail end of writing a scholarly article telling the story of how P. T. Barnum helped Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, become the biggest musical touring success of the 19th century—through branding her for American reception (more on that in another post). 

The work was long and hard, and it pushed my productivity skills to the limit. There were three special characteristics to this kind of work that made it very challenging:

  1. I was managing myself—no one was waiting on me to do my daily work.
  2. The work took deep and intense concentration for long periods of time.
  3. The goal could not be accomplished in a day, but took consistent work to progress over time.

As I reflect back on the summer, I have realized that this type of long, consistent, challenging scholarship work is very similar to what we do as musicians and entrepreneurs. We spend day after day in the practice room, perfecting our skill, or day after day working on our business, getting gigs and clients. Day after day cultivating inspiration. It's deep work.

As Cal Newport has recently argued, our most valuable work is often the deep work that is becoming so rare in this distracted world. This book is a must-read, and I highly recommend it.

Ask yourself: are you doing the most valuable work that you should be doing, today? Don't judge, just notice. Consider your list of things to do today. How does it stack up against the three characteristics I listed above?

  1. Are you managing yourself, or reacting to the agendas of others?
  2. Are you prioritizing work that takes long stretches of deep concentration and skill?
  3. Are you working toward your most important long-term goals?

Maybe you could use a reboot, just like I needed at the beginning of the summer. I want to tell you about four productivity strategies over my next four posts—not surface tips or tricks, but real strategies—that have really helped me. 

You too can tame the chaos and spend more time in a deep state of flow adopting and adapting these same strategies.

Deep-Hack #1: Design Your Primary Workflow, Then Build an Infrastructure Around It

The first way to aid flow is to design your workflow and remove predictable friction points. Think of the activity you do when you are doing your most valuable work. Perhaps that is woodshedding the pieces for your next recital or gig. Perhaps it is writing marketing copy for your music studio or your upcoming album release. Perhaps it is clearing space to do the most difficult and necessary work of all: surrendering your will and being caught up in making art

For me, this summer, it was deep-diving into the pool of ideas, research, and argument. But I found that my tools were getting in the way. My research was scattered across several applications, plus 3x5 note cards. My writing was captured in several different apps: Scrivener to draft, Pages to fine tune, and Microsoft Word to share with colleagues.

I felt like I spent more time hassling with software than actually organizing and composing my thoughts. So I called a time out and designed my workflow. That is, I created a process to apply to my most valuable activity, and then I created an infrastructure around it. The freedom it brought, and friction it removed, was amazing, given the short time it took to set up.

Here's how to design your own primary workflow. I'll use my activity of writing an article as an example.

1. Determine the phases you typically go through during your primary activity.

For my writing project, here is what I came up with:

  • scheduling my time
  • capturing and managing action steps (task management)
  • taking notes and capturing ideas on the fly
  • research collection, evaluation, and organization
  • organizing my argument (outlining)
  • drafting the article
  • revising the article

2. Put the phases in order, following the natural flow of your work. 

Note that the order of these steps is not random, but follows the natural flow of work:

Scheduling time: Everything starts here. Be sure to schedule large blocks of time in your calendar and treat them as sacred. Blocks of 1 to 2 hours are ideal. Shut off all distractions during this time, and don't check email or social media.

Task management: This must allow me at any time to capture a task that I realize I need to accomplish. This section of the workflow must be accessible at any point in the activity, not just at the beginning.

Capturing notes: In contrast to tasks, this phase is for capturing ideas on the fly in a way that is immediate and effortless. I have had too many ideas dissolve into the ether because I didn't have a place to put them when I needed to.

Research: This, and the tasks below, are more specific to my task of writing. This phase handles the searching, acquisition, and organization of all research materials I will need for the project.

Organizing my argument: This is the beginning of the actual writing phase. Organizing an argument, pulling resources together, and crafting a new contribution is perhaps where the deepest work occurs.

For composers, this is where the concept of a piece is born and kindled. For performers, this is where the true message of your performance is determined. For teachers, this is where your teaching philosophy grows and develops.

Drafting the article: Once the hard work of organizing an argument is finished, this is the long slog of getting a first, complete draft of the article.

For composers, this might mean drafting a version of a composition. For performers, this would be putting together and trying out the contours of your interpretation in performance. For teachers, this would be translating teaching philosophy into instruction design.

Revising the article: In this stage, I'm not only revising, but I'm also engaging with colleagues to get feedback. Feedback is crucial when what we are trying to accomplish is ultimately communication. This is true of an article, composition, performance, or lesson.

3. Choose dedicated tools for each phase.

Your next step is to choose a tool for each phase, and use it consistently. Here are the tools I chose:

For scheduling time: Google Calendar

For capturing my tasks: Asana

For capturing my notes: Evernote

For managing my research: Sente

For the entire writing process (organizing argument, drafting, and revising), I chose one single app: Scrivener

If you're interested in knowing my rationale for choosing each of these, let me know in the comments—I'm happy to elaborate. But the main thing here is not what tool you choose, but that you choose the tool that's best for you and stick with it. This choice will really produce dividends over time, when you can reliably know where to find any aspect of the project you are looking for, in any phase.

4. Build an infrastructure around your workflow.

Once you have designed your workflow and chosen your tools, you are ready to build an infrastructure around your workflow. This summer, I decided to completely reorganize my phone screen and computer desktop around the workflow I outlined above. Here's why: 

I've always used the dock in the way that Apple suggested by default, that is, to house the phone and messages and email and other "connected" apps.

But guess what I realized: those are exactly the apps that distract me and keep me from doing deep work! Why would I want to make them easily accessible?

I needed to get those apps out of my dock, and fast. But what should go in their place? Well, exactly the apps that I chose in the previous step, of course.

iPhone Setup: As you can see from the two screen shots below, I placed the four apps that I will use most in my workflow on the iPhone in the dock. From left to right, they correspond to my workflow: Google Calendar, Asana, Evernote, Sente. Because I do little true drafting on the phone, I left the Scrivener app out of the dock. But it's nearby if I absolutely need it.

Macbook Pro Desktop Setup: Before reorganizing, I had over twice as many apps in my dock. Now I've removed all of those that aren't in my workflow to make them just a bit harder to get to. It's not perfect, but in general the apps move along the workflow, with a couple of extras: Finder, Calendar (it's linked to my Google Calendar), Spotify for writing music, Evernote, Sente, Scrivener, and Safari. Asana is a web app only, so I linked it just on the other side of the divider (the globe icon). Then I have my master Scrivener file ("All Academic Writing"), downloads, and trash.

My iPhone home screen, with workflow design in the dock.

My iPhone home screen, with workflow design in the dock.

My Macbook Pro desktop, with workflow design in the dock.

My Macbook Pro desktop, with workflow design in the dock.

Taking the time to sort out your workflow will bring you a sense of control and trust in your own system. There is nothing like it for getting into a state of deep work flow. 

Now it's your turn: In the comments, share your most valuable action, and the typical phases you go through to complete it. What tools can you not live without?

Posted on September 8, 2016 and filed under Arts and Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Writing.

Career Models Through Music History: CMS Summit Presentation

Jenny Lind is just one of the performers from history that today's students can learn from.

On June 4, I will be giving a TED-style presentation at the CMS Summit: 21st-Century Music School Design, on the topic, "Career Models Through Music History." There are so many other wonderful presenters and attendees, I am honored to be able to speak for a short time about my two passions: music history and music entrepreneurship. Keep an eye out for resources produced by the summit team, which is directed by David Cutler at the University of South Carolina. After the event, they will be producing a content-packed pdf booklet as well as videos of all the presentations. Here is the summary of my contribution to the summit.

Career Models Through Music History

The music history classroom can be a place where music students learn not only about the history of genres, styles, and composers, but how to design their career philosophies, connecting liberal arts learning to the development of professional skills. One key way to do this is to study music career models and their development through history, especially after the French Revolution of 1789.

Studying music career models in the music history classroom:

  • Allows students to become “unstuck” from the tyranny of the present and apply to their own careers the knowledge, experiences, and reflective insights of professional musicians throughout history.
  • Prepares students for the reality of a career in music by realizing that every significant composer or performer in history was either a great self-promoter (think: Wagner, Liszt, or Stravinsky), or had champions (think: Musorgsky or Jenny Lind).
  • Makes the study of history more relevant to today’s students, and leverages a course that is already on the books, rather than adding new credits.

A look at music history will show that musicians have been successful entrepreneurs in a field that has been historically suspicious or even outright hostile to commercialism. More importantly, it will show our students that they too can succeed in their music careers. This is true not only for composers, but all primary music degree areas, including performers, music educators, and arts administrators.

Here are three ways you can begin emphasizing career models in your music history classroom. Each of the following ways is positioned to lead from analysis of an example to personal reflection.

1.    Foreground the history of performers. Start with a few well-known examples such as Jenny Lind or the Kronos Quartet. Have students project what kind of performance career will be relevant in five, ten, and fifty years.

2.    Convert your preexisting lectures by adding a question: “What is the value proposition of this composer/performer?” Have students reflect by imagining they have to apply the composer’s career model to their own careers.

3.    Study the cultural values commonly used to promote composers and performers. Some common artistic values: innovation, tradition, spirituality, fearless exploration, anti-commercialism. Ask students to describe which values align with their own artistic goals.

Use a “Pre-Mortem” to Help Your Projects Succeed


In the theater world, there is a practice called the post-mortem, or “post-mort,” in which the team gathers after a show to discuss what went well, and what areas could be improved (read: what failed miserably and can’t happen again). In music, we don’t do this as regularly, but it does happen after some concerts or major events.

The end-goal of a project is often obscured. Use a “pre-mortem” to clear away the clouds and face up to a project’s potential disasters .

The end-goal of a project is often obscured. Use a “pre-mortem” to clear away the clouds and face up to a project’s potential disasters.

In this post, I want to introduce an idea that I found in Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, Decisive, called the pre-mortem. This is an activity for an individual or team to think through all of the events that might make a project go wrong before they happen, and ultimately develop strategies for avoiding these pitfalls.

I am part of an entrepreneurship education group at Millikin University, where we share and develop resources to use in our arts entrepreneurship classes, and across the curriculum. For our latest meeting, I wrote up the pre-mortem activity that I have provided below. This activity can be used by teachers or students:

  • Teachers: Use it in any class where there is a major project, such as a research paper, presentation, or group assignment.
  • Students: You can take it upon yourself to run a pre-mort for any major project to help you plan. Imagine running a pre-mort for your senior recital, an important presentation, or your dissertation defense.

Activity: The Pre-Mortem


Often times, we do an exercise after a venture fails, analyzing what went wrong and fixing it for next time. This exercise allows students to perform a “premortem,” a thought experiment that helps them identify the key points of potential failure in the project, then to design strategies to avoid those problems.

Usage Suggestions

This exercise would be appropriate for undergraduates, graduates, or business project teams. This exercise assumes that there is already a defined project in place that the team is working on.

Learning Objectives

Identifying potential failure points for a venture or project.

Materials List

Pencils and paper; whiteboard and pens.

Pre-Work Required by Students

A somewhat clear understanding and vision of a group or individual project.

Theoretical Foundations

Chip and Dan Heath, Decisive (2013), 202–206. Gary Klein, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (MIT, 2009)

Suggested Time Plan (time)

  • 5 min.: Brainstorm the following prompt in teams of three or four: “Okay, 15 weeks from now your project was a total fiasco. It totally failed to meet the requirements of the project, and did not achieve the desired results. Why did it fail? List 20 reasons.”

  • 10 min.: Share with entire group the reasons, capturing all of them on a white board. Include tick marks for doubles.

  • 15 min.: Assign each group one problem to solve, using the top four reasons from the sharing time.

  • Have each group prepare outside of class their presentation of the solution to the problem, to be delivered in the next class period.

How do you think a pre-mortem might help you develop strategies for success in your projects? Are there other strategies that are especially helpful for you? Share them in the comments.

Posted on April 8, 2015 and filed under Arts and Entrepreneurship, Teaching.

Yoda Would Never Say This to Young Musicians (On Arts and Entrepreneurship)

Yoda would never say this to a young musician apprentice:

“Are you an artist or an entrepreneur? Choose you must.”

He also wouldn’t say: 

“Anger, fear, entrepreneurship. The dark side of the Force are they.”

But he might say: 

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

When I was growing up, practicing my Bach and Chopin...

From ASAPP to ASAP: Is Business Correspondence Becoming Less Polite?

Just a short note today from the archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. While researching this week, I’ve been reading hundreds of pages of inter-office memos, letters, press releases, and shipping orders from record executives. Many of the shipping orders were sent out as promotion to key people in the recording industry, and the ones I was looking at were from the desk of Mo Ostin, President of Warner Bros. Records. 

On these shipping orders, in the comment box, I saw a note: “ASAPP.” At first I thought it was a typo, but then after seeing it on multiple other sheets, it hit me: the extra “P” is for “please.” It seems like a small but important letter. Even when rushing, and there's a lot of money on the line, it pays to be kind.

Where did that last “P” go in today's business acronymicon?

Posted on August 6, 2014 and filed under Arts and Entrepreneurship, Music and Branding.