Important Lessons I Learned Working in the Classical Music World

How many times have you been told that being a classical musician is a difficult journey, paved with uncertainty, rejection and seemingly insurmountable obstacles?


Is it any wonder that we often struggle to make ends meet or pursue our goals with contentment if we are conditioned to accept “hardship” throughout our entire lives?


It doesn’t help that the struggling artist has been romanticized over the centuries from Mozart’s lifelong financial problems to the unappreciated van Gogh. History appears to dictate that one must sacrifice an easier life in pursuit of the highest form of art.


I’m tired of this bleak outlook, aren’t you?


There is no denying that being a classical music requires hard work and a lifetime of consistent application but that applies to anything in life that’s worth accomplishing. We are not special exceptions.


The reality today is that we have multiple options available to us beyond the coveted traditional performing and teaching positions.

These include:

  • numerous types of freelance gigs
  • private teaching both in person or online
  • arts administration across a variety of arts non-profit organizations
  • creation of musical startups
  • writing and selling your own line of exercise workbooks for beginners
  • launching a successful podcast and earning revenue from advertising
  • the list goes on...! 


With the power of the Internet and social media, we also have marketing tools and platforms available to us that people could only dream of twenty years ago.
 

And this is still only the beginning…

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My own adventure began after graduating with a Masters degree in clarinet performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Just like many of you, I had literally no idea what I wanted to do other than some vague notion of “performing.”


Driven by a basic need to pay rent, feed myself and pay back student loans, I came across a part-time junior publicist position at a small firm called Karen Ames Communications that specialized in arts and culture public relations. Despite possessing zero PR knowledge or experience, Karen trained me up and helped me develop an entirely new set of skills that I never realized I had the capacity for. As I grew into a more senior position over the next four years, I became immersed in the San Francisco Bay Area classical music scene, working with a number of incredible artists, orchestras and ensembles, and learning more about the inner workings of non-profits organizations.


It soon became clear to me that once you start to increase your expertise beyond musicianship, doors open inside your own brain and heart as you discover the myriad of opportunities that are available. Equally crucial was realizing the importance of developing relationships along the way with people who can guide you, provide additional experience or assistance, and recommend even more paths for you to explore.


Maybe you’ll discover that your passion for bringing classical music to the masses could be enhanced by joining an arts administration team for an orchestra, opera company or contemporary music ensemble?


Perhaps you’ll take the reigns of your own chamber ensemble after learning that you have a natural ability to lead and now possess experience in making important strategic decisions?


Or maybe you’ll find that you have a knack for creating fun and informative music videos that attract a huge following online and results in selling out your own exclusive summer music school program?

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Does this mean that all of those endless hours you put into practicing and performing are a waste if you’re not performing full time?


The short answer is no.


This is a significant topic that deserves its own dedicated blog post but for now know this:


Only YOU can determine what success means to YOU.


If performing full time is and has always been your goal, you must continue to pursue it with conviction. But for those of you that aren’t 100% certain, remember that success isn’t dictated by outside forces such as your parents, fellow musician friends and colleagues, former music schools…nobody determines personal success but yourself. Decide what YOU want for your career and pursue it regardless of how much performing this actually involves. Guaranteed that the skills you learned from practicing and performing will only serve to elevate your success in other areas.


As a full time employee fresh out of music school, this was something I struggled with too even though I was enjoying the current public relations and marketing journey.


In order to scratch that itch, I created my own concert series called Curious Flights, focusing on new and rarely performed works, particularly British music.


Aside from performing more frequently with presenting music that I was truly passionate about, some of the most successful aspects about Curious Flights were implementing my newfound skills as a publicist and marketer to secure media coverage; attracting an audience beyond just my family and friends; calling upon new industry colleagues to participate; and becoming a part of the thriving local music scene.


It was then that I realized how important all of these experiences were to my overall career and success as a classical musician.


Despite the time commitment, Curious Flights was an important passion project as well as a career booster that I continued to run alongside my subsequent full time position as Director of Marketing and Communications for New Century Chamber Orchestra.

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This brings us to the present where I combined all of the above experience and knowledge to fly solo through my recently launched agency Brenden Guy Media. Now I can finally pursue another burning passion: to share everything I have learned with you, my fellow classical musicians.


Whatever career goals you seek, be sure that you:

  • remain open to the exploration of other avenues that resonate with your character
  • stay connected to your local arts community;
  • meet as many people along the way.


There is a whole world of opportunity available that should put to rest the unfair stress that has unintentionally been instilled in us throughout our entire lives as classical musicians. You just need to get out there and see it for yourselves so that you can truly embrace this mindset. Marketing is one such opportunity to develop your skills and I’m thrilled that you’re here. Please consider me one of the many colleagues and friends you’ll meet in this newfound exploration of this exciting and evolving world of classical music!