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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Music Business

Making Your Own Opportunities

Andrew Hitz

"The man who grasps an opportunity as it is paraded before him, nine times out of ten makes a success; but the man who makes his own opportunities is, barring an accident, a sure-fire success!" -Dale Carnegie

These words were uttered many decades ago and had nothing to do with the music business but could not be more true today.  Most music schools are churning out graduates without teaching them how to make their own opportunities in the music business.  And if you take a look around, the vast majority of people "making it" in the music business these days are the ones that are doing just that.

What have you done today in an attempt to create an opportunity for yourself?

An aerial shot of my alma mater, Northwestern University, where fortunately I was taught how to make my own opportunities. © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Abraham Lincoln's Insights into the Music Business

Andrew Hitz

"I'll study and get ready and be prepared for my opportunity when it comes." -Abraham Lincoln

Whether you are an aspiring band director or trying to earn a living as a player, real opportunities don't come around all that often.  And when one does, you must be ready to pounce.

Sam Pilafian Student Abraham Lincoln

Ask yourself this question: if your dream job were to come calling today, are you ready? The key word is today.  If the answer to that question is in any way no, ask yourself what exactly you are not ready for and plan a course of action to address it immediately.

The Chicago Symphony doesn't call you two weeks ahead of time to let you know that someone will be sick and need a sub.  Your ideal school district you've been trying break into won't necessarily call you a month in advance to let you know they need someone to fill in for the rest of the year.  You need to be ready for opportunities like that right now since they don't come around very often.

When I was 14 years old, Sam Pilafian told me that to make it in the music business you need three things: a lot of talent, a lot of hard work, and a lot of luck.  He explained luck as being in the right place at the right time.  You have to get that call in the first place to show people what you can do.  But he stressed that the hard work part of that equation tended to create a lot of that "luck" and made you prepared when the time came to show your skills.

It sounds like maybe Abraham Lincoln studied with Sam Pilafian at some point in time...

Change: Better Too Early Than Too Late

Andrew Hitz

“Change almost never fails because it's too early. It almost always fails because it's too late.”― Seth Godin

This is true in music.  This is true in business.  This is true in life.

Change is uncomfortable.  Change is scary.  But rarely do we accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams without taking that leap into the unknown.

What aspect of your playing, teaching, career path or overall focus needs to be changed before it's too late?

Hong Kong Skyline © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Sam Pilafian on the Secret to the Music Business

Andrew Hitz

I am here in Clemson, South Carolina with the Boston Brass All-Star Big Band and just had breakfast with my good friend and mentor, Sam Pilafian, at a Waffle House here in Clemson.  Our conversation quickly turned to the music business and as always, Sam had some really great nuggets of wisdom. One thing he kept referencing in relation to the music business was the "fluidity of battle." He summed this up with the following quote:

"There is going to be change today.  There is going to be change tomorrow.  Will you embrace it or fight it?"

What we were sure of yesterday will not be exactly the same today.  What we think we know today will change by tomorrow.  Do you embrace these facts of fight them? I think we all do a little of both, but the most successful among us embrace these facts at every turn.

I guess Marty Hackleman, JD Shaw and Chris Castellanos will have to do.

(In case you missed it, check out these great quotes on chamber music from Sam Pilafian.)

Phil Smith Sums Up Playing Music

Andrew Hitz

"Music is not just the black dots on the white paper - it's what happens when those black dots on the white paper go into your heart, and come out again." - Phil Smith  (Principal Trumpet, New York Philharmonic)

Thankfully this is true.  If not, he would be the only orchestral trumpet player working today.  Sam Pilafian would be the only employed brass quintet tuba player.  Renée Fleming would be the only working soprano.

© 2009 Andrew Hitz

Playing all of the right notes and right rhythms is very important, but conveying your opinions and your emotions through those notes and rhythms is what will get you and keep you employed.  Everyone has their own life experiences which is why there is always room for another great storyteller, no matter what the instrument, in the music business.

No one in your audience was there for your happiest moment, your saddest moment or your scariest moment.  These experiences are what we rely on when those black dots on the white paper go into and out of our hearts and into the ears of our audience.


Are You Ready for the Call?

Andrew Hitz

Today I was a member of a panel discussion with fellow faculty members from George Mason as part of a workshop in Prince William County, Virginia.  It was great for me to get to know the stories of some of my colleagues a little better.  There was one anecdote in particular that left a lasting impression. Dr. Lorrie Berkshire Brown is our Woodwind Area Coordinator and Oboe Professor at Mason.  I have played with her in the American Festival Pops Orchestra and instantly noticed her fantastic playing.  Until today I didn't realize she subbed with the New York Philharmonic for seven years before fully committing to the DC area as a member of The United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.”  The story of how she got to play with the Philharmonic the first time is not atypical but still a great reminder for us all.

Are you ready?

One afternoon in 1988, Lorrie got a phone call at 4:00 pm asking if she was available to play with the New York Philharmonic that night.  They needed a second oboe for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, which she described as "the mother of all second oboe parts." She not only said yes, but it obviously went very well since she played with them for another seven years.

While it took a little bit of being in the right place at the right time (she was home and took the call), the important thing is that she was ready for the call.  She not only took the call but was ready with basically no warning whatsoever to go and nail one of the difficult parts in the orchestral oboe repertoire.  She got an opportunity and made the most of it.

Are you ready for the call?

We Are All Marketers

Andrew Hitz

"Marketing and sales isn't about trying to convince, coerce, or manipulate people into buying your services.  It's about putting yourself out in front of, and offering your services to, those whom you are meant to serve-people who already need and are looking for your services." - Michael Port from "Book Yourself Solid"

I love this quote.  It takes a lot of the used car salesman feeling that some of us have when selling ourselves as performers or teachers of music out of the equation.  Marketing yourself is simply about getting yourself noticed by the people who want or need your services.  It's that simple.

The good news is most musicians, including teachers, are not good marketers and that presents an opportunity for us all.  The bad news is people are figuring this out and everyone is getting better.  We all have to up our games when it comes to marketing.

And make no mistake, we are all marketers whether we realize it or not.

Sun setting over the University of Glasgow on my trip there last week with Boston Brass © 2013 Andrew Hitz

The Smart People Imperative

Andrew Hitz

"Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who will argue with you." - John Wooden

If there is any one piece of advice that I could give to a young person trying to make it in the music business or any other business, it is to surround yourself with smart people.  You limit the potential of any endeavor when you are clearly the smartest person involved.

Unfortunately in music, our first instinct when forming something like a chamber ensemble is to find not the smartest people, but the best players and go from there.  This is a really bad idea.

I joke with my students that there are only three chamber groups in the world who actually get along.  I might be exaggerating just a little bit but the point is still valid.  Most successful business ventures are not started by buddies who have similar strengths and approach things in the same manner.

When starting a chamber ensemble or any other business endeavor, surround yourself with smart people who will question your ideas and tell you when they think those ideas aren't any good.  Be sure those are the kind of people who will counter an idea they don't like with one of their own.  Smart people don't just criticize, they offer their own possible solutions.

Surrounding yourself with smart people has never been more important in the music business than it is right now.  Use that as a starting point for forming business partnerships within music and you'll start out way ahead of the game.  It's not just a good idea, it's an imperative.

And yes, this is the 2nd time I've posted about this.  It's important!

© 2012 Andrew Hitz

Perseverance Always Wins Out

Andrew Hitz

Music, like any other highly competitive field, always comes down to perseverance. No matter how talented you are or how how much success you've had in the past, there are times in everyone's career when perseverance is the only thing that will get through. If I were starting a group or music based business today, the quality I would most search for in any potential partner is perseverance.  Those who always seem to "catch a break" have perseverance in spades, while those who never seem to don't.

If I were a principal and hiring a band director, the quality I would most look for in a candidate is perseverance.  Every single band director I know who seems like they were put on this earth to teach band has an unrelenting sense of perseverance and determination.

The best way to learn this trait is to hang around those who possess it.  Seek those people out, both as partners and mentors, and you will go a long ways in the music business.

Perseverance always wins out.  Always.


Don't Just Look Busy

Andrew Hitz

We've all fallen into the trap of when in doubt, look busy.  I know I certainly have. But when you take a moment and observe the most successful band directors, professors, performers and entrepreneurs in music, they don't have looking busy as their top priority.  In fact, it's not anywhere on their list.  The best in our business have the ability to constantly prioritize what needs to be done right now.

If I have an unpleasant phone call to make, I may procrastinate by cleaning up my inbox.  The trap is that cleaning up my inbox might be something that needs to be done, maybe even badly.  But if that phone call I'm putting off is the most important thing to take care of, it doesn't matter what I'm using to procrastinate.  It needs to get done.

One job that makes it incredibly easy to "look busy" is being a band director.  That's because they are, in fact, always busy.  Have you ever known a band director who seems to be constantly working but always seems to not quite take care of everything when it needs to be taken care of? That is not a symptom of work ethic.  It is a problem with prioritization.

(Note: I believe that being a great band, chorus, or orchestra director is possibly the hardest job to do really well in the entire music business and have said so over and over again.  To be clear, I wouldn't last a week  two days as a band director.)

© 2012 eskimo_jo


I have worked with both colleagues and students who seem to feel entitled to success because they are working hard.  (Coincidentally, people who feel this way rarely seem to be working as hard as they think they are but that's for another blog post!) The people who stick around in this business and succeed are the ones who master the art of addressing and changing priorities to get the most out of their time and effort.

For anyone just starting out in any aspect of the music business, the earlier you can master the art of prioritization, the better.