How To Find the Perfect Audience

EricaatpianoPianist, cellist, and author Erica Ann Sipes recently posted a fine article about finding an audience for your music. Rather than focusing on clever marketing strategies, her article instead went straight to the point of why any of us want to play music in the first place. For me, this article (reprinted below, with kind permission) was as much of an epiphany as was finally understanding the Circle of Fifths, and I hope you get as much value from it as I did.

Finding the Perfect Audience – It’s Easier Than You Think

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The perfect audience.

I’m not talking marketing.  I’m not talking programming.  And I’m not talking about anything that has to do with money or “making it.”  
I’m talking about the perfect audience in a very personal sense.  It’s a key, I think, to opening many doors for musicians of all ages and stages.  Whether it’s the nine-year old who’s about to walk onstage to play for a handful of judges, the symphony member who is about to join 100 other colleagues in the concert hall, or the recording artist that is about to spend hours in the recording studio hoping for the perfect take – each of these musicians desires to do his or her best.  But for whose sake?  For whom are we playing?  Are we trying to speak to and please each individual in the audience?  If we are, isn’t that asking a lot of ourselves?  
A few months ago a friend posted a YouTube video on my Facebook page that answered this question  for me in a powerful way.  In the video a tuba player that played with the Dukes of Dixieland band, Richard Matteson, talks about a recording session he was involved in with Louis Armstrong.  In the course of the session the band witnessed Louis performing for two very different but important audiences all within the confines of the recording studio’s walls.  And those very well-defined audience members, his wife and God, made the performances what they were – personal musical gifts that were given with unconditional love coming from both directions.  Here is the video so you can hear the story for yourself:

“I always play for somebody I love.  That’s all.  You play for somebody you love, all the time.  They wanna listen, that’s cool.  If they don’t want to listen, it’s still cool cuz I was gonna play for Him and her anyway.”  

Does this type of approach to performing exclude anyone else that might be sitting in the audience? Personally I don’t think so.  In my experience it’s performances like this that hand the music and the musician’s own self over to the audience in one powerful package that has the ability to move, embrace, and thrill whoever is open to receiving.  
Perhaps this reveals something not-so-positive about me, but my personal audience is myself, all the time – not the perfectionist self or the practice room self, but the me that fell in love with music when I was a little girl.  Performing is a gift for myself that I like to share with anyone else who cares to listen.  If they like the gift too, that’s cool.  If they don’t, that’s still cool.  
You’ll still find me smiling and walking onto the stage again…and again…and again.
Sipes, Erica Ann. “Finding the Perfect Audience – It’s Easier Than You Think.” Beyond The Notes. September 14, 2012. August 3, 2013. Article reprinted by kind permission of the author.
You might also find Erica’s new book, Inspired Practice: Motivational tips and quotes to encourage thoughtful musicians, just as interesting. Erica describes her project “as a coffee table book for the practice room or the music studio.” Loaded with advice from her own career as a musician, Inspired Practice also contains uplifting quotes to encourage musicians when they need it most. 

How To Start and Run a Band

mount-everestSo you’ve played around in a few bands over the years, and you’ve seen things that worked and things that didn’t. And perhaps you’ve wondered if you could put together something that was better.

Congratulations! By having a vision of something greater than what you’re in now, you have achieved half your goal of having your own band. But that was the easy part. The other half takes sustained, hard work, and there are no shortcuts. But if you’re serious about starting a band, you’ll find the work enjoyable.

First Steps

As with any new venture, time spent planning what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to go about it is never wasted. (That’s especially true if you’re launching this new project with another musician.) As badly as someone may want to climb Mount Everest, he doesn’t wake up one morning, decide to climb that day, and immediately set out. It’s the same with a band, a business startup, or a marriage. You’ll be far more satisfied with your band if you don’t skip these first steps.

  • Begin with the end in mind. Be very clear with yourself about why you want to form a band in the first place. Know what kind of music you want to play. Covers? Originals? Rock? Progressive? Jazz? You’ll want to have a clear direction in mind before you begin inviting other musicians to the party.
  • Write a good mission statement. If your mission is to just play out and have a good time, don’t expect to attract great players or book huge gigs. Your statement should address where you want to go, what you’re going to do to get there, when you expect to arrive, who will help you, and how you intend to get it done. A mission statement solidifies direction in the minds of all involved and helps discourage time-wasters from auditioning.
  • Set measurable goals. Identify specific dates for key events, such as hiring personnel, learning songs, and recording a demo. Establish how often you need to play out and where. Come up with actual dollar figures you think the band can make its first year, second year, and so on. Write these down, and make sure your new band members buy into them.
  • Write down your rules. Be sure to make clear what you will and will not tolerate when the band is together. Never assume anything. Communicate your policies on drugs, alcohol, punctuality, preparedness, and so on to all who audition.
  • 03-Social-Media-Management8777Start networking now. You probably have a Facebook page, but don’t ignore other social media platforms that can help you as well. LinkedIn is a great site for musicians, as a profile there says you’re serious about the art and business of music. And with 340 million users, Google Plus shouldn’t be ignored. Use a combination of these networks to identify clubs and their owners. Contact them now, before you build your band, and start building relationships with them. This will help you later on, when your band is ready to play out.

Don’t be discouraged if these first steps take a couple of months or more. Better to plan thoroughly now than to wing it later on. Besides, if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

Getting the Band Together

Now that your planning is done (or almost done), it’s time to put the band together.

  • Don’t rely on classified ads to find musicians. Craigslist is fine, but you should also contact other musicians to find out who they know. Turn to your networks on LinkedIn and Facebook to help you identify good prospects. Visit some music stores and pick the brains of the salespeople. They’re better than any website when it comes to knowing people that are looking for bands. There are also sites that help bands and musicians find each other, such as Bandmix and the new Giggem.
  • Hire the right musicians. They need to be a little better than you are, or at least at the same level. If they’re better, you’ll be challenged more. And be willing to wait. The good ones are probably working, and you may need to make your case to them more than once. Besides, a bad hire wastes your time and sets you back.
  • Establish a regular rehearsal schedule. It’s better to have short, effective rehearsals than marathon sessions. Two or three hours is plenty of time if everyone is on time and comes prepared. (Those are two of your rules, right?) You may feel the urge to push a session past that, but you’ll just wear everyone else down and lose any efficiency you thought you’d gain.
  • Create a website, establish a social media presence, and start a mailing list. Stick with just a couple of platforms at first. Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus need regular attention, and the person who handles your social media doesn’t need to be overwhelmed.
  • Assign responsibilities. Decide who will book gigs, who will run sound, and who will handle the website and social media.

Keeping It Moving

  • Book your first gig within 2 months of your first rehearsal. This keeps the momentum going, for a booked gig helps drive rehearsals: it’s a measurable goal. Also, a band needs a shakedown gig early on to identify problems that need to be worked out. Open mics are perfect, low-key events for a first gig, and it’s okay if you don’t make any money on this one. But send out email reminders about your gig, hand out business cards to everyone there, and get email addresses.
  • Gig regularly. Not doing this is one quick way to kill a band. You don’t have to play 120 dates per year, but you need to play out as often as it takes to achieve your goals.
  • Band_Practice_by_BiffnoLearn new material and rehearse it regularly. Not doing this is the other quick way to kill a band. Keep up with the set lists for each venue, and make sure you swap out material before you return to one of them. And make sure everyone involved in your new project understands the difference between practice and rehearsal.
  • Oil the machine. Don’t neglect marketing. You have to keep the fans coming back. Keep the website up. Post regularly on Twitter and Facebook. Your fans want emails from you; don’t disappoint them, but don’t spam them, either. Work the crowd during the break and collect email addresses. Repeat.
  • Have outside interests. Don’t make music your whole life, even if it is your life. Make time for church, family, friends, and hobbies. You’ll be a better musician because of it.

Is it possible to have a good band and not do some of these steps? Which ones are you going to skip?  The fact is that all bands do all of these things at some point, or they break up. There are no other options, no shortcuts. You have to gig regularly, or there’s no point in starting a band. You have to learn new material, or fans will stop coming to your shows. And if you’re going to play out, who wants to play with sub par musicians who break the rules?

Starting a band is hard work, and keeping it going is harder still. But if it’s in your blood, if doing anything else makes no sense to you, then embrace your calling and begin charting your path to success. The rewards are worth the trouble.


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How a Piano Is Made

The piano is a wonderful instrument. Elegant in appearance and tone, its beauty belies the difficult and intensive process required to make one. Skilled craftsmen build them entirely by hand – there is no mechanical “piano cutter” – and the process takes a year or more. It’s fascinating to watch, and Steinway offers 3-hour tours in their Queens factory that are both informative and free. But for those of us who won’t make that journey for awhile, or if you’re considering a purchase, here’s a fascinating video that shows how a Mason and Hamlin grand piano is crafted.

An excellent piano buying guide can be found on Kent Moore’s blog. Published as a series of nine articles,  the  guide walks the customer through the entire process, from establishing a budget to taking lessons.

Kent Moore’s 14 Myths About Pianos

I’ve followed Kent Moore’s blog for some time now, and I always enjoy his posts. There’s gravity to his writing, a sense that he has thought carefully about whatever he’s writing about, and a certainty that it’s the best way to say it.
His “14 Myths About Pianos” is no exception, and the advice is right on the money. I can tell you from experience that a grand piano sounds robust when it gets tuned every quarter. I can also tell you that my parents actually did trade up from an old $200 used upright to a new Kimball spinet. But they did it because I told them I couldn’t stand the sound of the old one.


Misinformation is a burden.  Here are a few of the myths I most often encounter about pianos.

1. Pianos should be placed on an inside wall of the home.

This was true before the outside walls of a home were insulated.  Old Victorian style homes were poorly insulated against outside humidity.  It is no longer necessary to place a piano on an inside wall in a home. It is still recommended to not place the piano by a window that receives direct sunlight for long periods of time.

Learn more about the history of insulation here.

2. We have not tuned the piano because no one plays it.

A piano should be tuned annually even if it is not played.  The changes in humidity cause slight variations in the soundboard which changes the tension on the bridge. This causes changing tension on the strings which causes movement.

Read more…

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The Digest, Volume 3

The Digest is a new weekly feature to the Sketchbook blog. Each issue provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook and let me know that as well. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Is Reading Music Important for Drummers? by the MD Education Team on Modern Drummer.

Should drummers learn how to read notation, or can they do just as well in their careers without that skill? The Education Team at Modern Drummer wanted to find out, so they asked a few professional drummers. Jeremy Hummel, Jim Payne, George Marsh, and others weighed in with their takes on the subject. The consensus? It sure won’t hurt you, and it may well help you land a sweet gig.

What Record Labels Are Looking For When Scouting Artists, on Music Clout.

The first thing that will attract industry attention is a full calendar of well-attended gigs, at which you sell your CDs and merchandise. But that’s expected of everyone: you have to make your act stand out. Have a band app out for the iPhone and Android? That could give you an edge. So can striking a careful balance between writing music that sounds familiar yet uniquely familiar to A&R representatives.

Is Your Art a Hobby or a Job, on Grassrootsy.

While the IRS has its own definitions of these terms, Grassrootsy has a handy checklist to help us decide. Do folks know you write music? Are you not making any money from it? It could be a hobby. On the other hand, if folks you don’t know come to your shows, you have a job on your hands.

Five Lessons You Can Learn From My Album Mistakes, by Shane Lamotte on DIY Musician.

Why spend good money on album production when you can’t give it away? Find out some of the lessons Shane learned such as why promotion is at least as important as production (“If you build it, they will NOT come.”), and why it’s important to build a buzz before dropping $20,000 on an album.

The Four Deadliest Practice Mistakes Ever – And What To Do About Them, by Grace on Artiden.

It’s estimated that over 93 percent of pianists don’t know how to practice piano properly, Grace says in her introduction, usually because they don’t focus on the connection between the entire body and the piano. Most of the time pianists focus on the connection between the fingers and the clock. Feel like you simply must get in three hours today? It’s quality, not quantity.

Interview With Entertainment Lawyer Joseph Stallone, by Aaron Bethune on Play It Loud Music.

Ever wonder what the difference was between copyright and trademark, and whether your band needed one or the other, or both? Can someone steal your song, and what can you do if that happens? Blogger Aaron Bethune sought out the answers to these and other questions from Joseph Stallone, a noted Texas entertainment attorney. Download the podcast to find out about managers, contracts, and your band’s most important asset – its name.

How to Network On the Gig, by Geraldine Boyer-Cussac on The Successful Musician.

Most of us probably don’t spend enough time building our networks, and that’s a shame, really, because it’s these very networks that can help us land jobs. Dr. Boyer-Cussac observes this is especially tragic when musicians fail to network with the very people they are working with. She advises going for diversity in your network, along with reaching out to people whom you do not know very well.

Ten Lies We Tell Ourselves About Networking, by Hannah Morgan on US News.

Dr. Boyer-Cussac tells you how to network; now Hannah Morgan tells you why you won’t. We whine that we don’t know anyone, or that we don’t have time, or that we’re too shy (but we will play our instruments in a crowded stadium!). Fortunately, noted speaker Hannah Morgan has some good advice for fighting against this negative self-talk.

The One-Sheet and Why You Need One, on Music Clout.

In order to have a loyal fan base that will come see you, watch your videos, and buy your material, they first need a way to find out about you. There are people who can help you, by just spreading the word. Help them out: give them the one-sheet, a 50-year-old music industry concept that is still good today.

The Pirate Bay Goes Cloud-Based to Dodge Police Raids, by Tom Pakinkis on Music Week.

“Moving to the cloud lets TPB move from country to country, crossing borders seamlessly without downtime,” according to a statement by The Pirate Bay. Worst of all, those hosting providers have no idea that they’re aiding and abetting the illegal file-sharing site.

How to Deal With Stage Fright and Mistakes

If you perform in public in any capacity, then you’ve undoubtedly experienced some degree of stage fright, and you’ve probably made a mistake or two during a performance. Performance anxiety is completely normal: most professionals admit to feeling some anxiety over doing badly prior to going out on stage. But what do you do about it, and what do you do if you mess up?

In her article “Stage Fright: Five Tips,” author and pianist Melanie Spanswick provides some excellent advice for performance anxiety, all of which is based on her own experience as a performer. The first thing she stresses is preparation. “Know the piece or pieces you are going to play inside and out – literally,” she says, adding that you shouldn’t stop if you make a mistake. And if you do make a mistake, it’s a good thing to have places in the music where you can regroup your confidence, so identify those in advance. Finally, Ms. Spanswick suggests ignoring any negative self-talk that might float through your head prior to or during a performance.

While preparation is a powerful tool in combating stage fright, it is equally important to know what to do when (not if) a mistake occurs. An employer of mine once put it this way: plan to fail. I understood the message, but I always thought it sounded too negative. Noted musician and educator Gerald Klickstein prefers the kinder and gentler term error response, a simple process he outlines in “The Primary Error Response.”

Echoing Ms. Spanswick’s advice, Mr. Klickstein advises performers to play through a mistake, adding that “audiences connect most deeply with the pulse of our music.” Hence, they are more likely to notice a change in tempo than a quick improvisation. As you play through, release the tension by controlling your breathing. Finally, even as you ignore negative self-talk, let your body language project a positive image.

I’ll never forget the first time I played in a praise band for a church. The band leader walked around before mass and chatted easily with some parishioners,  the priest, and other musicians. He was completely laid back and at ease with himself; I was a borderline basket case. He sensed this and approached me.

“Listen,” he said quietly as he clapped his hand on my back. “You know this music. You’re good. So just go up there and knock it out. The congregation really wants to connect with us, so help them do that.”

Remarkably, it worked. I felt the tension drain out of me with the first note, and I focused completely on having a good time and drawing the congregation into what we were doing. In fact, I’ve kept that bit of advice close, and I use it still today.

Remember: there is a reason you perform, and whatever it is, it’s powerful enough to override your comfort zone setting and force you out onto a stage. So practice, prepare, and above all, enjoy yourself!

Your Comfort Zone, and How to Leave It

Lately I’ve been reading some good blog posts by Chad Shanks, who owns C-Sharp Productions. Most of his blogs deal with the art and craft of songwriting, but I’ve been able to find some gems in them that I can apply to practice, performing, and composing as well.

Of special note is “Get Out of Your Songwriting Comfort Zone.” The title immediately reminded me of a metaphor once used by Stephen Covey, who said that we were only able to walk on the moon because some brave men were willing to leave their comfort zone here on Earth. Shanks feels that songwriting is the same way; it’s easy to get into a rut and do the same old thing over and over again simply because you have had some measure of success with it. He offers some good suggestions to go boldly where you haven’t gone before: copy a chord progression from a song you probably wouldn’t write, or start from the end of the song.

As I was reading his suggestions, it dawned on me that I could use some of these techniques (with some adaptations) to get out of my comfort zone and practice, play, or compose as I haven’t before. So with a nod to Chad, here are a few of my own:

  • Practicing and Composing
    • Transcribe a song, then transpose it. I found that different keys can suggest alternate melodies or solos. Don’t ask why, they just do. Bonus points for transposing it into a key with more than 4 sharps or flats.
    • If you usually write in major keys, write one in a minor key.
    • If you usually write one bridge, write two. Make the second one very different from the first.
    • Really listen to some music you normally don’t listen to. If you enjoy classical, try dubstep for awhile (try “Elements,” by Lindsey Stirling for a smooth transition). Try to find something in it you can take away.
    • Invest in a copy of The Keyboard Grimoire or The Guitar Grimoire. Learn the modes and practice them often.
  • Performing
    • Take a gig that’s just a bit more of a challenge than one you’d usually play. For example, I had never played the piano for a chorus competition before, but my middle school’s choir was going, and that meant that I was going, too. Not a strong sight reader, I nevertheless sat down and conjured up everything my piano teacher, Ms. Gilmore, had taught me. Not only did I learn the music, I found out how much fun it was to actually sit down and read the music. I grew as a musician as a result, plus I picked up a few nifty composition tricks in the process.
    • Play with some different musicians. Just because you’re in a band doesn’t mean you can stop learning. Find some different musicians and jam with them from time to time. It’s even better if they don’t play the same material you’re used to or if they’re an original group. If nothing else, you’ll sharpen your listening skills.

There you have it – my two cents worth. Hopefully you can take some of the suggestions and use them to help you leave your own comfort zone.


Updated May 26, 2013

How To Learn Music Quickly

There are times when we have plenty of time in which to learn music. Recitals and concerts are two examples that come to mind for which the performer usually has several weeks to prepare. But there are other times when things go awry: a band member gets sick or has to travel out-of-town, and he or she needs a sub.

Fortunately, you get the call to fill in. Unfortunately, your initial reaction is that of a deer staring into headlights. What do you do?

The first thing you do is relax. This is a show, not brain surgery. Then you realize (again) that you’re a talented musician and that the project is easy if you just break it down into these steps:

  1. Get Organized. Make sure you have the music on CDs or MP3s and that you have charts or a score to look at. (Make charts if you don’t have them.) Find out if you need to memorize it or if using charts is acceptable. Get a copy of the set list and make sure the music is in the order of the list. Finally, block off practice times in your appointment book.
  2. Recorders that have a variable speed control, such as the Tascam LR-10, help musicians slow down difficult passages for transcription. For more information, visit

    Really Get Into the Music. Begin by looking at the music carefully. Notice things like the key signature, tempo, and features such as chords, arpeggios, dynamics, and so on. Next, listen to the music while looking at the score. Mark difficult passages while you do this. (Pianist Gretchen Saathofff cautions that the music “won’t sound like you” if you listen to another artist’s interpretation before practicing it, and I agree for the most part. However, if the music director tells you that you need to sound like the record, or if you only have a few days, then really go to school on the recording.)

  3. Ask Questions About the Music. Verify the key signatures now – you don’t want surprises later! Find out if solos are to be played note for note and in the original style, or if you’re allowed some latitude for improvisation. Will you be stage left or stage right? (Knowing this will help you set up for practice.) It’s also a good time to find out about such things as attire, rehearsal times, per diems, and so forth.
  4. Practice. Set up as you would for the show. Run through the difficult parts first. Start slowly – no prizes are awarded for finishing first. When you feel confident with the hard passages, go on to the easy ones. Increase your tempo until you’re comfortable with the correct speed. You may want to record your practice session in order to quickly find trouble spots.
  5. Listen to the Music Again. If you made your own charts, now is the time to check their accuracy. If charts or a score was provided, double-check dynamics, repeats, accidentals, and metronome markings.
  6. Repeat Steps 2, 4, and 5.

Above all, never ever tell yourself that the task is impossible and that you can’t do it. Such negative self-talk can ruin your performance and possibly your career. Instead, think of the fun you’ll have at the show, and focus on having a good time on stage. As Matt Baldoni puts it:

Remember, it’s the concert itself that is in fact the reward. You’re not getting paid to do the performance, that’s the fun part. You’re getting paid to prepare for two weeks (or probably less), maybe stand around an airport for 12 hours, sleep in a hotel lobby until your room is clean, or deal with a drummer who plays too loud and just simply doesn’t like you all that much. The reward is the gig, and all the people you’re making feel so happy by being there.


This article draws from four separate blog posts on the subject of practicing and preparing for a show. For more information, readLearning Music Quickly and Efficiently,” by Matt Baldoni, “How To Learn a Ton of Music in Record Time,” by Dr. Geraldine Boyer-Cussac,Sight Reading: 6 Helpful Hints,” by Melanie Spanswick, and “Listen First, Learn Later?by Gretchen Saathoff. Ms. Saathoff has also written an excellent e-book on practicing, Goal-oriented Practice.

How to Practice Efficiently

Gerald Klickstein, the author and founder of The Musician’s Way, posted an interesting article recently about how to make practice more efficient. It’s a topic I’ve blogged about before, and it’s one I’ll write about again, because knowing how to practice is the only path musicians have to better playing. Given that it’s the only way, how can one say too much about it?

Klickstein offers four suggestions for improving practice: pinpoint goals, set a schedule, use targeted strategies, and pace yourself. Taken collectively, they look so simple. It’s easy for the best of us to forget them, however, and it’s essential for beginners to learn them. To help out both groups, Klickstein offers downloadable guides and checklists that make it easy to form good habits.

While efficient practice is important, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of musicianship. It is, according to Klickstein, taking “pleasure [in] the mastering process and bring[ing] soulfulness to every note you play or sing.”

Gerald Klickstein is the founder of The Musician’s Way blog, and the author of The Musician’s Way, available from Amazon.