Ice Cream Wisdom

Band leaders, artists, contractors, etc: we’re small business owners. The business of music can be so informal, social, and familiar that we lose sight of that fact. But I see so many small business owners (musicians) accidentally sabotaging themselves that I want to share a few tips I learned during my year managing an ice cream shop.

Disclaimer: of course, none of this is “necessary”. I know most of y’all are out here in the wild west doing business willy nilly and somehow it works for you. I don’t understand how, but you do you! Just sharing because there’s no reason that small business owning musicians shouldn’t have the knowledge and opportunity to steal these ideas.

COMMUNICATE EXPECTATIONS

When I hired someone at the ice cream shop, their first three shifts were spent in training. There was a handbook. There was one-on-one teaching. There were quizzes. There was a dress code. Papers were signed.

I firmly believe that one of the most powerful things you can do in any relationship is communicate expectations. In a professional setting, those expectations should be in writing and be in a place where they can be easily accessed.

On the more formal side, you might be a church worship leader or corporate band leader. In either case, you probably have a roster of musicians who participate on a rotating schedule. In such cases, it’s a great idea to provide everyone on your team with a document that expresses your values, priorities, and expectations. This might be in the form of an e-mail, private webpage, or printed paper. Things you might include in such a document:

  • leadership structure: who should your team talk to if they have a question or concern? Is there a procedure for reporting sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior?

  • dress code

  • timing: does your team keep to a strict schedule and need to be 15 minutes early for everything? Or is it relaxed? Make it clear if you’re a stickler for timing.

  • privacy: do you have set lists or arrangements that are expected to be kept private? Do you have a policy about sharing about gigs on social media?

  • alcohol (probably doesn’t apply for the worship team example but hey, I don’t know your life): what is your policy on alcohol consumption during gigs? Even if you don’t have strong feelings about this one, making a statement up front will allow you to take action more easily if a band member ever behaves inappropriately as a result of alcohol consumption. You don’t have to enforce a strict alcohol policy, but communicating one could save you a lot of trouble down the line.

On the less formal side, you might just be hiring folks on a gig-by-gig basis. It still doesn’t hurt to include some expectations in an e-mail when you’re sending information. Example:

  • “Hey, thanks for agreeing to play on 6/23! The event will take place at (location). We will play from (start time) to (end time). We need to be set up by (time) so please arrive by (time) sharp. Charts and reference recordings are attached in a Google Drive link. Pay is ($$$) each. The theme is “roaring 20s” so please dress accordingly and feel free to ask for more specifics if you’re not sure. FYI, there is a $100 band tab. However, I ask that band members not have more than 1 drink during the performance window. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.”

MAKE FEEDBACK PART OF YOUR ROUTINE

Giving feedback, especially “negative” feedback or constructive criticism, can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. One thing that makes it easier to give feedback is to make it part of your routine. That way your team can expect it and not feel put on the spot.

Let’s return to the worship leader or corporate band leader example. Here are some ideas of how you might incorporate feedback into your routine:

  • quarterly reviews: if you have consistent band members, you could provide reviews every 3-6 months. This could be in person, in writing, or both (as was the case in my ice cream job). Include how they’re excelling and include opportunities for growth. Example: John, you’ve done a fantastic job learning a ton of music over the past few months. You’re always on top of the new music and it sets a great example for the rest of the team. Over the next 3 months, I’d ask you to focus on arriving on time more consistently. We’d like to use you on more gigs, but need to see more consistency in this area before that happens.

  • peer praise: consider implementing a way for band members to give each other a shout out when they see someone doing a great job. Maybe you send out monthly e-mails to your team. Include peer shout-outs at the end.

In a less formal setting, I don’t know of an easy (or even particularly appropriate) way to give constructive criticism. If someone doesn’t meet expectations on a gig, I usually just ask for something specific in the moment (if applicable) and don’t hire them again. But you can ALWAYS give positive feedback! For example, I might send an e-mail after the gig is over to tell everyone when to expect their payment, then include, “Special thanks to Rachel for showing up early and going above and beyond with setup!” or, “the client mentioned how much they loved the horn section. Thanks for making me look good!”

Special scenario: one of my favorite things I observed at Ice Cream was performance agreements. If there was a significant issue with an employee (typically a pattern of behavior, not just a one-time mistake or infraction), we would sit down and sign a performance agreement. This was a sheet of paper that included 1) what went wrong, 2) what the expectation is, and 3) what success looks like for the employee. This might sound ridiculous, but just think about the beauty of the concept: you’re going out of your comfort zone to give someone else a clear chance at success. Real example—I caught an employee playing Pokemon Go on her phone while there was a long line of people being ignored. So her performance agreement said “*Sarah (not her real name) was playing on her phone while customers were waiting to be helped on (date). The expectation is that phones are not to be used while an employee is on the clock. Going forward, success looks like Sarah demonstrating focus on customers while on the clock and not using her phone except during breaks.” Then we both sign the agreement. AGREEMENT! What a beautiful word. That means we were both on the same page. From that point forward, “Sarah” had clear instructions on how to be successful—no guessing on how to please her employer.

Now, of course this could look different on a worship team or corporate band. But the fact remains: regardless of how awkward it might feel to give someone direct, constructive feedback, it is the most respectful thing you could do if their job security is at stake.

PROVIDE INCENTIVES

This definitely applies more the formal side, where you have a roster of band members. There are a lot of ways to provide incentives.

  • give raises: remember that quarterly review thing I mentioned? You could also provide small raises for folks who have stayed with your band long term. Someone who knows your music and has been performing it consistently for 6 months deserves more pay than someone who just started. Maybe it’s just $25 more per gig for anyone who’s been with your band for more than 6 months. Maybe you agree to always cover parking for folks in that category.

  • give scheduling priority: make a clear policy that top performers will have their choice of gigs. If you do this, you should articulate what constitutes being a “top performer” (showing up on time, having new music learned, maintaining a positive attitude on the job, etc.) but this is totally fair in my opinion. Example: “Beth, you’ve been so consistent and professional and we appreciate you so much. Take a look at the schedule for July and have your pick of dates, then I’ll fill in the dates you’re not available for.”

  • give bonuses or gift cards: make room in your budget for one-off bonuses. Maybe one month there’s a clear stand out on your worship team. Give them a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. Or someone in your corporate band suffers a personal loss yet still shows up to the gig and does their job well. Give them the tip from your client to show your appreciation. Giving bonuses or gifts is a way to honor those on your team who go above and beyond, but it also shows other team members what type of behavior is rewarded in your business.

There you go. There are a few ideas for how to apply regular-job management concepts to your creative ventures. Please let me know what ideas you have for me to add!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; baritone uke with its 4 lovely strings; these are a few of my favorite things!

Okay, I don’t care about copper kettles but I do love kittens. I wanted to share some of my favorite things today! I’ll start with music stuff but at the end I’m going to add books and shampoo because I love them :)

FIRST UP: UKULELES!

1) Lanikai Spruce Top Baritone: https://amzn.to/2JOgs53

This is what I use in many of my videos! It is not electric. I don’t think the electric ones are available on Amazon, but you can search for a dealer at https://lanikaiukuleles.com/product/flame-maple-baritone-ukulele-with-kula-preamp-a-e-ukulele/. That’s the page for the electric baritone I play.

2) Lanikai concert uke in the LOVELIEST BLUE: https://amzn.to/2VPamsq

I don’t play this one but I think it’s gorgeous and if you’re looking for a classic ukulele sound, concert is a good size to get.

Next up: STANDS!

These are all Hercules stands that I use for various things. I use this guitar stand (or a close variation) for my baritones at home, while the small stand is portable for performances.

Hercules Guitar Stand: https://amzn.to/2YxY9VG

Hercules Uke Stand: https://amzn.to/2VOnJsL

Hercules Mic Stand: https://amzn.to/2Hr3LeY

Hercules Music Stand: https://amzn.to/2YzDO2l

And now for… MY AMP!

I use a Fishman Loudbox Mini. It has a quarter inch input and an XLR, ie. instrument and microphone input. It’s small, super portable, durable, and has worked for all my solo performances, regardless of room size. I have a heavy, old set of speakers I use if a room is HUGE and I need speakers to face two directions, but I use my Fishman amp 10 times more often than I use those.

1) Fishman Loudbox Mini (w/ tuner + cover): https://amzn.to/2LTuV2g

This is what I actually use and highly recommend for solo performances.

2) Fishman Loudbox Black +XLR: https://amzn.to/2VU9AdO

This is something I saw when searching for the one I actually use. This one is black and looks awesome. Just for fun.

WANT TO LEARN SOME SONGS?

A huge number of the jazz standards I learn are ones I’ve read out of the Vocal Real Books (low voice edition). No, I don’t have a low voice, but the keys in these books are much better for me than the “high voice edition”.

Vocal Real Book 1: https://amzn.to/2Qbfktr

Vocal Real Book 2: https://amzn.to/2Qba88O

Vocal Real Book 3: https://amzn.to/2Hrf1Ys

Disclaimer: The chords in these books are not always 100% “accurate”. There are some songs that I don’t agree with their changes BUT these books are incredibly useful and mostly have solid changes. I highly recommend them without hesitation. Just keep an open ear for chord changes you might disagree with.

FOR MY VIDEOS

I use this light. The first link is the light I actually use. The second link is for a set of two similar lights. I often wish I had just gone for two lights, but I have no personally used the lights in the second link.

Softbox Light (1): https://amzn.to/2EiQS4K

Softbox Light (2): https://amzn.to/2YEbr37  

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

Here is a link to my EP “Forgettable” (which I like to think is pretty good): https://amzn.to/2QfcdAO

HERE ARE A FEW BOOKS I LOVE

CS Lewis Space Trilogy: https://amzn.to/2YCtvdQ (did you know CS Lewis had a space trilogy?! It’s WEIRD and AMAZING!)

Lord of the Rings: https://amzn.to/2Q9Qg60 (fun fact: my second tattoo was the Tree of Gondor)

Scary Close: https://amzn.to/2HrmBlV (Donald Miller talks about being bad at relationships and getting better. I love it)

AS PROMISED, SHAMPOO

I know you don’t care how I wash my hair, but I started using this brand a few months ago and I love it and I think often about telling my friends and then I forget.

Conditioner: https://amzn.to/2YDc25e (it says Hair Mask but I use it as conditioner and my hair doesn’t get greasy)

Shampoo: https://amzn.to/30sGMaK

African black soap: https://amzn.to/2HqNpCR (smells like cherry candy)

Why do I need an online presence?

The short answer: TO GET PAID.

So I’m a poor, young jazz vocalist living in a city with limited performance opportunities for poor, young jazz vocalists. So I decide that traveling to play music in less musically-saturated cities might be nice. But I can’t necessarily afford to bring a band with me. Instead, I’d like to hire folks who are local to the area I’m visiting. How will I find players?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations

-I can’t think of any other ways. Just the 2.

Let’s say I’m a talented indie artist from Nashville looking to book a tour. I want to play in Washington, DC but I’ll need to split the bill with a local artist or two in order to increase draw. How will I find bands to play with?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations (followed by a quick Google search to vet the recommendations)

I’m a songwriter in Hong Kong and I want to find someone to record my music so I can put it in my friend’s YouTube animation videos (this is a real life story). How will I choose who should record my songs?

-a quick Google search

-personal recommendations

I’m a choral contractor and one of my sopranos has lost her voice last minute. I need another soprano for a vocal session in 18 hours. How will I find someone to replace my fallen diva?

YOU KNOW WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS.

The most terrible and wonderful thing about the internet is that people can find you. But if they look for you, what are they going to see? Are they going to find an article about your high school science fair project, or are they going to find an amazing video of you showcasing your skills? Are they going to find a decaying Soundcloud page with mid-2000s emo ballads or will they find a professional looking webpage that earns their trust? Or will they be able to find you at all? Will their search only yield results about someone else in North Dakota who makes artisan toilet seat covers?

Here are my recommendations:

-If you are a musician, there needs to be a decent video available that displays your skills. Create a YouTube (it’s free) and upload your best video. Make sure the title, description, and tags are relevant and thorough. This will help people find you in a search. I always include “Abigail Flowers”, “Nashville”, “jazz singer”, and “baritone ukulele”.

-Think about a website. If that’s too expensive, do a landing page through Squarespace—I think it’s only $5/month and is still quite effective. If that’s too much, perhaps just purchase the domain name you want.

-If a website is too involved, you can create free profiles on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Yeah, the whole social media empire is corrupt but why not use it for your benefit while you can? Again, make sure your page(s) include relevant information (name, location, instrument, accomplishments).

-Have a bio! Ask a friend to help if it’s too hard. Heck, hire me to write your bio.

-Professional photos are a big plus. They don’t have to be expensive. They just ought to be decent and not have an outrageous filter on them.

-INCLUDE. YOUR. LOCATION. PLEASE. FOR. THE. LOVE. OF. ALL. THAT. IS. HOLY.

If you are living your dream career and getting tons of gigs off of recommendations alone, then I offer you a virtual standing ovation. But if you’ve read this far, that’s probably not the case. I want you to get hired, but you can’t get hired if you’re hard to find. Make it easy for someone to decide you’re right for their gig. Do your best to quickly convey (through a website or social media profile):

-your name

-your general location

-your instrument (and other skills you offer, like arranging)

-what you actually sound like (video or recording)

-your credits (brag in a bio about what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with)

-contact information (email address or contact form on website)

That’s all I’ve got for now—share your thoughts and recommendations with me!

My first "published" arrangement!

Okay, I am SUPER excited because my arrangement of “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is available for purchase on Sheet Music Plus! They have a service that now takes care of licensing for tons of songs so you (I) can post arrangements easily. I’m hoping to get all my trio arrangements on there eventually, but I’m super excited to offer this one for now :) Check it out and send to a high school choir teacher! <3 https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/21201674

What is Blossom?

I have spent a lot of my life feeling like a musical outsider. When I was in school, I was always in the ensemble of the musical. In college, I felt like “jazz” was for a certain type of person, and this certain type of person was smarter than me. After my tonsillectomy at age 20, I had to start from scratch and re-learn what my singing voice would sound like. It turns out that my new voice couldn’t belt as high or do as many runs. I tended to hang out in the shadow of “stronger” vocalists. As an adult, I’ve been rejected American Idol, The Voice, local wedding bands, and local every-other-kind-of bands.

But 3 and a half years ago, things changed. I got hired to sing jazz standards at a hotel in Michigan with a group of amazing musicians. Getting introduced to the Great American Songbook changed my life. And so did the time I spent with musicians who were confident enough in their own abilities to encourage me in mine. I came back from that experience with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. Despite being told “no” a fair amount in my career, I realized that I have unique skills that are worth pursuing. So I quit my full time job 18 months ago and have been a freelance musician ever since.

At first, I thought that other jazz musicians would look down on me for playing ukulele. And to be honest, they probably do. And to be more honest, I don’t give a crap anymore. Baritone ukulele is my favorite instrument to play. I think the ukulele is special because it’s so accessible. ANYONE can play ukulele. But there’s always more to learn; it’s not too small of an instrument for great musicians. It’s truly a fantastic instrument for any skill level. And I think music is an essential part of life. Anyone with an interest in music should be able to feel confident in their abilities, even if it’s just a hobby.

So Blossom is a place where I want to share my knowledge and encourage you on your musical journey. I want to share the ups and downs of my creative pursuits and help you feel fearless in yours. Everyone can be a musician. And everyone has room to grow. Let’s blossom together.