Navigating Life After Music School: Marketing for Success with Jared Judge
A big thank you to Jared Judge for sharing his gigging and music business expertise for this blog post. Jared and I met when he was gracious enough to conduct an amazing impromptu brass choir reading session. When he told me of the businesses he has created to help musicians I was definitely interested in learning more! I'm so happy to have the opportunity to hear his story.
ER: Tell us about your musical background and what you currently do.
JJ: I am a violinist, violist and conductor. I earned two degrees in music – an undergraduate degree in music education from Penn State University (percussion was my primary instrument), and my masters in orchestral conducting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
I currently play for Dream City Strings, my string quartet that recently won an award for being Wisconsin's top wedding ceremony musicians. I also run BookLive, a software platform that helps gigging musicians book and organize gigs. It's currently being used by over 1,500 musicians across the US and Canada.
ER: What did you do during music school that helped prepare you for life after school? JJ: During music school, I was lucky to be surrounded by amazingly talented musicians. It was clear they had set very high goals, and were willing to put in the work to accomplish them. As a result, despite my being a somewhat lazy music student, they pushed me to go after my dreams.
In addition to practicing on my primary instruments more than I wanted to, I also took piano lessons and additional music theory classes. Outside of the music school, I joined the Student Startup Challenge hosted by the Business School. I knew that in order to make a career in music, I needed to know how to actually make that happen, which meant I needed to learn the basics of business
ER: What was your biggest challenge after graduating from music school? JJ: I had an elementary school music teaching job lined up after graduating undergrad. I served in this position two years, teaching EVERYTHING in this school: K-5 general music, 3rd grade choir, 4+5th grade combined choir, beginning band, advanced band, jazz band. I also served as a percussion instructor for the high school marching band in that district.
The biggest challenge for me was that while I loved the kids I taught, I still had that itch to perform the high-level music that I had become so accustomed to playing in music school. So to solve that, I joined up with a few local opera companies and then decided to apply to grad school to be an orchestra conductor.
ER: What were your career goals in school? Have they changed? JJ: When I started music school, I didn't actually know what I wanted to do. I had a lifelong passion for music first instilled in me by my grandfather.
I began undergrad undecided in my major, but had joined the marching band, the symphonic band, the orchestra and the percussion ensemble. After a while, all the music students assumed I was a music major, and when I told them I wasn't, they asked me what I was waiting for. I couldn't come up with a good answer, so I auditioned for the studio and was accepted.
When I was a junior music ed student, I took my first ever conducting class with Dr. Christopher Kiver. This class was life-changing: his teaching was inspirational, and he opened my eyes up to the world of conducting and vocal music. These worlds were fairly foreign to me as an instrumentalist. It was in his class that I developed a strong desire to become a professional symphony or opera conductor.
ER: What actions did you take during the first year or two after graduation that were successful? JJ: After graduating undergrad, I took my public school teaching seriously and and did the job to the best of my ability. The kids and teachers loved my approach to music and the rapport I developed with them. The principal loved that I turned the school into one where the hallways were filled with music. I even created an extracurricular wind ensemble with my 5th graders, and put on a musical theater production each year.
I also tried satisfying my itch for performing myself by linking up with those opera companies. Ultimately, it wasn't enough, so I applied to and was accepted to grad school for conducting.
ER: Have you ever had a big disappointment relating to music? What did you do to get back up? JJ: While in grad school, much like my colleagues, I was flying around the country taking auditions for orchestras and bands. I was getting rejected a lot, which stung.
It all came to a head when I was getting close to graduating with my masters and I took an audition for the Air Force band. I thought to myself, "This is going to be the one." I flew to Washington D.C., and had the thrilling experience of conducting the premiere Air Force band while 10 to 15 officers watched. I was on cloud nine after conducting them, but then the commander of the band pulled me into his office and asked me to shut the door. My hands were shaking. He tells me, "You have talent, but you're not ready to be an Air Force musician." I had built this opportunity up in my mind so much that I couldn't hear anything else he said. I was ready to give up.
On the flight home, I realized that I didn't want to play the audition game anymore. I didn't want to have to rely on musical gatekeepers to greenlight my career. I wanted to rely on myself.
ER: Tell us about starting Dream City Strings? How did you get the idea and how were you able to get the business up and running? JJ: After the Air Force audition, I decided to start a gigging group. Five years prior, I had performed in a gigging group that played weddings, and I remember getting paid a lot for those gigs. I didn't have the connections in Milwaukee to join up with a group that was already doing this, so I decided to start one. That's when I joined the Student Startup Challenge and learned how to position myself for high-paying gigs, how to actually sell a gig to someone who needs my music, and how to market myself in a way that gets me in front of a lot of people who need my music.
By the time I graduated with my masters, Dream City Strings was booking over 150 well-paying gigs per year. This was more than enough to earn me a full-time living, and was helping a bunch of my friends earn enough to pay their rent too.
ER: How have you been able to help other musicians enjoy more gigging success? JJ: After a while, musicians saw the success I was having with Dream City Strings and began asking me for help with their music careers. I've helped dozens of musicians with a variety of things: building their websites, helping them market themselves, helping them recruit other performers for their gigging groups, and ultimately make a living off of performing.
ER: Tell us about the BookLive software that you developed. What positive changes have you seen in your life and the lives of others from using this platform? JJ: Running a busy string quartet is a lot of administrative work. But I was keeping up with all of it with spread sheets, google docs, email chains and text messages. One Saturday in October, my wife Emily and I wanted to go on a date to an apple orchard about an hour outside Milwaukee. I checked my spreadsheets and saw there were no gigs, so we got in the car and drove west. As we're picking Honeycrisp apples, I get a phone call. I checked the caller ID and saw it was a wedding planner. My heart sank. I answer the phone, and the wedding planner is practically screaming on the other line, "Jared, where are the strings??? THEY WALK DOWN THE AISLE IN 10 MINUTES!"
Oh crap. Despite my best efforts, I had missed a line in my spreadsheet and screwed up someone's wedding. I thought my gigging career was ruined. A few days later, I realized that when I was managing hundreds of gigs and people, I needed someone to manage me. I couldn't afford to hire someone, but I did have a tech background. So I decided to create software that would manage me, and yell at me if I was about to screw something up. I spent a few all-nighters coding the first version of BookLive. Finally, I put in the quartet's contact information for the next gig and hit the button to send out text messages and emails to them and waited for them to click the "Accept" or "Decline" button. My phone buzzed letting me know that the first musician accepted. Then the second, third and fourth. That's when I realized the game had just changed for me. I kept adding in more features to replace the things I was doing manually: writing and sending contracts, collecting payments, organizing setlists, distributing sheet music, and more.
Shortly after, other musicians started asking me to use this software for their gigging. I decided to let them, and what it's done for them (and me) is saved them hours per week. It makes them feel secure, knowing exactly the planning status of each gig. It makes them feel free because they're no longer chained to their spreadsheets and constantly on their phones coordinating their bandmates.
ER: What advice would you give someone in music school or recently graduated from music school? JJ: Had I not learned the basics of marketing, I would not have been able to book enough gigs to keep me performing music. I would highly suggest getting a basic understanding of marketing, and be open to the idea that having a successful music career involves more than just practicing and performing.
ER: Anything else you want to add? JJ: I just launched my new book, "Gigging Secrets" which teaches the basics of marketing for highly-paid gigs. It teaches music-business beginners how to position themselves for highly-paid gigs, sell gigs, and market their services. You can get your copy at www.giggingsecrets.com