Barry Alexander

Barry Alexander: How to launch and sustain a stellar career as a classical musician (#12)

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Our guest today: Barry Alexander

My guest today is Barry Alexander, a dear friend of mine for over 10 years. I have always found Barry’s passion as a musician, music educator and consultant mesmerizing. I’ve shared his success stories with my friends over the past decade, so it made perfect sense for me to propose a podcast interview with Barry. Even if you don’t aspire to be a professional musician, I’m sure you will find his wisdom and insight helpful to your life and career.

Barry Alexander and Cosmo Buono are helping classical musicians worldwide launch and sustain careers as professional artists, while also helping build the next generation of audiences.

Alexander & Buono International (ABI) is the parent company of The Alexander & Buono Competitions (ABC), and The Alexander & Buono Festival of Music.

I often refer to ABI as a classical music business empire.  Starting with a single Piano competition in 2003, it quickly expanded to Voice, Strings and Flute, as well as an annual music festival, a not-for-profit foundation, and most recently an Academy (ABIA) launching in January 2015. In this interview, Barry shares ABI’s philosophy for helping classical musicians launch and sustain their careers.

ABI’s seminars train musicians how to perform but also how to navigate the business side of the classical music world. The Master Class Series of ABIA provides a platform where music students meet once a month for six months. These artists come together to practice repertoire and ultimately perform at Carnegie Hall for their final recitals. The Master Class Series teaches musicians how to appear on stage, how to choose the right repertoire, how to perform under pressure and how to manage and triage the unpredictable challenges.

One of my favorite topics with Barry is when he discussed his belief that “Talent alone is not enough.” In other words – it’s not just a question of how talented you (the musicians) are, but how you present the materials.”

Alexander & Buono International (ABI) teaches and conditions the musicians to be proactive after winning a competition. “The competition, as a platform, helps you gain as much visibility as possible but the journey doesn’t stop there. You have to know how to market yourself including how to write press releases and other subtle procedures.” Barry added, “You have to understand how the market works in order to succeed in that market.” ABI de-mystifies and de-mythologizes that process.

Speaking of the struggles many musicians face, Barry responds to a misconception he often encounters as a teacher and consultant.

“Some students believe that ‘I’m only as good as someone else says I am.’ ABI replaces this belief with: ‘I am as good as my talent and my willingness to work allow me to become.’ ” Barry believes that musicians and artists must examine their abilities from the inside out, in order to maximize strength and minimize weakness.

In regards to facing stage fright and the inability to perform at one’s best, Barry and his team created a system that anyone (not just musicians) could benefit and learn from. “While in studio, you are already practicing to be in control of everything you do on stage. You have to understand the physical connection and techniques. It’s not your responsibility to make people like you or to simply impress your audience. However, it is your responsibility to find out all the components to do your job, and to make sure that you do your job. At the end the performance, “Did I do my job?” is the right question to ask yourself, and this saves you from the misconception that someone else makes all the decisions for you.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share the podcast with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.

 

Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):

  • In Barry’s words, what is Alexander Buono International (ABI), Alexander Buono Competition (ABC) and the Alexander Buono Foundation (ABF). [6:00]
  • My first experience of the ABI competition [12:30]
  • ABI’s classical music consulting services to build, advance and sustain music careers [15:00]
  • Why musician’s talent alone is not enough [16:00]
  • Are American musicians at a disadvantage in classical music compared to the rest of the world? [20:15]
  • The launch of ABIA (The Academy) in January 2015 [23:00]
  • The Book: The Classical Musician Today – getting and keeping the career your want [30:50]
  • How to create the greatest success? Teaching students, musicians to be resilient through a proven system [35:30]
  • ABI’s Amateur Division for people who simply enjoy playing music and improving their skills [41:00]
  • The confidence dimension in classical music that helps other aspects in life – such as a job interview [43:15]
  • What are questions that haven’t been asked enough by parents and students? [45:00]
  • How has technology changed people’s expectations to be faster/bigger/stronger in no time – but the physiology process of developing a talent is still the same and can be painstaking. [51:00]
  • Learn about Barry firsthand – who he is and where he comes from [53:40]
  • The child is not a prodigy – but a child who is doing what’s right for him/her at the right time [55:05]
  • Respect your child and his/her ability to learn will enhance the level of affection and pleasure in learning and life [56:30]
  • The documentary for ABI in the work by Christina Voros – a Brooklyn-based director and cinematographer, recognized by IFP’s Filmmaker Magazine as one of their “25 New Faces in Independent Film.” [59:30]

 

Downloads/Links:

  • Barry’s Singing of O Holy Night:
  1. Alexander & Buono International (ABI)
  2. ABI on Facebook
  3. Barry Alexander and Cosmo Buono appearing on TEDxNashville (New Paradigm, New Imperatives)

Information on ABI Artists:

KINGA AUGUSTYN, Violin

Violinist Kinga Augustyn won the inaugural Alexander & Buono International String Competition in 2009, and afterward went on to make recordings narrated by Catherine Zeta-Jones, while also appearing throughout the world as a solo and chamber artist. She is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and recently earned her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University.

JAN LISIECKI, Piano

Jan Lisiecki won our piano competition in 2009 at the age of thirteen. He now has an international career with over a hundred concerts a year, and a five CD recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

THOMAS NICKELL, Piano

Thomas Nickell has been a client of our firm since 2011, and recently his career has included a three-continent tour of Europe, Asia and the United States. In 2015 he makes his first recording with orchestra, and has two European recital tours.

BENEDETTA ORSI, Mezzo Soprano

Benedetta Orsi won the Barry Alexander International Vocal Competition in 2012. Since then she has appeared as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera with the Miami Lyric Opera, and will make her debut with the Boulder Opera in May in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen. She also returns to the stage of Carnegie in April of 2015 for the second time as a special guest artist of the Annual ABC Gala.

ANNA SHELEST, Piano

Anna Shelest, (annashelest.com) came to us in 2009 as well, when she was a second year Master’s student at Juilliard. She became a consulting client, and after winning our piano competition came to the attention of another foundation with whom we partner, The Michel and Elizabeth Sorel Charitable Organization (sorelmusic.org). Together with our foundation (The Alexander & Buono Foundation) she made her Carnegie Hall orchestral debut, her Alice Tully Hall debut, and her Kennedy Center debut all is less than a year.

AMANDA SPARFELD, Flute

A laureate of the 2013 Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition, Amanda Sparfeld is the principal flutist with the Michigan Opera Theatre, and plays with a number of chamber groups throughout Michigan

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Transcript

Intro 0:00
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:16
Hi, everyone, Welcome back to Face world podcast. You’re listening to episode number 12 and I am your host Fay. My guest today is Barry Alexander, a very dear friend of mine for over 10 years. I have always found Barry’s passion as a musician, music educator and consultant fascinating and mesmerizing. I have actually shared his success stories with many of my friends over the past eight years. It just made perfect sense for me to propose a podcast on him. And Barry gladly accepted the challenge. And so today you will actually hear his stories in his own words. So knowing some of you may not necessarily be professional or amateur musicians, but I am sure you will find much of this information insightful to your life and career. So let’s dive right in. I often refer to a bi Aleksander Bono international as a classical music business empire. Why, with a single piano competition in 2003, it quickly expanded to a voice strings and flute as well as an annual music festival held in New York City, a not for profit foundation, and most recently an academy a big a launching in January 2015. In this interview, Barry speaks to APIs philosophy for helping classical musicians not only launch, but also sustain their careers. One of my favorite topics with Barry during this podcast is when he discussed his believe in talent alone is not enough. In other words, it’s not just a question of how talented you the musicians, the artist, the marketer, the developers are, but how you present the materials, abi teaches and conditions, the musicians to be proactive after winning a competition, knowing that the competition only as a platform will help you gain some visibility. But the journey really doesn’t just stop there, you have to know how to market yourself is not going to be somebody else’s job. So speaking of the struggle, many musicians face and the rest of us face. Bear responds to a misconception he often encounters as a teacher and as a consultant, that some students believe that I am only as good as someone else says I am. But it’s really just a matter of opinion. So a bi bears organization creates another paradigm that is, I am as good as my talent and my willingness to work allow me to become so lastly, in regards to facing stage fright and the inability to perform one’s best Baron, his team created a system that anyone, not just musicians could benefit and learn from. So I won’t give that away just yet. Given that it is week of Christmas, in 2014. I invited Barry to sing for us he no longer Marquette himself as a singer, but this is a beautiful song. Oh holy night, sung by Barry and I hope you enjoy that you could download the entire song little over two minutes via my website at FES world.com. That is F e i s wo rld where you’ll also find Show Notes other tools and resources. Thanks for listening. And here comes Barry

Barry Alexander 4:13
on you’re on hold on we on the next one you And when Christ was Oh, no

Fei Wu 5:44
Welcome to the show I am Uber excited about having you on my podcast. Well, thank you is such a privilege. And prior to starting this conversation, I’ve given my audience an introduction, the view your bio. And we’ll dive in a little bit more. There’s so many interesting facts, you know, as I’ve learned as a podcaster, even after I’ve known some of my guests over the course of 1012 years, oftentimes, I’m rediscovering them as individuals, again, it’s so fascinating. So I would like you, however, to provide us with a little bit of a context of a bi ABC in this in this room, as I discover that this organization has, in my opinion, turned into a vampire. And there’s so many components involved. And I unfortunately, will not be give, you know, the clearest, most accurate description, so I will welcome you to provide that intro.

Barry Alexander 6:42
All right. And well, the company actually began a while back about eight years ago, simply because at that point, I ran a public relations firm that was just for classical musicians, all of the people on our roster, were involved in classical music in some form or another. And that was the original intent of the firm. As it grew, however, we took on other clients from other industries. And one day, I met Cosmo Wilno, who is a concert pianist, and Steinway artist. And he told me that he had a piano competition, which he had just started a couple of years before we met. And he was hoping to hire our publicity firms to basically create greater visibility and awareness for the competition. So we took his piano competition, and basically rebranded and we gave him a new website, a new logo and took all of the history that it had developed up until that point and put it before the public on a new website. And the competition grew in such a way that from one year to the next, for three years running, the number of applicants doubles. So it went from X number of applicants one year to 2x, the next year to 4x, the following year, so in that third year, Cosmo came to me and said, well, the publicity is working very well. But I’m just wondering, if our business model for the competition would serve well, in a vocal competition so that you we would not only have the piano competition, but also one for voice. So we started then the barre Alexander international vocal competition. Now this business model that he’s talking about is important to underline simply because with most musical competitions, the artists are required to fly to a particular place. And then I go through elimination rounds. But the concept behind this piano competition that made it so popular, and that ultimately was the business model that we continued to develop was allowing people to submit either CDs or DVDs that were then put before a panel of judges so that the artists could be evaluated and prizes chosen on the basis of just the recording alone. Then the artists was chosen as a winner and multiple winners from different age categories were chosen, so that by the time you came to New York, and were offered a first prize, which in the case of the competitions is a performance debut at Carnegie Hall, you came as a winner and not still as a contest to save the people who were applying an enormous amount of money and it created the or eliminated rather, a certain amount of the tension that are sometimes associated with these competitions. So it worked very well for the piano then for the voice and we’ve decided subsequently to add as competitions for strings and then flew so the Bradshaw and buono International Piano Competition became the Alexandra and Warner competitions or ABC and That’s how we basically started the business. It was an expansion of that one competition, which then led to the four competitions. And the next steps were to basically incorporate into this a consulting firm, because we discovered helping all of these competition winners, that they didn’t have a lot of knowledge about how to go about starting a career and launching it, far less sustaining it. So then we started offering consulting services that would help to guide them with regard to their career. And that was ultimately the umbrella company that was Alexandria and wattle International, which then started to include the competitions. And also during this time, we had developed a music festival, Cosmo had had it a number of years before, but we rebranded it by bringing it from Venice, Italy to New York, and having the competition’s at Steinway Hall. So those were two of the things the consulting firm and the competition, as well as the festival all went under the the umbrella of added Zaba, and Warner International. And those are for profit corporations. We then decided at some point along the line to start a nonprofit where people would be able to receive a scholarship assistance and grants from us to help them further their career. And then we have filed for a 501 C three. And then we started the Alexander Warner foundation. So that is basically the story of how the company developed over the last eight years.

Fei Wu 11:34
Wow. This is really impressive. Bear and thanks for providing that information. It’s, you know, I am, I’m stunned. And you know, as a friend, I, I’m really truly very impressed by how quickly your organization has grown over the years, if my recall the most. For me, the most memorable moment that was years and years ago, perhaps it was not the first piano competition, possibly the second or the third in New York City. And inside Carnegie Hall. And I remember the tickets were sold out. And, and I remember this little girl, she must have been five or six years old. And she was from Spain. And her grandfather was there. And I remember I saw her as this tiny little child walked up to stage in front of, you know, hundreds and hundreds of people and her foot could could barely reach the pedal. And yet, she performed like, how what is the right word to describe, uh, she was the she was, you know, Prodigy, she she was this genius, and I had my mouth open during her entire performance. So

Barry Alexander 12:54
Well, what we discovered is that there are an enormous number of very young, but also extremely talented artists. And so for the piano competition, and the voice, and I’m sorry, the strings and flute, we have an elementary school category that allows children that are ages five to 11, to apply, and she fell into that category. And surprisingly, you know, we talk a lot about prodigies in this day and age. But these are children who just seem to have a natural gift as she did for the piano. And everyone is certainly amazed because you don’t expect someone that young to be able to play with that level of proficiency. But still, it’s important to acknowledge that ability and to encourage it so that she’ll continue and many of the people that while MCSA won the competition over the years are now going on to very, very fun careers. A case in point is of men in Yan Lazienki, who won the competition who is playing he was only 13. And he has signed a five CD deal with Deutsche Grammophon to record CDs with them. So there is a an important emphasis that we like to place on people being encouraged as early along as possible. But do you get it when they show this level of talent?

Fei Wu 14:15
And I am very intrigued by the career consulting side of the business that ABI offers. And I put in some additional thoughts as I was preparing for this podcast. I remember my latest encounter in again, New York City, I believe it was in Steinway Hall. And I remember there was a workshop. Perhaps that’s that’s a festival that was going on at a time. And I remember these young men and women will, you know, very dressed up in suits and there was so much pride in what they were doing at the time that really hit me. And I would love for you to tell the audience something about the career Your consulting side of the business. And I think you put it in, in the best description possible on the website is really help artists and musicians to build, advance and sustain their career. And those are three separate things. And I think build initially build, advance, you know, some of them are already at a fairly high caliber, but really bring them to the next level and really sustain it for adults. How do you guys do that?

Barry Alexander 15:31
Well, ultimately, the difficulty has always been in procession for a lot of the artists who feel as though their talent is enough. And that on the strength of that talent, they will be rewarded with the kinds of careers that are appropriate to that talent, which is not the case, we start out with the basic premise in the consulting firm, that becoming a classical musician is a career but also it is a business and as to be treated like a business in the same way anything else would, moreover, you will have to approach it in terms of jobs, the way that anyone an engineer, or a doctor or a teacher would. That is to say that you have to market yourself intelligently. And you have to package yourself properly and well. And there has to be an understanding of how media works, so that you can continue to move your career along. Most artists, for example, feel as though once they finish conservatory that the offers are just going to start pouring in for performances. And they have no clue as to how to market themselves. So what we do in the initial stages of working with an artist is to package them. In other words, we create a an interesting and informative website, we write good files, we make sure that they are photographed properly. Because those elements, the websites and bios and photographs are the equivalent of a resume for a job interview. And live good to know however great Your talent is, if you want a conductor or an impresario or a sponsoring organization to hire you, it is not at all unlike interviewing for a job. So you have to have all of the elements and materials there. What is interesting about the age in which we live is if technology allows you to reach far more people than you ever could before. But you have to be able to know how that technology works and how it can work to your advantage. So this is why we spend any enormous amount of time with people helping them on their websites and making sure that they have the right kind of bio. And also, their presentation skills from the standpoint of how they dress and how they speak to people are honed very carefully, because in the course of looking for work, which is what you’re doing as a classical musician, you are also hoping to build the best relationships with people possible. And that is something that remains a skill in unto itself. And a lot of artists don’t know how to do that they’re not familiar with things like how to write thank you notes, or how to behave within a social setting. That could mean the difference between there getting hired, or not even being considered to all of this, this whole spectrum of behavior and materials, and understanding of what components are involved in a career are the things that we address in the realms of the consulting firm.

Fei Wu 18:34
I think this is priceless Barry. And I feel like a lot of these components. That really echoed in my mind that from a previous interview I conducted with this gentleman named Stephen Shapiro, who is a public speaker, and he spoke to the domain of mastery and performance. And the idea is that mastery itself is insufficient. And now having this conversation with you, I feel like in addition to mastery performance, I feel like there’s representation as well.

Barry Alexander 19:05
Absolutely, yes, no question. Out of curiosity,

Fei Wu 19:08
let me know if this is if I’m right or wrong. You know, I visited Europe, in particular, Italy, France, those whom had this everywhere you walked and then use it, there’s a vibe of, I feel like there’s classical music played at, you know, everyday restaurant. And then I also have some friends who are Japanese, who surprised me by saying that every since elementary school in Japan, every student is required to study classical music now, it’s hard for me to imagine how a three year old would react to that, but I almost feel like an organization and experts such as yourself, and boyo are, are just such unbelievable resources as advisors, experts, to American musicians and many people outside of the US as well possibly in the US people are less conditioned to classical music or how to react how to adapt to it. Does that question makes sense. So it was a long winded

Barry Alexander 20:08
sense. I think that because classical music is in large art, a European art form, it is much more absorbed into the culture of European countries because it’s there that it originated, and people just have it in as a fab part of the fabric of their everyday lives. For people in the United States, it’s 10, it tends to be considered more specialized. And it’s also considered a vehicle by which to show a certain level of proficiency. But the reality of it is, is that all kinds of scientific tests are being done in recent years. And they show that classical music is a very great help to enhancing one’s ability to think and one’s capacity to hone other skills like those having to do with science and mathematics. And this is why it is gaining an increasing amount of interest among people here in the United States. The other dimension, too, is that there are people who have wanted to pursue careers in classical music simply because they enjoyed it, whether they were singers or instrumentalists. And so the focus has been to have institutions that would concentrate on these things. So it’s really very much a popular art form within the United States now to guess perhaps, in a different way, because it didn’t initially start here, in the way that it did in other countries, American artists for a long time, had to go abroad in order to even study and hone their skills. We have less of that now. Because there’s so many homegrown talents, whether it’s opera singers or violinist, or flutist there are many people who study at American conservatories, and are able to launch their careers here. So clearly, the passage of time has allowed the influence of classical music to permeate American educational systems to a much greater extent than been happened before.

Fei Wu 22:04
I think on that note, bear, you have turned our your home station, New York to a destination of classical music. As I remember from my visit, again, Steinway, it was a festival and I really want you to talk about the academy side of things as well, is to provide an opportunity from people all around the world, to travel to New York City, and therefore it becomes a destination, and to really kind of soak themselves in and into this their holistic approach to classical music. And I’m really curious, is the academy and extension of the festival? And how can people kind of take advantage of this opportunity?

Barry Alexander 22:52
Well, the festival itself had started about 26 years ago and has to be done in Italy, with Cosmo Blundell and David Bradshaw. So we decided ultimately, because of the increasing interest in the festival, and people’s desire to attend and participate, that it was easier for us to do it logistically in New York, it was rather difficult, even a city like Venice for people to come from Japan, or even some other places in Europe to get there. And so New York being the central hub that it is just made much more sense. But in addition to that, because we worked through the festival to provide artists with the as many solid performance credentials as possible. And also because there are so many wonderful performance spaces and venues here, it just seemed much more reasonable to have the festival here. And as we were doing the festival and developing the classes that are a part of it, many of which include seminars on the business of music and also seminars, train people in how to best perform. The Academy became a natural extension of that, because we wanted to have the opportunity to work with people not just during the summer festival, but year round in terms of things that we felt they needed for further career development. So we’re going to we started the festival. I started the Academy with what we call the masterclass series, and it is a Performance Series whereby the artists that are participating meet once a month for six months to perform repertoire they’re ultimately going to perform at Carnegie Hall as the final recital of the masterclass series. So that is one part where we’re basically training people in all of the aspects that are associated with performance, understanding how to get over stage fright, how to get over nerves. It’s what the proper protocol is for appearing on stage, how to dress, how to make sure that you choose the right repertoire and even how to control unpredictable elements. For example, if you have a memory lapse on stage and just learning how to cope with those things, that was just one small component and through the academy, we’ve decided to expand matters so that under the umbrella of the Academy, we not only have the masterclass series, but we give day long seminars, which started in January. And we have two that will occur over a week, a weekend on both Saturday and Sunday. And we’re calling the series The ABCs of classical music. And the first of these seminars is going to be called The Art and business of competitions. And the other one on the Sunday is called audition bootcamp. Now, in terms of the art and business of competitions, what people don’t always appreciate, is that it is not just a question of talent, but it is also a question of the way in which you present your materials, the impact of technology has changed things so that many of the applications one has to apply online, but you have to be keenly aware that there’s a route or research assistant or someone they’re looking at your application, going to your website, perhaps looking perhaps looking at your repertoire list, and all of these things have to be considered, but also for so many people. The understanding of what a competition can and cannot do for their career is somewhat fuzzy, they feel as though a competition is a committee is going to if you are a winner, just give you a career at the most you’ll get prize money, and you’ll possibly get performances. But the artist who wins has to be extremely proactive themselves, himself or herself about making sure that the comp D, they leverage the competition win to get as much visibility as possible. And that’s what the seminar is designed to teach people is designed to have you understand the importance of writing press releases and the subtleties and nuances of representation. You can’t call up a management house and say, I just want a competition and so put me on your roster, there is a procedure for handling all those things. So this is why we have decided to have this seminar called The Art and business of competition. And the other one audition bootcamp is designed to to have people create very realistic expectations of what an audition can or cannot do. So many people go into them thinking well, I’m going to impress the audition committee, and then I’ll get the job. But it’s really nothing more than a job interview set to music. And you have to treat everything like you would the most rigorous interview whether if you were say, for example, interviewing for a job in a company, as an engineer, the practical and very realistic dimension, then, of this kind of process are things which elude a lot of artists. And so we work to ultimately not only demystify, but also deep psychologize the whole process so that you’re as prepared as possible. So this is why the academy becomes so valuable, because we do. We are teaching people throughout the entire year. Another class it’s of interest we have one of our faculty members, is going to be teaching a class on the German FOC system. There are categories of voice in Europe that are used to determine the appropriateness of a singer for particular roles. And for particular performances. If you don’t understand how ever all that works, and you audition in Europe or in Europe, and particularly Germany, you may find yourself actually not being chosen because people don’t fully understand the category in which you can be placed. So this again informs the whole aspect of business for singers, because they need to know how the marketplace works in order to be able to succeed in that marketplace. The Academy therefore is designed to give people as many tools as possible on a variety of subjects that will help them better understand how to negotiate the business landscape of a career in classical music.

Fei Wu 29:30
It sounds like the academy is really not only teaching the artistic side of being a musician, but also the practical the tactical tools and resources to really help them succeed. And as we all know, you know, I have again, I didn’t go to music school but I don’t mean to discount certain very prestigious music schools all around the world. But oftentimes my friends who did receive their degree in in me Music, and many of them struggled to survive as musicians. And I think one of the biggest roadblock is really how to navigate the system. And I think your organization really offers insight, expertise to help people create and really organize the information and then teach them how to approach the system on their own. And I was very impressed by the fact that you’ve also written a book about career advice, guidance for classical musicians. And, you know, that was released into the market a few years ago. Do you mind speaking to that as well, kind of, can people maybe get a copy of it? I encourage people to really consider going to New York, attend the academy. Or perhaps they could read about the book as well ahead of ahead of time.

Barry Alexander 30:58
Yes, well, we teach seminars called the business of music. And those seminars are based on the book, which is called a classical musician today, getting and keeping the career you want, and it is available through our corporation, you simply have to write and we can talk about that. But it is designed to help artists fully examine all of the factors that can impact a career. For example, there are many people with whom we have discussions who say that I want to do this because I want to show my mom and dad how wrong I they were about my choice of a career for myself, that’s probably the worst reason to start a career in classical music. Because if you’re trying to prove your worth, to somebody else, you missed a certain number of the guideposts that you really need to examine in terms of deciding how well you’re doing with that career. The other dimension too, is that so many people understand a successful career to only mean having, say 100 engagements a year in in in 50 different cities, and working from the standpoint of complete success, then the when they find that they’re not getting that number of engagements, or even if they do that they’re not happy, they’re disenchanted with it. So the career and the expectations for it not only have to be realistically assessed, but also the goals of the individual in terms of what will be comfortable regarding a career, but also, what will prove to be a burden, there has to be a very, very close examination of all of these factors. So in the book itself, what we have done, we’ve explored all of the things that we feel are important. For example, their chapters, like the educated musician. And another chapter is things you may not want to hear, but really need to know. And at the end of each chapter, there are questions in in the same format that a workbook would have questions that a reader has to answer. And then he goes to the back of liberal, where there are comments that help you to expand and flesh out your understanding of basically what you’ve written about. So that you’re not only reading the book with a view towards getting a better sense of how the classical music marketplace works, but also how you fit into it. And also, more importantly, perhaps most important so that we you are eliminating as many of the illusions that can get in the way of your having a successful career as possible. Finally, with regard to that book, we teach artists how to be as proactive as possible, because every too many people seem to think that talent alone is enough. And that the skills and marketing that have made for great careers are things they don’t need to have, because the marketing is going to be someone else’s job. And that’s not the case at all.

Fei Wu 34:05
This is so fascinating. And then the reason is, as you’re mentioning this process, I remembered my own mother, who believe that talent alone was sufficient. And you know what, that was the case. And she was very lucky years and years ago, and she was one of the few who, you know, happened to be discovered without ever marketing herself. But in today’s day and age, that is not at all the case even you know, I feel like this book allied I really want to read the book and I’m thinking I need to go to the academy Perry. There’s a lot of things I feel like I could really learn as, as a professional myself. And one of the theme I wrote down this piece of paper in front of me is resilience is I think that is in addition to talent mastery, you know, things such as I don’t think about this very much as I’m not a performer on stage. Ah, fair often is, as you mentioned, what if things go wrong? You know, and that probably happens more often than not. And, you know, I feel like the stage fright. And just in general, when I remember when I was at Carnegie Hall, I felt very intimidated. I cannot imagine, as a child were an adult to stand up on that stage. So what are the some of the tips and tricks? Barry? No, we can’t really go through a very extensive amount of pages clearly written the book. But what are some of the coaching? Like sort of samples? Were What do you how do you condition your students to achieve their very best?

Barry Alexander 35:40
Well, to your point earlier, there are people who come to our business of music seminars that don’t have any interest in music at all. But they say that some of the tools that we are providing are things they need in their careers as physicians and attorneys, because there are so many similarities from one industry to the next. But with regard to the whole idea of how to create the greatest success, and some of the pitfalls to be avoided, we believe very strongly, and we’ve done we’ve had a TED talk about this. And we’ve also just talked with people in general, the old paradigm for so many people, no matter what the profession has always been, I’m only as good as someone else says I am. So there are people who get to decide the value of your work and the importance of your contributions based on something that is really nothing more than the pinion. What we do within the context of what we label the new paradigm is to say to artists, first of all, I am as good as my talent, and my willingness to work, allow me to become so that we work very hard with artists to start the self examination from the inside out, and understanding of your talent and assessing of it so that you don’t really care yourself about how good you are or are not. You have to understand where your weak spots are, and where your strengths are, and what you need to market in terms of public who will be interested in coming and buying tickets to hear you perform. With regard to the idea of how to get over nerves and how to essentially approach or performance, we tell all of our artists, it is not about what people think about what you did. And that should never occupy your mind when you’re on stage. What you have to do when you’re in the studio, is prepare yourself in such a way that you are in control of everything that you do on that stage, you know why you do what you do, you have study every single measure every single note every single page that will work so well. And also understand the physical connection between what you want to do to create the best sound and what has to be done physically to get that sound. That’s what we call techniques. And so we tell artists that it is not new, it is not your responsibility to make people like you. It is however, your responsibility to find out all of the components that go into doing your best job and the best job you can do as an artist on the stage. And to make sure that once you are on the stage, you do your job, so that when you leave the performance when you’re taking your final vows and walking off, it’s not about whether they liked you, but whether you can honestly say to yourself, I did my job. In other words, I found out everything that I could put into the music, I found a way to put those things into the music. And I did this the removes you from this idea of feeling as though someone else is going to make all of the decisions and you have to hope that they will make decisions in your favor. Ultimately, you can only do your best and our responsibility is to help you understand the components that go into that and make sure that you’re doing that job as well as you can. It is a very painstaking process and is one where you are examining things very carefully at every given turn. But it is not at all unlike what happens in any other profession. We use a lot of analogies, for example, to surgery, and we say to people that a doctor is not in the operating room looking up every two minutes saying well how did you like that incision? How did you like that stitch I made because there is a job to do. And if you are keenly aware of what needs to be done at every step, and the patient becomes healthier as a result of your work, you’ve done your job you We’re not there to impress people with your skills, you are there to make sure that you save the life of the person that is on that table. So it becomes a different focus altogether.

Fei Wu 40:10
And the fact that oftentimes we have more control than we think we do. You know that and this just reminds me, as you know, I practice Taekwondo, a form of martial art. And I teach children. And I wish I knew some of these things as I was teaching them. The fact that, you know, you hear some of the kids that I’m too skinny, I’m overweight, I’m too tall. I’m too short. But what can you do with what you’ve got. And I think that’s really, that’s really beautifully stated. Thank you. And, and also, I just want to add to that, it sounds like, I also want to make it very clear to my audience, and many of my connections are in New York or in nearby cities, the fact that you really do not need to be a full time professional musician to consider your organization, and training and career advice. It sounds to me and that perhaps some people are lawyers, physicians in advertising, for instance, that they’ve once practiced the instruments before, they’re interested in vocal singing, and they want to get back into it. And honestly, I have a feeling because, you know, I was playing on alto sax, as well. And as an adult, I feel like your organization really allow us adults to rethink the possibilities. And this is rather exciting to me.

Barry Alexander 41:40
Well, thank you and I, one of the things that we have within the context of all of the competitions is an amateur division because as you say, there are so many people who practice music, but only as an avocation, one of the singers in my studio right now is a radiologist by profession, for example, we have a number of physicians who are expert pianist, and they really don’t even want to have careers, they just enjoy improving their skills as the keyboard. So it really shouldn’t be a situation of you’re feeling as though you’re limited to doing this if and only if you want to have a full time career. The other dimension too, is that there are so many people who have lives with perhaps children or other you know, other occupations, other professions who simply enjoy this as a as an artistic outlet. And we work with those people as well, too, because ultimately, the tools that are required to do a good job as a musician are going to be the same whether you are pursuing it as a full time profession, or whether you only want to have it as an avocation in your life that serves as a kind of fulfillment. So everyone is certainly welcome within the framework of the academy. The other dimension to is that there is an enormous amount of practical advice that gets filtered through the net of classical music that has ready application in other aspects of life. For example, just the whole confidence dimension is something that we explore not only in terms of what you need to perform well on stage, but as we have, for example, what we call audition bootcamp, and we have these mock auditions, there are people who have need the same skills, even to comfortably get through a job interview, because there’s so much they really do not somehow another highlight themselves properly, because they’re so concerned about what the other person thinks, and they don’t know how to value their skills, not so that they’re going in and talking to a prospective employer in a way that will allow that employer to understand how valuable they are as a person to the company and how their skills based can actually benefit the company and what they are looking for. That’s a certain amount of self examination that has to be put in place along with a certain amount of self confidence so that you can talk about the what you’re bringing to the table very effectively. And this cuts across all kinds of professions, but and but has already applicability to classical classical musicians, because that’s our one of our primary the primary focus of what we do. So it’s certainly something that people need to consider because the the wisdom, as you’re describing has already application to know just to any profession, and no matter what a person is doing.

Fei Wu 44:40
A very wise one of my other questions. Related to all of this is I realize, those are the questions I’ve wanted to ask you in the past four to five years just being so impressed and fascinated by your organization. But the other question I had was what are some of the questions that you wish people would ask you, I know people sounds a little general, perhaps those are journalists, reporters who once interviewed you, your organization? Or perhaps those people are parents and students of yours that questions they don’t. They’re good questions, but they don’t ask enough that you would love to provide answers for?

Barry Alexander 45:21
Well, one of the questions I think that comes to mind immediately, is how long is this process going to take so many people feel as though there’s a son or daughter starting out the piano was maybe 10, or 12, at this point, and they really want a career in classical music, how long is it going to take before they’re going to be celebrated? There is no that people assume almost invariably, that in the neck, if I start this at age 12, by age 14, my son is going to be flying my son, my daughter is going to be playing all over the world, it really doesn’t happen like that. The other dimension is that it takes years to build a career in the same way that you don’t become a good attorney in two years, you can’t become a good surgeon in two years, there is a growth process that’s associated with this. But the idea is to get you on a track where you can become better and better with each year that passes. So this idea of having parents or people ask how long the process is going to take, as opposed to always it extending out over a period is longer than they expected. And then being disappointed, would be something I’d like to discuss in the beginning. I think another thing that I wish people would ask is, what is going to work in terms of the marketplace, because so often they feel if I’m a musician, for example, if I do the most modern repertoire, and the most rare things that’s going to launch me and my career a lot faster than if I plan more standard repertoire, you have to meet people where they are and create an understanding of your talent based on the frame of reference that an audience or audiences have already. And usually that frame of reference is associated with their having heard repertoire that was written two, three, maybe even four centuries ago. And then understanding how you as an artist fit into a framework that is familiar to them. So many people think that they’re going to be able to move forward faster in the career by essentially performing repertoire that is not necessarily of interest to anything but the most sophisticated of audiences. And then they become disappointed when that choice of repertoire. And those choices of performance don’t result in a career. I think that the core of it all, I would like people to ask questions that would eliminate or at least reduce some of the disappointment that they get further down the line because they have had a perception of how this career works. That is simply not true. And in the preface, or introduction to the book, we say that the book was written simply because we don’t want people to have to fill in the blank of the sentence that says, If I had only known that, and then fill in the blank, I would have handled the career differently. There are certain things you really need to know at the beginning, that will keep you focused, but that will also keep you from being disappointed to the point of being discouraged and not wanting to continue. And those are many of the same questions that people virtually never asked.

Fei Wu 48:45
This is great. And I tried, you know, I was giggling a little bit because my mom also teaches art. And she constantly received these questions from the parents, oftentimes a five year old, the question is, how soon can I sell her artworks? And how should her artworks be priced? And my mom said, this is your second class, you know, and this is comical, but really happens quite a bit in real life. And, and I think we’re living in a very accelerated world in terms of thinking process, partially maybe as a result of technology. And people just want to go be faster, bigger, stronger, with no time, no effort. And then there’s a confusion of net worth and self worth as well. I think you really clarifying that Barry.

Barry Alexander 49:40
I think that part of the conditioning, that of wanting things to happen very quickly is understandable. Because if you were I was if you think about this long before all of the technology when just if you look at something as simple as letter writing if decision had to be made about a particular issue. to a letter had to be written, the letter had to be mailed. It had to be received by the person, which usually took about a week you’d spend, you know, an afternoon writing the letter, then you’d mail it. And then a week later, it was in the hands of the recipient, the recipient then has to read it compose their response mail that responds back to the originator of the letter of the question. So before an answer could be had, there was usually about a two week timeframe, minimum for a solution to be approached or a problem to be solved, the telegraph accelerated that process, so that, you know, with Morse code and things like that, answers went back and forth much more quickly. Now with email. It’s almost instantaneous, and we just expect everything to happen. Almost as if both parties are rubbing a magic lamp. And people become impatient if five minutes goes by, and they don’t have a response to their question. So the conditioning on from that standpoint is understandable, because it technology has made us capable of making everything happen so much faster. However, there are certain processes that have not responded to that technology. In other words, the physiological process of developing a talent, whether it’s learning how to make proper brushstrokes on a canvas, or bow a violin properly, or have the musculature of the voice develop in such a way that it creates a certain sound, are still things that have not succumb to the technology, and being able to be advanced and accelerated as a result of it. These are still things that are very slow, and very painstaking. So one cannot assume that the process of marketing a talent is and the ability to do it so much faster than ever before, via all of the different technologies and the different media aspects that we have are going to automatically make it easier to construct that talent or build it or have it develop any faster and simply doesn’t happen. And this is why we are always in a bit of a quandary because we can get the word out there faster. But that doesn’t mean that the talent develops any faster. And as we do in the seminars, we tell people, you can sort of force flowers to grow very quickly under hothouse conditions, but they’ll grow for that one season, and they won’t come back. In other words, even if you’re working to build a talent very quickly, inevitably, you sacrifice a certain amount of longevity in the name of that result. And that has to be considered when you’re thinking about how to accelerate any process because there is inevitably a downside to it. And because you cannot circumvent the amount of time that it takes for that process to happen. I

Fei Wu 52:53
completely agree. And really, that statement makes me question some of my own anxiety, a time so you know, wanting needing things to happen simultaneously. So Time really flies and to respect your time I, you know, took this long, but one of the, one of the aspects is really fascinating about you, Barry, is that you went to college at the age of 14, my goodness, and graduated, and I really want people to learn something about you if you’re comfortable talking sort of your upbringing. And you know, and I really hope they get to meet you in person one day, because that was a very magical moment for me to shake your hands and realize that you’re, you are this incredible human being and not to mention, my mom completely agreed. And I remember when you when you sang in front of my mom, I’ve I feel like I could just see as an artist, her neurons connected and her heart was pumping and you know, really connected with you on a on a whole new level. So sorry about all the flattering, but the idea is I want my audience to get a sense of who you are as well.

Barry Alexander 54:08
Well, thank you very much for saying all of those things. They’re very kind and very much appreciated. Just no question. With B, I think it’s important to understand that yes, it’s true. I went to college at 14 and I was out at 18. But what I always say to people is this. That wasn’t so much an unusual occurrence. I was just doing what was right for me. And I think that parents need to understand that they their child, or children are not more distinguished somehow because they can move through things academically faster than somebody else. yahoodi manual always says that we focus had always said rather than we focus too much on the idea of a prodigy we’ve determined that to do something before a particular age makes a child a prodigy, but the child is really not a prodigy the child is doing doing what is right for that particular child at that time, someone else could achieve the very same things and achieve them maybe five years later, that doesn’t make that child any less significant. That to me speaks to the whole issue. When I was growing up, it seemed as though the work that I was given in the classes that I had, was not challenging enough. So the teachers came to my parents and said, we’d like to move him ahead, so that he will be doing things a little bit faster in order to make sure that he stays challenged. So apparently, there was an ability on my part to do work, which had been organized and regulated for other students to do at an age that was a couple of years older than my own. So that meant that by the time I was 11, I had already started high school, and then of course, went to college at 14. But that was right for me. I think that in that same way, we cannot put a timeframe on this process and decide that a child is more or less valuable, based on how soon or how quickly they can do certain things. The important emphasis needs to be learning how to develop at a pace so that you can absorb information as fully as possible and understand it as fully as possible, and then use it conveniently and intelligently to go on to the next body of information. Rather than trying to just push ahead and say, Oh, my child is doing this at five and your child was seven, before he could do that there’s a little bit too much of that, I think, in terms of an emphasis that parents placed on their children to do things sooner and do them faster, as opposed to really doing them well. And when you have this ability to make your child feel comfortable within the context of the pace at which they’re moving, I believe that it enhances the levels of affection that the child has for the parent number one. And I also believe that the child makes a much more concerted effort to do things really well, because he doesn’t feel the pressure that if he doesn’t do them by a certain time, he is not as valuable as a person as someone else who’s able to move at a faster pace that I think can be proved very detrimental. And somewhere along the line, it makes for a lot of insecurities, and the need to certainly unlearn certain certain attitudes and abilities that can prove counterproductive later on, just do the best that you can at the time that you’re doing it. And that will be enough, if it takes you a little bit longer, so be it. But we’re not going to feel as though you’re any less or more whole, somehow, because you’re not doing things as quickly as someone else.

Fei Wu 57:51
As far as deep with, you know how many times people have for that the article Tiger Mom, to me, as an Asian person growing up under the pressure exactly as you described. And I think as I get older, happiness, fulfillment are just as important. And I love the fact that the students come to you, not only to advance their career, but also to really enjoy the process of doing, not just when they have a recital, not just when they’re on stage, but really appreciate the process. And furthermore, you know, someone could be very talented as a pianist, but perhaps outside of, you know, his or her expertise, they must, you know, move on to their lives and really encounter other challenges and really interact with other people. And I think patience, and dedication are really key to succeed in life overall, and not just a certain particular area, if you happen to be very talented at it. Very thing that concluded our interview. Is there anything else that you would like to speak to that I didn’t get a chance to cover?

Barry Alexander 58:59
No, I have to say your your skills as a journalist and as an interviewer are very comprehensive. I’m very impressed with the kind of research you did for this interview. And I think we’ve touched upon everything that I would feel is most significant in an interview of this.

Fei Wu 59:15
Oh, thank you so much. And I actually all of a sudden, I just remembered the photographer, the woman who might potentially be following you, and producing a film. Do you want to talk about that? Sorry, I forgot to mention.

Barry Alexander 59:34
Oh, that’s fine. Well, we’ve been approached by a director named Christina Horos, who is responsible for a number of documentaries, some of whom some of which have appeared at Khan Film Festival and Sundance and other marvelous marvelous film festivals like that. And she would like she is currently working on a documentary with us called the A new she’s the working title is the new conservationist. And what she’s hoping to show is how we are basically helping to perpetuate classical music as an art form, but also incorporating some of the same things that we’ve discussed in this interview, so as to better prepare artists to not only launch their careers, but also sustain them. And so far she’s has filmed us as we work with one of the pianist who is a consulting client and putting him before audiences in the particular day that she was with us. We, it involved, a fitting for evening clothes for him and a new haircut because we had recommended that he have a new look. And so she’s doing a lot of work with us there. She also went with us to Steinway Hall one day, and did a lot of filming, we’ve had the explanation that this project is going to take at least between 18 months and two years, because there’s an enormous amount of footage that has to be filmed. And she said that on average, there is a requirement of about 300 hours of footage even to make a 90 minute 90 minute documentary. She’s also told us that, you know, there’ll be different approaches that she wants to have. But you know, she has just finished a documentary called The director, which is about the head of the house of Bucha. And it’s being shown on cable at HBO and things like that. She’s working on a lot of interesting projects. And we’re very, very pleased to be part of this whole process and to be the subject of one of her forthcoming documentaries. We’re also working with producer Victoria Fong Zimmerman’s who has worked on any number of documentaries for yourself as a producer. So it’s all very much an exciting process for us.

Fei Wu 1:01:53
I think an organization like yours really need to be discover. So I love the fact that you provide marketing tools, techniques, packaging your artists, but at the same time, I would welcome more people like myself, you know, journalists were podcasters writers to write about your organization that really provide true benefits. To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face world.com that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links, other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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