Communicating Value

 "What I have learned is that the best thing I can do as a 
teacher is ALWAYS value myself, my knowledge, my experience 
and invite students to find a way to share in that."  

That is a lovely statement and I'm really impressed that I wrote it in my blog post last year.  In one sense, my career is more stable than ever before.  In another sense, it seems to always be changing and progressing in new and exciting ways.  One constant remains: assessing value.  For myself and for others.  The more demands are placed on my time by ensembles, students, and colleagues, the more essential it is for me to communicate the value of what I do and the time I have.

I'm sure we have all seen this humorous pie chart on Facebook in recent months.  Though exaggerated, there is an excellent point found here that illustrates the challenge many musicians face when it comes to communicating their value: crippling self-doubt!

Do I deserve to ask $$$ for private lessons?
Am I good enough to ask the second chair clarinet player to tune to me?
Am I important enough to let them know they spelled my name wrong...again?

As musicians, we spend so much time analyzing and criticizing what we do - in an effort to constantly improve - that we tend to lose perspective on what we are offering and how we should be valued.
Then there is the risk that if we do communicate our own value, people/booking agents/ managers/personnel managers/students' parents/etc look at us like we just dwarfed into a 1980's Supermodel Diva.  

There has to exist a middle ground wherein we can respectfully communicate what we need to fulfill a contract without going overboard.

Two recent experiences have taught me the value and the confusion that seems to exist among musicians when it comes time to communicating their value.

This summer the Chinook Winds filmed an episode of 11th & Grant for Montana PBS.  It was an amazing experience: HD foundation, hair and makeup artists, costume changes, lights, camera, ACTION!  We arrived the night prior for sound check and an orientation.  This included the producer asking us, "Now tell me what you need for tomorrow?  Anything!  Anything at all!"  We glanced at each other and offered a tentative, "Water...?"  He asked about dietary concerns, craft services (catering), water temperature (room temp or frozen), and honestly, we didn't even know what to ask for.  For that matter, we didn't even know what we could ask for.  

The whole second half of filming day we were standing.  Having survived to play bassoon another day after 4 major back surgeries, I was slightly terrified about filming for hours standing with my bassoon.  In a moment of bravery I pulled the producer aside and very deferentially asked, "Would it be possible to have my bassoon stand brought to me between takes so I can take it off of me?"  Whereupon a young man was assigned the sole task of having that bassoon stand at my side along with my water bottle the moment "CUT!" rang out in the studio.

Such a small thing to ask, so important for me, and so easy for them to accommodate.

This illustrates the best case scenario for communicating your value: identify an actual need, communicate with kindness, and show gratitude.

In comparison, we spent last week on tour with an arts network in Montana.  We played 12 school shows and 1 community concert in less than 72-hours.  This is the second time we have performed with this presenter and we love the people, the performances, and the opportunity to share our craft.  A member of the foundation graciously hosts visiting musicians for meals in her home, preparing incredible meals with great love and care.  She shared with us how another artist they were bringing in provided them with a 6-page list of demands.  Everything from where meals should be prepared to when they should arrive and how much beer to have on hand.  As she detailed some of the more outrageous points, she laughed and said, "You know, we can only do so much!"  

Was that performer communicating his value - sure!  But at what cost?  What's the point in making unrealistic demands that you know won't be met and may only risk your future collaborations?

Communicating your value requires an honest self-assessment of what you have to offer, what you need and weighing that with what can be reasonably provided while still maintaining positive working relationships.  


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