Seagle Date Is Set

Announcements, Seminars

Directly after my trip back through the Voice Program at the Chautauqua Institution, I am excited to announce that I will give seminars at the Seagle Music Colony Young Artists Program in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

The program selects 32 highly-talented young artists to sing in six fully-staged productions. They will be very busy to be sure, but the leaderships is committed to giving their singers a well-rounded experience featuring many masterclasses and workshops. I am excited to be a part of it.

I will announced more news about my East coast swing shortly!

Classical Singer Magazine, May 2011

Announcements

The Tech-Savvy Singer

The Velvet Business Plan

BY AMANDA WHITE

Keeping track of the small details of your career is a challenge for every singer. And yet, having and sorting that information could be critical to your success as a singer. Find out why it’s so important and read about a new tool that is making it easier than ever.

Everyone tells you that you need to write a business plan. But how many singers have actually done it? Well, if you’re attending this year’s Classical Singer Convention, now’s your chance. Bill Bennett, creator of Velvet Singer, a software program that helps singers organize their professional lives, will be conducting a workshop on creating a business plan. Here he talks about his software and why, yes, you actually do need to write that business plan.

What’s Velvet Singer?

Velvet Singer is an organizational tool for classical singers that I developed while I was finishing up grad school at DePaul and doing some part-time consulting work. I began by creating a simple database to track my auditions and just added from there. Then I began expanding as I found the need: What repertoire was I singing at auditions? How much was I spending? Who was I meeting? So it was born out of necessity. There was no way to keep track of this information other than developing big Excel sheets or lugging around a pen and paper.

So what, exactly, does the software consist of?

Well, it is a relational database application—it is like layers of spreadsheets carefully interconnected and ready made. What is powerful about a database is that you can quickly jump around and tally up data: How much did I spend last year? How many auditions did I perform? What is my most successful starting aria? But I find that the “softer” features are still the ones people write to me the most about: journaling after auditions and lessons, developing a new process, and having that accountability to keep after your goals and stay organized. That is what represents a major breakthrough for people in using Velvet Singer.

How does Velvet Singer differ from what’s already available on YAP Tracker?

I use YAP Tracker and have for years. I love the features and am impressed with how they continue to roll out excellent tools to help our business evolve. I primarily use YAP Tracker as a way to look up information. Along with Classical Singer and a few other resources, YAP Tracker is an excellent way to learn about auditions and competitions. Velvet Singer solves an entirely different problem area for singers: staying organized in all that we do.

Velvet Singer helps you organize and keep track of productions in which you perform, money that you make, people that you work with, repertoire that you are working on, lessons that you sing. And so Velvet Singer is a comprehensive journaling method of chronicling your entire professional journey, almost like developing a memoir—but a powerful, data-driven memoir with hundreds of statistical reports, tax information, and over 2,600 arias to pick from. Velvet Singer is a new category of product. My main competition is people working up several Excel spreadsheets or using good, old-fashioned pen and paper.

Do you find people get overwhelmed with so many features or do they take to it easily?

Developing a workflow and interface is more of an art than a science. An iPhone does so many different things. If you dig into the settings, you can really get through layers and layers of functions. But it is simple and clean. Velvet Singer is cross-platform (Windows or Mac), but it has a nice, colorful, Mac-like feel. I am grateful to have such a great team to help continually refine what and how we present data. So I find that singers, even singers who are not comfortable with technology, take to it quite well.

The software begins by asking a few simple questions, like “What is your voice type?” From there, users quickly set up some repertoire by picking from our list of arias. After you develop repertoire, the system asks if you have sung any productions in the past. Productions become “Projects” in Velvet Singer, and each project has people you worked with, repertoire you performed, money you made (or spent).

As users explore, they can peel back the layers. If you explore into the lessons and coachings area, you will be prompted to sync with your Google calendar. If you are liking some of the reports and want to share them with your friends, teachers, or parents, the system will ask to set up your e-mail account. So Velvet Singer becomes much more than a static tool waiting for you; it is interactive and helps you along the way.

At the convention, you’re going to be teaching a workshop on building business plans. Teachers and mentors have been telling singers to write business plans at least since I was in college [ahem] years ago, but I’m not sure anybody actually does it.

That is it exactly! Yes, I was told to do it, but never did.

I offer two seminars at schools and opera companies around the country, and they both are working, equipping, hands-on sessions. I studied engineering as an undergrad before pursuing singing for my masters. In engineering, we always had “labs” to correspond to almost every lecture. I follow that same formula in my seminars. Each singer creates a business plan in the session and leaves with a tangible, actionable process for keeping up with it going forward.

Do you actually know any top-level singers who literally have business plans? Or do you think their managers make them?

I certainly do, and many cite business planning activities as core to their success. Top-level singers are typically very busy people and they are very targeted about which business plan articles or exercises they focus on, and these areas naturally are different than would be for singers at other parts of the journey.

For example, a top-level singer may do more work developing a strategic marketing plan by analyzing that market and comparing it to their product. An undergrad may benefit more from doing a strengths-and-weaknesses assessment. The question I ask is “What problem are we trying to solve by doing the work of creating a business plan?” That can be a good way to focus your energy and make sure you are getting the value you seek. Simply, business plans are a way to organize your thoughts, discover new information, and communicate with others.

The philosophy and approach behind Velvet Singer Software and Velvet Singer Seminars are quite similar. They are both solutions that help singers take control and gain objectivity and insight. It was out of the process of developing the software and working with so many singers to define what this all-in-one organizational tool should keep track of, and how it should do it, that I discovered the need to create these seminars and to teach this “process.”

In the seminar, we use a workbook that has many checklists, simple comparison choices, and fill-in-the-blanks. The workbook is a simple, quick, and “push button” framework to give structure to our dialogue. Likewise, the software solution offers simple choices and prepopulated picklists. Our mission is to take what can be a very intimidating process and deliver this message loud and clear: “This doesn’t have to be difficult!”

If you had to boil it down—say, for the people who can’t make the seminar—what would be the three questions a singer should ask themselves, as a proto-business plan?

Rather than trying to tackle a list of business planning areas (even three can represent a serious “barrier to entry”), I would encourage singers to begin by focusing on a process: when, why, and with whom. Choose a process that has a low burden and then make an absolute steadfast commitment to stick with it (100 percent is much easier to maintain than 98 perfect).
For example, resolve to send an e-mail on the first of every month to your dad describing your goal for the next month. Or add quarterly reminders into your calendar that you will treat yourself to coffee and work on your mission statement. Or commit to interviewing six of your “stakeholders” about your strengths and weaknesses. In engineering, we call this an incremental and iterative approach and it absolutely works if you work it.

What do you hope singers take away from your seminar at the convention?

In addition to physically taking away their completed business plan workbook, singers will leave the session with a dramatically improved sense of self-awareness and empowerment over their path.

Amanda White is a coloratura soprano in New York. She can be contacted through her website at www.notjustanotherprettyvoice.com.

Featured in Classical Singer Magazine

Announcements

Crack open your May 2011 edition of Classical Singer Magazine (the one with Jane Eaglen on the cover) and you will find this fantastic article on Page 18.

Thank you to Sara Thomas, Jo Isom and Amanda White for their fine work to make this happen. I am so proud that they reached out to us and took notice of the impact we have been making!

In the article, we explore the newest features of Velvet Singer Software, what need it fills and how it is different than other products and services. We also talk a bit about Velvet Singer Seminars including our newest seminar: How to Sustain a Well-Tuned Business Plan.

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15 Entrepreneurship Axioms

Announcements

As classical singers, many of us have ideas for start-ups, gigs and special projects. A lot of us have ideas for businesses even outside of the musical realm. We are self-starters with endless creativity and big ideas.

If you are thinking about taking the leap into action, this list may help you avoid some common pitfalls and get a better sense of what reality will be like once you get rolling. Read through this list and shoot me an email, I’d love to encourage you in your journey!

As I have developed Velvet Singer, LLC over the last five years, I have added to this list of lessons learned, which I have taped on the wall by my desk. One of the biggest was failing to have proper home insurance like this, to cover my business. The list grew quickly at first, but I find I keep uncovering more even now. Here they are, in the order that I discovered them.

As I look through the list, I realize several are religious / spiritual. If you are into any “higher power,” they may translate. If not, you may still identify with the meat under the sauce.

Why would God be in the mix? From a practical point of view, starting a business or startup project will challenge you on all levels. You will experience high “highs” and low “lows”. Exhaustion and profound joy. Worries and great optimism (mostly optimism for me, let’s be honest!). Entrepreneurship is a spiritual experience. It has the power to cut to the core of your self-worth and reveal your priorities and values. If you want in, get ready to be revealed!

Enjoy,
Bill


1) Always altruism, never cash.

Don’t get burned thinking about the money, and not genuinely focusing on solving people’s needs. It is a bit like method acting, people know when you are faking it.

2) Humble joy for any rewards the Lord gives.

It is a miracle of God that we can do anything at all that makes money. Throw a small God party any time anyone pays you even $1. Many people in the world don’t have access to behold this miracle in such close proximity, count yourself lucky.

3) Exercise patience.

We all want to wring the thing by the neck and make it submit. It is OK to wait. Many great things can happen when you wait. “Waiting is fullness” says the Martian from “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Do you grok?

4) Don’t spend money.

Don’t buy anything. Make it from scratch or skip it altogether. You don’t have to spend money to make money. Don’t go into debt, just start small and give it time.

5) Phone calls, not email.

Especially if you have gone ten rounds with an unhappy client or customer, pick up the phone rather than taking three hours to compose the greatest email of all time that will finally illuminate and defuse the situation. This is also true of selling any idea or product. Email eats. Attachments will not get clicked on, links will not get clicked.

6) Reply quickly.

Count it a point of pride that you are quick on the reply. People notice.

7) Listen and let people talk.

The best way to “sell” is to be genuinely interested in and deeply understanding of your customers’ needs. The only way to do that is to listen. Furthermore, you can’t lose sight that you are in this business, even in a small way, to help heal the world and to do good. Part of what you offer is an ear. Think of yourself as a minister or counselor, not a salesperson.

8) Don’t sell to your friends, they won’t buy anything anyway.

If you have created a business plan, even if it is just in your head, don’t count on getting off the ground with a little help from your friends. They won’t buy anything and you’ll strain the relationship by asking them. Plan on making brand new friends / contacts (which may come out of existing relationships / partnerships), and if any of your old friends want to join up, they know where to find you.

9) Plan for mistakes. Error capture. Log findings.

Even for non-technical businesses, plan that you will make tangible, repeated mistakes. Wherever possible, be deliberate and extremely thorough about documenting and understanding how your mistakes happened. If you are in a technical world, measure the damage and “capture” the error.

10) Donate a portion of your revenue at a fixed proportion.

Even if it is only 1% – 10% of revenue, donate a portion of your revenue from the first dollar you make. Besides the actual good that donating revenue to a good cause does, it helps reshape your understanding of your purpose, it elevates your endeavor from a boring job to a noble calling. Instead of feeling like Willy Loman, all of a sudden, you will feel like Don Quixote. This is your quest!

11) Walk by faith, not by sight.

Entrepreneurship is a spiritual endeavor. You are entering uncharted territory. Pray and trust your gut. Don’t take too much time to research option A vs. option B. You probably already know what choice you want to make. Go for it.

12) Have fun and be cool.

Don’t get all frazzled and take things too seriously. If you need to make money so you can eat food, get a job. Entrepreneurship is for fun. You’ll regret the times you run around like a mad man at conferences trying to make every last bit count. It is more important to “be cool, honey bunny, be cool.”

13) Fight resistance with courage.

Every day you will feel resistance, a little nagging voice trying to divert you and discourage you. Be encouraged, the louder that voice is, the more you know you are on to something great. In fact, seek out that wet blanket feeling of heavy resistance, learn to make it your friend, like a rival in a tennis match, and then face it with explosive bursts of courage. Read The War of Art by Pressfield for more.

14) Have an opinion, take a stance.

Don’t offer too many products, don’t allow too much customization, don’t be too flexible, don’t say yes to everything. Take a stance, defend a point of view. Your brand, no matter what it is, needs to have personality. Your customers / clients ultimately commit to you, they buy you, not a product or service.

15) Play “small ball.”

Don’t try to sell the “home run” to your customers; rather, get the relationship started and start to help them. Play small ball and see if they can move around the bases. If they don’t respond to a simple email offering help, they aren’t likely to invest the time, energy and money to become a committed partner with you through the purchase of your product or service. If you are planning a recital, think through who of your contacts would call or email you right back and concentrate your efforts on getting them to attend, rather than flyer-ing the neighborhood.

New Features for Fall

Announcements, Releases

While we have been cranking away, the world still turns and the fall audition season is already almost upon us!

It has been a little since my last blog post — I’ve been to Congo and back (literally) and have focused my time working on Velvet Singer primarily on bringing my loyal crop of customers up to speed on Version 3.0. The early responses have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive… and I myself have found the new interface super slick and fast. Naturally, I have a few other things I’d like to do, but that is what 3.1 is for, right?

Velvet Singer 3.0, seemingly without really “working it” has also gotten tons of tech PR lately. Amazing confirmation to see this types of game changing buzz come in. And I am always encouraged to know I’ve built something that above all serves my customers well. Just like classical singing, you have to love the process as much as you love the result.

FileMaker Inc. featured Velvet Singer prominently in the OPENING pitch at the last developer’s conference, in front of thousands of the world’s best developers! See http://www.filemaker.com/developers/devcon/. It was staggering to think of the honor, and a great treat for me personally. The speaker literally used Velvet Singer as the center piece for demonstrating some of the new features in FileMaker 12.

I also was a guest speaker at the inaugural FileMaker Product Conference, a conference specifically designed to help developers like me who sell products built using FileMaker. Again, I was humbled and delighted to get to share some of the things I’ve learned through this journey, and to learn from and be inspired by some heavy-hitting minds in similar businesses. I gave a seminar on creating business plans for startups, and another on sales generation through four layers of building genuine trust with customers.

Lastly, I was able to use Velvet Singer as a platform to discuss paradigms of user interface design with my colleagues at Soliant Consulting during one of our team “lunch and learns” in Chicago.

More soon!

Seminar A: Business Plan

Announcements, Seminar Info, Seminars

How to Sustain a Well-Tuned Business Plan

We are excited to launch a new seminar geared toward the needs of advanced young artists and emerging professional singers. During the seminar, each singer will create a career “business plan” and commit to a schedule to revise and refine. The session is designed to take an intimidating and often stressful process and make it practical and accessible to even the busiest of emerging professional singers.

This seminar has been a work in progress for some time, and we have gathered the input and feedback of so many educators and professionals. A special thank you goes out to educator Dr. Dana Brown, mezzo-soprano and career consultant Dorothy Byrne, and consultant Mislav Kos.

The Details:

Target: For advanced young artists and emerging professionals.

Duration: The seminar is designed to last two and a half (2.5) hours.

Workbook: The seminar uses a customized workbook, which provides an efficient and practical platform for rich discussion. Please Download the Workbook completed with example answers.

Objective: The seminar helps singers create a career business plan and adopt a continual process for refining their plans going forward.

Impact: Singers will leave the session with a dramatically improved sense of self-awareness and empowerment over their path. The seminar begins by discussing the relevant issues a well-crafted plan is designed to help solve.

Integration: Some singers may have previously drafted a business plan through school or privately. We will build off of those experiences and integrate our work into one process.

Singers will:

  • Assess strengths / weaknesses
  • Identify / mitigate risks
  • Analyze priorities
  • Define and rank goals
  • Create a marketing strategy
  • Articulate core values
  • Compose a career vision and mission statement
  • Create a schedule to revisit / refine