The Mindset of Success: Four Pillars for Today’s Music Entrepreneurs Part 2

Last time, we examined the mindset of success of today’s music entrepreneurs, featuring four Yale School of Music alumni who who embody this mindset:

Owen Dalby: violinist and co-founder of Decoda

Mellissa Hughes: composer and founder of the band, Victoire

Missy Mazzoli: early and new music soprano

James Moore: multi-instrumentalist and founder of rock quartet, Dither

We focused on the first two pillars of success (link to Part 1) that underlie the mindset of today’s music entrepreneurs:

  • Passion: I love this!
  • Positivity: I can do this!

There are two more essential underpinnings of the mindset of success:

  • Possibility:  I see the opportunities and I will build my own success.
  • Perseverance: I will work hard and do whatever it takes to make things happen.

Let’s examine how our four music entrepreneurs manifest both possibility and perseverance.

The Mindset of Success:Four Pillars for Today’s Music Entrepreneurs Part 2

Possibility:  I see the opportunities and I will build my own success!

The third element of this mindset of success is the belief that it is up to you to seek out and create the opportunities to make your vision happen. This belief is yet another powerful motivator that underlies success, especially in this new DIY generation to which our four musicians belong.  As Missy observed, if you are outside of the mainstream, you are not affected by the economic crises or problems with traditional institutions and therefore, you have an advantage by generating your own opportunities.

Our panelists shared how they saw openings to create their kind of music while at Yale. Mellissa, who studied at Yale’s the early music program , realized early on how much she loved working with composers so she sought out collaborations with composers, including Missy, while at Yale.  As a result, she has built upon her foundation and collaborates widely with other composers, who write music for her and showcase her beautiful and incredibly versatile voice.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Owen’s passion for chamber music was initially a sideline activity that he pursued for love and for fun. He eventually chose to pursue his master’s degree at YSM, breaking a lot of rules and looking for ways to share his “anachronistic” ideas about music. Success for him was about “versatility and being musically open to lots of influences and skills”, all the while guided by his “true north” of chamber music and leadership. While at Yale, Owen created performances at unusual venues and also got a grant to tour Germany, inventing a group he called the “Hindemith Ensemble”.  His advice was to  “Fake it til you make it” and not to ask for permission but to beg for forgiveness.

Missy sought out performers (and not other composers) for whom she wrote a lot of music.  Moreover, she organized her first concert at a local New Haven bar where she programmed her own work, along with work by Phillip Glass and a dose of video.  Being in school gave her the freedom to experiment because “there was not much room to fail.”

And James met Missy when she wrote a piece for Mellissa, James and another musician that inspired him to embrace the quartet.

James Moore - Photo by Isabelle Selby

James Moore – Photo by Isabelle Selby

The same spirit of creating opportunities also permeated the early years of their careers, by slowly building up a reputation, establishing relationships through collaborations and leveraging success to get to the next level.  All four of our musicians moved to New York right after graduation from Yale to pursue different paths, yet all exhibited this spirit of adventure and possibility.

Upon arriving in New York, James immediately sought out collaborators from Yale and from his summer experience at the Bang on a Can festival.  James is still working with many of these people and emphasized the importance of maintaining excellent relationships with everyone you know. Yes, he worked on a series of low-level “soul-sucking” jobs but he continued to pursue his dream.  He aptly summed up his attitude as follows:

“I find myself looking for opportunities and creating those opportunities and being self-motivated to make it happen.”

Because he enjoyed collaborating with other guitarists, he founded his rock quartet, Dither, which clicked right away because the group was versatile and ” the music is really cool!” as well as being very high quality. James mentioned other factors that contributed to the success of Dither, including the fact that there was already an existing repertoire for electric guitar quartet and that his composer friends whom he met in his early days in New York wrote music for the group.

Owen Dalby

Owen Dalby

Owen moved to New York where he became a Fellow at the Ensemble ACJW Academy, a vehicle for virtuoso performers who were equally passionate about bringing music into new communities.  Thanks to the invaluable training, materials and experience from the Academy, Owen and his colleagues were steeped in a new model of presenting chamber music.  They wanted to continue working together and take this model to the next level, so they formed a group now called Decoda premised on the idea of performing music, both old and new, education and outreach, all done with equal seriousness and quality.  Membership was not by audition but rather premised on an entrepreneurial “opt-in policy” whereby if you brought a project to the group and it met certain criteria, you became a member of the group.

They had lots of work right away both because Carnegie Hall referred many projects to the group and because they had established close relationships with a number of communities who believed in them.  To date, the group has had residencies in the US as well as Mexico, Denmark, Iceland, UK, Abu Dhabi, India and, Spain.  The group is now establishing its home base in New York. Finally, because of the group’s unusual instrumentation (28 members that include 3 bassoons and only 2 violins!), they commissioned a lot of work from today’s composers, including Missy.

Owen’s advice was to create your own niche based on what you do best and who you are.

Missy also came to New York after graduation, with a different path ahead of her. Even though she was told that composers were “supposed” to get a Ph.D. and teach, she decided that her education was over after Yale.  She arrived in New York without a plan but was determined to put herself in front of audiences and see if she could make it work.  She felt that it was fine to be at the bottom and emphasized that as part of the first DIY generation, you have to create your own opportunities, even if you do not know where it is going.

Missy cycled through a series of day jobs and soon joined the MATA Festival where she worked closely with Philip Glass, met a lot of composers and also learned how to fundraise. She also wanted a vehicle for her music since no one knew who she was, which led her to create her all-female band, Victoire, comprised of high-quality musicians for whom she could write her kind of music.  Missy’s advice was to work hard, create great material, nurture your relationships and always have a project ready to go and be in a position to move things forward, which is how she was able to get the commission for Victoire’s upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall.

In short, all four of our artists saw the many possibilities that exist in today’s world and have worked hard to create and nurture those opportunities.  That leads us to the last of the four elements of the mindset of success: