Long Tail Sessions, Vol 11–Wednesday, December 6th with Vijay Gupta

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vijay Gupta, friend, Violinist with the LA Phil and Founder of Street Symphony. In our discussion, we cover the work Vijay has been up to with Street Symphony, his upcoming Messiah Project at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row and a growing partnership we’ve created between Colburn and Street Symphony.


In addition, Vijay has contributed an amazing Spotify Playlist for you, as well as a few recommended books and resources to help you in your life and career. Enjoy!

Here’s where you can find Vijay:

Street Symphony Website

About The Long Tail Sessions: Last winter, I traveled from LA to NYC on a Virgin America flight and loved that the in-flight entertainment featured musicians in alphabetical order. At first, I found it jarring to see Beethoven next to the Beatles, but then I thought “Of course they’re featured side-by-side, that’s how we enjoy music these days.”

With this in mind, I’m pleased to present a weekly series of playlists dedicated to those of us who are not genre specific in our listening habits. Just as your listening habits have changed dramatically over the past 20 years, so have the ways musicians get paid for their original work. My primary goal for this project is to introduce you to music you might not have heard before. Many of the artists featured on each playlist are trying to make it as performing artists. Help them by sharing the videos you love, following the artist and committing to attend one of their performances the next time they’re in town.

Thanks so much to all! I’d love to feature a song by an artist of your choosing. Please send me along a song by your favorite artist and I’ll do my best to get it on an upcoming playlist.

Announcing a partnership between the Colburn School and Street Symphony

I am thrilled to announce a partnership between the Colburn School and Street Symphony, an organization run by my good friend and violinist, Vijay Gupta. This partnership will solidify and bring into focus work that has been happening on an ad hoc basis for the past several years.

Last week, there were two events, led by Vijay, which officially launched the partnership. First, Colburn faculty members Clive Greensmith, Richard Beene, and Fabio Bidini along with students Aubree Oliverson, Bree Fotheringham, Emma Wernig performed at Pitchess Detention Center, located in northern LA County. Second, on Thursday, students Madeleine Vaillancourt (performing in photo above), Madi Vest, and Ryan Davis performed for an audience of residents at the Weingart Center on Skid Row, which was the first of several performances scheduled. 

In addition to having Vijay speak about Street Symphony with Colburn students and faculty at various times of the year, there are three major touch points that mark this partnership:

  1. Ensemble in residence: Street Symphony 16831181_1276968322392586_559920875461412694_nwill select one ensemble from the Colburn School to be in residence each year. Designed as an experiential learning program, students within the ensemble will perform for normal Street Symphony functions and design their own socially relevant programming. This year’s ensemble in residence, the Sunrise Quartet (pictured on the right), has already performed for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) and at the Pitchess Detention Center. 
  2. Performance opportunities: During the course of each year, Street Symphony will provide opportunities for members of the Colburn Community to perform at LA County jails and homeless shelters on Skid Row. Most notably, students and faculty will play a role in the annual Messiah Project put on by Street Symphony each year.  
  3. Internship opportunity: Each year, one Colburn student or Alumni will have the opportunity to work deeply with the Street Symphony team to learn about how the organization functions and to strengthen the partnership between the two organizations. The first person to take advantage of this opportunity was Emily Lair, an alum of the Conservatory who worked deeply with Street Symphony for the year, learning about arts administration, non-profit management, and engaging musicians in socially relevant causes.



Partnerships can add an incredible vibrancy to your organization. Here are some things for you to consider as you think about partnering with another organization.

  1. Take your time: It took Vijay and I five years to get to today. What started as a cup of coffee turned into regular discussions about the arts, the state of the field, and ways to engage deeply with a community. Without taking the time to develop trust and, ultimately, friendship, a partnership may have difficulty down the road. Tip: 
  2. Set careful rules of engagement: Make sure you have a list of things you would like to do as a result of any partnership. Tip: Before you solidify any partnership, make certain you write down your hopes for what will come out of the work done together. Follow that up with a sit-down discussion to set guidelines for the partnership. I would also suggest setting a time limit on the partnership of 1 to 3 years with the option of extending if things are going well. 
  3. Start small:  
  4. Find partnerships that engage students in your community: 

How to set up a community engagement program that is diverse and inclusive.

In many ways, Los Angeles could be considered an arts education desert. Children are not afforded the opportunity to receive sequential learning in the arts. At Colburn, I was asked to develop a pipeline of learning that was sequential in nature and helped students in the program develop the skills necessary to thrive.Slide1The school altered its mission, ever so slightly, to reflect a new way of thinking about how we engage with our community. Instead of providing “Access and Excellence,” we now provide “Access TO Excellence.” It’s incredible how changing one word makes such a difference in our vision for programming.Slide2My guess is that some of you are thinking. “Wait, if we pursue excellence, isn’t that an elitist pursuit?”Slide3My answer is simple. Programming is not elite if it’s diverse and inclusive!Slide4If organizations are going to tip the scales towards excellence, they should be offering the same type of training that any family of means could provide for their children.

At Colburn we have developed programming rooted in excellence for about 200 students. This is the amount that we can comfortably serve while also giving students an authentic experience in the art form with the right scope and sequence.

How do we do it? Here are the four values we lean on in order to run our programs:Slide51. Programming is Rooted in Excellence and Artistry—By far, our most important programmatic offering is access to top notch training, rooted in beauty for every student in the program.Slide62. Foundational skills building — We strive to start students on their instruments at the right age for them to thrive and then give them the training they need to be successful. Our focus is on beautiful music making by fantastic teachers who are the primary point of contact for the students in the program.Slide73. Help our students be realistic — I love this photo, ha! It is our believe that the pot at the end of the rainbow may not always be what you expect! In light of this, one of the things we do from the beginning is broaden the definition of success for all of the students in our program. Too often, we see that students are hyper focused on an art form and forget how the art can be applied to other parts of their life and career. Slide84. Define the definition of success for all involved with the program — We work continuously to help our students understand that they have their own personal measurement of success.

Here are a two quick thoughts for you to consider as you build your own organization:

  1. Set measurements of success. The Colburn Community Engagement program has two main goals:
    1. Full integration into our Community School—The Colburn Community School has a long, rich history of excellence. Our goal is to matriculate students who complete our community engagement programs smoothly into our Community School offerings, which becomes one of our signals of programmatic success. Tip: If you don’t have another program to establish internal benchmarks, establish partnerships with other organizations to help you benchmark excellence for your organization. Set a goal for X number of your students to become a part of that organization and measure against that goal each year.
    2. College Bound—Only 17% of our country has a baccalaureate degree. Having students that are college bound is a huge success, regardless of chosen career path.
  2. Don’t let current funders dictate your future vision—This is a huge problem in the field. Many organizations fail to make a move towards a smaller program rooted in excellence because they fear they will lose funding from donors or foundations. Tip: Bring your donors and foundations into the conversation at the beginning of the process and have the conversation together. 


How does this resonate with you? What challenges do you face in setting up your own diverse and inclusive programming. I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

The Best Tool for Discovering your Strengths.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the arts is that we tend to be conformist in nature. We look back at traditional approaches to learn our art in order to catapult us into the future.

We need to separate the formal practice of learning our high art from our future career path. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I do believe there is a standardized course of study that prepares us to be artists. The art of careful, diligent practice under the guidance of a mentor and a commitment to beauty and fluency are especially important for artists to be successful.

However, beyond a specific scope and sequence for your applied art, there is no “one-size-fits-all” rubric for career success.  We are all different, with a diversity of hopes and dreams, wants and needs that define our career.

On top of this, we all have different personalities that are ever-present during our pursuit. In my experience, I haven’t seen a particular personality have a better shot than others at forging a successful career. I do think it’s important to know what type of personality you have in order to better understand your potential career path.

One great tool I recommend is called Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Strengths Based Leadership is a book that comes “with an online talent assessment that helps you:

  • discover what you naturally do best
  • learn how to develop your greatest talents
  • use your customized results to live your best life”

Upon completion of the assessment, you will be given your top five strengths, along with a detailed description of each, which I believe is incredibly beneficial to your career path. There are four main “domains” that each of your strengths fit into.

  1. The Strategic Thinker — Artists who would prefer to think, plan, and strategize about their career instead of acting on it. Thinkers often keep journals, love to plan, and are very comfortable discussing an idea. On the flip side, they are often risk averse and it can be difficult for them to act on an idea.What StrengthsFinder says about strategic thinkers: “Strategic Thinkers are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be. They are constantly absorbing and analyzing information and helping the team make better decisions.”
  2. The Executor — Artists who have an idea, quickly gather 3 friends, plan the activity, and act on the activity within a month are likely executors. These artists are often high energy, excited to take on risk and will sometimes act on an ideas even if the desired outcome isn’t completely figured out.What StrengthsFinder says about Executers: “Leaders with dominant strength in the Executing domain know how to make things happen. When you need someone to implement a solution, these are the people who will work tirelessly to get it done.”
  3. The Influencer — Artists who are good at telling their story via social media, gathering large crowds for their performances, and have had many successful partnerships for their work are great influencers.  What StrengthsFinder says about Influencers: “Those who lead by Influencing help their team reach a much broader audience.  People with strength in this domain are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organization.”
  4. The Relationship Builder — Artists that can easily pull an ensemble together and keep them going as a high performing group are relationship builders. What StrengthsFinder says about Relationship Builders: “Those who lead through Relationship Building are the essential glue that holds a team together. Without these strengths on a team, in many cases, the group is simply a composite of individuals.”

Where do you see yourself fitting into these domains? I hope you’ll take the assessment to find out. I have found the process to be incredibly eye opening and telling as I reflect on my own leadership style.

The most important thing to remember is that this assessment will help you embark upon your own path.

7 tips for artists considering work in a traditional, 9-5 job.

On my way into work this morning, I stumbled upon this article, which provides great insight into ways employers can retain a highly engaged team working on a common goal for their organization or business.

This type of mindset is important for artists to think about for those who are considering more traditional, 9-5 work.

This got me thinking about the following question: As an employee, what can artists do to help them love their work, stay engaged and play a role in building a highly effective business or organization. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Understand the potential differences between your values and the business where you choose to work — Ideally, your values will be the same as your employer, often times they are not. Figure out where to stretch your values and what values are not up for compromise. This is often the biggest reason I see individuals seek work elsewhere, and also the source of some of the greatest frustration for those stay on the job.
  2. Know before you go — Before you take a role at a business or organization, take some time to really understand the company culture. Ask to shadow someone for a day before you take the job and scour your LinkedIn network to see who else might be associated with the business so you can ask them some questions about company culture and work expectations.
  3. Negotiate time for you — Before you accept the job, ask about flexible hours, the potential for upward mobility, and opportunities for professional development. This is often very telling about the culture of the organization as well as the type of expectations your boss will have for you.
  4. Be relentless in asking for feedback — Devise a plan for regular feedback from your boss. I like weekly check ins and quarterly reviews to gauge progress and set expectations. I also welcome feedback any time in a more casual basis as I believe it helps me become a better employee. It is often tough to get genuine feedback from your boss because they are so busy, however, it’s really important to insist that they help you grow.
  5. Pick up a side hustle — As an artist, you’re probably already striking a balance between your work in a 9-5 job and pursuing your art after hours. For those of you who don’t have an after hours project driving you, seeking this type of work as an artist or something else that drives you may be the thing that keeps you inspired at work.
  6. The grass is always greener — If you’re currently reading this because you have frustrations at work, first of all you are not alone. Secondly, know that there will likely be frustrations in every place of employment so make sure you’re not leaving your current role for different problems that are equally frustrating in your next place of employment.
  7. Know when to go — Give yourself permission to leave a position that simply isn’t working out. I know that the conventional wisdom is that you should stay in a position for at least two years before moving on, however if the job is not the right fit for you, seek employment elsewhere, regardless of how long you’ve been employed.

Thanks so much for reading. For those of you who are in a traditional 9-5 job and an artist, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. What advice do you have for those seeking more 9-5 work?


(Photo Credit: AV Design)


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