Who do you serve? // Julie Dean

Has anyone gotten to know themselves a little better after this last year? I was already on a discovery journey, so maybe this self-knowing became more intensified for me.

The pandemic and horror show of a year made me question my priorities and why I was doing what I was doing. I even went through a period in late summer where I was conflicted about creating new projects for the studio and wondering if I even wanted to teach singing any longer. I called it an identity crisis; a friend suggested I was transforming. It’s good to have friends who can see around the anxiety!

Some ideas and philosophies are still swirling, clarifying and coming to be, and this line of thinking did get me REALLY CLEAR on WHO I wanted to work with in the future. Jess Baldwin and I have been teaching Independent studio teachers the ins and outs of running a Contemporary Studio for a couple of years now, and I’m still using those tools to fine tune my own clientele and interests. 

As the fall of 2020 began, we were five months into online learning and after a sparse August, I was anxious to have a full studio, still defaulting to survival mode. Will they come back? Will new people want to start online? Oh, they came! I started a handful of new clients, and maintained a good portion of returning clients to have a pretty full schedule. In fact, even with a free hour or two here and there, I started telling folks I was full in October. I was so tired, I cancelled out those extra hours. My eyes were tired; newly diagnosed with “dry-eye” – a pandemic ramification. 

As my ideas took shape for the new creation in 2021, I started paying closer attention to how I felt at the end of a lesson, or the end of a day. Who was giving me life; who was draining it. All of my clients are lovely people, and yet, we’re not all meant for each other. It’s taken me a very long time to get that. When first presented with that notion 6 years ago from Book Yourself Solid, I panicked. I was deeply in that survival thinking: I have to teach everyone, and fill all of the hours! I’m much happier and healthier (mentally and physically) for finally embracing this idea of the “red-rope” policy; tailoring clientele who are right for me, and I for them. And it’s an ongoing battle between my scarcity-scared reptilian brain and my more healed confident business-owning badass self.

Something shifted for me this fall. So tired and stressed, worried about the state of the country and the pandemic, caring the best I could for a mother with Alzheimer’s, and then deciding it was time to buy that house and build a home studio after all, about did me in! Oh, and my trio recorded our first original album at the start of 2020 and we decided on a Dec 1 release. I felt that shift get more settled noticing the more time I was able to give to writing and creating, the better I felt. I need more time for that. I need more time. Reduce my teaching hours, charge more. Choose the clientele that I desire to keep working with and find out if they can make the shift with me. Recruit for the new change. Create more group offerings; more people, less time, more money. That’s the ticket!!

At the close of February, I have sold out my weekly and every other week packages. I asked everyone to make a year commitment, so I could divide their payments over 12 months. I was a little skeptical that I’d get away with it. I kept 2 hours open to start another group class or two in the spring. I might only advertise one of them and keep that other precious hour to myself, because I did the math, and booking one of the classes puts me over my projected budget for the year. Every time I make a change in the studio, I have doubts. Time and time again, “build it and they will come” has been fulfilled. I’m 100% convinced that it’s because I’m knowing myself better, trusting myself more and projecting that to the world so that people I want to work with, want to work with me!

Here are a few examples of how I decided who to pursue and not pursue as clients based on my energetic and creative analysis. 

I had a classical singer in my studio last fall for the first time in a few years. While I have prided myself on working with all types of singers, any age, any style, any experience, I got real clear last fall I was not being fed artisitcally or professionally by helping folks prepare for classical grad school auditions. And since I don’t live in that music anymore, I felt like I really couldn’t offer the best guidance. 

I loved working with this singer, because he was a really cool and nice guy! He was a Music Ed major in school and currently an elementary music teacher. He was intrigued and a little scared of popular music, telling me he had a traumatic jazz experience in High School. A teacher pressured him into an audition that required scatting, with which he was not skilled, trained or comfortable singing. As a Black student in a mostly Black school where many members of his choir came from gospel backgrounds, that was not his experience, and felt very out of place with riffing, runs and improvisation. He liked the organization and rules of Classical singing in college. I told him how much I enjoyed working with him, but thought it best I send him to one of my colleagues that lives in the Classical arena. He inquired if he could still study with me, as he would like to venture into more popular music too, and wanted to do that with me. Heck yeah!! This is my dream! To hold their hands through the scary parts and show them the world of music they thought unattainable. One of my friends in town is his Classical teacher now, and we both agree that he  is a dream student!

I also had two teenagers new to the studio last fall. One was a performing artist with a gigging set list, and one at the beginning of his musical journey, a few School of Rock camps under his belt, a drummer first, always wanted singing lessons. The gig kid came every other week with “this is the song my dad wants me to work on today”…a bit nonchalant about the whole learning thing. The School of Rock kid came with some heavy metal songs that we figured out needed to be rekeyed to work on and then changed gears to work on something easy… Freddy Mercury songs for the next camp, featuring Queen songs. I guess we are going to do some range-building! He was eager, and had a bunch of questions every week. Asked if he could do some exercises over when he wasn’t pleased with the result. I loved his eagerness and his practice ethic. You can probably guess which one I pursued to continue this year. 

I know some teachers don’t like to work with students that don’t practice. I’ve discovered that I don’t really care. It’s their time/money and only they can build their skill and art. Many of my clients are adults and are working with me for the contact, community, heart-work that we do in addition to the music. For some, it is an hour of self-care to chat and vocalize. I find the kids have to be motivated with songs themselves, because if I’ve got a kid showing up, hasn’t practiced, isn’t really singing or listening to anything, that is a slow teeth-pulling hour. Well, it could be. Depending on my mood, I can allow it, or I’ll spend it on exercises. Saying no to teaching kids was the easy cut. Unless they are referrals from the ENT office I work with, I notice I spend more energy trying to entertain them. Except this one… 

Charlotte. She came to me the week before NC went on lock down last year. I was on the verge of not taking any more clients last spring, not sure about the kids, and in walked a delightful 10-yr-old, oldest of three girls, confident, creative and ready to take on the musical world. She has been a bright light; loving learning and singing songs, paying attention to exercises and telling me all about the plays and musicals she and her sisters create to put on for their parents and grandparents during the pandemic. Her Dad is a doctor, so they are taking this bubble thing seriously! 

People not in our industry often ask if I’m working with some talented voices. That’s the least interesting part about a client to me. How talented they are. Do they love singing? Do they make me feel good about my time spent after an hour? Are they interesting people? That’s my bar! What’s yours?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • When am I my best? 
  • Who inspires that? 
  • Who excites me when teaching? 
  • What does my body feel like after the hour?

The folks that aren’t getting your best, could be getting someone else’s best. Build your “red-rope” policy; they will come! 

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