Three Acclaimed Performers Share the Pivots They're Making to Succeed
Whether their craft is music, voice, or magic, solopreneur performers are adapting to the times.
When performance is your business —music, singing, speaking, and magic — the social distancing era seems like an insurmountable barrier. The Broadway League recently announced that Broadway will stay closed until at least January 2021. Cirque de Soleil has declared bankruptcy and cut 3,500 jobs, citing "immense disruption and forced closures" as the cause.
Beyond the tragedy of the more than 126,000 U.S. deaths as of July 2, 2020, there is the shadow impact on companies and employees throughout the globe. While small businesses are not an industry category, they employ tens of millions of people in the U.S. According to the newest research from McKinsey, between 1.4 and 2.1 million U.S. small businesses could close permanently as the result of the first four months of the health crisis.
High on the list of those affected includes are entrepreneurs in the world of arts and entertainment. Public speakers and presenters are feeling the impact. Most live events have faced an immediate halt. What are these small businesses and solopreneurs to do? SBA aids and grants have had varying levels of success in supporting small organizations with W-2 employees. The legions of U.S. 1099 employees, reportedly numbered at 35 million in 2019, have been far more affected — as many lacked the knowledge or banking relationships to successfully apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as sole proprietors. Worse still, the requirement that requires employers who receive PPP loans to use the funds for payroll expenditures has left 1099 earners doubly out in the cold as the level of work formerly available to freelancers diminishes.
Speakers, performing artists, and musicians are being universally affected. This week my own business partner Lauren Solomon, CXO for our agency, delved into the situation in the show she co-hosts with Amy Osmond Cook, "Good Day Orange County." They asked these questions of three renowned participants in the performance sector: Musician and speaker Freddie Ravel, vocal and speaking coach Roger Love and Winnipeg-based magician and corporate event speaker and performer, Ken Sky.
For the production of their July program, Solomon and Cook accomplished another first, taping and producing their entire show remotely from the various U.S. locations where they are sheltered in place, along with their guests.
Here's what these three renowned performers had to say in their interviews with Solomon and Osmond Cook about the difficulties — and opportunities — of pivoting a freelance business during times of extraordinary challenge and change.
Freddie Ravel, American keyboardist and keynote speaker
For several decades, Ravel has traveled the world as a keyboardist with Earth, Wind & Fire, Carlos Santana, Madonna, Sergio Mendes, Prince, and other musical artists. He also works as a keynote speaker and speaking coach/trainer, based in L.A.
"After years and years of traveling and playing in about 82 countries so far and spending a lot of time on airplanes and at airports… What do you do when all that shuts down?" Ravel said. "And what do you do when you can't go out to the world?"
Ravel has been working on ways to bring the world of music performance into the space of his home studio. "We're accessing bits and pieces of the world and bringing that to our viewers."
How has his life until now prepared him for the current pivot? Ravel talks about particularly poignant lessons he learned from collaborations and partners. One of these was with Yolanda King, the eldest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King. She collaborated with Ravel on the number one song for his solo record. Afterward, she invited him to participate in her book "Open My Eyes, Open My Soul." Through that endeavor, he realized the need to merge his life of music with diversity and inclusion, and a message to bring humanity to a higher place. Why not use the world's universal language, music, to do it?
Deepak Chopra was another defining influence for Ravel. In their work together, Chopra emphasized that the spaces between the notes in a musical composition are equally important to the notes themselves. The concept has stayed with him since. He's applied the basic elements of music — melody, harmony, and rhythm — to create a program called Life in Tune. And he's sharing the program via Zoom through music and instructive sessions in 25 countries so far.
The high-speed technology makes it possible for a note he plays in L.A. to be heard a nanosecond later in South Africa. And it's working for Ravel and his close-knit team of participants. Thanks to technology like Zoom, it's possible to see the eyes of recipients, to feel them breathe, and to see the chat light up, he reports. In all, while the ecosystem of bookers, travel, and facilities is disrupted, technology makes it possible to play more dates in more time zones in a more direct and personal way, producing what Ravel refers to as "E3" — E to the third power, for an "Everybody Everywhere Experience," he says.
The experiences are progressing to a book, a course and a TV show, in the effort to take Life In Tune to every part of the world.
"A lot of people call COVID "The Invisible Enemy,'" Ravel says. "Well, I call music The Invisible Hero … it's the undisputed language we all know that uplifts us."
Roger Love, American vocal and speech coach
Roger Love is the famed American vocal coach who's worked with musical groups including the Beach Boys and The 5th Dimension, soloists like Gwen Stefani, Selena Gomez, John Mayer, and Eminem. Perhaps most notably, he's taught many non-singing actors such as Kiera Knightly, Bradley Cooper, Joaquin Phoenix, and Reese Witherspoon to sing on film. His vocal techniques have also been instrumental in the powerful speaking voices of presenters like Tony Robbins, Suze Orman, and Tyra Banks.
What does an expert who's made his business in training and preparing live performers do when live performances and movie productions have slowed to a crawl? The public speaking business has mostly stopped on a dime. The few organizations who've ventured forward with virtual renditions of their presentations have tended to treat these presentations with far more informality, so far. Will the level of excellence Love teaches be falling by the wayside as the world of speaking and music performance evolves?
At age 16, Love was already the number two voice expert in the world who worked for 17 years as a junior partner to the number one expert who had coached myriad singers and groups from Sinatra to Earth Wind & Fire to Stevie Wonder. It was his own vocal lessons that had instilled in him the innate ability to hear the way any voice sounded and provide the ways to make it sound better.
Increasingly, Love received requests to support speakers. He resisted at first, but invariably the candidates would come back. Ultimately, Love realized that speaking, like singing, is based on pitch, pace, tone, melody, and volume. Today, he coaches as many speakers and singers (Tony Robbins, in fact, acknowledges Love's influence in his Netflix special, "I'm Not Your Guru.")
The training is profound, he points out, as the emotion, intonation, and inflection of our voices are equally important to us as the words that we say — as anyone who's wondered or misunderstood the intent of an email or text can attest. Thankfully, he has been successful in translating many aspects of his training to the online world through courses and videos available as free tidbits or highly economical options for presenters and speakers through his online business, The Perfect Voice.
Does social distancing create more or less requirement for optimized voice quality? Through Zoom or online channels, visual cues are sometimes absent and, in many cases, somewhat muted, which makes the audio sound of a person's voice even more important as a compelling means of doing effective business. Love also talks about the importance of verbal enunciation and volume when people are speaking through masks. "Because we equate volume with anger, it seems that everyone, universally, tends to turn into a mumbler when we speak through a mask," he notes. And yet, this is a new skill and area of training the current era of business requires.
Ken Sky, corporate magician and speaker
"Man of mystery" Ken Sky is a mind reader and keynote speaker from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Sky is no stranger to striving through life's challenges, having grown up in Paraguay. He moved to Winnepeg 17 years ago in 2003.
From his childhood, Sky recalls creating his toys from corn cobs by adding arms and legs and turning them into people. When he was five, his mother began to teach him the magic of words and language. She spelled out the alphabet using a stick to form letters in dirt. He was captivated and declared his life's direction was chosen. He wanted to be a teacher. As he grew, his father pointed to the sky and taught him about the presence of airplanes and satellites, and the dream of someday moving to Canada.
Because the family had ancestors from Canada who'd moved to Paraguay, the opportunity arose to move to Canada and become a Canadian citizen. But to take this opportunity required living in Canada for a year before turning 28. Determined not to miss this opportunity, Sky moved to Canada with his wife, two suitcases and $200 in 2003. They've forged their entrepreneurial journey from Winnepeg ever since.
Because his family couldn't afford formal schooling, Sky worked every variety of job in Paraguay — shoemaker, chocolate maker, mesh wire maker. He even delivered fresh water to the schools from a tractor, with the books he studied on his own by his side. He worked his way through high school and college. His favorite job, he recalls, was as the sound engineer for a radio station. Computer skills proved to be his salvation as a newcomer to Canada who didn't speak English. Throughout his childhood, however, he loved the stage and every opportunity to perform – playing the guitar, singing, performing, and making people smile. When his young son suffered from health difficulties, a musician came by to cheer the father and son with a personal magic performance. Again, it was an experience that spoke to his soul and he honed his skills as a musician. Now he had a way to teach, to entertain, and to introduce new products to an audience through magic. It was a fascinating field of work that took him all over the world.
Today, of course, the cancellation of travel has required him to pivot again. He observed the magic presentations on video and was underwhelmed. Seeing an opportunity to excel, he invested 50 hours in his first minute-and-a-half magic video. He scaled down his illusions. But at the same time, he found new elements that could make his presentations better. Now he is perfectly aligned for the clients who are experimenting with "virtual galas."
In all, as these three performance entrepreneurs are proving, there are new opportunities for those who are willing to learn, strive, and grow in the new and changing environment. They are successfully finding and creating bright spots in the world's new scenario.
My husband and I are finding these opportunities as well. Although our love of live concerts and performance is at least temporarily thwarted, after several years of wishing and planning, my husband and I were finally able to see Hamilton together. No, we didn't travel to Broadway, but were able to see it on our own big screen TV, thanks to the Disney Plus channel. It was a bright spot and another opportunity in an increasingly different world.
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