Get out of Your Comfort Zone: Lessons from The Savvy Musician

Julia and I have attended so many conferences over the last several years that we’ve lost count!

Most of them have a pretty similar format: lectures and panels in rooms of various sizes, often with a marketplace where presenters, artists, and managers/agents congregate and do business. There are lots of ideas exchanged and talking, but usually in a single direction.

Last month, we attended a “conference” unlike any other we’d been to—The Savvy Musician in ACTION in Columbia, South Carolina.

The brainchild of David Cutler (author of The Savvy Musician) and the University of South Carolina School of Music’s Spark Laboratory, it’s a rocketship-paced bootcamp in creating, planning, and pitching an arts venture either for profit or non-profit.

It was an amazing experience where we learned a ton and forged many lasting relationships.

Because it quickly pushes you out of your comfort zone, we wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone considering a career in the performing arts. It’s especially valuable if you’ve already embraced the reality that an entrepreneurial spirit is a crucial ingredient in building a profitable and fulfilling career.

Here are our top five reasons why you shouldn’t miss this conference next year!

Time is precious and limited…but it can be more expansive than you realize

The entire program was truly a mad rush with very few breaks, several late nights, and countless deadlines. Fun and stress mingled as our new teams bonded and learned how to work together.

But there was an amazing feeling of pride at the end of the week as we looked back at everything we had created—business models, marketing plans, consumer research, case studies, financial projections, and websites. On top of all that, we crystallized our projects in 10′ x 10′ displays with a 4-minute pitch for a panel of judges.

We got SO much done in so little time.

Julia and I continue to talk about how we could create mini-SAVVY experiences in our own work from time to time, as a way to bring intense focus to launching a new idea or refining an existing product. How can we create the occasional sprint day or week to break up the pace of our work and move something forward in a very short time?

Learn about yourself through teamwork

The first big milestone at Savvy is forming a team for the project—a team of complete strangers.

Working with all new people over the course of a very intense several days is an amazing opportunity to learn about team dynamics in a safe, low-risk environment.

How do you keep your team on track to meet deadlines while making sure every person feels heard? How do you deal with intense disagreements that may arise? How do you make sure that each team member is both learning and using their talents to help the effort?

I found that working with an all new team reminded me of how many patterns and habits I fall into while working with the amazing iCadenza/Cadenza Artists team, simply because we’ve gotten used to each other over the last few years.

Working with an entirely new group of people highlights and allows you to learn through various team dynamics that exist in so many team settings.

Allow yourself to be inspired by others

Without a doubt, our favorite part of the experience was getting to know so many incredible people.

Music students, faculty, groundbreaking professional artists, “thought leaders,” and so many other constituents within the arts world and the local area made for a powerful meeting of the minds.

The Chamber Music competition showcase featured four incredible, innovative chamber music acts. It was great to see how creatively musicians are thinking about the performance and presentational aspect of their art.

Plus, getting to work with these artists over the course of the week and then see their showcase was so great!

We also got to hear from and spend meaningful time over meals with numerous industry luminaries, like the prolific arts journalist Greg Sandow, Alarm Will Sound’s Managing Director Gavin Chuck, music and technology visionary Dave Kusek, and many more.

Let go of your judgments of what you’re capable of

As we recently discussed in our post for Mavenly + Co., being a first-time entrepreneur means taking on a whole host of activities that you are neither experienced nor qualified to perform.

The beauty of a workshop like The Savvy Musician in ACTION is that it doesn’t give you a chance to second-guess whether you know how to build a website or create a budget. There’s no time for self-doubt!

By requiring so much output from each team, I’d be surprised if any participant managed to leave the weekend without feeling empowered about having picked up some new skill or competency.

More important than the skill itself is the confidence that you can learn new skills to apply to your career or business.

That’s been one of our biggest secret weapons in our work. We know that there’s a lot we don’t know, and we have to constantly be comfortable starting over and learning something new, over and over again. The Savvy Musician in ACTION reinforced this in a powerful way.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Doing anything new is hard and can be emotionally-charged.

There was a lot we had to figure out on the fly. Who will do what, in what order? How do you balance working as a team and working together to get good ideas going and getting things done?

We had to balance our feelings with the feelings of others. And the more passionate you are about what you’re working on, the harder it is to make concessions to others’ opinions or to entertain the idea that their idea might be better than yours.

How do you deal with someone else’s intense emotions while managing your own, all while doing stuff you’ve never done before and don’t yet completely understand, and racing against a looming deadline?

All of this comes down to recognizing that the discomfort is just part of the process. When you figure out that you need to be focusing on managing yourself through the discomfort rather than trying to run away from it, the real work can begin.

What’s one thing you can do?

Where have you been playing it safe? What’s one thing you can do to push yourself out of your comfort zone this week? Leave a comment below.

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