Meet the Freedom Team: Phil Amalong
Freedom’s multi-talented VP of marketing has always been one step ahead
It may come as no great surprise to know that we are quite a productive bunch here at Freedom. We do like to practice what we preach, after all! This means that we prioritize the things that matter to us – building a great product, providing an exceptional experience, and ensuring that we preserve time for rest and play, too! Those company values, combined with our fully remote workforce, have resulted in an exceptionally interesting team, full of multi-talented, creative, and super-productive people!
We are extremely proud of the small, but mighty Freedom Family, so we thought it was about time that we share the stories of some of our awesome employees!
Phil’s official title at Freedom is VP of Marketing, but he’s also our podcast audio engineer and composer, and sometimes composer of Freedom Focus Music. A classically trained musician, Phil’s unconventional route into the world of business and tech is not only fascinating but hugely inspiring.
Phil’s multi-passionate persona means on any given day you may find him forging new partnerships, dreaming up the latest campaign, wrapping up the audio on a podcast episode, writing marketing copy, diving into data, whipping up some graphics, writing the odd blog, or even writing and recording an original composition! He’s one busy man – in fact, often so busy that there’s never the time to ask him about even half of all the amazing and interesting things he’s done. Eventually, we pinned him down long enough to hear the story of how he went from player and performer to commercial composer, through academia and tech startups, to become the Productivity Maestro we know and love today.
What initially sparked your interest in music and what led you to pursue a musical education?
It’s hard to say where the spark originated for me because I cannot remember when music was not part of my life. Scientists say that music can be heard in the womb. My mom played the piano constantly before I was born, so it seems quite logical that the glimmer was enkindled there.
I gravitated toward the piano as soon as I could make the keys move. I started “formally” learning to play at around four years old and my mom was my first teacher. It was a natural thing for me, and after a few years, we moved to a teacher who could further develop my talent. Our whole family was musical – my younger brother and sister both played piano, dad was a singer, and there was always music in the house, whether coming from the piano or the stereo.
The piano became my identity as a kid. I played a lot of recitals and competitions and had hours of daily practice. It was an obsession, and I was motivated by rewards – finishing a practice session, then going out to play hockey or ride bikes with my friends. And cookies. Always cookies. A reward for finishing a good practice session.
As I got into high school, I became more serious about it and began considering my options beyond high school. I was playing in a chamber music ensemble at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and my coaches there encouraged me to audition for the competitive conservatories in the U.S.
I ended up accepting at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where I won a Van Cliburn competition scholarship which he endowed in honor of his mother. I continued there eventually with two more masters degree programs, and Cincinnati became my home. My sister, who is a talented flutist, also went to school in Cincinnati and met her musical husband there, and my brother became a well-known landscape architect and planner, so the family performing and creative genes are well distributed you could say.
So how did you get from classical piano… to Freedom?!
It’s a journey – I’ll do my best to streamline it. I’ve been so fortunate throughout my career, and hopefully, the twists and turns are interesting and relatable, especially to anyone navigating similar paths.
When I was a student in Cincinnati, I had some strong interests that were a bit non-traditional for a classical pianist on the ‘serious’ track. It’s a bit like training at a high level for an Olympic sport or ballet – there was a clear (and unforgiving) path to being a concert pianist, and my other interests that pulled me toward both technology and business were stronger than my desire to head down, what at least at the time, seemed like a narrow path full of uncertainty and a lot of trepidation.
I became very interested in both recording technology and electronic music and electronic instruments. I also had an ear and interest for almost every musical style I could find. I would spend hours in the laboratories with vintage synthesizers, experimenting with recording techniques and new musical forms, discovering the early music of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Suzanne Ciani, Morton Subotnik, Harry Partch, Prince, Miles Davis, King Crimson, Bill Evans, Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, indigenous music of Africa, Asia, South America, avant-garde music, a capella music… I could go on and on…
Music is an infinitely discoverable bounty. The Beethoven lightbulb turned on for me late, but when it did and I “got it”, I could hear what he was getting at and understood what a profound contribution he made to humankind. Also the gestation of Western music in chant –which music history professors tortured us with at school but I later came to appreciate and love, too.
At the same time – two further interests and passions developed: business and creating music.
So when the time came to make a decision on my path forward as a pianist, I chose to start a business. A fellow student and I had done some electronic music and recording projects together and we decided to use that basis to create fresh new music for advertising, television, and films.
We started the company in our early 20s and had little idea what we were doing, but we were confident that we could make a difference and change the sound of commercial music. A combination of energy and naivete led to surprising (in retrospect) success, but we made epic mistakes, had painful failures, and learned hard lessons almost every single day.
Before long our company became well-known in the advertising industry and we built a recording studio and hired staff in downtown Cincinnati. Our clients were not only advertising agencies, but also film and television producers, and production companies that served corporate clients.
Some interesting niche areas in which we wrote original music (jingles, underscores, sonic branding & identities, theme packages) were the toy industry (Kenner Toys was based in Cincinnati at the time) and songs for daytime dramas (soap operas). Cincinnati is home to the GOAT of brand, Proctor and Gamble (P&G), which at one time developed and produced a majority of daytime television and remains the world’s leading advertiser – and they have an extraordinary impact on the local business community. Some of the products and brands we wrote and produced original music for were McDonald’s, GE, P&G (Pantene, Aleve, etc), Blockbuster Video (“Wow, what a difference”), Walmart, Totes, Easy Spirit shoes, Kenner and Hasbro Toys, and hundreds of others, primarily U.S.-based.
During this time I was still playing the piano – performing and recording when and where I could, and especially enjoying playing chamber music. At the same time, I wore another hat in the recording studio, producing recordings with local musicians. Many artists would come to the studio and we’d work all night into the morning creating and recording songs. Many of these local artists like Babyface and LA Reid would go on to become leaders in the music industry.
While our business was growing, the advertising industry was being turned on its head. The internet was a juggernaut that forever changed not only the creative environment but also the business and budgets of advertising.
As my business partners and I started drifting and becoming involved in other businesses, my interests took me into what were initially some side projects that grew into the next branch in my path. I built a group of web businesses, got involved in the early days of domain auctions, web development, and early SEO (pre-Google!), then dived deep into Google search and advertising after it launched. I learned everything I could about the internet and web marketing. I eventually sold these businesses, but that passion to understand what motivates and moves people to action in the digital world continues to this day.
I was running these web businesses and teaching a few music and business courses at some local universities: Xavier University and the University of Mount St. Joseph. Through a dear friend and mentor Dr. Helmut Roehrig, who founded the music department at Xavier University, I came to love the masterworks of sacred choral music, and assisted him weekly at the Catholic parish in Mt. Lookout – a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Across town I played in the ensemble at Hebrew Union College, with the inimitable Bonia Shur. And almost without realizing it, I became more and more involved in academia and eventually became chair of the Department of Music at Mount St. Joseph.
I also traveled a bit, spending multiple summers in Sicily at music festivals, and absorbing the music and culture of Italy, France, and Germany as a musician and curious vagabond. I would tour with my chamber music group, Conundrum, playing at festivals and universities where we would give workshops and seminars with students as well as public performances of new music from composers participating in the festival.
When it came to teaching, it was a mixed bag – I loved my colleagues and especially the students. Which was a surprise to me. Coming from the business world of advertising, I thought I wouldn’t understand students. But they made it all worth the effort. Academia and the inner workings thereof on the other hand – not so much. The university seemingly valued me as an “outsider” – someone who had not always been on the academic path and could bring a “business perspective” to the school, so I was drafted into university rebranding projects, 20-year plan committees, presidential search committees, program overhauls…
The very semester I was up for tenure (which may have kept me in the academic world forever), I got an email from a man in North Carolina – Dr. John Q. Walker.
A brilliant man who became a dear friend, John Q built and sold some tech companies and had the freedom to return to his first love, music. He had raised $12M in venture capital and was launching a new music technology company with a vision to change the face of music as the world knew it. He had read a review of one of my recordings and then done some background research and reached out – he wanted high-level musicians, who had depth of experience in technology, and who had strong business backgrounds to join him in this venture. It was called Zenph.
I visited North Carolina and came home and talked with my family about a possible big change. Our children were young and home-schooled so we decided it was a good time and took the leap. I left academia with no regrets, albeit another rogue path, like at the end of my conservatory years going into business.
Here’s the brand video we produced at Zenph – definitely worth a watch to get a sense of what we were doing. This was truly the spark of something epic:
We had luminaries like Quincy Jones, Branford Marsalis, Ray Williams, Thom Mount, Gordon Goodwin, and Matt Szulik on our board, and the team I worked with and the work we were doing was exhilarating on every level. The experiences I had, the places I went, and the people I met through this work were beyond dreams. We were changing the world, and we had the world’s attention.
But…as often happens in startups poised to change the world, things didn’t go smoothly. Eventually, some differences between our investors and the CEO they had installed led to the dissolution of the company to many peoples’ dismay and real sadness. I still talk to former colleagues who have longings and regrets about not being able to bring our vision and mission to fruition. On our team were some of the world’s leading experts in digital audio analysis algorithms, Bayesian networks, and robotics…many of them today are in highly shrouded roles in the inner sanctum of Apple and at tech companies from Amazon to Hubspot to Smule.
As the company wound down, I found myself in an interesting situation. Along with a group of angel investors and a new investment from the venture firm, I was part of a team of co-founders of a new company that acquired the assets of Zenph.
We didn’t really make use of those assets at first. We launched a new business, “The ZOEN”, which delivered live online music lessons via webcam. We built a platform for in-browser WebRTC live video, scheduling, payments, and a highly evolved faceted search to help students anywhere find the perfect teacher and work with them.
We onboarded about 4500 music teachers, mostly from the U.S., and brought in thousands of students from across the globe, primarily through Google PPC campaigns at first. I launched a partnership with Google for their Helpouts initiative, as a brand partner alongside Sephora, Lowes, Angie’s List, and others. We built an extensive body of content around music learning and technology, and grew our organic footprint by becoming a leading authority in the field. I learned the value of great content, optimized landing pages for campaigns, built partnerships with key companies, and built an active and engaged community of users in a two-sided marketplace.
As The ZOEN was growing, there was still a lot of worldwide interest in the original Zenph technology. I was getting requests by orchestras from Hong Kong to Toronto, who wanted our “ghost in the machine” technology to have legendary (dead) performers make appearances in their concerts. We were talking with agents at William Morris Endeavor about booking George Gershwin (who died in 1937!) in concert. I needed partners to support that business, specifically in piano technology, and across the table at a friend’s wedding reception I met a Steinway piano dealer who introduced me to the head of technology at Steinway & Sons, the legendary piano manufacturer in New York.
One thing led to another, and Steinway ended up acquiring not only the original Zenph technology, but also The ZOEN, which I managed for them post-acquisition for a couple of years until they wound it down to focus on other priorities – mainly turning around their core business. Had The ZOEN been around still during the pandemic it might have been a different story – our biggest competitor was recently acquired by Microsoft and is thriving today.
Something incredible then happened – the old Zenph technology became part of Steinway’s product offering and contributed in part to an international turnaround for Steinway’s business after they hit a low point in 2016. Steinway’s growth began to accelerate in 2017, particularly in Asia and in part through the technology of “reperformance” via Zenph technology on the Spirio piano and app, which brings historical performances to homes, schools, and stages around the world. In April 2022, Steinway again became a publicly traded company through an IPO. The idea that I played a minuscule part in bringing that to happen, for a legendary 19th-century brand that’s been coveted for hundreds of years and I’ve whispered in reverence since I was a child, is incredibly exciting.
I became more involved in the local startup scene here in North Carolina’s “Triangle” as it’s known, and was a marketing and growth consultant for multiple companies both here and in California. I came to know entrepreneurs like the founders of ReverbNation –at the time the world’s largest technology platform for over 6 million independent musicians around the world– and led product marketing there for a period of time.
This brings me to Freedom. Through mutual connections in this network, I had the fortune of meeting another brilliant and kind person – Fred Stutzman, the founder of Freedom. Fred had initially built a Mac app for himself to block distractions while working on his PhD dissertation. He called it “Freedom” and shared it as a free download. It was a hit – millions of people around the world downloaded it. When I met Fred, he was in the beginning stages of devoting himself full-time to developing Freedom into a multi-platform solution and business.
I loved it. Having lived in a world that required profoundly deep focus and creative energy (one can’t, for example, learn and prepare a solo piano concert, memorizing tens of thousands of notes and nuances, and perfect a beautiful communicative presentation without the utmost focus and sustained concentrated work effort), combined with my deep experience and passion for digital marketing and understanding customer motivation – it was meant to be. We launched Freedom as a full-fledged subscription business in 2016.
It’s been an extraordinary journey so far and often it feels like we’ve only just begun. The problem of digital distraction and compulsive tech use grows exponentially every year and there are more facets of the problem presenting themselves all the time. This is incredibly important to me and what gets me up every day, eager to work. We work from a foundation of mission to help the world solve this problem, while striving to build a business that grows in its reach to help more people, day after day.
Freedom is used by a number of writers and musicians and you’ve been known to write for the blog too! What are some of the parallels between writing and composing?
I’ve heard this for years from sage musicians, and we hear it frequently from writers we interview on the Freedom blog and podcast: it’s all about the craft. Assuming you have honed your foundational skills and “talent”, it really comes down to consistent work, day after day, whether you feel inspired or not, and using your technique to generate output.
Then, it’s important to develop the discipline to find and polish (edit) the gems that appear among your efforts. It’s a numbers game to some extent – if you work consistently, generate output, and keep your mind open to continual learning and growth, you’re bound to create some gems.
If you do creative work for hire and on a deadline, whether music (as we did in my first business) or writing, it’s the same thing. Consistent generative work is like building muscle or a habit – the more you do it, the more you can do it. You learn to call upon your technique, past successes, and open mind, and those can be the foundation for new, original ideas and output.
Here’s my buddy Jack Wall talking about this from a composer’s perspective on the Freedom Matters podcast. He nails it right in the intro – the fruits of not “judging your work, just doing your work.”
Does your work process differ a lot if you are working on music, as opposed to marketing?
There are many different aspects to marketing and growing a company, whereas with music, whether as a creator or performer, it’s often a little more of a straight path and process. That is until you get to the business side of it.
When you’re creating for yourself and a potential or existing audience (as opposed to creating music for hire), you’re usually most successful when you don’t care what anyone thinks.
In marketing on the other hand, it’s all about understanding what people think and feel, and how you move them to use and buy what you’ve built for them. This starts with an authentic belief that your product will improve their lives. You want that for your customer, and your business then succeeds or fails based on how well that shared message resonates and how aligned the experience is when they buy and use your product.
OK, to some extent, musicians want to communicate on that level too. A shared feeling and understanding.
Maybe it’s not so different after all.
In terms of the discipline side of the work process, whether music or marketing, teaching students, or healing sick people – it’s still about the craft. Put all you know into a consistent effort day after day.
As someone who wears many hats, how do you carve out time and space for creativity?
The truth is, I mostly don’t.
What I mentioned above, about working on the craft? I always run up against the reality of the finity of time, and have periods or waves of creativity. It’s a constant struggle to carve out that time, especially when the carvings require consistency and continuity to make them meaningful.
From the music side, it’s very different between being a performer and being a creator. As a performer, I have tens of thousands of hours of practice and performance and technique to call upon to do occasional live performances and studio work. I’m nothing close to where I used to be as a pianist (preparing a solo recital or a concerto performance with an orchestra would require some big life changes to practice many hours), but I can get by and enjoy myself and bring some pleasure to others.
When it comes to creating or composing music – it’s a bit more of a process and it depends on what I’m doing. I also have years “in the bank” to call upon for this, so when I’m required to compose music for a podcast, or produce or arrange for an artist’s recording, or a film score, it comes naturally and quickly.
But carving out the time often happens based on need, more than desire.
What’s the best thing about working at Freedom?
That’s a really hard question! There are two main things that stand out to me.
The first is the team – the brilliant and cool people we have working together. We’re a fully remote team, but this past year we brought together our U.S. team here in Chapel Hill for an amazing time, and recently had a wonderful meetup with our European team members in Barcelona. These were exhilarating experiences, and though I see everyone almost every day on our daily standup, seeing them in person only intensified my feelings about what a special and committed team we have.
The second is the problem – we’re working on a problem that has the potential to destroy civilization as we know it.
I know that sounds way over-the-top dramatic, but when you consider the power of persuasive technology and all the directions it’s exploding every day and how it impacts our ability to function freely/non-compulsively, to relate to society and others, to nurture deep personal relationships, to think logically and manage our biases, have a sense of common good, live freely in the natural world…
There are single elements or a stew of these issues that could logically take us to the brink. And it’s driven by these tools we’ve created for ourselves that no longer fully serve as tools, but have become powerful beacons to our attention, emotions, and activity, channeling incessant messages at our brains in a carefully crafted and targeted way that intentionally exploits our psychological vulnerabilities. At scale.
Ray Kurzweil was a big inspiration in my music production work, as he built some of the coolest digital keyboards back in the day. His prescient and controversial ideas about technology growth and singularity are no longer totally the realm of science fiction – we’re seeing aspects of it happening now with the AI tools in our pockets and on our wrists that captivate our attention and time.
Here’s the thing though – I firmly believe that the youngest generations today will bring meaningful change in the coming decades. They already know about the problem, and their innate humanity will help them put technology in its proper place as a tool.
Back to the question – no superhero notion that Freedom is the complete answer, but knowing that we’re doing our small part in helping solve this problem is certainly a very “best thing” about working for Freedom.
What are your biggest distractors and how do you deal with them?
Cycling videos. And all the seasons of Lassie are on YouTube!
Hah, not really, these are just some things I enjoy.
Overwhelm and having a lot of things to do is a big distraction for me and can lead me to procrastinate when faced with the challenge of determining priorities. Which is often hard when everything needs to be done at some point. Like how long did it take me to get to answer this interview?
I think about this a lot, and strive to make clear decisions about what’s next. It’s not always a matter of having a clear plan and roadmap – it can often literally be many things, all at once, that happen regardless of planning and time management leading up to them. There are a few things that help though.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, for example, about brainstorming. How it can be great. And how it can be devastating.
Smart companies recognize this dichotomy and potential danger, and have tightly guided structures, limited times and places, and procedures for brainstorming. I can’t tell you how many articles and cautionary tales I’ve read or heard from people about companies that have failed under the weight of their brainstormed ideas that muddle their ability to choose the next thing and execute it.
Ideation gives us a nice endorphin rush that appeases and makes us think we’re making progress or getting something done. In reality, if there’s not a managed systematic procedure (nothing fancy or overly formal) for vetting, prioritizing, green-lighting, and backlogging, all it does is increase the noise and cognitive load for deciding the all-important one next thing to do.
So I’d say while overwhelm is my kryptonite, my best solution so far is constant gardening of priorities, then making the choice of that one next thing and doing it. Not always easy, but the reminder is written on my desktop. And using Freedom helps keep the other things to do at bay. It also protects against the slip into the easy salve of digital content that bandaids over the mental stress of knowing there’s so much to do, leading off the self-destructive distraction cliff.
Two of the new music tracks in the app were composed by you! Can you give us a bit of background about the theory behind Freedom Focus music?
Music that is created specifically to help people achieve a state of focus, deep work, heightened energy, relaxation, sleep – this is what we often refer to as “functional music.”
It’s different in a number of ways from music that we may listen to for pleasure or go to hear at a concert. Unlike functional music, this music has communication as its end goal – a connection between artist and listener. That artist can be interpretive (performer) or creative (composer) or both. They have a musical “message” they’ve developed that transmits a part of themselves to the audience, often at a very emotional and personal level. Whether it’s the existential profundity of a Beethoven symphony or piano sonata, the aching melodies, voice, and message of Billie Eilish or Billy Holiday, the probing explorations of jazz, the energy exchange between an rock, pop or EDM artist and their audience…it’s all about connection, experience, emotion, and something shared.
Functional music on the other hand, is made to generate a sonic environment that is optimized for the desired activity. For someone creating it, this places specific parameters on how they use the raw materials of music – rhythm, harmony, melody, texture, and time.
In the Freedom Focus Sounds, all the sounds and instruments in the tracks are contained within the parameters of reduced auditory salience. This simply means that there are no attention-grabbing sounds that would be disruptive to focus and a productive flow state. Musical dissonances are avoided, keys are generally major as opposed to minor, and the melodic lines often utilize the pentatonic scale.
Within the element of harmony, a subtle avoidance of musical “resolution” is often deployed in focus music.
Here’s how it works: most Western music revolves around a tonic or musical “home base.” Sing the familiar scale “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do” and listen to how “do” (the tonic pitch) feels like a resting place, whereas other tones in the scale have a relatively unstable position and want to move on. They have a type of musical gravity or pull…ultimately resolving to “do”.
This phenomenon of seeking the tonic also works within the chord or harmonic structure of music, but with far more complexity and nuance. Once the tonic of a piece of music is established to the ear, we subconsciously hear all harmonies in that piece of music relative to that tonic, each having a different relationship and amount of musical gravity toward the tonic, and often an associated feeling or “meaning”.
When musical resolution is avoided, our subconscious perceives something unfinished and ongoing in the music, we have a sense that our task is not yet finished.
In the Freedom tracks, there is a subtle avoidance of a complete resolution to the tonic within the chord structures until the final minutes of the track.
The effect of this avoidance of resolution on the listener is a very slight “on your toes” feeling – one of subtle anticipation. Because our subconscious perceives something unfinished and ongoing in the music, we have a sense that our task is not yet finished.
This keeps our attention primed and aware of whatever activity or work we are doing, ultimately keeping us on track for the duration of the music until the tonic resolution is finally reached.
The timeline of many of the Freedom tracks is 25 minutes, coinciding with the popular pomodoro method of working. These tracks also have an energy arc built through increased rhythmic and harmonic density that builds through the timeline before pulling back for a more relaxed landing at the end.
It’s all quite calculated and controlled from a musical standpoint. While this sounds perhaps uninteresting for someone creating such music, it’s often quite the opposite. Having boundaries and parameters in which to create is very stimulating and often crucial.
As creative artists of all types across the centuries have noted – creating in the vast abyss of all possibilities with no boundaries is a recipe for zero creativity.
This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from the great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, which I believe is true of creating music, but is also I think an underlying theme I’m trying to convey throughout this interview, whether about music, writing, or business:
“My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”Igor Stravinsky
Speaking of artists – note that functional music is often created by faceless/nameless composers and even AI bots. The listener’s connection to the artist is completely irrelevant and usually non-existent. They simply know what app or source or YouTube channel works for their purposes. There’s no shared experience, emotion, or connection between artist (either creator or performer) and listener, it’s all about the function of creating the proper ambient environment that works.
Some functional music apps like Endel even use the listener’s biometrics to generate AI music in real-time, helping the user achieve relaxation, focus, or sleep.
The recent music I made for the Freedom Focus Sounds came about from experimentation with some new software instruments I added in Logic Pro. Music technology is so deeply wonderful and fascinating – the tools we have at our fingertips are an endless world of distraction in themselves.
So I gave myself the discipline of exploring some specific new tools and creating what I could with those instruments within the parameters of focus music. Arc utilizes some new piano sounds I loaded from the wonderful Spitfire Audio, and Io uses an instrument based on samples of the autobahn and vintage electronic equipment like cold war Soviet tape recorders, radars, and test equipment.
Other than Freedom’s Focus Sounds, what genre of music do you listen to when working?
I’m all over the place – I listen to so much music and many genres. But for work, these days I’m quite drawn to artists like Ólafur Arnalds and Hania Rani. This music is so delicate and beautiful, and usually puts me in a state of goosebumps (frisson), but I find that this also generates a heightened state of productivity despite how interesting the music is. I listen to Nils Frahm or sometimes jazz like Bill Evans or Miles Davis, or when the work I’m doing is conducive to music with lyrics, I’ll listen to Bon Iver or Kendrick Lamar or other artists I find interesting. I rarely listen to classical music while working, as I find myself too drawn into listening deeply – to the performance, the structures and melodies, the recording production, and getting caught up in the emotion.
Outside of work, I listen to most every kind of music I can find. I love discovering new music that I’ve never heard before and importantly: sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve worked in the studio with so many different types of artists and written and produced in so many genres, and that, I think, gave me the gift of curiosity.
There are pieces of music and certain recordings that I feel are like my “friends” and that will accompany me through my life, and there’s new music that pushes the right buttons for me and I pull into my life as time goes on.
What first steps would you recommend to any would-be entrepreneurs out there?
Oh wow, I’m not sure I have anything new to add there. There are so many books, Ted Talks, videos, articles, and events that have addressed this far better than I’ll be able to. But here’s what comes to mind:
If you do something you strongly believe in, you may fail, but you’ll have spent that portion of your life in a way that you likely won’t regret. And your failure will be part of your narrative, your next thing, your foundation. It’s become a cliché that we can learn the most from our failures, but it’s so true and I can say that with certainty. So if you’re going to launch something new into the world, you’ll be well served by taking a risk and it being something that means a whole lot to you.
And have big ideas, but remember that you have to do the hard work of building them one bit at a time. Again, another cliché, but it’s important to remember. Ideas are noise until they are acted upon in a way that can make them real.
Try to always be learning. I think many entrepreneurs have a natural sensibility about this. I’ve always found it invigorating and actually am bothered with myself if I’m not learning something new. A couple of years ago I decided to broaden and formalize my business knowledge and experience and earned an Executive MBA. It was a blast and so valuable for me to dive deeply into many areas of business that I either haven’t been involved in up until now, or to gain new perspectives and knowledge around what I’ve been doing. Whether it’s formal education or active reading, listening, working with mentors – I think it’s good to keep your learning appetite alive and fed.
While many think of classical musicians as very traditional, the music world has always been driven by new ideas. What excites you most about the future of music technology?
Hmm..if I can do anything to dispel that common notion about classical musicians, I will try! From my personal experience, the classical musicians I’ve known throughout my life are by far the most non-traditional individuals one can encounter – that’s both musically and personally.
They are often literally on the fringes of society and incredibly creative, open-minded, and innovative. There’s a misconception that classical musicians can only learn from a score written by dead Europeans which they practice for thousands of hours, for years on end, only to become robotic re-creators. While the canon of repertoire is an essential part of artistic life, that narrow view of classical musicians (and the art of performance) couldn’t be further from the truth, especially with young classical musicians today. There’s brilliant and wonderful diversity in the music world, and nowhere more so than in contemporary classical music.
Music technology is a massive and delicious playground. It’s too much for me at times. As I mentioned before, it helps to establish limits and parameters when approaching this sonic cornucopia, or risk falling into a spiral of distraction and inaction.
The tools we have today were only dreams and science fiction 30 years ago. The sounds and techniques I can deploy in my MacBook with Logic Pro or Ableton are astounding. I’m especially interested in experimental sound plugins developed for niche applications by individuals and boutique sound design companies – some I mentioned earlier and others that I find through friends or discover while reading and researching. These tools can inspire new musical forms and styles, or bring a fresh sound to existing and familiar musical forms and styles.
The technology of blockchain and smart contracts may help revolutionize the business side of music. The problems in the music industry are vast, and musicians, the ones who create the actual product, are at the bottom of the food chain. Here’s more about that.
And finally, how do you envision the future of work?
I think the future of work will be an evolution of the trends we’ve seen in the past couple of years, at least in the knowledge workforce. We hear a lot about hybrid work, remote work, work from home – those are the basic techniques and structures of the model, but in terms of what work itself is, that’s a far more interesting question.
I tend to think we’re moving toward a creator-driven economy. By “creator” I mean that in the broadest sense. A few years ago, we wrote this as part of our Manifesto on the Freedom blog:
“We believe there’s creative energy in each of us. A creative energy that fuels our work, not just artistic creation, but every aspect of being productive. Whether creating symphonies, skyscrapers, stories, reports, order, ideas, software or dinner – humans have a singular ability to create.”
I think that captures the essence of how work will be thought of in the future. Another term that we hear a lot is “generative.” That’s how we’ll use our minds, energy, and time to provide value to firms, whether as employees or independent entities.
The other aspect of this that comes to mind is how thinking of ourselves as creative agents generating output (as opposed to trading time for dollars), gives us the opportunity to find a meaningful and well-ordered integration of work into our lives in a holistic and non-dominating way.
One can imagine a sort of parallel to the agrarian ethos – the integration of time, the cycles of the day, the seasons, and the year being a current that moderates how, when, and where we work, enabling us to do our best work and live our best lives at the same time.
How this will play out as the phenomenon of the past two years unfolds, remains to be seen. We now see companies and employees wrestling with back-to-office policies, time policies, and the insidious monitoring and tracking of remote employee work activity. But the horse has left the stall, so to speak, and I think that change is inevitable.