For this week’s look into the world of the administrative flutist, I caught up with Katherine Isbell Emeneth to discuss her portfolio career and the role administrative expertise has played in her success.
KL: You are a portfolio musician. What does that mean? And what got you started on this path?
KIE: A portfolio career is a career that is made up of several part-time jobs that equal a full-time pay. The term “portfolio career” began in the business world and is slowly making its way over into music. Some people think that “portfolio career” is a fancy way to describe freelancing. While freelancing is one aspect of a portfolio career, it does not make up the entire picture. I like having a portfolio career because it’s always changing. No two days are the same. I have a very organized and intense calendar that keeps me going with deadlines and things I need to be thinking about for upcoming projects.
I first started assembling my portfolio career while in school. People would ask me to do things or participate in different activities, and I always said yes. I’ve always been organized and capable of handling many things at once, and I was usually the go-to person in the studio for organizing things or being the leader. In my master’s program, I was involved in running the UGA School of Music’s summer music camps. I learned a lot about organization, finance, and how to talk to parents from this experience. As a music education major, I was around kids a lot and learned the basics of how to teach and the culture of band programs. I practiced a lot and was in leadership positions in ensembles throughout all my degrees. In my doctoral program, I taught theory classes, tutored athletes in their non-major classes, worked in the music library, and had a private studio. I won a concerto competition and was a finalist for a regional orchestra position.
To boil it down, I always did everything I could. I knew that making a career in music was going to be tough, and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be, going into the world. My main goal was to become a flute professor at a university, and I wanted to have a lot of experience in all aspects of music careers to better prepare my future students for what they were facing. After years of applying for full-time flute professor positions and getting very close, I decided I was already doing everything I wanted in my career and didn’t need a title for validation or fulfillment. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that being a portfolio career musician would be where I would end up, but I’m glad it is!
KL: What positions/roles make up your portfolio career?
KIE: I have several steady income streams that provide constant pay 10-12 months a year, including my private flute teaching studio and an adjunct position at a college. Then, I have jobs that are year round but are less frequent, steady, and predictable: playing with my trio, The Kitchen Sync, freelancing, subbing with regional orchestras and being a sectional coach for local schools. I have seasonal work that only occurs at certain times of the year—running and teaching Flutissimo, The Flute Teacher’s Playbook online course and my summer camp for my private students. Finally, the last bit of my portfolio career is something I’m currently developing: online resources. I’m getting ready to launch a new website that will share all of my teaching resources with the public!
KL: What types of administrative tasks & requirements do you have?
KIE: Administrative tasks take up a lot of my time!
Responding to emails is #1. I respond to emails from my college students, private students and their parents, trio members, NFA board members (I’m a committee chair for NFA), band directors, and gig contractors.
#2 is sending emails to all parties that I mentioned above. These emails include reminders, lessons scheduling, writing and sending my studio newsletter, The Flute Hoot, and communicating with band directors, etc.
#3 is writing posts for my Facebook page and Instagram accounts (@theflutistsplaybook). In these posts, I share some of the realizations I’ve had about having a career in music and share some advice and insights into being a 21st century musician. It’s my goal to inspire others that anything is possible and to realize that they are not alone with some of the feelings and struggles that come with being a musician.
#4 Is organizing my college lectures and assignments, uploading them to the user portal my college uses, and, my least favorite of all things, GRADING.
#5 is promoting Flutissimo online and in print and keeping the website updated as well as organizing the schedule, guest artists, and participants.
#6 is my favorite. This is where I come up with new ideas for my studio. For example, I have a gigantic studio stuffed animal named Sam. I dress Sam up in whatever topic we’re talking about that month. In January, he was Hildegard von Bingen because we talked about female composers. I write handouts and come up with assignments for my students to complete each month based upon the topic. I have to make Sam’s costume, write the handouts for the notebook, and come up with creative assignments for my students each month.
#7 the money. Every 2 weeks, I go through every check, PayPal, google pay, venmo, and cash transaction that happened and make sure I keep solid records of it. This helps me keep up with who pays me what and gives me an idea of how much money I’ll make that month.
KL: Would you consider yourself an arts administrator? Why or why not?
KIE: I don’t consider myself an arts administrator because I associate arts administration with providing a service for ANOTHER organization. Since I’m primarily self-employed, the administrative services I provide are solely for me and my own businesses. I considered going into arts administration at one point since I enjoy organization so much. I looked into working for symphonies and youth programs but realized that even though these jobs would be related to playing music, I wouldn’t get to play music as frequently since they are primarily 9-5 jobs. I wanted a career where I could play AND administrate. For me, that looked like creating my own career path where I could do everything I loved.
Do you think these kinds of dual-role music careers are the way of the future?
Absolutely! I think that the number of jobs that are sustain a person 100% through doing something full time in music will stay the same or shrink. The number of people who graduate with degrees in music is a very large number and the amount of full time jobs is not even close to equalling the number of music graduates each year. People will have to find another way to make ends meet. This is kind of good news because it requires people to be creative and make something new. Music is evolving. If you want to make an entire full time salary from music, diversification and creativity is necessary.
KL: How has having responsibilities aside from playing affected you as a flutist?
KIE: They have made me a better flutist! I don’t have time to spend hours and hours practicing every day. Most days, I might get in a solid warm up before teaching. Doing so many different things has required me to be very efficient in practicing and learning music. When I have a big performance coming up, I have to rearrange certain things to make time for practice. In general, I have learned adapt to very little practice time but to achieve the same quality music making as if I had hours or preparation.
KL: Do you have any tips & tricks that have helped you wear all of the hats you do that you’d like to share with readers?
KIE: The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to make sure you give yourself at least one day off every week. No students. No grading. No post writing. It’s been incredibly important to me that I have one day off where I can sleep in, work in my yard, clean my house, hang out with my husband and dog. These days off are when I come up with some of my best ideas. Your brain needs time to rest and not be stuck in front of a computer for hours. I teach so much that I actually get tired of hearing my own voice! I enjoy the silence and not having to communicate at least one day a week.
Surround yourself with people who are like minded and uplifting instead of Debbie Downers. The band directors that I work with share a similar teaching philosophy. They are incredibly positive and invested in their students’ education. They are my friends and professional network. My personal friends are the same. They are always there to lend an ear when needed. This philosophy includes your online friends as well. You get to choose whose posts you read on social media. Stop following people who make you feel bad!
Hire people to help you. You can’t do all the things. No one can. My CPA is a life saver during tax season. I could do it all myself, but I choose not to. I also worked with a coach who is super talented at online marketing to get The Flute Teacher’s Playbook off the ground. I learned SO MUCH from working with her and will definitely work with her again. I’ll hire a photographer in the near future to take new headshots and beautiful pictures for my posts. I’m going to take some online courses this summer to increase my knowledge about marketing and business skills.
Find your own balance in your schedule and make rules for yourself to live by. I limit the number of daily lessons I can teach to 4 hours. Most weeks, I will only go into one school to teach sectionals. I stop teaching by 8pm every night. I don’t teach 8am college classes any more. I will only sub with orchestras up to 5 times a year so it doesn’t completely mess up my private lessons schedule. I will not teach students who do not practice.
I’ve figured these rules to live by from doing. I was not a happy person when I taught lessons until 8pm and had to get up at 6am the next morning to teach college. So, I don’t do that any more. I make adjustments along the way.
Finally, marry a rock star man or woman. My husband has an incredible dinner ready when I come up from my studio every night. He learned how to cook about 10 years ago when we realized that eating dinner at 10pm was not fun. He does my laundry, cleans the house, records all of my performances and students’ performances, and helps me herd the flute students during studio events. Having a support system is key. You can’t do it all. You need help, and it’s ok to ask for help.
Katherine Emeneth is the creator of The Music Teacher’s Playbook (online business and pedagogy courses for music teachers) and is co-founder of the Flutissimo! Summer Workshop. She teaches at Georgia Gwinnett College and runs her own private studio, the Georgia Flute Academy. She is the program director of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival Flute Academy and is the Assistant Secretary of the NFA. katherineemeneth.com, @katherineemeneth, @classicalmusicianeer