Belinda Ho. Violinist, composer, and entrepreneur.
Every artist dreams of experiencing life on his or her terms. Independent musician, well-respected, and credits out the wazoo.
What did SHE do so differently? Can I do that?
Musicians are wired differently. We are entrepreneurs unlike any other breed on the planet. We are the most courageous people because while other companies can hide behind a team, buzzwords, or meetings, we can’t.
When we make money, it’s on the impact that our music gives to others directly. There is no middle ground and there is no hiding. You literally sell your most inner self to others.
Over time, musicians become successful by aligning this self with others. We think that our unique voice indicates that we’re on the right path. But, as we evolve as musicians, our voice becomes a mirror of our audience.
What separates the great from the good is not the talent (though that helps – but comes with time), but the psychology to power hold your mind and say:
‘This is what I want and I won’t stop until I get it”
Belinda embodies this. The number one thing about Belinda that caught my attention was her commitment to excellence.
Belinda created Baby B Strings, which literally reinvents the way classical music is performed. She’s from Miami and has a string of accomplishments that kind of makes you go “Damn, what am I doing?”
Graduating from The University of Miami Frost School of Music, she’s performed with: The University of Miami Symphony Orchestra, The Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra, with performance highlights including: recording sessions with Maxwell, Betty Wright, a South Florida solo tour for MAC Cosmetics, Pictures at an Exhibition (original arrangement) debut at Miami Art Museum, HTC Commercial featuring Robert Downey Jr., a publishing from Sheet Music Plus of Pictures at an Exhibition, a Beached Miami sponsor of a tribute to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a collaboration EP with Grammy-nominated Elsten Torres, a supporting orchestra member for Steve Miller, Jon Secada, Bruce Hornsby, a Victoria Secret Fashion Show w/Usher, and has worked alongside major artists like Mark O’Connor and Black Violin.
What I really wanted to know was simple – What do you differently that separates you from other musicians? Luckily, she was able to share some critical insight on her thought processes.
What’s your story?
I grew up in a small town in Kansas.
We didn’t have performing arts schools out there, but I did take piano and violin throughout my childhood. I went to school at the University of Miami because it was the first and one of the only schools in the country to have a Music Business and Entertainment program, and I also liked the idea of year round warm weather. Moving to Miami was a big eye opener on so many levels.
Musically, I really enjoyed being surrounded by people that were way more advanced and knowledgeable than I was, and there was loads of opportunity compared to where I grew up. I instantly fell in love with the city. Ever since, I’ve not stopped building relationships, studying all kinds of music, and discovering new things in this town. It just keeps on going.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Everyone in my immediate family owns their own business or freelances. My parents always made me work for money. I’m very fortunate to have learned about business from successful people at a young age. I mean, I don’t want it to sound like I’m some business exec “trying my hand at music”. I’ve seen that.
What projects are you currently working on? Why?
I always have a few things going on. I always try to make sure I have enough paid gigs so that I have time to focus on the creative stuff. It’s hard to let your mind be free to wander if you’re worrying about your next meal. On the more creative side, I have a few performance ideas that I’ve been slowly developing over time.
I don’t want to give away too much right now because my biggest obstacle at the moment is getting grants/funding and a platform to manifest them. But, I will say that I’m trying to come up with new ways to present old works and unconventional spaces to perform in. It’s about finding new audiences and playing in a completely different context. That may or may not mean pairing up with other performance artists or other types of media.
What do you see on a daily basis that you feel musicians do incorrectly?
I feel like a lot of gigging musicians undervalue themselves.
I know that many people are afraid of losing a potential gig if they overbid their price, but it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if you are accepting less than you want or the going rate on a regular basis. The goal is to get to at least a point where you are able to say no to the gigs that underpay. They exist because people accept them. Don’t be afraid to give a counteroffer or quote high.
In the end, your perceived value will go up because you charge more, you’ll have more confidence, and you are able to reinvest more money into your “brand”. If you work with others in a band or ensemble, everybody will take the job more seriously if you pay and treat them decently. We’ve all been there. Sometimes I get asked to do performances for free or at a discount (for charity or “for exposure”). It’s one thing if you believe in the cause and want to donate your time. But think about it this way: the food and drinks are being paid for at full price, the employees and ushers are being paid at full rate, and the venue rental is being paid for at full rate. Why shouldn’t you? Don’t give in to the perception that music isn’t worth what it costs. People forget about the entire process of practice and putting songs together and buying expensive equipment.
It’s easy for people to think about NBA players training hard every day to play a 48 minute game and that it’s worth millions of dollars because it’s a special, hard earned talent, but that music isn’t worth paying for even though it’s just as much a special, hard earned talent. It happens at every level. Musicians playing the Super Bowl halftime show don’t get paid and now are even being asked to pay for the exposure. We should at the very least be held to the same standard as everyone else.
What are some mental barriers that you’ve overcome that you WANT to show other musicians?
One thing that I do (and I’m sure a lot of other people do) is look at other musicians who you see as successful and wish that you had that.
It’s good to have role models and guidance of what you can achieve, but I always have to remind myself that I’m not them and that everybody has their own path. It’s a balance between what my current situation is, what my goals are, and what makes me happy. I don’t have to do what everybody else is doing (or ask myself if maybe I *should* be doing what they’re doing) in order to get to where I want to go and be successful.
What are some negotiation methods you use to land gigs?
For booking private events, price is almost always one of the first questions. I try to find out what their budget is first, and then offer them what I’d feel comfortable doing at that price.
I give them a couple different options, so it’s not an “all or nothing” situation. This way, both sides are happy and I don’t end up over-promising and getting underpaid. I also make counteroffers if they are asking for more than I can offer at their budgeted price. It shows that I’m willing to work with them, and I can still feel good about the price.
If the prospective client is just shopping or unsure what they’re willing to pay (which is often the case when I get asked to do indie recording sessions), you can say something like, “well normally I ask X amount, but I’m willing to work with you if that’s way out of your budget”. But you have to make sure your “X amount” is on the higher end of your rate, so you have room to negotiate.
Seth Godin makes a good point about asking the “obligating question” when trying to close a deal. When a client is on the fence or saying no to you, they might give you an excuse why they don’t want to say yes. “It’s too expensive.” What they really mean is “the benefits you are telling me are less than the amount of money you are asking for.”
If you ask them if they’d sign you if it was less expensive, the answer is still probably no. They’ll tell you something else like “it’s not the right kind of music for us” or “we don’t feel you can pull a big enough crowd”, and that’s when you get to the heart of the real problem. The answer is not to make it cheaper; making it cheaper isn’t going to make the client happier. You either have to be able to sell your music or performance in a way to address their concerns or you are pitching to the wrong customer.
What are some methods that you use to expand your current revenue streams?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is to not be afraid to increase my rate and ask for more money for each gig. Sometimes that includes adding a booking fee when I contract other musicians. (Note that it’s important to add it to the client’s fee and not to take it out of the other musicians’ pay.)
Even though the bulk of my income comes from performing and teaching, I also write arrangements on the side and have been able to publish some of them on Sheet Music Plus. They make it really easy to do, as long as it’s not the same as or similar to what they already have. The great part about publishing recordings and sheet music is that it continues to collect royalties for the rest of your life while you work on other things.
At HTBAMS, we know that in order for musicians to become successful, they have to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset instead of a musician mindset. The industry has caught up with the current times. In what way do you feel that the music industry has changed for the better?
I like that technology has allowed more people to make something. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because now there’s a lot more “noise” out there, but it has allowed for people who didn’t previously have resources to express themselves and show the world.
There are loads and loads of talented folks out there who can make a beat on their computer, or at the very least have a video on YouTube. You never know where inspiration will come from, and I think it’s great that my music might reach a kid in Africa or an aspiring musician in the Philippines and inspire them.
Musicians always hear – “Just network, or throw it up on Youtube, or build a buzz” and we know that means nothing to us. At HTBAMS, we teach an entirely different process. What do you do when it comes to networking and marketing?
I feel like it’s very important to make personal relationships. Even if it’s just that gig you played once in a different city, try to have a sincere conversation with some people. And the key word here is sincere. Follow up, even if it’s a text or Facebook message a few months down the road. A quick “hey you crossed my mind, so I’m just saying hi” will go a long way.
I also believe in the good old fashioned grass roots method of building a fan base. A friend’s referral or video share carries a lot of weight these days. Again, you have to put in the personal time.
How do you handle criticism?
I’m probably one of my own harshest critics. I’m constantly self-reflecting and self-evaluating. I take every piece of criticism into consideration, but also with a grain of salt. I feel like as long as I stay true to myself, people can hate all they want.
You also have to remember that having a “successful” music career is about the long game. Just because you’re not in the New York Philharmonic or haven’t won a Grammy, doesn’t mean you’re not good, and just because you’re not there now, doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be later. If there’s something that you feel you can’t overcome, build a team around you who is excellent at it or find someone who can help you get there. You have to focus on winning your small battles and just be ready if and when the opportunities come up.
Have you ever thought about giving up? Why didn’t you? Was it worth it?
I think most musicians question their level of commitment to music at some point, if not regularly. I remember I had just completed music school, and I came to a point where I was trying to balance a “real job” and doing music. It was too much and I couldn’t dedicate the time and focus that is required to get to the level I wanted to be at. I basically made a decision to go full on music instead of full on some other job that wasn’t music related. I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Do I dream about throwing it all in, joining a company, and not having to hustle for my daily bread? Yes. But then I realize I’m too stubborn about things like having something different every week, not having to wake up super early, and getting to make my own schedule. I need the constant change in my life, or else I get bored. Every day that I get paid for doing something music related is a good day, and I can’t really ask for much more than that.
P.S. You can check her out here.
Readers, what’s the one thing that holds you back from achieving your goals? Leave a comment below.