Learn how renowned composer Daniel Kellogg has fostered a life that leads to his best work. Discover the insight and strategies he's used, including surrounding himself with the right people and creating an environment from which his best work can...
Learn how renowned composer Daniel Kellogg has fostered a life that leads to his best work. Discover the insight and strategies he's used, including surrounding himself with the right people and creating an environment from which his best work can flow.
Daniel Kellogg is the president of Young Concert Artists, discovering and launching the careers of extraordinary young musicians from all over the world | https://yca.org
Find out more about Daniel and his work on his website | http://www.danielkellogg.com
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Srini Rao: Welcome to the Unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Well,
Daniel Kellogg: thank you very much for having me nice to, nice to talk with you today.
Srini Rao: Yeah, it is my pleasure to have you here. So I found out about your story when somebody wrote in, and when I saw that you are a fellow musician who also happened to like, just get to the Heights of, of music, having gone to a place like Curtis, I was like, oh yeah, I definitely want to talk to this guy.
But before we get into that, I wanted to start by asking what I think is a relevant question for somebody who's chosen to pursue the career that you did. And that is what did your parents do for work and how did that end up shaping and influencing the choices that you've made
Daniel Kellogg: as a great, great starting point.
My parents are not musicians. They're not artists at all. They are people that just believe in education and they believe in fostering and nurturing education, like to its fullest. My dad was this guy who did his undergrad at Princeton, and he has this old school idea about an education is to make you a well-rounded human being and.
So you want to learn about all kinds of different subjects. So early on in our childhood, my brother and I, and then later, my sister got interested in artistic endeavors and we grew up in a town in Connecticut that had an outstanding public school system and a really phenomenal music program. And we just got involved in that early.
And it just resonated and they just kept, my parents just kept fostering that. So my, my dad was, he was in the Navy, then he was a banker and then he was a guy early in the period of time of home computers would help people get home computer setup. And my mother was this professional volunteer. She was a cancer survivor and spent years and years.
Sort of just helping people. Who've been newly diagnosed by cancer and loved people and volunteered as a parent, a PTA. We would say parent teacher association volunteered at church, but they were not artists. They just thought that anything that lit up their children was something to be nurtured and fostered.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Well, you know, as we were saying, before, we hit record here, my parents were supportive, but they also discouraged me from pursuing music as a career. And I wonder when you have a parent who, you know, is Princeton educated, you know, banker of that basically is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the artistic life is.
What did they tell you in terms of making your way in the world, they encourage music as a career path? Or was it something that basically said, you know, this is to enrich you as a person, but it's not something you're going to make a living out of. Wow. You
Daniel Kellogg: know, I think interestingly enough, it wasn't necessarily about whether I could make a living.
I actually did apply to Princeton and was accepted and turned it down to go to music school and had that long conversation with my father about. Giving up a liberal arts education and focusing on one specific thing. And basically music school is like trade school. You're going to study and learn this craft in this particular art form.
And you're sort of shutting a lot of other doors, at least for the time that you're in school. And I think that was very hard for him because his education was about learning about Greek tragedy or Shakespeare and learning how to embrace life. And I somehow I just convinced them that this was where my passion was and that I had to pursue that.
I don't know that they were worried about the living, how I would make a living, because I sort of always demonstrated that. I dunno, I was going to find my way, one way or another. I had my first lemonade stand at like age eight and within a couple of weeks had the entire neighborhood kids working for me and had a pretty good profit structure going.
So they thought things would work out one way or the other. It was more about limiting options. And that was their concern.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Were you the oldest of the siblings or where did you fall in birth order?
Daniel Kellogg: I was the middle child, so my brother was older. He was interested in music. I don't think he pursued it directly after.
High school. He sort of had a different path than I did, but yeah, when I, when I said I'm going to go to music school and turned down Princeton, we had a couple of conversations, but then they supported it. And I think I just, I was so certain that they were okay with that. Yeah. Well,
Srini Rao: what is it that causes something to resonate with somebody at a young age, the way it does for people like you and I, because as I told you, I was really fortunate to have phenomenal teachers, but I think when I reflected on it, years later, I didn't actually love the music.
I loved being good at something. It was all about my ego. And you know, a band director basically told me, he said, you can either go be an average athlete, which in Texas, if you're a scrawny Indian kid where seventh graders have the size of grown men, you're going to inevitably be a very average athlete.
Or he said, you can be an extraordinary musician. And that was kind of a no-brainer for me. But I took to it. And I always wonder, you know, what is it that causes somebody to find something that resonates the way it did for you at such an early age?
Daniel Kellogg: I, I certainly think there was a degree of luck or at least the intentionality of my parents of making sure opportunities were open so that I could explore different things.
But for me, it's, it's more about the creative process than it is necessarily even about music. I also was. Heavily into photography and spend an hour of every day of my high school career in the dark room and chose between music and photography at a certain point in high school, but could have easily done photography.
I just love creative endeavors. I find that the. The process of trying to, trying to cultivate a vision. That's further in front of where I am right now. You know, a piece of music that I have to write a project, looking at something and trying to see the finished photo and then going through the process of getting to that end result.
I just loved that. It lit me up and I just knew that early on, it was like an instinct. I just, I was hungry at it. I was always ready to put in the time, never grew tired of it. And I think that's actually still true for me now.
Srini Rao: Yeah. So I want to come back to this idea of the process versus the end result because it's really important and there's something that I've been writing about.
But one of the, the things I wonder are the two things I wonder about early education, particularly music education, one, what is the impact of learning a musical instrument for people? You know, and what are the benefits the later in life, even if they don't end up becoming musicians. I mean, I know what those have been for me, but in your experience, you know, from what you've seen, like, what are those?
And then this is one question. Okay. It's more of a curiosity. So despite having become, you know, an all-state band to a player, anytime I've tried to learn how to play an instrument later in my life, I have not been able to even get close to that level of performance and I've just struggled and given up, why is that?
Like what is happening?
Daniel Kellogg: Oh yeah. I don't know. And it could be sort of, we talk about the 10,000 hour rule that there's a a steep learning curve on an instrument that the physical technique of the instrument. Whether it's, you know, the ombre sure. If a wind or brass player or strings, you know, just the finger positions, those things are challenging to learn.
I also know that there's a certain ability that. Children have to learn, and it's not just their neuroplasticity. It's also just the physical body is still forming. So if you learn piano or violin at a certain age, your muscles form in a certain way that you just could never quite catch up with, if you picked up the instrument at 30, so it may have to do with just the time in your life that you approached learning the instrument.
That would be my guess.
Srini Rao: Yeah. And then what about the, the sort of benefits? Like what have you seen even if people don't end up becoming professional musicians? Like, what are the benefits that a kid gets from learning to play an instrument? Well, I
Daniel Kellogg: think there's a lot of studies that suggest that music education will actually benefit all kinds of other subjects.
You know, you'll be a better math student. You'll be a better English student. If you are also studying an instrument, anecdotally, I think it really comes down to it's. It's long-term. Skill building it's you have to put in a little bit of time every single day and over long periods of time, you see the results.
And that's an amazing life lesson to learn at an early age, you know, for whether you start at age five or age 10, to have that lesson of it will take you awhile to learn your scale. It will take you a while to then learn these other keys or to learn pieces that go into different positions and with each new level.
You're seeing all of that trajectory of practice. And then if you have the great fortune to play in an ensemble pull, you're learning about. Teamwork, you're learning about putting the, the goals of the group as part of your own individual contribution and how all of that works. I, I think it also creates a lovely social dynamic.
I mean, you, you were in the band program, so what a great social click for most people during their school year. So we could talk about the band geeks or whatever term you want to use, but it's instant community around an activity.
Srini Rao: Hm, well, nowadays, do you think that we have you know, like stripped out music education?
Cause I feel like the thing that I've seen more and more in the education system is much more of a priority on sort of, you know, stem subjects and things like that. And less and less so on creativity, even though we find, you know, later on double life, creativity becomes so much more important.
Daniel Kellogg: Yeah. I absolutely think that's true that We've stripped out the creativity of the arts education, the music education thinking that exposure to all of those other subjects is the most important thing for people to find long-term work our experience.
So I was a professor for a while. And music, is it a music? People with music degrees that went on to other fields were highly valued. I mean, the discipline, the self assessment, the self critique, but in the form of positive growth and direction, it's an incredible skill that can apply to all kinds of subjects.
So I, I think it's a real loss for this country that we have stripped out arts and music education. Yeah.
Srini Rao: I think that, that, that was the thing that struck me most about growing up in Texas, but was that I think between, if I remember correctly, sixth grade and Eighth grade music was actually mandatory.
You had to be in some sort of music. You either had to be in the choir. You had to be in the orchestra, you had to be in the band. And I remember a lot of people hated it. And I realized to me that was probably an explanation for why that places such a breeding ground for amazing musicians.
Daniel Kellogg: Yeah, it certainly is a tricky thing.
When you require a subject, does it take away the joy for some people to learn it? But yeah, we, we certainly have lost something and hopefully there's a way that, that creativity and artistic expression can come back to education. I, you know, we're talking right before that my daughter is in high school and the curriculum is so established, so rigid in what.
Kids in this country have to learn. And I worry that that really strips away the opportunity for them to pour in hours into a subject that lights them up, which may not light up most other kids. And I don't know the answer, but we're missing something.
Srini Rao: Yeah. So this is something I always ask people who are professors.
I mean, you're an academic and you happen to be a musician. So two questions, one, you have kids. So I wonder how you think about what your, you know, kids' education is going to look like. And then, you know what you're encouraging there. I, then this is something I've asked almost any single, every single person I've met as an educator.
If you were tasked with the system of redesigning our education system from the ground up, particularly higher education, how would you change it? Oh,
Daniel Kellogg: wow. Well, let me answer the first question about our child and, and education. We actually homeschooled for many, many years, partly because we were academics and we had this incredibly open schedule and we, we did a lot of overseas trips and traveled as a family, but I think a large part of it was that we really lamented the amount of structured, rigid time that was built into the system that didn't allow our daughter, the flexibility to pursue the things that she most cared about.
And early on, she loved storytelling. She loved reading. We did a lot of reading out loud as a family. We actually, you still do that. And we got her into writing early on and because my wife, who's also a musician, she's a concert pianist. We came from a model where, when you were passionate about a subject, you went and you found an expert to teach you.
So we got our daughter one-on-one sort of tutor, lessons, creative writing lessons. And we just went to retired English professors and said, Hey, would you meet with our daughter? And so she had all this time. So. When she was homeschooled, she could spend two or three hours a day just sitting on her laptop, writing stories.
And we don't know the practical application of that, but for us being a world citizen, Seeing the world, seeing how different people live and their experiences, and then having freedom to pursue subjects that you're most excited about must be balanced against while you got to learn your math and your multiplication and your, all those things, learning a language.
I mean, we do think there are core subjects that must be learned, but I'm not necessarily convinced that every subject has to learn. Sorry. Every student has to learn the same subjects to the same degree. I wish there was a lot more flexibility. So that's my answer to the first question. The second question, honestly, I don't know that there's a really flexible way to do this.
I would love a system in higher education that allowed customized degrees that individual students could. Designed with a mentor. And so that people could be making bridges and innovating, and sometimes they might be designing their own courses. Sometimes it might be, oh, I really do need that one business class, even though the rest of my life is over in this other area.
We force people. And I know you you're passionate about this topic, but we force people into silos, even in, in the field of music and classical music. It's sort of like, oh, you're a classical musician. You do this, you play your Bach, you do it on stage. You play from sheet music. That's what you do.
Whereas really we should be in a world where it's. It's so much more open. And I actually that's what I experienced over time with the undergraduates that I taught is they were slowly beginning to reject the idea that you had to be a credentialed expert in a topic to go off and do it, that there was actually the freedom.
Maybe you were a music major, but you liked making films and you were a novice as a filmmaker, but that didn't mean you couldn't jump in and do it. And then after a few years, suddenly you weren't a novice as a film maker anymore. So I think that higher education. It, we just force people into these these structures where they have to make decisions and they can't bring together all of their interests.
And then a separate thing is because of the outrageous cost of higher education and the, the growing problem of student debt in this country, we have forced the equation that your degree must equal living. And so now we're stripping out the humanities and the arts and the, the subjects that may invite you to think about the world, about people in a, in a broader sense.
And now you're thinking what's the job that I'm going to get because I'm getting this degree. And I think that's a mistake. Hmm.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when you, when you described that the sort of process of the musician or the classical musician, I can't help, but think about Lindsey Stirling, who kind of defies every sort of stereotype of what a violinist is supposed to do.
You know, it's kind of like, you know, the, the person who goes and is like, ah, I got to go through, you know, Juilliard and go be in an orchestra is like struggling to get a job while Lindsey Sterling is basically making a fortune off, you know, these really bizarre sort of ways of combining music and Annette and video and all the stuff that she does.
Daniel Kellogg: It's a, it's a perfect example. And you know, throughout the pandemic. So I I'm the president of an organization called young concert artist and we help nurture young musicians. There's really been a bit of a paradigm shift during the pandemic of artists were suddenly producing the end product much more than they ever did before, at least in classical music.
And she's somebody that was owning that work, you know, dating back several years. And of course, musicians outside of classical music have owned that work. They are creators performers and producers all at the same time. And that allows them to number one is, have complete creative control over what they're sharing with the world.
And then it also just puts them in much more direct contact with their audience and building that audience. So she's a great example of, of that unique forward-looking career.
Srini Rao: Hmm. Well, let, let's talk about your career trajectory that has led you to where you're at. Because I, all I remember in high school, as I think I was telling you before we hit record, was that we had this guy in our band who was the percussionist.
His dad was a physician and a former professional football player who had gone to Curtis. And the idea was that basically Curtis is as selective as Harvard for music. It's kind of the gold standard. So one, you know, I think we have a sense of what is it that enables you to get into a place like that?
What happens when you get to a place like that? How is it different than the average music school and why is it the sort of breeding ground for the caliber of people that it produces?
Daniel Kellogg: A great question. I think. First off, it has this reputation of being such an exceptional place. So it attracts the strongest people simply to apply.
So once you've crossed that hurdle of becoming a student, you've joined a body of students that are just among the most talented people in the world in that age group. But it's for people that don't know, it's a school that when I was there, there was 160 students, which meant 40 students per. Class. So that meant I had an entering class of 40 people.
That's a tiny school and it's free for everybody, a tuition free for everybody that goes. And it's so small that you learn everybody and you get this incredible individualized attention and they put you with these extraordinary teachers. And you're, you know, I had a composition teacher, Ned Rorem our lessons were in New York and we used to sit.
You know, at, at his table, his lunch table, before we would have lessons, we would go from Philadelphia to New York and he would tell stories. And he would tell stories about knowing Picasso in France. In the 1950s, he would tell stories about meeting Leonard Bernstein just after he graduated school.
Before Leonard Bernstein was anybody. He would tell stories about studying with Aaron Copeland and to have that sort of mentors teachers that. That was the caliber of my teacher across all of my subjects. It was just extraordinary. And then, because I had these classmates that were amazing, I mean, my classmates went on to be principal section leaders in the Boston symphony and the metropolitan opera orchestra right out of school.
So when I wanted to write a new piece and put on a concert, I would go to them and say, can you play? And they were my collaborators. And so we were collaborating on a level. Which rivals the best orchestras in the world. And we were kids, so we didn't know any better. And the school was so nurturing that if we had, if we dreamt up an opportunity and we said, Hey, could you support this?
They would go. Yeah, sure. We'll support that. And, and if I, you know, if I said, oh, I want to go to this concert in Washington this weekend. Can you give me the resources to go to that concert? They'd be like, yeah, we could do that. Go to the concert. That sounds great. So it was this incredible environment that just was resource rich, all in support of nurturing the strongest young classical musicians with the most potential.
Srini Rao: Hm. So, one thing I wonder about there was a classmate of mine from high school was not an amazing musician, but he ended up going to the Berkeley school of music. And I think he dropped out when he got there, because he said, you think that you're good when you leave high school. And he said, and then you get to one of these places and everybody is better.
And he just saw the reality of how hard it was to thrive in that environment. And I wonder if you experienced a similar dynamic? Oh,
Daniel Kellogg: absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, we could talk about artists suffering from what is it? What's the term debilitating sets out critical crippling, crippling self-doubt that's the expression.
I think almost all artists suffer from that. Am I good enough? Do I deserve to be in this room with these people or at this table, or, you know, onstage with these musicians? And even when you run across arrogant people probably that's masking a lot of insecurities. And I think for some people that is paralyzing.
And for some people, it maybe actually drives them and they go, okay, I got to step up my game. There's that? Sort of adage or whatever, you'd call it, advice that, you know, if you're in a room with six people and five of the five of them are smarter than you, or more talented or more accomplished. They will pull you up, but if you're in a room with five less talented people, then, you know, sort of the room becomes the average of the talent.
So if you go to a place like that and your classmates, I mean, some of my classmates were Hillary Han in Lang Lang and they're, these are rockstars in classical music right now. And to have classmates of that caliber only made me want to work harder and, and do my best, even more acquire, acquire the craft that would help me to share there.
My artistic expression.
Srini Rao: Yeah, well, you brought up the, the sort of arrogance masking and security you know, thought. And so something that I wondered about that is sort of this fine balance between arrogance and confidence, because I remember the first time I went to an all region audition in Texas was like, For all regional orchestra, something that was in ninth grade.
And that I remember meeting, you know, the Allstate trumpet player from our Crosstown rival high school some, you know, all town, Allstate saxophone players, like these guys are all bunch of assholes is my first impression. And they had no doubts about how good they were. And I remember very distinctly.
My band director saying every single person who makes Allstate band has that exact attitude that they're that good and that they deserve to be there. And that, that was a lesson. I never forgot for some reason that just stayed with me. But I wonder, you know, where have you seen people go wrong with this sort of balance between confidence and arrogance and how do you find it?
Daniel Kellogg: Oh, goodness. I mean, there's a great question. And I, I guess I would disagree that I don't know that everyone that has reached a certain level has that. Attitude that I totally deserve to be there. Hopefully there's a confidence that says I've worked hard and these opportunities have come as the fruit of that work and that and that they're opportunities that I'm worthy of.
I think, I think confidence. I mean, every artist, everybody, every person that puts something out into the world fundamentally has. Confidence because they have to believe enough in themselves to put their performance, their composition, their film, their bit of writing out into the world. I think that arrogance can hinder somebody from being a perpetual student.
We always can learn. We can always find something that's going to continue to grow. And I, I have some philosophies about artists and their lives. I think artists should be in a state of perpetual growth. You know, you should never be totally stagnant. You know, you look at it with people like pre-cost where they went through so many different expressive periods that, that he was in growth.
And so I think. Arrogance can really limit that ability. And then there's also the practical thing that, I mean, arrogance can literally burn bridges, sync relationships it's this, you know, music, especially classical music. It is a collaborative art form and you need people to believe in you to want to work with you, to want to put you on stage, to want to buy your ticket, to want to support you.
And they want to support people that they believe in. And so they want to see that confidence in that. Accomplishment that skill level, but at the same time, nobody really wants to support, you know, complete jerk. So I think it can sink things if people are not really self-aware and understanding sometimes how they come across.
Srini Rao: Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that, that there's definitely truth to that. I think that that's one thing I always said is if you rest on your laurels and even as a writer, then you're pretty much done. Like if you stopped doing the things have gotten you to where you're at, then, you know, you're going to pretty much end up, you know, a one hit wonder, which that actually raises a question which I, you know, I've asked a handful of musicians, this, and nobody really seems to have, you know, a sort of set answer, but I feel for the point of discussion, it's interesting.
So, you know, you're in classical music and then, so one thing I wonder And growing up, I saw a lot of these bands, you know, people like the spin doctors, people like criss-cross, and I've always wondered why, you know, somebody like Bano manages to sustain a career for decades that, you know, makes music that transcends generations.
And then you have these one hit wonders who maybe have one or two songs and that's the last of them. Why does that happen?
Daniel Kellogg: Oh, boy, I'm sure it's unique to each individual, but I do think there's a mindset or a posture about how you engage in the process of creating your art or creating whatever it is that you're sharing and how you're able to continue to grow and build a life that really fosters.
Your very best work, because there's no question that I don't know bottle's career specifically. I know a little bit about it. There's no question that for you too, to have that trajectory over decades, it is thoughtful, intentional, sometimes painful work. You've got to cultivate a deep inner self-critic.
You've got to become your own best teacher and it has to be a lifelong process. And I, I think that real sustainable careers often represent artists who are engaged in, in that growth and that refinement of the creative work over a long period of time. And because I came from academia, I actually was really blessed to have gone through two sabbaticals and I'm a huge believer in sabbatical.
And I actually think that everybody should build. Sabbaticals into their life, whether they're self-funded or whether you're in some sort of a, an employment situation where you could possibly negotiate it. Although very few people are going to entertain such an idea, but the idea that you would pull back, slow down, deliberately step out of your normal routine and go into a phase of.
Self discovery dialogue with the world. I mean, there's so many different things one could do with a sabbatical, but just the idea that you would occasionally pause, do some deep thinking, grow as a person and then see where you, where that takes you. Because I think that's, I think that's what people who sustain careers over long periods of time.
They must have found ways to do that, even if they're not taking sabbaticals, but they've found ways to build in perpetual growth.
Srini Rao: So, you know, one of the things I wonder, you know, you talk about this idea of sort of, of focusing on the process and not necessarily the end result, which is, I think kind of the core of all creative work.
And we live in a world where you have sort of these instant validation. You know, mechanisms like social media. And I wonder what you've seen over time as the impact of that on the way that people go about building their crews. Cause I remember I had a young cousin who, our niece who's, you know, a really talented singer and she was getting all worried about, you know, sort of, oh, these people on Tik TOK do this and that and that.
And I was like, yeah, I was like, but you should do the one thing that is actually worth doing get really damn good at what you do, because then all of those things will be a by-product, but. You have a world in which you hope you can get instant validation. And I think people confuse attention with accomplishment.
And I wonder what you've seen as the impact of sort of that, you know, social media and instant validation on the careers of young music.
Daniel Kellogg: Oh, it's a very interesting question. I certainly would say that there's a real separation between that, that instant, instant recognition or the surface level.
Validation that, that a one hit wonder or some sort of thing that happens where there's an Instagram or Tik TOK or some other platform brings instant overnight notoriety, and then something that's built slowly and patiently because it's an authentic expression of who you are as an artist. And it comes out of real work, real labor.
It comes out of a thoughtfulness that comes out of a vision of where you're hoping to go. And I think interestingly in classical music, I don't have as many examples to offer sort of one side versus the other, because. Th the chops, the simple craft required to succeed in classical is such a, a laborious multi-year process to begin with as you well know from your tuba work, that it, it doesn't often breed that sort of overnight sensation.
I think we certainly have seen that careers are unfolding in different ways because some very progressive smart people are harnessing these platforms and building an audience. And building a network of people that are interested to see their work. And so they're using them as tools, but I don't know that they would be the very thing that would define the success because in classical, you still need to be selling tickets in a traditional hall at, at enough ticket volume to make a living.
So that. Tech-Talk or YouTube, I, for the most part, nobody's paying the bills that way. Maybe there's a couple of examples in classical music, but what they really are using it is just a very relevant and forward-looking way to build audience and often a younger audience than older and more traditional classical musicians.
Srini Rao: So when students come to you and the students that you work with, particularly now, what have you seen you know, in terms of the trajectories of their careers, what do you encourage them to do? And one of the things I wonder is as a parent for parents who are listening to this, what would you say to them if they have children who are interested in pursuing careers in the arts?
Daniel Kellogg: Well, it's interesting. My wife and I, as musicians. Never thought it was a great thing of our daughter. Who's an accomplished musician. Wanted to pursue classical music. I think at the same time, I think we'd be delighted if she found a creative endeavor. That brought her joy and satisfaction while also providing a living because like all parents, we do hope that she can, you know, pay rent and have the life that she would like to have.
And there's those practical considerations. For young musicians and young artists, there's no simple direct path. The way that there may have been 40, 50 years ago or even 20 years ago, you know, winning a major classical music competence, a competition. May at one point been enough of a Slingshot to put you in the limelight enough that you could then have a sustained career.
These days, careers unfold in such a wide range of varieties, encompassing a whole lot of different kinds of activities. You know, people are, they're doing chamber music, they're doing solo concerts, they're playing with orchestras, but then they also, they may have. Causes they believe in, or maybe they're very passionate about music education and they've started a small town station or a summer festival to champion that, or they really love another art form.
And they're trying to build collaborations with that art form. So that, that really engaged in interesting artists. They, these days are these more sort of well-rounded people in their interests, their network, the creative avenues that they have for their. Music making. And then how they're able to tell that story and share it with the world.
That's something else I would say is, is very true as it used to be that a classical musician could just be this brilliant pianist on stage and their private life was their private life, but certainly with the last 20 years and a lot with the internet. We actually can really know the artists that we're interested in.
We can see the behind the scenes stuff. We can hear the stories about how that concert happened or how this piece came to be. And so audience has really hungering for a more complete experience with their music beyond just a nice concert. And so the artists that are able to. Sort of understand their own story and share that story in a very compelling and interesting way has to be authentic, but it has to be interesting, has to be engaging, which might mean becoming a master of Instagram or tick-tock or clubhouse or whatever platform is most current at the time.
So that music, careers that really embody storytelling and break down the barriers to, I guess, the, the pure artists on stage. Those are some of the artists that are finding real career growth, whereas musicians that are just trying to be the best person, playing Beethoven and hope that people recognize that.
And then everything comes together. They're finding it harder in this current current world.
Srini Rao: Yeah. So there's one thing that I wonder about. So I remember writing this blog post title, you know, if you want to build an audience for your work, focus on mastery instead of metrics. And you know, one of the things that happens as a by-product of social media is that we have, you know, excessive amounts of metrics.
But you brought up something earlier about finding joy and meaning in the work. And one of my friends once said, you know, people don't have hobbies anymore. They have side hustles And there's this sort of idea that every creative endeavor you work on needs to be something that leads to something else.
You, right now, I'm working on this project called the masterclass project where I'm taking a master class every month and just doing a project on it. Not for any other reason, other than for the pure enjoyment of it. But I made it, I made a documentary film. I just finished Annie Liebowitz is photography class.
I'm not going to build an audience or make a living off of any of those things. I might share that with my friends cause they're fun. But. You know, what do you make of that? The fact that we've sort of lost this idea of, you know, creativity for its own sake and that every hot hobby is being turned into a side hustle.
Daniel Kellogg: Yeah. I think that, I think we've lost something special because I actually think that intrinsically, and maybe this is when you go back to that question about like a sustainable career, like Bano, maybe there's something about the pure joy and authentic expression that those artists put into their art.
That on a subconscious level. That's what resonates with an audience that somehow we, we know that. Whereas if things are driven too much by how are you going to monetize it, or how are you going to make it successful in building whatever audience or whatever metrics you're trying to build? Maybe there's something in authentic about those experiences that may not sustain.
It may ring hollow and it may not sustain over the longterm. And I actually do think that Like a young musician. I think they need to find the music that lights them up. They need to find their voice. And as you say, that should start with mastery and self discovery. I think self-awareness is huge for an artist.
And then you want to be smart about your metrics and your sharing and all those things. But I think if you don't start with that mastery in that joy and pure, authentic expression, That somehow your music making will be compromised and it, and it. It will limit where you can go or how long you can make it work.
That's my own instinct, but I don't have anything beyond my instinct to back that up.
Srini Rao: Yeah. I mean, I think I would agree based on my, my experience of doing this because when we started the podcast, I had no idea that it was ever going to turn into a business at the time people said podcasts were dead and you know, now it's become this like massive trend and somebody, I mean, I even used to tell people when I started college or after business school, like, what are you going to do?
I said something that has nothing to do with the internet. It's ironic.
Daniel Kellogg: That is
Srini Rao: interesting. So, you know, on that note, I wonder for you, I mean, you've gotten to Curtis, you're the president of this organization you've gotten to teach at schools by, you know, most people's measures as musicians you've been successful.
And I wonder if your own personal definition of success has changed with age and time?
Daniel Kellogg: Well, it's a wonderful question. I love for artists to really discuss the term success because I think that we have We really inherited a lot of what we think success is based on the culture that we're living in.
And for musicians, it's a culture of their peers, their teachers, their schools, the institutions. And I think all of that is the wrong way to look at it. For a long time, I define success. Very simply. Do you get to do what you love most of the time? And are you able to pay the bills for the quality of life that you're content to live with?
I, to me, that's success. And so if, if you're living very humbly playing a small number of concerts a year, and you having children, wasn't a primary concern and you can make it all work. And you're finding joy and satisfaction in that. Then I think that success If a musician has to say, well, successes, 80 concerts a year.
I need to have two homes. I need to play with these orchestras and I need to be a household name for people that love classical music. Well, you probably are setting yourself up for a life of, of disappointment and some resentment. And sadly, I've seen a lot of middle or late career bitter and resentful musicians because.
They had some idea in their head of how life was supposed to go. And it didn't always work out that way. I think now I would offer a slightly different, or maybe an expanded definition of success, which is find the thing that really excites you that you're really burning to do, you know, like if I was talking to a young pianist, which I did earlier today, What's the music that you're burning on stage to share with an audience.
Tell me why, why is it important to program that piece? Why is that such a, a need that you have to express that and to share it with other human beings that should be, and then finding a way to. Do that in the way that you dream up to me, that's success. So if you're a pianist and you think, well, I really love these kinds of collaborations, this kind of music.
And I really want to be able to do these things in my life and you can pull it all together, align your passions and then enough sort of business acumen. And, and forward-looking thought about your career to make it all work. Then I think that success. And of course, we're going to have people that do it at very different levels and, and they may have very big amount of monetary success or very little, I wish we wouldn't define money as part of it because you know, we have a very consumer driven culture and I don't think that that consumer driven culture is really all that satisfying for most people.
I think if they could really align, spending their time doing the thing they love. And have the material needs that they desire then that they would find that successful.
Srini Rao: Yeah. I love this because I think what you're talking about is a definition that applies to far more than just people who are musicians.
I think this is relevant to any career.
Daniel Kellogg: Yeah, I think so. It's interesting because that's what, there's a whole nother part of this, which is what are the life skills that a musician or an artist needs to to actually make it work. And I, I have my own sort of passion about talking to young artists about things like personal finance, investing being smart about how you set up your taxes.
You know, time management productivity, having a really good system for keeping track of networking. You know, I, I really love all of the things that are in the culture of thinking about productivity, time management, a startup world. And I wish that artists would adopt all of that because. The creative act is so challenging.
So all consuming. It shouldn't be driven by time. Although we all need deadlines, it should be driven by this romantic beautiful expression of I'm just pouring every ounce of my being into this activity, because I love it. But to be able to do that, to have that luxury. Then you need the rest of your life to function at a really high level.
Ideally you do. And so there's all these young artists that I think, gosh, if they could be really frugal and really great with money, they could alleviate some of the pressure. They feel from societal norms and all of these sort of money questions about being a young artists. And they would have more time to dream up these great programs and projects and collaborations and pour themselves into those.
And then those things, if they were done well, Going back to that mastery that would then lead to more things and that would build the career. So it's I guess I, I see this sort of duality to a musician's life where there should be this unbridled drive to fulfill your passion. It's all about the art form.
And then there should be this practical side where it's, how do I make that actually work?
Srini Rao: Wow. Wow. Well, this has been really, really beautiful and insightful and thought provoking. So I have one last question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?
Daniel Kellogg: Oh, wow. I mean, I guess deep down, I would say that everybody has something that makes them unmistakable that's about the unique combinations of all of the things that went into making them who they are. And when you sort of pulled together, all of that combination of things, there's going to be something that comes out of that that looks like nothing else.
You know, and so I'm a composer. And when I was spending most of my time teaching composition, you know, if you ask somebody like, What's your, your musical autobiography. Like what's the music that makes up your life. What's the music. That was your first musical memory. What's the music you heard in your childhood.
What's the music that you inherited from your culture, maybe the music you inherited from your parents. What's the music you discovered when you first started buying CDs or albums or for my daughter when she first got an Alexa, she, so she could listen to Spotify in her bedroom. What's the music that you found.
And then where did that go? And then, all right, so now you're 30 and you're making a living as a musician. Does all of that musical DNA, does that come into it? Are you like blocking some of it out? And you mentioned the that violinist earlier Sterling what's the first name again helped me Sterling, right?
That's part of what makes her so unmistakable is that she had these eclectic. Interests and backgrounds, and she was not going to let somebody tell her that she couldn't do what she does. She was going to pull them together. And now she stands out and she does it in a way that perpetuates our own personal growth.
So the quality, you know, is high or it's risen over time. And now it's exceptional. And then she does it in a way that's really compelling. And then she also, of course, is one of those people that doesn't fit into a box. And so you're not, you know, you're breaking down walls, you're inviting a new audience.
You're redefining what it is. So I think that's what makes people unmistakable is. If they're open to really looking at the totality of what makes them who they are and trying to find the different components that light them up, and then finding the Venn diagram of where that all comes together, then that should yield something.
Whether it's a career, a company an art form, it should yield something that's, that's unique and of value to somebody else. Hmm.
Srini Rao: Amazing. Well, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and sharing your story and insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, your work and everything that you're up to?
Daniel Kellogg: Well, sure. Thank you. So I am president of an organization called young concert artists, and you can look at our website, yca.org. We nurture and foster incredible young talent and classical music. And then my work as a composer. And an amateur photographer, you can see some of that at my website, which is just Daniel kellogg.com.
And yeah, I actually spend a lot more time trying to help young artists than I do promoting my own work, but I still of course put it out there and I'm very active as a composer. So thank you very much for the conversation.
Srini Rao: Oh my pleasure. This has been absolutely phenomenal. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.
Daniel Kellogg steps into the leadership role of Young Concert Artists with the unique perspective of an alumnus of Young Concert Artists, one of the extraordinary musicians whose careers were discovered and launched to prominence by this innovative non-profit organization. He is excited to help sustain the legacy of Young Concert Artists and to forge new paths to nurture the next generation of concert soloists and artistic leaders.
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