Launching in Two Days: AirTurn!

I have a brand new business venture about to launch in two days - the result of over a year of work, and the reason why my blog posts have been so sporadic! LOL:



Exciting details to follow soon - gotta finish tweaking the site!


[ 29 November, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]

YouTube secrets to becoming Debt-Free revealed

An observant viewer just posted the following query on my video highlighting the story of how our family became debt-free (not including our mortgage) to the tune of almost $55,000 in only 9 months:

The numbers don't add up, $55k in 9 months is $6k a month, that's a lot more than cutting back on starbucks/cable etc.

One of the reasons (in my opinion) that Dave (e.g. Dave Ramsey) asks about household income / what did you sell, is that it inspires others to make the bigger sacrifices to pay things off (e.g. sell that awesome car, etc.).

So if you care to share, what did you sell?

Good job and great video, loved it.


It's true that Starbucks and Cable TV cuts alone won't save $6k per month, but i didn't think that explaining the difference between whole life and term insurance would've made for a particularly interesting video! We actually didn't sell anything like cars or real estate, but we did benefit from consolidating assets and paring down other financial vehicles like insurance products.

Here are some of the other factors that went into our massive debt-elimination program:

  • Consolidating savings/investing accounts - we had monthly withdrawals of about $200 going into a Morgan Stanley money market account, but never ended up actually investing the money - things would accumulate a bit, then we'd have to withdraw down to pay for this credit card bill or that late fee. By stopping those silly monthly payments, we were able to focus on a more simplified income/outgo overview. We closed the $2000 money market that was sitting around at Morgan Stanley and used that money to pay down our debts instead.


  • Switching from whole life insurance to term insurance - this was actually a biggie. Whole life is supposed to add an 'investment' package of sorts to your life insurance, adding so-called 'value' over time. Dave Ramsey explains that once you factor in all the policy's fees, the actual rate of return on the money is pretty horrible - worse than regular bank savings account, if i recall correctly. Closing our whole life enabled us to collect a lump sum of $12,000, as well as saving over $100 per month for the cost of the insurance itself.


  • Going GEICO - yes, i hate to sound like that silly green gecko, but switching auto insurance policies actually saved us a bundle! Upon reviewing our car insurance packages, i saw that we were pretty bloated with extra 'goodies' - by paring down to the bare minimum for coverage, we were able to save about $300/month.


  • Temporarily stopping retirement contributions - for 9 months, i halted my contributions to my 403B retirement plan at Curtis. That saved about $400 per month - once we cleared our credit card/home equity loan debts, i immediately reinstated the 403B.


  • Let's see - that brings the monthly savings to $200+100+300+400=$1000. Multiply that by 9 months = $9000. Add the $2000 from the extra money market at Morgan Stanley and the $12,000 from the whole life insurance and the total debt-attack fund so far comes to $23,000. Add in other major budget saving factors like the ones i described in the video and others like grocery savings and the cancellation of other subscriptions (such as my beloved Audible.com and my own membership at a premium gym), and i think you could add another $1000/month to the pie, bringing the total to $32,000.

    The remainder came from some terrific bonuses from my wife's job (she's a physician) and some amazing influxes of work for me (extra recording projects, concerts, and work for the Philadelphia Orchestra). It seems to be really true that once you start 'getting smart' with your money, then more money tends to flow in much more easily.

    Even without the hefty work bonuses, it's easy to see how we could've knocked out the full $55K in just under 2 years (as we originally planned, by the way). Hope these extra details are helpful as you plan your own exit strategy from the debt-mines!

    Just for fun, here's the video that the above commenter was referring to one more time (it aired on the "Dave Ramsey" TV show, btw) :




    [ 04 June, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]

    Business-Busy Blogroll

    So sorry for the delay in updating posts - even with the school year finished at Curtis, things have been incredibly busy for me!  The blessing and the bane of the working musician is that we are conditioned to grab work at every opportunity, given the transient nature of our art coupled with the uncertainty of never knowing for sure when that next job offer will appear.  When things load up, boy - they really load up!

    One task for this new website that i haven't been able to get around to earnestly has been to link up with like-minded blogs and web articles dealing with finances for musicians and sundry business aspects of our art.  Here's a short list of some interesting links that merit addition to your RSS blog reader:

    • The Collaborative Piano Blog - this is one of the very finest classical music blogs out there, written by Dr. Chris Foley.  He covers the gamut of artistic and practical issues for pianists who love to collaborate with others - be sure to check out his articles on collaborative piano career options, his fascinating poll on rehearsal/coaching rates (in US $), as well as his article on Musicians as Entrepreneurs (which subsequently links to two terrific articles - one by Kerry Miller of Business Week, the other by Valerie Kampmeier from Free2Create).
    • "M is for Money, N is for Ninth" - this is a terrific article by Joe Queenan from the music section of the U.K. Guardian that gives a neat overview of the financial travails of history's greatest classical musicians.  Sobering, yet amusing, to say the least!
    • "The Business Side of Classical Music" - this is a video interview with Charlotte Lee, an artist manager with IMG (we had an opportunity to meet a few times several years ago when she was working with Lang Lang - i wonder if she remembers me!).  She gives some terrific insights into what's involved with working from the management side of the business.  Several other video clips by Charlotte are available if you look along the left menu bar, with topics ranging from starting a career in the arts to aspects involved with maintaining a long life in the music business.
    • ArtistHouseMusic.org - the above clip, btw, is hosted by ArtistHouseMusic.org, a terrific informational resource for working musicians, with knowledge bases and video tutorials covering marketing, production, legal issues, education, careers, and many, many more music-related subjects.  You can even find a video master class series on jazz! 
    • ImproveYourMusic.com - this site is mainly geared towards rock and pop bands, but i'm convinced that classical musicians can gain a lot of invaluable information from our artistic brethren in the more 'mainstream' genres.  Some helpful articles include the series on "100 ways to promote your music", "Selling your music online", and "Raising Finance for an Album" (which gives a fascinating example of 'micro-financing' through sites like slicethepie.com - believe it or not, there are already classical musicians represented there too!)
    • Other micro-financing music sites include www.tuneyourworld.com (otherwise known as Calabash) and SellABand.com - the idea with micro-financing (a la www.kiva.org) is to enable musicians to enlist the investment of fans in small amounts to help produce their music. 
    • MusicTeachersHelper.com - in addition to providing a terrific web-based music studio management system, MusicTeachersHelper.com also provides an immensely informative blog on the business of teaching music lesson privately.  They've enlisted a great roster of blog authors who contribute regularly, covering recent subjects such as "Helpful Hints on Expanding your Studio" and "Economic woes posing challenges to private music teachers".
    • Careers in Music - this site is provided by MENC: The National Association for Music Education, and gives a comprehensive list in 16 categories of music careers, ranging from Music Education to Performing Arts Medicine and Music Technology.  Salary ranges, prerequisite social/knowledge/skills and recommended educational training suggestions are listed for each category.  A terrific resource for younger students/professionals looking for viable music career options!
    • Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog - this gentleman has been blogging since 2004, giving sagely advice and news to indie musicians on all aspects of marketing and self-promotion. 
    • The Muse's Muse - a mega-resource for songwriters, both beginners and professionals.  It's a busy site, with everything ranging from artist spotlights to music software resources, message boards, insider news and toolkits for the aspiring muse. 

     

    Whew!  See what a little bit of surfing will turn up?  I'll be sure to post more links as i run across them - send me a shout out if you have some recommendations of your own!




    [ 03 June, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]

    Wii-Day!

    This past Friday, we celebrated Wii-Day - i'm so proud of my boys who worked hard on extra jobs to earn enough to finally unbox our brand new Nintendo Wii video game!

    IMG_0001

    The next day, we took a victory visit to the local Game Stop video game store to compile a price list on future games to save up for.  And to think that i was afraid that the boys would stop having a reason to work on their commission jobs - thanks to the video game industry, the incentives go on and on! 

    Oh, by the way - in addition to being a great lesson on saving and spending for the kids, the Wii is turning out to be quite a physical workout for them (particularly the boxing game!)  For those of you who have been hiding under the proverbial rock and are unfamiliar with the unique wireless motion sensor controllers for the Wii, here's a sample video showing how the Wii boxing game works:

     



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    [ 12 May, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]

    10 Tips for Relocating Music Teachers

    I was on the phone with a piano teacher who had just relocated to the Philadelphia area from out of state and having some difficulty starting from scratch, as it were, building up her teaching studio. Back in her previous home, she was well known and had students approaching her for lessons. What to do when you donít have the luxury of name recognition in a new locale? Here are 10 simple tips to jump-start your studio in a new location.

    1. Plan for 5. Iíve heard and observed anecdotally that it takes a musician about 5 years to become fully integrated into the musical network of a new location. If you can anticipate this, youíll be less frustrated during the first few slow months and can plan accordingly.

    2. Join groups. It goes without saying that you should get in touch with the local chapter of MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) - join up if youíre not currently a member. Attend chapter meetings and even competitions to get to know other teachers and students - and to get them to know you! Also try tapping into your school's alumni association to share resources and tips with.

    3. Offer substitute services. This might be a bit dicey, but worth a try if you can be careful to maintain good lines of communication and trust. With summer just around the corner and teachers possibly going on vacation, I tend to see a lot of students atrophying from lack of lessons. Why not approach vacationing teachers and offer substitute teaching to help keep their students in shape? I would propose a 50/50 fee share, put down in writing for a defined period of time. Obviously, you want to be careful not to give the impression that you are out to siphon students away from other teachers! I would make sure that you are upfront about that with teachers and students alike. If, even after clarifying your temporary-only intentions, a student 'defects' to you, you should offer 3 months of the continued fee split to the original teacher, and offer that teacher first dibs on substitute teaching your students whenever youíre away.

    4. Visit schools. Offer free music education assembly presentations to your local elementary and middle schools. Even if you don't get the opportunity to give a presentation, you could always come up with your own take-home activity sheets/booklets (with your studio contact info) as an educational donation to the school's music program (if they have one). If your local schools don't have any music ed, offer your services on an ad hoc basis. Be prepared to present credentials and references.

    5. Establish a web presence. Musicteachershelper.com is one example of an excellent online resource for not only setting up and managing your studio (scheduling, billing, repertoire tracking, and many other studio services) but also for setting up an easy website template to make it easier for potential students and parents to find you. Blogger.com and Wordpress.com are also great resources for setting up your own blogs - completely free!

    6. Sign up for online music teacher referral services. GetLessonsNow.com and PrivateLessons.com are two terrific resources helping students find music teachers in their area. The services are free for students - teachers have to pay a subscription fee to be placed on the site's database roster. Takelessons.com (formerly clickforlessons.com) is another online referral service that actually requires criminal background checks for teachers that sign up.

    7. Measure your market. How many music stores are in your area? Music schools? University programs? Adult education programs? Senior activity centers? Where are the local instrument repair shops/resources? Are there any music/listening clubs at your local library? Could you start one there?

    8. Make a newsletter. We have a local realtor that distributes a wonderful monthly newsletter to homes all around my neighborhood. Filled with fun-to-read tidbits, humorous anecdotes and inspirational quotes, that little newsletter is a powerful tool to keep that realtor's name firmly in our front-and-center stage of attention. Come to think of it, I'm actually hard-pressed to think of any other local realtor's names! That's how powerful an attractive newsletter can be if you can take the time and creative energy to put one together on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be a 50-page tome - even a single page will do, as long as it's peppered with articles that are actually fun to read. Show how much fun taking music lessons can be! Share the long-term educational and cultural benefits! Sprinkle in some funny anecdotes from your own teaching experiences!

    9. Become newsworthy. Write reviews about local music events and performers. Fill your website with newsworthy content. Submit articles to local newspapers. Even if the local papers don't pick up your articles, look up the names and contact information of the paper's art/music/culture section editor(s) and make a point of sending them content on a regular basis so that they eventually get to know you. Of course, you can always use your materials in your own self-distributed newsletter! For extra networking bang, interview and write up articles about the local teachers and their students in your area - you'll be sure to spread a lot of goodwill and perhaps pick up some extra student referrals!

    10. Invest in advertising. No one will know about your teaching services if they can't find you. Explore ad placements in local publications and storefront windows. In addition to local newspaper ads, try using Google, the world's most powerful online ad service - they have a terrific ad budget system where you only pay what you want. Google's ad service will work within any budget, no matter how small (granted, the more you invest, the better your ad placements will be!)

    Hope this helps - be sure to share any additional tips you may have, as well as success stories!

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    [ 07 May, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]

    Making Money with Website Ads

    The basic premise with setting up advertisements on your website is that the more traffic you are able to generate, the higher the chances that a percentage of those visitors will click on the ads to purchase endorsed products (or not so endorsed - see my blog on www.HughSung.com about an offensive ad that found its way to my site via Bidvertiser).  Commissions can be earned based on either number of click-throughs, or from the actual purchase of featured items.

    Build website, slap on ads, collect revenue - sounds like an easy road to riches, right?  Well, theory always has a way of sobering up in the face of reality.  Unless your site is drawing in millions of readers a day, its unlikely that you'll be able to earn more than the costs of maintaining your site or paying for your domain name.  Here are some ad revenue statistics from my main blog, www.HughSung.com, which as of this writing has generated 214,581 hits since its inception in February, 2006:

    Advertiser Total revenue to date (in US $)
    Google AdSense $79.96
    Virtual Sheet Music $20.63
    Amazon Associates $5.27
    Bidvertiser (no longer using this service, due to offensive content) $2.68

     

    Total advertising revenue from www.HughSung.com to date: $108.54

    Keep in mind, i'm only spending minimal time working on my websites (www.HughSung.com, www.VisualRecital.com, www.TheProsperousMusician.com, and now a new satellite site at www.hughsung.com/pianolessons/pianolessons.php - i'll probably purchase a URL for that one too) - no more than a post or two a day.  Initial advertisements for www.HughSung.com consisted of searching out and linking to/commenting on other similar classical music blogs and forums.  i'll probably use the same approach to get the word out about www.TheProsperousMusician.com as well.  Letting folks know about your site is one thing - taking the time and creative energy to come up with content that's fresh and worthwhile, that's another thing entirely, and really the basis for whether or not a site will have legs enough to draw a sustainable readership.  More on that in future posts.

    i suppose that in theory there's unlimited 'growth potential' for website advertising revenue, but i'm not quitting my day job just yet!



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    [ 05 May, 2008 ] • [ Hugh ] •[ ] •[ Link to this article ]