In this episode, Jared interviews Eric Mrugala, a violinist and entrepreneur. He offers advice on how to be successful as a musician, stressing the importance of networking and being nice to people. He recommends starting to work now for the summer of 2022, when there will be more performance opportunities available.
Hey gigging pros. Welcome to another episode of The Gigging Musician Podcast. I am super pumped here we've got another podcaster and violinist as a guest today. We've got Eric Mrugala here. Thanks for being with us, Eric. Jared, it's a pleasure to be here. And thank you for having me. For sure. So Eric is the host of the Violin Podcast, and Everyday Musician Podcast, he is a violinist himself. He has done some amazing things from large symphony work to recording to chamber experiences collaborating with living composers, and performing alongside members of the Fifth House ensemble at Freshing Festival. That's pretty cool. Outside of his performance and teaching engagements, Eric is dedicated to making the arts more accessible to Eric. Eric, it's such a pleasure to have you. Yeah, could you mind? Would you mind just telling our audiences about your background as a musician? Well, thanks so much for the introduction. I really love what you're doing with the with the podcast, Jared, you know, I started listening to a few episodes, when we started getting in touch about maybe collaborating, and it was a it's a really treat, it's a real treat that be on here. My background as a violinist is, I'm sure many musicians on your podcast, I probably experienced you. I started really early on as a violinist. And it's a really funny story. I don't know if you know this, but I did not choose the instrument instrument myself. I was three and a half years old. My mother was a, I was studying music education in college. Then both my parents immigrated here, and I was born in Chicago, Illinois. And you know, you're not too far from Chicago and Milwaukee from you know, from what you said earlier, before the before recording. And yeah, so I was just given like a wooden box, like, Hey, you're gonna start doing this. From? Yeah, it's like, you're gonna start playing this and, you know, bless my mom, she was super dedicated as I'm as many parents, you know, should be because, you know, playing the violin, and you know, any string instrument for that matter. It's kind of a tough thing, you know, especially trying to give something to like a three and a half year old. And it's funny, it's funny that I mentioned this now, because my youngest student, right now is four years old. I'm like, wow, I, I, I finally like, realize how tiny I was, and how pain in the butt I was back then. For my mom, you know, and, and, you know, this, this four year old student, he's, he's a gem. He's really, really awesome. But I started out really young, three years old. And then, you know, there are many moments in my life. That was like music was supposed to be the thing that I was supposed to do. For the rest of my life. There are a few moments I can touch base on that really quickly. And, you know, for your listeners who are not familiar with my story, I played violin since I was, you know, three years old. And there was a moment before I was about to go to college, you know, there's a college talk, you know, Junior of high school. My parents like, they sat me down. Okay, listen, you got to choose a direction, whether you want to do music or do something else, we're fine. But you have to make a decision. And I was like, Okay, well, I have no idea what I want to do. I had a big interest in music production and music technology when I was in high school. But I always had violin, you know, I always practiced my violin diligently. I played concerts. I was part of a violin school in Chicago called a BetHauge Academy. And I took violin lessons with my aunt for like 10 years. So I was a part of all of those things kind of at the same time. And then, you know, Junior year came along. And then a colleague of mine percussion colleagues said, Yeah, you know, there's a really awesome music festival they should apply to is called Interlochen Arts Festival in Michigan. It's a six or seven week. Orchestra festival, I think it'll be really good for you. I think you have a chance to get in. I go. Okay. That's not a bad idea. I've never done like a proper Music Festival before. And to be honest, this is like really late in the game for me. So I'm still not decided whether or not I should be in music, or I should choose another path. And then, and then I spoke to my parents, I'm like, Okay, there's this festival that's coming up, I'm gonna audition. And if, if all things go, Well, if I get a scholarship of some kind, like anything, that means it's a sign from the universe. I'm going to play the violin, I should be pursuing music. And then lo and behold, that actually happened. So and I had a six or seven week experience at Interlochen Arts Festival. That was really a game changer that summer kind of helped me decide, okay, I'm going to become, you know, a musician as my profession. I'm going to choose this for real because the universe wants me to do this. Yeah, for sure. That's an amazing story. I mean, even just starting from such a young age, I've got twin three year old nieces right now. And I can't, I can't imagine giving them a fragile violin and see What'd they do with it? I know my goodness, yeah. Yeah, teaching kids, it takes a lot of it takes a lot of skill. Because, you know, you're not just dealing with the violin playing, you're dealing with the psychology of the student, I find that to be really, really important. And that I think that comes from experience that comes from, you know, trying to seek out information from various resources, your mentors, whatever. So, yeah, I mean, props to you. I mean, just for my willingness to try and like, Okay, let's try this wooden box, you know? Yeah, for sure. It sounds like interlocking was was critical for you getting on the path of professional musician? What was it about that experience that made you fall in love with playing enough to pursue it professionally? Or were you already in love with playing enough? You just needed that extra push? I love Yeah, I think it was the latter, I think it was, I guess it was a combination of both because I knew that I, I enjoyed playing the instrument. So I didn't want to take it out of my life completely. So if I were to choose a major, that's outside of music, I definitely wanted to have music in my life. However, you know, however, that would fit in my life. But I think what was so refreshing about that festival was that the playing was so high, like the the level of playing was incredibly high. And that actually, that's something that I mentioned in my recent episode, you know, to think about for 2022, is that you want to be playing with people who are better than you, because it can, you know, push you to become better in every aspect of being a musician in your playing in your, you know, your knowledge of music, history, your music theory, all of that, I think, was a revitalizing for me. And also, you're, you're interacting with so many other musicians from around the globe, I think, very, very clearly, I remember sitting next to you know, someone from Venezuela, or someone from, you know, Costa Rica, it was just so great to be able to make that kind of music have that one common goal, especially at such a really important time in our lives, you know, your teenagers, it can be really complicated, it can be very different, in the sense that, you know, you're just experiencing so much. And just to have that experience with all the other musicians was was really great. It was beneficial for me, because that kind of pushed me to prepare for those auditions. You know, when I was applying for music schools. Yeah, for sure. Oh, that's awesome. And it sounds like an experience everybody should have at least once. So you decided to apply to music schools? Was it for violin performance, then? Yeah, it was fully for violin performance. And, you know, but when I was in high school, before I auditioned for this music festival, interlocking, I actually wanted to do like music, sound engineering. So it was so like, like music, you know, related, you know, I felt like I did have a solid year that I can use for, you know, for music in some ways sensor form. And actually, you know, I've been kind of dipping my toes a little bit, you know, into, like, the Pro Tools and, you know, the Avid and all that stuff, but it's, uh, you Yeah, it was, it was a I, to be honest, I just lost my train of thought. So you can get ahead and all of this out. Oh, good. Yeah, that's, yeah, I Okay. There's that. But I. So going into music school, I definitely was going into violent performance. For sure. Like, I had to do all the auditions, I had to go to each website to see what the what the requirements were. And there was only one university that I applied for. And I had to like submit, like a separate application to get into the university and then do a separate audition for the, for the music school. So that can get a little complicated, but I actually just focus on music schools strictly like conservatories. Because I'm just, you know, I'm just going to focus on, you know, playing as well as I could to get the scholarships that I needed. And, you know, that led me to Boston, and I've been staying in Boston and the music scene in, in Massachusetts, in New England, in general has a very rich music scenes. So that's why I stayed. Awesome. That sounds great. Now, I most music schools, they prepare you to be an excellent musician. I found that to be true at both of my schools that I went to, the thing that they didn't prepare me for was actually a career in music. What are what are the extra musical activities that you need to do to actually set yourself up for a career in music? Other than of course, auditions or festivals and competitions. How what was your experience like navigating a career in music as you were in school for it? You know, it was very funny you mentioned that because, you know, having parents who immigrated to this country from Poland, they were, you know, they were thinking about okay, well if you're going to get an education you need to make sure you have a job that will support you financially. Right? So you know, when you go to school you the first thing you think about with like a six possible six figure salary is orchestra job. You know, the top five orchestras Chicago Symphony, la fille San Francisco, you can even argue, you know, Boston Symphony, Cleveland, even Milwaukee Symphony has a fantastic Symphony over there. So I actually spend a lot of my time doing orchestral excerpts, you know, making sure that the orchestra excerpts is really top notch, and I practice them religiously. And it's a very different system in terms of auditions. Compared to like Germany, you do have excerpts, but they really focus on your musicianship and your musicality. You know, they require you to play Mozart concerto, every audition, right? You are required to play a romantic Concerto in many American Symphony Orchestra auditions but also have the orchestra excerpts of the concerto isn't the excerpts. So I spent a lot of my time doing that, however, I also needed to make a living in Boston, because Boston was is not a cheap city. So I needed to, you know, figure out some ways to really, you know, get myself into the right direction in terms of making a living. So sure, thankfully, you know, I had a lot of colleagues who like looked out for me, and I looked out for them, in terms of like, the occasional wedding gig, or the occasional, you know, community orchestra gig that kind of came about. But, you know, the thing that I learned, Jared was when you start getting those gigs, you want to keep them, and you want to make sure that you continue receiving those gigs. So what I learned really quickly is the power of making sure that I think everybody for those gigs, whoever, like pass along my name, because you want to make sure your name gets passed along, into not only your network, but in other people's network, so that way, you're on the horizon as well. And I'm sure your audience and I'm sure your audience can relate to this. Because it's no, we're living in such a unique time of the internet, where you can, you don't know you no longer need to define your success by by getting an orchestra audition, you know, by winning an orchestra audition, you know, you can have, this is actually something that I learned a lot from, like the Berklee College of Music students, you know, they, they are so good at marketing themselves, and making sure that their name is out, you know, like, they actually the other day, I was doing like a recording session with a bunch of, you know, final final projects for film composers, right, they're gonna be using those as like their audition material for major companies around the world. So it's not like they're being really efficient with their time in school, you know, oh, that's something that I can really learn from and the way they think it's like, not really what classical musicians think, you know, we're so trained to going into the chamber music, you know, forming a quartet, or applying for auditions to get into a major orchestra or being a soloist and winning competitions. But oftentimes, students don't get that there's a business behind all of this, we I have colleagues who are in like, the artist management business, as well. And there are so many logistical things that we are not taught such as international travel visas, and making sure that you're getting paid on time and negotiating contracts with orchestras and venues, etc. It's so much more beyond that just playing. It's so much more beyond than just, you know, playing your instrument. I mean, I think playing your instrument is like, the baseline. And then, once you have a good baseline, then people are like, okay, you know, I've played with this person, I've heard this person play, I can recommend this person's name. And then that's how you build your network. Mm hmm. Yeah, I've noticed that two people, most musicians, you know, since we're not taught the business of it, we think that the way to advance our career all the way from start to finish is by improving our technique. Whereas technique, if you have a baseline technique, then the at that point, sometimes the faster way to advance your career is by figuring out some of this artist management or business side of things. I agree. Yeah. And I think also to to that extent, I think that just comes from experience, a lot of people go to like music business school because they want to go into like record labels and they want to do the business but you could actually, you know, be your own manager, you just have to learn the right techniques and write steps that work for you. Because something that works for you may not work for me, you know, and it may work for somebody else. But that I think, understanding how you work and how you function as a human being will eventually creep into music playing and will eventually creep into how you network. Yeah, absolutely. Well, speaking of networking, you run some incredible podcasts, and you've networked with some incredible musicians. I was wondering if you could tell us about first, tell us what your podcast is and why you started it, and then talk about some of the guests you've had on? Yeah, thanks for letting me plug in my podcast. Yeah, really appreciate that. So the the podcast that I run is called The Violin Podcast. That's something that's kind of been like my baby project since the beginning of the COVID, 19 pandemic. And I also host everyday musician, podcast. And that is a little bit more general, I speak with some of my colleagues about things that they're thinking about in music, and it's not just specifically for violin. So the way that violin pockets kind of came to be, was, you know, I'm like, you know, again, we're stuck at home in the beginning of the pandemic, in March. And I'm like, You know what, I got to really stay busy. And you know, I'm really, I really like podcasting. And I feel like I'm good at it. Well, there, I feel like there are a bunch of violent inspired podcasts. But there isn't like a violent podcast, and I go, Okay, well, just out of curiosity, I go on, you know, I go on the web, and I search on violent podcast.com. And I go domain is not taken. And I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I gotta capitalize on this. So literally, that day, I like, made sure I bought that domain, and I own it. So and I'm like, Okay, well, I have the experience from the everyday musician podcast, which I started, when I was doing my masters that was actually like a precursor to how I did, and how I formed the Violin Podcast, for your, for your listeners to kind of distinguish the two. And it was a really interesting experience, because it continues to be a very interesting experience, because I am able to talk to so many accomplished violinist and get their wisdom and their insight about, you know, everything violin related. And to me, I considered that kind of like my doctoral research, where I'm not in school, but I'm talking to people who are in the field, who are experiencing the solo life, the chamber music life, the competition, life, etc. And it's a good tool for me to use for my students. And I think that was a resource where many violinists around the world has found value in because all of a sudden, you know, the whole transition into zoom. Took a little while, and people all of a sudden are on their devices all the time. So what better way to get into people's ears to start podcasting? And there's a quote that, you know, I don't know if your until like late night TV, I definitely am like, I love my Jimmy Kim. I love my Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. And there's an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm Gladwell is a very famous authors, I'm sure you know, and your listeners know, that. He was on the Stephen Colbert show. And he was promoting his Revisionist History podcast. And he said something really profound that will, that will stay with me to this day. You know, it said, he said, thinking is for the eyes. But feeling is for the ears. And for me, if I can really get into people's ears about how, you know, we should approach the music business, how we should approach the violin with practice tips and etc. Then then I've achieved my goal, my goal in my, my personal life, and in my business as a violinist solo entrepreneur, I want to erase the divide erased a line between audiences and music, you know, and that I feel like The Violin Podcast has kind of done that in some way where I'm providing information and I'm not. And I want to talk about topics that have not been really discussed or could have been like, on the hush hush, like you really don't talk about that in public, like about artists management and like, what the contract negotiations are, or whatever the case may be. And I wanted people to kind of get into like, a deeper connection with the musicians who are going to be on these on these podcast episodes. So I found it to be a very rewarding experience talking to a lot of these guests. And yeah, it's been a blast so far. That's awesome. I mean, I love everything you said. I love your mission. I have a similar mission to get the business side of music more into the colleges and universities because most of them don't offer enough of it. So I'm curious who have been some of the guests that you have had on the podcast. Oh, man, I've had a lot of it. You don't have to be favorites. Don't worry about that. Yeah, you know, like right now we're in season two of the violent podcast. And, you know, recent guests include Gura Schmidt, like Sarah Caswell, who was like a jazz violinist. And Nora Germain, who is also a jazz violinist. You know, for me, I find it very interesting to talk to jazz violinists. Because it's like, it's in the same realm, but it's very, like different dimension for me. And what I had when I was like speaking to Nora, and Sarah, and you know, all those other, you know, violinists on The Violin Podcast. It's interesting how they approach practice, and how they, how they approach performances, like for a jazz violinist, they're talking about, oh, yeah, we just got to make sure that we're grooving on stage, we're feeling the music, the melody, you know, like, like, big band, like, okay, yeah, you've got the melody, you're the leader. And everybody kind of has to follow that leader. And I guess, in some ways, similar to classical music, because you have a conductor who's a leader, you have a concert master, who's a leader or your section, no section, violins, violas, cellos, or whatever. And, but the approach is very different. And that just gives me a lot of information to the many students that I teach, I have around 30 students, you know, ranging from for age four to age 12, and 13. And they all have a brain that works differently. So if there is a way for me to kind of talk to as many violinists as I possibly can, to, you know, use that as information for me to, to talk to my students about then that that really helps me a lot. And I know that sometimes I could be speaking to someone for an hour. And then there's like, there's one way that they phrase something about music or practice, I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I've been finding, I've been trying to find a way to figure this out, to figure out how to portray this to my students. And, and then all of a sudden, it clicked. That's what I really enjoyed about it. And I think every single guest on The Violin Podcast has offered that kind of value where there's like that one thing, where it's like, okay, you explained that really well, I'm going to do that in my lesson. Yeah, that's amazing. What better way to improve your own playing then by finding the gold nuggets, even from somebody who's doing something almost completely different than you aside from the instrument they're holding. But apply that to your playing and then spread that to your students and the listeners of your podcast too. Have you found that to be the same with you when you're when you're talking to guests? Oh, definitely. You're probably familiar with Tracy Silverman, the six string electric violinist. Yes, yeah. He mentioned something that changed my outlook on the type of gigs we play called, you know, the gigs. Even if you a gig that you're taking is not necessarily your North Star, I want the symphony audition. As long as it's on the dartboard. Even if it's not a bull's eye, it's still worth taking. And that thing just blew my mind changed my whole perspective on the kind of gigs we take and why taking a private event gig is, you know, many people think that it's not glamorous, but I've always loved playing them. But here's how I can explain it to them in a way that makes them see it's still on the dartboard. You're not flipping, you know, right, a very good example of this. I know, I know, a violist on the East Coast, who is who specializes in private events. He coordinates private events in terms of music, and I was fortunate to be able to work with him a few times. And yeah, he is like, he doesn't want to be called a wedding musician. Right? He wants to be like a musician, event coordinator. Because he, I feel like, again, again, it's like, it means the same thing. But there's like a different ring to it. And I feel like he has found a lot of success in just by branding himself in that way as like, Oh, yes. I'm event an event musician, as opposed to a wedding musician, because wedding musician. I don't know. I don't know if you felt this. But sometimes, I felt like when I first started out in weddings, like, oh, yeah, he's just a wedding musician. You know, he just make sure turned the corner over there. And they just played the cocktail. But no, like, if you if you portray yourself in a professional manner, and you are an event musician, you eventually will get, you know, higher and private event gigs. As I as I'm sure you know, you have done as well. And it's all about it's all about the branding as well. I find Yeah, for sure. The positioning of it, too. Yeah, that's, that's awesome. I mean, thanks for sharing about your podcast. How could our listeners find the violent podcasts I got to do is just find violent podcast calm. It's really simple and it's on most on most streaming sites. versus like, you know, Apple podcasts, Spotify podcast, Google podcasts, you know, anchor, you know, anchor FM, all that all those places, all you got to do is just type in violent podcast.com. And it'll, all the episodes will will pop up. And as a matter of fact, we actually just, you know, we're actually doing a little bit of rebranding on the website. So, by the time this episode is released, it'll definitely be already up to date. Awesome. So rapid fire, what are some quick pieces of advice, you can give to gigging musicians, not just violinist, but anyone who might listen to the Gigging Musician Podcast. Be nice to a lot of people, because you never know who is going to hire you. And in the end, I think that's something that I've learned along the way that there is an opportunity that kind of comes up. And you know, and I'm guilty of this, where there was a person who I just did not mesh well with, it's not that like, I didn't like him or her or they didn't like me, it's just like, maybe the personality just didn't work out. And, you know, and then all of a sudden, you know, you're spending time with your musician colleagues, like, oh, yeah, are you? Are you on this gig? I'm like, Oh, actually, no, I'm not. Interesting. Interesting how that is. But I think because the music world is so small, and because of the internet, making it even smaller, everybody knows everybody within like, a couple contacts from one another. And I think I heard a statistic somewhere where like, you can reach like, a specific person within three people. I think, I think that sounds about right. And you can, you know, it never hurts to be nice to people. It never hurts, you know, you'll you'll, you'll always gain from the experience. And even if this person doesn't call you back for a gig, it's like, okay, well, you know, I had a good time with you, you know, nice playing with you. And then hopefully, hopefully, we can be in touch in about future collaborations or future possibilities. And you never know, 578 years down the road, they will call you. Because you're because right now, a lot of musicians, especially, like in the conservatory level, you know, they're so focused on, you know, making sure that they're pleasing their teachers are meeting the requirements in music school, which I get, I understand, we've all been there. But if you ever get a chance to be in a position where it'll eventually funnel money into your, you know, into your, you know, private business, which, you know, if you're a musician, you are a business, you know, there's a famous Jay Z quotes, you know, I'm not a businessman, but I'm a business man. So I think, if you think about it that way, think about like future proofing yourself into getting more gigs and more performance opportunities, not only will you get them, but you'll also notice that the karma that you've put in, that you actually start earning more, because all of a sudden, everybody's going to start calling you especially now, which is, as we slowly start to open up, you know, I feel like a lot of weddings, you know, weddings are going to be pretty packed in summer 2022. So I would I would make those connections right now. And start, you know, start working right now for the summer. Yeah, that is great advice. Well, thank you so much, Eric. Before we close out this episode, what are some of the things that you want to promote right now? And how can our listeners connect with you further? Well, again, ViolinPpodcast.com is where you can hear, you know, episodes every two weeks. And I also have a YouTube channel, you know, Eric Mrugala Violin. And that's where it's something kind of another side project that I started during the pandemic, because I do have 30 students, and I needed a way to connect with my students talking about very specific violin problems outside of the Zoom screen. So, you know, the YouTube channel was a way for me to connect with the students and even the parents because sometimes the parents are practicing with the students. And I go, Okay, well, this is how you explain to your child if you're a teacher, if you're a parent, or if you're a beginner, this is how you do something of that nature. So that's a that's a cool resource. If, if you're a violinist, I also do some, you know, like business topics, a lot of violin stuff. If you're if you're a violinist listening to this episode, right now, I encourage you to you know, subscribe, and also take advantage of all the videos that I've that I've done. And there also, you know, I'm being updated. I'm updating that channel all the time. So yeah, check it out. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Eric. It has been such a pleasure having you and to our listeners. Thanks again for joining us on The Gigging Musician Podcast. Always remember you are just one gig away.