In this episode, Jared interviews Christine Smith, a pianist, film score composer, and host of the Musicians vs the World Podcast. They discuss the artist’s journey, gigging, losing the ability to play and perform, and pivoting.
Hey gigging musicians! It's Jared Judge and welcome to the Gigging Musician Podcast. Today, we have a special guest with us today. Christine Smith is the owner of Frosted Lens Entertainment, and host of the Musicians Versus The World Podcast. Christine, thanks so much for being with us. Thank you so much, Jared, this is really fun. I'm so happy to be here. Oh, we're so excited to have you. So if you don't mind, let's start with you telling us about yourself and the podcast you host and the company that you run. Sure, sure. So like you said, my name is Christine Smith, and I'm a pianist. I'm based out of Atlanta. And I've been working as a musician and earning a living as a musician for the last 20 years. And for those 20 years, I have learned so much so many things along the way that I thought, Wow, it would have been really nice if someone had told me some of these tricks and tips as I was kind of meandering and figuring out the ins and outs of how to make a living as a musician. And so I thought, you know what, let's just start a podcast. And I'm going to interview people that are living the dream, and they are being musicians. And there are so many different ways to make a living as a musician that I wanted to explore all of those so that the next generation as they come up, realize that there's not just like one branch that you have to follow as a musician. And it's been great. We've had lots of really fun. We've had composers, we've had music directors and conductors, we've had members of the orchestra. We've had video game composers on and it's just, it's really, really fun. And so that podcast is being produced through my company Frosted Lens Entertainment, and I'm the co-owner and founder of this. And that is an entertainment and information content development company. So not only podcasts and music, but will we do audiobooks, we do short films, and we help aspiring authors and composers kind of find their way in the entertainment world. And so it's just it's so much fun. And I get to not only help develop these programs, but I get to compose a lot of the music for some of these for some of these projects, and I get to perform in them. And I do help with editing. So it's fun to be on the administrative side, and also the creative side. So it's just, I'm very, very lucky. That's awesome. It sounds like you have a very similar mission to me and the people I work with, which is to help musicians make a living doing what they love. Right? Why is that so important to you? Well, I think because when I talk to a lot of my friends, or if I meet somebody, and I say, Oh, I'm a musician, and they the one of the first things that they say is, Oh, I thought music was dead. You know, they think that it's just over. And that unless you are on the radio, there's no other thing for you. And you know, and all of those, you know, top 10 waste of money degrees, you'll see music degree up there, which I think is a complete disservice, like 100% complete disservice, because it's such a huge part of our culture. And there are ways to have a wonderful life making music, and I would love for people to keep doing it. Yeah, for sure. Why do you think that that's the case? Why do people see a music degree as a complete waste of money? Um, well, I think that, you know, the top ones are usually what's what's going forward, like, engineering and, you know, medicine and, and things that are kind of like the need based parts of society, like you need those things to survive. And music, I don't think has the same amount of value, which I think is a shame. Because if you look at any study, if you see in human development, a having music in a child's life, increases everything and increases their math scores and increases their emotional intelligence, it increases empathy, it increases just processing and language skills. And so for people to say, Oh, that's not an essential part of life is ridiculous. It's absolutely just, just just crazy. But then also, it is very, very hard. It's hard to make a living as a musician. And so there's a lot of grind to it. And then you'll also, you know, you'll hear Oh, only a small percentage of musicians can actually make a living being a musician, which, you know, unfortunately, it's kind of like the popular opinion right now, but I don't think it's true. I think you can make a living being a musician. It just takes a whole lot of work. For sure. I agree with you completely. That's part of why I started my podcast too. I'm curious out of all the guests in The podcasts that you host would have been some of the more interesting or off the beaten path ways that musicians are making a living. Um, oh my goodness, I absolutely loved one of my first guests was an opera singer named Amber, Amber Brooke. And she's amazing. And she and I actually collaborate now. But for a long time, she made a living as a as a cruise singer. So she went on cruise ships, and she would sing and she traveled the world. And she sang and she had a great time. Wow. Yeah, I love that one. Let's see. I'm trying to think of other interesting ones. I just interviewed Dr. Bradshaw from Southern Utah University. And he was a professor, which you know, is usually, you know, people think, okay, I'll go to school, and then I'll become a professor. But what was interesting about him is that he had just finished his doctorate and he was an adjunct professor, which is a very, you know, that's a rough life, honestly. And, and he was looking for a full time job. And he got a job with a brand new university that didn't even have a music program. Okay. And this was his first full time job at a school. And they said, Here you go build it. Wow. until I started from scratch, that's a lot of responsibility. Yeah, yeah. It was pretty fun. But yeah, I'd say the cruise ship, starting from scratch. And then like a video game composers a really interesting life, too. Oh, for sure. Yeah, that's, that's always been like a dream of mine. Although I don't have a I don't have the talent as a composer. But video game music. It's so good. Yeah. It's really awesome. It's so fun. So if you're interested in that, that was Matt Kenyon. And he has a whole podcast himself, I think it's Composer Code. And he goes through and he teaches you how to do it. So there you go. You can start Jared, you can start writing. I can. Maybe my next life. Alright, so you're a musician, too. You mentioned earlier that you're a pianist. What is your musical background? How did you get started? And what was your journey? Um, well, I is yes, I am a pianist. And I started pretty much the way most people start, right, I just took started taking lessons when I was six. And for me, there was a little added push, because my brother was older than me. And he started and so of course, the older brother's better at everything. And it was my goal in life to be like him. And so I had to practice more so that I could be like him. Well, when he was 12, he quit. But by that time, I had already caught the bug. And I loved it. And, and so I was, I was really blessed with some amazing teachers growing up, and they just instilled this love of music, and how to express myself through it, and how to tell stories and how to make other people feel what I want them to feel. Not really in a manipulative way, but just, you know, telling, telling my story. And so then I went off to college, and I studied it. And it was interesting. I was thinking about this, because I knew we were going to chat I was trying to think about when I started like gigging like actually making money. And I think with pianists, we kind of are a little bit of an edge, because everyone needs the pianos for something, you know, you always need an accompanist. And so I was, I was playing I was a company in choirs and was kind of a church musician. By the time I was 14. Wow. And so you know, cuz like the organist would be out sick. And they're like, oh, who can? Who can play some sort of keyboard instrument? Christine, go up there. Let's play some hymns. And so like, that kind of happened. Yeah. And, and so. And then in high school. I'm not a very good singer. But the choir director let me in the choir because I could play the piano and she needed an accompanist. So then I ended up in doing that. And then I realized that all of my musician friends needed accompanist for like, you know, all state, well, maybe not all state, but nazma, or other auditions or things that they had to do, and they would pay me to accompany them. And I thought, Oh, this is pretty awesome. Like, I can make money doing this, this, this is fun. But then when I went to college, I kind of stopped accompanying so much because I had so much of my own repertoire that I had to do. And I didn't have the time to really practice enough enough because, you know, those college pieces, they're like full orchestral, you know, redactions, and it's not some, I mean, some of them you can sight read, but a lot of them you know, especially the 20th century stuff is a little bit difficult to sight read and I didn't feel that I had the time to dedicate to play it well enough, you know, to charge money for for doing that. So I didn't do that. But what I did do was I started playing in churches again, because that like church musician stuff was was so easy. You just go and play little arrangements of pretty things and help people feel peace and calm while they're worshiping. And it paid really well. And I was like, wow, this is, this is a really great way to make some money. And then people started asking me to play for their weddings. And I had, I had a little bit of advantage because I had some Oregon training too. So a lot of people that want to church weddings would say, hey, Christine, come, you know, come and come and play the organ for our wedding. And I realized, wow, this is really, this is a really easy way to make money. I'm like, I like this, this is fun. And, and I especially loved playing because the stress of college and university is really high, you know, you there's so much perfection. And there's so much expected of you that it was almost a release to go on these weekends, and just see people in love and just staring at each other's eyes, and I get to play little pretty things. And then I get paid for it. I'm like, this is fantastic. I love this. I just I just love it. And so I kept on doing that. And I kept on doing it after and, and I taught at the same time, I had this wonderful mentor that owned a music studio. And so she taught me a lot about the soft skills of being a musician about following up and really treating your clients like important people in your life, and you know, all of the soft skills that you need, as well to build your brand or to build your business or whatever it is that you need to do. So again, I was just really, really lucky to be put in situations where I had to learn, you know what to do. And then I had great people to show me what it is that that you need to do to to be successful. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, go ahead. It sounds sounds like that's, that's a common theme among many musicians in generals that like there's a structure to learning the musicianship, there is almost no structure to learning the business. It's just kind of you're thrown into it and figure it out. You're experienced too. Yeah, absolutely. 100%. Right. Well, what was like the hardest part to learn about the business? Um, for me personally, it was Don't be ashamed to have your value. Especially when friends are asking you, you know, when you start and you're 14, they're like, Hey, can you do this? Can you accompany me? And you're like, Okay, sure. And they'll like, make you some cookies for it, you know, or something like that. And that's fine when you're 14, but when you're trying to pay your rent, cookies aren't gonna pay your rent. And I would always be afraid of like, Oh, you know, this is the wedding, but I haven't been paid yet. So what am I gonna do you know, and then just kind of asserting yourself and like having the contract and realizing No, you get you pay half now and you pay half then you know, and like really holding people to it. That was the hardest thing for me to do. For sure. I actually think that's my hardest thing, too. So I relate to that on a very personal level. I remember my first wedding gig, it was a wedding, where it was a friend of a friend who asked this friend for a string duo. So my friend was on violin one, and she needed a violin two. And I was like a sophomore in undergrad. And I assumed that I would get paid. Because I don't know. Of course, you're playing a wedding, you get paid. Right? Right. But I didn't have the knowledge or the know how to like, how do I put a price on that? How do I put the contract to that set my boundaries? And sure enough, I got stiffed on that that wedding, you didn't get paid at all? No, I got like, a McDonald's gift card or something like that. I've had a few of those. Yeah. Yeah. But it's so hard to value yourself. I think it's because we're so passionate about the art, right? You know, the art to us, gives us so much value of playing it. Although, you know, after playing Canon in D of times that value goes down. But we're so giving, you know, artists are so giving have something so personal to us that when it comes time for us to actually pay our rent, it's hard to ask for that money, right? But that's why like a tool like what you said the contract and 50% down 50% do after the gig. That that's huge. That's a game changer. Right? Right. And I and what I found is when I became more, not aggressive, but assertive about it, and I valued my own time, I found that my clients respected me more. And they actually honored those contracts really well. And I ended up getting better reviews, the more professional I was. That's fantastic. Yeah, yeah, for sure. How did you figure out how much to charge for some of those early weddings you were asked to play? Um, well, when I did it for friends, I'd be like, Okay, this is like your wedding present. Yeah. But when I started charging People I went, well actually, it's a little bit of a story. So um, I, when I got married, like 15-16 years ago, I, the two things that I really cared about was my cake and the music. Like everything else. I was like, okay, you know, it doesn't have to be perfect. But these two things like, I'm going to be like bridezilla about those two things, I get it. And so I did so much research on our wedding band and our wedding music, that, and I interviewed so many musicians, and so many this and that, that I, that gave me a little bit of an idea. But it also gave me an idea of where I could find musicians and where I needed to be if I wanted to make a living out of it, like what directories Do I need to be on? What websites do I need to be on? Yeah, so. So I got on those, and I kind of saw what the going rate for my area was. And so I just, you know, when I, when I started out, I wasn't I didn't price myself quite as high as I did, like five years into it because I was much more experienced. And as my experience became higher, and as demand for my services came higher, I was able to raise my prices up a little bit more. But that's pretty much how I did it. I just did a lot of research in the area. Awesome, kind of like mystery shopping, but with a purpose. Exactly. Yes. That's great. Super cool. So you got your degree was an undergrad performance degree. Yep. It was it was it was an undergrad performance degree was very fun in piano. Awesome. And then what happened after that with your music career? Well, um, I was interesting, I was planning on I actually got a second degree in recreation therapy, because I knew I loved the power of music in you know, I've talked about this already, and the way it can heal people, and the way it can help them emotionally and physically. And so my goal was to become a music therapist. And so I was my plans were to go on to get a master's in music therapy. And, you know, and then I had gotten married, and I was performing a lot and things of that nature. And I was doing an internship at the hospital for the, the therapy degree, I was doing an internship for that. And I was having a really, I was getting really frustrated, because you were so limited in what you had to do because of insurance and this and that. And I was like, Oh, I don't know if this therapy thing is, is the thing for me, maybe I'll go and get a performance degree. And so I started, you know, really ramping up the performances, the performances, and I was working with different symphonies and different orchestras, different, you know, just lots of different I went more towards the classical route, again, like I had in my undergrad. But then I got sick. And what ended up happening was, I had just had my first baby. And I went to pick her up in the middle of the night, like a three in the morning. And she was this tiny little thing, she was only like five or six pounds, and I went to pick her up and I couldn't pick her up, I had this shooting pain go all the way up my arm. And I thought, Oh, my goodness, what is this? What is I can't, I can't pick up my five pound baby. And it got worse and worse. And it got to the point where I couldn't walk, there was just these shooting pains everywhere. I can turn the key to start the car, I couldn't turn on the shower. It got so bad over a couple of weeks that I couldn't lift a spoon to my mouth like I was completely like 100%. Like, incapacitated, I couldn't care of myself, it was awful. And and it was it was difficult to get doctors to listen because they're like, Oh, you just had a baby your ligaments, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But after a while, I was like, Oh my goodness, like I really cannot move something is wrong. And they finally got me tested. And it turned out I have an autoimmune disease where my immune system attacks that my joints, okay, and it's called rheumatoid arthritis. And it's it swells up your joints and you get stiff, and then it actually erodes them. And it kind of eats away at your, at your joints and your bones. And so and so the only way to really take care of that there's no cure for it. What ends up happening is it takes a lot of exercise and it takes a lot of medicine and a lot of rest to take care of this. And, and so obviously I couldn't play the piano, I couldn't do a thing. Like it took years, you know, for me to get back to where I was and I so that kind of took my goals of wanting to go on and getting higher degrees it put those on hold, if not canceled them completely. And also, all of the gigging all of the performing I was doing I couldn't do any of those. Yeah, so everything because I couldn't play I couldn't play the piano. I couldn't do it. It was it was depressing. It was awful because there was this huge part of my life, I had completely wrapped my entire identity around this skill that I had. And it was my only way of communicating with people really. And it was gone, it was completely destroyed. And I would look at these, I would look at these pictures of people with rheumatoid arthritis and their fingers would be pointing the wrong way. And I would just, like break down like, what, who am I like, what, what is my worth to this world anymore, I have no worth. And it was just, it was awful. But so what I decided to do was I decided that in what I'm going to have my bucket list, I know that my hands are going to be destroyed, like, and I'm going to watch it. So I know this really hurts. But I am going to try and do a bucket list of pieces that I can play before before I can't play anymore. And so I would load up not on like not suit not opioids, I wouldn't go like super painkillers. But I you know, I would take some anti inflammatories and I'm like, I am going to practice this, I'm gonna I'm gonna play this. And I started with like a Chopin Etude or something. And so I just started playing, and I could only make it for five minutes. Jared, it hurts so bad. I was like, the fingerless tears are just streaming down my face, it hurts so much. And so I was like, okay, so I would practice for five minutes, and I'd have to go like nap for two hours. And then and then the next day, I'll do it again. Next day I do again. And over a course of a year, I was able to get back to where I could practice about two hours a day, which is, you know, which is okay, it's not great, but it's okay. But I was able to play this piece. And to play it was the and I played it, I played it a little recital. And it was the most exhilarating thing, because I had gone from like not being able to feed myself, to have a son being able to play again, I was like, oh, my goodness, this is amazing. It was amazing. Because I had taken for granted so much this like skill that I had, I worked hard, hard on it stuff. But I'd really taken it for granted, really. But then all of a sudden, I could do it again. And it was just the most the most emotional performance I've ever had. And my husband was like crying and everyone was crying because I could play again. I was just really it was really sweet. But then I went to the doctor right after and I was on cloud nine. I was like, Doctor, you wouldn't believe this, look what I can do. And and she took some x rays, because this was a year after my diagnosis. And I had come so far where I could play the piano. And, and she took a look at my x rays. And she said, Christine, you have no damage. That's insane that you've don't have any permanent damage. And I was like, Oh, well, okay. And she said, You know why? It's because you've been playing the piano. And you've been exercising, and because you had kept it. So you'd kept moving so much. The piano has actually saved your hands. Oh my gosh, is that amazing? That's incredible. Yeah. I mean, we talk about the healing power of music, emotionally and mentally, but we never think about it physically. Right, exactly. And here I am, it's been 12-13 years, and I do have some damage in my hands. It's good. We're not doing video because it would probably scare all of your audience. But some of my fingers don't point the right way. But I can still play 10 years later, I can still play, which is just like, oh, that's firing to me. That's fabulous. Thanks for sharing that story. I mean, that's a really scary thing that I don't think many musicians, myself included, like I take my hands for granted. If I lost my hands. I play gigs for a living like I don't know what I would do. Yeah, thanks for for sharing that story. How during those times, like, obviously, you were intending on using your hands for your career. And I feel like one of the most important skills that musicians have or need to develop is the ability to adapt and pivot to situations. How did how did that force you to adapt and change direction? Oh, absolutely. 100% like I couldn't, I did not feel confident in playing gigs anymore. Because just the nature of the disease, you could have a flare up and all of a sudden you can't move for like a month, you know, and you're you're booking if you're doing weddings or something, some of those are six months, 12 months in advance, and I couldn't I didn't feel right. like doing that anymore. I didn't want to have to cancel on people because, you know, my diseases decided to flare up. So I had to completely pivot. What didn't I couldn't really perform, like that sort of gig anymore. But what ended up happening again, I know it's a lot of luck and just making those relationships with people and You know, just meeting people and just being good to other people and like making friendships and networking. I knew someone that was starting a production company, and they were starting to they were starting with a short film. They had no budget, but they needed music for it. And they knew that I arranged and wrote music because I did that for weddings all the time. And so they said, Christine, can you write music for this short film? I'm so sorry. We can't pay you very much. But can you do this? And I was like, Well, sure. I don't have my, I don't have my performing gigs. So let me do it. And it was just really fun. And wind up happening is I built a relationship with that director and the producers in that company. And this was the company is called RPR studios. And they went on and they do commercials, and they do videos for companies. And they do like Internet promotional things. And they need music. And so I ended up becoming their composer in residence and their sound and music director. So Oh, yeah, yeah, it was really good. So cool. Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead. I was gonna ask you, when they first asked you, were you confident going in? Or? I don't know, if I was in your shoes. I would feel totally like, I've never done this before. How do I do this? I wasn't confident at all. Of course, I pretended to be confident, but I was like, What am I do? know, I mean, I did I love to, you know, I knew I could. I knew I could write music, but I'd never really written anything for a film or anything. But I just did it. And they were really, they were really. Luckily, it was a very, it was a very short film, and they didn't need anything too complex. I wasn't writing a symphony or anything. You know, it was about where my skill level was, anyway. And yeah, sometimes you just gotta jump in. Sure. I mean, I have taken you know, composing and orchestration classes and stuff in school. So I mean, I had the foundation that was there. I just needed the confidence and the just jump in and do it sort of thing. Yeah. It sounds like you took the fake it till you make it and you just went for it. He's got a got to go with it. What will happen? They don't hire me again. I guess they weren't paying me anyway. So yeah, exactly. It was a nice trade off. They were they were helping you fake it and eventually helped you make it. Exactly, exactly. And we have a great working relationship now. And so I help them out with all sorts of things. For sure. What was your favorite project that you've done so far with them? They, oh, my goodness, so many. They, they do a lot of really short films, there was one. There was a short film they did about a couple that was going through loss of a child. And so that one was really beautiful for me. Because as a mom, you know, you have that little background of like, what your feelings are towards your children. And so that one came from a really, really, like, emotional and sweet place. And that turned out really, really well. Wow, that one that one was probably my favorite. That one ended up winning some awards at some film festivals. So that was fun. I didn't get to go to any of the film festivals. But you know, it was nice that they got some awards. Yeah, for sure. And you get credits on all these projects. So Exactly. That's amazing. I love that. I'd love to check out some of those links. Yeah, just send me some links. So we're getting close to the end here of our episode. quick lightning round. What pieces of advice would you give to gigging musicians that are just getting started? Don't underestimate your worth? For sure. Treat your clients as if they are, you know, they are your clients. But as if they're also like your family member, you know that? How would you want? How would you want a musician or someone they were hiring to treat your brother at his wedding? Well, you know, like, treat them that same way, have high expectations of yourself with the soft skills as much as you have high expectations of yourself with your actual musical skills. I would say those are probably the most important ones. That's fantastic. And then just as a musician or life in general, you've you've gone through some hardship. What are some what are some pieces of advice you can give to just people in general? I would say keep laughing. That's the most important thing you can do. There are some really dark times sometimes but there's always some sort of light and fun notice that you can have because you you don't want to minimize and pretend like hard things are not happening. To you, because that's doesn't do you any good. I think it's important to find the balance between, yes, this thing that we're going through right now is really, really hard. But like that dogs slipping and falling and all that, I mean, not the dog slipping, falling. That's not funny if I slip and fall, and then I, like, you know, do something ridiculous. Like that is funny, you know, or like squeezing something out of a toothpaste in the toothpaste tube and it like comes all over your face. That's hilarious, like, laugh at that it's okay to laugh when you're going through a hard time. And those small little fun times, really, really sparkle and make the dark times. You know, not so bad. For sure. That's a very positive note to end this episode on. So, Christine, I want to thank you so much for coming on the Gigging Musician Podcast. It has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you. How can our listeners connect with you and interact with you further? Sure. Come and listen to my podcasts, it's Musicians Versus The World. And that's anywhere that you want to listen to your podcast, but we're also on Instagram and on Facebook. I'm not very good at Twitter, but we are on Twitter technically. But Instagram is probably the best way or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can check out Frosted Lens too, and all of our fun little projects we've been working on. Awesome. Thanks so much, Christine, and thank you for your welcome. Thanks. Thanks for listening to the Gigging Musician Podcast. May all your performances be spectacular.