126 – The Journey to Building a Six-Figure Music Instruction Website – with Brent Vaartstra of Learn Jazz Standards

126 – The Journey to Building a Six-Figure Music Instruction Website – with Brent Vaartstra of Learn Jazz Standards

Are you a music teacher? Do you wish you could find more ways to earn money from your passion?

In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, I interview Brent Vaartstra of Learn Jazz Standards and Passive Income Musician to discuss his journey to this point and how he built a six-figure music instruction website.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 00:18 – Who is Brent Vaartstra?
  • 00:31 – When did you first start getting into music?
  • 02:31 – What is your background?
  • 04:30 – How profitable was it for you to play jazz?
  • 06:34 – The importance of networking in the music industry
  • 07:57 – How did the Learn Jazz Standards website come about?
  • 11:09 – How did you come to know that there was a hungry market in jazz?
  • 12:31 – Obsessively practicing as a musician
  • 14:25 – How long did it take for you to build Learn Jazz Standards into a six-figure business?
  • 17:20 – Passive Income Musician podcast
  • 18:29 – Making books for Hal Leonard
  • 21:53 – Why engaging an audience is an important skill in today’s music industry
  • 23:17 – What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
  • 26:21 – What is one of the biggest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
  • 28:57 – Are there any books or resources that have helped you on your journey?
  • 31:22 – Closing thoughts


Coming soon.

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Change Your State of Mind Through the Music You Listen to

Change Your State of Mind Through the Music You Listen to

Have you ever listened to a song and your mood was lifted? Or heard a ballad that made you tear up? Music has a way of integrating within our soul, allowing us to feel emotions, be it happy or sad. With the help of music, you can easily change your state of mind. Listening to particular genres or types of music can help you control your mood, creating a positive outlook on life each and every day.

Music can be used in a variety of ways as a mood lifter. You can incorporate music into your daily schedule as a well-being strategy or you can learn more about the connection between music and mental health.

How Does Music Improve Your Mental Health?

It is the general consensus that listening and creating music can have a positive effect on the mood and mental health of an individual. By incorporating music into your everyday life, you can see an increase in motivation and an elevation of mood. Music can help aid in relaxation which can alleviate stress and feelings of anxiety. Music can also be used to increase the efficiency of brain processing.

Music is not just a form of entertainment. There is a proven link between music and mental health. So, how can you use it in your daily schedule?

Increasing Your Focus

By listening to classical music, you can increase your focus at work if needed. If you suffer from anxiety or stress, classical music can be used to increase the processing function of your brain. At 60 beats per minute, playing the music softly in the background while at work can help you to focus much better on the task at hand.

Expressing Yourself

Do you find yourself frustrated when trying to explain yourself to others? If you are having difficulty explaining how you feel or expressing your emotions, use music. Create your own music with lyrics or strum a tune on the guitar. Express yourself with sound. You can choose to share what you create with others or keep it to yourself as a way of healing.

Connecting with Others

Sometimes a mental health issue can cause social anxiety or other social issues. You may have trouble connecting with others on a social level. You can use music as a connector. Go to shows where the music you enjoy will be featured. Find friends who enjoy the same type of music to help you feel less socially awkward and make new friends.

On a Deeper Level

Music can be used by anyone as a form of personal therapy. Some people feel better by simply belting out a tune while in the car with the windows rolled down. If you suffer from a more debilitating mental condition and need deeper treatment, music can still be of use.

There are aspects of therapy that use music as a tool to help one express themselves as well as work on any issues they have. Examples of music therapy can be found below.

Analysis of Lyrics

Mental health professionals often suggest talk therapy as a way for a patient to express themselves and get out what is bothering them. But sometimes, sensitive topics can be difficult to discuss.

With lyric analysis, the individual has a less threatening approach to talk therapy. A therapist may ask a patient to think of a song that reminds them of their situation. By analyzing the lyrics, more information is presented that helps the professional understand the patient and what they are dealing with.

Finding a song that correlates with the experience can also help the patient work through their mental condition.

Playing Music

While not everyone is a musician, it can be beneficial to play an instrument and focus on musical creativity. Oftentimes, group therapy will include musical instruments. Drums, rain sticks, and other instruments can be provided so a storm sound can be created. The group can escalate the situation as they see fit, letting out emotions as the sound of the storm takes over the room.

The highs and lows created with the music can be discussed and dissected, helping everyone to see how they are feeling with the presentation of music.


Another option for therapy is songwriting. With this outlet, the patient has the ability to express themselves however they like. Creating lyrics can be very therapeutic and reflect the thoughts and experiences of the individual. Instruments and sounds can be used to reflect the emotion of the song with the entire process providing a sense of validation to the patient. Self-worth can be built upon as the patient is able to express themselves in a way that is revealing and raw, letting go of any anger, sadness or other feelings that are contributing to the mental condition.

Once ready, the song can be shared with others, providing a sense of validation in what the patient is feeling and seeing how it affects others. The process of creating a song can be very healing and a great way to let go of major feelings that are being held on to, stopping the healing process from going further.

Recognizing the Power of Listening

It is important for therapy patients to recognize the power of listening to music. Listening to music can help to regulate your mood due to the rhythmic and repetitive aspects of the melody. The brain is calmed, and impulses are reduced. A patient can easily become calm or escape a depressive state by listening to music that affects the brain in a positive way. A music therapist will suggest playing music to match the current mood of the patient and then shift the music to create a calm or positive state of mind.

All form of music can have a therapeutic effect, but it is important to note that every individual will be affected differently by every song. Some people may be calmed by classical music while another might be reminded of a traumatic experience. Upbeat music might put some patients in a cheery and positive mood, while others might feel anxious and stressed. It’s all about finding a balance. A music therapist knows how to work with each patient to find the best form of music treatment that will work based on the individual.


It may take a great deal of time and effort to find the right form of treatment, but once the right path is found, music can be used to heal the mind and body. A patient will begin to feel calm and at ease, learning how to use music to feel at ease, when anxiety or stress becomes overwhelming. No matter the mental health condition, music can be used as a form of treatment to see lasting results.

We can all relate to music in some form or fashion. When you suffer from a mental condition, finding a treatment facility or professional who focuses on music as a form of therapy will help you to feel better and see a noticeable difference in your mental condition.

Learn more about how such therapy can be of assistance by contacting a therapist who specializes in this practice.

125 – Getting the Most Out of Your Social Media Marketing as a Musician – with Monica Strut

125 – Getting the Most Out of Your Social Media Marketing as a Musician – with Monica Strut

Social media can be a massive distraction. But if used correctly, it’s a tool that can help you work smarter instead of just harder.

In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, Monica Strut answers some of the most common questions you’re likely to have about social media and how to make the most of your online presence.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 00:18 – Who is Monica Strut?
  • 00:57 – Social media reset
  • 01:51 – How to fail on YouTube
  • 03:16 – Consistency on social media
  • 04:50 – How important is Instagram?
  • 06:48 – Maintaining brand consistency on social media
  • 07:49 – Using your personal profiles to promote your music
  • 10:45 – How often can you post to social media?
  • 11:38 – How important is social media for musicians?
  • 15:40 – Working smarter not harder
  • 16:40 – Why did you start your business as an artist coach?
  • 20:55 – The issue with traditional business plan
  • 21:48 – Is it overwhelming to offer a lot of different services?
  • 27:55 – What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your business?
  • 29:13 – What has been your biggest victory?
  • 30:07 – Overcoming mental blocks
  • 31:34 – Are there any books that have had an impact on you?
  • 34:15 – Wrap up


Coming soon.

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Vanessa Ferrer of Merch Cat Shares How to Streamline & Increase Revenue with Merch

Vanessa Ferrer of Merch Cat Shares How to Streamline & Increase Revenue with Merch

There are many musicians looking for more ways to monetize their careers.

And yet, a surprising number of them aren’t selling any merch.

Sure, merch requires an upfront investment, but it’s not that hard to make money back on it. Truthfully, it’s low-hanging fruit.

With Merch Cat, you can easily keep track of sales and encourage more of your fans to buy online.

Here’s Vanessa Ferrer, Founder and CEO of Merch Cat to talk more about what’s possible with Merch Cat.

1. Tell us about who you are and what you do.

My name is Vanessa Ferrer and I’m the Founder and CEO of Merch Cat. Before founding Merch Cat, I had a 15+ year career in accounting and finance. I had always been passionate about music, but never really knew what to do with it.

One winter, I was skiing in Vermont and met a guy whose band had just been signed to a NYC Indie label. We kept in touch and when the record was released, and I took an interest in helping them.

I watched that band ultimately implode, and I believe a large part of it was rooted in the fact that there was no core person focused on the band’s best interest. That was when the lightbulb went off for me as to how I could combine my years of biz experience with music and put it to use helping artists.

I started my own management company, InFocus Artist Management, and began moonlighting as an artist manager. Through these endeavors, I saw how important merch was to an artist’s business, and I came up with the idea for Merch Cat when I couldn’t find an app or software out there to use to keep track of the merch business.

A few managers I knew sent me spreadsheet templates and I was just like wow this is crazy. And I knew that if I, as an accountant, didn’t want to deal with it that way, then there were probably lots of other people out there who also didn’t want to, especially artists who were running things themselves.

I held on to the idea for about a year and in 2014 when the company I had been at for 14 years got acquired and the new management decided to outsource my department, it was glaring to me that it was time to dive in to music full-time and take a chance on myself and the idea I had come up with.

By developing my merch management idea, I’d be able to help not just a couple of artists, but could be impactful in a much bigger way. SO here we are…

2. What is Merch Cat? How does it benefit artists?

Merch Cat is a musician friendly iOS app and web platform that helps artists sell and manage their merchandise at live shows. It’s a point of sale system powered by Square or PayPal, with real-time inventory and sales tracking and show analytics. It allows artists to accept cards or cash, tells them what their sales are, what’s being sold at each show, what inventory is sold and what inventory is left. It helps artists streamline their merch business, stay organized and gives them the data to help them understand what their fans are buying or not buying, when inventory is running low, and what is going on in their merch business overall.

We also recently released Merch Cat FAN, a connected direct to fan app that allows fans to buy merch directly from artists in their own app. We did this to help artists expand their reach stemming from the live show to the fans who don’t want to wait on the merch line, don’t want to carry merch around, want to buy merch ahead of time, and those who couldn’t make it to the show.

Fans can buy merch anytime/anywhere, ship to home or pick up at the merch table. They can share the merch that they purchased with their contacts and on social. We collect fan emails, and provide a shipping label to the artist. Inventory and sales from FAN are tracked in one place along with their Merch Cat sales.

3. How can artists make the most of their merch and increase opportunities?

The name of the game is to always have something for fans to buy, and to have the styles and sizes that they want. Any artist who is not paying attention to these factors is leaving money on the merch table. It’s imperative to have merch on hand with you AT shows and live events where 80% or more of merch sales occur. Telling fans to go buy it on your web store will likely be ineffective because merch is an impulse purchase and fans want a keepsake to keep as a reminder of the event. A webstore should be used as a supplement to the live show and fans should be directed there when there are no shows or tour.

Telling fans to go buy it on your web store will likely be ineffective because merch is an impulse purchase and fans want a keepsake to keep as a reminder of the event. Share on X

Artists need to make and sell items that people would want to use and wear. Start small and basic and then when you start to understand who your fans are and what they’re buying, expand from there. When you’re first starting out, consider the practicality of the items you’re making and when in doubt, ask your fans – they are your customer.

4. What are most artists missing when it comes to revenue streams?

Well from what I’ve seen, especially lately, there are too many empty merch tables at shows. Artists who have shows where fans show up should never be without merch. This is the prime opportunity for capturing merch sales and there is no other facet of music where an artist can invest $5, sell for $20 and put $15 directly and immediately into their pockets or bank accounts.

Merch revenue is a low hanging fruit that’s there for grabbing and a revenue stream that can be 100% in their control. I can’t think of any other revenue stream in the music business that’s like it.

Merch revenue is a low hanging fruit that’s there for grabbing and a revenue stream that can be 100% in their control. I can’t think of any other revenue stream in the music business that’s like it. Share on X

5. How can artists improve their marketing and fan engagement?

Good marketing begins with having a good brand to work with, so artists should make a point to invest a little time and thought into their branding, and then have that brand reflected consistently across all of their marketing channels. This is their name, voice, vibe, logo and art, essentially the “face” that they show the world that a fan will look to connect to.

Merch is the physical manifestation of the brand, so once the brand is set, it will be a natural progression for artists to connect to fans through their merch. Some of the ways that artists can use their merch as a fan engagement tool are:

  1. Offer limited edition items and exclusives.
  2. Use merch as rewards for contests, calls to action and crowdfunding campaigns.
  3. Invite fans to contribute to the next merch run by voting on products and designs, or ask them to submit artwork.
  4. Incentivize fans to be brand ambassadors by sharing merch on social and reward them with giveaways like a show ticket or additional merch.
  5. Run specials at the merch table at shows like bundled items, buy one get one 50% off, first 10 fans to the merch table get a free sticker or other item, etc.

6. Is there anything else I should have asked?

Yes – how much is Merch Cat and how can artists sign up?  Artists can sign up for Merch Cat at https://www.merchcat.com and download the app on the iTunes App Store. The platform is just $7.99/month or $84.99 a year for unlimited sales. Merch Cat FAN is a free app on the iTunes App Store. It doesn’t cost anything additional for artists to use the FAN feature, and we take a small commission of 7% of sales.

Final Thoughts

Bottom line – don’t miss out on merch sales!

If you enjoyed this interview, please thank Vanessa on Twitter: @VFInFocus

And, if you have any other questions or thoughts, leave them in the comments section below.

Rise and Run Shares About Their Music & Forthcoming Singles

You know what time it is, right? It’s time for another The Music Entrepreneur HQ exclusive.

And, this time we have something a little different. We had the chance to catch up with the young and talented band, Rise and Run.

They shared with us what they’re looking to accomplish as a band, what some of their biggest challenges have been, how they’ve successfully marketed their music to their audience, and more.

So, here’s Rise and Run to fill us in.

1. Tell us about who you are and what you do.

Austin: We like to think of ourselves as honest musicians who share real life experiences through our songs.

Greg: Just a few kids, with a knack for making music. Writing music that we hope will have a deep impact on listeners.

Micah: A group of musicians that share a common goal to write music that will impact others.

2. How would you describe the music of Rise and Run? What makes you stand out?

Austin: Our music has been described as “fresh” and “forward thinking.” We draw elements from pop and alternative music, but try to venture slowly into untapped stylistic territories.

Greg: It depends what song you are listening to. The guys are right; we are not afraid to explore new musical territory. That being said, we have found a comfortable niche among modern pop lovers.

As far as what makes us stand out, I believe it is the combination of progressive pop and contemplative lyrics. I like to ask questions in our songs, which becomes an invitation for the listener to walk the complex veins of life with us. We value authentic songs that influence people, who will then influence the world.

Micah: I think it draws from a few different styles, but mostly has elements of some modern pop music. What makes our music stand out is that we aren’t afraid of experimenting with different genres or styles and yet shaping them in a way to where they still sound “like us”.

3. You have a couple of singles on the way. What can we expect from these?

Austin: When you listen to “Fantasy and Fiction” for the first time, expect to have some fun listening and relating to the story of a guy who sees his self as “unworthy” of a girl’s affection. I think we can all agree that at some point we’ve struggled with the idea of “This person is too good for me” and we have kind of resented it a bit. This is an anthem for those situations.

Greg: Well, the two singles cover some wide emotional ground. “Fantasy & Fiction” was built with an upbeat paired against snarky-sarcastic lyrics.

If you feel like you have ever been “victimized” in a relationship, this song will resonate. “Constantly” is certainly more melancholy. It
gives voice to how a heart can ache over losing someone you have loved dearly. Listeners can expect to feel soulful vibes inside this track.

Micah: You can definitely expect a fresh new sound. Anyone who has followed Rise and Run should enjoy hearing how our music has evolved. The song “Fantasy and Fiction” in itself is packed full of exciting dynamic changes that leaves you wanting to listen to it over and over again. “Constantly” is such a relatable song about dealing with loss, anyone can listen to the song and feel the emotion and impact from the music and the meaningful lyrics.

4. What are your plans moving forward? What are you looking to accomplish as a band?

Austin: Ultimately our goal is to share our experiences with other people in hopes that they can relate to our story. We’ll keep writing and pursuing outlets to share, whether it’s recording or gigging.

Greg: The long and short-term plan is very much the same. Continue growing our catalog of music and making sure people can hear it. By that measure, our work is already outlined. Write, record, tour, and repeat. We have accomplished a lot that I am proud of, and any success in the future is an added bonus.

Micah: We want to continue to grow our brand, but to also be creating and writing new music to eventually record new music and projects. Working to create new content is a never-ending goal for us.

5. What is your biggest challenge as a band? Do you have any ideas on how it could be solved?

Austin: The biggest challenge I’ve seen is being able to discern the people who are interested in helping us and helping themselves. It can be competitive and cutthroat and we’ve learned that some favors are better left untaken. I don’t know that there’s any way to solve this problem without becoming jaded, so we’ll continue to push forward and make connections we think are genuine.

Some favors are better left not taken. Share on X

Greg: Being in a band is very much like performing a juggling act. It becomes a matter of balance – balance between pursuing music as an art form, and music as a career. Each band member must absorb managerial roles other than being exclusively a “musician.” The music market is robust and competitive, and artists do not have the luxury of “sitting back” and taking it easy. At the risk of sounding cliché, the modern musician must also become a modern marketer of the music they feel so passionately about.

The modern musician must become a modern marketer of the music they feel so passionately about. Share on X

The best solution to this problem is to assemble a trustworthy team around the band. This is something we have already begun and are reaping great results.

Micah: Music is such a competitive market, trying to stay ahead of the game is a big challenge. Music is released daily across many different platforms, and the way to be noticed is to give people a reason to listen to your music. We have to be very direct with what we choose to share and to continue to write new music that will catch people’s ear.

If you want to be noticed, give people a reason to listen to your music. Share on X

6. How important are music sales for you? What’s one tactic you’ve tried that’s helped you sell more music than anything else?

Austin: Unfortunately, sales are the reality of business. If we could write and record for free, money wouldn’t be an issue, but in order to keep releasing content, music sales have to be a major part of our vision.

Greg: Music sales and, specifically, streaming is SO important. Financially, a band cannot depend on music sales alone, but streaming has become the “magic key” to reaching a wider audience. In that respect, landing music on Spotify playlists has enabled us to reach far beyond our regional borders. This does result in higher music sales, but the greater benefit is growing a relationship with fans all across the world who will one day see us at a concert.

Financially, a band cannot depend on music sales alone. Share on X

Micah: Music sales are super important, not only do music sales and streams turn into revenue for the band, but are also an avenue to grow a solid fan base. The more people listening and purchasing your music, gains social proof for the band, which is vital to growing a brand.

7. Thank you for your time. Is there anything else I should have asked?

Greg: This has been an honor for us.  Anytime we get to share the “WHY” behind our music, is a good day. It’s all about going through this life as a team. Everyone has a story, different background, unique way of thinking, but we all breathe the same air. As a band, we know we were created to love one another and walk the oddly shaped spaces of life together. Strength and unity are built when we encounter those highs and lows as a team pursuing our higher calling.  Consider that an open invite to anyone who wants to link arms with the RR team. Thank you once again David.

Final Thoughts

If you enjoyed this interview, please take a moment to thank Rise and Run on Twitter: @riseandrunmusic

And, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave them below.