Meet Svetlana Shmulyian. She’s an incredibly talented artist who I connected with recently. Listen to her terrific album Night at the Movies. When I learned that she was also a management consultant, naturally it made sense to feature her on this very newsletter. Svetlana is able to deftly manage multiple careers, and she’s indeed an inspiration. Her comments below are both entertaining and enlightening.
- Touring, recording musician, vocalist, band leader, songwriter
- Founder, Swing Makes You Sing – organization that offers interactive virtual / hybrid jazz education for kids
- Management consultant
- Social Researcher / Professor
On her motivations for having many careers:
- Part accidental (life that took me through various situations, countries, organizations – and that created new opportunities and ideas).
- But also just the pragmatic reality of life – I came to the US by myself and was lucky to be able to support myself and build a good life. I became pretty good at something – but also knew that this can’t be “the whole thing.”
- Love of adventure (when life presented me with challenges I took them on)
- Passions (always wanted to be an artist – but was really good at math and chose a “safe” career – but passions prevailed)
- I love being a superwoman and a shapeshifter, living twice, three times the life that one usually lives. I take extra pride (to myself) when I can do something well. I am already plotting a new career!
Advice to aspiring multi-careerists
- Do it! Follow your heart – you’ll regret it if you do not.
- Be patient – you are going to suck for a period of time when you take on / return to something new, not measure up to your heroes which inspired you and ignited your love for the field. When you feel low – remember, everybody went through the same trajectory you are going through now!
- Stop comparing – I promise, everyone there are so many ways to where you want to go
- It’s ALL about how much you want it. It is also about LAST MAN STANDING. If you don’t give up you will get closer to what you want
- Try to enjoy the process – vs. be focused on outcomes! Remember, this is why you got into this thing to begin with (loving your voice in the shower, loving making funny figures from clay, loving messing with paints, etc.).
On overcoming obstacles
- Some setbacks are process focused (not feeling good about outcomes of my work, not feeling my songs are any good, my instrument (voice) being not as good as I want it to be, etc.) – these are harder to overcome. Once again, I just have this love for what I do that has me continuing – there is just nothing else I’d rather do.
On how her careers are mutually beneficial
- It is only now that my different skills are beginning to converge – e.g. in creating this new educational offering, I am both doing business development, organizing my team, producing videos and music, writing songs. It’s one big pile of skills that it takes to take this off the ground -and quickly! I love it.
- My business acumen that is just under my skin now has definitely helped me with business aspects of a career as an independent artist – from figuring out business side of recording process, to booking shows, to tour management, to, frankly, seeing through lots of crooks and scam artists that music industry is full of that talk the talk but don’t deliver.
- My business work helps subsidize some of my music work (e.g. recordings) though I am proud to be making a living with both.
On managing personal time
- This is THE most difficult part of it all. I am lucky to have an incredible partner – I would not be able to do what I do without his support; he also sets an incredible example of how to be a great partner, team player and parent – “he makes me a better man”! 🙂
- I mean I am as lazy as the next gal, but I do not need “personal time” per se – I love what I do, doing what I love IS my personal time. I’d love to have a little more sleep and a little more time for physical activity though 🙂
Overcoming the stigma of having many careers
- My first “official” career here in the US was Management Consulting – and also, subsequently, being a professor at Columbia – and I was trying really hard to be serious and taken seriously. I looked really young and was told many times that I “lack grey hair” to be taken seriously. Being known as a “jazz singer in a club” could have put a dent in that – especially when I started and was playing all sorts of stupid gigs. So I purposely misspelled my name in YouTube videos, promo materials to avoid someone googling me and finding out. However as I grew more confident in my artist career I stopped being afraid of being discovered by my colleagues – if anything, I started feeling this is my secret, my super power, something that made me interesting and loved sharing it…At the same time, as I was doing more and more music, I was working with a lot of struggling artists. I started feeling ashamed of having had such a cushy ‘day job.’ But once again, I slowly came to realization that being relatively accomplished in business, a professor at Columbia is actually my secret superpower as well – no one handed me the job or anything else, I came to the US with a suitcase, a guitar and a frying pan (long story on that last one), I worked really hard for many years to create a comfortable life for myself. There is sometimes this vibe in jazz, “chick singer” – you are supposed to be this precious girly thing, and being a powerful business person clashed with that. But I grew more confident and accepting of myself – and enjoy breaking people’s assumptions about who I am and what I am. I am proud to have done (and doing) both.
On how to sublimate ego
- I’ll be honest, I do not think of my career as an artist as an “awesome side career” – it is a primary side of my identity. I went to graduate school for it. I tour (well used to tour before covid 🙂 ) 100+ dates a year nationally (and some internationally) under my name. THIS is what I do. My consulting and teaching work is also not particularly banal – usually projects come to me, I decide to take them because I want to take them and because they work with my life. Given that, as a starting point I do not need to sublimate. I am pretty content in both sides of my professional life. I keep my hair crazy and big both in the office and on stage.
A Day in the Life
- I typically wake up early because my kids are still young and need help getting organized for school – I try to catch up on my sleep late morning or if a day is packed I get my coffee and start my day!
- After that it really depends on what the day presents – I could be driving to the city for a client meeting, rehearsal, gig, my teaching at Columbia, collaborative song-writing session – or a dental appointment…I usually try not to come out of the house for one thing – if there is a break in between meetings, I try to meet a friend. If I am in the city I try to catch a few shows (that is pre-pandemic) and hang with the friends who play – in NYC you can always catch an early show, a main show, and a late set so I try to do that! Or maybe it’s a day when I am doing mom thing – get kids off to school and then catch up on work, contact presenters, develop ideas for next projects, prepare for the next lecture, try to fit in some creative time (be that finishing a song, ideating next recording, working on videos or other materials) and some physically active time. My days are never the same! Being a free-lancer in all of the things that I do creates incredible flexibility – and I enjoy it!
Where to find Svetlana
Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author.
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