How to build your brand as a musician

Season 1 - Episode 4


Michelle Lynne: Hi everybody and welcome back to the Fearless Artist Podcast. My name is Michelle Lynne and today I’m here with one of my dear friends Pieter Schoonderwoerd who’s also a colleague. Pieter, welcome. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Yeah, nice to be here, Michelle. Thanks for the invite. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, I’m excited to talk to you because I have learned so much from you over the last few years.

We both teach entrepreneurship and I’d love to just talk to you today about things that you’ve learned, things that you’ve seen, your take on how artists can build their own personal brands, why that’s important. And yeah, I think that’s the topic of today is artistic branding. And maybe you want to give us already a few ideas about your background on this, where you’re coming from.

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Sure. So yeah, my background is like you, but at some point I, I switched a bit. I started with playing instruments. I started with playing a saxophone and drums as a kid. I went to study drums at Kumulus in Maastricht. A few years later, and then at a point after reaching my dream of becoming a drum teacher, which I thought was one of the coolest things to become as a kid… doing that for five years, around, let’s say my 28th, 29th… I got sucked into the producing side of things, organizing concerts, organizing jam sessions, festivals. You know, like awards, everything related with music. And I kind of built my freelance career in that direction, slowly working up towards becoming a venue director, a venue programmer, a board member of several cultural nonprofits. And I’ve been doing that basically since more or less 15 years now… a variety of roles. Interestingly enough, that passion for music and also the love for organizing and kind of bringing great music to people came together, uh, a few years ago… again, in a new kind of career, which is, uh, teaching in higher music education. So I teach at Conservatorium Maastricht, where you also teach and at Codarts Rotterdam, another school in the Netherlands, and I teach their music entrepreneurship. And that’s what I’m still doing to this day.

And besides that, I work as an artist coach and I help high performing jazz artists mainly with taking the next steps in their career. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah. I mean, you have such real world experience as you’re describing, like you’ve had already such a huge career, you’re based in the Netherlands. I didn’t say that yet.

And working as a venue director, programming bands. I mean, you’ve done the artist manager thing. You’ve done, you’ve seen it all on the ground. And so this is exactly why I think it’s so important that you are teaching in higher education role, because you can literally tell the students like, hey, I know what’s happening.

 Um, I’m not disconnected from the music scene. I see what it’s like on a daily basis. I see what the struggles are. I see what musicians need. I see maybe the disconnect between what the venues don’t understand the musicians need, or what the public doesn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes of the musician.

I mean, the public has a very different audience or, you know, if we’re talking in the classical music world, when people coming into a concert hall don’t really have any idea of what it takes to get the musician on the stage. I think there’s a lot of old mindsets coming in where it’s just maybe thinking it’s really easy for people to get booked or things just kind of happen.

And they’re like, you know, there’s like this whole world that goes on behind it. So I think it’s so valuable for you to have all of this experience. And now you can actually talk to the students also because so much is changing. And I’ll let you get into that. But you know, you were sharing with me before we started about AI, how that’s changing things or like the digital world.

I mean, even the fact of like social media coming into play just in the last 10 years, let’s say of like how to build an artist up and get people knowing about them so what are some of the real world experiences that you’ve had that you think have been so helpful as you’ve pursued your new career in higher education?

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: First of all, a really understanding the organizational point of view. So what does it take for a festival or a venue to put the concert on the map and get it organized and in front of the audience, organizing what they need to do their work effectively, that is really helpful in preparing artist… to give these people that.

So what does a journalist really needs to write a good press release? Or what does it take for a promoter to put on a great show? What do they need from you? Is that a biography? Okay. What does this bio need for them to do their work well… What kind of photos do they need? What is a professional attitude and communication and emails?

And when you’re at the venue… so I really like to give students and the clients who work with this kind of real life experience and share with them another point of view on this, but it really helps to also understand them. Just exactly what you said… to have this empathy for… I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve been on stage, I’ve been stressed and without any rehearsal time, rushed to a stage and tried to perform. So I know their side as well. And I think I can… because of that, give a bit more context and I get their credibility, I think as well. I think they look at me with the more sense of he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been in my shoes.

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, definitely. This all comes back to the main theme, I think, of The Fearless Artist is… things we didn’t learn in school. You know, because I think what you’re describing when you say, what does a journalist need? What does a presenter need? I mean, that is probably nowhere near on the minds of a classical musician.

And you can of course speak from your experience with like jazz and pop students or people who are building their freelance careers. Are they thinking like this? Should they be thinking of this? Why is that important? I think there’s this mindset of just like, let them deal with it. I need to focus on practicing, preparing, which is a very, valid and definitely a big need.

But why is it important for them to have this understanding of what it takes to kind of, let’s say, get booked or to have good working relationships with the presenter, the journalists, all this other side of it. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: I think we’ve both kind of been here in the sense of when I graduated entrepreneurship or career advancement programs were really not the norm yet.

So this was around 2008. So most people I knew that graduated around then either were already completely in a circle and having enough performances and maybe already teaching and doing some other career activities that generated income, or if they just focused on their studies and not really took any steps into the outside world, kind of landed in this black hole.

And… I was always kind of proactive besides school with kind of busy in the real world and having gigs and making connections and volunteering at music venues and trying, you know, learning steps along the way during my studies. But if you didn’t, and this was not encouraged necessarily by the teaching faculty. Right. So if you didn’t, that presented a real big problem with, okay, I’m graduated now. What’s next? How do I generate income? I wanted a musician, but I’m not performing. I’m not recording. I’m not, you know, probably maybe not even teaching or anything like that. So you don’t really feel like a musician. And then you see people maybe after one or two or three years of this, get themselves together and get their career moving or

they might switch to something completely different and give up And for me, when I got the chance to actually start an entrepreneurship program in a conservatory, this was my main motivation, like, well, what would I like to have learned during my music educational experience that would have better prepared me for a music career? And that was my main motivation that I said, you know, I’m going to do this, start this program and help these artists with it.

Michelle Lynne: And you started the program in Maastricht, that’s correct? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: That’s correct, yeah. 

Michelle Lynne: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, this is so awesome. I’ve just admired so much how you’ve structured the program. Maybe it’s helpful to talk about the seven pillars just to give an idea of the overview. One thing that always stuck out to me as your colleague in Rotterdam was that from the beginning said we don’t call them students, we call them artists.

So I’d love to know just as their coach, as their teacher, how do you see your role in preparing their mindset to start to see the value of pursuing real world opportunities now, what’s being drilled into them, especially from the classical point of view for all of the majority of our listeners, I think are classical musicians, like you need to practice. And eight hours a day, and that’s your focus and anything else just kind of followed by the wayside, get into the competitions, get seen by the right people. Like, how are you shaping this next generation? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Well, uh, I’m curious about this… but I think it starts with maybe having a very narrow understanding of the possibilities a career in music offers… that there are so many paths that you can take, but when you’re 18… you’ve probably only seen Taylor Swift on stage…. uh, you’ve been at the Concertgebouw Orchestra for a great performance and admired the musicians in it and thought, I would love to be the first to be one day on a big stage as the solo artist with my name on the bill, and that’s maybe it. And maybe you’ve had a teacher and thought, oh, I might want to teach one day as well, but maybe that’s not for me.

And then that’s the end of the list of possibilities. So I think… my job in year one is to say, you are in an institution and this is Music institution might treat you as students, but I really encourage you to think of yourself as a young artist from day one and act on that identity. So what does an artist do?

An artist composes, write songs, practices, rehearses, collaborates with other people, tries new music, experiments. What do you want to do in year one? What makes you maybe a bit uncomfortable? Let’s stretch yourself a bit within the overwhelm that’s year one of being in a new institution like this, but already starting to take small steps.

Michelle Lynne: So fast forwarding 10 years, let’s say like for the professional classical musicians who need this mindset. Now, let’s say that they played the game. They followed the rules. They practiced really hard. They did the competitions. They waited for the phone to ring.

How can they start to embrace this? Like, I’m a professional and I need to pursue opportunities. Like, how do we create this kind of healthy mindset of going for what they want, rather than thinking that there were only two options for their career. I mean, what you’re saying is completely true. It’s like, you’re a soloist or you’re an orchestra player.

And I hear this with the majority of my conservatory students, what do you want your career to look like? Well, I’m going to play in an orchestra. And so then of course we want to encourage them. If that’s your route, go for it. But then we hear from clients 10 years later who are like, actually, I did that and it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, or it’s an insane amount of work.

And the pay’s not that great. So I actually need to teach on the side or I wanted a family and then I don’t want all my evenings to be at concerts, you know, so how can we help shift this mindset of the entrepreneur pursuing a career that actually fit what you want? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: I kind of challenge people to come up with somebody that only does one thing.

So usually when we think of success, we think very singular and we expect that these artists only do one thing. Well, in fact, they probably record, they probably perform. They have guest performances at other orchestras. They work together with chamber music ensembles. They might give a masterclass left or right, a workshop left or right. Maybe even take a few students. Maybe they get asked to compose for a short film and make some first steps into composition. 

When you start actually checking out the careers of the artists you admire, you will find out, I think in my experience up to now… a hundred percent that not one career is singular, but actually everybody has diverse career paths… does several activities with which they generate income. So my tip would be to kind of allow this plurality to exist, embrace that as a starting point, and then to ask yourself… what am I actually passionate about? Okay. You love performing. Okay. With what kind of projects are there other projects than orchestral or only chamber music or as a solist that kind of spark the flame, what else are you interested in , what else are you good at, what kind of skills do you have or would you like to have… as slowly by kind of thinking about your passions, your interests, the skills you have, maybe what even your direct surroundings needs, what people may be in your community needs and your family needs, or in the city you live at, maybe you see a void somewhere, and you can connect all these dots together… and come up with something new.

And that would be my kind of preaching, uh, spirit to these people. So I guess just look inside, forget about what other people expect you to do and what their definition of success is. Let’s focus on the real world where everybody actually does several things anyways, and allow yourself to be like those people and then find your contribution, what kind of makes you…


Michelle Lynne: I mean, I couldn’t agree more. I think once we really break down what we think other people are doing, especially with the reinforcement of social media, it’s all kind of this facade of people just post the highlights, which is fair enough. Post the performance clips and post the rehearsals, but…

you know, personally, I don’t post about when I have to organize the concert, the work that goes in. I think that takes a lot of people by surprise because what you’re describing, the masterclasses, workshops, all of that still in a classical musician’s brain falls under the category of performing. So that if you attribute success to a performance career, you’re like, of course, I’m going to be playing masterclasses during the summer.

I’m going to be invited everywhere. I’m going to be touring, you know, this is like the dream for a lot of us, right? Because that’s what we’ve been told also is like success means performing. But I think a lot of people are surprised about there’s an organizational aspect that usually is now falling on the musicians to do.

Unless you find someone to do it for you or you join an existing organization. But I’ve attended multiple piano festivals that are organized by the pianists. And so it’s like, well, where did you learn how to run a piano festival? This is a whole different skill set that we just figure out on the fly because we literally have to.

Who else is going to do it? And then you got to figure out funding. So then there’s grant writing, and I know that’s part of what you do with your coaching clients as well. You have a whole service package for this, because the grant writing is a whole separate thing. And so we started including that in our curriculum as well, of starting to look at how to write proper grants.

But I think a lot of this is just Taking people by surprise when they get into the real world. They’re like, okay, I have all these ideas. I have these projects I’d love to be performing. Oh yeah. How do I get there? So this is a great segway into artistic branding and setting yourself apart and being unique in the field, which is like your total expert area.

So I’d love for you to talk to us about… Your introduction to becoming a branding as an artist and maybe a segway for how people can start to think of themselves as a unique personal artistic brand. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Sure. All right. So let’s start then with branding. So branding is already an old word. It’s been around for a long time, right?

And it’s kind of historic roots are a bit in burning cattle and saying this car is mine. So traditionally, a few thousand years ago already, there was mainly an ownership function for branding. This is my, I put a stamp on this basically. So we look now a bit more into the modern day. It’s so much more than a logo. The logo is nice to have, but it’s not what branding is or is about. So what is branding? Let’s start with having two perspectives on it. First, let’s say from the outside in. So from the perspective of other people. I like as a way of thinking about it is the set of perceptions, emotions, expectations people have, memories people have about you, the stories they have about you as an artist. So basically what people think and feel about you. Right? So branding is in the eye of the beholder. 

Michelle Lynne: Okay. So it’s kind of like your reputation or something. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: It’s your reputation, but then with everything that comes with it, right? Also the gut feeling, not just do they know your name? Yes or no. So, what’s really a bit more about it.

It’s kind of, what do people expect when they come to your live performance? Do they expect something intimate, personal? I’m just kind of thinking of what I would expect from your live performance, Michelle… I would expect something intimate and personal with some storytelling, right? Some jokes, some humor and a positive, let’s say, overall, uh, kind of an optimistic, positive vibe to it. Right. That’s what I would expect from you and that’s branding. And then if I look at somebody else, I might expect the total opposite. And then if you really don’t deliver that, then you can say somebody’s on brand or off brand. So from the perspective of the artist, I see branding more as a giving a promise.

 If you’re going to act with me, if you engage with me, if you come to my show, if we work together, collaborate together, if you hire me as a band leader, right, the experience is going to be like this… and this is where these two meet. You’re sending signals out, some people pick a few of these signals up… and they form an opinion on you. That’s what you don’t have under control…

what they think and feel about you, you can only control your contribution to that process. And that’s what branding is all about, sending out the right signals. 

Michelle Lynne: Branding is a promise. I’ve never heard it explained like that and I love that. Because that indicates trust. When the promise is delivered and your audience has the experience that they anticipated based on what you’re saying, they picked up the signals that you were giving out, they could assume how the experience would be, or they’ve already seen you in concert and they come back cause they enjoyed the first time… and that promise is delivered.

So that’s creating trust with your audience. And of course we know trust is the most precious thing that we can build. Okay. I love that. What do you tell classical musicians who have no idea how to create some kind of artistic brand? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: So to say it’s a promise, right? It’s not necessarily very tangible and helpful in a very concrete sense, right?

So it’s a great starting point as a meta version of branding, where we have to make it more concrete. So if we say branding is to creative and personal expression of your identity and actions, which can include what you say on stage. What you post on social media, anything that has an activity involved, or your words as in what does your biography say about you? What do you say on your Spotify profile, your Instagram bio? Like everything where you use words in a press release about your new upcoming album or concert series. What do you say about it? Which words do you choose? And the third one for me is everything that has to do with imagery. So photos, videos, and everything visually included in that. So your artwork, uh, the colors you use, what you wear as clothes, the position you’re, you know, everything that has to do with visual communication. Those three, so your actions, the words and imagery. All combined is what shapes your brand. So on those things, you can start to creatively work as an artist.

Michelle Lynne: I love that actions, words, and visuals.

Speaking from classical musicians, I think we have underestimated the power of visual branding because we’ve been taught concert black. And then cool people like Yuja Wang started showing up and then everyone rips her to shreds because she actually has some kind of individuality with her wardrobe and everyone starts hemming and hawing over is this acceptable… and it’s taking away from the art and it’s distraction and… so there’s been a lot of discussion over what’s acceptable or not because we’re all just too serious.

All of us classical musicians. We’re all way too serious, we’re not cool like the pop kids. The one guest lecture I gave for your pop class, these students, artists, walked in and I was like, whoa, you guys are definitely not classical musicians. They were so cool. They all had their hair all styled and their outfits, like we need to learn so much from your world.

Okay, so visual… especially with chamber music groups, there you have more leeway… but in an orchestra setting, it’s black on black. So…. tell us more about the actions and the words. I heard you mentioning like all the professional platforms that you want things to kind of align. But a lot of people are saying, what do I even talk about? What do I post? Like I just play, do I just post my playing on Instagram? How do I interact with people in a way that reinforces my brand? A lot of musicians are still getting comfortable with actually talking to the audience. That’s also kind of a no, I think…. what I’m hearing in myself is we’re coming up against a lot of old school mentalities of what classical musicians are like, quote, allowed to do.

I know a lot of them who are uncomfortable talking to the audience. A lot of them are uncomfortable posting their playing because they’re going to get criticized or judged by their colleagues. Um, the fashion thing I already mentioned. So how are you considering these things? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: If you put these all together, if I just listened to you, it sounds like a whole mountain to climb.

And this can scare people off, right? If you say all the things you have to have in order, people might just walk away and not reach with it. So what we have to do is exactly the question you’re asking me is like, how can we make this kind of smaller, create an overview in the sense of… oh, I can do this step and then this step, and then this step.

So for me, the first starting point is language. We need the words to actually express our brands. We have to understand what we are trying to say, which means we have to have certain words in our minds. So which words describe you as an artist? So I call this brand strategy, right? Which is just, who are you? That’s the question we’re trying to answer. So for instance, uh, you can do some personality tests… just to get outside perspectives with an analysis on your personality, where maybe a few of words in it really resonate with you. So you know, that I use the Archetype tests for this… which is a theory by Carl Jung, a psychologist that you can look up.

Michelle Lynne: Yeah. We’re going to put the link to that in the show notes, cause it’s a really helpful quiz. Maybe you can explain what an archetype is for those who don’t know. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Yeah. So it comes from a psychology that says that around the world, no matter if you are, let’s say in China or in the Netherlands… there are 12 universal personality types.

I can name a few from them, but let’s imagine the every man… or every woman, that is kind of like a Ray Chen, you know, like approachable, accessible… Ed Sheeran, you just feel like you could sit next to this person in a bar and have a conversation. That’s Archetype. I think we can all think of somebody regardless of genre that embodies that kind of approachable Archetype.

He also has the rebel, so you can think Bob Dylan. Somebody against the grain that’s always find their way of doing it and always have this kind of controversial, rebellious, anti kind of a way of branding themselves… which is used a lot by a lot of people. Another one could be, the ruler, Queen Bee, right? Christian Scott, who has this kind of royal, really kind of, I’m the leader, I’m in charge, uh, kind of mindset. 

It’s more about, can you find some words in it that actually really described you well. So it’s just experiments that you’re doing. You can also ask your friends… which words would you use to describe me? What words would you use to describe my sound of my way of performing way or around me? Just the same thing, right? So it can be tests, it can be family and friends, just to find the words. Then what I usually do is to think about your values, your principles. So what do you stand for? What truly matters to you?

Then with already these two, so if you would have your archetype, or if you would have your core values… kind of look at your bio as a starting point and just say… right now you say you are a classical composer… and I would ask you, can you put one word in front of classical composer… is that an adventurous classical composer, a rebellious, a contemplative, an intuitive, an energetic… what is the words just to start playing with it… that would give more color to your personality in this very functional bio that you probably have at the current moment. And then we can start playing with language… you find the words and then you start playing with them. How can I integrate the meaning of these words or the concrete word itself into text, how can I play with it?

And your bio is the perfect playground for this. 

Michelle Lynne: Oh my goodness, I love this because my brain just went in a hundred different directions when you said adventurous, curious, playful, intuitive. I mean, immediately you have a different vision of what that artist is or the composer, as you were saying, and how much more can you then, as you’re saying, try things out and say, does this fit me or not?

Does this feel authentic to me or not? And if we’re talking about helping musicians create an authentic brand. Because a lot of them don’t want to come off as this fake diva, got it all together… everything’s perfect. You know, here’s the facade. It’s like, no, I want to be real and I want to have a real connection with my audiences and I want to play real music.

Who am I? I mean, these are deep questions, but when you present it like this… do a personality type test, talk to your friends, pick three to five words. I’ve heard you to teach this before. This is what people can remember about you on average. Let’s say a public, as a public figure, three to five things, of course your best friends know you better.

And then you stick with those three things and create at your image around these authentic pieces of you. So it’s not fake. It’s not this image of you. I think that’s where a lot of people might get afraid of these kinds of discussions because they think, oh, I don’t want to be this like Hollywood fake person and we see it all the time on Insta. That’s the other problem is that this negative messaging is reinforced to us all the time and unfortunately that content is the kind of content that performs really well on socials. You know, the staged things are like only the highlight reel. So then people think, well, I definitely don’t want to be that.

So then I don’t know what to do. So I won’t say anything. And they kind of pendulum swing to the other side, which is really unfortunate because, you know, then they don’t have any room to express themselves. So I love that. That’s a really great starting point. So once people start playing around and the bio, I mean, that is a whole can of worms that you’re bringing up because the average classical musician, it reads, you know… so and so started at five years old and played this competition and won this and studied with these teachers and… says nothing about them personally.

So what’s your advice for a classical musician who’s basically nervous or apprehensive to kind of stick their neck out and be one of the first to present themselves in a more unique, creative way? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: So it depends on what your goal is. And I see a bio also as a creative opportunity to kind of express your personality and to forge kind of connections with people.

And these connections can be programmers. These connections can be journalists, can be potential fans. And kind of realizing that all these people need something more than just your list of achievements and chronological career overview. Maybe a fan would like to know why did you start making music?

What draw you to it? You know, or what are you trying to express or what influences or inspires you? And maybe a journalist wants to know what’s currently happening in society. Is there any way your art kind of reflects that or is interacting with that? What’s the story behind it? Everybody has different needs and is looking for different things.

So you write this bio, not to kind of meet a norm that’s being culturally constructed, but actually I would say falsely constructed in that sense, because it doesn’t give the people that read your bio, what they need. Instead, just focus on, I am writing this for other people to either do their work as a journalist or a programmer or a marketeer, right?

Or as somebody who’s interested in you and just wants to know more about you. 

Michelle Lynne: You’re making a really good point about something you’ve taught on before, which is different tailored versions of your bio based on the audience. So if you’re bringing fans onto your website, they don’t need that full bio that tells them, you know, which awards… you know one of the first things I learned when I moved to Europe, so I didn’t do the big competition circuit. But I did do one competition in Quebec where I studied that was quite significant and I did well in it. And for me, that was like a really big deal. And then I moved to Europe and I realized nobody had any idea what this competition was, what it meant, or that I had done something with it. Nobody understood.

To them, it could have been like just one of the Chopin competition level competition. So then I realized, wow, all of that for nothing in a sense, because we attribute so much significance to things that don’t have that, as you already said, a branding in the eye of the beholder. If the audience doesn’t understand, it literally doesn’t help build their connection to you.

Unless it is one of the top competitions like showpenner or something like that. That’s really interesting to have the bio tailored to what the audience wants. So you’re saying a classical musician can start to discover their core values, insert them into the bio, create a bio based on their goals, who they’re trying to reach, that brings it to an audience.

Do you think that there should be more of a shift of them looking to reach an audience directly rather than relying on the concert series that booked them or the concert hall or… what’s your take on that? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Yeah, there’s something to say for both because both should do this, of course. I mean, organizers have the responsibility, often they get subsidy for this as well, to do audience development and also to develop young artists and already recognized artists.

So it’s also the job as an organizer to do marketing and promotion. It is. But it’s not only about selling tickets or about having a thousand likes on your Instagram, this building a fan base… if the word fan or fan base doesn’t work for you as a musician, maybe you can think of the word community. Or find a different with your public, your audience, your friends, whatever you want to call them.

Michelle Lynne: Building an audience that fits more into the stereotype classical world, I think. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: And just see it more as a way to communicate with people, as a way to build relationships with people. And that’s what it’s about. Because if you want people to actually care about you and come to a concert. It would really help the organizer if you have already connections with people and people feel loyal to you and are interested in what you want to do and want to see you perform, then it’s just a win win for both.


Michelle Lynne: Because they know that you’ll bring your audience with you if they book you. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Yeah. And for, as an organizer, I really take this sometimes in, into the account. And I think like, Oh, I like both artists equally artistically… the quality is similar. There’s no discussion… which one do I take? And then sometimes you do look at their socials and you see who has more of a reputation in the Netherlands has more of a fan base in the Netherlands, then I go for that one. Although both of their artistic quality is equal. So it’s, it plays a role as an organizer. 

Michelle Lynne: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s a message I wish every classical musician could hear.

We are just so drilled into us. You need to practice and be really good and then it’ll be okay. But more and more, it’s like, well, there’s a lot of really good musicians. So how can you define yourself, set yourself apart? And if you have a unique artistic brand, if you have a direct connection to your audience, if you have people who will come… rather than choosing a different concert or sitting at home watching Netflix that night. They want to hear you. They’re going to bring their friends. I mean, that is all leverage that you can use to get more concerts, get more performances, if that’s your goal. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: It’s true. It really helps. It makes a difference.

Michelle Lynne: So you teach a minor at Codarts on branding, and I know that some of your students have turned in unique artistic brands that kind of blew you away. I’d love to hear if there was some memorable student that popped out to you and what result do you think that will bring them or benefits that you see?

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Yeah. So it’s the minor branding at Codarts. It’s a 16 week long branding course, two hours per week. And every week there’s a theoretical concept. So like the archetypes, for instance, we talked about all the core values. And then some exercises related to that. And then with the goal to every time for the brand book deliver something concrete that should be part of a brand book.

So for instance, a biography that’s really branded and completely fits you and your audience. And that brand book consists of all of these pillars. Do you have press photos? What are your house style colors? What is your music description or your repertoire description? All of these kinds of questions are really concretely answered in it so that you can give it to a graphic designer or a record label or a publisher or a photographer and just say… this is who I am, read it, check it out, let’s work together, and they can do a better job because they understand you deeper than just reading the superficial achievement bio that you wrote five years ago. So the brand book is really, let’s say an instrument for that. It’s like a deep dive into yourself and you have to visualize it. Okay. So if students have it. It’s amazing what can happen. So for instance, I was working with an artist, a singer, songwriter.

She took the brand book to a major label records discussion. So she was invited by a major label for potential collaboration signing by them. And she brought this whole brand book and the label was so impressed. It was like, wow, you really know where you are. You got it all figured out. You have everything already installed. This will save us so much work and investment. And she got signs because she did work and could also really say, this is who I am. And avoids maybe a bit of common let’s say, oh, you’re the girl next door, or you are a very sexy artist and this is how we’re going to brand you. She could already voice her humanity better, her artistic vision better.

And also avoids these kinds of traps that can happen with record labels as well, when they go really commercial. 

Michelle Lynne: What that is so encouraging to hear that gave her that leverage. And also, I really like what you’re saying about them not having to force her into a box because she came already with, oh, like I know who I am as an artist.

This is what I bring to the table. Does it fit this label or not? They said, yes. That’s amazing. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: I’ve, I’ve other students that got endorsements. You know, from,Taylor guitar from great brands… it just becomes very clear for other people, what you stand for and that makes it for industry players like record labels or publishers or managers or booking agents or companies like in instrument builders, et cetera.

Uh, it becomes very clear what you stand for then also easier for them to find you. And to say, Oh, our values, what we stand for aligns with yours… hence, it’s logical that we work together. If you don’t say all those things, and if your branding is very generic, like everybody else, then why would they approach you?

Why would you be a match for them? So I see just opportunities open up with everybody that does these things because you become more clear for everybody else. And they will find you instead of you just sending emails to everybody.

Michelle Lynne: I have another perfect example of one of your students Sterre Hond, piano player at Codarts, that you’ve worked extensively with her, I think one on one coaching. And she recently did our workshop at The Fearless Artist, how to build a fan base and took it seriously. And she started posting on brand content consistently. And we were just talking about people will find you. She was reached out to by Keihard Klassik, which is in Utrecht, a big podcast.

And they brought her on for a live interview podcast, also with Weeby, who is a super famous pianist. And they were showing this contrast between a pianist at the beginning of the career and a pianist further along in their career. She got this massive opportunity and exposure and visibility because of her socials, because she was connected to her brand, kudos to you for investing and teaching this to so many young artists who are then doing the work and saying, okay, let’s try this and look what can happen as you’re saying.

Opportunities will find you. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: What I like about the example you just mentioned. Is that from the inside out with the branding, we kind of discovered something that she almost thought as something she never conceded for artistic career, which just that she has this ability to see colors when she hears music, right?

For her, this was just synesthesia exactly. This was just separated from her artistic career. She was a classical pianist. I have to just play the Schumann and play all the repertoire. And she never considered that she could really work with this other talent of her, namely that she sees these colors. And now it’s kind of fueled her and gave her the confidence to start writing her own compositions.

And really from this inside out approach, like what are your skills? What else do you bring to the table? What are you interested in? Yeah. I’m actually also interested in kind of minimal music and these composers and that kind of thing. Why don’t you start composing and maybe record a bit and just develop this career path and see where it takes you.

And now we’re two years later and she’s on been on national Dutch television several times, on Dutch radio several times. She has gigs with it. She has now collaborations with theater makers and completely different art disciplines that are finding her and find it interesting. And I’m like, we want to work with you together.

And she’s now even improvising and kind of a theatrical context which she fought a year ago, she would never ever do. So it’s just expanding and expanding. And I think this is it. If you really kind of look deeply into yourself and also then after courage, of course, which she has. To act on it. 

Michelle Lynne: I think we would call that the fearless mindset.

Yes, she definitely has it. Sarah, if you’re listening, we’re proud of you as your teachers. We are very proud of you. Okay. Looking ahead, Peter, you’ve given us so much wisdom today. I’m astonished. I’m like super inspired by this. I need to run and go redo my bio. I love what you shared about core values. One of the best tips I think you gave today is asking a friend how they perceive you, and you just did that for me a few minutes ago… you know, you’ve attended a live show and you gave me your perception that just reinforces to me. How I’m coming across on stage and to continue to choose those actions, as you said, actions, words, and visuals to reinforce that brand that I’ve chosen for myself. So any artists listening, you know, ask your friends, what are the people saying to you when you walk off stage? What is their perception of your performance?

And that is how you can start to get these glimpses or hints of your artistic brand that you can then pursue and develop. And then of course you want to create a content strategy about that, which is what will help you do it if you’re this artist. Yeah, Pieter, give us like looking ahead, how can people embrace this and run with it?

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: So looking ahead, I just really hope that everybody listening to this kind of starts to see arts and everything business or entrepreneurship or branding related as parts of the same thing. Both require you to be personal, both require you to be creative to express yourself in it and to build deep connections. You can do that with your art and you can do that through communication with people through different means, such as your marketing or social media or newsletters or emails that you send. So start to kind of merge these things. I know there’s a lot of people have them separate. There’s a box around art and there’s a box around business when literally both can be very personal and creative.

So that would be my first one. Try to put really humanize it and make it creative everything you do, not just your playing. Uh, that’s my first pitch. I think if you can do that and infuse everything you do with more of you, that’s really branding. 

Michelle Lynne: I love that. Would you even say that you would call it your art as a business?

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: I think you should run with that. That would be a great name. 

Michelle Lynne: That’s what Pieter named our class at Conservatory Maastricht, which I now proudly teach to the classical students. This week we’re wrapping up communication and talking about some great fundraising tips. So, Pieter, I think everybody listening needs to book a one on one with you because what you just gave us was so insanely valuable.

So how can we find you? How can we follow you? How can we get coached by you? 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: So you can find me on yourjazzcareer. com. You can send me an email there if you want. I also have my telephone contact there. So just reach out if you’re interested in working together. I do several packages around branding or kind of reaching other career strategy points.

So like a recording or fundraising as Michelle already mentioned before. So yeah, just reach out and we’ll take it from there. 

Michelle Lynne: And you also have an ebook about how to write a biography, which I think would be helpful for a lot of people. So that’s on your website, yourjazzcareer. com. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Correct. 

Michelle Lynne: Perfect. Thank you so much for your time today.

It’s been so inspiring to have you. You are always such a ball of wisdom for me personally. So I really appreciate it. 

Pieter Schoonderwoerd: Thanks, Michelle. And you too, you’re really inspiring me as well with everything you’re doing and out podcast, it’s great. 

Michelle Lynne: Yes Yes! Thanks everybody for listening and we’ll see you next time at the Fearless Artist.

Pieter Schoonderwoerd –

Brand Archetypes Test –


  • Pieter Schoonderwoerd

    Entrepreneurship Educator |

    From drumteacher, director of a jazz organization, programmer at a large music venue, artist career coach, non-profit board member, cultural economist, and music entrepreneurship lecturer at several Dutch conservatories. After 15+ years as a professional in the Dutch music sector in a variety of roles, I realized I have a gift for combining creative thinking with strategic clarity. It helped me increase visitor attendance by 300% at Jazz Maastricht, and successfully applied to 20+ Dutch funds for support, including FPK, Pr Bernhard Cultuurfonds, AFK, VSB Fonds, BNG Cultuurfonds, Stg. Zabawas and Stg. Dioraphte started several companies and helped probably 995+ emerging artists build sustainable music careers.

    Some see me as a coach, others as a fundraiser, an endangered few as a musician, and the international jazz world knows me as chair of the VNJJ. I describe myself as a “Possibilist” – I think in and make artistic and business possibilities happen.