The Conservatory Graduate at the Deli Counter: Why musicians should always think about finance

#MusiciansandFinance is musicovation’s blog series exploring finance for musicians. All posts are contributed by graduate students in New England Conservatory’s Entrepreneurial Music course  Finance 101: What Musicians Need to Know taught by NEC alum Jessi Rosinski

by Ari Sussman

I am a baccalaureate in classical composition from one of the most prestigious conservatories in the United States. I am pursuing an advanced degree at the same conservatory in the same field of study. I have been playing music since I was five and I have been writing music since I was about eleven. Music is a passion of mine that I have always wanted to pursue in some obscure form or another.

The $1,000 question is, (gee, that sounds nice), why am I working at a deli counter scooping potato salad into plastic cylindrical containers? Why am I slicing hams, turkeys, and cheeses and neatly layering and placing them upon each other in taped wax paper for consumer purchase?

Well, I should probably clarify. My parents owned a very successful deli, restaurant, and catering company in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia.As the recession hit, my parents had to sell the business of about sixty years that my grandfather passed down to my father. As a kid, I used to work in the deli as a cashier’s “helper”, and of course, scooping potato salad into plastic cylindrical containers.

With the success of the business, I lived a jovial and problem-free childhood, attending private Jewish schools from preschool through High School. While my parents worked endlessly to provide me (which I now cannot even begin to show my appreciation to them for), I also became exposed to the art of classical music. The music immediately spoke to me, and I began taking piano lessons.

I got good at music. Really good, in fact. I concertized as a kid and as a teenager, playing Beethoven Sonatas and Bach Preludes and Fugues in concert all throughout the Philadelphia area. I began writing music. As High School blew by, I (like to think that I) got pretty good at that, too. While I am by no means attempting to boast or brag, I think it caught my parents by surprise that the only son of deli owners was going to pursue a career in classical music.

By then however, things began to become, to say the least, interesting. It is now close to eight years since my parents sold their business; just another victim of the vicious recession that hit this country not long ago. My parents continued to endlessly provide for my lessons and education, despite having no flow of income.

After graduating High School and moving away from home for the first time to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, this determined, hazel-eyed, and naïve freshman was ready to take Boston by storm. Unfortunately, I immediately began to learn about how to handle money in a way I never had to before. Can I afford that $5 coffee with no steady income? I was losing money like there was no tomorrow.

By my sophomore year, I had a steady part-time job, making up for the lavish freshmen year losses. After completing my undergraduate degree having had multiple part-time jobs around Boston, my parents always gave me the financial advice that I needed, teaching me how to not get overly excited over that huge pay check, and how not get too down over that one major expense. I soon began to realize that the wealth my parents accumulated in my innocent childhood was never spoken of around me. Likewise, the losses my parents began to accumulate while I was in high school and college was never discussed around me.

My parents have taught me so much about handling financials, sometimes without even uttering a word. I see these abilities in them, and it is something I greatly admire. To be quite honest, I am always thankful for it as well. With all of this help that my parents have given me, I feel confident in my abilities to handle my financials in the future.

Now, I am a Master’s student in conservatory. I only have half of the time that undergraduates at “real colleges” get to put themselves into the job market and help stimulate our nation’s economy. Here I am, that once happy adolescent who discovered and wholeheartedly embraced classical music. Just like many of us, I am now struggling to figure out what to do with my life after school. I have had the great opportunity to take a class on managing finances at NEC. In such a short time, I learned about handling taxes, how to negotiate, managing my budgets, and so much more.

With all of these tools learned, it has made me more aware of not only how I will spend money, but also how to make money, balance out money flow, and make ends meet. If I need to travel somewhere for a major musical opportunity, I now have the tools to be able to attempt to cover the costs of travel, lodging, food, etc. If I am able to “land” a gig playing the piano at a major event, I now know some useful and important negotiation techniques to plead my case for how much money I should be making.

After having taken this class, I feel so much more confident in my abilities as a musician to go out into the world. However, it is a big world out there. Who knows? Hopefully I will not be scooping ice cream. Or better yet, potato salad.

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