Stephen Brody: Scheduling Solutions

Since my head is still very much wrapped around Marci Alboher’s book and the concept of “slash careers”, today’s profile is of a singer/web designer. I met Brody in a pal’s office at the University of Maryland several years ago, and he approached us a few years later with a great idea for a scheduling program that’s in beta testing now and will undoubtably make my former administrative interns weep at the thought of all of their lost hours, proofing excel spreadsheets for typos and double-bookings. Here’s his story:

Where did you go to school?
I received a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Loyola University of New Orleans and a Master of Music degree in Opera Performance from the University of Maryland Opera Studio.

Did you want always want to be an opera singer when you grew up?
I grew up wanting to work for NASA. It was my dream as a kid to become an astronaut, and as I grew older I wanted to work in design and development for NASA in Houston, TX – where I grew up.  I was accepted into the College of Engineering at Texas A&M.

Huh! How did you get to opera from there?
In February of 2003, a week after I had been accepted to A&M, my voice teacher called me and my parents into her office. She wanted me to take a year to study music and recommended a baritone named Philip Frohnmayer  who was on the faculty at Loyola University of New Orleans. I was very hesitant and uneasy about the idea – after all, I had spent my entire life wanting to study Aerospace and Mechanical engineering at Texas A&M and actually got in! Texas A&M allowed me to defer a year and my parents convinced me to head down a few weeks later to audition. I figured taking a year off to sing and live in New Orleans would be fun! A month or so later I was accepted as a Vocal Performance major and in the fall I made my way down to the Crescent City to begin my music studies.

The second defining moment came the summer between my junior and senior year in undergrad. I remember the moment precisely; I was sitting in a rehearsal for Il barbiere di Siviglia at Opera in the Ozarks in 2006. I was double cast as Basilio and we were rehearsing the Act 1 finale. I was sitting in the audience studying my score as I watched my colleagues on stage and it was at that moment, that I realized I wanted to be an opera singer for the rest of my life. I loved the rehearsal process, the people, the travel and the craziness & hard work involved in bringing a character to life.

What is your current profession?
I am an opera singer by profession and a web consultant by trade. I think a better title would be ‘operapreneur.’

How does the web consultant piece fit into your operatic path?
I have never stopped performing but over the past five years or so I have embarked on two career paths simultaneously – both dependent on each other. My web design business grew out of friends and colleagues needing websites for themselves, the luxury for me was that everywhere I performed, I was introduced to new prospective clients! Web design became the perfect opportunity for me to fund my opera career without having to get a “real job.”

It has been a very gradual process. I knew even as a student at Loyola that, if I was going to be an opera singer, I was going to need a website to market myself. I didn’t have the money for a custom site and I hated the idea of cheap “cookie cutter” websites – so I set out to build my own.  I am almost entirely self taught as a designer and developer. Everything that I have learned about web design, development and marketing has come through trial & error.

I haven’t opted out of singing, but there have been some major positives and negatives along the way. In 2010, I took most of the year off to concentrate on my finances. I had been hired by a web agency in Bethesda, MD as a web designer with a nice salary, benefits and the like. They were a fantastic company, I learned an immense amount about the web business while I was there and they even let me leave for over a month to perform with Opera Fairbanks in Alaska that summer. While I was working full time, I realized that I was not cut out for a normal 9-5 job; the creativity that I thrived on was stifled by managers and stubborn, “old-school” developers unwilling to embrace new technology and design styles. I longed for my weekly voice lessons and time spent in rehearsals. I hadn’t learned any new music (aside from Masetto for Opera Fairbanks) and found it was increasingly difficult to concentrate on musical matters. A few weeks before the New York audition season began, we decided to part ways.

But you said that you were a web consultant by trade – are you still working in tech at all?
I am! Today, I am the CEO & Co-founder of Schedule Arts LLC. Andrew Lunsford (a tenor whom I met while we were singing with Opera New Jersey) is the President & Co-founder, and together we have developed a web based production scheduling application for arts companies. Our program reduces the time and money required for an arts organization to create and distribute their daily, weekly and monthly production schedules by 50% or more. We provide sophisticated conflict detection to prevent inadvertent double bookings, individual schedules so artists and staff don’t have to search through a maze of rehearsals to figure out their schedule, online request forms to easily organize & manage releases, coachings and rehearsals, along with many more features to reduce the time and stress associated with the production schedule. And it all came out of our mutual frustration with being double-booked for coachings and staging rehearsals!

Did your musical training come in handy in managing your two (very different) career paths?
My careers as both an opera singer and web consultant go hand in hand. My ability to communicate on stage has helped me better communicate with my clients offstage. I am able to calmly work with all sorts of people and create designs that break the mold from the “classical singer” website.

Was there a certain person who directly or indirectly influenced your decision?
Laura Lee Everett has been my cornerstone these past couple of  years. From day one at the Maryland Opera Studio, she worked hard to support me on stage and off. Laura Lee has helped guide both of my careers; providing me with constant advice, testing out my ideas, keeping me focused, and introducing me to invaluable colleagues and contacts. She convinced me to exhibit as a web consultant at the Opera America Convention in 2009 which opened the door for me as an operapreneur and has been an incredible influence with Schedule Arts.

Any advice to share?
My voice teacher in undergrad, Philip Frohnmayer, gave me the best advice; he said, “Brody, the most important thing in this industry is perseverance, to continue on regardless of how hard it gets.” I have never forgotten those words. They have helped me make it through countless 100+ hour work weeks, times where I thought I wouldn’t be hired for any opera, and the hardest times when I’m torn between leaving opera behind or pushing forward. My advice is to always try everything at least once and keep pushing forward – If I hadn’t, I’d probably be back in Texas at Johnson Space Center living a “normal” life. It sounds cliche, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure I would like to have been more prepared for some of my rehearsals or to concentrate a little more on my opera career. My path has been a roller coaster and the random twists and turns have led me to a very bright future – I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Brody will be at the Opera America Conference in Philadelphia next week, unveiling a beta version of the Schedule Arts scheduling program. I hope you’ll join me in checking it out!

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