Playing to Win: How Music Can Lead to Professional Success
The Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition brings the most talented pianists from around the world to the city of Fort Worth. Thirty competitors (ages 18-30) are selected to participate in this competition, vying for a chance to win cash prizes, career management, and international acclaim.
An accomplished pianist himself, Warren Douglas Advertising CEO, Doug Briley, knows a thing or two about the determination that exists in musicians, and how it often translates into driven, teachable and successful professionals.
At what age did you begin playing piano?
Doug Briley: I started at age nine, which is actually a late start for someone who wants to make it a career; I wanted to be a concert pianist. Time stopped when I played the piano – I could play it for hours. I started competing and playing recitals, and I couldn’t wait to learn more music. The ultimate punishment when I was young was being grounded from playing the piano. That’s how I knew I really messed up.
Do you still practice?
DB: I wish! With four kids and owning a business, I don’t have much time for anything else. I really do miss it, and I realize now how indulgent it is to play. Being a great pianist is like being an Olympic athlete, you must practice all the time, constantly trying to better yourself.
How did you transition from the piano to marketing?
DB: After I finished my master’s in Michigan, Rebecca and I were getting married and I needed a job. I didn’t have the right degree to teach music, so I approached a temp agency that got me a job at Mrs. Baird’s in the marketing department.
What are some of the key traits you developed as a pianist, outside of playing?
DB: I developed both the creative and analytical side of my brain. When you’re tackling a 30-minute sonata or a long piece of music, you have to put a concrete plan together for something that is abstract – that is a remarkably practical way of thinking that directly applies to marketing.
What similarities do you see between the skills of a musician and those of a savvy marketer?
DB: With marketing we have challenges that don’t have only one solution, and we have to figure out the best approach to tackling a long-range marketing challenge. Both musicians and marketers should be looking for ways to improve themselves every single day.
One of the things I discovered early on about hiring people who have musical training is they seem to have a self-imposed standard of excellence that doesn’t have to be taught. They know how to keep working on something until it’s ready by their own standards, whether it’s a strategy brief, Keynote presentation, spreadsheet or creative layout. They aren’t threatened by constructive feedback, rather they ask for it. “What am I learning to do that’s new?” People with high performance discipline seem to get that better than those who haven’t experienced that type of discipline.
What advice do you have for professional musicians looking to transition into business?
DB: I actually look for people who have a performing or visual arts background. It may not seem important in a business context, but it helps me understand what they’re made of – who are you and what kinds of things are you driven by? They should find a creative or relevant way of putting that into their resume.
What advice do you have for college students currently studying music?
DB: It’s not as imperative to get a degree in the field you want to have a career. I think what’s important about college is that you learn about yourself, how to work, and how to learn the consequences of your choices. It teaches you a lot about work ethic, solving problems, developing a whole brain and critical way of thinking. I would encourage people to pursue a degree in music because it will prepare you for the future.
What is your favorite piece of music to play?
DB: Anything by Bach, Prokofiev, and Brahms
What is your favorite piano to play?
DB: Bösendorfer or Fazioli
When are you most inspired to play?
DB: Every time I go to a concert, hear the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, or when the Van Cliburn is going on, it makes me get very nostalgic. I wonder if professional musicians have taken for granted how lucky they are to have a career where playing music is their responsibility. That is a luxury, when your responsibility is to be that good at something.
Is there anything you would like to add?
DB: If any Cliburn competitors are disappointed with their outcome, come apply at the WD. A career in music is a luxury, and there aren’t as many spots in the world for one as there are talented people.