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Scholarship Interview: Nicole Riccardo Flutist, Music Teacher and Digital Media Expert

This month's interview is with Fine Arts Society scholarship recipient and flutist Nicole Riccardo.  Nicole graduated Magna Cum Laude from Florida State University with degrees in Music Performance, earning her Bachelor's degree in 2012 and her Master's degree in 2014.  She resides in Austin, TX where she is a professional classical musician, music teacher (in public school and by private instruction in her own studio) and is Founder and President of her own digital media agency.

Born and raised in Sarasota, Nicole explored a variety of art forms before deciding music was her calling.  "Growing up, I was always the creative one in my family.  I took watercolor classes, studied dance and started piano lessons and singing in the choir in first grade.  I picked up the flute in fourth grade, but it wasn't until years later – as I sat listening to my best friend play The Beatles' Let It Be on her violin – that I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life," says Nicole.

As a youngster, Nicole was consistently honored in various Young Artist Competitions.  Among her fondest memories as a young musician include two performances at Carnegie Hall – one with the Sarasota Youth Orchestra and the other with Booker High School.  Nicole credits Booker's college counselor Mr. Lem Andrews with guiding her to apply for scholarships.  She notes, "I am so grateful to Mr. Andrews for encouraging me.  Without him, my flute instructor Betsy Traba (principal flutist with Sarasota Orchestra) and Professor Eva Amsler at FSU, I would not be the musician or person that I am today.  And without scholarships like the one I received from the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, I would never have been able to afford to attend college."

While in college, Nicole was the Executive Director of Force Majeure Woodwind Quintet.  In addition to playing the flute, Nicole also handled grant writing, artist management, tour management, community outreach, design of print and electronic materials, newsletters, thank you packages, concert programs and notes.   While it may not have been apparent at that time, these actions and acquired entrepreneurial skills would be critical to her future success.

After graduating from FSU there were no sustainable music jobs in sight.  "Going to college to train as a classical musician we are conditioned to believe that the only two sustainable career paths are orchestral musician or college professor, but the reality is when you graduate only a very small percentage of these jobs are actually available and trying to win one takes most musicians YEARS.  So, I ended up in my own worst nightmare…a normal 9-5 job in the medical industry.  I came home almost every night so exhausted that I had no energy left to practice.  My life went from spending the previous fifteen years being consumed by music to having absolutely no time for music.  I spent more lunch breaks than I can count crying in a bathroom questioning if I made the right choices for my life." says Nicole, adding "The breaking point came when I was offered the opportunity to join Josh Groban's Florida tour and my employer wouldn't let me take the time off.  Everything I had worked so hard for was slipping away and I didn't want that to be my future.  I was determined to create the life that I dreamed of so I changed my mindset, set goals and began practicing again.  I implemented all of the branding and marketing know-how I had been building up in my normal job.  I re-did my website, started using social media more intentionally and starting pitching to create the opportunities I had been sitting around hoping would just come my way.  It was a lot of late nights and sticking with it, but I was able to use these skills to create a life where I do what I love every single day and get to help other musicians not have to go through what I did!" says Nicole.

A visit to Nicole's website reveals a tagline:  "Classical Musicians, Meet Modern Marketing."  Just being talented is not enough anymore.  Having a website and printing brochures is not enough, either.  I watched so many talented musicians forced to leave music and have to pursue different career paths in order to support themselves and pay their bills. It's so heartbreaking watching others have to give up on their dreams, and after realizing I had the knowledge to help them, I made it my mission to do just that.  I feel like my calling in life is to help give other musicians the business and marketing know-how they need in order to create their own sustainable and profitable careers." says Nicole.  She adds, "After building my career, I started receiving a lot of messages from other musicians asking how I did it.  This is actually what led me to start the media agency and creating my 8-week digital coaching program for music entrepreneurs where I teach them the step-by-step process I went through when I built my own career."

"Trying to win an audition or an orchestral position is like trying to win the lottery.  Musicians - especially classical musicians - and other creative artists need to take control of their professional futures by doing the things that get them job opportunities by monetizing their efforts." notes Nicole.

Nicole definitely practices what she preaches.  In addition to her online program and media agency, Nicole has a robust social media presence, a blog, multiple podcast interviews, webinars and other media credits.  She is a sought-after public speaker and performer who has held Guest Artist Residencies and performances at the Austin Flute Society Festival, Florida State University, Florida Flute Association Convention, University of Georgia, Mars Hill University and the National Flute Association Convention, with upcoming appearances at the Texas Flute Society, the Boston Flute Festival, University of Texas Arlington, Texas A&M University-Commerce and Texas Christian University.  She has been published online in the Flute Examiner and Flute View and has recently achieved a personal goal of writing for an upcoming issue of Flute Talk magazine.

When asked what led her to Austin, Nicole responded "It's an amazing place for musicians.  Austin is actually the Live Music Capital of the World and prides itself on supporting its musicians in so many ways.  For example, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians provides health insurance for musicians, which is huge since self-employment doesn't come with benefits.  Not to mention every single middle school and high school in Texas employs a private music teacher for every instrument.  This means musicians can still pursue performing opportunities on nights and weekends because they are teaching during the school day."

I think anyone reading about Nicole's achievements and her efforts to further the careers of other musicians will agree that the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota put our financial support behind the right student!  And while her career is based deep in the heart of Texas, Nicole still has family in the Sunshine State and sometimes subs with the Sarasota Orchestra.  The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota congratulates Nicole on persevering and all of her well-deserved successes and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this amazing young woman.

Click here to learn more about Nicole Riccardo:

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