Piano, Pageants & Politics

5 Career-Boosting Changes I made in 2016

As we approach the end of 2016, most people are probably formulating their New Year Resolutions to make 2017 the best. Year. Ever. However, before making new goals, it's important to look back and see what went well in 2016 and what could've gone better. Obviously, there is always room for improvement, but overall, 2016 was a success in my world. Why? What changed?

1. I embraced social media.

For the longest time, I refused to get on board with social media. Sure, I had a Facebook page for my music. But I didn't use it. And I certainly couldn't be bothered with an Instagram account, a Twitter profile or a blog. I firmly believed that improving my live show and learning new songs was the much more effective way to build my career. This year, I started that Instagram account. I began writing that blog. I tweeted. Alot. (It has only gotten me in trouble a few times. Like when I told off a bunch of haters after Miss America. Or when Tomi Lahren retweets me.) I've seen a huge difference; I'm able to connect with fans that I meet at shows and those interactions encourage them to a) come again and/or b) buy my product (my original music). Additionally, I've made new fans from social media that have never seen me perform live.

Being a titleholder has definitely facilitated this shift. Thanking sponsors, posting at appearances and interacting with followers is literally part of the job. Leading up to Miss America, Dick Clark Productions assigned each state titleholder a social media calendar with guidelines for daily posts. These daily prompts utilized a variety of platforms including Facebook Live, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. I will admit, it was a little excessive. And some of the prompts were a bit cheesy. However, it got me in the habit of posting daily on a variety of social media platforms, encouraged me to think outside the box and forged interactions with new followers.

2. I stopped showing up late.

I used to be late for everything. In fact, one of my senior superlatives in high school was "most likely to be late". I'm still working on it, but I've gotten much better. The problem wasn't even entirely being late; it was how anxious and worked up running behind made me. I would show up to work in a state of panic, "with my hair on fire" as one co-worker liked to put it; I was a nervous wreck. Being late heightened my road rage, making me even more agitated. Screaming at traffic probably wasn't the best warm up for my voice either. Now, I leave 5 minutes earlier. I use Waze to avoid the traffic. I try to have my outfit picked out ahead of time. It can change your entire day.

3. I stopped being a control freak.

I had a lot going on this year. I was finishing up school. I was preparing for Miss Massachusetts (then Miss America). I was making appearances. I was performing 3 nights a week. I was teaching 30 students a week. I was running my non-profit organization in addition to volunteering at a school once a week. I used to feel like I had to do everything myself, but I got to a point this year where I physically couldn't. I accepted the fact that I don't know everything and that allocating tasks to others (especially when those people are more experienced and eager to help) is A LOT more efficient. I trusted my local executive director to guide me in the right direction regarding Miss Massachusetts preparations. Did I agree with everything he had to say? No. Did he drive me crazy sometimes? You better believe it. But at the end of the day, it was one less thing I had to worry about. I also hired several interns to help maintain operations at Changing Keys. My mother, a teacher with endless creativity, a love for Pinterest and nothing to do in the summer, was also a helpful volunteer in several missions, like making my Show Me Your Shoes costume and planning my entire send-off party. Letting go of that control is difficult, but it's saved me a lot of time and headaches.

4. I spent money.

When I appeared on "America's Most Talented Kid" at 9 years old, this is how Dave Coulier introduced me to the country:

"In addition to being a great singer, our next kid is also a great bargain shopper."

Not much has changed; I take much pride in my frugalness. However, I made two important realizations this year: 1) You have to spend money to make money and 2) You get what you pay for. Unfortunately, there are a ton of scams, pay-to-play gigs and other "get your music heard" gimmicks out there targeting DIY musicians. Even many of the legit services are 100% unnecessary. However, you really do need your own domain name. You need business cards that don't have "vistaprint.com" printed on the back. You need reliable, working equipment. You need a few quality pictures for your website, social media, press kit, etc (BTW, there is a difference between the work of a professional photographer and the work of a student on Craigslist looking to build their portfolio). Even if your music is the best thing in the world, you need to get people to hear it in order to be successful. And they're much more likely to listen if you present yourself and your product in a professional manner.

5. I used a planner for everything.

The best investment I made this year was a $10 planner from Amazon. Every Sunday night, I took 10 minutes to plan out every single detail of my week; appointments, lessons, work, gym sessions, errands. It's easier to stick to the game plan when you have a game plan. It's also harder to forget things when they're written down. Using a planner definitely increased my efficiency and I felt like I was holding myself accountable. I used the margins mainly for lists; to-do lists, grocery lists, lists of people I had to email, etc. I also jotted down quick reminders on the sides. Even though I could use Google Calendar to do the same exact thing, there is something gratifying about physically crossing a task off the list. Whether you're a student, a young professional or an up-and-coming artist, do yourself a favor and buy a planner for 2017. Seriously, it is a game changer.