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MICHAEL PIERCE, graduated from Aquinas College in 2017 with a major in music with a guitar performance emphasis and a communication minor.

For almost four years, Michael has been spending time performing, teaching, writing and learning the ins and outs of being an independent freelance musician in the current industry. Here is his story.

A few highlights of the past three years include releasing four albums with my bands and performing in cities such as Indianapolis, Philadelphia and New York City, and winning the Local Spins “Emerging Artist of the Year” in 2017 with my band Conrad Shock + The Noise. Both bands I play in (Conrad Shock + The Noise and August) have had albums nominated for Jammie Awards, a music award ceremony for West Michigan music. 

I consider myself very fortunate, and I am grateful for the amount of work that I have in music. In addition to performing, I am a guitar instructor. I teach children and adults at a music school in Lansing, Michigan, on top of running my own private studio. I play guitar for St. Gerard Catholic Church in Lansing. I also work for Folias Music, helping them with booking, writing, social media, etc. That job has been a great learning experience for me. Most recently, I have been helping Aquinas College with their livestream concerts during the pandemic. This consists of audio and video recording, editing and streaming to Facebook. 

When the pandemic first came through, I lost all of my work, and I was upset about the upcoming gigs that were canceled. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to do or how to make money in a world without live music. Simultaneously, I saw a lot of friends and colleagues testing out livestream concerts, and in just a couple weeks, I decided to put on my own solo classical guitar livestream concert. While live audiences are irreplaceable, I have been staying busy in the world of livestreaming. I have been running the streams for my own band, testing new features with Folias and helping other bands set up their streams. It has also been such a privilege to help the Aquinas College Music Department with their streams for the year. When I do get to go to campus to record or stream, I feel like the luckiest person in the world! I get to watch a concert in person! Nonetheless, I am proud of the Music Department for adapting to the circumstances and working hard so the students have the opportunity to perform.

One thing I have found to be true is that the music business side of being an independent musician is just as important as practicing my instrument. There's no clear cut formula on how to market CDs, music, concerts or lessons, but I like to approach the business work with creativity, just like practicing my guitar. I think it's important to study the people's business and marketing moves and learn from that, just like learning a transcription. I study it first and then figure out how to make it my own. The music industry is always changing, so there will always be plenty to learn!

Something that was ingrained in me from my time at Aquinas was the importance of practice. I still practice and study music as much as I can. With the pandemic ending live music, a lot of touring musicians began teaching online lessons, so I have been able to learn from a few of my favorite musicians! It is so important to find sources of inspiration and excitement to drive my motivation to practice. Something I have come to learn after my time at AQ was how important the connections I made at AQ really were! My peers and faculty from the Music Department have become some of my closest colleagues. It was a lot easier to expand my network with a solid foundation that was formed at the AMC. Networking is so important in music. Most of my opportunities to work can be traced back to networking. It is very rare that work presents itself out of thin air. It usually comes from the personal relationships that I have made with musicians and other industry workers. I am very grateful and happy with the strong foundation that was developed during my time in the Aquinas College Music Department!