Industry Interview: Entrepreneur Merry Miller
The interview series with members of my Twitter community continues with musician and entrepreneur Merry Miller. Enjoy!
Musician and entrepreneur Merry Miller
Q: Welcome, Merry! For those readers who are meeting you today for the first time, would you please take us through your evolution as a businesswoman, musician, and entrepreneur?
Merry Miller: Absolutely and thank you for contacting me! I always enjoy reading your work.
I never desired to be an entrepreneur but I always had a passion for creating things, a vision for how I wanted them built and the freedom to pursue many things from music to business to TV to writing. I was classically trained and started playing the harp professionally at age 12 then interned at a prominent music agency in the mail room starting at 16 and worked my way up to an agent while attending college at night and on the weekends.
I moved to New York City after college and became a National Media Buyer for Hasbro and Coca Cola, yet continued playing the harp on the side. I loved learning the importance of quality TV programming but wanted to create it, not buy it, so I took a leave of absence and played the harp on a cruise ship to see the world and save up money.
When I returned to NYC, I became a music agent and manager again, which led to a job with Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp when it launched, then helping build the Learning Annex and Creating and Producing Joel Siegel’s series…all the while buying domain names, writing children’s TV shows and books, playing the harp professionally, and the rest is history… or rather, history being made…
I decided to record my first solo album titled “Dream Baby” and launch BabyMusicToGo three years ago when my music calmed my friends’ children. I have now recorded sixteen albums in the last three years, which are available online, iTunes, in retail stores and Amazon. Then this past fall I was one of the highest selling artists ever on QVC selling over 8000 CDs in less than ten minutes which put my name on the map as a recording artist.
As for TV, I introduced many of our celebrities and major speakers in front of thousands at the Learning Annex but also went on air many times promoting it so I was somewhat comfortable in front of the camera. But when I started my own companies, I had to do media to promote them, which got me really comfortable on air – to the point of hosting “The View” and now being on Fox regularly.
Q: While you were EVP of Programming at The Learning Annex, it soared from three million in annual revenues to 100 million. That is a tremendous (unprecedented?) level of growth. How did this come about? What marketing choices had the greatest impact on the bottom line?
Merry Miller: I LOVE learning and the ability to get someone to teach anything, I mean ANYTHING, was exciting beyond belief so I booked 300 classes my first month and quickly got us to 1600 classes per month.
I focused, begged and worked extremely hard to get the highest profiles, leaders and celebrities to teach in order to elevate the brand, which, in turn, made it easier to book the biggest names. We also started selling “back of the room” products which made a tremendous impact on our revenue.
Lastly, when I got Joel Siegel, who was at that time the #1 movie critic in America from Good Morning America, to host a series, then it enabled me to book the biggest names in Hollywood. I taped our interviews and eventually got ABC to air them and that’s how I created his show and series.
Q: In addition to running your businesses, you are a Governor of the Recording Academy. Would you tell us more about this honor?
Merry Miller: Yes and it is one of the biggest honors of my life, not just as a musician, but for what the Academy stands for and how they help and enable artists outside of the (obvious) Grammy Awards.
I learned I was nominated for Governor two years ago but never thought I would get elected. I’ll never forget getting the call, and it has been a wonderful experience and I have made life long friends with many of the people I serve alongside. I just got re elected last month and look forward to two more great years.
Q: Where can we find your music?
Merry Miller: www.HarpMusicToGo.com, www.BabyMusicToGo.com, iTunes, Amazon , and hundreds of boutiques and major Christian retail stores.
Q: In the music industry, how have social media sites and online music stores like iTunes changed the options available for independent musicians with traditional record labels?
Merry Miller: They’re wonderful! No longer does an artist have to spend thousands of dollars manufacturing CDs because they can upload them for $9.99 to iTunes via Tunecore.com and start selling immediately.
As for Facebook, it’s a Godsend to be able to build your fan base and connect with them for free (well, time is money but still…). In the old days, only artists signed with major labels could get retail distribution but that’s no longer the case thanks to online stores and many retail distributors taking independent artists.
In many ways, it’s the best time to be an artist because of the freedom these avenues provide!
Q: Do you write your own music?
Merry Miller: Yes, and I also write all my own arrangements. “Tranquility” is originals, and I wrote many of the songs on “Serenity.”
I’m not naturally a writer but sometimes I have to get a melody or emotion out, and that’s when I write my best songs. Arranging comes very easily, and I love rearranging and playing with a song to see what it can become.
Q: What is it like traveling through airports with a harp? How big is it? How much does it weigh?
Merry Miller: I WISH I could take it through airports! Unfortunately, I do my US traveling via an SUV or cargo van, but can ship it when I have to play internationally. It’s a hassle and costs around $1500 when it’s in its large case.
Also, most of the time I travel with my harp, hundreds of CDs, a sound system, signage and a tent when I’m playing festivals so it would cost a fortune to ship all that. My concert grand harp weighs around 120 lbs but is moved with a dolly – in fact, not sure if I appreciate the harp or the dolly more haha!
Q: Have you ever produced songs or albums for other artists?
Merry Miller: I have helped many artists and have my certification in Audio Engineering so I could produce them but haven’t YET. But it’s something I’m definitely open to and would welcome the chance.
Q: Do you tweet?
Merry Miller: Not enough…. I’m @MerryLeaMiller. I do Facebook both personally Merry Miller and through my fanpage Merry Miller.
Q: Do you blog?
Merry Miller: Not yet but am starting one shortly.
Q: Do you own an e-reader?
Merry Miller: Not yet. I still love the feel of a newspaper or magazine and to “rip” out stories and things I desire. You don’t want to sit next to me on an airplane, salon or waiting room!
Q: How do you know when the time is right to start-up or spin-off a new business?
Merry Miller: You never know but a good guess is when you see a need that no one has filled, people start asking you for your product, you’ve completed something that you truly love, or you have a dream and simply can’t live until you’ve given everything to make it happen.
You don’t have to forsake all your stability and quit your job to start working on making your dreams come true, but you do have to believe in yourself and have enough courage to risk succeeding or failing.
Yes, I said succeeding because many people are actually more scared that their wildest dreams WILL come true due to deep seated self-worth…
Q: Once you've decided to move ahead with a new business, what is your preparation process?
Merry Miller: First of all, I pray that it’s God’s plan and ask for his direction and help. Then I write down all the avenues I can sell and market it and ask people in that field for their advice and referrals then I get many quotes for the cost of creating it. Then I carefully weigh the cost against the potential income or impact (it’s rarely about money) and move forward with everything I have to make it happen.
I believe in myself, and therefore prefer to fund my own businesses, take out a loan or use my line of credit. It’s scarier, but allows for the most freedom and profit.
Q: How valuable are social media marketing tools versus face-to-face marketing?
Merry Miller: Honestly, nothing tops face to face marketing because I personally believe people need people and we live in a disconnected world. However, you need to reach people all over the world and social media provides that invaluable outlet.
Q: What are some of the unique ways in which you have marketed one of your products?
Merry Miller: I partnered with The Cute Kid (owned by Parents magazine) and held a contest to find a child for my “Merry Kidsmas” CD cover. Over 20,000 parents entered their child and an adorable girl named Cailyn won, and then the website and magazine did a complete media campaign to promote the CD.
Q: There has been a lot of debate within the self-published community about whether or not to give away free copies of our novels. Have you ever given away free products? Would you do it again?
Merry Miller: Of course and still do it. However, I try to limit it to people who will truly promote my products. But I also have to make sure to recoup the cost of production as quickly as possible and always have inventory on hand for buying customers.
AKA don’t give away the farm as they say in the south!
Q: Public criticism of his or her work can be very difficult to adjust to for a newly self-published author - especially one who has spent the past several years sacrificing in his or her personal life to write that novel. Any thoughts on how to keep perspective when you work is coming under fire?
Merry Miller: Yes! First off, it’s natural to have your feeling hurt anytime you’re criticized – whether for your work or personally. But it’s important to remember that many of the people who criticize have never done what you’ve done so they’re not in a fair position to judge. And when they do judge, it’s from their own insecurity or more likely, jealously.
Secondly, at the end of the day who really cares as long as YOU LOVE what you created? Think of the endless amount of wonderful things that came about because someone believed in it when everyone else shot it down! Nothing great comes without its share of naysayers and critics, so please don’t take it personally!!!
Q: Audio books is an area of swiftly rising interest in the self-published community. As an artist with sixteen albums - and all that time in the studio - what advice would you share with authors who are looking at putting together the first recordings of their books?
Merry Miller: This is an area that I’m not very familiar with but definitely interested in learning about. My advice would be to treat it like music but it would be easier because it’s spoken word so you don’t need a fancy sound studio and mic so shop around for the lowest rate. I recommend Duplium or SWS to manufacture the CDs as they’re the best and cheapest I’ve found. Then I use ULine for my packing and shipping supplies.
Q: In an interview you talk about Donald Trump's business advice to you, and that he emphasized the importance of having "multiple streams of income." What has that meant for you?
Merry Miller: EVERYTHING!!! Everyone should have more than one income stream, whether it’s something you do on weekends or at night from home, a side business selling something, real estate, consulting, selling items on eBay but never count on one stream because that’s just dumb given the modern economy.
Q: Many self-published authors are surprised by the amount of marketing required to get their books moving on the charts. Are there any marketing strategies or brand-building ideas that you would recommend they try?
Merry Miller: Always carry cards promoting you and your product at all times and give them to everyone you meet.
Do as many online promotions and email blasts as possible offering discounts, keep your email blasts simple, partner with as many people, groups and companies as possible and ask your friends and family to help you. Lastly, sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which is a free email, and pitch everything that fits you or your product to get media.
And remember the ABC’s – Always Be Selling!
Q: What's coming up for you in 2012?
Merry Miller: Hopefully a nice beach!
I try and take it one day at a time but I’m playing many festivals, art shows, concerts and churches all summer and fall; recording a jazz album this fall; releasing my children’s book series “Chocolate Sneakers” and “The Adventures of Eddie Bull;” rebuilding and relaunching GetInterns.com and all the college sites that go with it; building and launching TeenChristianNetwork.com; working on the right production partner for my kid’s show “The Noteables”; finding products for QVC and will hopefully be back on in the fall or on Home Shopping Networking; continue being on Fox and as many TV and radio stations as possible; and lastly, I’m distributing and selling Tortilla chips that come in every school and holiday color…don’t ask but every tailgater needs them!
Q: What haven't you yet done in your career that you would like to do?
Merry Miller: Win a Grammy! Develop and sell my kid’s show “The Noteables” and create the matching product line – that is my dream! I also cannot wait to sell one of my companies or websites for enough to buy a dream vacation property!
But mainly, I want to accomplish what God needs me to do!!!
Q: Thank you for being with us today, Merry! We hope you'll come back and visit with us again later in the year.
Merry Miller: Anytime and please keep up the great work!