A while back, The Music Mentor Group had gotten to know the founder of Piano Pronto, a one of a kind music publishing company. The owner and founder, Jennifer Ecklund had always impressed us with how she carved her own path in the music publishing world. Her journey is eye-opening and one with true entrepreneurial spirit. Check out an interview with her below!

1) What sparked your interest in becoming a composer?
Necessity, plain and simple. I was never really interested in composing throughout my college years, but started arranging pieces for my students because I felt that many arrangements of classical themes were sub-par. I started primarily as an arranger to fit the needs of my students and then around 2011, I started writing my own pieces. The main reason I moved towards writing original compositions was because my students were playing a lot of pop music and I started to notice the recurring elements in the pop music they were playing and why these pieces were so motivating for them. The common elements were syncopation, melodies with short ranges that didn’t require a lot of hand shifts, and simple rotating chord progressions. The inherent issue with pop music is its short shelf-life which led me to constantly be looking for the latest and greatest tunes to keep them playing “current” hits. When I started composing my own “pop-style” solos, I fused all of these popular elements, but wanted to also include a lot of “pedagogical meat” to keep teachers as satisfied as the students. With original compositions I managed to side-step the shelf-life issue so it was really a win-win. 
2) You were a piano teacher for years, when and how did you decide it was the right time to start your own publishing company?
I always had it in my mind that I wanted to be a publisher full-time, but I was fiscally conscious (I loathe debt!). I knew I needed to start my publishing endeavors and run them as a side-hustle alongside my teaching studio so that I could cash-flow the publishing business. The advantage here was that I could road-test all my publications on my own students instead of just putting them out into the market and hoping for the best. I had been teaching since 1994 and started the publishing business officially in 2008. I did have to set publishing aside for a few years while I pursued a graduate degree in historical musicology. I had actually started a PhD in musicology at USC and after a year in the program realized that I wanted to rev up my publishing business instead of spending the next 7 years getting a degree that really only looked good on paper. In retrospect, that was a huge turning point for me. In 2011, I dove in head first into publishing. I began reading up on business and marketing strategies and that’s when the publishing business really started to gain traction. By 2014, the two businesses (teaching and publishing) had equalized and I decided it was time to devote myself full-time to publishing and I happily retired from teaching. There was a “switch” that flipped at that point both with me and my customers. I had gained a decent following by this time and I truly believe that once my customers knew that I was “all in” on the publishing front they also became more devoted as users of my products. We’ve seen amazing growth since this time. 
3) Why start your own and not become a composer for a major publisher?
This comes down to a couple simple questions: do you want to dabble or do you want to dominate? Do you want flexibility or do you want to be told what to do/produce? For me, this was a simple answer. I had always worked for myself and doing things on my own was my preferred way of operating. For years I dreamed of being under somebody else’s bigger umbrella, but after a number of meetings with some of these publishers, I quickly discovered that I needed to make a choice. I could either make a pittance in royalties paid out once a year or really learn this business and build my own umbrella. The choice was easy once I realized what was on the table. Was it hard? Absolutely! The publishing business is about so much more than writing books. That’s actually the easy part. Gaining the trust of the marketplace and getting your work out there to the masses is where the challenge lies. But once I dedicated all my energies to learning everything I could about publishing and all its intricacies, I actually enjoyed conquering these challenges instead of relying on someone else to do all these things for me. I think one of the more important points was realizing that nobody was going to hustle harder on behalf of my work, and nobody would care more about it than I would. Everyday is still a learning experience and I don’t see that ever ending, but that’s also half the fun: we’re always improving, and with each improvement, we are growing.
4) What were some of the first obstacles you ran into when you first started?
Financial obstacles were a big one. Because I don’t believe in debt, I worked a ton of hours running my two businesses side by side in order to cash-flow the initial growth of the publishing company. This led to a lot of exhaustion as I would work on the publishing business in the mornings and then teach late into the evenings since the teaching business was supporting my publishing endeavors. At one point, when I decided to move to mass print-runs, I literally drained my savings account and took one of the biggest financial risks I’d ever taken. It was a calculated risk that paid off and I’m glad I took it! However, I’d be lying if it wasn’t totally terrifying!

Additionally, this industry tends to have a customer base that is generally resistant to change. This is a battle I had been fighting since I came on the scene back in 2008. It’s understandable. Teachers were comfortable with the materials they’d been using for decades and here I was, a newbie, trying to convince them it was worth trying something new. One colleague in the industry advised me years ago that it takes at least a decade for any new method to make any significant dent in the market and I found this to be very true. So a lot of patience has been banked into this endeavor. I’m happy to say that now after almost a decade into our existence, it is rare that I come across people who have never heard of us. 

5) Did the thought of quitting ever come into your mind?
It probably crossed my mind a handful of times, but quitting isn’t in my vocabulary. Those thoughts usually only occurred when I needed some sleep! I’ve always known that this whole journey is a long long marathon and not a sprint. I’m having too much fun to ever just hang it up.
6) During your toughest moments, what kept you going?
I always remind myself of how far this company has come in the last ten years. It’s a lot like students who get overwhelmed when they feel like they’re not making progress or that they’re “stuck.” With students, I would routinely go back through their old assignment books as a means to remind them what they were working on just a year prior. I do the same thing with myself. I have a folder on my computer called “Old stuff to laugh at” that contains my old cover files, website snapshots, etc. When I feel down or stagnant, I go look in that folder as a good reminder of where we were once upon a time and then I usually feel better. Aside from that, I take out any frustrations in the weight room or through boxing which is a side hobby that really helps me release stress. 
7) What is the most important business lesson you have learned so far?
Simple: “critics are critical.” I listen often and intently to critics and I am never satisfied that anything is ever “done.” As a business person, I never let myself get comfortable with the status quo. There is always room for growth and improvement and listening to what your customers are saying, both good and bad, is critique that should always be considered and pondered.
And there you have it! Isn’t it eye opening to see how she persevered and made it happen?? If you don’t know about Jennifer’s publishing company yet, I urge you to hop over the website pronto (pun intended!) and see why we are raving about her work!