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Perfect Pitch: Michael Cain

Founder, CEO, Pianist

Current City: Minneapolis/Brooklyn

Current Job and Entrepreneurial Focus: Co-founder & CEO at Ekwe

Notable Prior Jobs: Professional Musician, Professor of Music at Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, and Brandon University.

When I Started Performing: Age 7, age 13 professionally.

Performing Arts Background: I started studying piano at the age of 4 and shortly afterwards began studying dance. I loved both and was always fascinated in the relationship of the two. I continued doing both for about 7 years until around the age of 12 when music won out and became my primary focus, with an emphasis on jazz and contemporary music.

I began performing at the age of 13 in the hotels of Las Vegas, where I grew up, subbing on gigs my jazz piano teacher would recommend me for. In the mid 80s I moved to LA, which is when my true professional career began, getting the opportunity to work with several of the most significant people in jazz living there at the time. That is when my recording career and international touring began. I moved to NYC in 1990 and continued to perform and record with several significant artists such as Jack DeJohnette, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Ravi Coltrane among others, as well became a recording artist as a leader, recording for Candid, MA Recordings, and ECM record labels. That period included other projects such as serving as Musical Director for the Jose Limon Dance Company, scoring films, and producing albums for other artists.

By the mid 2000’s I became a professor at the Eastman School of Music and began, in earnest, my teaching career, which continued to New England Conservatory of Music and Brandon University in Canada. I’m currently the Director of the Electronic Music and Recording Arts (EMRA) program at the MacPhail Center for music.

These days I continue to perform and record, doing a fair amount of studio recording work as keyboardist, and I continue to make my own albums, 11 to date.

How did your performing arts background supercharge your entrepreneurship?

My trajectory went from performing/recording artist, to professor, to entrepreneur, with each step seeming like a natural one to take. Certainly, as a jazz musician, the skills that come with being an improviser are hugely important (And yes, improvisation can be taught, as with most things, it’s built on core skills). But really those years as a performing musician taught me to be very resilient and self-driven, no question. Perhaps more importantly I started registering very early on in my career that every musician/artist I knew, who had achieved longevity in their careers, were, by definition, entrepreneurs in that they all had to build business models that were person-specific and worked for themselves individually. No two musicians did it exactly alike. Some taught, some didn’t, some focused on things like publishing and licensing, some not at all. Some toured intensely, others not so much. This fact really struck me, even though this community were defined as artists, they really were some of the most talented folks I knew in terms of thinking about entrepreneurship, by necessity. That was not my younger and lessor informed idea of the “go with the flow” artist. There is no guidebook or “normalized” path to success as a performing artist, it must be built from the ground up, in a way that leverages the talents and interests of the individual, and works within the totality of their life. No small feat! And that, again to my surprise, continued into my career as a professor. Even in that field, and even after achieving tenure, the profession really requires entrepreneurial thinking to remain current and relevant and, therefore, impactful to students.

This would be, perhaps, the single thing in my performing arts background I would emphasize, that by being a performing artist, I was brought into the understanding of while I was a musician (not a new profession), and a professor (also not a new profession), I still had to do the hard work of building my own unique business model to sustain that career, one that worked for me very specifically, leveraging my true skills and interests. That key understanding has been invaluable to me and the team building Ekwe, in that we know we have to be able to have the courage to both learn from tried and true methods, while realizing what we are building is unique to us and we need to be able to act on that realization in bold ways.

Favorite Performer: Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Cory Henry

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