Eugene Carr chats with Marie Webb about her life as a world-traveling opera singer and simultaneously as a Salesforce Admin. for non-profits and arts organizations.
Eugene: Hi everybody. I'm here today with Marie Webb, who is a really extraordinary person for us to be talking to. because when I asked her to send me a sentence describing who she is and what she does, this is what she said. She said: "Marie Webb travels the world as an operatic soprano and enjoys a thriving consulting practice, focusing on fundraising events and CRM solutions for nonprofits."
I can't think of a more succinct and descriptive background for us to dive in and really understand, how did that all actually happen? So welcome and thanks for being here.
Marie: Thank you so much for having me.
Eugene: So I wonder perhaps-
Marie: So shall I get started with a little background on how that all happened?
Eugene: Yeah. Why don't you, why let's talk a little bit about the artistic journey. Like you, you started out thinking you were wanting to be a performing artist. Take us back to the beginning and give us some background.
Marie: Sure. I, so I got a bachelor's of music and a master of music in vocal performance.
I went to Oberlin Conservatory and then Indiana University. Right back to back, which I think that's something unique to the performing arts that many of us go to undergrad and then we do grad school. So then there we are in our early to mid twenties having never done anything, but go to school.
And when I was finishing my master's degree, part of what I did at Indiana University was that my assistantship, which was my scholarship. Involved me working as the assistant in Sylvia McNair's opera workshop course. . So I was basically having my first job as an arts administrator and I really enjoyed it and I was good at it.
And when I was done with grad school, there are a handful of full year apprenticeship programs for opera singers in America. And I don't know, 1500 sopranos apply for them and a handful of them get one. And I didn't. And so with that very small definitive career opportunity, not an option for me coming out of grad school, the career landscape was bleak.
And I wasn't sure what to do. And so I thought of how much I enjoyed arts administration .And I didn't personally have that personality that could decide I'm gonna freelance. I'm gonna audition. I'm gonna waitress. That just wasn't for me. And I thought I'd like to do something that supports this art form.
I'm so passionate about in a different way. And I took an internship in fundraising at the Ravinia Festival. And my nonprofit journey started there.
Eugene: And so keep going, cuz this is it's a terrific background. So see there you were at Ravinia and trying to feel your way in terms of a career, but you, as I understand it you still wanted to perform and you still wanted to be an artist first and foremost, is that true?
Marie: At that time, my mindset shifted to "I'm good at this. This is a good career path being in fundraising. Good fundraisers command, a good living." And I was really happy that I could still be in the arts in some way. And actually I, in my mind, I was like, great. I had good experiences singing throughout school.
That was good. Maybe that chapter of my life is over. And when I realized how much I missed singing and how much I still wanted to perform and share my artistry on the stage.
Eugene: How did that happen? How did you. How did you know to do that? And how did you encounter, obviously you and I first met when you were at Patron Manager.
Talk, talk to us about that part of it.
Marie: Yes. So I knew that I wanted to leave my full-time in office fundraising job because singing and being in an office from nine to five for me were becoming incompatible. And I was going through this really stressful process of running all around New York city and trying to work for the nonprofit where I worked and do a show with one of the many excellent mid-level companies in New York City.
And two of the people playing in the orchestra of that show worked for Patron Manager. And I basically, as we were all chatting, I was like, "Okay, it's two o'clock on a Tuesday. You two are here. You haven't taken a day of PTO to do it. Tell me your secrets!"
Eugene: How does that work? , Which is part of the that's part of what we're trying to, help people understand is that you can have your cake and eat it too.
But I wanna ask you. It's one thing to work with Sylvia McNair and to do a fundraising internship. But was there anything about getting involved in tech that scared you, or worried, you, were you somebody who was a math major and high school or whatever? How did that, so talk to us about that.
Marie: No. When I started working for Sylvia McNair, I didn't understand an Excel spreadsheet. I called a friend and said, "I don't get it. Where does it end?"
So no, I was not a math major. In all of my nonprofit work, the technology we used- and I can mention exactly what it was if you like, was this huge point of " Only this person knows how to use our technology system. It's a mystery. Don't touch it." Or it was like, "We pay all this money for this technology. No one understands it. We keep all of our information on a spreadsheet because. Like somehow the technology screws it up."
Eugene: Got it.
So how did you find when you encountered getting involved in tech, how was the learning process? Did you feel like it was something that you were able to grasp with the background that you had, how did that feel to you?
Marie: It was a challenge. At my, at the last job that I had before coming to Patron Manager, I appointed myself, the person who took on these challenges with our CRM system and just got to the bottom of it and figured it out. So I knew I could do it, especially with a little bit of training. And because I started out working with the team that worked with the new clients of Patron Manager, I felt that I was buoyed by my success in connecting with those folks because I had literally been exactly in their shoes.
Feeling overwhelmed, feeling I was the person to come to. If we were working with a box office manager, say who was great at their specific job, but was confused by needing to click on a link. That was my specialty of being able to really zoom out and start at the beginning. And because that's what I had done.
So yeah, so that, I think buoyed me to the parts that were more confusing to me that were the really technical aspects of the work that. Allowed me to believe in myself and feel like I can do this. Helping these people is important to me. And even if it takes me a little longer than it takes others to really catch onto this technical stuff, I can figure it out and then I'll be able to explain it really well.
Eugene: And I wonder if you could explain. What do you do? What are you doing now and how does the tech fit into your life? What do you do in a given day or in a given week and then secondarily and simultaneously, how does your art fit into that mixture as well?
Marie: So what I do now is work for myself in three business.
Business one is Marie masters, web operatic, soprano. Business number two is a consulting firm started by my nonprofit mentor. I'm her vice president, and we do many large fundraising events around the country. And I use my background in fundraising and event planning there. But it's also a boon that I can bring to any client.
We work with my expertise in using their database system, whatever it may be. And then I do projects on my own that are mostly technology based .That ranges and that ranges from a small nonprofit that comes to me and says, we've never had one of these databases, whatever that means. Like we need to get everything out, this physical filing cabinet and have a database.
Can you help us choose one and get started with it? It also ranges to helping a large national nonprofit with a very specific Salesforce related challenge. And so that was an almost year long project for me. And then I also do a lot of training. I will, for clients who are using a new CRM technology for the first time, or who are onboarding new staff who need training.
Eugene: Got it. And you said at the beginning, you travel the world. Give us a flavor for where do you go? And how do you keep your business going at the same time? I think this seems like the holy grail for a lot of people.
Marie: I don't know if I wanna oversell it that much, but I am incredibly lucky and I'm. I spent a lot of years feeling like I would never figure any of these aspects of my life out to my satisfaction. And in fact, feeling that one part of my life had to be secret from the other, but they have been coming together well, and I think they come together better and better.
The more honest I am. Everyone in every part of my life and with myself when you wrote to me about doing this interview, I was in Tel Aviv, Israel singing with summer opera, Tel Aviv and giving concerts all over that city, which was incredible. But that's seven hour time difference from New York city and 10 hours different from Seattle.
And I was working with clients in both places. So I had to be. Incredibly honest about my availability and what the time zones were going to mean for everyone. And it worked out beautifully. I think, sometimes I missed out on other singers would go for pizza and a beer or shwarma and a beer, and I would have to go home and do a little bit of work, but-
Eugene: and also in fairness, you're paid to do that, which supports your lifestyle, that the missing out on the shwarma is the thing that gets you to be in Tel Aviv in the first place.
So I, a lot of people that we-
Marie: Yes, exactly
Eugene: Talk to are very much like you, you were, when you were getting out of grad school. They've been in essentially in a program, whether it's a practice room or if they've been really focused on the arts. Now they find themselves in their, let's say mid twenties, unsure about how to make ends meet and unsure about how to proceed so I wonder if you , what would you say if you were standing talking with such a person. What kind of advice now that you've been this for a while? What kind of advice would you give?
Marie: I think I was finishing grad school feeling that, and also experience experiencing a pressure within my social societal circle that unless you come right out of grad school with one of these coveted positions, that's failure and that's shameful.
and I think everyone's plan was that one of those things would make their career. Someone else would do it for you. I don't know how I'm gonna have a career in the arts, but X, Y, Z person is going to discover me and then they'll just do it. And all I'll have to do is sing. And I think no matter how much of a golden path to start and is laid before you.
No one is going to make your career or your life for you. You're gonna have to decide what you want it to look like, and you have to do it. And if that means you pursue a different way of being in the arts for a period of time, Great. If that means you have this flexible income stream that allows you to do what I was a little too scared to do and take another year or two years of auditioning.
And, while your friends are like working at the Genius Bar at the Apple store or serving drinks, which is really hard for a singer because you're screaming over music, but you can be a little more flexible and have some other skills that you can use too. I think it's underselling how much I love my work in nonprofit and tech to say it supports my art.
It gives me a balance that I value enormously. And so what I would say to people who were where I was when I was 23, is that you are the person who has to experience your life. And there's no shame. In designing it in a way that's best for you.
Eugene: Beautifully said, And I'll just add to that, that the advent of the tech business as exists today, particularly the post COVID tech business, where remote work is now seen as a standard feature that didn't ever use to exist.
And so the opportunities for artists you wanna build what I will call a hybrid career. Where they can have both exists in a way today that never ever existed before. And that and I know very much , I'm glad you brought up the, this idea of shame. In fact, I like to think of it as two plus two could equal five.
That you can have the one and you can have the other all at once. And I agree with you. I, as I came out of a music conservatory playing cello and a lot of the goals of musicians is go get a job in an orchestra. And to me, I wasn't all that excited about doing auditions and then getting a job in whatever city I happened to get a job in.
It just seemed like I didn't do wanna that. So I pursued other things as well. And and I've you I've managed to. Keep music as a very important part of my life. But the tech world and the reason that I'm so enthusiastic about what we're doing is that there's never been more opportunities.
For artists who live a life that is "both and". You can have a career as an artist. Now it might not be, it might be that career that you talked about, where all you do would think about music from 9:00 AM in the morning until midnight, the way that you did in a music conservatory. Actually life exists where you have to make things work but it doesn't mean that you have to walk away and say, oh, that thing, that utopia, that they told me didn't happen.
And therefore I'm out of it entirely. No. There's a way to combine it. And that brings it back to the very beginning of our conversation where a as a career you travel the world as an operatic soprano, and you've got a thriving consulting practice working with nonprofits and helping technology and really you embody the very thing that we are aiming to do here. Which is to make this kind of career commonplace, to make it easier for people to get there, to create a community of artists in tech to support each other and help each other get jobs. So that's really what this is all about and why I was eager to talk with you.
So I guess I would like to say you have any final thoughts before we quit, but this has been super interesting.
Marie: Thank you. I guess my sales pitch is that I want to end with that musicians make outstanding remote tech workers. Because we're used to working independently to meet goals. We are given a goal of get on stage and know this role and we have to set our own milestones to get there. So by the time you get out of school, you pre pretty much have a track record of I can work remotely and independently to meet goals.
And we are also trained to be lifelong students while becoming lifelong experts. You're always gonna continue to work on your craft as a musician. There's always new releases in Salesforce that you need to study and practice, but yet when you get in the room with a client to make a recommendation, you're the expert.
When you go out on stage to sing a role, that's you you make the decisions that you think are best. , you're the expert.
Eugene: Thank you again for all of this insight and for the inspiration I'm inspired. By listening to this story. Thank you. So thank you for taking the time and best of luck in your next operatic role.
Marie: Thank you so much.