Have you ever found yourself at a swanky event thinking, ‘This string quartet is nice, but I could really use some more saxophone’? That’s music to the ears of Ottawa’s Jarrod Goldsmith, possibly the hardest working saxman in Canada. As a lifelong player, Jarrod finally took the leap and turned his passion into a career.
We interviewed the young entrepreneur and spoke about struggles of creating a market for your product and the joys of not only making your own dreams come true, but helping others do the same.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Jarrod Goldsmith and I’ve created two full-time businesses: Sax Appeal (which is Canada’s Premier Saxophone Ensemble), and eSAX (the Entrepreneur Social Advantage Experience). I have a real passion for music, but I also get to use my organizational abilities, public relations and leadership skills. I’m also know for my signature fedora.
Tell us more about your businesses.
Sax Appeal is a rather unusual professional all-saxophone ensemble whose specialty is to provide live music to enhance the ambiance of functions that require the finest of touches. With our distinctive sound (ONLY saxophones), Sax Appeal provides a unique musical experience by playing jazz music, classical music, or anything in-between for literally any event, ranging from weddings to festivals, to cocktail receptions to Christmas festivities. There’s a short documentary explaining more.
When I started networking to literally create a market for Sax Appeal, I became one of the region’s most active entrepreneurial networkers.
This led me to create eSAX; an entrepreneur networking group for startups to develop connections, gain knowledge from featured speakers and promote collaboration among regional Chambers of Commerce. Events are held every 3 months to coincide with the provincially funded Y-Enterprise Center Ontario Self-Employment Benefit Program (OSEB).
Sax Appeal at the 2013 Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival (photo by MillsPhoto.ca)
What made you choose this path?
I’ve been playing the saxophone for close to 30 years, and I grew up listening to everyone telling me not to pursue a career in music. While earning a graduate degree in archaeology, and having tried for close to 10 years to secure a permanent federal government position in any department, I continued to hone my skills at music by playing ‘on-the-side’, never intending to pursue music as a full-time career.
I bounced from contract to contract and government department to department, but finally decided to literally ‘throw-in the trowel’ and pursue a music career in 2011 (much to the chagrin of my family). Being accepted into the Y-Enterprise Center (OSEB) made me realize that in order to make music a viable career, I needed to embrace being a startup entrepreneur and treat my passion like a business.
Why do you love what you do? What it is that drives you every day?
I never had any business training, let alone any aspirations on becoming an entrepreneur. Hard work, coupled with unwavering persistence, has led me to make my passion for the sax a viable business.
There simply was no alternative or ‘plan B’. My motivation was simple. If I didn’t get gigs, my dog will starve and I’ll need to sell the house. As these were not options, I devote every waking moment to furthering the Sax Appeal and eSAX brands.
Everyone knows that first impressions have the capacity to make or break a relationship, so it’s important to show others that you absolutely LOVE what you do. Anyone who has ever met me knows there is nothing else in life I would rather be doing. This enthusiasm for playing music and helping to encourage other entrepreneurs is so infectious that it’s easy for others to believe in me. Plus, you’ll never hear me call his businesses ‘work’!
Was it all smooth sailing or have you had to overcome adversity to get where you are?
The decision to pursue music as a full-time career is difficult for anyone. The challenge is compounded immensely since a saxophone quartet is, from the general public’s perspective, a rare and almost entirely unknown kind of ensemble.
It’s a guarantee that no one is going to wake-up one day and rip through the telephone book looking for a saxophone quartet to perform at their upcoming function… though I’m trying to change this perspective.
There are almost no full-time saxophone quartets in the world. As such, the public has little knowledge that four saxophones are capable of performing as an acoustic ensemble together. If someone is getting married, they would most likely consider a traditional string quartet, maybe a flutist or harp.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
Oh you don’t know crazy till you’ve toured with a band (lol)!
Perhaps the most memorable was a gig at a private Ottawa-area golf course last year. An elderly woman seated near us momentarily passed out and her chair fell backwards onto the floor. As I was dialing 911, the other sax player leaned over and asked if she would like any requests which greatly helped to break the tension! After 10 minutes she got up and we continued playing since the show must go on.
And now for something completely different… a few months ago I was contacted by the BBC who somehow came across the following sample we recorded of a Sousa March. Turns out they were interested in featuring that clip during the closing credits of a new Monty Python reunion documentary. How wild is that?!?!? Watch out for it
A rare Fedora-less shot!
What do you do with your time off?
A normal day involves playing with my dog pretty much every time she trots into the room and going for regular walks in the forest. I also often bike to the store for a little exercise to get away from the computer, but I’m never far from my phone.
The only time I take time off is when I go home to Montreal for a few days. Seems all I ever does there is eat, drink, sleep, eat more and gain weight. (I’m convinced my parents think I’m lazy, but if they ever saw me in action they’d know otherwise).
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
As most Sax Appeal gigs are private events (weddings, cocktail receptions, etc), I quickly realized that social media (particularly YouTube) would be essential to allow people the opportunity to see what the group is all about. Even today, many people who know about the group have never had the opportunity to see a Sax Appeal performance first-hand.
Back in 2011, Sax Appeal was only getting a gig perhaps every fourth month or so. Obviously this was not enough to live-on, but as I began engaging people and promoting the ensemble via various social media outlets, the impression that some had was that the group was performing a few times a week! One of the lessons learned was that starting out, it was important to appear more successful than one actually is in order to start developing a deep-rooted trust from the public’s perspective.
eSAX event, April 2014.
Are you involved in your local community?
All business owners understand that they need to network to get work. Having attended hundreds of networking events myself, as well through the hosting of eSAX, I’ve strategically placed myself at the forefront of the entrepreneurial networking scene in Ottawa. I’m an ambassador for the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce as well as the Orleans Chamber of Commerce. I’m also extremely active in three other local Chambers of Commerce: the West Ottawa Board of Trade, the Nepean Chamber of Commerce, and Le Regroupement des Gens D’affaires de la Capitale Nationale (RGA). I am very active within Ottawa’s entrepreneur community and regularly devote my time to promote, encourage and assist other entrepreneurs.
What does the future look like for you and your businesses?
GREAT! With any niche business, of course, it takes a few years of hard work to build a brand.
As I’ve been literally been branding himself (via the signature fedora and music ties), I’m starting to get a lot of recognition. However, it’s important not to become complacent and wait for the phone to ring, so my future will continue to consist of extreme amounts of both attending and hosting networking events, using social media and playing as many gigs as I can!
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
First off…never underestimate the power of face-to-face networking!
Networking is not about people buying your products and services NOW, but it should be about building future relationships. Relationships take time in order to develop trust. Think to yourself that everything you are doing now is to help make your business a success in 2 years from now. People tend to ‘buy-into’ others whom they like, trust and respect. This building of trust takes time and persistence. Be patient.
If you really don’t like networking events, try to at least smile a lot, let your passion shine through, listen, ask questions and follow-up with everyone you meet.
- Smiling lets people know that you are outwardly warm and friendly. Plus, let’s face it…who would you rather go introduce yourself to…someone who is smiling, or someone who is not?
- Being genuinely passionate about what you do is often the very first impression people make. Always make sure to keep a positive attitude, as well as sincere enthusiasm around people (and even at home). This is very important because people see through fake. If you don’t absolutely love what you do, then it will be almost impossible for others to believe in you.
- As people generally like talking about themselves, it’s often not hard to engage people you just met by asking them some simple questions. Doing so puts you in a stronger position to find ways you can help them, as well as bring your background and business back into the conversation.
- Always make sure to follow-up with every single person you meet right away. Even if you think someone has absolutely nothing to do with your business, one never knows where a referral may come from. It’s also wise to keep a detailed database and track which event you meet someone at and when you followed-up with them.
Success breeds success so associate with like-minded people. It’s simply not healthy to be around people with a negative attitude who always complain about how unfair life is. If you don’t like how things are done, change it. Embrace what it means to be a startup entrepreneur by standing out and transforming the status-quo.