Running Start Spotlights

Lisa Kacos

January Interview

Lisa Kacos, MM Theory 2010

Writing from the back of the tour bus, Lisa shares her unique career trajectory after MSU with The Outer Vibe. The band was instrumental in creating Rock Camp, a collaboration with the MSU Community Music School. 

How would you describe your professional identity in a sentence?

Trumpet, keyboards, ukulele, and backing vocals for The Outer Vibe.

Can you summarize your current entrepreneurial projects in a sentence or two? How was The Outer Vibe involved with the conception of Band Camp, and its growth outside of the MSU Community Music School?

In 2009, The Outer Vibe teamed up with the MSU Community Music School to form Rock Camp, a summer music camp for teens who play a rock instrument. The camp has run every year since then, and we also offer a session in our hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. Rock Camp is an opportunity for kids to form a band, make new friends outside of their school, and learn how they can form and maintain their own band outside of camp.

Aside from Rock Camp, The Outer Vibe is a full-time touring and recording band. We recently flew in our producer from California to our Michigan recording studio for an intense songwriting/recording session, where we wrote and recorded 18 songs in 8 days as part of what we call our “Viberary Project.” We’re building a catalog of songs to have on file for licensing opportunities, so we’ve been finishing all our songwriting ideas, old and new, to have as part of the Viberary, which currently contains about 50 songs. It’s an ongoing project and we plan to release some of the new songs in spring/summer 2016.

How has your career, project, or initiative been growing and developing since you graduated? Since last year? What are your next steps as you go forward?

I earned a Master of Music Theory at MSU in May 2010 (I also earned a Bachelor of Composition and Music Theory in December 2007) and was fortunate to immediately get a job at Grand Rapids Community College teaching freshman music theory, aural skills, and trumpet lessons. I have always split my time between teaching and being a part of The Outer Vibe, and that has become challenging as I was gradually given more classes at the college and as the band continued to grow. My answer continues with your next question…

What is the interaction between your "day job" of music theory professor, applied music teacher, and your "night job" as part of a super hip band? How do you find balance?

That is a great question! I balanced my adjunct position at Grand Rapids Community College with my band schedule as long as I could, which did occasionally involve sleepless nights of late gigs and then going straight to teach my 7:45 AM theory class. At the end of 2015, The Outer Vibe signed with Atomic Music Group, a booking agency out of California, and we are currently in the middle of our first national tour. As of January 2016, The Outer Vibe members are committed full time to the band and we do not have day jobs.

How did the College of Music prepare you to embark on your career?

I noticed the most personal growth in myself during my 2 years of grad school at MSU. The mentorship I received from my professors is something I carry with me and often reflect on. My theory professors in particular always led by example and reflected integrity, musicianship, and passion in everything they did. Those traits are important in any relationship or situation, academic or not, and I strive to be as respectable to others as they were to me.

What do you think are the most important skills to have as a 21st century musician? As an entrepreneur?

Even in this technology-driven world, there is nothing that can compare to meeting someone face-to-face, having a confident and amiable conversation, and shaking a hand. It is important to set goals for yourself (the band and I like to write down our goals on sticky notes and put them on the wall where we see them every day), but it is also important to be open-minded to opportunities that may not be exactly what you were looking for. After attending a music/business program in April 2015 in Oakland, CA called Zoo Labs Music Residency (where we worked with some brilliant entrepreneurs, musicians, and start-ups from the tech world), we started thinking about our band in a totally different light. At this 10-day music residency, we were immersed in what felt like a crash course business degree, in addition to writing and recording three new songs. I would challenge any musician who wants to be involved with the music business in any way to take an entrepreneurship class. I wish I would have.

What words of wisdom do you have for current MSU students? Anything you wish you could tell your younger self?

From my perspective as a gigging artist - you can make a living as a musician, but it takes a perspective and self-accountability that one might not necessarily take away from their time in college. Someone is always better than you but it doesn’t mean they will get the job. Not everyone understands the music biz, so when making education and career decisions for yourself, it’s wise to consult those who actually do what you want to do for a living. Don’t worry about things in the future that haven’t gone wrong yet, and lastly, don’t be so busy preparing a just-in-case “Plan B” that you forget to pursue your first choice “Plan A”.