Successful Alumna Recalls MSU Experience and Community Engagement

MSU music theory and composition alum takes to the road, reflects on life as a touring musician.

Lisa Kacos on the keyboard during a concert at Grand Rapids' “Party in the Park.” Photo by Tori Thomas,

Lisa Kacos defines her professional identity with a few key words and phrases: Trumpet, keyboard, ukulele, and backing vocals for The Outer Vibe—a band of five friends who create, record and perform music around North America.

That identity, she says, developed from a unique trajectory that emanated from her studies at the MSU College of Music, collaborations between the MSU Community Music School and her band, and her drive to continually build her knowledge of the business side of living life as a 21st century musician.

VIDEO: The Outer Vibe, Shining LIke a Diamond
Video Courtesy of The Outer Vibe

“I noticed the most personal growth in myself during my two years of grad school at MSU,” says Kacos who earned her master’s of music theory from MSU in 2010, and a bachelor’s of composition and music theory in 2007. “The mentorship I received from my professors is something I carry with me. My theory professors always led by example and reflected integrity, musicianship, and passion in everything they did… traits that are important in any relationship or situation, academic or not.”

While at MSU, Kacos and her band members from The Outer Vibe teamed up with the MSU Community Music School to form Rock Camp in 2009. The goal of the summer camp, Kacos says, is to provide kids the opportunity to form a rock band, make new friends, and learn how to form and maintain a band after camp ends. The camp has run every year since then through CMS, as well as in her hometown of Grand Rapids.

Immediately after graduating from MSU, Kacos started at Grand Rapids Community College where she taught freshman music theory, aural skills, and trumpet lessons. Kacos balanced her community college post with her band schedule as long as she could, then went full-time with The Outer Vibe the end of 2015 after signing with the Atomic Music Group and going on national tour. The band also recently flew in their California producer for an intense songwriting and recording session at their Michigan studio. Plans are to release some of the newer works in the spring or summer of 2016.

As a gigging artist, Kacos believes you can make a living as a musician, but adds that it takes perspective and self-accountability. She challenges any musician who wants to be involved with the business of music to take classes in entrepreneurship. In early 2015, Kacos attended a 10-day a music/business program called Zoo Labs Music Residency with other members of The Outer Vibe. After working with entrepreneurs, musicians, and start-ups from the tech world, she says she began thinking about the band in a totally different light.

“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,” Kacos advises. “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.’”

Source: Running Start Spotlights, January 2016 

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