You’ll have seen me posting about my online tutorial course for absolute beginners melodeon/diatonic button accordion Pick Up & Play with Mel Biggs: Let’s Get Started before. But I am yet to tell you the story of it’s creation.
Get comfy and read on!
A three year journey from concept to delivery
It’s impossible to tell you about the making of Pick Up & Play without first introducing my business mentor and wonder woman, Pamela Wik-Grimm.
Pamela and I met through Morris when her side, Heartwood Morris from Ithaca, NY, visited to tour the UK in 2011. Heartwood joined up with my then side, Foxs Border Morris, for a weekend of dance at Tutbury Castle. Afterwards we added each other on Facebook and promptly got on with our lives.
Who was this kind semi-stranger popping up on Facebook taking an interest in my precious baby?
We exchanged occasional likes on each others posts until in 2015 I got a message notification from Pamela. She said how much she’d enjoyed watching my music and melodeon teaching business blossom and that, if I was interested, she was willing to help me take it to the next level. It was a short, polite and complimentary message. I remember feeling a combination of flattered and cautious.
Who was this kind semi-stranger popping up on Facebook taking an interest in my precious baby? I figured I had nothing to lose from talking to her so I put caution aside and invited her to share her ideas over Skype.
I’ve known for some time that the world of Morris an folk is full of brainiacs and whizz-kids. I’ve often felt humbled to know so many hyper-intelligent people in the folk world. Turns out, Pamela is one of these geniuses. Her career background is in coding websites with expertise in designing and building online learning courses. She’s worked all over the world building training courses for global banks, famous brands and top universities.
Through intensive video conferences, Pamela was keen to make me see that I already had many of the skills and “rockstar personality” (her words) required to make this course a success. Honestly? I didn’t believe I had what it takes. Didn’t believe I was good enough. I procrastinated around starting the project for a number of years and the thread of communication between us dropped.
More on my journey with mental health in #DreamBig2018 Round-Up Blog Part 3.
Learning to trust
After a period of hard work to better my mental health, I contacted Pamela in early 2017 to see if her offer was still on the table. To my relief, it was!
From here on, Pamela and I would check in with each other regularly for planning updates and more seed planting. Pamela works is like no other mentor/teacher/guide/guru I’ve ever met in my life. She has a way of indirectly offering solutions and leaving the thought processing and decision making 100% in my corner.
She was clear from the start that I would have full ownership over this project. A great comfort when the demons piped up telling me my IP was at risk.
First time on the East Coast
Pamela’s son, Johan, is a professional filmmaker working out of Boston, MA. He’s worked on a wide range of film projects from Hollywood blockbusters to small budget art films. He’s also filmed numerous online courses working alongside his mum. How convenient!
Film maker on board and R&D well underway; next job was to book the flights. I flew from Heathrow on January 17th, only a couple of days after huge disruption due to adverse Winter weather. No delays for me, luckily! Only a glass of spilled wine in my lap during the flight… *sigh*
I arrived in Boston to be greeted by Pamela and her husband, David, who took me to Johan’s and his partner Jenny’s house just outside of the city centre. It was the next morning when I peeked out of my bedroom window that I saw I was staying in a large detached colonial timber house with gorgeous wooden floors, doorways and windows. Peeking further: the whole suburb was made up of large detached colonial timber houses with gorgeous wooden floors, doorways and windows! I was in heaven!
First day of the shoot
Up until this point in the planning, we hadn’t settled on a name for the course. I awoke on the first day of the shoot with the name clear in my head – “Pick Up & Play with Mel Biggs: Let’s Get Started”. I often find a good sleep will bring forth solutions to the previous day’s problems.
The time drew closer for me to lay my teaching methods down in a virtual version of myself. I felt vulnerable in anticipation of working in front of Johan as I didn’t know him.
From conversation at the breakfast table the morning of the shoot. It was instantly clear that I was in the presence of wholesome, good hearted people. People who felt like immediate friends with shared passions and interests. You know, those friendships which are built on weird inappropriate jokes and geeky knowledge of boardgames? That. My mission and reason for being there was very much accepted and understood and put me instantly at ease.
Setting the scene
Johan and Jenny had graciously given up the use of their first floor apartment as a film studio for us. We got to work rearranging the lounge furniture and setting up the stage with lights, mics and camera. At Pamela’s request, Jenny (who works at M.I.T.) had collected a few different chairs from work for me to try out for the shoot. Turns out the M.I.T. tall stool did just the trick – so cheers for the loan M.I.T.!
After the initial tech checks and tweaks, we went for it. Part of the planning involved preparing a shot list. This is a heftily laden spreadsheet detailing each and every shot you want to capture. Having never done this in my life before, making this in advance was mighty stressful and mind boggling for me. But by golly, was it useful on the day! The satisfaction from actioning a well planned list is one thing I’ve learned this #DreamBig2018 year!
Like a duck to water
I noted my calm composure once the camera started rolling. The complete lack of anxiety. We didn’t plan a script, but each video in the course has a few specific ideas to communicate. These ideas are my own teaching methodology which I’ve been honing over the past 9 years. It was no wonder I took to it like a duck to water. I believed in myself.
Pamela and Johan both said within the first 15 minutes of shooting that they very rarely get such a natural in front of the camera. I’m always one to enjoy praise, BUT, the incredible thing was that I already knew how well I was doing! My authentic, personable self. As good as you’d get with a real-life face-to-face lesson which is EXACTLY what I wanted to capture. I was doing the thing I had avoided for so long for fear of being rubbish, and it felt amazing.
We got a lot done on day one. Crossing shots off the list and getting content in the bag. We celebrated that evening with a delicious steak dinner out and a trip to the cinema to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Two ticks off on my ‘stuff you have to do in America’ list. Oh, and I had moose tracks ice cream… mm mmmm.
Wrap day… or was it?
This was the day I had to do the marketing and course introduction shots. All the stuff that would draw attention to the course to ideally sell it! All the stuff I struggle to do naturally.
I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to get this right and it brought on an attack of The Voices. A meeting of demons in my mind that question every minute decision and make me feel incredibly doubtful. In this instance, The Voices had concern over what other melodeon teachers would think back in UK. Other meaning ‘better, more notable’ than me.
Time for a pep talk
Pamela sat me down and gave me one of the most heartfelt pep talks. One conversation leading up to the creation of Pick Up & Play centred around The American Mindset vs. The English Mindset.
To generalise, the American mindset is geared up from a young age to go out there and make something of yourself and support others for doing so.
“There are many opportunities out there for the taking and I could be one of them!”.
The English/British mindset, however, is to keep your head down, don’t stand out from the crowd and scrutinise others who go against the grain.
“There are opportunities out there, but I shall leave them for someone more worthy than I.”
I can relate to the humble humility of growing up British and fluctuate between hiding my light and letting it shine for all to see.
Being mentored by a strong, independently minded, feminist, Swedish woman who has lived in America most of her life and various parts of Europe, I started to understand how the society you are born into moulds your entire psychology and way of being. Being in America, I felt empowered and built up by my peers there. Everyone I met on my journey was so complimentary, friendly and genuinely interested. It was a wholly new experience from the satirical ‘piss-take’ culture I have love/hate for back home.
Anyway, I digress, I was talking about struggling to perform in front of the camera and now seem to have slipped into some sort of social commentary!
We got the marketing shots aided by more structured scripting and Pamela egging me on from the sidelines! Johan re-set for the close up play-a-long shots. We later discovered that I forgot to add a count at the start so we had to resurrect the lounge studio to re-do them when I returned to Boston at the end of my 3 week trip!
Post-production and WordPress
After the two-day shoot, Pamela, David and I travelled the five hour journey to their stunning house and B&B in Binghamton, NY. Stopping at a service station along the way gave me a chance to tick off ‘eat McGriddles’ from my list. Nom.
Whilst Johan began the arduous task of editing the videos for the course (all 68 of them!), Pamela and I set about finding a platform through which to build and host the course. Thus began my steep learning curve into the world of coding and building online courses!
After wasting a day trying various options and hitting brick walls, we decided to build the course into my website via a WordPress plugin. The plugin enables me to split the course into sections, each of which contain lessons which are a specialised type of WordPress post. Each lesson contains one or more embedded videos with some additional text and downloadable/printable sheets. All of it written by yours truly. Whew!
I worked extremely long hours whilst I stayed with Pamela and David. Sometimes 16 hours at a time! They looked after me very well fed and watered whilst I worked, and took me to Wegman’s (OMG Wegman’s. I miss you. *strokes screen*). It was my first experience of feeling like a true entrepreneur.
Working alongside Pamela whilst she went about her day to day business: managing her own courses, taking calls, booking the car in for a service, preparing meals, planning our trip to NYC – and all the while calm, serene and fully able to assist me when needed. And all whilst battling a filthy cold. It was an inspiration to witness!
Back home to a logo nightmare!
After a 3 week trip of networking and sightseeing, I returned home to England where the stress of branding the course really mounted. I can remember a fraught video conversation with Pamela about a logo and flyer I had designed.
Me: “I want it to look polished and professional. This is the best I can do and it’s still rubbish!”
It really was dire. Pamela calmly planted the idea that I could get someone else to design it for me. Why didn’t I think of that? I found Nicki at Marvel Creative Design through my friend and webmaster, Trudy. I wanted something with a hand drawn look that incorporated the button accordion image. Whilst this was a large unforeseen cost, I got two logos out of it and I am very happy with the results. What do you think? Smart, snazzy AND professional, eh?!
After much to-ing and fro-ing, nipping and tucking between Pamela, Johan and I, the Pick Up & Play with Mel Biggs: Let’s Get Started! course launched on April 23rd 2018. So far, there have been 17 sign ups and the reviews are rolling in. A big shout out to Andy Cutting who completed the course in order to give his thoroughly splendid review, and has done sterling work promoting it at his workshops this year. It’s an honour to have his seal of approval.
Why not check it out for yourself by signing up to the FREE trial?
Where next on my squeezebox journey?
A #DreamBig lesson this year was learning how to delegate tasks. Realising that I want a certain look and level of professionalism with all aspects of my business, and realising that I am not accomplished in all the skills required to achieve that look, was an important milestone. I have a gigantic pool of talented friends from which to draw help from.
I invited my good friend Trudy How on board to take on the website back-up and CSS tasks with her coding wizardry. She continues to provide an invaluable source of knowledge and support as we take the business forward.
Also working behind the scenes on some video editing and graphic design for the website is Ian Atherton of Corbicula Design. Both Trudy and Ian I know through Morris – that glorious pool of geniuses providing me with friendship and business assistance once again!
Pamela continues to mentor me in developing ideas for my business and there are bigger plans afoot for 2019 and beyond. Products including tutorial books, more instructional courses, recordings, merchandise and online webinars. She’s supporting my brand in many ways and I am unspeakably thankful for her generosity, insight and expertise.
Before Pamela and I joined forces, I was fairly lacking in direction. With her mentoring, I have grown personally and professionally and am now brimming full of ideas. Here’s to another brilliant year of working together; I can’t wait to see where it takes Mel Biggs Music in 2019 and beyond!