Peter Himmelman began his career in a middle school rock ‘n’ roll band 40-plus years ago and achieved regional and national fame with several successful albums and tours. He transitioned more than a decade ago, as the internet made recorded music less lucrative, to composing for a couple of popular TV shows, including “Bones.” By age 50, he was burned out, but afraid to try something new that would tap his creative juices. Until he got canned at his day job about eight years ago.
Q: Why did you start considering a new career?
A: In the last decade or so the recorded music industry tumbled into a dire state of disruption. There were a few factors at play. The most significant was that through the internet, anyone could access nearly any piece of music without paying a cent. I explained it this way to a diamond dealer friend of mine: “Imagine your customers cupping their hands under their computer screens while all the diamonds you’re trying so hard to sell fall into their hands for free.” Also, I had four kids going to college and needed a new way to make money.
Q: And how did getting released as the composer for the TV show “Bones” figure in all this?
A: I worked on “Bones” and “Judging Amy.” It was lucrative, but you do six years, 24 episodes a season … you never leave your lumbar-support chair. It was lucrative, but often 16 hours a day. It was hard. I was always anxious. Some director was always calling with a problem. And technology lets you do many things very fast. After the writers’ strike in 2008, when a new producer was brought in to work on “Bones” … I was suddenly out of a job. It was scary and liberating all at once. It made me begin the process of reinventing myself. In hindsight, I’m eternally grateful for that.
Q: You have developed what’s called the “Big Muse Workshop” for presentations that range from small to big organizations. What is the workshop and what do you seek to accomplish?
A: The workshop typically runs between 75 minutes and four hours. We show up at most of our Big Muse sessions equipped with a full-on rock ‘n’ roll band. We give clients an experience that leads to a new way of looking, not just at their business challenges, but at their lives overall. Our belief is that if you can teach someone to momentarily distance themselves from their fears, they will immediately access their innate creativity — a boon to any organization.
Q: How does this differ from performing a concert?
A: Since many of the ideas we teach at our workshops were derived from my own work as a songwriter and composer, such as overcoming a native human reluctance to veer outside the safe and narrow confines of habits and pre-formulated procedures … I find the connections between the corporate world and music-making remarkably similar. Except for the electric guitars and drums! We were at 3M [this month for two days]. The process starts out as ‘what’s going on here’ and ends up a concert with a blues and jazz singer.
I ask [the employees] to name a story in their work life where they did well, or helped bring good to someone or mentored someone. I help them turn that into a song. Not every day at work is great. Their songs tell stories about their work being important. And if you can’t evidence your value in your work, than you’re not at the right place.
Q: This is a different twist on corporate consulting, it would seem.
A: The music lets people participate in a creative process. I don’t know what corporate consultants do, but I think I’ve come up with something that uses music to be disruptive.
Q: What do you charge for seminars?
A: The price range varies a bit depending on several factors, and though there’s some flexibility, we’re averaging around $25,000 per session. We also do a considerable amount of charitable work; something I find particularly rewarding. Like opening up deeper channels of communication between wounded veterans and their families, and helping kids from disadvantaged schools find the joy of creative expression.
Q: Is this a more lucrative career than music?
A: As far as personal rewards go, both careers afford me a great deal of satisfaction. I believe there’s a far larger growth potential in my work with Big Muse.
Q: Who are a few of your clients?
A: We work with companies like Adobe, Gap, Banana Republic, 3M, UnitedHealth Group, and some incredible smaller companies. One of our first clients was a Minnesota IT consulting company called SafeNet. They’re a very bright bunch of people who were eager to find new ways of thinking. We also work with a host of business schools such as the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Q: Anything else?
A: I’ve got a new book out that I’m very proud of called “Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life.” And from what I’ve heard, it’s been very helpful in getting people to pursue and manifest their creative ideas, rather than just to fearfully mull them. That’s an important thing to me, as well as an important distinction. For me, it’s all about taking that first tiny step. We’re trying to change the tenor of the conversation so we’re not as quick with knee-jerk negativity.