"I always tell people in my class that you know if you're making music to make money, you're doing it for the wrong reason. Music for you because you love it and it's who you are. It's what you know, it's what you're drawn to and need to do. And then if people listen to it, and people buy it, that's just icing on the cake, you know, but make it for you because then means more it's gonna it's going to come across more authentically and more true and it's going to touch people in a more sincere, authentic way. " ~Michele McLaughlin

Successful Musicians Podcast Episode 13


Interviewee: Michele McLaughlin

Interviewer: Jason Tonioli


Hey, this is Jason Tonioli. I’m a piano player that grew up believing it wasn’t possible to earn a living and support a family with music. I’ve proven that idea was wrong and I’ve met hundreds of other people who have found success with their music. This podcast features stories of musicians who have found their own personal version of success and fulfillment in both music and life. This podcast is meant to inspire musicians and help them believe in their abilities and motivate them to share their talents with others. This is the Successful Musicians Podcast. 


Jason: Welcome to the podcast today.

Today, our guest is Michele McLaughlin, and she’s a very accomplished piano player but there’s very few people that I think I know who have been in Rolling Stone magazine as a piano player. She has an inspiring story where she didn’t really think she could be a piano player and make it as a musician.

And Michele, I think you have 22 albums out now and you’ve got over a billion mark, a billion on streaming over the years, it’s probably double that or 10 times. Welcome to the show today, and we’re so excited to have you on here.

Michele: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. It’s a pleasure to hang out with you.

Jason: So Michele, let’s dive right in and let’s talk about kind of your origin story. How did you end up as a musician?  What’s that journey that got you to where you are today as a musician?

Michele: Well, I’ve always loved piano for some reason. As a small, small child, I just gravitated towards pianos. I’ve always wanted to be playing them and touching them and so I started playing melodies and things that I’d heard by ear and learning just kind of have a you know, plunk out little melodies and then I would play those for show-and-tell for my kindergarten class and then..

Jason: So you taught kindergarten? 

Michele: No, as a kindergartener (laughs). As a five year old, I was learning melodies and playing them for show-and-tell.  Then I started writing when I was eight, after I saw George Winston in concert, and I just loved him in concert, and started composing. And then I was very shy, and I only really played for friends and family and I was very shy and very internal. And then in the year 2000, many, many, many years later, my mom wanted me to make her cassette tape so she could listen to my songs in the car, and I borrowed a digital piano, and I had a makeshift tape recorder on top of that.  I recorded 20 songs that I had written over the years on this little makeshift recording setup that I made, and I made cassette tapes.  I made, 30 copies of this cassette tape, and I gave it out as presents for Christmas that year to a handful of friends and family. And the feedback was overwhelmingly like, just loving and supportive and excited and surprised like, “Oh, I didn’t know you did this kind of thing. You should do more of this!”  and that turned into releasing music.  I actually made CDs after that instead of cassette tapes, but that was the yearly Christmas present for several years. Then I read David Nevue’s book about how to market your music online and how to put your music on iTunes. And I did that in 2003. Then, you know, slowly I started getting people listening to me on iTunes and buying my music and then one thing led to another and here I am making enough money to be able to support future projects, and then eventually I’m making enough money to pay my bills. So in 2007, I quit my job as a project manager and started doing music full time and I have been doing that now since 2007. So that kind of mistakenly turned into a career that I wasn’t planning on but it’s been the most amazing, incredible journey. 

Jason: That’s amazing. So you really, so 2003-2004, that would have been right as the internet streaming world was just kind of getting traction then right? 

Michele: I want to say that Apple iTunes and everything was the first initial and then there was like Napster and iHeart Radio and it was Rhapsody, and mp3.com, those older long ago things. And then and then I got on Pandora in 2007, I believe.

Jason: So right about the time you would have to mail your CDs in to them get reviewed, right? 

Michele: Oh, for sure. 

Jason: It’s amazing. And really, as you look back on kinda like that one moment that really things started to click and you know, what was that moment for you to decide wow, this is maybe a real thing.

Michele: It was small little steps. Like the first time I ever heard my music on Music Choice Soundscapes, that television music channel that you get on cable and satellite TV. I heard one of my songs there in the middle of the night once and I danced around my living room in excitement, and then I heard my music on the radio with a car one time and it’s just little moments like that, that that kind of reminded me that
here I am, I’m making music and it’s out there and people are hearing it and listening to it and that’s just the coolest thing ever.

Jason: That’s awesome. And you talked about George Winston as kind of that inspiration. So you’re just a little kid and listening to this. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.

Michele: My mom and dad had his CDs and listened to them all the time at home and so I would hear that and then I fell in love with it and I would try and learn how to play his songs by ear. And then he came to Salt Lake in concert, I want to say I was about eight years old, and my parents got tickets and we were just right up front and I could see his hands on the piano and and you know he at the time you know he would reach into the piano and pluck the strings and and in his version of Canon In D is one of my all time favorites and his Carol of the Bells. I just felt moved by that even as an eight year old and then I was more inspired to go home and play his music and really, learning how to play his music by ear is sort of what taught me how to play piano like to actually play you know, rather than just tinkering around.

Jason: Got it. So are you kind of that classically trained where you read music really well or you were more of an ear person for the most part?

Michele: I’m a complete ear person. I didn’t take lessons, like I can’t read music and my mom wanted to put me in lessons but I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t like playing classical music and I didn’t want to practice. I don’t want to do scales and have to repeat over and over and over again. So I just played music that inspired me by ear and kind of started writing my own stuff.

Jason: If you can rewind the clock back and maybe talk to that teenage self, your teenage self, what things would you maybe say watch out for this or do this not that? Would you change? 

Michele: I would have learned to read music. I would tell myself to put in the time because that’ll help you in the future. Not in a just being able to read music standpoint but more about learning different styles. Being able to broaden the experience of playing rather than just being kind of confined to what you know and what you have taught yourself. Then I would tell myself to believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to just go for it. Put it out there. Be authentic and just you know, ride the wave.

Jason: Awesome. Be grateful for the opportunities when they do come. I think it’s one of those things where some people are always looking for that next big thing instead of enjoying where they’re at the moment, sometimes we miss that as musicians. 

So you’ve released 22 albums. Obviously learned the formula or some sequence and I know you’ve read David Neveu’s book on how to do marketing. You know, this was 20 years ago but you’ve also taught a lot of marketing classes or especially a lot of the piano players out there. What kind of made you decide you wanted to do that and what advice, what things or mistakes would you say most of these musicians are making along the way are not even aware that they’re needing to do maybe has more of a way to put it.

Michele: It started out as helping a friend with learning to do some of the same things that I have done. And then that ended up being successful. And so then it was kind of broadcasted around like “oh, I took this class from Michele” and then everyone was like, “I want to take this class!”. So that turned into me teaching, and basically what it all it was is just sort of taking everything that I’ve learned and everything I’ve tried and everything that worked for me over the last several decades of doing this and sharing that information with someone else because the things that I learned can be helpful to someone else trying to blaze that same path. And if I had somebody to teach me those things way back when I was learning it on my own. That would have been really helpful. So I kind of started just sharing my own personal experience and my knowledge with others to make it easier for others. 

Jason: So what types of things would you say new artists need to be thinking about and aware of as they’re trying to release those in the first album during the second or third one right now. 

Michele: Be patient. So patient. This business is nothing but a giant game of patience because what you release right now may not have any impact for years, but then all of a sudden years from now it starts you know earning you an income or a lot more listens. And so you’ve got to be really patient and you have to be willing to put in the work. Like I get a lot of artists that will want to take a class with me and then they want to know like, well what are the five things I can do rather than what are the thousand things that I shouldn’t be doing? And there are no shortcuts. You just have to be willing to put in the time and put in the work and make a lot of mistakes because it’s a ton of trial and error. And what works for me may not be the perfect formula for you. So you have to take the information that you gather from you and know all of the different sources and artists and people that you admire and look up to and want to emulate and apply that to your own craft. And then what sticks, keep working with it and what doesn’t let it go. And just keep trying, never ever give up. 

Jason: You see a lot of people and then you’ve seen I know you’ve helped tons and tons of people and probably other musicians you see a lot of people get frustrated just throwing the towel over and over the years.

Michele: Oh yeah. Lots of people that will release an album or a single and then it just doesn’t do what they expect and then they think that they failed, and then they’re not willing to try it again because this last one didn’t work. And that’s the biggest obstacle that any musician can have is to stand in their own way in terms of not believing in themselves and not giving it the time to develop and not consistently putting out new stuff so that everything can grow.

Jason: That’s great advice. I think your comment about just being okay with being patient. But I think a lot of times you alluded to this to being okay with who you are and not trying to just be somebody else. Being authentic. I see so many people that think oh, I just need to be you know, like just other artists and sound just like them and I know there’s opportunities you can do remixes and covers of other songs but I know several people in the industry who’ve gone down that kind of thing and a lot of times I don’t think they find near the amount of joy in doing other people’s stuff. It’s fun to do but if you want to really see a musician light up, I think you let them kind of find that tune or that melody on their own and make it their own song. And it’s just a whole different experience when you allow yourself to do that, not just thinking that that’s what other people want. 

My guess is you are doing your music, when you started out you weren’t really doing it for other people right? You liked the way it sounded, you liked the way George Winston sound and you’re like oh, that’s kind of like my thing because you definitely have a style that’s definitely Michele! It’s not George Winston, it’s not David Nevue or other people but, do you feel like that was something that just came about over time or if you look back, what were the influences? And how did you get there?

Michele: I feel like the piano for me, music in general, is kind of where I go from my own personal therapy. It’s kind of really truly the only time that my brain is quiet.  I have a very active brain.  So when I’m at the piano and I’m when I’m just playing and I’m playing something that I really enjoy, or I’m writing and in creative mode, I’m  lost in that time. So it’s very therapeutic for me. It’s where I go to really let my sadness out. It’s where I let my joy out. It’s frustrations and my fears and and things that inspire me so it’s always been that way for me and I have never really, I mean other than learning to play George Winston’s music by ear, once I started composing my own music I sort of just gravitated towards that I never really kind of look back.  Occasionally I’ll play stuff,  melodies that inspire me, but for the most part it’s just 100% authentically my soul that you’re hearing when you listen to my music. I always kind of joke and say that my music is like a musical diary. You can tell what kind of year I’ve had based on the music that’s on the album. Like Oh, Michelle had a sad year or she had a really joyous year. I feel like as an artist, there is a time and place for doing covers and I feel like branding is really important. Like if you start off as a cover artist, and then that’s what people get to know you as, then it’s easier to go from that to creating your own music and creations than it is to like to be somebody who creates their own music and composition and then starts releasing covers and then that’s become that the branding gets mixed up. Unless you mix it up. And then you do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.   I feel like the authenticity of who you are as an artist and what kind of story you’re trying to tell and what kind of message you’re portraying and being open. I feel like being open and letting people into who you are musically, is a really big deal. So there’s a whole conglomerate of things that go along with the question you just asked me. I went off on a tangent there.  

Jason: No you’re good. Great thoughts. You mentioned the story that your music is telling. And sometimes you have that sad or happy or whatever but I think as I look at a lot of musicians that have done well, there’s the story that you can get by listening to music, but I think there’s also something there’s other people who’ve done a very good job of telling a story about the song and even with song titles. Do you have any insights? As you’ve seen over the years, other people yourself? Where like the song title or the choice. You know, if you do a video talking about how that song came about, do you feel like that’s a big part of that branding as well or can you just put out that music and hope that people will interpret it however they want.

Michele: I feel like the story is everything and I learned that once I started performing live. I used to just write music and then I would say, well this one sounds like waterfalls, so I named it waterfalls or what is this like ruffling leaves of the trees or whatever. When I started performing live and doing shows with other musicians and kind of learned this method of doing shows where we tell the story before the songs and the inspiration of what drove that music. I feel like that vastly improved the connection for me as an artist to the piece that I’ve written. And then also for the audience member listening to that piece. And so I feel like the story is just essential in when you’re expressing that music out there. So now when I write, it has actually changed me as an artist in the way that I write music because I’m writing now I’m thinking of the inspiration I was thinking of the story or the the idea that I wanted to express with that music and then when I titled my albums and put my albums together I theme everything around that story. So I’m basically presenting my diary experience in a much more storytelling aspect which I personally as an artist really love doing.

Jason: Have you ever compiled like a book and those stories that’s like written out or do a video series? So here’s a playlist of the story behind the song as well or is that something he’s not done yet?

Michele: I’ve done some videos with stories of the songs but I haven’t done anything in a written format. That’s a brilliant idea. I might steal that from you.

Jason: Please do! No, I totally agree with you and I think I’ve been a marketer for a long time. I kind of grew up as well. I think you grew up as a product manager which included I’m sure a lot of marketing but the best sales pitches or the best selling websites or whatever it is you’re trying to sell when there’s no story behind it, nobody cares. It’s the same as with music. It’s true for everything you do even if it’s trying to convince your spouse partner to go on a vacation you gotta gotta have a story. You know, to frame that right? So they want to go wherever it is. So, I think branding and the story are absolutely critical, great thoughts there. 

So when you think about success, this podcast is the successful musicians podcast, I think, what do you define yourself as successful or fulfilled or what would you say for musicians in general, what would be your definition of finding that success with music?

Michele: I feel like having music that resonates with people and makes an impact on someone’s life is really magical and humbling thing and to me that comes with the feeling of success in terms of, here I am, I’m making music for me, because it’s my therapy but I’m putting it out there so people can enjoy it. And then I’m getting feedback from people on how this music has changed their life, whatever way and some of these stories are so profound and so moving I can’t comprehend how my music is affecting so many people. And that to me is a level of pride. I’m proud of that. And then you know, there’s the financial aspect of success. Whether or not I’m making a living through music, or just earning an income from that is not so much important as it is how, like the stepping stones, the different little things that I’ve accomplished with my career. Being featured in Rolling Stone magazine was one of the biggest moments for me, being featured on Pandora’s article talking about how I was one of the top 25 musicians in the Christmas genre alongside major, major names. Those little stepping stones for me, indicate my own personal success but again, it goes back to just the ability to impact someone’s life in ways that are just so incredible.

Jason: I think everybody that I’ve talked to I mean the financial, if the financial is there it’s nice, that’s great but I think without fail, if that’s all somebody focuses on as I look at people who’ve maybe kind of waved the white flag and said, Hey, I’m out of this business, I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s because they’ve maybe been focused on and we’re more worried about the number of dollars they made or number of listeners, and it’s, I think just we all look back there’s been those emails we got the person at a concert that tells you this made an impact, the best payday ever, you can’t there’s no way to put a price on those types of interactions.

Michele: I always tell people in my class that if you’re making music to make money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Make music for you because you love it and it’s who you are. It’s what you’re drawn to and made to do. And then if people listen to it, and people buy it, that’s just icing on the cake, but make it for you because then it means more,  it’s gonna it’s going to come across more authentically and more true and it’s going to touch people in a more sincere, authentic way.

Jason: I think the more we can go into any project with any art in general, just do it because you like it and if nobody else likes it who cares? As long as you’ve enjoyed it, you’re gonna find that happiness and fulfillment from it. So Well, Michelle, this is I think we’re getting down to the end of time as you’re doing these marketing classes is something you’re doing often or used to in the past or can people sign up to do marketing classes with you?

Michele: I haven’t done them since the pandemic started. I stopped doing those, the music industry has changed so much and it’s constantly changing. It’s an ever changing landscape that is never the same and one thing that might work six months ago is no longer working now and new things are constantly being thrown at us. And so, I’ve actually considered revamping my course completely. But during pandemic time, I just sort of stopped doing them, but if anybody wants to reach out I’m always open to discussing. A lot of times I just share information with their email.

Jason: So if people want to go check out your music, they can obviously go on Pandora. Your website is, where should they go?

Michele: michelemclaughlin.com and it’s Michele with one L. You can just Google Michele Solo Piano and you’ll find me.

Jason: She’s all over the place. Well Michele, thank you so much for your time. And thank you for all of the help you’ve done for this industry. I know there’s just I can name off at least a dozen count players from I know, you’ve inspired you’ve helped. So, thank you so much for giving back and making a difference in this industry. So, thank you.

Michele: Thank you. Thanks for having me.


 First, if you hit SUBSCRIBE, it will help ensure that you do not miss future episodes. Second, if you SHARE this with your friends on social media, send it via email or messages, help us spread the word as well. Third, if you leave an honest review, it really helps with the algorithm so that other people can find our podcast. 

 Finding success and fulfillment in the music industry is possible. Looking forward to seeing you in our next episode.

How to Connect with the Featured Guest:

Our special guest for today’s episode is Michele McLaughlin. She is a self-taught contemporary solo pianist and composer. She has released twenty-one albums, many of which have received multiple nominations and awards. 

She has over 1.5 Billion spins on Pandora radio and has been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, both online and in print. Her albums “Undercurrent”, “Life” and “Memoirs” all debuted at #5, #4, and #3 on the New Age Billboard Charts. 

She has performed in over 200 concerts. She has been featured on radio stations worldwide, including SiriusXM, MusicChoice Soundscapes, Whisperings Solo Piano Radio and Echoes.

What You’ll Learn

In this episode, Michele will share how she self-taught herself to play the piano and how she began her journey as an artist. She also discusses how having the proper mindset as a new musician is very important and how being successful as a musician is all about being patient. She also shares how to overcome the biggest obstacle that musicians face which is failing to believe in themselves. She also talks about how important branding is and how the story of the song makes a huge impact. 

Connect with Michele McLaughlin







Youtube Music

Apple Music


Connect with Jason







Amazon Music

Apple Music

Article Progress