"What does Cheryl want most? Anyone will tell you, oh, Grammy. Like my clarity is so clear that other people know how to show up for me. I think that that's a big miss for a lot of musicians, like if you want to tour and to do Spotify and to do licensing and to do this amazing yes, I am a big fan of doing all the things, but what's the most important thing right now? What is the thing that's going to give you the biggest step up to help all the other things that you want to do? If you can give yourself the gift of focusing on that one thing and the clarity of like, this is what I'm going after right now, then other people are going to know how to step up. If you don't know what you want, people are not going to know how to show up and help you." ~Cheryl B. Engelhardt

Successful Musicians Podcast Episode 25


Interviewee: Cheryl B. Engelhardt

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 Cheryl B. Engelhardt, a fellow New Age piano artist. Cheryl, you have some exciting things that have been happening for you. You have a Grammy nomination that is coming up. That’s not something that very many New Age people can say if they’re piano players. So congratulations on that. Those who aren’t familiar with her work definitely go check it out. You’ve had over 40 placements on TV and film type of licensing opportunities but one of the things I think is really interesting is you’re telling me that you are a coach but you’re a certified trauma coach as well. So you’ve just got a really interesting resume to share with the audience today. Cheryl, tell us a little bit about you and fill in the blanks of where I missed and then tell us a little bit about how you ended up in a music career.


Cheryl: Well, thank you. You kind of covered a lot of stuff there. I’m happy to be here and I appreciate talking to you and anyone that’s listening. This Grammy nominated album, The Passenger, is my 7th album, ironically my first to not be performing on an acoustic grand piano or using vocals, which are the two things that I historically have done a lot of and get called for composing for films and commercials for those skills. It was something I created on a Train. It’s an ambient album that has a bunch of different guest artists on it. So there is an acoustic element to it. It feels sort of that new age ambient crossover. So to keep talking about piano, I’m like, it’s so funny that this ambient is not even a piano. I mean, there’s piano sounds on it but yeah.


Jason: With that album, you’ve got such a cool story behind it with being A Passenger and it was I think you did it even kind of almost post COVID or still probably had a little bit of the COVID restrictions on it, which made it even more interesting to film.


Cheryl: Totally COVID. It was like the peak of COVID in early 2022. It was the reason the Grammys got moved. I was going to take the train to go from New York to Los Angeles and sort of make a trip out of it to go attend the Grammys just as a voter, as an attendee. They moved the Grammys because of this Cohort peak to April. So it was one of those yeah, we’re definitely in it, for sure and I was glad I had my own room, so everyone was masked and you would go eat but they had a lot of restrictions around the training experience, I think, because of COVID but I didn’t feel the impact of that really.


Jason: Well, let’s rewind back to how you end up as a piano player. Did you grow up wanting to be a piano player or did your parents?


Cheryl: I grew up being a piano player. I started taking lessons when I was like two or three or something and I loved being in choirs, but I didn’t have pictures of rock stars or pianists or anything like that. I was like dolphins and whales. I like marine biology. That’s what I’m doing. I went to Cornell and I was studying marine law actually, and a little bit of biology. I think my major was called Biology in Society but I was taking all these electives for music and music technology, really like film scoring and the tech behind aligning music to picture and all the stuff back then. My advisor said “hey, if you take a couple more classes, you can actually double major”. We didn’t have minors then, it was just double major, that’s it and I said, okay, let’s do that. So I had this double major. Graduated with this dual degree thing and my first job out of college was scuba diving for the government, doing water quality research and music was sort of that hobby thing until I got asked to leave scuba diving and go to Rome, Italy for a month, like a year after I graduated and helped create some videos and write music for these videos, for this really fancy hotel that they wanted for their website.


I was like, if this is where music takes me I mean, I know science was taking me underwater. Underwater is cool but this is way cooler. So I came back to New York. I got a job as a messenger for a video editing house. Through that I met companies that delivered these digital tapes to New York City and I met a jingle house that did the music for these commercials. I started working there after bugging them for about eleven months. Every time I delivered anything I said, hey, do you have a job open? and one thing led to another. I started doing my own music there, put a band together, did the New York City sort of Bleaker Street shows, live shows, started touring, left the Jingle House to tour more, all the while dealing with my own anxiety and panic of being in the music industry. I was dating a mountain guide at the time who is now my husband. So a lot of stuff just felt up in the air. That’s how I started creating new age music because I couldn’t find anything that really could enhance my meditation experience without either putting me to sleep or pulling me from it.


Like classical music, the melodies, my ear would just go to that and I wouldn’t be doing what I needed to do in the moment, which is processing what was going on for me and not pushing it down. So I started creating music that would latch onto heart rates and I brought in some of that biometric sort of dorky stuff from college and one thing much another. Now I’m a bunch of albums in, like I said, seven albums or a couple of pop records and then a couple of New age records and here we are.


Jason: I’m curious, as you were diving into that music, has your family and other people been really supportive of that or have they kind of given you the idea of like, you have this great job with the government, you’re scuba diving, you’re doing your dream, what are you doing?


Cheryl: Yeah, I didn’t get so much resistance. My dad was an engineer who also played the upright bass. My mom was a teacher who also did art and I think in college I do remember a conversation of me talking about my music classes inside of that credit. They were inside of the major. They were the same amount of credit, the same amount they counted towards my GPA as much as the science classes but I do remember my mom saying, hey, okay, cool. Tell us about the important classes. I think there was this sort of with no mal intent, right? No malicious non support has always been a lot of support but I think that there was this cultural sort of you don’t do art for a career like that, silly. You stand on your own 2 feet, you get a good job, and that means someone else is paying you. I’ve been a freelance composer, working on projects, composing for social justice choirs, doing comedy things for fun and not funny. CollegeHumor.com, I scored a bunch, so I’m always project based since I left in Jingle House and I think it was 2007. I really defied a lot of that learning that I had to unlearn that in order to stand on your own 2 feet and to make an income, you have to be working for someone else but they’ve been 100% supportive to answer that question. That’s awesome in the way they know how to best. Right.


Jason: To hear all these stories, I think everybody has their own story with how they get there and it’s interesting how many of us maybe didn’t intend to do the music career, but through a whole bunch of weird winding roads, we end up doing what we’re doing.


Cheryl: Yeah, totally. For a long time, I was a yes to opportunities, meaning I didn’t really know what I wanted the career to look like. I just was like, oh, this friend is a producer for College Humor, a friend of a friend. I should tell her that I do music and then boom, now I’m writing music for College Humor videos. I would speak up and turn small opportunities into the opportunity but it was never like, I’m going out and getting this. I started realizing that I was getting a little exhausted because I felt like my life wasn’t my own. I was saying yes to things that were taking me down roads that were very cool and I had what most musicians would kill for as an opportunity. I should be liking this, I should be grateful, like a lot of shoulds and for me, a should is a very good red flag that something’s up and I need to take a look at something. Then I went the complete other way where I was like, okay, I’m going to declare everything I want, I’m going to go after it and I sort of put these blinders on them, like, let me really define what I want get clear because clarity is the key to everything, which I still believe.


But then I became exhausted in a different way because then I was responsible for generating 100% of everything, like the opportunities, the people, the money. What I realized and sort of found the balance over time is that having a nice balance of being really clear on what I want but also being open to things coming in that might get me there in a different way that I wasn’t expecting and to have this balance between generating exclusively and receiving and sort of being a yes to things that I wasn’t planning for and having a nice balance between the two of those. That makes for a really interesting career that I don’t get bored of, and it also makes for an intentional one.


Jason: Yeah. So I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that has the name coach and trauma inside of a title. So talk more about what that is and what does that mean?


Cheryl: Yeah, trauma informed coach. I’ve been into personal development in my own growth, and some of my biggest results that I got in my own career were when I was working with a career coach. I knew there was something there about taking those blinders off, being seen by someone else, being a mirror, having a different perspective. So I had been in a program where you get trained to be a career coach and with a little bit of personal sort of life coach stuff for over 15 years. I had a ton of training in that and I have always really found it interesting to get asked to speak on a lot of music business panels and I hear a lot of the same questions and to be able to answer those from a place of let’s look at what’s blocking you, and said, well, here’s what I did. There’s 100 ways to get on TV placements. There’s 100 different ways to get on spotify playlists, there’s 100 ways to tour successfully without losing money. I know what I did that worked, but that may not be the way for you to do it and I see a lot of people that call themselves coaches in the music marketing world.


They’re actually just sharing their stories and or their opinions and that’s advice, which is a beautiful thing to get, and it’s a perspective, but it’s not actually getting to the core of what’s stopping that person. It’s usually not that they need the newest marketing strategy or that they need to put more time or money into something. It’s usually because there’s some element of unconscious self sabotage that got trained from when they were really young. Like, if you grew up I’ll give you an example. If you grew up in a household where you had a parent, or maybe both parents were unpredictable in terms of their moods or how they treated you and there was like an element of chaos. That chaos gets normalized and it turns into your comfort zone even though it doesn’t feel comfortable. Chaos for just using this one example for this one type of person is the norm. So if you get into a situation where there’s a possibility for stability, financial stability, or relationship stability or something that’s outside of your comfort zone, so your body is going to subconsciously somehow sabotage that piece, that stability, because it’s not chaos, it’s not familiar and we gotta get back inside of the familiar. 


So imagine growing up where it’s hard to make money. You can’t make money as an artist or whatever your flavor of some sort of learned, embodied statement is and then going out and trying to do the exact opposite. Anytime you ever get close to it, you’re going to do something to get you out of that potential success that you wanted, of course you want, but it’s all built in and so that is it may not be trauma capital T that we think of like in terms of an event, like a car crash or a divorce or assault or something, but there’s some level of lower case trauma that we’ve all experienced in some way that we get learned then if we are not conscious of it, we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels. So I really learned that musicians, a lot of musicians, all humans, have something to uncover about and discover about themselves that is going to feed more into their success than any typical marketing strategy, which I also provide. I’m an email dork. I think email marketing is really important. I teach about that too but really being able to connect to yourself is going to allow you to connect to your fans and therefore shift how you get results.


Jason: I love what you’re saying about marketing. So I grew up as a marketing director at a bank for twelve years and so I kind of came up with and was building the first websites at this bank back in 2001 when that was just barely becoming a thing. I’ve loved marketing that’s been really the best as I look back on my career. I dropped out of the music program at school on the second day and I went over to the marketing department as the best decision I ever made and what I’m hearing from you is you’re geeking out on this marketing nerdy stuff and I love that but I think for a lot of musicians, one of the most valuable skill sets that I see a lot of really talented, musically talented musicians have is they either lack the marketing know how or they refuse or don’t want to at least explore that. They want to kind of push that responsibility of telling their story or marketing themselves off onto somebody else. And I think as I see a lot of really successful people in the music business, they’ve typically figured out how to master the marketing side.


I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how you ended up deciding what you wanted. How did you learn your marketing thing and what pushed you?


Cheryl: When I first started touring back in 2006, I knew that I wanted to stay in touch with anyone that I was at a show with, whether I was in Burns, Switzerland or Utah. So I was like, I guess I should get your email. This is when MySpace is just crashing and I knew you couldn’t depend on that. I just always had an email list and I stayed in touch with them. I was super vulnerable and I learned really early on that was valuable. You know, at one point I had around 1000 emails, 1000 fans on my list and I did the crowdfunding campaign and I was like, let’s see if anyone wants to contribute. I’m going to make all these different levels from like $50 all the way to $2,000. I was like, you can come to the studio and sing with me. People bought that one and a fan funded two albums with around definitely less than 2000 fans for about $20,000 each and I really got that cool all through email and I was like, all right, let’s see what else that I don’t know about. I’ve been just running it the way I know.


Cheryl: So I started going to marketing conferences, totally not music industry related at all and let’s go to the people that know how to do this because I don’t even think record labels and I don’t think anyone in the music industry inherently knows how to do email correctly unless they’ve done your email list, which is my course. So I went to the people that were doing it right, and I got certified as an email marketing. I dorked out on it. You all figured out I’m a dork and then I was like, well, I can’t not share this with other musicians. So I put a course together. I started talking more about it at music conferences and kept getting training in how to really present this information in a way that’s concise because what, musicians got time. People got two or three jobs they’re trying to get in the studio, they’re trying to tour and deal with families. So I’m like, how can I concisely present all of this and make a difference and keep using myself as a guinea pig for all the things that I think are working and trying out? I have a framework called the Musician Success Cycle that really gives yourself permission to focus on exactly where you are, not if you’re creating, if you’re in the studio cool, don’t think about pitching a promotion and don’t skip the step in the middle.


Cheryl: That’s like setting up some admin. So we’ve got this beautiful cycle that I used for the basis of my mastermind called Amplify. I’ve been running that for about seven years and it gives people so much power to just own where their ad and anyone comes on and they’re like, I’m so overwhelmed. First question anyone in the group will ask, well, what phase are you in on the musician’s success? Everyone’s like, oh, my God. Everyone? Yes. I’m not focusing. It’s just this beautiful framework, and I use it, and I do think it’s the reason that I’ve been able to declare with clarity and then take action inside of the goal of, yeah, let’s go get a Grammy and that’s been present for me, for you. Ask anyone on my email list, anyone in my “In the Key of Success” which is my sort of coaching world, who has been around me for at least five days, like, what does Cheryl want most? Anyone will tell you, oh, Grammy. Like my clarity is so clear that other people know how to show up for me. And I think that that’s a big miss for a lot of musicians, is like, if you want to tour and to do spotify and to do licensing and to do this amazing yes, I am a big fan of doing all the things, but what’s the most important thing right now? What is the thing that’s going to give you the biggest step up to help all the other things that you want to do? If you can give yourself the gift of focusing on that one thing and the clarity of like, this is what I’m going after right now, then other people are going to know how to step up. If you don’t know what you want, people are not going to know how to show up and help you.


Jason: That’s great advice, man. We could end the interview right now and I think you just dropped a value bomb right there. So you’re talking about this coaching. So let’s think back to what success for you maybe was 20 years ago. So you’re saying, like, 2005, six? You were just starting to get into that music career. If you were to define success back then and have that clarity, maybe that you maybe didn’t have or did have, and then what do you define as successful musician today for you?


Cheryl: Yeah, I think back then in my twenties, I was super clear that I wanted a Grammy. All my passwords were Grammy by 30. Grammy or bust, I’m definitely not 30 anymore. My best friend planted the seed on my birthday. My 23rd birthday was February 23, and it was the only time that the Grammys were on that date. So the Grammys were playing. I’m watching them with my friend on February 23 on my 23rd birthday and I was doing my very first album. I was still in the studio and she was like, you could win a Grammy. Seed planted at 30. I didn’t have a Grammy at 30. Wasn’t even a member of the recording academy then. I didn’t even know how it worked, right? I just kind of was like and then I started getting all these panic attacks about like, it’s too late, blah, blah, blah. What I didn’t do was acknowledge all of the tours I had done, all the money I had made, all the licenses. So I really started to look at the small wins along the way and realize I’m on the path of someone who’s creating something or aiming to create something of Grammy quality. Then the Grammy started to not matter as much, but it was still sort of this lighthouse, right? It was sort of guiding, like, if I’m creating things and getting it out there and having an impact, then I think it will lead that way and that was still a goal. So it’s not an end game for me, the Grammy. So I sort of shifted what success meant for me, and I think it turned into a little bit more of collaboration and partnering with people that I really respect in creating something that really allows for self expression. Like mine, if it was a film score, like the storytellers, the directors, the script writer, finding that creativity and self expression through partnership, and those became my three words. Self expression, partnership, creativity. So when those three things were present, I knew that I was on track.


Jason: It’s interesting how you’ve been focused for so long on that Grammy and now it’s possibly going to happen for you, maybe not. So the collaboration is where you really ended up finally finding that at least the nomination right for you and my guess is that probably has been even more fun and more fulfilling. So call it the successor. I think people, as I talk to a lot of people about success, fulfillment seems to be where they really find joy. Like, success seems to be a little bit fleeting, of like, oh, I achieved the thing, and now what?


Cheryl: Right? Because as you achieve bigger things, you’re actually building a bigger body, meaning you’re expanding your capacity to deal with bigger things, bigger problems, bigger criticisms, bigger whatever comes with every time you achieve one of your goals. So, of course, that’s not going to be the end and to me, maybe success is just constantly coming up with really satisfying goals, like, that could be success. So to me, success is you have to define it. For some people it is financial. I’m making 100% of my money or paying all my bills from music. Great and when you start paying all your bills, paying all your bills is boring. Do you want to create wealth?What’s after being able to pay your bills, right? Because that is going to start to feel really small and right now it might feel really big and a big challenge. At some point you’re going to normalize the big stuff so that it feels normal and then you’re like, cool, now it’s big and that’s just growth, right? That’s my happy place. I like to live in that growth and expansion.


Jason: And I think what I’ve also found is as people have reached that growth and found that success or whatever with the financial or just with their music in general, what typically happens is they want to teach other people or share that. I think in a lot of ways, the happiness and joy that these amazing people do is what they want to give back. It’s almost like they’re like, OK, I’ve gotten to the top of the mountain. I want to bring more people with me so they can feel that same thing and speed up. They can see this journey.


Cheryl: Right? I mean, the big thing for me is just like not having a lot of independent women musicians showing what’s possible. I think when they do get into a place of like, this is what’s possible, there are a lot that are like it does feel like there’s twice as much hustle and twice as much work. There’s not a lot of time to be cool. Now I have the time in the luxury of being a woman in this very male centric industry, to give back. And not to say that there aren’t a lot of organizations and a lot of women that are doing that and I do see inside of the marketing world and inside of the coaching that it is, especially with independent musician communities, very male driven. So I do feel like it’s important to just be someone that’s like, this is what’s possible, this is how I did it. This is what I’m particularly doing. These are the hurdles that I experienced. These are the self sabotaging habits that I had to break and I would love for someone to declare that they want a Grammy and to not have it take them 20 years.


I would love that. So granted, mine is coming and it will be 20 years, like almost to the day, right? If you wanted to talk about that, February 23, 2003. It was when I turned 20. It’s 2023 next year when the Grams will be on the 5 February. Do I think that it has to be 20 years? No, there are people that have been working on it for 50 years and haven’t gotten it but I don’t think it’s a function of time necessarily.


Jason: So if you could rewind back the clock and give yourself some advice, what advice would you give yourself? Or that younger version of you knowing?


Cheryl: Well, at this moment, I would say, don’t you change anything because it’s all working out but I might say be patient. Let’s see. I think that just the commitment to growth is not a one time thing and I think I knew that inherently. But to just get permission to do that would be really nice. Like, no one said, yeah, it’s okay to keep working on yourself and not feel like there’s ever an end and to really like that process and encourage it. So I think that that’s important and the title of my album, Being The Passenger, I called it that because I felt like I was getting to a point of really trying to force the outcome and things weren’t happening the way I wanted to. I was like, what if I just let go and let someone else drive? And not necessarily from a point of laziness or weakness, but more from a point of trust, trusting the process, trusting my own skills, trusting the universe, trusting my partners. What would it look like to be a master passenger versus someone who always needs to force this outcome and do it themselves and do it alone, which is a very common independent musician thing.


It’s like, I can do it myself. I might as well. Yeah, I think a lot opens up when you can kind of lean back a little bit.


Jason: I know we’re about out of time but I’m curious, as you look back on your career in music, or even prior to that, is there anybody that’s mentored you or the best advice that you can think back and say, man, that was probably the best advice I’ve been given that’s helped me in my career.


Cheryl: There’s a couple of pieces. Musically, Rob Mathis, who is the most famous person you’ll never hear of? I think that’s how I read an article describing him but he does a lot of orchestrations for Stingy and Bruce Springsteen and directs the Kennedy Center Honors and is just conductor and composer. He was sort of local to me growing up in Connecticut and always had this holiday concert and he would get these famous musicians to play with him. I mean, a couple of years ago I was in this choir. He always had the choir of saints and friends, family and friends and people volunteering to just sing in these choirs. Next year’s the 30th anniversary of this concert and I was thinking about it and just how his music is like jazz meets fusion meets pop meets orchestral, and the arrangements and the chords are just so cool and a little weird and I think that that really played into musically just having a career, but always standing true to his he’s like such a big heart to his family and things like that. So it was really such a joy to be able to tell him that he’s known that he’s been a mentor.


I’ve emailed him questions and how do you get out of a writer’s block? He gave me some really cool advice. I noticed if I’m always starting the melody on the fifth, I’ll start on the third and there’s actual musical pieces of advice as well as just an example of how to really have an extraordinary career with extraordinary people and not make it about you. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t make it. It’s always about someone else. So it was such a joy to be able to tell him. I texted him that I got this grammy nomination, and then I saw him at the concert. It was a couple of weeks ago. No, it was last Saturday. And just have him be, like, a Grammy nominee. He’s got grammy nominations all over the place and what wins and emmys and all sorts of stuff but it was really cool to see that come full circle. I think in terms of just, like, business, marketing. Some good advice I got from someone else was, don’t be afraid to get on a plane, because there’s a lot of, like, should I move to la. Or Georgia, or where should I go?


Should I be in Georgia? Atlanta or New York. And it doesn’t really matter. If you’re willing to just do what it takes to get the relationships that you need, and that maybe that means getting on a plane or a train, in my case, then you should be good to go.


Jason: Awesome. I know we’re out of time, but I wanted to say thank you so much for being willing to share with hopefully a lot of people who are going to hear this, and hopefully it’ll inspire them. I love the idea of the passenger. I think it can apply to everybody’s life, really. If you think about it, we’re all on this ride. And no matter how much we think we’re the driver and the conductor of that train, oftentimes there’s things that will happen that are way out of our control and being okay to go along with that, but also being willing to get on the plane when we need to and change it up if need be.


Cheryl: Yeah, totally.


Jason: Awesome.


Cheryl: Thank you. I appreciate that.


Jason: Thanks so much. I really hope things go well for the grammys. Be cheering you on. I’m not a vote for the grammys, but if I were, you’d have my vote. I’ve listened to nearly the whole album now, more than once even. Congratulations on that nomination, and best of luck.


Cheryl: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


Jason: Awesome. Okay, well, thanks.


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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, Cheryl B. Engelhardt, is a GRAMMY®-Nominated New Age Composer and Recording Artist. She and her music has been featured in People, Bazaar, ABCFamily, GrammyAwards, Forbes, Keyboard, Newage and many more.


Her creation “The Passenger” has been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Age, Ambient, or Chant Album.


Cheryl is also a trauma-informed master coach and uses that skillset to mentor other independent musicians in her mastermind called AMPLIFY.

What You’ll Learn

In this episode, Cheryl fills us in the blanks about how she ended up in a music career when she went to Cornell and studied marine law. 

She also shares her knowledge on her concept of unconscious self sabotage.

Cheryl also emphasizes collaboration and partnering with people that she really respects in creating something that really allows for self expression. 


Things We Discussed


GRAMMYs – The Grammys is another name for the Grammy Awards, an award ceremony to honor excellence in the music and recording industry. The statuette awarded to winners is called a Grammy. The plural form Grammys is usually used.


ambient album – Ambient music is described on Wikipedia as “a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm.”

Connect with Cheryl B. Engelhardt

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