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Conversations with Lauren Abels

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauren Abels.

Hi Lauren, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I started playing the violin at the age of six, which is really where it all began. My family lived just outside of Chicago at the time, and I started taking lessons at a local, family-owned violin shop. About a year later, I joined our community’s Suzuki group and went on the be a part of that group for the next several years, until my family moved to Florida when I was in middle school.

After the move, I continued to take violin lessons and attend orchestra camps and fiddle camps all over the country. I had a fiddle trio in high school called “Elle and the Rootabega Boys”, and was concertmaster of my high school orchestra both my junior and senior years. I was always naturally inclined to be a leader, but being thrust into both of these positions at a young age really taught me the value of leading in a way that serves others.

In 2013, I moved to Nashville to study classical violin performance at Belmont University. I worked my butt off to help my parents pay for my tuition by teaching violin lessons online and working for the on-campus food service, all while practicing for my major’s requirements, participating in student recitals and recording sessions, and keeping up with my class assignments.

Fast forward a few years; I was inspired to start The Tune Project in 2017 after coming home to Nashville from a summer fiddle camp, and decided to create an Instagram account where I would post a video of myself playing a fiddle tune every day as a personal challenge. I was still teaching violin lessons at that point, and some of my students were asking me to record myself playing the fiddle tune I’d just taught them so they could have something to practice with during the week.

This turned into me posting “play-along” videos on YouTube after I realized that others may be able to benefit from my instruction as well. I remember my first tutorial was for the Star Wars theme because I had a young student who wanted to learn how to play it.

Now, I have nearly 20k subscribers on my YouTube channel, a podcast where I interview Nashville musicians, monthly virtual jam workshops, and I just launched a digital sheet music library. Since living in Nashville, I’ve also had some amazing opportunities to perform and record with incredible artists and bands at legendary music venues, and for that, I am so grateful.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I feel very privileged to have been afforded the opportunities I was as a child. However, growing a business in any capacity will present its unique set of challenges. I think all artists experience self-doubt, comparison, and questioning our purpose on some level and at one point or another, and as someone who has always struggled with anxiety, I am definitely no exception.

Looking back, though, I am grateful for the bumps in the road and small “failures” I experienced, because, as cliché, as it sounds, each of them taught me something and motivated me to try a new approach. Even now, at the intersection of musician and entrepreneur, I sometimes have trouble explaining what I do to other musicians whose career goals fall more into the traditional category (tour, write a hit song, land a record deal, etc.). I am at an interesting crossroads where I love the creative and performative side of music, but I also really enjoy the business side.

I am still growing and learning new things every day, though, so I can only hope that I will continue to hone my craft as a musician and sharpen my skills as an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’ve discovered the secret to success just yet, so I am going to continue working, learning, making mistakes and learning from them.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Well, I am a musician first, entrepreneur second. I have been playing the violin my whole life, and suppose that is my biggest identifier in both my personal and professional life. People have always known me as the girl who plays the violin. I think what sets me apart, though, is my ability to think creatively while also staying grounded by the business-minded aspect of myself.

As a performing musician, I have a great ear (thanks to my Suzuki training), and a wide knowledge base and comfortability in many different genres and styles. Because of this combination of qualities, I am able to easily play with artists on stage or in the studio and enhance what they do, which brings me great joy!

I’ve learned that just because someone is a skilled musician does not mean they can educate others, and just because someone is a music teacher does not mean they are a strong performer. I am thankful to have the ability to do both, so I am able to bring my knowledge as a performing musician to my students and viewers. I also find myself empathizing with and relating to those I work with, which I think translates and comes across in my teaching videos.

I have worked to ensure that The Tune Project is a place for people who don’t have access to violin lessons or simply want to learn tunes on their own to come to and feel safe, without fear of judgment or ridicule, and I will continue to make sure it stays that way.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
There have been an overwhelming number of lessons, but I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout this whole journey is to be open to new opportunities. I always thought that if you chose a path you had to stick to it, for better or worse, but I’ve found that sometimes life teaches us things along the way and shows us new ways of doing things, and as a result, sometimes new paths will arise that we didn’t even know existed in the first place.

When I chose to study violin performance, I had no idea it would lead me to where I am today. Especially as an artist/entrepreneur who is regularly juggling several projects at once, it is important for me to be open to new ideas and pivot when necessary. I’ve also learned that it is important to know my own goals and to take actionable steps toward achieving them.

I think a lot of people, musicians, and non-musicians alike, expect that if they keep doing what they are doing, somehow their dream job will fall into their lap. While this may be true for a few lucky individuals, the rest of us have to work to make our dreams a reality, and that is what I am learning every day through The Tune Project.

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