Ep. 40: Rethinking Children's Music: Nikki Loney and Full Voice Music

Episode Description:

Today I’m talking with Nikki Loney, the founder and CEO of Full Voice Music whose mission is to challenge teachers to redefine what a singing lesson looks like for a child. She shares her story of what it was like starting the company and how she overcame obstacles to become a leading figure in young children’s vocal music education. She is also the host of the Full Voice Podcast, available on all the major podcast platforms and publishes original songs, workbooks, and other music at fullvoicemusic.com.

Featured On This Episode:
40 Nikki Loney (1)
Nikki Loney

My name is Nikki, and I am a professional singer, voice teacher, resource creator, music publisher, and podcaster. My absolute passion is the young beginner vocalists! For over 30 years, I have created a safe, educational, and fun voice studio for young singers. I share my expertise and resources with those excited to do the same.  All FULL VOICE materials are kid and teacher-tested! Our resources travel worldwide, making voice teachers, students, and parents smile.

Episode Transcript:

*Episode transcripts are automatically generated and have NOT been proofread.*

Well, Nikki Loney, welcome to the podcast.

How are you doing today?

Oh, Garrett, thank you so much.

I’m great.

Thank you for having me.

Well, let’s start with an easy one.

What is full voice music?

Oh, that’s a great question.

And thank you for asking.

Full voice music is a small but mighty vocal music publishing company.

And we specialize in resources and education for the young singing student.

So we have a very, very teeny tiny niche of resources for young children, teens and tweens.

And then we also take care of some teacher education as well.

What age are we talking about?

We are like early elementary, so grade one into high school.

Well, that’s a pretty wide age range.

It is.

We’ve been focusing on the little ones for a while, like children under the age of like 11.

But we’re now expanding into those tweens and teens age.

Got it.

So the core is that age, you know, one to 11, but there’s an expanding selection of material for older.

Well, that makes sense because after they graduate your program, they’ll want more stuff, right?

They want to keep sticking around with us, I guess.

And are you also teaching a voice studio or is it strictly publishing at this point?

That is, I’m in transition right now.

I had for many years a full-time studio and it was great because I used a lot of my students as test subjects.

They were the first ones to preview all of our resources.

But we’re just so busy and we’ve grown so much over the last two years that I have been slowly and sadly saying goodbye to my students.

And I now currently have a studio with one student left.

So why did you feel the need to create your own material?

Was it because you felt that there wasn’t anything for that age group or did you just have ideas of how you wanted to do things in a certain way?

Oh, yes.

So when I first started teaching, I guess 33 years ago, like many young musicians, vocalists, singers, I graduated college and I soon discovered that making a living from performance alone was challenging.

And a friend of mine said, oh, you know, you can just get a part-time job teaching.

And, you know, foolishly in my 20s, I was like, well, that’ll be easy.

And of course, my first day was an absolute nightmare.

I had really young students that, you know, banged on the piano and didn’t listen to me and didn’t want to participate.

And then I had teenagers that were really shy and they didn’t want to sing.

And I had an adult who, you know, also didn’t want to sing, but wanted to sing.

And I had no resources.

There was nothing.

There was absolutely nothing.

And my first day of teaching was absolutely miserable.

I drove home crying because it was so horrible.

But I was young and I needed the money.

So I, every week, I went to this music school and I tried to teach to the best of my ability.

And it was a frustrating, frustrating, lonely experience.

And I couldn’t understand, because I’d go upstairs to the music store, that there was shelves and shelves and shelves of piano books of for all ages and all backgrounds.

And it was nothing instructionally for singers.

There was lots of songbooks.

But even back then, like 30 years ago, there wasn’t the collections of songbooks that we see today, you know, the age appropriate and teens and kids.

There was nothing like that.

So there literally was zero.

And I just started creating these out of desperation, creating these one page activity sheets, trying to organize things.

I tried everything from beginner piano books to try and to integrate them.

So it was just, it was out of pure desperation.

I wanted to have some sort of resource that that helped organize a lesson.

And I met my colleague, Mim Adams, and she’s been with me since almost day one.

She was in the same boat.

We were standing outside our studios waiting for our students to show up.

And I’m like, what do you use with your students?

She’s like, oh, there isn’t anything.

I said, isn’t that weird?

Isn’t that weird that there’s no resources for these kids?

And then she felt the same way.

We started to share our little one page sheets and our activity sheets.

And we started to collect them into booklets and then level them out.

And it took us about two years.

And then we had kind of the first edition of the full voice workbooks.

And we started to see better student.

Well, we started to see less attrition.

So our students weren’t quitting.

We had better student retention.

That was the word I was looking for, student retention.

And parents really liked the fact that they could see, they get feedback.

So we just kept at it.

We just kept organizing, testing, putting the books together.

And more and more teachers kind of jumped on board.

They’re like, we really want to check out what you’re doing here.

So we started in Canada.

And our first edition books were sold across Canada in the Longham McQuade stores.

And it went really well.

And again, we were self-published.

So I found this sweet little printer at the corner of Islington and Lakeshore in Toronto.

And Katrina is still my printer today.

She’s been a dear friend.

I watched her son grow up.

She’s watched my son grow up.

And yeah, it just, it was just, there was a complete and utter void in the industry.

And out of sheer frustration and desperation, we just tried to create resources that just made teaching so much easier.

Why do you think there was that gap in material?

Oh, that’s a heavy question.

Are you ready?

Are you ready for that answer?

I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.


With respect, our industry, vocal instruction, for a long time, there has been a lot of bias and discrimination about working with children in singing lessons.

And that was due to back in the day, you know, maybe half a century ago, the only lessons that were really available to anybody that wanted to sing were of a classical nature.

And classical singing is a very advanced level of singing.

It requires you to be an adult.

It requires you to be of exceptional talent.

And so there was a lot of discrimination against children, that it wasn’t appropriate.

There was also a lot of misunderstanding of the human voice way back when, and there’s a lot of language about you will do great harm.

You know, you could hurt a child’s voice.

A child voice shouldn’t, children shouldn’t have lessons until they’ve gone through puberty.

And that unfortunately shadowed our industry.

So when I first started putting out our books in like 30 years ago, we were met with a lot of, well, a lot of discouragement.

When I first started to research the books, I did take the books to a lot of academics at higher levels to get their opinion, to get some feedback.

And my first few meetings were, oh, you should not be doing this.

Children should not be having lessons.

They should be taking piano lessons or they should be singing in the choir.

And so we actually shelved the project for about three years, because we got all this negative feedback from higher level, like teachers in academics.

That’s the word I’m looking for.

So we had to kind of change people’s minds.

And in the early years of getting started, we were met with a lot of resistance, a lot of discrimination, a lot of frustration.

Our industry is changing.

Our organizations like the National Association of Teachers of Singing have had to actually issue statements saying that working with children in an appropriate environment was acceptable and that, yes, you can teach children.

It’s been a long time coming.

My colleague and I, Dana Lentini, actually had to start a Facebook group outside of the main professional teacher Facebook group, because often when you went to the professional teachers group, you would ask about working with a child, and the entire thread would be people telling you that you shouldn’t.

So we started our own Facebook group.

Isn’t that crazy?

I talk to classroom teachers, and they just can’t understand how this could be a thing.

Explain it to me like I’m an idiot.

Why would people think it’s okay for children to sing in a choir, but not sing one-on-one?


I think it was the only point of reference that educators had a few decades ago would have been a classical type of instruction.

So just singing the wrong kind of music, like trying to sing Bach or something and not being ready for it.

I think that has a lot to do with it.

The language of doing harm or the language of hurting a child’s voice.

Now, in all fairness, voice issues in children, it’s not uncommon.

A lot of children have voice issues, but it’s just not due to over singing or from singing.

It’s from other things.

So that might be part of it.

But yeah, it was a weird situation.

I remember being quite confused when I had the meetings with the academics about our books and what we were doing, because it was very much a research project.

But it was done outside of an academia kind of environment, but I wanted their opinion.

And their opinion back then was don’t do it.

So needless to say, after three years, I was still teaching.

I still needed resources.

I continued.

And here we are today.

Full Voice workbooks are sold around the world.

And we have such a beautiful community of teachers who just love working with kids and understand what a child’s voice lesson would look like.

So you saw this need.

You were convinced that you were right, but you were met with all this opposition.

So how did you overcome that?

How did you convince people to give it a go?

Because it worked.

I mean, you’re here now.

Well, I think, I have to say, it was tough in the beginning.

We felt that a lot of doors kept slamming in our faces, and a lot of people just were so quick to assume the worst of our intentions.

But children sing.

They love to sing.

And private teachers were always asking, you know, well, I’ve got all these parents coming to me, and they want lessons for their children.

And so we, in addition to releasing our resources, we started off for training.

And I started doing seminars online and in person, talking about what a child’s lesson looks like and showing people how much fun we have with the kids.

So in the beginning, our website and our materials and our blogs and our social media was very much about educating teachers about the opportunities.

And it’s interesting because there’s more and more teachers that do take children under the age of 10, but there’s still a line.

There’s still a lot of teachers that decide 11 and up.

I’m just going to work with 11 and up.

So I still have an evil agenda of trying to convince teachers that, well, what if your line was 10 or maybe nine?

What if you just dropped it two more ages?

Because nine-year-olds are really cool.

Well, I have an eight-year-old, and we just started Trombone, so there you go.

Well, if they want singing lessons, you know where to reach me.

I could open up and be a two-student studio again.

Hey, that’s a big offer.

So talk to me about the progression from you and your friend coming up with these lessons to get through the week.

How did you grow from that to this operation that has, I don’t know, six, seven, eight employees and a website and a blog and a podcast and a YouTube channel?

I mean, it’s kind of an empire at this point.

So how did that develop?

Well, thank you for that.

It was a very slow and cautious journey.

We, and a lot of it was just sticking with it.

When we released our first edition books, we were both teaching at the Music Education Centers for Long and McQuade.

Now, that’s a big Canadian chain.

That’s like your guitar center in the States.

That’s our guitar center.

The Long McQuade family has stores across the country.

And it was kind of a fluke.

The store that I taught in, she wouldn’t allow me to sell my books directly to my students.

She’s like, well, you can’t do that.

We have a music store downstairs.

And I’m like, well, does that mean that Long McQuade is going to be selling my books?

And she’s like, well, no, not really.

They’ll just be in our store.

And I’m like, fine.

That’s fine.

And then the print music manager who, to this day, I still send her hugs and a Christmas card.

She looked at the books and she was like, these are really good.

And I’m going to send a bunch to the store over in Toronto.

And because I think they could use these.

And without, so we kind of circumvented the whole having to send your books and getting them approved to be in the system.

Karen kind of sent them out secretly to the other stores just to see how they would do.

And then the, so eventually they just, we kind of snuck them into the whole chain, but they kept selling.

So they couldn’t give us a hard time about it.

And then finally they were like, well, we don’t know how your books are getting into all these stores, but they’re selling.

So we’re going to officially take on your books and bring them out through the chains.

So we kind of, we kind of snuck into the stores.

The books did really well.

And then we had a distribution across Canada.

You can’t really do that today, can you?

No, you cannot.

That was, that was a fluke.

That was somebody looking out for us.

But from that, we’ve got a Canadian distributor that went to all of the music stores, all of the, all of the conservatories.

And they were affiliated with a distribution chain in the States.

And so we started to see our books kind of show up in some of the bigger stores.

But the big transition for us was in 2014, we launched our e-commerce site where we are actually selling the books ourselves.

And again, it was just an experiment.

I didn’t know what would happen.

We had distribution in Canada.

And Facebook groups, teacher Facebook groups in piano groups and also voice teacher groups kind of got wind of what we were doing and people were starting to share our website.

And it just kind of went from there.

And what was lovely, and again for anybody that’s publishing or listening, we were told many times that there was no way that we would get proper distribution in the US., we were just too small.

And we were also told that we were too small of a niche to actually make an impact and all of that stuff.

So we, for a while, were just content to be in Canada and seeing very small sales and enjoying, helping teachers make life easier.

But it was the Facebook groups that just kept sharing our materials.

We did, on our website, we had a download free samples of the workbooks so teachers could actually try them.

That was a lead magnet that we used on the website.

We collected so many emails.

And I have to say, our newsletter, we did, we would always have a fun freebie or we’d create a fun little exercise.

And we kind of became known for our little freebie Friday things.

So we had a growing email list.

We were providing fun games, fun warmup songs, and the free samples of the first lessons in the books.

And our sales just really spiked.

And we were going directly through our website and we were bypassing our distributor, our US distributor that was kind of not, they weren’t really promoting our books at all.

They weren’t doing anything.

So we kind of bypassed them.

We went directly to the consumer.

We provided them with additional materials.

We collected an email.

I nurtured my email list for 20 years and just grew this huge email list.

And this community, we started just building this really strong community.

A lot of the teachers on our list felt the same way that we did.

There was no support for working with children.

There were no resources.

So we really just kind of fell in at a good time and we’re providing lots of just great materials for people to try and have fun with.

And then we also, I was really resistant to it, but one of the game changers for us was putting our books on Amazon.

So we used, and I don’t know why I hesitated.

I just thought that we should go it alone, those silly things that people do.

So Amazon was a huge game changer for us.

So we used the KDP publishing and that allowed us to get into the UK market.

That allowed us to overcome the shipping costs because shipping from Toronto into the US was so costly.

And that really, that doubled our sales.

And then the other big thing that happened for us was actually during the pandemic.

So we were working on a lot of new printed books.

The pandemic happened.

Everybody went online.

And because we are a small company, we were able to pivot like full 180.

We put all of our printed materials on hold and we focused 100% on digital downloads because that’s what teachers needed.

And we did that within like three weeks.

We had some of our resources available as digital downloads with backing tracks.

We reevaluated our licensing so that teachers could share the backing tracks.

We worked with our composers.

So Glynn was one of them, Glynn Lehman, who you’ve had on your podcast, Donna Rodenizer.

And we were like, teachers need digital materials.

And they were so good.

They were so prolific through the pandemic for us.

We started our digital song library through the pandemic.

And it just, it was that need that teachers, and we’re just starting now to get back to our printed materials.

So being a small little boat, you can change course.

We’re not like the big luxury liners, like Hal Leonard or Alfred’s.

They need like, you know, a few years to pivot.

So we just needed a couple of weeks.

Have you ever considered going to a more traditional publishing model, or is that what you tried in the beginning and you just met that resistance?

We actually submitted our books to the major publishers back, I think after our, we had gone to our second edition, and we got great feedback from them, from actually a lot of the major publishing companies did give us really good feedback.

But for them, the vocal market, the vocal instructional market was so small, it just really wasn’t feasible for them.

So for, I think for every, you know, one vocal student, you might have a thousand piano students, right?

So it’s just a smaller market.

And that was always the feedback we got.

Yeah, the small company, big company thing is, I think, the overlooked piece when people talk about publishing.

Cause people like to argue with me all the time about, you know, traditional publishing is better and blah, blah, blah, blah, you know, but like, if you’re doing as you are, if you’re writing music for a small audience, that’s never going to have a big enough return.

Like when you have to satisfy investors.

And pay your shareholders and do all of that, like corporate stuff.

But if it’s just a handful of you working together, like that can be some really significant money.

Well, and that’s exactly the situation that we’re in.

So we have a really small team.

And essentially at the core, it’s four of us.

With independent contractors that come in and work for us on specific things.

And we wear many hats right now.

But I mean, we don’t, yeah, we don’t have the overhead and we don’t have, we can spend more money on developing a product because I don’t have the overhead of corporate offices.

And that was the other thing that happened during the pandemic.

My husband and I, we had plans to move to the East Coast.

We’re in Nova Scotia now, but they were like way down the road.

But the pandemic, when the pandemic happened, the whole team, we went online and it actually, we were more productive online than we were when we were in person.

So we were able to say goodbye to our offices.

We only had like small little offices at the back of a church, but we were able to say goodbye and we all work remotely.

And it’s wonderful because Mim loves to surf.

So sometimes she’s working from Costa Rica and she’s surfing.

So our meeting times have to be adjusted depending on when it’s high tide.

So like small, small price to pay.

That’s awesome.

So you kind of do all the things.

You’ve got a podcast, you’ve got a blog, you’ve got a YouTube channel, you have your email list, you do the freebies.

How much of that is just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks versus a proven return on your investment?

Ooh, that’s a great question.

I would say in the early days, everything was a throw it on the wall and see what sticks.

But the tried and true things would be our newsletter and our freebies.

That for sure.

That just, the creating resources that we can share with teachers just helps them to get a picture of what we are about and how play-based learning can really benefit your teaching studio.

So the freebies and the podcast there, I mean, I don’t know how you felt, Garrett, but I mean, the first year of doing a podcast, like, am I just yelling into the void?

Like, is this worth it?

You know, and you know-

Yeah, you might as well be shouting out the window.

Right, but we started to get more and more emails or I’d see an order come in through the website and there’d be like a little comment saying, I heard about this on the podcast.

I find that, I don’t know about you, but I find that sometimes with ROI with podcasts, ours isn’t monetized.

Again, it’s too small of an audience to monetize in any way.

But we find our people, like it’s a wonderful platform to speak to the people and that has expanded us into other countries.

The digital, transitioning to digital during the pandemic, there was a lot of concern that is this gonna, is this going to just disappear after the pandemic is over?

Are all of these efforts going to be, are they gonna dry up?

Like, is this gonna be just a waste of time?

That was a big conversation that we would have in our quarterly meetings.

Like this could be not a thing next year for us.

But what we’ve discovered is that many teachers now have hybrid studios.

So while they don’t have to teach online because of COVID, they’re choosing to teach online because it’s convenient and lots of families actually wanna keep their lessons online.

So we’ve seen the interest in our digital products can continue, thankfully.

And that, I guess I’m just trying to say we’ve been lucky that what we’ve thrown at the wall is stuck and we’re kind of sticking with it.

We’re starting to expand with new authors and new composers.

So we’re kind of going outside of our small little family, which is exciting and scary all the same.

But again, I stole this from my American friends.

Like the riches are in the niches, right?

We say niche, by the way.

So that saying that-

The niches are in the niches.

Right, just doesn’t work.

So I mean, like we’ve found our people and we’re serving our community and we get great feedback from people, honest feedback from people.

And we’ve been really lucky.

We’ve thrown some ideas out there and they’ve, I also think it’s been consistent too, right?

Do you see a significant difference between the way educational material is received versus songs or compositions written for, obviously intended to be used in lessons, but could also be taken out of context and used by children’s choirs or a recital or something like that.

Do you see a difference in how those materials are?

Is the demand different?

Are the requirements different?

Is the financial return different?

I’m spinning my wheels now, giving you too many options.

But I think a lot of my listeners are writing songs intended for performance.

It might be for children, but it seems like a lot of what you’re talking about is the more pedagogical, step-by-step material and I’m wondering just how you see that divide.

That’s a great question.

The foundation of our company was our workbooks, which was the curriculum that was missing in our industry.

But the big challenge with our curriculum, as opposed to a piano curriculum, is that we didn’t put any songs in our workbooks, which used to drive teachers bonkers.

That was the biggest criticism that we would get.

I love your workbooks, but there’s no songs in here.

The challenge and the reason that we don’t put songs in our workbooks is because choosing repertoire for singers is the mystery of life.

It is such a challenge to find good music, and there is no one size fits all.

Are you saying Hot Cross Buns doesn’t cut it?

Hot Cross Buns might be a trigger for some child somewhere.

It’s probably a trigger for a lot of us adults.

Do you call them something different in Canada?


The Hot Cross Buns.

Hot Cross Buns?

No, I think not.

Is it like a Tim Hortons thing?

That’s all I know about Canada.

Tim Hortons.

No, no.

And Come From Away.

Come From Away.

Oh my gosh.


You want to know something fun about Come From Away?



So as somebody who has moved from Ontario to the East Coast, Come From Away is not a term of endearment from the locals here.

Of course, it’s not.

At all.

Like, Come From Away, when they say Come From Away, there’s a tone in their voice and a twitch in their eye, and it’s not a friendly one.

So I love when people are like, oh, I love that music.

I’m like, yeah, Come From Away.

But also, you know, in Mahone Bay, like right beside Mahone Bay is Blockhouse.

Like literally, they’re right beside each other.

Some people from Mahone Bay think people from Blockhouse are coming from away.

So that’s how, that’s how it.

But yeah, so the big challenge for us was when we created the curriculum and we did all the research, we recognized that putting in actual songs wasn’t going to fly.

And it would actually make the books less marketable because then it would really be specific for an age group where you could have a beginner student that’s six and a beginner student that’s 10.

You are not going to sing the same repertoire if you’re six and if you’re 10 or seven or eight or nine.

Like it’s just not doable.

So that was always our biggest criticism with our books was you don’t have any music books with it.

And I always used to have the conversation, look, this is not a piano method.

Piano instrument is different and we are going to celebrate and honor the vocal instrument, which means you have to do your job, get to know your students, and find the songs that would best suit that person where they are developmentally and vocally and things that they enjoy because making someone sing words or tell a story that they don’t relate to or they can’t connect to is really miserable.

Like, you are not going to get the Teacher of the Year award by going and giving them songs that they just cannot relate to.

So we saw that as an opportunity to start working with our composers, and our composers specialize in children’s music, so age and ability.

So we then created our digital library of vocal collections, and we do categorize them by ages and by subject.

And we include a teaching strategy page for teachers who may want to use that song in their pedagogy, in their lesson, to develop certain music reading skills.

And that has been very helpful.

And it probably doesn’t hurt that they now have to buy the book and then separately buy the songs, right?


And we do it with our teachers where when you purchase one of our song downloads, you’re actually purchasing a studio license, which allows you to make copies of it for your students.

And then we also have the option for a choral or a classroom license as well.

So if you’re making more copies because you’ve got a 50-person choir, then you would pay for the choral license.

So when we started diving into actual repertoire, we did a lot of testing with our students to check what ages they were most appropriate for.

And we were looking at age and ability appropriate, which is helpful for the educators, so private teachers, classroom teachers.

And we did look at curriculums like the Kadai curriculums and the Orff curriculums, and just music reading skills in general.

So we tried, we think, I’m biased, we think that we do a good job of combining beautiful songs to sing, like kids love to sing them, with the educational element of learning notes or learning, you know, developing your vocal skills or sight singing.

So we kind of, we kind of combine the two of them.

So the songs are delightful to sing.

They’re a blast.

There’s nothing on my library that I actually wouldn’t consider performing at any time.

I think that they could be with a sense of humor and a really cool jazz band.

I could sing Pickles the Hamster.

I would sell that, like no problem.

But I think we do a really good job of both.

So for composers out there, if you know that you’re dealing with educators, being able to offer some insight on teaching strategies or theory, rhythm, sight reading, I think that’s helpful.

Now, when you made the shift to digital, did you encounter a lot of issues with people taking advantage of the fact that they could print as many copies as they wanted?

Did you see that same sort of hit that traditional publishers are really feeling it?

Especially in choral, people will say, oh, there’s only five in my choir, and then they’ll print off a hundred copies or whatever it is.

I mean, it’s kind of a touchy subject, but since you were almost exclusively physical in the beginning and then made that quick shift, I’m wondering if you noticed anything like that, or was it just too hard to tell because the world was falling apart?

I mean, sadly, there’s always those people.

There’s always those people.

We have the same issue with our workshops and our online course.

There’s some people that have had an extremely large number of logins to their online course, which is strange because there’s only six modules, so I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on there.

I’m a big fan of Marie Forleo, and I’ve done a lot of her marketing and her training, and the one thing that she has said, and I kind of get it, there will always be those people that take advantage and do those things.

They are living a life of scarcity, and they are bringing in exactly what you don’t want to bring into your life, and I bless and release them, and hope that they find a better way.

My assistant monitors Scribe every month, and every month we have to pull stuff off of Scribe.

Do you have the same issue?

Yeah, and it’s sad.

I try to educate people in our forum.

We are always talking in our Facebook forum, Voice Teachers for Young Singers.

We have a lot of composers in there.

And a lot of questions about copyright come up.

And it just goes to show that people don’t understand copyright.

And it’s complex.

You know how challenging it can be to navigate copyright.

So we try to educate people about copyright.

We remind people in our group.

You know, you’ll get the person like, I lost my copy of this.

Does anybody have a copy that they can share with me?

And we monitor that.

We’re like, in this group, we respect copyright.

And you can’t do that.

So we are trying to be on the education part of it and letting people know that, you know, a rising tide raises all ships.

And that includes paying for your resources.

I mean, we get things like, there was a comment on one of our Amazon, on one of our Amazon listings, like she felt that our books were too expensive.

And the comment was, compared to piano books, this is really expensive.

And it’s like, why are we comparing a vocal book to a piano book?

Different business model, different, like, I can’t mass produce my books.

Like, I just don’t have those sales.

So we try to educate people to the best.

And, you know, I also think, you know, that people who steal music get horrible rashes and, you know, miss their bus on a very important day when they have to go somewhere.

You heard it here, people.

As I’ve been scrolling through your website looking at things, I can’t help but think a lot of the reason you’ve been successful is just how good everything looks.

I mean, the covers are fun.

And I think if there’s anything that, you know, music publishing in general has been terrible about, it’s been, you know, the design and the layout of everything.

And especially now that so much is digital, you can do so much more with a cover page, you know, and with illustrations and not have to worry about how much color ink am I using and all that stuff.

And I’m just curious, how did you decide to do it that way and how did you learn to do it that way?

Because I’ve never seen anyone else’s material that looks quite like yours.

Okay, first of all, you gave me goose bumps and my heart just went a flutter.

And thank you for noticing.

So my husband will tell you where some women like to go shopping for shoes and clothing.

I like to go shopping for graphics and fonts.

I can stay up all night long looking at artwork.

So when I was a teenager, my dad worked for a company that did yearbooks for high schools.

And every summer, every summer, there was a week long workshop where they taught high school students and university students layout design concepts for the yearbooks.

And I actually had to work at that conference every summer, from the time I was like 12 to the time I was 18.

So I would see these presentations on design, on layout, on the rules of fonts and form on a page.

And I didn’t think much of it because I was a singer, and I was just working for my dad at this convention.

But I saw these presentations over and over and over again.

And the people that presented them were just fabulous presenters.

They used to do a big thing on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And they would share really great design concepts and really horrific design concepts.

And that was like, it was a comedy show, but it was educational.

So I grew up in page layout design.

I loved designing websites when I was like in my 20s.

I loved doing that.

So I have, when we start working with a composer, I get their lyrics, I talk to them, and I go graphic shopping.

Because, and this goes back to our demographic, children need to see color and images.

That’s part of the, here’s the science behind it.

That’s part of the nonverbal working memory for kids too.

So if you just hand them a page with words and notes on it, there’s really nothing there for them to connect with.

So the imagery is really important.

So we would also test that with our kids.

So I would like put one image on a page, and another image on a page, and I would see which one they would gravitate to.

If they asked questions about the image, I knew that I was like, we were on to something.

So for composers out there, yes, the design and the imagery of your music, it has to be something.

There has to be at least color there.

And fonts, right?

Fonts, I have books beside my bed all about font and font theory and the history of fonts.

And the font, the big font that we love to use is called Mr.

Sirloin, medium rare.

And there’s just something about that font.

It just captures like the essence of fun.

And it’s just a goofy little font, but it’s like when I saw it, it was like, that’s our company.

So yeah, I love looking at pictures.

I love design.

And I gravitate to it too.

So if I’m looking at other products, like if the design isn’t there, I’d be like, no, not interested.

I think this is part of the age divide again, because I think there’s a perception or a fear of a perception that if you get too crazy with your cover design, you’re not going to be seen as, you know, it’s not going to be seen as a serious piece of music.

And I think some people listening to you would say, well, sure, for kids, you can do that.

But if I’m writing a book for high school or a collegiate course, I can’t be all wild and crazy and put puppy dogs on the front, you know?

Yeah, I agree with that statement.

And I think that it is much easier.

Like when we put out our Children’s Songs of Praise book, our composer Linda Fletcher wrote a beautiful collection of church music that primarily was for younger students.

We had a horrible time trying to come up with what font we were going to use because you can’t use the kiddie font.

It doesn’t make sense for choral music that is meant to be in a serious church setting.

But we were able to, I think, again, you know, there’s so many outlets, whether you use, well, create, the website that we love, and I highly recommend this, that I find the easiest to use.

This might be a great takeaway for your listeners.

We use creativemarket.com.

And creative market, the one thing that I love about creative market is how transparent they are with their licensing.

And because purchasing images in the past was really confusing.

You know, you go to the big stock photo websites, and you’d have to buy credits, and then there were all these rules.

Creative market does a really good job of laying out personal licenses, commercial licenses, and extended commercial licenses.

And you can see exactly what you can and can’t use it for.

Most of ours is brought with a, like we purchase a commercial license for all of our artwork and our graphics and our assets.

And it’s laid out so beautifully, and their search engine is really great.

And when you find something that you like or design, you can reach out to that artist and then commission them directly and work with that artist.

And we’ve done that a few times.

We have a new jazz project that we’ve used a whole different font, whole different art, like a concept for the art.

I actually sent the artist, I gave them a picture of Ella Fitzgerald singing in a club.

And I said, could you do your style of art with this image?

And they did a beautiful job.

So I think working with graphic design is a lot friendlier than it was.

Websites like Creative Market make it much easier connecting with artists and licensing work with artists isn’t as expensive as I think people might think it is.

But finding an artist that, you know, maybe the vibe of your high school choir or your collegiate, there’s some beautiful work out there that could be translated into your compositions.

Where are you actually assembling everything?

I mean, I only know how to use Canva or Microsoft Word.

What are the options out there?

Ooh, yes.

We use Affinity Publishing, which is a Serif company.

Serif is a UK-based company.

So we, the Adobe Suite was just not, well, one, it was expensive.

And in the early days, we were looking for less expensive.

But we, it was originally called Page Plus, but then it’s now Serif Up the Game.

So we use their Creative Suite, which is Affinity and their Photo and their Graphic Design page.

And the whole team uses it.

It’s so easy.

It’s super affordable.

It is not a subscription payment to use their programs.

Thank you very much.

And then my engraver, Mim and Heidi, they both used Finale.

And what’s interesting is all our composers use Sibelius.

So then we have to take their files and transfer them to Finale, which I know all the composers are probably cringing.

And, you know, yeah.

So yeah, so we use Affinity to put everything together.

Our engraving is done in Finale.

And then the graphics come from, usually from Creative Market or from agreements that we’ve licensed with the artists.

How important do you think it is to have consistent cover design?

Because for a lot of publishers, every piece from a specific author will look the same way.

That way you can sort of recognize like, oh, that’s, you know, that’s Greg Gilpin or that’s Garrett Breeze or that’s, you know.


I mean, there’s sort of a brand component, I think, tied into all of this where, you know, you have the look of your brand and the look of your materials.

And I guess some of this is outdated, right?

Because you see it on the shelf from far away.

You go, oh, that’s it, but now there’s no shelves anymore.

But I do think, at least if you’re selling online, those thumbnails are still the first thing that a lot of people see.


That branding might help people navigate the website, right?

If they know that this color of thumbnail with this image is going to be, you know, SSA versus, you know, if you’re a regular shopper, you would start to recognize like, oh, this color is for this type of, you know, or this image is that.

Everybody just needs a cool name like you.

Like that’s part of it, right?

A cool name that comes in the beginning of the alphabet.


There we go.

I think any composer would be investing wisely in looking at any kind of branding that helps the consumer find what they are looking for as quickly as possible.

You know how busy musicians and educators are and nobody loves clicking around a website trying to find something.

So any kind of branding that not only makes it visually appealing but helps click that, oh, that’s the arrangement or oh, there’s that Christmas music.

That’s one thing that I think that you’ve done really well on your website is with the organization of finding things is really easy.

And I find it very easy to navigate your website.

Well, thank you.

I’m a website snob.

We’re in the process of kind of revamping our website.

So we’ve been looking at a lot of different websites that sell a lot of digital products.

And it’s challenging.

It’s challenging to organize.

And God bless my website guy because I’m pretty sure he’s going to kill us soon.

But it’s challenging.

It’s challenging when you have, I mean, gosh, like we don’t have the library that you do, but we struggle sometimes with the organization of that.

And so it is challenging.

I think any composer would very much be doing themselves a service and an investment in their brand awareness for sure.

Where did you learn all of the non-music skills that you need to run your business?

Because there’s so much that you are doing really well with the marketing and with, we’ve already talked about the graphic design, but just all of those other skills, putting it together and packaging it and bundling it and getting it off to the printers, all of this logistical background kind of stuff, where did you learn all that?

Because I didn’t learn it in music school.

No, I, yeah, I love doing websites and my dad, my parents were entrepreneurs.

They ran their own business.

And my sister is an entrepreneur where she’s running her own business.

So I think that-

So it runs in the family.

It runs in the family.

My dad is the reason that the books exist.

My dad, I was complaining to my dad about how hard teaching was, and he’s like, well, fix it or go get another job.

But don’t complain about it.

And thank you, dad, for that because that’s what I did.

I found a better place to teach and I started creating resources.

So I think that entrepreneurial spirit is ingrained in my family.

And that do-it-yourself type of vibe, right?

And I have to stop myself now.

That is one of the things that my business coach is like, you need to ask, does Nikki need to do all the things?

Because you have a team now.

And my partner Mim is really good at saying, Nikki, I can handle that.

So I tend to hoard all of the tasks.

But when it comes to like, I think the big thing for me, for the marketing side of things, the digital marketing, I started following digital marketers.

And Amy Porterfield was one that I started listening to her podcast.

And she was one of the first online courses I ever did about list building and building an email list.

And that is one of our cornerstone of our business.

So we’ve been nurturing a list for like over 20 years.

And every time we have a new product, we blast our newsletter.

And that brings in immediate a rush of sales.

So Amy Porterfield was a digital marketer that I listened to.

I also did B School, which was Marie Forleo’s online marketing course.

I’ve taken a handful of copywriting courses, learning how to write persuasively.

And over the years, I’ve slowly been kind of cutting back my teaching studio, as I was telling you in the beginning.

And what’s taken up has been the business side of things and learning marketing, learning copywriting, learning about just business in general.

And for the last 10 years, it’s been really focusing on digital marketing and just really making sure that we have, we’re there in the socials, we’re there doing, I am not a huge fan of doing lives on, because that’s a big ordeal.

I got to get up, I got to have a shower, I got to do my hair.

So, but yeah, just learning all those skills and outside of the music industry.

So going to the professionals outside of the industry and taking a step back from doing the other music related things.

Well, Nikki, this has been great fun.

Where can our listeners find you?

Oh, thank you.

fullvoicemusic.com is our home base and where all of our kid friendly products and teacher training exists.

But I would love for friends to find and follow me on Instagram.

I do a lot of lives.

I love connecting with composers and musicians on our Instagram channel.

And we also love following others.

So please, please come and find us.

And that is at the Full Voice for Instagram.

And yeah, those would be the two big places you can find us.

Well, any parting words of wisdom before we go?

Well, first of all, I want to thank you for what you’re doing with your podcast and with your services.

We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have the support to do it on our own.

And I love how the industry has changed and self-publishing is not like a badge of shame anymore.

It’s actually a smart business move.

So I want to thank you for what you do and your website and your great podcast and helping people to get their music out there.

Like, what an amazing time we live in.

So thank you.

Well, thank you very much.

This has been great fun again.

And I think you’ve shared a lot of things that our listeners will find very helpful.