Business Guides and Tips

Jennifer Hicks, Founder of Joyful Noises LLC

Jennifer Hicks (she/her/hers) is a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), a licensed music educator, an experienced registered yoga teacher (E-RYT), and the owner of Joyful Noises LLC. Her mission is to utilize music therapy and mindfulness principles to inspire and empower others to experience and create joy in their lives, regardless of circumstances, age, or ability level. Jennifer specializes in working with groups of adults with mental health and substance use disorders.

Jennifer also directs an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) national roster internship site that combines her private practice with Lindsay Markworth’s Twin Cities Music Therapy Services, LLC. In addition, Jennifer is Co-Chair for the AMTA Commission on the Education and Clinical Training of 21st Century Music Therapists and Co-Chair for the AMTA Membership Committee and served as Local Co-Chair and Host for the 2019 AMTA National Conference. She is also a member of the World Federation of Music Therapy Commission on Clinical Practice. Jennifer received the Music Therapy Association of Minnesota’s 2018 Service Award and is a frequent presenter at local, regional, and national conferences.

Q: If you could explain yourself in a couple of sentences, how would you do that?

A: I would like to start by acknowledging that I and my business are on the land of the Wahpekute and Očeti Šakówin People and that I am a straight, white, able-bodied, highly educated, middle class, cisgender female. All of my experiences and the opportunities that I've had as a result of my many areas of privilege are seen through those lenses.

I have been a board-certified music therapist and a licensed music educator for over 20 years. I am also an experienced registered yoga teacher and the owner of Joyful Noises. In addition, I am a sister, an auntie, a daughter, a wife, a dog mom, a friend, a foodie, a cyclist, a traveler, a reader, and a lifelong learner.

My core values are joy and gratitude, cultural humility, connection and community, health and wellness, and service and education. I am an Enneagram one, which I have found says a lot about me. My strengths on the StrengthsFinder are communicator, achiever, input, learner, and positivity, which I also believe say a lot about who I am. I am also an ENFJ. As you can tell, my love of lifelong learning and education includes learning about myself so I love that you begin with this question.

Q: So tell me more about your business and your role within.

A: My mission through Joyful Noises is to utilize music therapy and mindfulness principles to inspire and empower others to experience and create joy in their lives, regardless of their circumstances, age, or ability level. Clinically as a music therapist, I specialize in working with groups of adults with mental health and substance use disorders. I have contracts with several outpatient counseling centers through a nonprofit organization and a hospital, although all of these contracts are currently on hold due to the financial ramifications of COVID-19.

I direct an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) national roster internship site and supervise both interns and practicum students. I also serve as a mentor and supervisor for other music therapy professionals. I present frequently at local, regional, and national conferences and international webinars and also guest lecture for universities across the country. In addition, I serve as co-chair for our AMTA Commission on the Education and Clinical Training of 21st Century Music Therapists and co-chair for our AMTA Membership Committee. I'm also a member of the World Federation of Music Therapy Commission on Clinical Practice.

As you can see, those core values I mentioned earlier weave their way throughout my business!

Q: It sounds like not only do you play a lot of roles, but you are super busy.

A: All of these roles are intentional. I actually have a policy that when I say yes to something new in my business, I have to let go of something else. I can't keep taking on more and more roles and expect to be able to stay healthy and do my best, so I have to let something go in order to take on something new.

Q: That's a great point. I feel like that really helps kind of utilize that balance of work and life and other things. I love that.

A: Yes. I have a dear friend of mine, Jen Pinson, who's also a music therapy business owner for Dynamic Music Services, Inc. She taught me to think about work life balance as harmony instead. I really love that because, first of all, we can't create harmony alone. We need others to support us in that process, and we need to be supporting others as they seek harmony, too. Thinking in terms of harmony also creates space for dissonance and resolution, and it allows for certain voices and roles to take on more resonance at different times in our lives. It’s just like listening to our favorite music and hearing certain instruments or voices stand out more at different times in the song. That's true for the roles we play in our lives as well. Those various parts of who I am have come out more at different times in my life when I've had the chance to shine in a variety of ways. It's always exciting to continue to evolve and grow and to create those opportunities for others to evolve, grow, and shine as well.

Q: That is a really great analogy. So how did you get into this business and what was the moment you decided to do it?

A: I actually had a TIA (a transient ischemic attack or small stroke) when I was in college. While most of the visible effects of that resolved, I was left with migraines, some memory issues, and a very sensitive central nervous system. In my 30s, I worked in a very stressful environment for several years. We know the long term effects of stress are not good for our physical or mental health. My central nervous system responded. My brain actually started to bleed again, I was on a heart monitor, and I was having fainting spells. I got a call at home from my neurologist who told me that if I wanted to live, I needed to change my life. That was a big wake up call for me. 

My husband and I were just preparing to get married, so we had some serious conversations and started the process of creating intentional personal and professional lives that are built around our core values. We started to really explore what those core values are and what it looks like to live them out in every decision that we make, both personally and professionally. Our lives have been evolving based upon those priorities ever since then, and I started building my business from the ground up with that as my foundation. I always keep in the forefront of my mind those core values -  joy and gratitude, cultural humility, connection and community, health and wellness, and service and education - so that everything goes through that filter. I always laugh because for most people starting a business is not the less stressful choice. For me it was because I could intentionally create those opportunities and connections in my life to be able to do the work that really resonates with who I am.

I have been much healthier, and life has been much less stressful as a result. I remained employed part-time as a music therapist while I started Joyful Noises with a couple of adaptive voice lessons and completed my yoga teacher training. The spiritual as well as mental and physical health benefits of yoga and mindfulness practices have always been really important to me. In addition to my training through the Yoga Alliance, I've worked with Matt Sanford from Mind Body Solutions here in Minnesota, who's done a lot of work on exploring the essence of yoga principles in a way that goes beyond the poses and is accessible for everyone. I completed training with him on Opening Yoga for Everyone and on a Mind Body Approach to Trauma and started to build up the adaptive yoga side of my business. Throughout this journey, I have continued to explore the many issues around mindfulness, yoga, and appropriation and what that looks like in our lives so that we can live out the principles of these practices in a culturally responsive and respectful manner. I have even been doing my recent thesis research on mindfulness-based music therapy, as a part of that process.

As my business evolved and grew, I was able to resign from my position as an employee and focus on pursuing contracts for music therapy with adults with mental health and substance use disorders, which is where my passion for this work has always been. When I went back to school to finish up my master's degree in music therapy, I transitioned most of my adaptive yoga contracts to other teachers, keeping only those that integrated mindfulness principles with music therapy and were most consistent with my core values. I've continued to build and evolve from there and most recently have created space in my clinical work schedule to take on more of those leadership roles in our national music therapy organization. Now with the pandemic changing my world again and all of my clinical work on hold, I am really excited to be building up a membership program and podcast called MT Mentor as I expand that side of my business.

Q: Wow, that is quite the journey. So were you studying music in your undergrad also?

A: My undergraduate degrees are in music therapy and music education with a minor in psychology. I always knew that I wanted to work with clients with mental health and substance use disorders and was initially planning to major in psychology. However, I had also always been involved in music and even taught piano lessons as a high school student. I come from a family of musicians, teachers, and servant leaders. The first time that I got to meet some music therapists and spend time with one of them in a mental health setting, I knew that I had found my passion. It is really the perfect profession for me.

Q: So what was your first year like?

A: It was definitely an evolutionary process, and one that is continuing. As I mentioned, for the first few years, I was still employed part-time as a music therapist while I built up my business. I found that's something that many of us as business owners have done. It was actually great from a tax perspective because I was able to work with my CPA and take all of my taxes out there rather than having to pay additional quarterly taxes. Then, little by little, I built up my business based around those core values.

One of those core values is education, and that love of learning is part of why I went back to school to better understand mindfulness and yoga principles and how to share them in a culturally respectful and accessible manner. Owning my own business allowed me to create the space for that. A few years ago, I also created space to finish the master's degree in music therapy that I had started 15 years ago. I had to prioritize education for its own sake, beyond any potential financial return on investment. I continue to keep learning and am always looking for those opportunities that allow me to live out all of my core values. This not only enhances my health and wellness but also gives me the chance to help others do the same.

Q: Was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you to be a business owner?

A: I am really grateful for both my family and my colleagues. I have a husband who is an incredibly supportive partner in this journey of intentionally building on and living out our core values. This is an ongoing conversation we have as a couple, for example making decisions that prioritize our health and our families over our work. I come from a family of servant leaders and teachers, and they all continue to inspire, support, and encourage me. My mom actually went back to school when she was in her 40s to complete her master's degree so that's part of what gave me the courage to do the same at that point in my own life. 

I also had a really great coach when I started my business. Tim Ringgold, who is now a trusted colleague and friend, encouraged me to set my core values as the foundation for my business. This is huge because I think there's a lot of business coaches who don't focus there, who focus on all of the details rather than thinking big picture first. Tim helped me to get started, and through him, I met other like-minded colleagues. We have all continued to support and encourage each other as our businesses have grown.

In addition, I created a peer supervision group when I first started my business. The role of supervision, sometimes from a hierarchical point of view and also sometimes on a peer level, is very important for music therapists. I reached out to three other music therapy business owners that I really admired, and we had coffee. The more we talked, the more we realized that we shared some significant core values. In particular, all of us had other parts of our lives that were more important to us than our work, and we wanted to find that harmony in our work and in our personal lives. We wanted to build our businesses while also prioritizing family, health, and wellness. The four of us began to meet regularly. We set goals, held each other accountable, and served as a sounding board for each other. One of those individuals, Lindsay Markworth of Twin Cities Music Therapy Services, and I actually ended up starting our internship site together with our two music therapy businesses.

I am incredibly grateful for my family and the colleagues that have surrounded me throughout this process. They inspire, support, and continue to give me courage each step of the way.

Q: It sounds like a really great support system. So how do you define success for yourself both personally and as a professional?

A: I've reflected on this a lot recently. Part of what I realized is that I don't really think of success as some final pinnacle that I'm trying to reach. I once had a bracelet that read, "Find joy in the journey." For me, that's what success is. It's about being able to live in a way that's consistent with those core values, which begins by centering joy and gratitude in my life. I start every day by going for a walking meditation with my dog and spending time grounding myself in gratitude. That's really the source of my joy. I also continue to explore my own biases and areas of privilege and do what I can to dismantle some of the systemic racism that's present in our profession, our community, and our world. I also intentionally connect with family, friends, and colleagues. My family and I have a daily “FamJam” on Zoom that we've been doing for the past three months, and I need that. I also meet up with my 16-year-old niece on Zoom every Wednesday to dance along with Debbie Allen on Instagram.

Q: I love it.

A: We need those connections, and it's so fun. 

In addition, I'm continually prioritizing my health and wellness and encouraging others to do the same through sustainable self-care, which is something that I believe in very strongly. I’m also intentionally finding ways to serve others and to continue to learn and to pass on that learning. For me, that is really what success looks like. 

It is similar, actually, to how I think about self-care, which is something I present on frequently. I feel like we have this tendency to think about self-care as these really big things that we have to schedule and do, a massage or a pedicure or a vacation. I was struck one day by the phrase, "You can't pour from an empty cup," because as a music therapist, I am always hydrating. I realized that we can’t possibly hydrate - or fill our literal cup - only once a week. That wouldn't work. And yet we try to do that with our self-care. We try to fill ourselves up just once a week, or once a month, or once a year, rather than finding those intentional ways that we can build sustainable self-care into everything that we do so that even the little things we do throughout our day become intentional acts of self-care. The mug that I am using for my tea today was given to me by a dear friend, Melanie Mozingo, who always inspires me. Every time I use this mug, I think of her. For me, sustainable self-care also looks like the pictures of family and fond memories that I have around me on my desk, the little breaks I take throughout my day for walks and time in nature, the ways that I prioritize connecting with my friends and family on a regular basis, and the physiological practices like sleep, diet, exercise, and breath work that keep me grounded. These are just a few of the little things that help to make this work sustainable for me for the long term.

This is really important. From the research in music therapy, it's vital to avoid long-term stress and burnout in order to have longevity in our field. We know from the research that this is important for longevity in life too. That to me is success. It's not this great pinnacle that I’m trying to reach. It's these “small sips” of self-care, these little intentional things that I've built into every single day, that allow me to live in a way that's consistent with who I am and that continually replenish the joy within me, regardless of everything else going on around me.

Q: What has been the most important skill that you've developed to be a good business owner?

A: I believe it comes down to that sustainability piece, and for me that is really all about self-care (which I just talked about) and self-awareness. Those personality inventories I mentioned earlier are all pieces of who I am. They are different ways of learning about and reflecting on who I am to help me be more sustainable in this profession and in life, to know what I need, to know my strengths, and to know where my challenges and those shadow sides are. Being sustainable is closely connected with being resilient as we adapt and grow. This means being flexible and creative, just like we are when we improvise in the music. Sustainability is so important both personally and professionally. It creates the time and space to live a life that isn't just about checking off the boxes or making it through the day but about really finding the joy in each moment and the gratitude to be alive in each moment.

This is, I believe, one of the gifts of the various personal, professional, and health challenges that I’ve faced. I am incredibly grateful just to be alive, and I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunities that I do every single day to reach out and help others to experience that joy and to create it in their own lives.

Q: Thank you for sharing that. Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, can you tell us the story?

A: I was teaching music in the schools before I started my business, and making that decision to “quit” teaching and to let go of that side of myself was challenging. There are a lot of teachers in my family, and I pictured myself working in the schools until I retired. I love teaching, and I love music. Even though I had originally started out going into music therapy with plans to focus on mental health, life happened (as it does) and I ended up in the schools. I thought I'd be there forever. Making that decision to prioritize my health and our core values without having another job already set up was really scary. I'm incredibly grateful for the support of my husband and family. I'm also really grateful for my friend, Melanie, who I mentioned earlier and who was by my side during that entire time.

Education - both teaching and learning - is a core value and a big piece of who I am. Even though I had backup plans and options in place, resigning and then finding work as a music therapist and starting this business still required a leap of faith. There is a Joseph Campbell quote that I’ve had on my refrigerator for over 15 years now that says, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Letting go of that image that I'd created around what I thought my life was going to be and starting this business was an incredibly important turning point, and then each step along the way, it's just been an evolution from there. It’s the dissonance and resolution I mentioned earlier that are a natural part of the harmony of our lives. So rather than “quitting” one thing and moving on to another, it has been, "Oh, isn't this wonderful? Look at the direction that this business is taking me now. Isn't that fun? I never would have dreamed big enough to imagine this."

Q: What do you do when it feels hard to be a business owner?

A: Life is hard. Being a business owner is challenging, particularly during this pandemic, and life is also really difficult personally for many of us right now. Life has been incredibly hard for many of my friends and colleagues and for the clients that I serve, particularly for those who come from historically marginalized communities. Everybody is facing challenges in their lives, and that is part of why I think it is so important that we build sustainable self-care practices that will support us through it all. 

Audrey Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I love that quote because life is going to be hard, it's going to be tough, and we need to care for ourselves in order to keep doing the work to move our professions, our communities, and our world forward. We've got to be aware of what we need on those tough days and be able to advocate for those needs. We must be able to reach out for support and help. We have to find ways that we can support and help ourselves, too. Life is going to be difficult at times. There are going to be challenges as a business owner, as well as simply as a human. Knowing what I need to do to support myself and having the opportunity to encourage others to support themselves and to reach out for support when they're facing those challenges in life is really important.

For me, a lot of times this starts by naming it. I have a friend and colleague, Michelle Kennemer, who coined the term “grumpass,” and we've even created an official alert graphic for when we wake up feeling this way. My motto throughout this pandemic has been “Grief, Gratitude, Grace.” That's where I've been focusing. No matter what, there's a lot of grief in our lives that we need to acknowledge, I'm still grateful every single day, and I’m trying to give myself and others grace through it all. However, there's just some days when you wake up, and it's one of those grumpass days. On one of those tough days, we decided to add “Grumpass” as the fourth G. 

On those days, when I wake up feeling grumpy or sad or even just knowing that I have something challenging ahead, I know that I'm going to need to be gentle with myself and support myself. I also make sure to reach out for support, which for me might be telling my husband, "Hey, just want you to know that this is going on, so please just be gentle with me today." Then I step-by-step do the things that I need to do to care for myself. For me, making the time for my yoga and meditation practices, especially when life is busy or hard, is really important. I also have those other built-in sustainable self-care practices that I know will keep me going through the tough days. A lifetime of challenges and difficult days have also given me the knowledge that it is going to be okay, although maybe not in the way I thought or planned. "Now is not forever," was the motto that my husband and I used during a particularly tough time in our marriage. When we know that now is not forever, we can really focus on what we need to do to support ourselves and each other through that time. However, if it looks like it's going to be a long-term situation, then we need to consider what we need to change to make it better, to support ourselves better, to support each other better, and to continue growing and learning and creating a life in the midst of it all.

Q: So kind of following off of that, I know we've kind of touched on COVID and how it has impacted your business a little bit, but what does the future look like for your company?

A: I've always wanted to expand the presentation and mentorship side of my business. These are things I love doing; however, I also truly love clinical work. I just didn't see myself, at least at this point, giving up any of the clinical work I do until my husband and I were ready to start looking at retirement or traveling more. When all of my clinical contracts went on hold in the space of two days this past March, I all of a sudden had more time to explore these ideas, and it's been a great opportunity. While I miss the clinical work, I have truly enjoyed the chance to look at how I want to expand that side of my business with intention. The result is that I am creating, within my business, a membership program and a podcast called MT Mentor. The letters MT stand for music therapy, as well as intentionally play on the word empty. The tagline is, "Fill Your Cup & Share Your Wisdom." The website is almost ready to launch, and I'm super excited.

Q: That is exciting.

A: It is. It's also so much fun. Julie Palmieri of Serenade Designs is another incredible female business owner and friend who does my website as well as many other music therapy business owners' websites. She’s phenomenal. She somehow manages to draw from my core values and make my website feel like me, which is, I think, such a gift. 

The membership program will have weekly one-on-one office hours with me, weekly peer supervision groups, a private Facebook group, and monthly content packets that will have information (graphics, infographics, reflection pages, videos with slides and transcripts, and references) on topics like sustainable self-care, self-awareness, mindfulness, and music therapy. There will also be a free and public podcast where I'll get to interview various mentors in the field of music therapy and share their wisdom with others. I'm really excited for both of these parts of my business to expand and grow.

Q: Definitely, I’ll have to check out that podcast. I have been devouring them lately. 

A: There's a lot of room for growth in podcasts. It's been really fun to learn more about the business side of podcasts and how to create them rather than just listening and enjoying them myself. Another fellow business owner, Daniel Goldschmidt, even wrote the theme music for my podcast. So we've got the theme music and bumpers. I've got the trailer scripted. We've got a great big list of guests who I'm really excited to feature, with diverse voices and areas of experience about which they can share. I’m thrilled to get to learn from them and believe that music therapy students and professionals as well as others in the general public will enjoy learning from them as well.

Q: Well, I have my last question here for you. What would you want to learn from a community of other women business owners?

A: From my core values, you already know that I highly value connecting with and learning from others. I've really enjoyed that about this group thus far. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from and connect with a variety of women business owners from different parts of the country and the world with lots of very different areas of expertise. I also appreciate the opportunity to support and amplify traditionally marginalized voices. Women business owners fall into that category, along with many of our other intersectionalities. Learning from and supporting Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Women Of Color is something that I always try to do on a local and community level. It’s really exciting that this platform gives us the opportunity to do that on a larger scale as we listen to, learn from, support, and amplify those voices in our community and our world. Thank you for that - and for this time together!