Malia Jade Roberson

Remind yourself of your worth, and price accordingly.


Malia is a composer, music theorist, entrepreneur, educator, and classical pianist based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of and creator of Music Theory Staff Paper™, a new genre of music paper. Malia holds a Ph.D. in Music Theory from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a B.A. and M.A. in Piano Performance from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a Lecturer in Music Theory and Piano at California State University, Channel Islands.

Where did the idea for Music Theory Staff Paper ™ come from?

The idea for Music Theory Staff Paper ™  came from my experience as an adjunct music theory professor. I have taught at several different institutions with unique student profiles and a range of learning styles. I designed this product to help students without a musical background and are first learning how to read musical notation, to be able to practice notation with confidence while taking lecture notes. It is also meant for music students that need all the help they can get with organization because it makes studying for exams more efficient. Music Theory Staff Paper™ encourages “note-taking!” It’s a special place for practicing and experimenting with notation during lecture as well as songwriting, composition, arranging, and rehearsal preparation.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My daily schedule depends on whether I’m teaching or on a break. Currently, I’m on summer break so my schedule is dedicated to my business, my health, and writing music. My dog, Cooper (boxer-bulldog), keeps me accountable for exercise. He and I get two long walks per day, one morning, one evening. In between that time, I am dividing my hours between working on my business (which could be social media, fulfilling orders, writing articles, or following up on my trademark and patent), practicing piano, writing music, and household errands/chores.

I make my days productive by staying motivated. This involves listening to inspiration podcasts, such as, Cathy Heller “Don’t Keep Your Day Job,” Gretchen Rubin, “Happier,” Seth Godin, “Akimbo,” Malcolm Gladwell, “Revisionist History,” and CD Baby, “DIY Musician.” These podcasters have become my personal cheerleaders and mentors and they have helped me stay positive even through adversity.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have had the idea for Music Theory Staff Paper™ for several years. I was only able to bring it to life when I had a little bit of money to invest in myself. For me, I’m an idea person and still have a ton of more ideas waiting to bring to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The one trend that excites me is how social media allows you to interact with customers so profoundly. This is a great opportunity to gain long-term fans and win people over. I reply to everybody, including negative comments, and to my surprise, have been able to turn any negative comments into positives. I believe that these early interactions with people are going to be my fan base, for-life customers, so I am treating them in the most respectful way possible.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am a list-maker and planner. I created a detailed one-year outline that I refer to regularly (long-term goals), specialized lists (short-term goals), and daily goals (micro-. I have multiple lists going on my phone, sometimes written in a notebook. I switch from phone list-making to notebook list-making depending on if I have the urge to put pen to paper. I make a daily list at night for the next day. I have a weekly list, and I have several specialized lists, such as, “Big Ideas,” “Blog Topics,” “Healthcare,” “Content Creation,” etc. All of my smaller lists must have tasks that are helping to bring my one-year outline to fruition.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself to be a lot more forgiving in every aspect of life.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Remind yourself of your worth, and price accordingly. How you price your product(s) and/or your services plays a significant role in how people perceive you and your brand. We can see the true value by examining the transformational aspect of what we provide. I provide a product that helps to transform musical fluency, and for people wanting to make music because that’s what they love to do, improving musicianship is a huge transformation.

One barrier that I am facing with Music Theory Staff Paper™, is the slight pushback on my price point. Part of this is due to the fact that the existing market of music paper is cheaper, and free downloadable staff paper is abundant. How do you get customers to pay more for something that they are used to paying less? Additionally, I’m extremely sensitive to increasing textbook costs already passed on to the students.

The transformative value of my product is high, and worth much more than what is on the existing market. As a new genre, my product cannot fairly be compared with the status quo. In addition, I’m creating a community around my product that reinforces music education, as well as letting customers know that my product supports local jobs. All of this adds much value to my product, and I must remind myself of this over and over.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Personal engagement has been key to helping me grow my business. I have sent out complimentary desk copies of Music Theory Staff Paper™ to as many music theory professors that I personally know, including several folks that were in grad school with me, in hopes that they will adopt it for their classes or perhaps to stock it in their bookstores as an option for their students. First of all, it’s been wonderful to get back in touch with people. It’s even more wonderful when people can see value in your product and then work to help support your endeavors. I am sincerely grateful for these sales which really come from formidable years of building relationships. You just never know how people from your past can help you in your future, and this is why it’s crucial to maintain professionalism always.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I sometimes take rejection personally, and this is a failure that I constantly have to monitor. My product has been warmly welcomed by 95% of my target market, but that 5% nags at me. I have to realize that if my product isn’t useful for some, then that has nothing to do with my abilities as a music theorist, composer, and educator. For entrepreneurs that are creators in multiple spaces, I would remind them to not to let feelings of rejection connect with their other endeavors. This is challenging because everything we do is interconnected and close to our hearts, especially in the arts, but sometimes a more objective view on business is necessary.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In seeking ways to get exposure for Music Theory Staff Paper™, I was really interested to see if I could get my product placed in a music education-themed subscription box. To my surprise, this doesn’t exist! For a moment, I thought about branching off my website to create such a business but have decided not to go in that direction for lack of resources and time.

The subscription box is a business model that has a ton of traction and is not going anywhere anytime soon, and as far as my research has taken me, I have not seen a subscription box that is themed for music education. One of the challenges with this business would be how to focus the age range. There is a huge market waiting to be tapped into that targets kids learning music, but there is just as strong a market of young adults (high school and college). A music education-themed subscription box would need to focus on one audience or another because many music products are age-specific.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently spent $50 at IKEA for desks and $50 from a hardware store on supplies for interior design projects. I strongly believe that the space you create for yourself will influence your and creativity and productivity. Because I have multiple jobs as a music educator, music creator, and my business, I need to have a space that is conducive to all kinds of tasks. I’m still designing and building my workspace, but the plan is to make it as efficient, functional, and beautiful as possible.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

The best programs for me have been: (1) Canva  to create social media announcements; (2) Apple imovie to create videos that sync to music; (3) Shopify to build my website; (4) Facebook (interest groups) to interact in a personable way with a tribe of folks especially interested in my product; (5) Instagram to engage with folks visually and aurally; (6) the “Focus” feature on Microsoft Word to, well, focus..; (7) HARO  to gain exposure; (8) Customer services that use online chat to solve problems; (9) Pandora and Spotify to stream music.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I one book I would recommend is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. I have since read numerous books and listened to numerous talks about how to achieve success after reading Covey, but everything keeps referring me back to the principles that I first learned here.

What is your favorite quote?

Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”

Key learnings:

*Remind yourself of the transformative value of your services, product(s), and brand, and price accordingly.
*Have a clear sense of your long-term goals, short-term goals, and daily goals. Regularly evaluate if your daily and short-term goals are helping you achieve your long-term goals.
*Surround yourself with positive, inspirational podcasts that act as your cheerleaders and mentors.
*Create your ideal workspace so you will actually want to work in it.
*Always treat people with respect wherever you are in life. You never know when someone from your past will be in a position to help you succeed in your future.

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