We had the good fortune of connecting with Noelle Fabian Dragon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Noelle, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Oh man, my answer to this question has changed about 14 times in the past two years alone. When I first started working on Monster Musician, I was single, childless and performing full-time at Disneyland. Now I’m married with two young babies and navigating what it means to be a performer and entrepreneur during a pandemic. Two years from now, who knows? Your balance will always look different. (As a sidebar, despite popular belief, there’s no such thing as “the perfect time” to have kids).
I think what it comes down to is finding the “cornerstones” of your life and building your world around those. There are obvious things that require your attention like children or work, but making sure you actually budget in time to work out, practice or do things that better you is the challenge. For me my cornerstones are creativity (Do I have a project or collaboration that brings me joy and is causing me to grow?), physicality (am I moving my body regularly in a way that makes me feel good), and emotional fulfillment (am I spending enough time with friends, family, pursuing spiritual/personal growth, etc). I make a 3-5 bullet point list to tackle every day. If I can get in even a tiny bit of those three cornerstones in (aside from my non-negotiable obligations), I’m doing good!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I created The Monster Musician because I believe music education needs to be better. There is a pretty huge skills gap between traditional music education and the needs of the music industry- our goal is to use technology to close it.
For some context, I’ve literally spent my entire life in the music world. I grew up in the Dallas area where both of my parents work as professional musicians and professors. You could almost say we grew up “speaking music” in our house. Around 6th grade, I started playing saxophone/woodwinds and have played ever since. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a great career as a performer with venues ranging from symphony orchestras, to national rock tours to Disneyland but always felt there was more to my story than a traditional path as an instrumental performer. My greatest strengths were always at the intersections of things (theatre and music, tech and music, voiceover, etc.) so I’ve made a career of building out those corners of the world.
The Monster Musician grew out of a personal need for better musician practice tools. I was doing some practicing in between shows at Disney for an upcoming film scoring session and realized there was nothing that would just “scroll music” on my phone so I could practice sight reading. That lead me down a multi-year rabbit hole, teaming up with music creators, designers and developers to create our first product, The Monster Musician Reader app. The app is basically an interactive, real-life version of Guitar Hero that helps you build the skills necessary for successful music reading.
Getting the Monster Musician app from the idea phase into something real took every ounce of willpower and focus I had. Had I built any tech before? No. Did I even have the slightest idea what kind of task I was undertaking? Not a clue. I just had a vision for what I wanted, set some goals and kept trying to do the next right thing right. To this day, that is my motto- just try to do the next right thing right and somehow you’ll get to where you’re going.
In Spring of 2020, The Monster Musician Reader was soft-released in Its beta version and was casually floating in the app store when the need for EdTech skyrocketed. The pandemic forced music educators to rethink they way they teach and to use technology in a whole new way. We literally got 30,ooo downloads in one day and have been riding a rollercoaster of growth ever since! What I’m most proud of is the fact that we’ve been able to help young musicians and teachers keep the joy of music alive during a time when we can’t make music together in person. That, to me, is huge.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In my family, we’re big fans of the East LA food scene. I’d say, let’s do a food tour. Szechuan style restaurants, Tokyo Fried Chicken and Highland Park Brewery are just a few of our favorites. Then, spending an evening “taco truck hopping” around Boyle Heights. Beach is a must- surfing in San Onofre and also Hiking up around Altadena. We would definitely hit up a few music shows- The High Hat, Bluewhale and The Hollywood Bowl. Of course, we would have to fit in a visit to Disneyland.
Anna Azarov Richard Takenaga