Inside Track: Lively helps musicians strive for greatness
July 10, 2020
By Danielle Nelson
"The founder of Crooked Tree Creative caught the music bug early and now shares it freely with those who want to succeed in the industry.
Music always has played an integral role in Elle Lively’s life, and she is using her experience to help others. Lively is the founder of Crooked Tree Creative, a music booking and consulting agency, and the executive director of Michigan Music Alliance, a music business education program.
Her career in music began as a child. Lively began learning to play the violin at age 5. Around the age of 9 or 10, she started learning to play the piano and at 14 years old, she began playing the flute. Although she became proficient at playing those instruments, it took her some time to appreciate the experience.
“At first I really wanted to play the different instruments,” she said. “My family is extremely religious, so I wasn’t able to play pop music. I was only allowed to play classical music and that can be really boring when you are seven, trying to play the violin, but I grew to love it. I enjoyed the community of it. I loved going to orchestra. When I started playing the piano, I started realizing, ‘Oh, I can play anything I want.’ I had a little freedom. I can learn all these different song lines that I am hearing on the radio and play them in secret. It was like a hidden freedom a little bit between playing in church. At the time, I definitely didn’t appreciate the classical style of practicing for an hour every single day. I didn’t appreciate it like I do now. When I am working with musicians, I am able to articulate in a better way because I have learned music theory and understand it.”
Lively spent all of her childhood and half of her adolescent years being homeschooled. Her experience included visiting a horse farm for a week, learning Gaelic for a year because of her interest in the history of Ireland and Scotland, and serving on the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee at the age of 14.
Because she was being homeschooled year-round, the Mt. Clemens native completed all of her high school requirements and she enrolled in her local community college, North Central Michigan College, around the age of 15.
“It was a little intimidating at first because I have never been in an academic setting like that, with people all much older than me,” she said. “It really wasn’t an adjustment academically because I was already very self-led, very self-motivated and I think that prepared me for college at an early age. But I really had to adjust to having all those people around me. I was afraid of not getting everything perfect because I am a perfectionist, so I had to learn to not be as self-led but plug-in where I fit best.”
Organization: Crooked Tree Creative
Birthplace: Mt. Clemens
Residence: Grand Haven
Family: Daughter Quinn, 2
Business/Community Involvement: Michigan Music Alliance
Biggest Career Break: “Working with The Accidentals opened the door for so many opportunities. International travel, touring with Phish and learning so much!”
Throughout her time at North Central, Lively had professors who mentored and changed her perception of learning.
She also leaned on what she loved the most: music. There were no music classes at her school, so she started a music club of her own. While attending classes, she also was working in the restaurant industry.
Due to financial instability, however, she could not complete her academic career at North Central, but she continued learning.
Lively said she always wanted to become a career student, and she was on that path. She was a veterinary technician for six months, a massage therapist and a real estate agent. Her mother and father also are licensed real estate brokers. Lively’s father currently owns a RE/MAX agency in Petoskey, so naturally, she got her real estate license and practiced real estate for about nine months before she went on to fully pursue her passion for music.
After living in Petoskey for much of her life, Lively moved to Grand Rapids.
“I knew I wanted to work in music,” she said. “That was the one thing that I was passionate about. Northern Michigan had almost a non-existent music scene. It is very small and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to go to venues like Van Andel or 20 Monroe Live or anything like that. I wanted to move where the people were and where the venues were and see what it turned out to be, because I knew that I could use all the skills that I learned from restaurants, real estate, music theories and being a musician. I could use them all in a new way that is more creative and hopefully I could get plugged into the community.”
Lively said she created a list of all the photographers and musicians she wanted to meet when she arrived in Grand Rapids. She went to a lot of festivals, including Earthwork Harvest Gathering, and photographed shows for free. As a result, she was able to meet and network with music enthusiasts like finger-style guitarist Jake Allen.
Through Allen, Lively was able to meet The Accidentals, a band from Traverse City. The band would propel her musical career as she eventually became their full-time tour manager.
“In a year solid that I toured with them as their tour manager, I learned so much,” she said. “I feel as though that year was worth more than all of my college courses combined. It is kind of mind-blowing how much you can pack into that short amount of time when you are going that hard. They do 270 shows per year, except this year, they are probably doing more because they are doing online shows, three or four per day. I went to 32 states and nine countries last year.”
Now, Lively serves as a consultant for The Accidentals after she recently founded Crooked Tree Creative. She is managing musical groups and artists such as Grand Rapids’ own Earth Radio, Wayland native Max Lockwood and drummer Scott Pellegrom, among others.
Along with starting Crooked Tree Creative, Lively launched Lakeshore Music Academy, which was eventually rebranded as Michigan Music Alliance, a music education program that is made up of international producers, local business owners, a school counselor and other well-rounded individuals who are mostly in the music industry.
“I really wanted to find a way to share all of the things that I learned in the past year with the local music community,” she said. “The music community here is pretty strong compared to a lot of places. It is very strong and very vibrant thanks to the millions of breweries and other venues that we have. We have a lot of talent here, but one thing that I think we are short on is — and this is true everywhere — is the music business background. Normally you get a label, you get a manager and you make it big, but that doesn’t happen anymore. That is not how things work anymore, you have to be good at doing a lot of things yourself, that is how you are able to build a team.
“So, I wanted to be able to put in front of people tools to do what they are doing in a way that they would feel more empowered to take control of the business side of their career, teach them new skills and give them advice.”
Lively said Michigan Music Alliance presents expert panels with people who share their varied experiences in the industry, even though it’s so competitive out there.
“I want to kill that mentality. I want to kill the starving artist mentality,” she said. “There is enough for everyone. If you share skills and experiences, we can only all grow from it. I want to level the playing field and give everyone the opportunity to learn what they might have learned if they had gone to music business school in a way that directly applies to their career right now.”
In October, MMA helped to host “Diversifying Your Music Career” in Grand Haven. The panelists included music composer Sheridan Tongue; Paul Kwant, director of the music industry management program at Ferris State University; Kevin Kozel, a music engineer for Third Coast; and drummer Scott Pellegrom.
In March, the alliance also established a Michigan Artist Relief Fund for full-time artists who suffered financial loss during the pandemic."
Photo by Nathan Purchase