An Interview with Elizabeth LaCoste from sempre|flute

Flute Specialists Newsletter

1. When did you start sempre|flute?

I launched sempre|flute on June 1, 2021. But the idea of sempre|flute had been on my mind for about 2, maybe even 3 years, back when I worked part-time at a local fabric and craft store.

2. What made you want to start your own business? Did you always dream of opening your own business?

I definitely did not always dream of having a business, in any capacity really. Like so many of us, I went to school to study to be an orchestral musician, soloist, freelancer, teacher, etc. The typical classical flutist dream. More specifically for me, to be a studio musician above all else.

The pandemic shifted all of that.

In 2020, one year before the launch of sempre|flute, I was finishing my master’s degree at UCLA in the Bouriakov studio. Before the pandemic, I had zero intention of starting a business not related to performing or teaching. But things shifted, as we all know, our jobs became obsolete for a time and we had to get creative with how we made our livings. In my mind, starting my own business seemed like the best idea (in hindsight it seems a bit crazy to start such a niche business during the pandemic of all times!).

3. Tell us about your background and how you came up with the idea to start sempre|flute.

I grew up in a small town north of Los Angeles and have always lived in Southern California. I began playing the flute in 7th grade at the age of 11, and from then on (it’s been 18 years now—holy cow!) flute has been my life.

I received my Bachelor’s degree from CSU Long Beach where I studied with John Barcellona, and I received my Master’s degree from UCLA where I studied with both Denis and Erin Bouriakov. I’ve been teaching private lessons since I was about 15 or 16, and had my first freelance gig around the same time (a wedding for one of my high school professors!). In 2017, I won the principal flute position of the American Youth Symphony, which is essentially the closest equivalent to the west coast’s New World Symphony—a “training” orchestra for young professionals, in which I worked from 2017 to 2022. Sadly, I would have continued if it weren’t due to a serious shoulder injury I experienced in fall of 2021, forcing me to take an extended break from regular practicing and performing. Happy to report things are improving now!

By all means, having a business specializing in boutique instrument accessories was definitely not on my radar whatsoever. But the “seed” was planted when I was working part-time in between my degrees at a local craft store in 2017 when I first discovered my interest in sewing. At the time, I actually experimented with making swabs for myself and my friends, but it was nothing serious. From then on I suppose it was always in my subconscious.

After the pandemic hit, and after I finished my MM at UCLA, everything was so uncertain. No auditions to take, no performances, only varied online teaching which simply wasn’t enough to rely upon. I had always thought of having a flutist-related blog to generate passive income, and technically that was the

original conception of sempre|flute. But as I got to researching how to generate income from running the website, I began thinking of merchandise I could sell that flutists would be interested in. And that’s when my entire thinking shifted and I began making prototypes of cotton flute cloths made from my favorite, high-quality fabrics.

Product testing continued for about 8-9 months in which I sent products to all of my friends, colleagues, and teachers to get their feedback until I finally narrowed designs and materials down to what we all know today as the handmade cloths in the Artist Series and Practice Series.

I knew I wanted to offer flutists something that was both environmentally and ethically sustainable, as well as highly professional and effective. There was nothing in the flute accessory market at the time, to my knowledge, that was made in the USA from materials not derived from plastics, as well as having an aesthetic appearance of a product I would feel comfortable using at rehearsals and performances.

4. What is the most challenging aspect of starting and running your own business?

By default, we as musicians are business owners. Period.

And the reality is that we aren’t taught how to run or set up a business in our schooling. I know I was encouraged to have a private studio and freelance until winning that “dream job” but the conversation always ended there with my teachers. How to ACTUALLY get down to the administrative work to start a business was never explained. But it’s absolutely essential that we as musicians are educated on how to operate as a business. The reality is that the majority of us simply won’t have a full-time orchestra position or teaching position where we’re employees, we’ll be doing independent contractor work. And there’s a much more efficient way of handling our finances, and businesses(es), than being a sole- proprietor where all of our teaching, performing, etc is all under our name.

In that regard, learning the financial and legal aspects of running a business was the most challenging simply because it was a steep learning curve, and continues to be as laws are constantly changing. But it was very enlightening and shifted my entire perspective on how to be a better musician and business owner.

If I could go back and change anything, it’s that I wish I learned how to operate as a “business,” being a performing musician and teacher, much sooner.

5. What do you envision for the future of sempre|flute products?

Offering safe, effective, and sustainable products is extremely important to me. Currently, all of our materials are sourced from US businesses that meet OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 guidelines of being free from harmful chemicals. But I would love to take it a few steps further to having all fabrics used for sempre|flute products be entirely organically grown, harvested, weaved, and dyed in the USA, preferably by a small business owner.

I’ve had many ideas of expanding to other instruments, offering handmade cases, to even offering handmade cleaning rods. Only time will tell if those products will make an appearance!

I would also love to see my products sold in more flute retailers both nationally here in the USA, and internationally. As I believe every flutist should have access to premium, handmade flute accessories.

6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to open a business or perhaps for someone who thought they’d be an orchestral player or a teacher and now find themselves…?

Do it. The first step is always the hardest, things won’t go perfectly, and it will be okay!

If your plan was, or is, to win a full-time orchestral position or teaching position, and you haven’t yet, or maybe you realized you don’t want that lifestyle, that’s completely fine! So often there is an extreme cultural pressure for us to all take one, or both, of those very traditional paths. But the reality is that there simply aren’t enough jobs for all of us. And by you starting a business (relating to being a musician or not) does not “lessen” your musician-ness in any way. You being an amazing performing artist and teacher, as well as a business owner are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. You can be whatever you want to be. It is your life and you are entitled to make decisions that benefit you and your livelihood.

Elizabeth LaCoste is an orchestral musician, recording artist, and teacher based in Southern California. She is the former principal flutist of the American Youth Symphony, the premier professional training orchestra in Los Angeles. She has performed as a soloist at the Hollywood Bowl alongside celebrity musicians including Lea Michele and Harvey Fierstein, and has performed solo works with the UCLA Philharmonia and the Bob Cole Conservatory Symphony. Elizabeth maintains an active teaching studio and has taught students across Southern California since 2012. 
She received her master’s degree in 2020 from UCLA where she studied with Denis and Erin Bouriakov. Elizabeth received her bachelor’s degree in 2016 from CSU Long Beach where she studied with John Barcellona. Her other notable teachers include Diana Morgan, Jim Walker, Toby Caplan-Stonefield, and Mary Predmore. Elizabeth plays on a W.S. Haynes flute.