Tag: career building

Winning the Lottery

Man Plays Lottery

Do you remember the thin envelope? Before email, the big turndown from arts funders meant finding the one-page rejection letter (“Thank you for your application…”) tucked between utility bills and fat envelopes stuffed with the false dream of unlimited credit, low APR, and a stiff yet faux credit card with your name embossed above a bunch of zeroes.

The F U File

Here’s why I miss the thin envelope. In the marvelous documentary Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, sound artist and sculptor Trimpin yanks out a coffin-length drawer from a filing cabinet to reveal “the Fuck You File.” I cheered and every other artist in the audience did too.

My F U File is merely four-inches thick, and I love it. It is a testament to my determination and effort to honor a saying from my late father, a professional musician for over forty years, “If you’re not getting rejected at least once a month, you’re not in the business.”

And not everyone should be in “the business.” If rejection really hurts, opt out. I did for a few years when I started taking this all too seriously. Now I savor every application.

The truth: No one cares who funded what after five years. Just about everyone I know at arts funding organizations is nobly selfless enough to accept that their hard work gradually fades from view as the artist’s work lives on.

Hurts So Good

Rejections can teach a crucial lesson: One rejection letter from a local arts commission had my typed name crossed out and first name handwritten by the director. That kind gesture taught me to address my dreams and ideas to actual people who wanted to help me instead of faceless panelists. Next year I got funded.

Rejections can teach a crucial lesson

The jewel of my F U File is a decade’s worth of annual project rejections, 1997 to 2007, from a single arts presenter who rebuffed my Favorite Intermissions project. Years later, I got to thank one of the panelists whose “no” amidst a chorus of rejection compelled me to refine my idea and make the project better with other collaborators. Loosened up by a bit of booze, he admitted, in the friendliest way possible, “We thought you were either a visionary or insane.” Both, I hope.

Three Kinds of Lottery Tickets

As I wrote in a previous post, the shortage of time, unpredictable nature of arts funding panels, and avalanche of applicants transforms almost every application into a kind of lottery ticket – one for which you distill endless hours of creative investigation, failure, and triumph. The lottery ticket must serve your art, so I suggest classifying applications as one of three types: peel, scratch, and scribble.

Just as the peel-away window lottery tickets are the easiest (no scraping mess, no penciling in numbers) to figure out, I treat these applications as an annual status report on the state of my art and condition of my ideas.

I re-draft my current artist statement and make sure to write texts I can use elsewhere as program notes. The more brilliant arts funding organizations deliberately design their questions to serve this purpose.

Scratching applications are business plans in disguise. Much more is demanded, such as a budget whose numbers must add up despite being destined to be wrong (panelists know that). You may be asked for a “vision statement” which seems redundant when you have already offered your “artist statement.” Treat your vision statement as if your project could write its own artist statement.

“Scribbler” in James Joyce’s stories not only describes hack writers (ahem) but also a pad on which to sketch and scrawl. Some requests-for-proposal and applications are so off-base or strange that they merit only the most scribbled, haphazard ideas.

the app[lication] becomes a place of liberation to promulgate your most brazen ideas

This is where the app becomes a place of liberation to promulgate your most brazen ideas. I still feel kinda bad for the hapless, conservative Washington D.C.-area think tank which received my idealistic proposal for using sound and listening to theorize a new form of “acousmatic governance.” But hey, they asked!

Draft number 23 (or an absurdly higher number) of that rejected proposal will soon be published as a book chapter.

Lotteries to Lose

Several years ago I was nominated for an award which bestows a hefty five-figure sum to artists in music, dance, and so on. Runners-up receive artist residencies and smaller fellowships. I’m an atheist, yet I thank God I did not win.

The winner that year was one of my idols, Butch Morris, a brilliant improviser, composer, and innovator of conduction. As a “winner,” I would have felt duly embarrassed, if not tainted and undeserving.

When I finally I met Butch, he cheerily told me that he’d been nominated for the same award many times. Then he challenged me: “But that shouldn’t matter to you. You’re going to keep creating anyway––no matter what, right?”

Right.

Roundtable: Let’s Make a List

Alex Shapiro

[Ed. Note: In the spirit of conversation and story sharing, we reached out to music makers and asked them to let us know what was on their minds when it came to cash and creativity and what lessons from their own careers they might share. Some answered questions we posed directly, others were inspired to take the topic somewhere else. Each provided something illuminating, and we hope you’ll jump in and share your own experiences in the comments. –MS]

Alex Shapiro

Alex Shapiro

Okay, fellow note aligners: let’s talk about the nitty and the gritty when it comes to creating income from the music we compose.

I’ll begin with this important, tone-setting manifesto:

Our worth as composers is meaningful, whether or not our music generates income.

Too often when reading frank discussions about money, some composers who either by choice or circumstance do not garner much revenue from their music are left feeling as though their pieces don’t really…count. Bah, humbug (or maybe in this case, Bach, Hamburg). Money has nothing to do with the quality of anyone’s music.

That said, for those who choose to put together a living from composing, there are myriad avenues for monetizing one’s output—which can offer both exciting opportunities and an overwhelming career equation to solve. Thus, I’m asking fellow music creators to build an ever-growing master list of income sources derived solely from their work. We’ll start with my list, simply because it’s the example with which I’m most familiar, and because what it lacks, others will chime in to add. By doing so, we all can benefit from contemplating the broad landscape of possibility that is seeded by our copyrights.

Ancillary work

Before we launch The Big List, let’s have a look at other income sources in our field. There are many terrific ways to earn a living in the music world through ancillary careers. Performing and teaching are probably the most obvious ones, in addition to working:

as an arranger and orchestrator
as a conductor
in music administration
as a music librarian
as a music preparation professional
in publishing
as a manager or agent
as a composer’s assistant
as a music video producer
as a recording engineer
as a consultant to peers
as a judge on panels
as a studio assistant
for honorariums from service organizations
giving private lessons online and in person
giving workshops and seminars…

…and these are only a few.

There is also a gray area that includes writing articles and book chapters, or allowing one’s music to be used for free in videos, for which one is not often paid, but which offers a level of professional exposure that has the potential to become financially rewarding, one step removed. A few years back, I penned an article for NewMusicBox exploring this, titled “The Economy of Exposure: Publicity as Payment?”.

But in this instance, let’s enumerate the many ways by which the original music that pours out of our hearts and brains can be turned directly into the food that feeds us, the roof that houses us, and the prompt internet bill payment that keeps us connected so that we can deliver our work and watch the next episode of House of Cards. In other words, let’s limit the scope of this list to ways that our music can earn us money. Not our instrument-playing gigs or our conducting, but solely our copyrights.

Round One

Here’s an initial pass at some of the ways in which composers like me earn income. These aren’t listed in any particular order, and some consistently generate larger amounts than others. I invite you to add to this incomplete list in the comments section below.

Commissions

This includes your composing fee, plus an additional fee for the music preparation, if relevant. If you are also doing the score and parts copying for your own work, then that counts as a source of income directly related to your original music.

Score sales, directly from you

If you are the publisher of the music, you receive 100 percent of these proceeds.

Score sales, through a distributor

If you are the publisher of the music, you receive a designated percentage of these proceeds, after the dealer discount.

Score sales, through a publisher

If you have assigned a copyright to a publisher, then you will receive a designated percentage of their proceeds.

Performance royalties 

Money that comes from your performing rights organization for small rights, and from your own negotiations for grand rights.

Publishing royalties

Money that comes from your performing rights organization and possibly your co-publishers.

Digital streaming royalties

Money that comes from collection services like Sound Exchange, if you own copyrights in sound recordings.

Mechanical royalties

Money that comes from record labels and their distributors. You may need to invest in a high-powered microscope to see the amount you are paid.

Residencies

Fees that conferences, symposiums, festivals, and schools pay us to come and lecture about our music, coach rehearsals of our pieces, and drink boxed wine with a side of fried mozzarella sticks at Applebee’s after concerts of our works.

Sync licenses

Money paid to you, if you own the copyright, for the use of your music with visual media.

Arrangement licenses

Money paid to you for the right for someone else to create an arrangement of an existing work in your catalog.

Ad revenue

Money paid to you through programs like Google AdSense, Amazon Associates, YouTube Partner Program, etc. when your online content includes ads that generate click-throughs.

Online coaching 

A fee paid to you to attend and coach a rehearsal of your work via Skype or a Google Hangout.

Skypehearsals, as I’ve dubbed them, are a newly created market, and especially useful for composers working with large ensembles. I was among the early adopters who incorporated these sessions as an ongoing income source, and they’re a significant part of my creative and business approach in the wind band world. For a moderate fee, I’m brought right into the interpretive process, resulting in a meaningful connection with the musicians, plus some oblique, tangible advantages. By forming a virtual, yet personal relationship between me and the ensemble, the director is more likely to purchase my other scores (sales income), perform those pieces (royalty income) and commission me in the future (as long as I remember to comb my hair and avoid drooling). In other words, a relatively small Skypehearsal fee often turns not only into a long-lasting collegial friendship, but into three additional sources of income as well.

Be in the flow

Income for an independent composer is all about the flow. Sure, it’s wonderful when larger checks show up in your mailbox or direct deposit. But more often than not, getting a viable career up to speed means creating an ongoing succession of projects and uses of your material that together generate a constant stream of cash that usually arrives in modest amounts.

For instance, a commission fee from an individual or small ensemble might be spread over four payments, as opposed to the traditional two. Perhaps you have three such contracts in a given year, in addition to others that pay you larger amounts in one or two segments. The result of this “3 clients x 4 payments each” is that you have a check coming in virtually every month from one piece or another (and sometimes from several at once, depending on your composing schedule). Those, along with your income stream throughout the year from the categories listed above, complete the recipe for being able to pay your bills.

Account for yourself

Cash Week - sm

Read more new music and money coverage all this week on NewMusicBox.

Like most working composers, I receive income each month in varying amounts from a wide variety of sources, rather than from just one or two places. It can actually be a bit dizzying to keep track of it all. I’m frighteningly organized (yup, one of those obnoxious “neat desk” people), and yet when it comes to accounting and staying on top of things in my business, I’m embarrassingly-but-charmingly simple in my record-keeping. Okay, probably more on the embarrassing side, but hey, it works for me.

To wit: I create a simple spreadsheet each year, featuring columns for the “who/what/when due/when paid” information, with a psyche-soothing color code for each fee category. I list and enter every payment chronologically so I can see the rundown clearly, gathering and summing the categories at tax time. Many of you reading this are highly sophisticated and use great software that does far more (other colorful spreadsheet strategies of possible interest are outlined here). But admittedly, for as über-high tech as I am in my project studio, I’m very old school when it comes to accounting. I’m sharing my process here so that composers daunted by the prospect of managing all their information can see how utterly straightforward it can be.

In addition to the spreadsheet, I keep a tally in an even simpler text file, listing what my anticipated income is for each month of the year, as well as my monthly expenses. Assuming your clients pay in a timely manner, you will know that the second of three payments for Such A Brilliant Piece is due in February, and that the first of two payments for Another Brilliant Piece is due in May, as is the final, fourth payment for This Utterly Brilliant Piece. You’ll know that if you served on a panel in late March, your honorarium will arrive sometime in April, and those residency fees from symposiums and universities will make your mailbox smile in, say, July, October, and December. Your PRO payments come at pre-determined times, while your score sales and Skype fees probably go up and down each month. As I noted above, it’s dizzying, and you can see why it’s wise to write all of this down. Each of these items combines to create a cascade of cash flow, borne from the riverhead of your biggest asset: your copyright.

Live modestly

To achieve the elegant simplicity of the road map above, there is one very significant rule of thumb which cannot be stressed enough: live within your means, and avoid using credit whenever possible. (The tragedy of student loans is an evil that for some is unavoidable, and is a separate discussion.) Pay as you go. Money is artistic freedom: the less stress you’re under to meet monthly financial responsibilities, the less you will need to rely on other non-composing sources of income and the more choice you will have as a composer as to what projects to accept.

Think creatively

If you happen to be a non-performing composer as I am, that means that you can choose to live anywhere you wish. You may decide to trade in the expense of a big city for the affordability of a small town. Or even a small rock, like where I live on Washington’s San Juan Island. Or… a boat! I had a live-aboard permit years ago for my sailboat in Santa Barbara. I still consider the future possibility of forgoing a house, buying a decent sized older vessel, and setting up my studio in it. Thanks to cell and internet connectivity, music creators have many economic options that would never before have been realistic.

Find a balance

For composers who choose to earn money from their art, the pride of being paid cold hard cash in exchange for the sonic chaos inside our heads cannot be overrated. But even for those with established careers, it’s common to toggle between different kinds of projects: some naturally destined to be more obscure, and others predicted to garner many sales and performances. A contrabassoon sonata probably won’t move nearly as many copies off the shelf as a wind band or choral piece. In both cases, they can equally represent the excellent art of the same composer, but do so through different compositional voices for different audiences. One helps to subsidize the other, resulting in a very fulfilling artistic life. No one would criticize a friend for cooking an Italian meal on Tuesday, doing Szechuan take-out on Wednesday, enjoying a North Indian buffet lunch on Friday, and making French onion soup on Sunday. Writing varied types of music is no different, and it is a wise approach to staying in the flow both musically and financially.

Be kind

I’m a firm believer that there’s a beautiful correlation between being a decent, positive person and attracting opportunity. Kindness, graciousness, an interest in what’s meaningful to other people, and a sense of humor about oneself are traits that not only enhance your life, but also your career. Because you’re not just in the music-making business, you’re in the relationship-making business.

Additional resources

Chamber Music America has a long-running series about the music business called the First Tuesday Sessions, for which I was a guest speaker a few years ago. Recently the organization began posting videos of these valuable conversations. The newest one is a must-see for any composer wishing to be paid for their work: composer Martin Bresnick gave a terrific, very specific, one-hour tutorial on the details involved in negotiating fees for one’s work:

Be sure to click here, as well, for more excellent advice.

Another wonderful resource is composer Garrett Hope’s podcast “Composer on Fire.” You can hear me address some of what’s in this essay in my two-part March 2016 podcast, and the site is filled with inspiring conversations that will make you even more excited than you may already be about having a viable career doing what you love.

Never forget

After all of this discussion of the many ways to earn money from your art, it’s important that I wrap up with the very same credo with which I began:

Our worth as composers is meaningful, whether or not our music generates income.

Everyone knows that developing the ability to support oneself in the arts is a challenging mission. Not every artist is naturally suited to the requisite demands placed upon our left cerebral hemisphere, as well as upon our people skills. No one is “better than” or “less than” anyone else, whether or not they possess these traits. We each compose because we are unstoppably drawn to do so. Our work, whether commissioned or not, is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. For those who find a way to make their passion their vocation as well, exhilaration should ideally become the overriding adjective for a very busy life that’s filled with magic.

***
Composer Alex Shapiro aligns note after note with the hope that at least a few of them might actually sound good next to each other. Her persistence at this activity, as well as at non-fiction writing, public speaking, arts advocacy, wildlife photography, and the shameless instigation of insufferable puns on Facebook, has led to a happy life. Created from a broad musical palette that defies genre, Shapiro’s acoustic and electroacoustic works are performed and broadcast daily across the U.S. and internationally. Her pieces are published by Activist Music, and can be found on over twenty commercially released recordings from around the world. She is the Symphonic and Concert writer representative on the ASCAP Board of Directors.

Who’s Got a Question?

Matters of the Art
Too embarrassed to ask your colleagues for guidance on handling performance anxiety? Facing a problem so professionally complex your mom doesn’t know how to help you? You need a fierce friend and NewMusicBox is here to help.
Whether it’s issues with your fan base or your French horn, when the curtain comes down, real life dramas can trouble your practice time and cramp you new music style. Your city’s alt-weekly advice columnist might not know enough about stand-sharing etiquette to understand your pain, but NewMusicBox’s newest column, Matters of the Art, is ready to lend an ear, a shoulder, and a hand. Column author Ellen McSweeney explains:

Many of my most popular articles at NewMusicBox have covered broad hot-button issues for musicians, including health insurance for freelancers, orchestra labor conflicts, and how women are (and aren’t) making progress in the fields of composition, conducting, and aesthetic tastemaking. And while I’m delighted to do a little rabble-rousing in the name of a more just and equitable world, I’m equally fascinated by what’s happening in the hearts and minds of individual artists. I’m a big believer in the value of sharing our struggles with each other. My experience is that by shining a bright light into the dark, un-talked-about corners of our lives, we make things a little easier for everyone.

Worries large and small accepted. Anonymity guaranteed. Write to fiercefriend@newmusicbox.org today.

Why “Don’t Play for Free” Is Not Enough

Just say no to “pass the hat” gigs.

Just say no to “pass the hat” gigs.
Photo by Gregory Nissen

In response to my first column, the first comment was an admonition to musicians that they shouldn’t play for free.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last two weeks because I felt that this was an unrealistic route to change, but I hadn’t been able to say exactly why. Here are some reasons why I think that the statement isn’t sufficient to address the problem of unpaid gigs.

1.) No one person can change a system. If you turn down a free gig, is it a strike? No, because you are not an employee leveraging power. (Although Italians launched an effective “culture strike” in 2010.) Is it a boycott? Not exactly, but more similarly, in that it’s a withdrawal from a practice for an ethical reason, with hopes to change the system through a negative multiplier effect. If no one plays without compensation, something has to change.

For a musician simply to remove himself or herself from the industry might be noble, but it will do little or nothing to change the industry as a whole.  If it ends there, it’s a relatively passive, individualist form of resistance. The power to effect real, systemic change comes only in the communication of grievances and organizing.

Communicating with the venue and fellow musicians about why you refuse to work for free is a start, and then trying to work with the venue to get it to change is even better. If that fails, getting together with others is how you turn your individualism into a community act. Now, an organized boycott—that’s a thing! And probably the only thing that you’d want to do if you dare speak up at all, because there is safety in numbers.

2.) Don’t reprimand musicians for free work; reprimand promoters for demanding unpaid labor. Venues and promoters have the primary responsibility for ensuring their workers are paid. It should not be the responsibility of a worker to have to ask for pay, it’s the responsibility of the employer to explain the payment conditions and to pay fairly and on time.

Image courtesy Arun Joseph via Flickr.

Image courtesy Arun Joseph via Flickr.

3.) Sometimes you don’t know you’re playing a free gig until it is over. This is well evidenced in the controversy over the 2013 Chicago Beethoven Festival, where musicians and venues alike were not paid by organizer George Lepauw. Lepauw explained that “the Festival experienced a combination of factors which unexpectedly led to the discrepancy between expenditures and income”—which means they didn’t have the money.

The dreaded discrepancy can come for any reason: ineptitude, bad ticket sales, a failed grant application, or some weather disaster. In each scenario, the promoter has taken a risk and lost. It wasn’t the musicians’ fault or the fault of anyone else legally contracted to do the work, and they should not suffer for someone else’s bad event management.

4.) Unpaid labor is often coercive—some people really can’t say no if they want to stay in the field. There are many forms of social pressure that go into getting a musician to play without pay:  current position with a group, promise of a future job, respect for seniority, some sense of obligation to friend or teacher, the prestige of the gig, or the idea of cultural norms for a genre. If musicians are not truly free to say no to a gig without fear of future detriment to their careers, then coercion is part of the unpaid deal.

Abuse is a strong word, but I think that it applies when thinking about the compromises a leader, teacher, or promoter may ask of a musician. But why would another musician be angry when they know that this practice is widespread? The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness writes, “One reason people blame a victim is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirm their own invulnerability to the risk.” Perhaps it is our own fear of being caught in a similar position—and anxiety about what we’d do—that causes such frustration.

To change coercion, a lot of cultural practices around performance would have to change. At the very least, there should be independent checks on institutions and people with the power to exploit their underlings in this way.
5.) “Paying your dues” through unpaid gigs means reinforcing the labor status quo.

A friend of mine moved to New York City from the Midwest, where she was a highly sought-after jazz pianist. After two years of unpaid gigs, sitting in and showing up to jams, she finally started getting into the network of paid work. If she’d been wealthy, those two years wouldn’t have mattered. If she’d gone to school in New York, she would have passed this hurdle young.  The problem was that she had to pay rent during those two years, and so the job that made more sense was not in music.

So asking someone to “pay dues,” which is really a form of coercion, means that those who are already at an economic disadvantage within the field will be even less likely to make it if they have to spend time earning wages elsewhere. They simply cannot play all the free gigs someone with wealth can, and thus they won’t be able to put in the time which leads to getting paid.
This is similar to the arguments around the widespread use of unpaid internships, and exacerbates unequal access to future paid work. Both depend on eager new entrants into the already crowded workforce willing and able to accept training and experience but no wages.

Image courtesy Walt Otto via Flickr.

Image courtesy Walt Otto via Flickr.

6.) The “if you do free work, you’re taking away my job” argument. This is written generically to show the parallel to other forms of labor protectionism based on rank. If someone is more established in the field, chances are they went through some form of the exploitative system and have come out on top, into the promised land of paid gigs. Now, they seek to protect their status by shutting down the current avenue of advancement in the field—free labor. Instead of focusing on shutting down worker’s opportunities for advancement, established musicians need to use their reputations and prestige to try to end this system of exploiting incoming musicians. This does not come from yelling at musicians for taking free gigs; it comes from demanding fair contracts for all and asking audiences to demand the same.

Are there times and places to take unpaid gigs? Yes, as David Hahn and others have written, charity and friend favors and maybe even “having fun” are good reasons to do things, but these are best assessed as what they are, with no blinders—tradeoffs made to positively affect some other part of life than one’s income. Playing music is part of a total life experience—from earning to gifting to community building—but I believe that musicians should have an informed choice when putting their labor into service and should never be coerced into unpaid work when it will hurt their ability, or the community’s ability, to survive.

So You Want To Start An Opera Company…

So to recap, let’s say you were all excited that you and your librettist had the most awesome idea for a miniature chamber opera about the housing bubble, and you had hoped a big opera house might potentially fund a workshop of said opera, and you were then rejected from this amazing opportunity. It happens.

And you realize that maybe you should stop waiting around for a big opera company to produce your opera, and so you take fate into your own hands, curating your own future as a composer. Because, dangit, you are going to write the bloody opera, and if you want the opera to be performed, you are going to have to produce the dang opera yourself.

Opera Rehearsal

NANOWorks rehearsal, May 2013. With Stacey Erin Sands, Liz Remizowski, Tyler Catlin, and Adrienne Sereta.
Photo by Brendan Jeffrey.

You and your librettist (and co-collaborator for most artistic things in your life) decide that the way around the non-performances and non-workshops of your work is to create a small opera company. This totally can be done, you think. You got this.

And then you do it. Mostly. In an amazing, inspirational, haphazard way that makes you wonder how on earth this new opera company didn’t kill you first.
I want to say I am quite thankful for the many conversations I had with my librettist (over delicious Reuben sandwiches and quite possibly later over Cincinnati chili) since it helped us deal with brutal rejection and heal our artistic wounds. We discussed the lack of opportunities for libretto readings and for workshopping new operas, and ultimately that inspired us to found an opera company. (If there is one piece of advice I can bequeath to you delightful readers, it’s that yes, risks are scary, but you have to be a bit foolhardy to make your art happen.)
The new opera company (North American New Opera Workshop, or NANOWorks) has been going decently so far. Our first teaser season in 2012–2013 had four performances, which included a performance at the Classical Revolution Cincinnati Constella Festival (thank you, thank you, Laura Sabo) and a stint at the 2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, a world premiere of my rejected opera…

Fringe performance

Christopher Brandon Morales and Karen Wissel Shiota performing THE BUBBLE at the 2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
Photo by Brendan Jeffrey.

…and holy cow, an article about us in Opera News. For our next performance, we are producing a world premiere of Eric Knechtges’s opera Last Call, an opera loosely based on the gay bar scene in Cincinnati, and Marie Incontrera’s At the Other Side of the Earth, a dystopian punk lesbian coming of age opera. (If we align our ducks right, it will be performed at Below Zero Lounge in downtown Cincinnati preceding the drag show, which would be quite awesome in its own right.) And guess what folks, we now officially have our first call for scores, so you have until June 1 to submit something for our 2014–2015 season. Ironically—and this I dread—I may have to dole out rejection letters. Because of this, I’m sorry in advance. (This turn of events will possibly be discussed in a future blog post.)


Considering my opera company has barely existed for more than a year, we are obviously not doing so badly. However, I must admit, running this opera company has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Why?
I don’t have enough money to independently fund my own opera company.
I’m what financial guru Suze Orman calls “young, fabulous, and broke.” Sure, I’m young and fabulous, but I would love to pay my singers. And my music director. And my wonderful piano maven. And maybe also pay for some costumes and sets, or quite possibly a venue. And, here’s a thought—maybe I should pay my composers. That would be lovely.

NANOWorks Opera Rehearsal 2

NANOWorks rehearsal wiith Melissa Harvey and Adrienne Sereta.
Photo by Brendan Jeffrey.

Without funding, I have to pay for venues and licensing fees completely out-of-pocket. I rely on eager singers who are happy to create new operatic roles, but they may have to suddenly drop out because a better-paying gig was offered to them. (Did I mention we had to double cast our Fringe show because Cincinnati Opera’s Der Rosenkavalier took out all the good baritones in town?) I have to rely on free or cheap rehearsal space, and sometimes that means I have to hold rehearsals at my house and hope my singers aren’t allergic to my cats. Did I mention I don’t have a real piano at my place? Did I also mention that I only have so much space for “staging” at my house? Ultimately without funding, I have to forgo certain props, venues, or talent that I would love to work with to create a good production. And I pride myself in producing good work.


At this point, you are probably asking why I decided to start my own opera company, especially because it continues to be a money loser for me and my co-founder. However, I tell my students (and possibly because I need to believe this myself) that it’s important to invest in yourself and nurture your art. And I see NANOWorks as a vehicle for which I will sacrifice profitability and sleep to enjoy the notoriety the company provides, to create the possibility of future commissions, and to be able to produce my own art. Hopefully this makes up for the cost.

Will this strategy work for everyone? I honestly can’t guarantee that, and I am still waiting to find out what happens myself. However, I know there are better things to do than to sit around all dressed up with no place to go, waiting for a grand opera company to call.

So You Want To Write An Opera….

So, like I was saying, after some time in the city I began to understand that Cincinnati had always been culturally relevant and continues to be culturally relevant due to its history and resources. And fortunately I was quite lucky to have moved to Cincinnati at a time when the city was (and still is) making a comeback.

What I didn’t know at first was that much of Cincinnati’s musical history was vocal: Cincinnati is home to the Cincinnati May Festival, which dates back to the 1840s when Saengerfests were held in the city. And, like I’ve mentioned, it is home to the second-oldest opera company in the states. Even though I decided to attend the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music because of its composition program, conveniently it has one of the top opera programs in the country. This inspired me to pick up my previous try at opera writing.

I admit I attempted composing for opera long ago as an undergraduate. I remember seeing the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Billy Budd in the late ’90s and then seeing their production of Peter Grimes in the early 2000s, and I was convinced I absolutely had to write an opera. My sophomore self strutted into Stephen Hartke’s office (he was my composition professor then) and told him I was going to write an opera.
“So. You want to write an opera.”
“Yes.”
“Have you thought about staging?”
“No.”
“Have you thought about characterization?”
“No?”
[slight pause]”I just…want to write an opera…?”

Apparently I didn’t know what I was doing, and neither did my librettist at the time. She adapted a short story of hers into singable prose about a college student who brought home a fish that looked like a naked man. (Just so we’re clear, it is questionable when your roommate brings home a naked man-fish and puts him in your apartment’s bathtub, and it is equally questionable when singable prose is converted into an opera.)

Anyway, my first opera was to be a surreal comic opera, except that there were four potential endings, no exit strategy, and I quickly realized the project was way over my head, so I hurriedly and awkwardly finished only the first scene (and the piece remains unfinished to this day). However, as Hartke pointed out via email a very long time ago, sometimes pushing yourself and working on projects that are completely over your head help you grow as an artist.

Anyway, as I have mentioned before, school wore me out (or maybe my first opera attempt did!) and so I took a break from school (or quite possibly the opera). And when I arrived in Cincinnati, I was greeted by graduate singers who could actually act on stage.
Therefore, the idea of writing contemporary opera was rekindled like you would not believe. I actually thought this could happen. I told a few people at the MusicX Festival in 2010—inadvertently including Hartke himself—that I wanted my future dissertation to be an opera. During one of our meals, someone asked what my dissertation would be. I attempted to answer.
Me: “Well…”
Hartke (staring at me directly): “I know that look.”
Me: “What look.”
Hartke: “The last time you had that look, you wanted to write an opera.”
Guilty as charged.
Back in Cincinnati, my professors told me I needed to contact the school’s music director to let her know I was interested in starting an operatic project. The worry was that my future work would conflict with the school’s complex opera season. So, I met with her (after a ridiculous number of email attempts) and she actually seemed somewhat excited that a couple of graduate students wanted to write operas. She told me to send her a synopsis, a cast list, a libretto, and my sketches. I did.
And then nothing happened.
I decided to contact her again, and after even more email

attempts, we finally met. This time she encouraged me to apply to Opera Fusion: New Works, a program in which both the Cincinnati Opera and the College-Conservatory of Music collaborate to workshop exciting new operas. Except I knew they were never going to select me: the last few featured operas included composers such as Douglas Cuomo, Terence Blanchard, and Ricky Ian Gordon and librettists such as John Patrick Shanley. Because this girl has not won a Pulitzer Prize, I knew my chance for getting my opera read through this program was slim.

Cincinnati Opera and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music rehearsal of “Doubt” with (l-r) Douglas Cuomo, composer, CCM student Jonathan Stinson, Robin Guarino, stage director, John Patrick Shanley, librettist, Gary Wedon, conductor, Marcus Küchle, co-artistic director of Opera Fusion: New Works, with accompanists Carol Walker and Elena Kholodova. Photo by Philip Groshong.

Cincinnati Opera and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music rehearsal of Doubt with (l-r) Douglas Cuomo, composer, CCM student Jonathan Stinson, Robin Guarino, stage director, John Patrick Shanley, librettist, Gary Wedon, conductor, Marcus Küchle, co-artistic director of Opera Fusion: New Works, with accompanists Carol Walker and Elena Kholodova. Photo by Philip Groshong.

So then, when I was asked along with a handful of other student composers to create a short American opera for Washington National Opera’s inaugural American Opera Initiative, I jumped on the opportunity. My librettist (the same one from my undergraduate days!) almost instantaneously invented what I believe (and still believe) was an ingenious topic—an opera about the housing bubble. We submitted our proposal and thought we totally had this.

And oh yes, we were totally rejected.
I believe there comes a time when you become so completely haggard and worn from rejection that you may take a good look at your life and realize that maybe you’re going to write the dang opera anyway. And that maybe you live in a town that has an abundance of good singers who act, and that maybe they can perform this future opera. And maybe you and your librettist from your undergrad days think it’s not a bad idea to found a starter opera company in your backyard, especially when your backyard has this wonderful vocal tradition ingrained in its soil. And maybe you and your librettist are crazy enough to actually do it.

Cataloging the Fail: A Cathartic Scrapbook

Composer Fail Example
The other day a young composer friend of mine was eagerly awaiting a letter of acceptance or rejection from a prestigious summer program. Alas, this person was rejected. I instantly received text messages sharing the sour news.

“Well, I didn’t get in.”
“Screw them.”
“I guess. I’m really bad with rejection.”
“Um, so was I. Trust me. Rejection ruined me in my early twenties.”
“I’m worried that might happen to me.”
“Dude, you’ll be fine.”

Ultimately this person will be fine. We all will be fine. However, while I easily emit an air of aplomb, I was recently reminded of how crushing these rejections were a short decade ago.

Lately I’ve been reflecting more and more on how I’ve dealt with rejections and supposed failure as a young composer. Because I now teach at a small liberal arts college, I constantly see and interact with a sea of undergrads. Their habitat involves Instagram and Snapchat, dorm rooms and drama, and this younger generation is still bright and bubbly and young and vulnerable as I was. And because of their presence, I am reminded of how I dealt with what I perceived as devastating defeat upon experiencing rejection.

I first experienced composer rejection as an undergrad, which is where I believe all of us composers experience our first twinge of adulthood angst. I was attending one of those undergrad composer recitals; I believe I was actually performing piano for one of the pieces. I remember hearing during the concert that one of my young composer colleagues received the BMI Student Composer Award that year. We were all happy for him. We all thought we had a chance of writing a good chamber piece and winning this award. We modified and edited our music and eagerly submitted our scores.

And then nothing happened.
And then I was rejected.

I wouldn’t say my first rejection was crushing—it merely materialized. I was disappointed. But I was young and resilient, and I thought I had plenty of time to submit a winning piece.
The next year I realized I hadn’t written many pieces and so therefore I had an abysmal selection from which to submit something. However, I found something to submit, and submit I did.
And I was rejected again.

This was starting to disturb and discomfit me, especially because I was nearing upperclassman status and also because other upperclassmen in my program had started to win these young composer awards. And these upperclassmen were in the process of obtaining good recordings of their work and applying to good graduate programs. I truly felt I was not only failing at composer competitions but also failing at writing music, meeting a recital requirement, fulfilling graduate school admission criteria, and therefore failing at life. (Such is the thought process of an angsty young adult.)

If I were failing at life, I might as well make the best of my situation. I certainly received another BMI rejection letter, and this time I decided to get crafty since apparently my music wasn’t as artful as it should be. My hornist roommate gave me a sheet of acid-free paper imprinted with soccer balls and I clumsily cut-and-pasted my rejection letter onto this sports-themed paper.
And this is when I realized that my roommate was far better at scrapbooking than I was (the resultant project wasn’t that great, if you’re curious) and that maybe I should stick to writing music instead. Except that I felt like I was failing at that, too. And admittedly the whole point of scrapbooking my rejection letter was to prove to people, including myself, that this rejection letter did not deflate me. Except it did.

At this point in my life I knew that my original pristine plan of applying to grad school and becoming a successful composer was absolutely not going to work out. Or so I thought.

And here’s where I want to step in and point out that there is no perfect plan or perfect system that allows for guaranteed success. As an adolescent, I thought the composer comp way was the only way to become a successful composer. I had no idea different routes were available to me, and furthermore I had no idea that I had to create them myself.

The good news is I eventually realized that I’m a composer. We’re all composers. We’re creative beings. We’re destined to construct musical worlds and trajectories and ultimately scenarios of our own composer existence. And, maybe the younger we are, the more we need to be reminded of this—that we must take charge of our creative selves and curate our own artistic future.
*Jennifer Jolley
Jennifer Jolley teaches music composition at Ohio Wesleyan University and co-founded the North American New Opera Workshop (NANOWorks Opera). In her spare time, she procrastinates by blogging about writing music.

Great Expectations: The Composer’s Progress

compass

Photo courtesy of Calsidyrose on Flickr.

I turned 40 last year.  This transition made me think a lot about career trajectories for composers.  It doesn’t feel like a particularly old age, especially in a career that often involves schooling well into adulthood.  So I began to think of what, exactly, the career expectations for composers are at various stages in our lives.

Composers are always being reminded of their age.  Early on, it’s all about opportunities.  Many (too many, perhaps) opportunities for composers focus on that golden developmental period of ages 18-ca. 35 known as “emerging career” (with the occasional variant for “young composers,” which can mean the same as the “emerging” demographic, or may refer to a younger age group, typically high school aged or earlier).  This is so common a distinction that its unfairness is something of a cause célèbre in our field.  Beyond age restrictions on opportunities, the emerging demographic—when narrowed to the group of composers finishing graduate school—is also primed for entry into the academic job market.  As we age, we transition into what is known as “mid career,” although it feels strange to suggest that we enter this at the tender age of 35.

When I began my schooling, I fully expected to spend around ten years in the academy, through the completion of a DMA or Ph.D. program.  Upon finishing my training, my plan was to find a relatively comfortable teaching position and settle down into the life of an academic composer.  This is a fine, noble career choice, and an attractive one given the relative security and the perquisites of research assistance by way of grants, fellowships, and sabbaticals.  Yet this has become an increasingly tough path to follow, and the door to academic job security remains closed to many.  I myself, regardless of my original expectations, never found my way onto the tenure-track academic path (at least, not yet).  Because of this, however, I’ve had to be resourceful and instead found a path that has often been fulfilling, sometimes rocky, and always surprising.

Beyond mid-career, there is the fabled world of the “elder states(wo)man” further down the road.  This may mean emeritus status at a university or having the kind of career that allows one to charge large fees simply for attending a rehearsal.  This stage also brings with it a level of recognition that comes with a responsibility to mentor younger and less famous composers but also the perks of portrait concerts, retrospective boxed sets, and the occasional festival celebrating your work during an important birthday.
For each of these stages, however, there are a number of composers who don’t conform to the model, and the truth is that there really is no typical career trajectory for a composer.  My expectations for my own career were typical of a certain, mid-to-late 20th-century attitude towards music composition and don’t seem to jibe as well with the expectations of young composers coming of age today (although I’m often surprised by how many still expect to re-enter the academy, as professors, upon exiting it as students).  With the myriad ways to network and disseminate our music available today, many young composers are developing important careers even while still working on their degrees, at times going as far as winning significant prizes once held for only a long-established elite.

The only way to navigate a career as a composer, I have found, is to be prepared for anything.  Developing strong contacts, nurturing the “mutual benefit balance,” and being a good musical citizen are all ways to guarantee, if not a long career as a composer—I’m not sure I can speak to that at the moment, frankly.  Ask me again in another 40 years…—at least the ability to weather the storms that any life transition may throw your way.  Flexibility, savvy, and a strong network are the only ways to truly guarantee a fulfilling life in the arts.

And, if you watch out for others in the process, they’ll watch out for you when you need it.

The Mutual Benefit Balance

I’m honored and excited to embark on a series of articles for NewMusicBox. For this first entry, I thought a lot about how I might be useful to its community of readers.  While contemplating topics, I returned over and over again to reflect upon satisfying artistic relationships I’ve had:  What made them work?  Are there general principles that can be applied to the process of collaboration? When and how does a professional relationship transcend the purely transactional? 
Many of my collaborations have been as a performer working with composers.  And it’s there that I’ll begin. 
rock balance
The best professional relationships, especially those based on communality and egalitarianism, have a natural equilibrium of mutual benefit.  I can say quite sincerely that my happiest collaborations have been at times where all of the parties involved not only understand those benefits, but also actually celebrate them.

What do I mean by “mutual benefit”?  Simply that each party in the relationship believes that the collaboration is producing something worthwhile to their own mission and body of work.  It does not require that the parties all be of the same stature or experience or that they accrue the same benefits, but only that all people involved feel that the benefits will be useful and desirable for them.

An early example from So Percussion’s career comes to mind:  when we were still graduate students at Yale, we approached David Lang about writing a percussion quartet for us.  We were young, inexperienced no-names.  Jason started cold-emailing every address he thought might find its way to David:  david@bangonacan.org, dlang@bangonacan.com etc.

We had a small amount of money—which we thought was a lot—thanks to a scholarship that had been awarded to one of the group members.  Other than that, we could offer very little:  David was a well-established composer with plenty of commissions and a flourishing arts organization.  The benefits to us of working with him were patently obvious:  new repertoire from a recognized name, possible concert and recording opportunities, and a higher profile for our group.

Luckily, we were brave and possibly naïve enough to believe that there might be something in it for him as well. (I consistently find that young students don’t possess the confidence to see what they might have to offer a more established artist in a working relationship.)

When we approached David, he told us,  “You only have enough money for me to write either a very short piece, or a very long one.”

In this case, David perceived—correctly—that we were talented and hungry, but also that we had nothing better to do than toil away for months in the basement if a well-known composer wrote us an epic piece.  The benefit we could offer him was the time and energy we were willing to invest in a unique and ambitious project.  Although the money we had would come nowhere close to compensating him for a “very long” piece in the financial sense, he believed we were positioned to help him meet artistic goals that mattered to him.

The work that he wrote was the so-called laws of nature, which requires the players to fabricate most of the instruments themselves out of wooden slats and metal pipes, rustle up precisely tuned flower pots at the hardware store, make tons of personal interpretive decisions, and then grind away for months rehearsing the layered counterpoint he wrote.
Because co-producing a successful piece with him meant so much to us, he felt empowered to make strenuous demands, which we were thrilled to accommodate.

What about finding the balance when both the composer and performer(s) are “young,” “emerging,” “early career,” or however you’d define it?  I’d like to be clear about one thing: first and foremost, what every artist needs is to be paid.  Art and music are incredibly time-consuming, and if we care about good work, artists need to have time to make it without going broke.
But…that’s not always an option, especially when we’re just getting started. In addition to—or in the absence of—money, what do artists need in a collaboration that others can offer them?

Young composers need committed, frequent performances!  Actually, all composers need this. Many of our first commissions for So Percussion were solicited from school friends, sealed with a handshake and a commitment to play their music numerous times. Some of those works, like Dennis DeSantis’s Shifty and Suzanne Farrin’s vibraphone duos, have since made their way into the larger percussion repertoire.

Achieving convincing performances of new work is rare and difficult for composers who are just starting out.  Often, they suffer a deficit compared to established composers not only because they haven’t built a reputation, but also because the well-known composers have access to high quality performances of their music.  For that reason, I believe the benefit of performers offering good performances of new works is completely different than promising “exposure,” that toxic word that gets thrown around to trick artists out of being compensated for their work.

For a composer, especially in the academic world, having a good recording and documentation of multiple performances of their work paves the way for future awards and commissions, entry to graduate programs, and many other things.  Of course, it also makes them better composers!  We as performers often forget how much time composers spend working without their primary medium, trying their best to imagine the music, synthesize it on midi, or bang it out on the piano.

These partnerships with composers are how So Percussion got started. We were furiously ambitious to make a career as a chamber group, but there was an incredibly small extant repertoire to draw from.  Making deals with our friends to generate new repertoire and seeking out other composers was what we needed to do to survive! We didn’t have Beethoven to fall back on, so we leapt headfirst.  There were few acknowledged old masterpieces to plop down after intermission in our concerts, while timidly squeezing a new work into the first half like a piece of “limp lettuce” (as the ever-colorful Joan Tower once described it to me).  We had to play new pieces as if they were old.  Which is to say, as if we needed them to be good in order for our work to matter.
The incredible thing is that sending composers the message that their work was essential to our existence drew stunning, visionary results out of many of them.  Whether there was commission money involved or not—there has been, as often as possible—our mutual benefit equilibrium was optimum.  We needed repertoire as badly as they needed others to be committed to their work.

What can composers do to proactively seek that optimum balance?  This is where the concept of usefulness may come into play.  I’m a huge fan of utopian dreaming in art, so I would never advise anybody to compromise their vision just to get their music played.  But if you’re able to achieve that vision and adhere to your values while also considering the needs and interests of the performers you work with and their role in bringing your ideas to life, it’s going to balance the mutual benefit scales in a way that turbo-charges their commitment to your music.  Simply conceiving the work in a Sibelius-addled vacuum and insisting it go the way you’ve imagined in your head leaves the performer in the extremely unsatisfying role of assembly line worker, with no room for their own ideas or insights in the process.

The process of creating new work together has many nuances to it.  My posts in the weeks ahead will delve into these details, illustrating the best approaches and techniques that I’ve come across.  Seeking equality and mutual benefit does not, for instance, mean that I believe everybody should have equal say in every artistic decision (unless that’s explicit).

Finally, I feel excited and compelled to write about this not because I believe I’ve discovered something on my own, but actually in order to articulate my perspective on a trend that has been sweeping across the new music world for quite a while.  The other artists who have influenced my thinking are too numerous to count, but I’ll do my best to acknowledge them along the way.

***

Adam Sliwinski

Adam Sliwinski

Adam Sliwinski is a longtime member of the percussion quartet So Percussion. He has had the opportunity to work closely with many of today’s leading composers, including Steve Reich, Steve Mackey, David Lang, Terry Riley, and many others. In addition to his work with So, Sliwinski has premiered a number of works for solo percussion, and in recent years has added conducting and piano performance to his activities. He has premiered more than 20 works as a conductor with the International Contemporary Ensemble at Harvard, Columbia, and NYU, as well as Vijay Iyer’s Radhe Radhe in 2013, and Keeril Maken’s Afterglow on Mode Records. In 2013-2014, Sliwinski is premiering and recording Dan Trueman’s Nostalgic Synchronic etudes for digital prepared piano, a set of pieces that warp the possibilities of the keyboard through cutting edge technology.
Sliwinski is co-director of percussion studies at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, and runs the So Percussion Summer Institute with his colleagues on the campus of Princeton University every summer.

Competitive Nature

Recently, a number of colleagues forwarded me a post that was published on one of Slate’s blogs entitled “What Kind of Stress do Full-Time Composers Experience?“. While the article really doesn’t answer the question (the author, Andrew Watts, assumes that the definition of a full-time composer “essentially means teaching and/or arts administration,” a presupposition that side-steps the true stresses of composers who survive “full-time” on their compositions alone), it brings up a common complaint about the composition field: competition.

Most often, when “competition” is discussed in new music or composer circles, it usually pertains to an organized contest for a prize or award of some type. Watts’s suggestion that competition is a stress point in the life of a composer looks not to contests, but to the built-in competition that is inherent within the series of educational “hoops” that a composer (supposedly) must travel through in order to have a chance at acquiring the aforementioned teaching positions:

4) Lastly, composition as a career is an extremely competitive environment. As mentioned above, it is often necessary to have the support of an institution, such as a university or conservatory, in order to make a living in the U.S. as a contemporary classical composer. With the example of becoming a faculty member at a university, a composer generally needs: a) to have a solid grounding in performance and musical fundamentals from high school or before b) gain admittance at a top undergraduate composition program [these usually accept 10 percent to 20 percent] c) gain admittance at a top master’s composition program [these usually accept 5 percent to 15 percent] d) participate in numerous festivals, workshops, masterclasses, internships, competitions, etc. e) gain admittance at a top doctoral composition program (many of these take four students a year out of 100-plus applications; f) wait until a current university composer retires or dies, and then be one of the few lucky applicants to land a professorship (at any given time there may be only a dozen or so institutions hiring, and there will always be top competition from all over the world for these spots).

This “brass ring” outlook is very much the prototypical concept of competition among composers who still reside within or have recently emerged from those “top” programs that Watts emphasizes. Such a linear “a+b+c=success” model is an easy trope to subscribe to, primarily because of its narrow focus and simplistic logic (most composers who teach at conservatories attended conservatories, therefore if one attends a conservatory, one must strive to teach at a conservatory), and subsequently the sense of competition for resources between composers is fanned throughout their studies. Not only does this interpretation of the world miss the forest for the trees (fodder for another column), but it overlooks any potential benefits that a competitive nature can foster in a creative artist.

A theory about the benefit of competition between composers was posited recently in an insightful article by Karol Jan Borowiecki for the Journal of Urban Economics. In his piece, entitled “Geographic clustering and productivity: An instrumental variable approach for classical composers,” Borowiecki investigates the potential advantages that individuals may have when living in large metropolitan population centers by comparing the lives and creative outputs of composers in the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to the concepts of proximity encouraging close relationships with other composers and proximity encouraging interaction with influences outside of the artist’s core industry resulting in innovation, Borowiecki includes a theory about friendly competition:

The second theory advocating a clustering benefit is posited by Porter (1990). In Porter’s view, the local competition in specialized, geographically-concentrated industries is the biggest stimulus for growth. It is posited that the presence of multiple rivaling individuals might be the source of important incentives for out-performing the competitor. Considering the economics of superstars in which ‘small numbers of people earn enormous amounts of money and dominate the activities in which they engage’ (Rosen, 1981) and a ‘Winner-Take-All Society’ (Frank and Cook, 1995), the importance to write better works than fellow composers seems to be of considerable importance also in classical music. The high concentration of composers might create a very competitive working environment, where only extraordinary performance is acknowledged. Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) was aware of that and was mostly motivated to make his presence in the French capital:

In Paris they are accustomed to hear nothing but Gluck’s choruses. Only place confidence in me; I shall strive with all my might to do honor to the name of Mozart. I have no fears at all on the subject. (Letter of 28 February 1778, published in Mozart, 2004)

In 1778, the year Mozart spent in Paris, his productivity peaked and he wrote 19 influential compositions, as recorded in Gilder and Port (1978). Furthermore, his productivity was in that year three times higher than his annual average of around 6.6 compositions.

Interpreting this through the lens of our present day, it’s not difficult to see how this concept is carried out both as it was in those previous centuries, with composers continually being drawn to urban centers, but also through the new super-communities created through social media. Articles abound that decry the sense of competition that can creep into one’s psyche as Facebook and Twitter bombard us with a continual stream of friends’ and colleagues’ successes, but that competitive urge does not have to be destructive in nature. As Borowiecki’s article points out, our inner drive to improve and excel can be encouraged by that sense of competition, especially if it is combined with positive relationships with one’s colleagues and an openness to new influences outside one’s own sphere of comfort.

It is much too easy for those who are still in the beginning stages of their career to feel overly competitive with their colleagues because so much of what is in front of them is unknown, just as those who are further along in their careers can find themselves both overly competitive and bitter because of real or imagined failures or slights from others. While that competitive drive can be unhealthy if left unchecked, if focused correctly, it can also be turned into an advantage that can reap benefits for everyone.