Tag: professional development

Good Advice is Extremely Hard to Find

At the Minnesota Composer Institute, composers Daniel Schlosberg, Saad Haddad, Peter Shin, Charles Peck, Daniel Schlosberg, Nina Young, Andrew Hsu, and I listened to and participated in a number of presentations and workshops related to professional development.

Professional development is a strange but very necessary topic for composers. Our industry changes so quickly and, as a result, very few elements remain consistent over time. Career paths for musicians are no longer defined (and perhaps I’m naive to think that there ever was a somewhat clear-cut path to “success,” whatever that even means). To complicate things further, our mentors are often the luckiest people in the industry. This isn’t to say that they haven’t faced struggles or haven’t worked hard; several of my mentors didn’t become successful composers until later in life. But, as many of us have discovered, something as simple as being in the right place at the right time can change the course of a career.

I’ve also realized that good advice is extremely hard to find. This isn’t meant to insult any of my wonderful mentors; they have all provided me with invaluable words of wisdom, both practical and artistic. But they have never been a 26-year-old female composer trying to build a career in the United States in 2017. In a somewhat volatile industry, it is important to remember this.

And then there’s the question of “success.” What does that even mean? Of course, every composer has a different definition of success. But, unlike many other industries, we don’t have a general universal concept of what this means.

Unlike many other industries, we don’t have a general universal concept of what success means.

I tend to find career development workshops puzzling or even frustrating because definitive answers don’t really exist. We’re just reminded that there isn’t a clear way of attaining an undefinable thing.

But, obviously, we need career development workshops. We need to discuss these problems and fears—we don’t address them enough. Focusing on technique and artistry is important, but it will be difficult to develop your craft outside of school if you don’t know how to find and create opportunities.

During our first day at the Institute, we met with Steven Lankenau, Senior Director of Promotion at Boosey & Hawkes. He discussed the benefits of signing with a publisher and what publishers do for composers. At some point in a composer’s career, explained Mr. Lankenau, a composer will find that he or she needs help in some area of work. In addition to providing editing and marketing services, publishers can connect composers with ensembles, coordinate co-commissions, negotiate fees, and help a composer plan long-term writing schedules.

Mr. Lankenau also discussed what publishing companies look for in composers. They look for artists who have already built strong momentum. In addition to a sense of excitement surrounding the composer, publishers value a strong and consistent artistic voice, solid technique, and marketability. Style and aesthetics are usually less important.

Publishers value a strong and consistent artistic voice, solid technique, and marketability.

But, Mr. Lankenau also reminded us that there is no such thing as a perfect all-around composer—a very important thing to remember. It is rare that a composer is knowledgeable and proficient across all genres and styles. Publishers, fortunately, are not searching for this mythical composer.

On the same day, the composers met with Bill Holab. When I heard him speak at the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings in June, Mr. Holab focused on issues specific to music engraving. At the Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute, Mr. Holab mainly discussed the advantages of self-publishing.

Mr. Holab provides services to composers, including music engraving and editing, production, and representation. As with Mr. Lankenau, Mr. Holab explained that successful composers eventually need advocates, or some kind of assistance. Rather than signing with a publisher, Mr. Holab recommends hiring people to help with specific needs. For example, for help with marketing, one could hire a publicist.

Signing with a publisher might not be the best business decision.

He also discussed why signing with a publisher might not be the best business decision. The most significant issue is the loss of one’s copyright. Another important issue to consider is that situations within companies can change very quickly. A company can be bought, policies can change, and suddenly an individual composer is no longer a priority.

Mr. Holab pointed out that all successful contemporary composers, whether working with publishers or self-publishing, know how to successfully market and promote themselves. They have learned how to connect with performers and potential collaborators and effectively market their music to presenters and audiences.

This theme of networking and self-promotion returned throughout the week. On the second day of the Institute, we traveled to St. Paul to visit the American Composers Forum offices. Over lunch with the ACF staff, we discussed the kinds of opportunities that are the most helpful and rewarding for us. Several composers brought up the importance of collaborations. Many competitions ask us to submit an already-written piece, and the prize might be a performance and (hopefully) some money. Opportunities that offer collaborative experiences, however, are more valuable. Rather than winning a one-time performance by an ensemble, it’s far more helpful and educational if we’re able to collaborate with the performers and, in the process, form long-lasting relationships. These kinds of connections can lead to future collaborations and professional opportunities.

In a similar vein, networking opportunities are vital. Several composers expressed the desire to connect with artists in other disciplines—dancers, video artists, etc. Many of our professional relationships developed during our formal education, and this can result in a fairly narrow professional circle. When we’re no longer in school, we have to work much harder to cultivate and maintain our professional circles. This requires resolution and effort. Occasionally, we might even have to interact with non-musicians!

We also had the opportunity to improve our public speaking skills with Diane Odash, a senior teaching specialist in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. As composers, we are often expected to stand up in front of an audience and speak coherently about our own music. Although many schools’ composition programs require composition majors to speak before performances, we rarely receive any formal training in this area. Any strengths that I have come from my background as a singer and knowledge of performance and audition etiquette.

Each composer stood up in front of the group and spoke for two minutes about our music. Prof. Odash timed us, and then provided feedback. She also addressed nervousness, stressing that anxiety and its symptoms are part of our natural fight-or-flight response. In this case, rather than “fighting a tiger,” we’re just talking about ourselves in front of an audience for a very brief period of time.

Legal mistakes can be time-consuming and expensive to fix.

We also listened to a presentation given by Katie Baron, an attorney who focuses on music and copyright law. She discussed copyright basics, fair use, and what commissioning agreements should cover. This is an extremely important area for composers, and it is imperative that we have a thorough knowledge of our and others’ rights. It’s also valuable to be able to recognize where your knowledge of copyright law is limited. You then know when it is appropriate to seek legal counsel. I’ve heard composers unknowingly misuse terms, and that’s concerning, as legal mistakes can be time-consuming and expensive to fix.

Finally, we met with Kari Marshall, Director of Artistic Planning for the Minnesota Orchestra, and Frank J. Oteri, composer advocate at New Music USA and co-editor of NewMusicBox. We discussed how to effectively promote our own music. Websites and social media have made it so simple to make our music accessible; however, every other musician also has access to these resources. How we differentiate ourselves from the larger crowd then becomes the issue. Again — we must be proactive when it comes to forming and maintaining genuine relationships with artists and presenters.

Kari Marshall discussed how programming decisions occur and why the Minnesota Orchestra might decide to program a contemporary work or commission a new one. Again, she emphasized the importance of relationships. Many composers of these programmed works have formed connections with the orchestra’s musicians or with the larger organization. An example: a composer appearing on next season’s programming actually participated in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute several years back!

Self-promotion and networking skills aren’t formally taught in school, unfortunately; it’s rare that I’ve ever discussed these topics in a private lesson, for example. The most helpful classes I took were actually outside of music schools. We naturally form connections with other artists while in pursuing academic degrees; however, after we graduate, developing and maintaining relationships requires a high amount of proactivity. We have to leave our studios, see some sunlight, and connect with other artists and professionals.

Thirteen Emerging Composers Will Participate in Two of USA’s Most Prestigious Orchestra Programs

Next week in New York City, a total of seven composers will have their orchestral works read by the American Orchestras Orchestra (ACO) during the 25th season of the ACO’s annual emerging composer reading sessions which, since 2005, have been called the Underwood New Music Readings in honor of Paul Underwood, a frequent commissioner of new music who has served on the ACO board since 1989.  Then, in late January/early February 2017, seven composers will participate in the Minnesota Orchestra’s 14th annual Composer Institute in Minneapolis, a week-long program culminating in performances of their seven orchestral works at the now annual “Future Classics” subscription series concert conducted by Osmo Vänskä. Only one composer, Boston-based Katherine Balch (b. 1991), will participate in both of these programs, and her 2015 nine-minute composition Leaf Catalogue, which was first performed by the Yale Philharmonia under the direction of Heejung Park, is the work of hers that will be featured on both.

“I feel extremely lucky to be able to experience both programs,” said Katherine Balch. “I hope to keep an open mind and digest as much feedback as I can about my music, its presentation, and the orchestral rehearsal process. In Leaf Catalogue, a frenzied outburst of material is contrasted with its sudden placidity. By hearing multiple orchestras work through some of the challenges of this piece, I hope to better shape its pacing, proportions, and treatment of the ensemble. Usually after I finish a piece, it undergoes an infinite processes of chipping away and refining, as I imagine will happen with Leaf Catalogue, but more pressingly, I know these experiences will inspire and inform upcoming orchestral music that I’ll be writing for the 2016-2017 season.”

The other six composers and the works of theirs that will be featured in the 2016 Underwood New Music Readings are:

Lembit Beecher (b. 1980): Chopin’s Ocean
Paul Frucht (b. 1989): Dawn
Sarah Gibson (b. 1986): Talking to the Time
Joel Rust (b. 1989): Beyond the Heart
Carlos Simon (b. 1986): Plagues of Egypt
Michael Small (b. 1988): Eastern Point

Photos of the seven 2016 Underwood Composers

The seven 2016 Underwood Composers (from left to right, top row first then bottom row): Carlos Simon, Paul Frucht, Joel Rust, Katherine Balch, Michael Small, Lembit Beecher, and Sarah Gibson (Photos courtesy Christina Jensen of Jensen Artists).

The other six composers and the works of theirs that will be featured in the 2016 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute are:

Michael Boyman (b. 1989): Tightrope Walker
Judy Bozone (b. 1982): Spilled Orange
Michael-Thomas Foumai (b. 1987): Music from the Castle of Heaven
Tonia Ko (b. 1988): Strange Sounds and Explosions Worldwide
Phil Taylor (b. 1989): Chiaroscuro
Conrad Winslow (b. 1985): Old Motion Parade

participating in the 2017 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute

participating in the 2017 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute (from left to right, top row first then bottom row): Michael Boyman, Conrad Winslow, Phil Taylor, Katherine Balch, Tonia Ko, Michael-Thomas Foumai, and Judy Bozone (but the tiger will not be participating as far as we know).

Boyman’s Tightrope Walker, his first composition for orchestra, was awarded the William Schuman Prize at the 2014 BMI Student Composer Awards, at which time he described the work.

The Underwood New Music Readings and the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute are arguably the two most prestigious opportunities for emerging orchestra composers and both attract a wide range of applicants from all over the United States. According to composer Kevin Puts, who serves as the Director of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, “The competition was fierce this year, with a record-breaking number of applicants whose work members of the adjudication panel described as ‘an embarrassment of riches and a testament to the potential of this generation of composers.’”

Both programs cover participating out-of-town composers’ transportation and lodging costs and both include a significant amount of face time with members of the orchestra as well as a series of workshops led by music industry professionals—on topics ranging from score preparation and promotion to negotiating commissioning agreements. But there are also some significant differences between these two programs. Underwood concentrates six hours of professional development, individual mentoring, and two reading sessions (the second of which is open to the general public) into two extremely intensive days, while the Institute spreads out the activities across five days. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Puts serves as the sole mentor composer for the Institute participants whereas three prominent composers serve as mentors for Underwood. (This year’s mentor composers are Stephen Hartke, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and ACO’s Artistic Director Derek Bermel.) However, during the Institute, in addition to spending extensive time with Puts, the seven participating composers also have the opportunity for one-on-one sessions with Vänskä to go over details in their scores. Perhaps the most important difference is that Underwood does not include an actual concert performance of the selected works even though for the past few years there has been a more polished second reading session during the evening that has been open to the public and that takes place in a concert hall. (This year the readings will take place at Columbia University’s Miller Theater on Tuesday, June 14 at 7:30pm.) In addition, one of the seven Underwood composers will be awarded a $15,000 commission for a new piece that will be performed in concert by ACO during an upcoming season.

This year’s Underwood Readings, however, will seem like a larger scale event than in previous seasons because, as we reported back in March, the ACO will give additional public readings of seven orchestral works by jazz composers as part of the latest iteration of the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a program led by the ACO in partnership with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University just two days later (on Thursday, June 16 at 7:30pm), again at Miller. Most of the JCOI participants will also attend the professional development panels on Tuesday. (Full disclosure: New Music USA has been a partnering organization for the ACO’s programs as well as the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute and I have and continue to serve as a panelist and moderator for all of these events.)

Finally, the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute is able to occur on an annual basis thanks to the generosity of the Amphion Foundation, the American Composers Forum, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, plus Minnesota Orchestra Director Emerita Hella Mears Hueg, a longtime advocate for new music, has provided major funding to the Institute through 2020. Lead support for the Underwood New Music Readings comes from Paul Underwood, The Fromm Music Foundation and The Helen F. Whitaker Fund. ACO’s emerging composers programs are made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and with the support of Jerome Foundation and the Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust.

“I have gotten so much out of music in my life, going back to when I studied French horn as a student,” said Paul Underwood. “The Underwood Readings are my opportunity to give back and to give forward. It’s an investment in the future of orchestra music, which is something I have always believed in.”

What Are You Trying to Decide in Your Career?

Composer-musician speed dating.

Composer-musician speed dating at the 2015 New Music Gathering in San Francisco. Photo by Shaya Lyon.

I’m giving a talk at the New Music Gathering in Baltimore this January, and I need your help. More specifically, I need your problems. I want to hear about a big decision you’re trying to make in your career as a musician. My talk is on how understanding a few economic principles, specifically Baumol’s Cost Disease, can help us make decisions in our careers as artists. I’d like to use real world examples if I can, which is where you come in.

If you’re on board and have a decision to make, please drop me a line and include a brief description of the issue you’re facing: [email protected].

If you’re curious about what on earth I’m talking about, then read on.

I gave an early version of this talk at last year’s New Music Gathering at the San Francisco Conservatory, and it was a big hit. We talked about some of Baumol’s original work from the 1960s, his updated book from the debate over healthcare reform, and positioning the performing arts alongside healthcare and education as part of advocating for new music. We talked about building a community as an artist, and how to think about the relationship between fans of your work and your bank account.

But the core of our discussion was about time and productivity. Baumol’s key insight was that some work gets more productive over time as a result of technology, and has done so at a fairly consistent rate since the industrial revolution. That would be things like manufacturing, etc. Some other work, like playing an instrument, doesn’t. It takes just as much time for a string quartet to play a piece as it did 200 years ago. Since making art doesn’t get more productive, in the context of the whole economy it gets more expensive over time.

This has all kinds of neat implications that economists have studied for big businesses, but almost nobody has thought about what it means for individual working artists, much less about how understanding this corner of economics can help us to thrive.

That’s what I’m trying to do with this talk at the next New Music Gathering. Right now the music industry is changing so much, and so fast, that nobody has “the answer”. Nobody’s business model seems appropriate to anyone else. But I don’t want us all to have to stumble around in the dark. And the economics of cost disease makes some fairly reliable predictions about how our art making and the business stuff we all have to do these days will relate to each other in the future.

In an arts ecosystem that’s changing as much as ours, I’ll cling to anything with as much predictive power as cost disease seems to offer. And I’m trying to use it to help artists feel confident making big decisions.

Should I get on Spotify? Should I work with a publisher? How much time should I devote to teaching? How much should I work on contest submissions? How many LPs should I press? How much should I charge for my work?

If you’ve got a big decision about this or any other question, I want to hear about it. I want to understand how you’re thinking about it, and try to help. If you’re willing, I might share a version of your story in my talk next month.

I love helping artists (this is part of why I work at New Music USA in the first place), and hopefully our conversation will be useful for you. After the New Music Gathering, I’ll report back on what I learned.

Thanks in advance for your stories and your help! I look forward to hearing from you: [email protected].

Ted Hearne Named Third Annual New Voices Composer

Ted Hearne

Ted Hearne

Ted Hearne has been selected as the third annual New Voices composer. The program is a partnership between Boosey and Hawkes, the New World Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony designed to develop the professional careers of emerging composers in the Americas. Each year, one composer is chosen from a selection of invited applicants to participate in a multi-organizational residency that covers areas in career development including, but not limited to, working with a publisher, realizing new compositions, and having chamber and orchestral works premiered on both coasts with the New World Symphony and San Francisco Symphony.
Hearne was selected by a panel of judges consisting of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and composers John Adams, Steven Mackey, and David Del Tredici.

“I’m honored and excited to be taking part in the New Voices program,” says Hearne. “With this initiative, it seems clear that Boosey and Hawkes, the New World Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony recognize the need for bridges between American orchestras and what I know to be an extremely vibrant new music community. There are so many incredible ideas coming from the composers of my generation, and so few opportunities to explore and develop those ideas with American orchestras. New Voices aims to change this by fostering fruitful collaborations, and I’m thrilled to be taking part. I am also greatly looking forward to working with Michael Tilson Thomas, along with the San Francisco Symphony and Fellows of the New World Symphony.”

After receiving hands-on experience at the New York offices of Boosey and Hawkes, Hearne will collaborate with the New World Symphony in the workshopping, rehearsal, and performance of two new works in the 2014–15 season. These New Voices commissions consist of one work for chamber ensemble and one work for orchestra, to be premiered by the New World Symphony in the 2014–15 season. The works will then receive their U.S. West Coast premieres by the San Francisco Symphony during the 2015–16 season.

In November 2013, Cynthia Lee Wong—the second annual New Voices composer—saw the premiere of her septet, Snapshots, by the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. Her new orchestral work, Carnival Fever, will receive its world premiere this April by the New World Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. Both works will travel to the West Coast of the United States for performances with the San Francisco Symphony during the 2014–15 season. In addition, the inaugural New Voices composer, Zosha Di Castri, will see her percussion quartet, Manif, performed by members of the San Francisco Symphony during the 2014–15 season.

(from the press release)

Out of Network

For composers and conductors who are involved in the wind band genre, there are few events like the Midwest Clinic. Occurring annually during the week before Christmas in Chicago, Midwest has been a staple destination for anyone interested in writing for wind band for the simple reason that there are so many conductors in one place at one time. Works that get performed there by public school and collegiate ensembles get heard by band directors from all over the country. There are hundreds of exhibit booths where all of the major publishers and retailers display their latest catalogs as well, chatting in the halls and trying to gauge where tastes are headed. All in all, thousands of pre-college and college students, educators, and professionals create a massive scrum of lanyards, tote bags, free CD’s, fried food, and—most importantly for composers—networking opportunities.
It’s been interesting over the years to witness a great many viewpoints on the idea of networking—some composers take to it like fish to water, while others see it as a necessary evil and others still cringe at the very mention of the word. Attitudes toward intentional social interaction between professional colleagues in order to create mutually beneficial opportunities to collaborate seem to be often based both on the individual’s comfort level with socializing and the perceived value of that interaction; if the composer doesn’t see any benefit from actively engaging with others, they probably won’t want to do so. In addition, there’s the thought that one’s music should speak for itself and the creator shouldn’t be required to actively pursue performances, commissions, or other collaborative activities.

While online communities such as Facebook and Twitter can be an aid in creating and fostering relationships, it is fascinating how those digital connections can become enhanced (or not, as the case may be) at events like the Midwest Clinic through face-to-face meetings. I’ve had many colleagues describe their experiences meeting people with whom they have interacted on a weekly or daily basis for years and finally get to meet in person; once that real connection is made, usually the chance for strong collaboration increases dramatically. For as much as we think we know one another via online profiles or personas, most of us tend to wait to begin to have close professional partnerships with people until after we’re able to meet and interact with them in the same room.

The thing about networking that needs to be pointed out is that it is but one ingredient in a composer’s career or life (the two are not necessarily the same thing). There are plenty—plenty!—of examples of composers who quietly write amazing works that may only get a few performances, but those works and performances are recognized and praised nonetheless. Neither a vast collegial network nor the creation of an incredible piece of music are in and of themselves guarantors of success, but finding one’s own place in the world and the right methods with which one interacts with that world should be a goal for us all.