Tag: social networking

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.

…When You Can Blog

A few years ago, my student-run new music organization Ethos began an “Overnight Composers” series. We bring composers who are relatively early in their careers to campus for a day. There’s no attendant concert or residency other than a couple of lecture-presentations on their own music and a topic of their choice. After treating them well once the lectures are done and putting them up for the night, we fly them back the next morning. It works out really well, since it increases the number of early- and mid-level composers that my students get to interact with (both through the presentations as well as taking them out to dinner afterwards). For many of our guests it also provides a useful line on their tenure dossiers as well as experience presenting their music to a new music department.

Jennifer Jolley

Jennifer Jolley

This week Jennifer Jolley will be joining us as our first “overnight composer” of the year. An active composer and educator–a recent graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, she’s just started her first year as the new assistant professor of music composition and theory at Ohio Wesleyan University–Jennifer has garnered quite a following within the new music community, although not for what you would normally expect. While most composers become well-known because of their successes and the accolades that follow, readers of Jennifer’s blog “Why Compose When You Can Blog?” know her because of her failures.

In addition to blog posts on topics such as studying composition, turning 29, explaining why composing in bed is bad for you, taking a lesson with Augusta Read Thomas, and celebrating Cincinnati’s first streetcar, Jennifer has a running series of blog posts (she’s up to #60) entitled “Composer Fail.” Emerging from her suggestion that composers keep their rejection letters from competitions and job applications for scrapbooking purposes, Jennifer decided to post each of her rejections as they came in. Over time she has allowed the series to evolve (eventually adding photos of cats to each one, for instance). “Composer Wins” are posted as well.

I find this interesting and important for a few reasons. First, the fact that Jennifer is already up to sixty “fails” in the two and a half years since she started the series points to the number of competitions for which she’s applying. This is a wonderful demonstration–teaching through example–of the doggedness and stubbornness that many composers need to have in order to establish their reputations and find their place. Second, the simple fact that a composer is brave enough to put their career, with all its nooks and crannies, on public display is notable. Most composers, if they do take care of their public image at all, do their utmost to emphasize only the best parts. While this is perfectly natural–few of us enjoy having a spotlight shone on our foibles–it also has created a slightly “artificially enhanced” quality over a good portion of our community. Finally, one gets the sense–by reading not only the “fail” posts but the entire blog–of who Jennifer is as a person; to be honest, I’m excited to meet her tomorrow partially because I already have a sense of who she is.

This last point is especially important for composers. For as much as we would like to have our music be the true conduit through which others can understand who we are, it is increasingly necessary for living composers to allow musicians and audiences to discover who the person is behind the score. Performers want to be able to not only enjoy a composer’s music but enjoy working with a composer on a personal basis. Whether it is through the use of a personal blog–both Nico Muhly and John Mackey are deeply associated with their online musings–or other means, the decision to allow others to see at least a part of one’s life as a composer is something that we all will have to make in the future.

The Procedural Hows and Theoretical Whys of SoundCloud.com

Part A: In Good Company

Sound Cloud LogoThe website in question is where you, right now, can go to listen to live recordings of New York’s Alarm Will Sound ensemble performing original commissions at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, including work by composers Clint Needham and Liza White.

It is where CHROMA, the London-based chamber-music group, posted the world premiere of Rolf Hind’s piece for featured clarinet soloist, “Sit Stand Walk.”

It is where the Brooklyn-based Sō Percussion made available excerpts from its Creation series of collaborations, including pieces by Tristan Perich and Daniel Wohl.

And it’s where London’s Barbican Centre has uploaded numerous Beethoven recordings by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, under the baton of Kurt Masur.

It is not the website of a leading classical publication. It is not the online culture section of The New York Times or the London Guardian. It is not a digital offshoot of WQXR or NPR, or of big-eared KCRW for that matter.

No, it is SoundCloud.com, and it has quickly become, with good reason, the default go-to site for music hosting by all manner of musicians, not just aspiring pop stars and bedroom beatmakers, but also those involved in new and experimental composition and performance. The following overview is intended to provide an introduction to making use of SoundCloud, including some tips for maximizing one’s efforts, as well as some passing contextual and tactical thoughts on why SoundCloud has proved as popular and functional as it has.

Part B: Crash Once, Twice Shy

New music makers have numerous reasons for wariness before taking the time generally necessary to master yet another online music-hosting platform.

Why even try, when so many services have let you down before? All that fine-tuning of a personalized MySpace page, only for the user base to up and leave it like a ghost town? All that effort in uploading a project to Archive.org, only to discover that the tag processing is unwieldy? All that work getting music into iTunes, only to have track previews limited to 30 measly seconds, and to be left wondering how, other than linking, you might actually promote your music?

The issues with music-hosting platforms are cultural as much as they are technological. Viewed as a whole, the variety of barriers to having proper online representations suggest something akin to a digital-era conspiracy to keep complex music off the Internet.

Here are some of the hassles:

There is sound quality. At least since iTunes debuted and introduced a particularly low-grade format (128kbps) as an audio standard, the sonic compression of digital music has not suited the dynamic range of most music that doesn’t fall within the broadly defined realm of “pop.” Over time, the standard MP3 file sizes have, thankfully, enlarged (320kbps tends to be the norm), but online streaming is currently supplanting MP3 files, and frequently that means, indeed, a low-fidelity presentation of recorded sound.

There is categorization. Few if any online services handle the taxonomy and typology of adventurous music well. Most music websites have a field for the artist and a field for a song, and little to address the informational void. The sites are already living in a post-album world, and they do little to make nice with recordings in which things like composer and conductor and performers and soloist are important. On a particularly bright and cheerful day, one might consider the Internet a fascinating and massive experiment in New Criticism, every piece of music floating out there virtually free of context.

And there is the basic typographical matter. It’s something that so-called desktop publishing presaged, a situation in which corners are routinely cut in favor of oversimplified—and thus meaning- and pronunciation-altering—decisions regarding haceks and accent marks and umlauts.

SoundCloud.com doesn’t solve all these problems, but it does offer a solid and adaptable foundation for musicians to use to share their music.

Part C: Setting Up the Account Is Just the First Step

Here are some simple instructions on setting up and making use of a SoundCloud.com account.

Step 1: Sign up. You can do this by associating your new account with your Facebook account, or you can create an account directly on SoundCloud.com. The latter is recommended because there’s no significant benefit to the former. You can always associate the accounts later.

Step 1

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Step 2: Fill out your basic profile. The fields (City, Occupation, etc.) are straightforward. Here is one suggestion, though: strongly consider using a single word, or a phrase with no spaces, as your “profile” name. The profile name serves various purposes, including being your SoundCloud account URL. To join SoundCloud isn’t simply to access virtual real estate. It’s to participate (more on which in Step 5), and having a single memorable identity is key to making your presence on SoundCloud effective.

Step 2

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Step 3: Fill out your “Advanced Profile.” Keep your Description brief, maybe 200 words, tops—and consider using rudimentary HTML tags, such as <b></b> to bold key words and to structure the text. Enter URLs for essential web locations, and don’t overdo it. Your website, Twitter, and Facebook are likely sufficient. Enter too many, and your listeners won’t know where to click. You can use the <a href=”URL”></a> tag in your Description if you want to, for example, link to a record review or interview that appears on another website.

Step 3

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Step 4: Upload tracks. As with the creation of your account, the uploading of a track will require you to fill in various fields. They’re pretty straightforward (Title, Image, Type). There aren’t multiple fields for participants. However, the Description field allows for simple HTML, so you can use that space not only to list participants (performer, composer, etc.) but to link to their SoundCloud accounts or websites or both. Make note of that “Show more options” button: it pulls up a whole bunch of additional useful fields, including simple ways to add commerce links so you can sell the track or related material. The easiest way to go about this all is to set the track as Private until you’re happy with all the text and other details, and only then make it public.

Step 4

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Step 5: Participate. That bears repeating: Participate. Even if you’re employing SoundCloud primarily as a promotional tool, think of it as a party—you’re not going to meet anyone if you just stand there (unless you’re wearing a funny T-shirt, or blessed with remarkable cheekbones). These things take effort.

To begin with, “follow” people—follow musicians you work with; follow musicians you admire. Some will follow you back, and that will be the start of actually communicating on and through SoundCloud. You’ll find, in time, that you will look at the Following/Followed lists for people you like, and take a cue as to whose music to look at. Furthermore, the people whose music you do follow show up in your SoundCloud home page, so you will be kept abreast of their activity—not just what they post, but what they have commented on.

Also, embed your tracks elsewhere (on your blog, for example), and encourage others to do so. One of the beautiful things about SoundCloud is that it has elegant “players” that you can use to embed a track or a set of tracks into a post on another website. For example, the track below is from a project I recently completed, in which I got over 60 musicians to remix the first movement of the Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, by Dimitri Shostakovich. The original recording was by the fine Los Angeles ensemble wild Up, who graciously provided the source audio for the project.

And, finally, be sure to comment on other musicians’ uploaded tracks—that is, see SoundCloud for what it is, not just a music-hosting platform, but a platform for communication and collaboration. Comments come in two forms: standard and “timed,” the latter of which appear at a distinct point along the chronology of the track. You’ll see the “timed” comments along the track just above.

Step 6: Dig in. There is far more you can do on SoundCloud. The coverage above is intended simply as an introduction. For example, you can create Sets of tracks that provide additional context. You can join Groups, which in addition to collating tracks by some semblance of shared cultural activity (field recordings, serialism, toy piano) provide for discussion beyond the confines of a single recording. There are Soundcloud apps that allow you to do additional things with and to your tracks. Everything described above is free, albeit with a space limit on data storage, but you can elect to pay for a premium account and access additional resources. (The limits to SoundCloud are worth noting. For one thing, this is all “fixed recordings.” If you specialize in algorithmic music, you’ll be posting finished recordings, not live generative sound. Also, SoundCloud is a business, and as such monitors what is posted; it is especially attentive to copyright violation, so if you tend toward the aggressively plunderphonic, be prepared to have your track removed—or your entire account for that matter.)

Step 7: Make it new. The structure of SoundCloud suggests itself as a neutral space. In many ways, it has defined itself as the anti-MySpace. Where MySpace became overloaded with design elements, SoundCloud keeps it simple. This simplicity suggests SoundCloud less as a place and more as a form of infrastructure—if MySpace was a city that never slept, SoundCloud is the Department of Public Works. Its elegant tool sets provide structure but don’t define or fully constrain activity. For the more adventurous participants, SoundCloud is itself a form to be played with. Some musicians have used the “timed comments,” for example, to annotate their work as it proceeds. Others have fun with the images associated with their tracks, posting sheet music or workspace images. Some create multiple accounts for different personas or projects. Others have used the limited personalization options to colorize the embeddable player and make it look seamless within their own websites and blogs.

It’s arguable that the most productive users of SoundCloud recognize the fluid nature of the service and post not only completed works, but works in progress. They upload sketches and rough drafts and rehearsals: this keeps their timeline freshly updated, helps excuse the relatively low fidelity of streaming sound, and further invites communication with listeners—many of who are fellow musicians themselves.

Ready to make some noise?

You can use platforms like SoundCloud to participate in NewMusicBox’s “Sound Ideas” challenges and easily share the music you create. Craft responses to prompts from:

John Luther Adams
Ken Ueno
Sarah Kirkland Snider
Sxip Shirey

Selections from submitted tracks will be featured in an upcoming post.


Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996. It focuses on the intersection of sound, art, and technology. He has written for Nature, the website of The Atlantic, Boing Boing, Down Beat, and numerous other publications. He has commissioned and curated sound/music projects that have featured original works by Kate Carr, Marcus Fischer, Marielle Jakobsons, John Kannenberg, Tom Moody, Steve Roden, Scanner, Roddy Shrock, Robert Thomas, Pedro Tudela, and Stephen Vitiello, among many others. He moderates the Disquiet Junto group at Soundcloud.com; there dozens of musicians respond to weekly Oulipo-style restrictive compositional projects. He’s a founding partner at i/olian, which develops software projects that explore opportunities to play with sound. He lives in San Francisco in a neighborhood whose soundmarks include Tuesday noon civic alarms as well as persistent seasonal fog horns from the nearby bay. He also resides at twitter.com/disquiet.

Virtually Choral

While recently searching online for some choral project ideas for next season, I was struck by the extent to which choral music–traditionally a group activity involving people being together in real time–has moved into the virtual world. Sure, choirs have been using the internet for years for communication, promotion, and networking, but now video is increasingly being used to connect choirs, singers, composers, and audiences without any kind of human contact.

For choral work, YouTube has transitioned from a fun showcase into an important tool. Even though I knew she had recorded it and asked the choir to do so, I was amazed to see a recording of a performance of a work by Catherine Aks by my ensemble, Melodia Women’s Choir, posted by the composer within days of the premiere! For composers who are self-published, regularly posting performances to YouTube is a powerful tool in getting a work heard and performed.

As a choral singer, it’s helpful to review recordings of different performances to get some familiarity with the work and the composer as part of the concert preparation process. Finding video clips to pass along to the rest of the choir as a learning tool, particularly of new or rarely performed work, is proving to be easier than locating audio recordings. In the past, I’ve spent hours online looking for a choir that has performed a piece that is not commercially recorded, tracking down contact info, finding out if there is a concert recording, and then waiting for the CD–a lengthy and inconvenient process.

The one drawback with the numerous video choral recordings posted on YouTube is that the quality is quite often mediocre. Live recordings, often taken in low-light situations with handheld video cameras or Flip cameras with minimal sound recording capabilities, only provide a sampling of the work and not a quality audio or video experience. San Francisco-based Volti has found an interesting way of posting work on YouTube that doesn’t include video, but features a high quality audio recording with a still photo of the choir, a blurb about the piece, the text, and a listing of the upcoming performance. Mark Winges’s Where Everything is Music is featured on this one:

Another recent development involving video is Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. The YouTube video of Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 1 project, a recording of his Lux Aurumque by 185 singers who each recorded a video of themselves singing their part using their own computer, has attracted more than 2.8 million views so far. Virtual Choir 2 features a nicely produced video connecting 2,052 singers performing Sleep in a star-filled galaxy of interconnected singers, and his Virtual Choir 3 project is currently underway. To participate, singers go to the website, select a part (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass), and watch their computer screen as the music is played and sections of the score are visible on the screen. Whitacre even conducts! When the singer is ready, he or she records and submits their performance. Each singer needs headphones, a webcam, and preferably an external mic. The deadline for Virtual Choir 3 submissions is January 31, 2012.

The use of video has endless possibilities as the choral and virtual worlds collide and expand.

Choral composers–how do you present your choral work on video?