Teamwork in the Conservatory: In the Game of Music, We Can All Win
Creative artists come from different backgrounds with varying life experiences that contribute to our own unique skill sets. Rather than competing against each other, we can utilize our individual knowledge to work together and create immensely beautiful things. Life’s much more fun when you work with others!
My yoga teacher once said something that really stuck with me: What helps “we” also helps “me.” Time after time, my experiences have verified this to be true. The occasions in which I have grown the most have all involved collaborating with my peers and coworkers. I strongly believe that no collective growth can occur without there first being individual growth, but that when an individual grows, so does the group. This is also a key component of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM) Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program, where there is a large emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. I want to see my peers succeed, so I’m constantly asking myself how I can contribute to their success. Through collaboration, we grow together.
One Friday night during my freshman year, a group of students and I got free tickets to see the San Francisco Opera. I arrived at the opera house and found my seat next to another TAC student, Thomas Soto. We began chatting about music and other career-related things. He offhandedly mentioned that there was a really cool professional development program for college students pursuing a career in music called GRAMMY U. He told me how the program hosts “SoundChecks” with big-name artists like Jason Mraz, The Weeknd, and Khalid, which include a Q&A session and a photo with the artist. I was intrigued. After the opera, I went home and immediately applied for a GRAMMY U membership. Fast forward one and a half years and I’m sitting in a corporate office interviewing to be the next GRAMMY U Representative for the San Francisco Chapter of the Recording Academy. Now, after having the job for nearly a year and four months, one of my many roles is to pair 10 to 15 high-achieving GRAMMY U members with a mentor in their field of study each semester. It all came back around this semester when I paired Thomas, the same person who told me about the program, with an awesome mentor who has been teaching him audio engineering, mixing, and arranging. Looking back at that night in the opera house, Thomas had no idea what wheels he had set in motion at that time. He was simply sharing a really cool opportunity with me and ended up benefiting greatly from it himself some three years later.
A few weeks ago, after hearing a decent number of my peers in the TAC program complain about how difficult it is to find an artist manager, I decided it was time to use my rep position to make some magic happen. Through GRAMMY U, I organized an Industry Insights event on the relationship between artists and managers. I knew some GRAMMY U members at UC Berkeley studying artist management, and of course I knew members in my own TAC program who were in great need of management, so I thought it to be a perfect fit. I called up the music director of the Berkeley Careers in Entertainment Club (BCEC) to see if they wanted to co-host this event with us. They agreed, so I sent an invitation out to all of the GRAMMY U members in the Bay Area. We invited a guest speaker, Joe Barham, artist manager for the Stone Foxes and creator partnerships lead at Patreon, for a Q&A. During the event, I asked Joe about the roles and expectations of artist managers, how these relationships are built, and the red flags to look out for when searching for your perfect match. Following the Q&A, we gave out colored name tags and mock-business cards with each student’s info for them to hand out during the networking session. At first, when we announced that the networking session had officially begun, nobody moved from their seat. Only after an inspiring pep talk about seizing the moment from Michael Winger, the executive director of The Recording Academy SF Chapter, did students begin to shuffle around the room. Surprisingly, the networking session lasted longer than we expected, resulting in us having to move the event next door to a pizza joint.
The feedback I got was very inspiring. Some students admitted, “At first, I was scared to walk up to someone new, but after the fourth and fifth time it became surprisingly easy,” and, “I didn’t realize how cool everyone in the room was until I started talking to them.” This is a much smaller industry than we realize, and many students we sit next to in class will be the working professionals of tomorrow. Every day is an opportunity to make these connections and long-lasting friendships. These relationships will serve you for the rest of your life. Due to the huge success of this event, I’m now in the process of planning another Industry Insights session for production and engineering students in May.
Teamwork in the Conservatory
I didn’t know what I was in for when I signed up for a winter term class called Synesthesia and Microtonality this past January. There were only three of us in the class: Jonathan Herman, Jessica Mao, and myself. We showed up to our first class meeting to have the professor tell us that we had one week to figure out a solution to his dilemma. Our task was to program a keyboard to play microtones and another one to trigger specific colors on a screen for a live performance. The three of us, not yet knowing each other very well, had no idea how to go about accomplishing this on our own. It was only when we started to communicate our different skills that we realized where one person lacked, the other made up for. I knew just enough about the program Max/MSP to start building a color organ, Jessica started mapping out the different color combinations and how they would correspond to specific keys, and Jonathan, who is well-versed in Ableton, began on the microtonal tunings. The collaborative process was so seamless it felt like we were a machine. After only three days we had worked out a brilliant solution, something I never thought would happen when we began. The piece is scheduled to be performed at SFCM in May. Due to its unique curriculum, the TAC program at SFCM is collaborative by nature. Not only did I accomplish a goal I previously thought impossible, I also developed great friendships in the process. I learned a valuable lesson in trusting others’ abilities. That’s what a team is for.
There’s a place for everyone to succeed in this game. We come from different backgrounds with varying life experiences that contribute to our own unique skill sets. If I could do anything right now, I would want to encourage students to not treat work life as a competition, but more so like a game with only one team. Rather than competing against each other, we can utilize our individual knowledge to work together and create immensely beautiful things. Before entering the TAC program, I had not realized the mighty power of collaboration, nor thought about how my unique skill set could support the needs of others. Both the TAC program and my work with The Recording Academy have helped me see the tremendous value in teamwork. Life’s
much more fun when you work with others!