Album reviews and the getting thereof

Getting music talked about is one way of growing audience. More people talking helps spread the word.

Album reviews are a large part of getting people talk. In addition, album reviews stick around awhile so they become part of a larger, longer narrative of the kind of work you do.

Music and the success of a city

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Last fall I attended a pair of conferences: Music Cities and Future of Music Coalition’s “Future of Music.”

They were both excellent and I wanted to share with you my notes and some thoughts on the role of music and the creation of music in the success of a city.

A brainstorm of format thoughts

Examining the current format for classical and contemporary art music performance, there seems to be one primary method this work is done: lots of people sit in a dark room with or without alcohol and watch some performers for an hour or so.

Here’s just a quick brain dump of …

The “classical music” format is broken.

One of the phrases at New Music Gathering 2016 in Baltimore that stuck with me was “The format is broken.” I was watching a panel on developing boards for non-profits and the speaker is the artistic director of an ensemble.

Having read Christopher Small’s Musicking in college, I’m acutely aware of the ritual surrounding human activity. Classical and contemporary art music have so much ritual around them. The whole experience is often a participatory monument to power and authority — where the power and authority don’t reside with the audience (or even the musicians).

The following three videos by Melissa Snoza, of music entrepreneurial supergroup 5th House, are about building audience. And they help to outline one method of rethinking format.

Video 2 is focused on the “persona” method which I, personally, find less useful than more direct methods of audience identification. However, the “persona” method is still better than what most people are doing. So use it as stepping stone to deeper customer development processes.

Video 3 gets back on track with actual data and deeper thinking.

Community and markets

As I get ready to head to the New Music Gathering I’ve been thinking a bit about conferences, markets, and community. Please excuse me while I ramble a bit and think out loud.

While NMG is very explicitly “anti-market” in their determination to avoid the usual conference table of ware-hawkers, …

Revenue Streams

The Future of Music Coalition has an article which lists the different revenue streams available to musicians. I highly recommend reading this list (hat tip to I Care if You Listen‘s article on taking charge of your finances) and seeing how many of them we can apply to our work.

Not all of the streams will make sense for everyone. But it would still be useful to try hard to figure out if there is any possibility of opening up one of the streams for yourself.

If necessary, perhaps imagine a Bizarro World version of yourself in which all of them must apply. Bend the rules of physics/taste and come up with how each one might apply to the Bizarro World version.

Then see if it maybe it would work in the real world after all.

Revenue streams and pivoting

The reason this is important to do, from an entrepreneurial standpoint is something referred to as “the pivot.”

Entrepreneurs don’t often end up doing what they started out doing. Somewhere along the line they realize they need to change their plans, sometimes drastically. Drastic changes of plans sometimes require changes in the way money is generated.

Having a firm grasp of different ways to generate money can be the difference between life and death of an entrepreneurial idea.

If we accept that the only way we can make money is by playing in an orchestra or teaching or waiting for a label to promote our music etc, then we are ceding our own agency in advancing our art and our careers.

Three years worth of career advice.

I recently discovered mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen’s blog The Sybaritic Singer. In it, she shares all sorts of thoughts, ideas, and tips on entrepreneurialism in music from the perspective of a singer who is focused on the pursuit of excellence and audience in new music.

Ok, she doesn’t play bass, I get that. But she shares some great ideas and they are all pretty much transferable to our instrument and careers with only minor adjustment. We’re bassists, we’re flexible.

Each February since 2012 she does a post-a-day feature titled 29 Days to Diva. In each post she dives in on one aspect of something to work on for the coming year. It’s an excellent blend of musicianship goals and career goals–just the sort of thing to keep us working hard without financial burnout.

Here is an index of her 2012-2013 posts in the series, with links straight in for her (extensive) references and further resources:

Career-building advice for musicians, part 1

The sections from Ihnen’s first year are focused on more traditional performance career path things plus a number of the basics that prove useful regardless of where someone is on the tradition vs entrepreneurial spectrum. As with anything, take what is relevant and leave what is not, but give it all some consideration:

  1. Practice. Make a calendar and plan your progression.
  2. Make your resumé awesome.
  3. Write your artist bio, including a ton of practical advice to help you do this (sometimes painful) task.
  4. Go to concerts, meet people who go to concerts. Social media old-school style.
  5. Read a book, fiction or non-fiction, about music.
  6. Make a good audition tape.
  7. Do an audition (with a ton of practical advice).
  8. Get a professional photo (or photos) of yourself.
  9. Get a real website.
  10. Document everything you are doing in a variety of formats–text, images, video, etc.
  11. Get your name out in relevant venues (the one she mentions isn’t relevant for us bass players, but there are other ways we can get our names out there).
  12. Be professional. Including some great examples of things that professionals do.
  13. Get your finances in order. This one is so important. I cannot stress it enough.
  14. Spend money on the things you love. This one goes hand in hand with item 13 above.
  15. Dealing with debt, specifically college debt, but some of the items are relevant for not-college debt too.
  16. Get a paying side gig. Keep your runway extended. A wide variety of great possibilities is listed in this post beyond “become a barista” so do be sure to check it out.
  17. Evaluate your teacher. You are paying a lot of money for instruction, be sure it’s being spent well and that you know why you are doing it.
  18. Become a patron. Commission work. It’s good to be on this side of the equation because it helps you understand what you will be asking of others. Plus it helps make your network larger.
  19. Go and see some of the best performers you possibly can and take notes from a professional perspective, beyond just being starstruck or amazed by their amazing musicianship–observe the little details.
  20. Exercise. This is just as important for bassists as it is for singers. We have to move large heavy stuff all the time. Our work is physically demanding. Stay/get in shape and you’ll get more done.
  21. Get and/or use your healthcare. Get a checkup. Stay healthy. You get more practice and performance time in if you are not sick.
  22. Be kind to yourself. This is also a healthcare issue. You will play better and for longer if you aren’t beating yourself up.
  23. Work on your languages. Ok, so we don’t have know a foreign language in the same way a singer does. But it’s good for your brain (and perhaps performance opportunities) so go learn a language. My personal absolute favorite is the Pimsleur Method. A library near you has the 30 day course in a language you want to learn. Do it.
  24. Create a functional support team that includes other players, advisors, and friends. People who will be honest and that you trust.
  25. Set specific goals.
  26. Get comfortable talking with people after your own performance.
  27. Get into a young artist program. As someone who is no longer “young” many of these tips could be just as useful for being in any sort of residency or short-term program.
  28. Get a coach.
  29. Give yourself permission to go big.

Career advice for performing musicians, part 2:

With the basics out of the way from the previous year’s career tips, the second year’s batch is focused more on performance opportunities, including making your own. Several of the posts are far more in the entrepreneurial category (which I, of course, love).

  1. Declare your intentions. Do not keep your ambition a secret from everyone.
  2. Get your technique clean, effective, and comfortable/healthy.
  3. Get your scheduling sane. In particular, don’t confuse busy-ness with being productive.
  4. Do you live in a place that supports your musical intentions. This includes whether the commute is sucking out your profit as well as opportunity availability etc.
  5. Plan a recital.
  6. Play some chamber music.
  7. Fine tune signature works that highlight what you do best.
  8. Perform new music (hopefully that won’t need too much arm-twisting from readers here–maybe we should reverse it–play some old music or give Baroque improvisation a go).
  9. Rehearse your program.
  10. Bring your recital to a new and interesting venue. Some great tips on marketing an event in this post.
  11. Wake up early. You can get more done when no one is bugging you.
  12. Take some time to enjoy quietude, the absence of sound.
  13. Explore new techniques to engage fully with interpreting the music in your repertoire.
  14. Get a collaborator.
  15. Do the things you need to do in order to stay healthy in adverse climates. You know the saying: if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.
  16. Improve your memory. For me, personally, my ability to truly interpret music when I perform jumped tenfold once I finally broke down and committed to memorizing the music. I shouldn’t have waited so long.
  17. Make an entrance. How will you take the stage at your performance? This will have an impact on your performance and the audience’s perception of the performance.
  18. Be an artist-in-residence.
  19. Identify new business models for music performance. This is where it starts to get entrepreneurial for reals, peeps. Love this post.
  20. Win a competition.
  21. Evaluate bad situations and respond appropriately, even if it means quitting the project.
  22. Consider whether you need an agent or other intermediary.
  23. Examine your schedule and quit something. Do less so you can do the remaining things with higher quality.
  24. Expand your audience network.
  25. Set a budget for your musical ambition. Factor in the expenses that will not yield direct results.
  26. Prepare yourself psychologically for success.
  27. Audit your career. This one is also full of good entrepreneurial spirit.
  28. Prepare an encore. Just as your entrance is important, so is your exit.

Part 3 of performing musicians career tips

In this installment of the career tips we go almost full-tilt entrepreneurial. There’s a big mix of internal, psychological stuff as well–stuff that’s genuinely important and if we don’t deal with it will come back and bite us in the ass.

  1. Develop systems that are pointed towards your actual goals, not just the short term objectives.
  2. Assess your career as a business beyond the music aspects.
  3. Write an artist’s statement and/or elevator pitch.
  4. Set up your business legal structure.
  5. Understand your market. Who is the audience that will be financially supporting your musical goals? Do the research.
  6. Identify what’s holding you back. What are the weaknesses and threats to overcome?
  7. Do the “how much money am I really making” or “how much money do I need to be making” spreadsheet.
  8. Get your finances organized by function. One big pile of cash disappears quickly, a handful of meaningful, functional accounts will support your goals better.
  9. Set big goals, start living them today. Establish the schedules and tasks to do that.
  10. Get the digital press kit in order. All the materials you need to promote your work needs to be in a simple and easy format so you don’t have to rush around overtime a new opportunity presents itself.
  11. Get your audience email list working for you (and for your audience too–remember, they want to hear from you and that’s why they signed up).
  12. Write a pitch letter to get media coverage.
  13. Get your social media in order.
  14. Examine your entire performance from the moment you take the stage to the moment your audience has gone home.
  15. Make a detailed plan for a project, like your next recital.
  16. Make a timeline.
  17. Get your charisma tuned. This might seem like a “singer only” thing but it isn’t. Your body language and everything else about you will have an impact on your success. People perceive you first and your music is perceived through you.
  18. Reverse engineer an audition.
  19. Build systems specifically focused on getting and completing gigs without having to re-invent the wheel each time.
  20. Deal with any rejection fears you might be experiencing.
  21. Make a budget for your next project.
  22. Identify where your funding will come from.
  23. Have a written agreement or contract available.
  24. Know how to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. If this sounds out of place to you then you are especially encouraged to read it.
  25. Develop a process for analyzing and understanding musical scores.
  26. Create an audience development plan.
  27. Determine the next thing you need to in order to realize your musical ambition.
  28. Show up.

I don’t know if Ihnen is planning to do another series again this year. I hope she does, it’s a great project and one that I hope you can enjoy and translate into your own music/business/performance goals.

Project Funding Tips from New Music USA

Grants can be a worthwhile thing to help get funding to do new work and also can help expand the network of people who care about the music you are making. New Music USA is set up almost like a social network of composers and performers and really hits a sweet spot in terms of funding actual work, as opposed to funding venues or the other not-the-music aspects that surround musicking.

How do you get a grant from New Music USA to help fund your performance of new work for double bass? Here are some tips for making your work samples the best they can be. And some general thoughts on getting the application right.

Of particular note: keep your production values as high as you can on video and audio. MIDI is considered a low production value thing.

There are also a couple good bits of information in the comments of their post so be sure to scroll down for those as well.


Iggy Pop: Free Music in a Capitalist Society

Iggy Pop gave the 2014 John Peel Lecture and chose as his topic the issues surrounding free music and what that means for musicians.

I cannot stress enough the importance of study. … I played in my high school orchestra. And I learned the joy of the warm, organic instruments working together in the service of a classical piece.

That sticks with you forever. If anyone out there can get the chance to put an instrument and knowledge in some kids hands you’ve done a great, great thing.

Comparative information is a key to freedom.

—Iggy Pop

There’s a lot to unpack in his presentation. Eventually I’m going to come back to this presentation and break it down a little further.

But for the moment I just want to dwell for a moment on one of the ideas in here.

Public Response and the Free U2 Album

Earlier this year (2014) a new version of Apple’s iTunes software was released and with it everyone received — whether they wanted it or not — a free U2 album. The public response was quite negative. All sorts of people took to social media to complain about the free album and U2 and Apple.

This is important to note for a few reasons. People were upset (to the point of public complaint) about receiving something for free. This let’s us know that the free thing wasn’t worth anything to them in the first place.

Also, they were very upset. It isn’t like they just shrugged and went on with their lives. They were upset at having U2 show up in their iTunes library. This might point to the social status marker that music has been for some time; music conveys and broadcasts, to those who know us, our sense of taste.

Back when music-objects like CDs had value, if someone had shipped us all a U2 album we probably would’ve shrugged and either thrown it away like junk mail or filled every available slot at the used record emporium with copies of the album. Maybe making a couple bucks along the way.

But now it’s crystal clear that the music object has little value. Either because of licensing (we don’t actually own our music purchased in online stores like iTunes) or because of the habit of piracy (we don’t pay for the music we download from illegal download sites). Either side of the coin—paid or unpaid—the monetary value of the music-object is secondary to the role of music as status symbol or marker of taste.

There really isn’t a music-object anymore in most cases anyway.

Without the sale of music-objects, what next?

Iggy Pop makes an additional point when he notes that the music industry, which requires music-objects, is really just a brief blip of about 50 “Golden Years” before which musicians made their living quite differently.

As the music-objects become worthless it may be useful to examine how musicians made a go of it before music-objects came into being. Or how musicians make a go of it in places where the sale of music-objects doesn’t happen because of economic conditions or customs.

The music industry picked winners and losers during the “Golden Years” and as those years fade out, winners and losers will be picked differently.

What “differently” looks like or works like is still up for grabs. And we’re still able to make a pass at catching it and running with it.

That catching and running will probably not rely on ownership or transfer of music-objects. This is unfortunate for the music industry as it was structured during its heyday.

But it is fortunate for those who might stand to gain from a re-shuffling of the winners and losers of the music marketplace.

What we can observe

People don’t value the music-object (CD, digital file, etc) in a monetary way.

People do value music itself, perhaps “musick” in the broader sense of Christopher Smalls’ Musicking, as an element of their status or taste.

We may not be able to support our musical activity from the sale of the music-object, but the status stuff I think will prove to be a winner.