Ask any musician who is ten years older than you how business is, and he or she will probably say, “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” If that same person asks the identical question to another musician ten years older than he is, he will probably get the same answer. “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” Why was it always better ten years ago than it is today? A possible answer is that the music business constantly evolves, and the person who was busier a decade ago may not have moved ahead with it. Perhaps this person has skills that were well suited for yesterday’s professional musical environment, but not for today’s.
In my lifetime alone I’ve witnessed several major changes in the music business. In the 1970s and ’80s our Eastman graduates who wanted jazz careers often did their “graduate school” in the bands of Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson. At the same time symphony orchestras were finding increased support from foundations. They expanded their seasons. They were growing. In New York City, Broadway was a convenient thing to fall back on, but the best gigs were freelance recording. That is, until synthesizers and samplers appeared on the scene.
Synthesizers changed everything in the music industry and made it possible to have a very high-end product, at least to the undiscerning listener. Those musicians who embraced technology and moved with it could hope to remain relevant, but those who continued to do what they had always done probably woke up one day to find that time had passed them by. The industry had evolved without them.
As stated earlier, technology has changed everything on the nonclassical side of the music business. Synthesizers have found their way into practically every genre from Broadway shows to the one-man band playing tunes with play-along tracks at the local restaurant. Forward-thinking musicians have recognized that synthesizers and samplers are not just a passing fancy. Take drum-set players vs. drum machines. An enterprising percussionist would realize that just because a machine can sound acoustic doesn’t mean that every person who buys one can make it sound believable. It still has to be programmed! And guess who is most familiar with what a drum set should sound like? You guessed it—percussionists. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
When I graduated from college an engineer friend of mine who was also graduating told me he was going to go to work for RCA. (It’s interesting how one remembers these isolated incidents from the past.) RCA was a major electronics company in its day, and my friend was going to be involved with computers. He explained to me something about computers working with 0s and 1s, and punch cards that were used to input data. I also knew that they were very large and took up a lot of space. That was in the mid-sixties, and much has changed since then. It is definitely an understatement to say that computers, the Internet and the World Wide Web have changed the way musicians do business!
Electronics—with its synthesizers, samplers, drum machines and sequencing—has surpassed the piano as the composer’s most valuable tool. Music engraving programs now make the all-night part-copying session a thing of the past. The Internet and its search engines save us valuable time in research. We can get answers to just about anything in a matter of seconds. And if my German publisher sends me some music to edit, I can do it and get it back to her the same day. Social networks like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter keep us connected and expand our reach if we want to use them for commercial purposes. We can easily get the word out when we want to promote a concert, and our personal websites provide a place for us to offer our wares for sale. Recently, I was considering the clarinet part on Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto that I would be playing soon in a concert in Rochester. I hadn’t heard it in a while, and I wanted to see how much I would have to practice in order to sound decent on it. Ten years ago I would have gone to the library. But I found a recording on YouTube and the music on the Web in probably less than ten seconds.
If you are old enough to remember this, think back to when telephone answering machines first came on the scene. It was very annoying to have to leave a message. Nowadays if we make a call and no answering machine picks up, we’re bugged! But who makes telephone calls anyway? I do all my contracting of musicians through email and Facebook. Maybe younger people take this kind of information at your fingertips for granted, but it still amazes me. It’s like we’re on a moving train and it’s accelerating!
When I was a doctoral student, I was in a class that had an assignment that asked us to think into the future 20 years and forecast what the music profession would look like. I wish I still had that paper. It would be fun to see how far off I was. Anyway, one student was very frustrated with the assignment. She just couldn’t get into it. I remember one of her comments. “What should we do? Take LSD to help stimulate our imaginations?” Okay, it was the ’60s. But talk about inside-the-box thinking! She was all about what was going on in the present and pretty short on imagination! That student not withstanding, it’s kind of fun to think about future trends.
Here is a thought I had just today. I have a student who is finishing his doctorate in jazz studies, and he is writing a dissertation. I’m not his primary advisor, but I’m on his committee and so I have to read this document, make comments and edits and when it is in good shape I’ll sign off on it. There are three of us on his committee. As I read his dissertation today I thought, “The content is great, but the delivery system is very antiquated. It has a footnote about every other sentence, and because it is about music it has tons of musical examples.” I’m thinking that this is the same format as 40 years ago when I went through the identical process with my dissertation. Why can’t this be done in an electronic format with links to the footnotes and embedded musical examples? It would be so much more user-friendly. The reader could hear the examples while looking at the music. I know that the technology is there. In our website, polyphonic.org, we embedded sound files in one of our articles four years ago. Maybe there is no need to do this for a dissertation (if you assume that it will never be read again except by a handful of scholars), but I will wager that 10 years from now more books will be published in electronic format than hard copy, and that they will have all sorts of interactive add-ons available. The publishing industry is already firmly headed in this direction.
The point of this cursory look at these technological advances is to remind you to embrace the future—technology in this instance—and change. In the current social and economic climate it is definitely “adapt or become irrelevant.” In envisioning the future, I am reminded of this quote that is attributed to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. It’s a good one. When asked how he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and consequently scored more goals than others, he replied, “I don’t go where the puck is. I go to where the puck will be.” Try to be like Gretzky.
Here’s an interesting article I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. It was in GigaOM. The title really caught my eye because it is upbeat at a time when one sees so much negativity about making a living in the arts being talked about. It’s easy for musicians to bemoan the current economic state and to long for yesterday where things always seemed better. Ask any musician who is ten years older than you how business is, and he or she will probably say, “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” If that same person asks the identical question to another musician ten years older than he is, he will probably get the same answer. “It’s okay, but it was much better ten years ago.” Why was it always better ten years ago than it is today? A possible answer is that the music business constantly evolves, and the person who was busier a decade ago may not have moved ahead with it. Perhaps this person has skills that were well suited for yesterday’s business, but not for today’s. More than in the past it’s up to musicians to be pro-active and make things happen. Here’s Michael Wolf’s take.
By Michael Wolf
While 2011 was a big year for political unrest, another uprising was afoot in the world of content creators and artists. Everywhere you look, artists are taking more control over their own economic well being, in large part because the Internet has enabled them to do so. You see it in all forms of content, from books, to video to music.
A few examples from this year: (more…)No comments
If you’ve read my book, Lessons From a Street-Wise Professor, you may recall some space given to the balance of power shift in the record business from label control to artist control. Here’s a new record label that is committed to operating in the artist’s best interests. . . .and it is set up as a non-profit entity. As Norman Lebrecht states below in his post from Arts Journal, “it sounds almost too good to be true.” There are some lofty goals set here. Let’s wish them success.
May 10, 2012 By Norman Lebrecht
We’ve been sent the first releases by Odradek, which describes itself as ‘the first non-profit, artist controlled classical label’. The artists are not widely known and the music is serious – from Schoenberg to Gubaidulina. But the quality is outstandingly high and the mission statement is nothing short of utopian: (more…)
At the end of this blog is a letter to the editor that was published in the December 13 Louisville Courier-Journal. In it the writer laments the absence of an orchestra at this year’s Nutcracker performance. The tone of her letter is typical of what I had read in the past when ballets have opted to use recorded music instead of live. The experience just isn’t the same.
Coincidentally, during the same time period I was playing the national touring company production of the Broadway show, Billy Elliot. The basic instrumentation (not accounting for doubles) was conductor/keys 1, keys 2, guitar, bass, drums, horn, trumpet, reed 1 and reed 2. In this particular production only the conductor/keys 1, keys 2, guitar and bass were in the pit. The four “horns” were in a separate, very large, room behind the pit. Our space was delineated by curtains on pipes. We had our “clubhouse.”
The drum set was also in this large room but he had a special little glass “house” which was about 20 feet from us. We all had our personal video monitors, which broadcast the conductor, and a mixing board that we configured in any way we wanted.
It seems that this set-up was chosen to better control the sound. The instruments that were in the pit we all electronic, and their sound went directly into the house sound system. Therefore no sound actually emanated from the pit. As they explained to us, if the acoustic instruments were in the pit, they would be mic’d, but some acoustic sound would naturally be present. The overall sound experience for the audience wouldn’t be as good, since the sound engineer would not be able to totally control the mix. The orchestra or parts of it in a remote location is an option that has been used for several years now by Broadway shows.
Sorry for the long-winded set-up just to get to the point of this blog. . . and it’s not even going to be about electronics taking over the music world.
My point is that the four “horns” didn’t feel part of a performance. Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to have the gig, and the four of us in our little clubhouse did form a bond over the two weeks. We had a good time and played well, but even though the pay was very good, it was somehow unsatisfying. We were literally “phoning our parts in.” We came to the theatre in street clothes. Sat down, did our thing and went home. It was like a recording session, but with no second takes. During the bows the conductor would motion to the four players in the pit. We wondered if the audience asked themselves, “where are the drums?” What concerned me was that the audience didn’t see half of the pit band, and had no inkling that we were even there.
I began to think that by playing our parts in a remote location, our importance to the overall show experience was devalued. The sounds that came from our instruments were anonymous. For all the audience knew, we could have been a recording.
Then I read the letter to the editor that is at the end of this post.
In a way, what we were doing is a step in a progression to using total pre-recorded music. A musical experience is always better in a live situation. I don’t think any of us has given our favorite CD a round of applause upon its completion. The feelings the writer to the Louisville newspaper expressed, were similar to what we felt. Live is definitely better.
The following letter is from a reader and was published in the Louisville Courier-Journal on December 13, 2011.
A Tradition Muted
What a very sad Christmas story tonight. Like so many years prior, my family was very excited to attend the preview performance of “The Nutcracker” Friday evening. The energy and richness of years past was replaced by a more hollow experience.
Gone is the pre-curtain excitement and anticipation that mounts as the musicians tune their instruments. Gone are the shadows of light and movement as the musicians lead the way for the dancers. Gone are the lingering notes that transition one scene to the other with the tenderness of a conductor’s lead.
I had no idea how much the emptiness of the orchestra pit would impact the experience, especially from the balcony. I was so distracted by the vacant lifelessness of the pit, like a toothless mouth, the transitions of music to OFF, the frequent speaker feedback which plagued the second half of the show (my heart breaks for these technicians trying to replicate an orchestra). I felt so sad for these dancers who have invested their bodies, souls and lifetime of work into the thrill of performing live, and they now dance to canned music with feedback (hopefully resolved after the preview).
Should we prepare for an eventual recording of the dancers on stage, too, as the quality of the ballet experience becomes additional carnage? We could run a “Nutcracker” recording from years past and save the trouble of performing it live. Is anyone going to take the lead and figure out how to undo this orchestra train wreck?
This was my first experience of the great loss for our city and of all of the artists, technicians and patrons enduring the consequences. Bah, humbug!
KRISTIN CRINOT Louisville2 comments
This is always a difficult question to answer and it varies from person to person. It stands to reason that if you do one thing and take it to the max, your chances of being superior to the person who does two or more things is enhanced. With a few exceptions most musicians who are at the absolute top of their field do essentially one thing really, really, really well. Miles Davis didn’t have to know anything about the C trumpet or playing the Petrouchka excerpt. Itzhak Perlman doesn’t have to know the chord progression of the Blues and Lang Lang doesn’t have to play ragtime (though his handlers might have him do that someday). Nevertheless, certain musicians have been able to excel in several diverse areas of music (read: Legos). Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn immediately come to mind. Wynton Marsalis is arguably another in this elite group.
Breadth and depth are essential. Take one thing to as high a level as you can as you continue to expand your knowledge and expertise in related areas. But if you stray too far from the core of your brand, believability suffers. Going back to Lang Lang, it could well be that he could become a good ragtime pianist. The music is written out. He has the technique. He would have to capture the style. That is believable, but Lang Lang as a first-class improvising jazz pianist, playing with Joe Lovano isn’t. Jazz improvisation is simply too far afield from the Lang Lang brand.
So–this ends our mini-series on brands. The lessons learned herte should be to maintain the core of your brand, and keep it at a high level. It is easy to become a “Jack of Nothing,” when you stretch too far to master it all. But that won’t happen if you always maintain quality, grow slowly, diversify, hire the best to teach you what you don’t know, be flexible and know your competition. We’ll talk about these in other blogs.
The ultimate measures of success are trial and repeat, and the buyer is the final judge. If a manufacturer of just about anything, from dishwashing detergent to automobiles, gets you to try their product, and you are satisfied and return to purchase again, that is success. Using a music example, let’s say you get a last minute call to sub on a woodwind quintet educational concert in a high school. That’s your trial. If it goes well you are a hero, even if your playing isn’t absolutely flawless. In a last minute situation the other players’ expectations are reduced, and they will cut you some slack. They’ll be happy to get through the gig without any major train wrecks! But even if you do a great job and impress the other four musicians they might not immediately call you back. There just might not be another opportunity for a while. That quintet already has a permanent member, and as long as he or she continues to do good work, it will remain his or her position. However, the chances are very good that they will recommend you to other groups, or at least relay the story of how you saved the day.
It’s important to understand image. Your brand exudes a certain image and is made up of the following:
Tangibles & Intangibles[i]
Tangible—Can you play accurately? Do you show up on time? Are you a good sight-reader?
Intangible—Do you have a beautiful sound? Are you musical? Do you make the notes come alive? Do you add something extra with your presence in the group?
Tangible attributes are vulnerable to competition
The tangibles can be competed away. Someone will always play faster, higher and louder, but the intangibles are less vulnerable. If you have an incredibly beautiful, personal sound it is difficult to duplicate. Think of all the top musicians who play your instrument. You can usually identify them upon hearing just a few notes. It’s the intangibles—their sound, phrasing, musical idiosyncrasies, the style of music they play and so on that sets them apart.
Points of Parity and Points of Difference[ii]
Points of Parity—These are the “must haves” just to be considered at all. They are sometimes called table stakes. Every musician competing for a certain job must have them just to get in the game. For example, if you want to be an orchestra horn player, it is a given that you will be absolutely fluent with transposition.
Points of Difference—These are the things that raise you above the others. Staying with the horn example, if you have a fantastic, never-miss high register and the endurance to go with it, the number of competitors is reduced. You are elevated above the pack.
Know Your Image
This one is important. Your image lives within the minds of the market, and not within your wishful thinking. You can try to put forth the image that you want, but your audience (again—co-workers, contractors, conductors, producers, etc.) actually creates that image.
Image, Identity and Positioning—What’s the Difference? Image is the impression that the market holds of you. Identity is the impression you want to give the market. Positioning relates to the elements of Identity that you present to various target audiences.[iii] For example, if you are a composer as well as a fine instrumentalist, you might present only your composer side when entering a composition contest. But, when playing a recital you might program one of your own pieces. The important thing is to know your image. What do people associate with you? Is it good? Are you comfortable with it?
[i] Kevin Lane Keller, Strategic Brand Management (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998), p. 5.
[ii] Keller, Strategic Brand Management, p. 357.
[iii] Aaker and Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership, p. 40-41.
Here is the third installment in this series of blogs that discuss the musician as a brand. If you are new you can catch up quickly by reading the two previous posts.
You’ve probably heard the cliché, “To get ahead it’s not how you play, but who you know.” Certainly having connections or a network of friends and acquaintances can help your career, but that’s for another blog. What we will discuss here, for a moment, is the manner in which you connect, or bond, with your audience—the public, other musicians, contractors, conductors, producers, agents, etc., etc. In the end your success will depend upon how well you and your brand bond with your audience, which can be on different levels.[i] It could be that you connect:
Cognitively—They are aware of you and are familiar with your abilities. Do they consider you all the time? Are you the only one they consider? Are you one of many, one of a few or not on their radar screen at all?
Behaviorally—They may consider many, but they always come back to you.
Emotionally—They like you. They’ve hired you for years. You are friends. Or, they don’t like you. They had a run-in with you years ago and have never forgotten it.
Fit—Do your abilities and personality fit the need of the occasion perfectly, somewhat, or not at all? Are you well versed in the style of music required? Do you have a good attitude about playing it?
In the next post we’ll discuss image.
FN: [i] Marianne Foley, In-Market Validation of Connections-Based Research, Harris Interactive, Inc. (executive brief) 2007.
What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—What Is Your Brand?
The last blog gave a few definitions to work with. Now think about your brand. And it isn’t just about your playing, but we can start with that. What do people think of when they think of you? Make a list and write it down. Here’s an example of a hypothetical musician.
Good player, great sound, terrific technique, OK sight-reader, inexperienced in orchestra and show work, a little unreliable, no car (you have to give him a ride), can be argumentative. Does this list describe a person you would hire to play a show? Maybe not. His brand has too many negatives, or liabilities. But in reality some of the listed negatives could be based on isolated incidences. The person who views this player as unreliable and argumentative could be basing that on hearsay or on just one observed occurrence.
Musicians who wear several different hats (read: Legos) may be able to extend their brands to adapt to various situations. For example, a person who is a fine composer could also be a great instrumentalist and make violin bows as well. It’s possible that some may be familiar with this person only as a composer and have no idea of these other talents.
I hope that it is clear here that the type of good brand building I am talking about is based on good deeds and good playing, both of which occur in an organic sort of way. I’m not talking about a brand that is artificially created by an agency for a movie star, pop-music artist or boy band. I’m talking about the reputation that everyday musicians build over time, as they go about their daily work.
As previously stated, a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer, stands apart from other brands and that the consumer feels good about using. Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Renée Fleming, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Bono are all strong well-known brands. These are the brands of music mega-stars. But, there are also strong brands that are known only by the musicians in a particular subset of the music world. Think of orchestral trombonists, flutists, concertmasters, jazz saxophonists or bassists. Within each small music business subset there are those who stand out above the rest. The musicians in that field know their names. This is true of every community of local musicians, for example in your town or school.
Your brand is built over time and is determined not only by how well you play, but also on how you handle yourself. Recitals, performances and publications all contribute (read: Legos), but even non-musical things play a part in your brand, as well. For example, the people with whom you associate, your appearance, as well as your personality all add to or detract from your brand. It takes a considerable amount of time to build a good brand, but it can be tarnished very quickly with sub-par performance or actions. It only takes one example of sloppy technique to create doubt in the minds of others regarding your expertise. There is probably truth in the old saying, “You are only as good as your last gig.”No comments
The next several “lessons” will center around the professional musician as a business—a store—where clients can get musical expertise. If you buy into the idea that musicians are small businesses, you can take it a step further. Companies spend a good deal of time and money thinking about, developing and protecting their brands, and there are business professionals who think about this on a daily basis. What follows will be six, or so, blogs discussing musicians and brands.
What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—Some Definitions
What is the first thing you think of when the company Coca-Cola is mentioned—how about Apple or Mercedes? These are all strong brands that have distinct images associated with them. As a musician you also have a brand. You, Inc. means something to those who want to hire you. Let’s think about that in business terms for a minute. Put on your business hat again. Here come some definitions.
“A brand is a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer.”1 And brand equity is a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand (name and/or symbol) that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm’s customers. 2 Whew! Even I have to read that last sentence twice! As musicians we don’t often think in these terms, but whether intentional or not musicians develop their brands too. Some would call it your reputation or image. Picture a musician like Yo-Yo Ma. What do you think of when you hear his name? It could be—he’s at the top of his field, artistic musician, wholesome, diversity, multi-cultural, wide-range of music, personable, good guy, etc. How about Wynton Marsalis? It could be—cultural roots, has respect for the history of jazz music and its preservation, great classical as well as jazz musician, Lincoln Center Jazz, Juilliard, etc. (read: diverse Legos). If Miles Davis is thought of in the same manner it could be—innovative, legendary, cool, hip, bad boy, eccentric, etc.
In business a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer. It stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it. Marsalis, Ma and Davis are all strong brands. It could be argued that there are other musicians who are equally talented and artistic, but the brand of these three musicians sets them apart from the pack. Some might perceive Davis’s brand as having some negative descriptors, but remember what is perceived as negative to some can be positive to others (or reason to go to a concert to see and hear what this person is about).
When people consider going to a Marsalis or Ma concert or purchasing one of their recordings, they base much of their decision on past experiences with these artists. For example, they saw Wynton on television. They liked what they saw and heard, and therefore decided to check him out in a live concert. This potential concert-goer was linking back to past experience in an effort to predict future outcomes. “I like his recordings. I’ll like him at a concert. We’ll have a good time. Let’s buy a ticket.”
We will talk about your brand in the next blog post.
FN: 1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000
2. David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 17.No comments