Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Envision the Future

Posted on February 16, 2012 at 12:54 pm by
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When I was a doctoral student, I was in a class that had an assignment that asked us to think into the future twenty 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?”  OK, 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 forty 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 two years ago.[i]  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 ten 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.

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.


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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— There Is No One Model for Entrepreneurs—Gain Experience First

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 6:48 am by
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If you have read my book, Lessons From a Street-Wise Professor, think back to Chapter 9: “Five Non-Linear Career Journeys.”  These are stories of very successful entrepreneurial musicians.  I chose to include them because they represent five different areas of the music business, but I had a secondary reason as well.  They all have reached their goals in different ways.  There really is no one single road to success in music.  If you gain experience, be observant, have good role models and develop an entrepreneurial mindset, your time will come.

Once a friend of a friend asked me what her daughter could do to prepare for a career in music.  Her daughter was then a high school student and was considering a college major in music.  Half-jokingly I gave her a flip answer. I said, “Tell her she should 1) get a paper route, because then she will know how many papers she has to deliver just to purchase one CD; and 2) get a ukulele, because she will learn how to harmonize tunes with just three chords.”  In other words, know the value of a dollar and work on your ears.  But, something was lost in my profundity: I forgot that kids haven’t had paper routes in 30 years.  Got to change that one.

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Don’t Be Embarrassed about Making Money

Posted on January 19, 2012 at 6:44 am by
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My previous blog referenced Grammy-winning composer Maria Schneider. In talking with her further, she had an interesting take on the stereotypical starving artist.  She theorizes that part of the reason record companies are able to make huge profits while the artists often make so little is because many musicians have the idea that being a starving artist somehow raises the value of their art.  Some have the attitude that commercial success equates to selling out, and the minute something is popular it’s devalued.  This becomes a “badge of honor” that some artists like to wear.  That attitude has played right into the hands of the business world.  Think about other occupations or professions.  Can you imagine a baker saying, “I don’t really want to make money selling my cakes.  I do it because I just love to see people appreciate how good my food is.  I don’t care if I lose money.”?  Nobody would ever do that in any business other than the arts!  The business world says, “Wow, we’ve got this commodity here, and we don’t have to pay much for it.  And as a matter of fact, they are happier if we don’t pay them for it!”  This may be a little extreme, but you get the point.

Maria goes on to say that it’s important to instill in people the idea that it’s possible to do incredible high-value work and be paid for it.  Music shouldn’t be free.  Yes, as musicians we are smart and lucky.  We do what we love and get paid for it.  It shouldn’t mean that because we love doing what we do we should do it for free.  We work very hard and we should be paid well for it.

 

 

 

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Being a Successful Entrepreneur— Don’t Dilute Your Product in Order To Make Money

Posted on January 5, 2012 at 6:41 am by
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Some musicians feel that they must dumb-down their music in order to be “successful.” I once had a conversation with Maria Schneider in which she made an interesting observation: many musicians who are focused solely on making money underestimate their audiences.  She commented that some musicians seem to think that if they write or present a particular kind of music, they will get a certain audience.  A dilemma can occur if they happen to get lucky and are successful in gaining an audience.  If they suddenly say “that’s not really who I am.”  “Let me show you what I really do,” they will lose that audience, because those fans were on board for what the artist was doing at the time.  They came to the concert just for that.

Of utmost importance is to be devoted to developing your own craft and your own voice.  If you follow your artistic calling with passion and belief, when your audience does find you, they will be getting the best of what you have to offer.   Be true to yourself.  Don’t pander.

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Invisible Musicians

Posted on December 22, 2011 at 10:00 am by
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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.”

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.

My Musical World for Two Weeks

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

Louisville

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Make Friends—Your Peers Are Your Best Resource

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 9:00 am by
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Think about it. It’s only human nature to recommend a friend for a job. Putting aside the fact that if you recommend him or her, he or she may reciprocate one day, it just feels good to help out a friend, provided they are a good fit for the job. Even though music is a highly competitive business, it’s best to put rivalries aside. You and your buddies may be going for the same type of work, but the pie is usually big enough to accommodate the good players. I have often joked that I’ve made a career of collecting the crumbs off the table after everyone has left. I’ve had some good composition and arranging commissions based on recommendations of others who were either too busy or not that interested in accepting the work. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Who said that?

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Let The Other Guy Talk First

Posted on February 21, 2011 at 8:46 am by
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Writing projects (read: compositions and arrangements) are always up for negotiation. What I always try to do is let the person hiring me talk first. After we have discussed what is involved, I quickly calculate how much time it will take to complete it. I get a price in my head that I think is fair, but I try to let the other person make an offer. If he doesn’t come forward with a figure, and assuming I know the person pretty well, I might say something like this. “What’s your budget for this? Have you got any money?” He’ll probably come back with something like, “I think I can get $2,000.” Many, many times that figure will be more than I was thinking. Now, if I don’t know the person I won’t be so flip in getting him to talk. I’ll say, “What have you budgeted for this
project?” I have found that often what seems like a lot of money to a musician is not that much to the person who is hiring you.
It can work the other way too. A good friend contacted me about one of my unpublished big-band charts. “Can you get me a copy?” he asked. “Sure, how about $75 delivered?” I replied. Pausing, he said, “Look, I’ll give you $150.” That’s a good friend. I was trying to do him a favor, but he had the money in his budget, and he took care of me.

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Have Your Price in Mind

Posted on February 7, 2011 at 6:05 am by
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You should have a price in mind for the particular service that is under discussion. Different types of gigs will have different pay rates that are either set by the musicians’ union or are the going rates of the area. Many jobs pay scale and that’s it. A traveling Broadway show or an opera put on by the local company are examples. Union scale is the minimum amount that a union musician can be paid for a particular job, but there is no limit to the amount that can be paid over scale. When figuring the budget I usually start with union scale, then factor in costs for other things like travel, cartage of large instruments and percussion rental. If you have a string quartet, for example, and someone wants to hire you for a wedding reception, it won’t be so complicated. You’ll have a price, and there will be little back and forth discussion.

But money isn’t the only consideration. I have taken lots of work that didn’t pay well, on the hope that it would lead to something bigger down the road. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

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