money transparency

On October 9, 9pm EST, I am hosting a #musochat titled “Money Transparency.” First, a #musochat is a real-time chat on Twitter and it’s loads of fun. @Musochat has a great following of creative musicians from all over with fantastic thoughts. But what is money transparency?

“Money transparency” is the idea that our conversations about money, no matter how large or how small, should be more transparent. We should un-apologetically lay the real numbers on the table and stop tip-toeing around financial discussions. 

Especially with employers/employees. Especially with our peers. Especially in gig-based economies like music and art.

This idea of “money transparency” also contains the notions that we should 1.) stop feeling bad for wanting to make money with our art 2.) be willing to describe what we want, and negotiate as necessary 3.) be willing to advocate for our peers and colleagues, and 4.) honestly approach deficits, debts, or losses.

So let’s chat about money, within the context of a professional musical life, this Sunday night (October 9) 9 pm EST for #musochat.

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put yourself out there

As a professor of music composition and arts entrepreneurship, I relentlessly push my students to “get themselves out there” and submit to competitions, network within their disciplines. During a lesson, I don’t just talk music-I ask who will hear the piece, what my student will do with it, and how they are pushing themselves to gain experience through networking and gigs.

This summer, I decided to take more of my own medicine and push myself to do the same. Here are the results:

Losses: 6

Wins: 3

Here is the list of things I submitted to: 1.) I wrote a large grant for the New Music USA project grants but didn’t get it, 2.) I was deep in the interview process to be hired to score a feature film and made it to the top 10 but didn’t get hired, 3.) I submitted my samples for two other film scoring opportunities and didn’t get hired, 4.) I scored one scene for a short film called The Stock Boy, for experience, exposure, and networking, 5.) I wrote a grant for the Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative and received full funding, but that was paired with the grant from New Music USA for which I received NO funding, 6.) I got a last minute rush gig composing some incidental music for an off-broadway play in NYNY. 7.) I submitted a proposal for a commission opportunity from Experiments in Opera, but unfortunately only made it to the top ten, 8.) I submitted a proposal for a commission from Listenpony in the UK and of the 200 applicants, I alas, did not make the cut.

All of this activity occurred between March 2016 and August 2016. It took an enormous amount of time and I did it alongside of composing and working on the few deadlines I have. For the grant I was awarded, I still have about 30-40 minutes of music that needs to be composed (it is only in rough-sketch form at the moment, but at least I have a wonderful text by Laura Theobald, and a great collaborator-the new music ensemble What is Noise).

When I look at the numbers, it’s really not bad. If I were only submitting to composition competitions, it may be more depressing. Eric Whitacre wrote a really nice article about competitions. My favorite quote is this:

It will steel your will and prepare you for a career filled with rejection. Did I mention that you won’t win?”

Yeah, you probably will not win. But that’s not the point.

The point is to practice. To put yourself out there. To constantly hush the voices of self doubt and relentlessly try, unapologetically.

This may result in a few commissions. Hell, maybe you will win one of those godforsaken competitions. Even the worst possible scenario is kinda awesome: you will have a pile of finished pieces and demos and examples of your music and artistry. And if you persist, the universe will send opportunities back to you. People will know you write music. Your name may come up in a conversation somewhere and a friend of a friend of a friend may pass your name off to the right person.

You will get the gig. And yes, it will feel good. But you have to infinitely try, without concern.

As I finish this blog post, I am also working on my tenth opportunity of the summer. Will I win? or will I lose the gig? regardless, I’ll have made a good impression AND I’ll have another track to add to my demo reel.


how to be a composer 2): lighting & mood

Now that you have the best pencil ever and the staff paper of your choosing [see my blog about this: how to be a composer 1): pencils & paper], you have to set the mood. And the lighting. Sometimes they are the same thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have learned to compose everywhere and anywhere. I keep my laptop close and my staff paper closer. Just in case. Gotta be prepared. However, having a “home base”–a studio space that is set up for working, is really helpful. Continue reading

how to be a composer: 1) pencil and paper

To be a composer, you need a place to write. It needs to have a mood, lighting you like, a good drink, and the materials that are both fashionable and useful. Here is my comprehensive list.

Pencil and Paper

Let’s start with the essentials. You need to actually write music, so you need the best pencil and the best staff paper. Luckily for you, I have found the best pencil and some exemplary examples of staff paper of the highest quality.

Here is the best pencil, the Ticonderoga Black (it even says so on the packaging, click the link if you don’t believe me):

And here are some versions of staff paper that I really do love:

The classic Hal Leonard standard wire-bound. It travels well, it is affordable, so you may as well have several of these on hand.

When I am in the need to feel classy and hipster-y, I gravitate to Moleskine, which has many wonderful selections of staff paper booklet/journals. I carry a small one as a concert journal where I document my favorite motifs, unapologetic critiques of the performers wardrobes, and the ideas that populate as a listen to a master composition. I found that this larger staff paper journal is quite lovely to compose in. I am currently using it to sketch out the song-cycle I am working on called The Best Thing Ever.

I ran into another great looking bunch of staff paper when I was stalking the Facebook of Gabriel Kahane. After I asked him, via the comment section of his post, where i could find such a beautiful staff paper, he simply said “I think most places sell it” or something to that effect. Well, it looked good on his Instagram photo.

Now Go Write

Find some good lighting. If you have a piano, maybe find a desk lamp to put above the music rest and place your finely curated staff paper and pencil in the “go” position. Grab a small antique glass that you have filled with the finest locally roasted espresso, an write something beautiful.


Tax write-offs for the musician

It’s tax season and you should be thinking “Yes! how many ways can I find to reduce my taxable income?”

As a musician, there are PILES of ways to reduce your taxable income. First, let’s look at two types of working scenarios.

The Freelancer

If you gig/perform a lot, chances are you are paid on a 1099 or several (because you filled out plenty of W9’s)-or you are just paid by check or cash. In both instances, taxes to the federal and state governments were not taken out. If this money hits any of your bank accounts, it is considered a part of your taxable income (and traceable). By filling out a w9 you are agreeing to be the responsible party for forfeiting your own taxes.

Continue reading

Composing “shorts”

As a student composer, my favorite compositions were short duets. Out of necessity, I wrote these duets for trumpet and bassoon. I played trumpet, and my roommate played bassoon. Performers guaranteed!

What started as an exercise, the Duet in Three Parts became a very important piece for me compositionally and artistically. It may have been the launch into finding my tonal voice.

Looking back, about 10 years later, this work still resonates with me and makes me wonder why we [composers] don’t spend more time composing “shorts”. Why are we always looking to make a splash with a large work–a grotesque amalgamation of notes and complications that represent high art at it’s best–instead of composing for a variety of lengths, instrumentations, and purposes? Continue reading