In order for musicians to thrive in today’s economy, we have to first understand it. Even a basic understanding is essential if today’s musicians are to cultivate a viable career from their craft. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in economics to comprehend how the new economic landscape is shaping the careers of new generations of musicians.
A dictionary defines micro economy as “The study of how businesses, households, and individuals within an economy allocate limited resources.” I think musicians of all stripes can relate all too well to the bit about limited resources. But in order to make this more real to you—try to consider all the possible meanings of the word resources outside of just money. Practice time, planning time, energy, equipment, favors from friends and colleagues are all forms of resources that musicians commonly use as currency that is either spent or earned. For musicians, it is important to look at the term micro economy in a very broad sense and consider all the different activities we do that contribute to our overall career.
Do you remember those long lists of “music professions” that your well-meaning high school guidance counselor may have shared with you back when you first considered “going into music” (to your parents’ horror) as a profession? It listed jobs like: arranger, sound designer, composer, performer, copyist, music teacher, song writer, recording technician, etc. You remember those, right? You probably remember the sinking feeling you had of “Oh my God, how will I ever pick one of these?!” The good news is that you don’t have to specialize in just one area. Today’s musicians are expected to have basic skills in all these areas and many more. It’s the new Micro Economy that has placed diverse demands on musicians’ careers. The economy is reshaping our profession in ways we never thought possible even four to five years ago.
In this series of blog posts, we’ll explore numerous micro opportunities that musicians can pursue to build a portfolio career. You might already be doing some of them and there will be a few more you haven’t yet heard of. We’ll also discuss the many new markets that have emerged for musicians to either generate income from their music or help connect them to a greater number of potential audience members. It’s a whole new world out there for professional musicians.
Lastly, I’d like to put a disclaimer out there near the conclusion of the first post in this series—No one is telling you to let go of that dream of winning your big orchestra job, launching that solo career, or rocketing to stardom in classical music. In fact, it is my wish that you do make that happen for yourself. This series is for everyone else, for the thousands of other excellent musicians out there (some fresh out of school) who are trying to gain a foothold in “the business” at the onset of their professional career. This series is to help us all better understand our individual Micro Economy and how to best make decisions that will allow us to support the passion for music that we all share.
To my readers, it’s been far too long since I last posted on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog and I apologize to you. But I’ve been watching and thinking, observing and taking notes. I’ve spent the past year being a musical participant, a maker, a creator, performer, teacher—and in many ways a student as well. I’ve been watching our world of classical music. I’ve been doing a lot of introspection into my own music making as well and there is much that I want to share with you.
Since it’s a new year, I thought we should start with a few resolutions. (I say we because I will be joining in these too.) While I’m not usually a big fan of them, I started to think about the meaning of a resolution, about how they demonstrate our “resolve” for change and improvement. A resolution is an opportunity to bring about positive change to our lives—and for musicians, to our art as well. As artists, we strive for excellence at all costs. We constantly seek to improve upon our skill, or repertoire, or musical achievement. This pursuit is part of our identity as musicians. With personal excellence in mind, here are 5 resolutions for classical musicians to consider for 2015:
1. Own your role in supporting the arts.
We are all in this together and as such, we all need to do our part in supporting the arts in as many ways as we can. Be active. Write a letter of support to your local school system or elected official supporting music education. Make a donation to a local arts organization (if you can) or at least make the offer to donate some of your time or talent. Share articles that advocate for the arts on your social media or write an iReport or Letter to the Editor of your local paper. Start a thread on Reddit. Do something to help us all.
2. Help stop the negativity in the classical music world.
“If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all,” my father said many times when I was young. Truthfully, I’ve not always taken his advice, but in the case of classical music, I’m pretty sure compliance is crucial. Let’s make this cut and dry: the general public has a clouded perception of our world and what we do. Many people see classical music as stuffy, outdated and worn-out. As many of us are working to change that perception, we face a further declining public opinion when vitriol over union conflicts, lockouts, and defamatory remarks come from both sides of disputes in our industry. We need a cease fire and moratorium on negativity. Do your part by only putting forth positive messaging about the importance of your art, your passion, and classical music more generally. Be on the side of peaceful progress.
3. Dig deep into your own emotions.
This is one is simple. Challenge yourself to find deeper emotional meaning from every note that you play this year. Take whatever commitment to emotional expressivity you currently have and add 30% to that. See how much more you can express your own range of emotion in the music you make. It might change the world.
4. Share your music with more people.
This year, make the effort to share your music with more people than you did last year. Sharing is easy in the digital age. Post a video on YouTube or Facebook. Upload a clip to SoundCloud. Get more of the music you love out into the world. There are bound to be others out there who will love it too.
5. Talk to your audience.
This is the year to change the way you engage with your audience. You have the power to transform an evening of great music into a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime in the mind of your audience members. You have to communicate with your audience. Do as little or as much as your feel comfortable, but do something. It can be as little as making sure you thank five individual audience members for coming to the concert at each gig you play this year, or as grand as completely revamping your concert presentation format. The approach is up to you, but we need to collectively do more to bond with our audiences. If we all did this, we could go a long way toward changing the public opinion.
So here’s to a great year ahead. Let’s do more this year than we have ever done before. Let’s make waves in the classical music world. Let’s change the state of play.
Some interviews are easier than others—but not my recent interview with Yoon Jae Lee, founder and conductor of Ensemble 212 based in New York City. I reached out to Yoon Jae a while ago because I admire his great entrepreneurial spirit and his ability to curate great concerts within Ensemble 212. It’s no easy feat to establish a successful chamber orchestra in NYC. So I thought, if anyone has had to grapple with some of the “big” questions surrounding engaging performance today, it would be Yoon Jae.
I asked him for his take on the culture, environment and challenges surrounding classical music in the United States. Here is what he had to say:
“I believe that the challenges facing “classical music” are numerous and extremely complex. Like most social issues in the US (immigration reform, health care, etc.) there are no easy answers can which solve all of classical music’s problems with the snap of a finger. However, there are many things that our generation, the young professionals, can and must do to make classical music a part of our everyday culture and at the same time enjoyable as well.
I often find myself asking this rhetorical question: What is “classical music” anyway? Is “new music” (defined as a sub-genre of classical music “classical”?!? Yet, aren’t The Beatles “classical” to most in the general public? What about Phillip Glass? Labels can be convenient but also limiting and harmful as music often defies categorization. For example, is Gershwin jazz or classical?
I think the single most problematic issue with “classical music” is that for the general public, it is something of a “fringe” interest and definitely not mainstream. We need to change that and make it relevant.”
Classical music as a fringe element? I’ve got to admit that even I hadn’t thought the general consensus was that classical music was considered to be that irrelevant. However, it is an interesting point– perhaps even a truth that all of us who love and cherish this form of art need to acknowledge. It cuts a little close to home, but isn’t the first step to correcting a situation to know and understand its full scope and breadth? Yoon Jae makes a great point, one with which I completely agree, that bringing classical music back into the scope of what is culturally relevant with audiences of today should be our first priority.
So where does this shift begin? Who is going to lead the change, and who will take responsibility for it? (I told you– all really big questions.) Yoon Jae had some powerful viewpoints on these issue that are worth sharing:
“I feel that music education in general needs a radical reform at all levels. I think the concept of having separate concentrations of performers and educators is fundamentally wrong. How many “performance” majors are going to be just performing and not teaching? I believe that most conservatories leave their graduates ill prepared to face the challenges described above. For me, it was only after I got out of school I realized what a perilous situation classical music and its professionals faced.
If we are not given the tools to teach properly or more specifically, have the ability to relate to the general public about what “classical music” is about and why we do it, how can we expect them to truly appreciate what we do and why? The recent derogatory articles on the SF Symphony’s strike is a clear example of writers who have no understanding about our profession. I don’t blame them 100% though, I think we musicians are partly at fault for not relating what we do to the general public.
I experienced difficulty relating to non-musicians once I left conservatory, especially working in a teaching capacity. We need to do a better job integrating our performing and teaching skills while still in conservatory so that when we go out into the real world, we can better relate to the general public and help them understand what music is about, especially for those who are willing…”
I believe in what Yoon Jae Lee is doing with his Ensemble 212. The orchestra’s stated mission ” to propel the careers of young professional musicians as they develop into the finest performing artists of their generation” is aptly suited to meet the demands of a changing arts culture. Ensemble 212 does not shape the careers of performers of past generations, but rather, shapes the careers of performers in this generation.