Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More on Social Media & Promoting Yourself

I have written a few times on this blog about my mixed feelings regarding social media and, more specifically, about how I think encouraging self-promotion is damaging and distracting for young composers.

I haven't changed my mind, but I do have some more nuanced thoughts on the topic from a recent experience.

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for Baltimore's SONAR New Music Ensemble called "Decadent Music Box." I put it up on my SoundCloud page after receiving the recording and gritted my teeth as I posted it to Facebook. I say "gritted my teeth," because I grew up in a house where it was a huge no-no to brag and any kind of self-assertion or pride easily would fall into that category. I feel weird linking my music on Facebook because I know how it comes off to people who were raised the way I was raised. But I post my music nonetheless because I want people to hear what I'm composing.

In the end, it was a good thing that I did link it, because a fortuitous chain of events followed: a friend of mine tweeted a link to the SoundCloud recording on Twitter, the owner of incipitsify (a score/audio channel on YouTube) began following me on twitter and sent me an email asking to post my piece on his channel, and subsequently more people have heard "Decadent Music Box" than I ever would have thought possible. I got some feedback and more followers on both SoundCloud and Twitter. It's possible that this kind of exposure and these kinds of connections will help me down the road. For about a heady week or so I was feeling almost a complete about-face in terms of my attitude toward social media.

But, as the initial ego-trip has faded, I think there are some worthwhile things to point out.

First, social media can be very effective at temporarily putting a composer on the radar (at least the radar in our very small world)--almost alarmingly so.

Second, because social media is very effective, I had better be sure whatever is online is something I am proud of. In addition to being very excited about the exposure the piece was getting, I was also a little bit terrified, despite the fact that I do feel that it's one of my stronger pieces to date. The thought crossed my mind, however, that I would be cringing if one of my weaker pieces were getting this kind of attention. And, I think it's also worth pointing out that the more exposure a composer has the less likely that people will feel compelled to be nice and generous toward his or her work. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, but it's worth considering if you aren't sure you want that kind of criticism yet. And, in keeping with that...

Third, social media exposure doesn't guarantee anything positive. Just because someone has listened to my work doesn't mean that they listened to the whole thing, really focused on it, or even liked it. YouTube hits and SoundCloud plays do not indicate that I've necessarily written something meaningful. I understand the desire to write music that is liked by your audience (although, I also understand the desire not to worry about this at all), but social media doesn't always tell us what is liked (even the "likes" can be alarmingly political...), it simply tells us what is "trending"...what people on the internet are aware of. Awareness and appreciation should not be confused.

The ultimate job of social media is to provide us with networks and it is, actually, very effective at doing that if we use it well. This can be a good thing, but I still think that we need to emphasize, especially to young and emerging composers, that the "legitimacy" that social media may appear to give our work is still only worth as much as the musical content that we provide. Thus I stand by a statement I made in an earlier post that young composers should be focusing more on the music and building their craft, rather than worrying about websites, Twitter, and Facebook.

What I have learned from this recent experience is that I do need to take social media seriously in terms of its potential to connect me with musicians and an audience. It is, without a doubt, a powerful platform for marketing yourself. But, like all marketing tools, that's where its meaningfulness ends. I still need to wake up tomorrow, go to class, make lesson plans for my students, and figure out effective ways to compose the music I want to write.

Posted by Natalie

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Composer-Performer Debate

Periodically in our world of composition the topic of the composer-performer will come up, which invariably sparks a debate about whether or not the composer should also be an active performer. 

It is quite clear that someone who is an active performer will have a leg up economically (more gigs, etc.) and will undoubtedly use a lot of their knowledge of performance realities to inform their own writing, which can be a huge compositional asset. On the other hand, if you spend 100% of your working time coming up with musical ideas there is a strength in that, as well--a strength that might not be there if you have to devote a significant percentage of your time to practicing. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

More on Education, Debt, and Economics

NewMusicBox published a great article today by Ellen McSweeney about the twenty-something perspective on the financial realities of pursuing a career in music. I highly recommend reading the entire thing.

Of course it has always been difficult to be a musician, but today's economic situation really compounds the problem. McSweeney touches on many of the important facets of the issue, but I also think it's true that the whole economic picture is bigger and more complex than what we find in our field of music.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Paralyzing Effect of Too Much Advice

Since I started composing seriously, I have accumulated a large amount of compositional advice. Sometimes each nugget of wisdom is worth something in isolation (and, perhaps, in specific circumstances), but when taken as a whole this barrage of do's and don't's is really quite hilarious. If you were to follow all of these guidelines in good faith (which, obviously, I do not recommend), I guarantee you would not compose a note of music.

I emailed Sarah and we came up with a list of several of the do's and don't's we've heard over the years. If you are in a state of writer's block, I urge you to leave this page immediately. If you are feeling less fragile, please enjoy:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and New Amsterdam

This is a bit of a delayed response (school, teaching, and fall madness have gotten in the way of my blogging in general...), but in case you haven't read or heard about this, Hurricane Sandy devastated New Amsterdam's brand new headquarters.

New Amsterdam has done wonderful things for the new music community and if there is any way that you can give back to them, it would be a huge help.

You can read about their situation and donate by clicking here. Much of New York is still recovering from the destruction of this storm. Please help if you can afford to do so!

Posted by Natalie

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wedding Music for Composers/New Music Performers

I have an idea about a new market segment that I bet most composers (and new music performers) have not thought to tap (or maybe you have, maybe I'm just late to the party): WEDDING MUSIC. I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. I actually think it might not be a terrible idea.

Here is the scene: You are a composer (and/or someone who performs new music a lot). You are getting married. You realize you need to think about music for the ceremony. Suddenly, you have a panic attack: "I'm a composer! Everyone is going to expect me to have SUPER AWESOME MUSIC AT THIS WEDDING!!!" Or at least that's what I did. You're probably all wondering why I didn't just write a ton of new music for my own wedding, since that would have (probably) been the most meaningful music to have- but wedding planning can be very stressful. Add to that the stress of writing the music for your own wedding- clearly whatever you write has to be absolutely perfect and meaningful, while still being "you"- and maybe you can understand why I didn't go down that path. I know people who do, and I admire them. But for those of us who decide we can't write our own music but still want something a little more true to us than Pachelbel's Canon (no matter how lovely a piece it is), what do we do?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Makes Good Music?

When we initially started this blog, we aimed to discuss, among other things, what exactly constitutes "good music." This idea has always seemed highly elusive to me, perhaps because what I think of as "good music" is itself elusive.

Really fantastic music doesn't fit a recipe or mold, and although it often meets certain expectations and most likely feels inevitable, it also surprises its audience with freshness. The day after the concert, usually you can still hear "good music" in your head--not because it's repetitive or catchy necessarily, but because the sounds have left a tangible impression. This is my best effort at offering some sort of definitive classification. Perhaps its vagueness is appropriate, as the definition can be applicable to all kinds of music, not just "art music."