Essential Tools for the 21st Century Musician: Technology

In my previous post about tools for the 21st Century Musician, I discussed improvisation as probably the most useful tool musicians can be using. In a way, technology is even more indispensable. Unless our voice is our primary or only instrument (and even then there are exceptions), then nearly everything we make music on is the result of some level of technology.  Whether we’re talking about the technology of carved bone flutes and dried skins over a wooden frame, or the highly advanced craft that luthiers use to carve/mold stringed instruments, or the ability to build circuitry or program for electronic instruments or computers, there is always some level of technology involved in the making of musical instruments.

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What is a “full-time musician” anyway?

Benzaiten, the Japanese Goddess of everything that flows, including music.  Polychrome Woodblock print. 19th Japan.
Benzaiten, the Japanese Goddess of everything that flows, including music. Polychrome Woodblock print. 19th Japan.

There was a recent piece on by composer Andrew Watts titled, What Kind of Stress Do Full-Time Composers Experience? The thing is, and this came up on a recent facebook discussion, the conditions in points number 1. and 4. have nothing to do with being a “full-time composer.”  Here are the relevant excerpts from those points:

1) With national funding and commissioning for music in the state that it is, nearly all U.S. composers make their living (or the bulk of it) through organizational and institutional affiliation. This duality of purpose and focus is stressful by nature. How is one supposed to be an effective teacher/professor/director/conductor all day and then have enough time (or even motivation) to fit in composing at a consistently high level? Some composers find frustration in this system, dissatisfied that their craft of composition, which they value and devote so much time toward, is not financially self-sustaining.


4. As mentioned above, it is often necessary to have the support of an institution, such as a university or conservatory, in order to make a living in the U.S. as a contemporary classical composer.

As David Brynjar Franzson stated in that facebook discussion:

I am more just annoyed at the fact that the question / answer format of the article is misleading. The answer is about how a part-time composer…makes a living, not about the stress of a full-time composer.

I remember when I moved back to the Louisville area and discovered that the University of Louisville School of Music had slowly replaced Louisville Orchestra Musicians with non-orchestral musicians (i.e. musicians who are not playing in the Louisville Orchestra). The reasoning was that the Music school wanted to have teachers who would invest in building their studios because supposedly “full-time” orchestral musicians neither had the desire nor time to do such a thing.

Whether or not this is true, it’s the same sentiment as the composer example.  What’s being discussed is having multiple income streams–and for most people, this is what it’s going to take to make a livable wage and seems to be what we’re seeing now given the 45.3% reduction of those reporting being a “full-time musician” (of course, I wonder what musicians were doing during the Depression when apparently 70% of musicians were unemployed–a far bleaker statistic than we have today).

I guess this goes back to the issue of the relevancy of music schools again.  Do we need all the high level of musical training if that won’t get us a career in music?  Or do we start training kids to cobble together their own careers via multiple revenue streams?  The obvious question then is who’s going to be the best qualified to teach the latter and can an academic composer/musician be the best person to teach these non-academic skills?  Also, a question that also came up in that facebook discussion was, would an active entrepreneurial composer/musician necessarily be a good teacher (and vice versa).  So much of this also goes back to some issues brought up in an old discussion about Orientalism in Kill Bill several years ago.

This also reminded me of a post by Joe Patti of Butts in Seats about Seth Godin’s “True Professionals Don’t Fear Amateurs” a few months ago.  Joe says:

I think Godin’s comment wraps up a lot of the concerns shared by people in the arts. Among those concerns are not only that people are creating things of little value and degrading their work by association, but that people would eventually be unable to discern what real quality was and seek out professionals when the time came as Godin suggests.

to describe the “insecure careerists,” who (referring to skills like typesetting, wedding photography, and graphic design)

[fight] off the amateurs at the gate, insisting that it was both a degradation of their art as well as a waste of time for the amateurs. The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment… professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.

None of which answers what a full-time composer or musician really is and neither does it negate the possibility of a part-timer being imminently professional and being able to create high quality work that even full-time amateurs at the craft may not be able to do.

But I think that’s beside the point here–if you’re able to be a full-time musician or composer, and have no need to hold down a “day job” (can we consider academic positions “day jobs?”) while making a livable wage for years, then the level of skill you might have is pretty much irrelevant.

What’s it like playing with Grammy Award winners?

Jon Silpayamanant playing with Yo-Yo Ma and Eric Edberg in Kresge Auditorium during DePauw Discourse.  September 29, 2011.
Jon Silpayamanant playing with Multi Grammy Award winner, Yo-Yo Ma, and my former cello teacher, Eric Edberg, in Kresge Auditorium during DePauw Discourse. September 29, 2011.

Sometimes it’s good just to reflect on your musical experiences.  I know I’ve said that in the grand scheme of things the Grammy Awards don’t mean much and given what I said in my previous post even a figure some of us might consider to be the elder statesmen of post WWII Anglo-American pop doesn’t seem to be known by a wide swath of younger audiences, it does still matter to some folks.

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‘Lost Girl’ and a lesson in Music Economics and Ethics

The cast of Lost Girl

So I’ve been watching Lost Girl1 which is a Canadian supernatural crime drama that recently premiered on SyFy.  The series follows a Succubus, Bo, as she negotiates her way around the newly discovered (to her) Fae world while she remians unaligned (the Fae are divided between the “Light Fae” and the “Dark Fae” who have an uneasy peace between them due to the actions of the “Blood King“–yeah, I know, way too much backstory to relate in a blog post–read the links above for more info).

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Diversifying your Performance Skills Portfolio

I like to put all my eggs in one basket. Good thing I have plenty of odd eggs, right?
I like to put all my eggs in one basket. Good thing I have plenty of odd eggs, right?

As I mentioned in a previous post, developing versatility, Dick Weissman says that Developing Versatility is a key factor in pursuing a lifetime career in music.  Another way to put that principle is to Diversify your Performance Skill Portfolio.  Obvious to anyone with some knowledge of economics or finance I’m taking my cue from the idea of Diversification.

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