How did you do it??

 

400000

Just the other day, I hit 400,000 plays on Soundcloud. After announcing it on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve had several people ask me, “how did you do it?”, or, “I’d love to hear how you work Soundcloud!”. Rather than replying with a lengthy status update on Facebook that wouldn’t transfer to Twitter, I thought I’d write a short blog response to these questions.

The short answer is, there is no short answer. There is no magic formula. There is no trick, no method, and no gaming the site.

My success on Soundcloud echoes the same story of many other people that have had success in many different areas. Primarily, that I was ready when the opportunity came, or when the lucky break hit – however you want to look at it. This is the most important thing I can convey to those people that asked how I did it, and it doesn’t just work for Soundcloud – it works for everything.

In my case, I had a few lucky breaks with the right people hearing and sharing my music. This lead to Soundcloud featuring me as their ‘Soundclouder of the Day’, as well as featuring me regularly on their classical genre page. I have been heavily involved and invested in Soudcloud, and I try to release a steady stream of content in an attempt to keep the page updated and fresh.

I don’t limit the page to my compositions, although that’s the bulk of it. I include samples of everything I do that’s in the audio format – from my own works, to my performances of others works, to episodes of my podcasts. In addition, I make a real effort every week to listen to music of composers I know, AND to discover new composers that I don’t. I regularly share their music to my 430,000 followers. This gives exposure to those composers/performers, and makes my page a go-to spot for discovering the latest and greatest contemporary art music. This is called community, and it is VITALLY important to success as an artist.

Bottom line is, if the content wasn’t there, or my page was left fallow and neglected, those breaks would have passed me right by, and I never would have even known they came along.

So, keep your content coming, and your sites updated and engaged! You never know when your break will come along, and if you’re not ready for it, you never will!

To write (yourself) a concerto…

Writing a concerto is hard. Writing a concerto for yourself is maddening.

In late 2013, I was approached by Sean Kleve of the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion to write a new piece for their May 2014 concert, of which was supposed to be all newly commissioned works by three living composers. It’s always been a dream of mine to write and perform my own concerto with a big orchestra, however since that opportunity has never come along, I thought that this might be an excellent way to fulfill that fantasy. I mean, 5 percussionists AND a pianist. This is a veritable orchestra in itself. So, I pitched the idea of an electric guitar concerto, and they were behind it 100%.

Now, it was real. No fantasy. Real. Really, really real.

When I was faced with this reality – the reality that I’m going to write a concerto for myself, I’m the soloist, I will be performing this in front of an audience; I realized that there are certain expectations that come with being a soloist in a concerto. Expectations that the audience will have – high expectations. These might include:

1) The soloist is a virtuoso, and a master level player of their instrument.

2) The part for the soloist will be virtuosic, technically dazzling and note perfect.

3) The writing for the solo instrument will be fresh and innovative – showcasing the composers ability and the soloists personal style.

4) There will be at least one solo cadenza that will blow the minds of the audience with it’s sheer awesomeness.

Knowing full well that these are the expectations that come with the term “concerto”, I was faced with the fact that I would have to deliver all of these things. Shit.just.got.real.

I have written one other concerto – my Three Lamentations on the Death of John Dowland for alto flute and string orchestra. This was a great experience, but completely different from this one. The entire mood of the concerto was different in character. I was also not writing for myself, but for flutist Kathryn Lukas, who I knew could play whatever I plopped down in front of her.

No, with this one I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I was forced to. I looked at many of my guitar heroes – Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Tosin Abasi, John Williams, Julian Bream, among others. I had to face the fact that I’m not them. I had to weigh my strengths and weaknesses – especially my weaknesses – I had to look those right in the face and come to terms with them. I couldn’t write something that I would be struggling with on stage. I had to write to my strengths if I was going to make this work.

I started to think about the cadenza. Every concerto has one – it’s an integral part of the form. It’s a section where the soloist (me) is, in a sense, stark naked in front of the audience – it’s just the soloist and their talents for all to see – no orchestra – no accompaniment – just them. It’s usually one of the highlights of any concerto, and it is THE moment where the soloist really shows their stuff.

Probably my favorite cadenza of all time is the harpsichord cadenza from Johann Sebastian Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. There’s one section of it where the keyboard player starts playing these crazy fast arpeggiated runs. You can hear it (and see it) in this video (the part I’m speaking of comes in at 7:50):

So, how do you do something like that for the guitar?? One option would be to write a long passage of sweep picking arpeggios, however I’m not Yngwie Malmsteen or Tosin Abasi – sweep picking is not one of my strengths. Then I thought, what about tapping? This is a technique that could mimic in spirit was Bach did in his monumental cadenza, and it is something that I could do. This is a technique that goes way back to why I wanted to learn guitar in the first place. I actually remember the moment that I decided to learn the guitar. It was in 1984. I was sitting back in my Dad’s recliner in the living room, with his Sony Walkman. Inside was the brand new album (cassette) from Van Halen – their 1984. I was 11 years old. I was listening to the first track on side B – Hot for Teacher. It starts with this trotting drum solo, which then breaks into this explosion of finger tapping by guitarist Eddie Van Halen. I heard that, I right then and there, I decided I wanted to learn the guitar.

Tapping is always something I’ve been good at. When in high school, I used to dazzle my friends with renditions of Joe Satriani’s Midnight – an all tapped kind of neo-classical piece.

So I thought, well, tapping. I can do that. It’s not something you see in “classical” music, but this IS an electric guitar concerto, and this IS a legitimate technique for the electric guitar. I expanded the idea to encompass the entire first movement, so that it is almost 100% tapping. I came up with a pattern that I personally don’t recall hearing in any tapping example I could think of, and I tried to create a tapping cadenza in the spirit (at least – I’m not claiming it’s anywhere near Bach’s) of the Brandenburg cadenza. And here’s what I came up with:

In keeping with the Bach influence, I kept the overall form pretty traditional as far as concertos go – a fast first movement – slow second – and fast third. For the second movement, I wanted to incorporate my experiences as a classical guitarist and renaissance lutenist. For the third, my experiences as a progressive rock and metal guitarist.

Now that I had an idea of how I was going to handle it from a soloists perspective, I needed a concept for the piece as a whole.

I usually don’t work from a specific story line – especially for my instrumental music, but the group Clocks in Motion – that name – it just inspired this whole set of images and this narrative in my head, which went something like this:

I imagined a lonely watchmaker in his small workshop. A well-meaning man who dreamed of doing bigger things to help his fellow people and his world. One day, he fell asleep at his workbench and had a fantastic dream of a large and benevolent automaton. He saw himself constructing it, and witnessed the great deeds that the mighty machine would carry out. He set to work that very night and worked for months on end until the work was finished. However, once unleashed, the automaton had ideas of its own!

That narrative, and those images conjured up a whole host of musical ideas, and evocative titles for the three movements:

I. Watchmaker’s Daydream
II. Workshop/Steam
III. …In Motion

So now, I had an idea. Next up – instrumentation. This was not like writing for orchestra where you have a set instrumentation from the beginning. A percussion ensemble can be almost any combination of – well, really, anything that can be hit, struck, slapped, scraped, dropped, kicked, broken or bowed, and make a noise. I decided to employ a strategy that I had employed on another piece of mine very successfully – my Instructions (on how to survive a fairy tale). Basically what I did was, I emailed all of the members of Clocks in Motion and asked them a simple question – what is your favorite instrument, or, is there a percussion instrument that you love, but have never been able to play in Clocks? The answers produced instruments that I would have never considered, and some I didn’t know at all – like, Pandiero, Riq, Cloud Gongs – huh? Learning about these instruments and incorporating them into my music was challenging and eye opening. It added something new to my sound – something that would never have happened if I had not taken that approach.

I also got to use a particular mallet keyboard instrument that they had essentially invented called the Galvitone. This is a xylophone-like instrument, but made with “bars” of galvanized steel piping. The sound was incredible. The color combinations I was able to get was so much more than an orchestra would have been capable of (and that’s saying something)!

Our plan is to record the entire concerto for Clocks in Motion’s next album. Hopefully I will be able to talk more in detail about the rest of the piece then. Until that happens, here is a perusal version of the score:

Quarter of a million….

SC1

I am floored to say that I have surpassed 250,000 plays on Soundcloud. Thanks to everyone that has listened! It matters to me that people are listening and getting something out of what I’m doing. It’s what drives me to keep creating music despite the day-to-day challenges I might face.

I have to say thank you to Soundcloud as well. Many of the 430,000 followers I picked up were the result of them featuring me as a “Soundclouder of the Day”, exposing my music to a much wider audience than would have been possible otherwise.

Some interesting stats from Soundcloud:

My top listener is fleurdeviande at 372 listens
The top country for listens is the United States, but consistently the number two country is Egypt.
In fact, the number one CITY in listens is Cairo – so, thanks Egypt!
The top five cities are:

Cairo, Egypt
London, England
Jakarta, Indonesia
Seoul, Korea
Tokyo, Japan

To say thanks – if you were ever thinking of picking up a physical CD or LP – I am offering 25% off of all my music over at Bandcamp.com. Just use the code ‘soundcloud’ when you check out! The offer will be good through April 30th, 2015.

Thanks again, and stay tuned!

Thoughts on Napster and Free Intellectual Property Exchange 14 Years Later

In 2000, I was banned from Napster by Dr. Dre. How do I know this? Because I logged onto Napster one day and got a message that said “YOU HAVE BEEN BANNED BY DR. DRE!” I stared at the message in disbelief. How could Dre do that to me?? It’s true – I did download his music from Napster, but I then turned around and bought his CD. Doesn’t he know this? We’re not out to rip anyone off – we’re still responsible! If I like an artist that I download, I buy the album. I’m a good downloader….

That’s how I felt back then. Napster was exciting when it first appeared. It broke all the rules – it was about power to the people – about sticking it to the man – about taking control from all of those evil record companies. Napster gave the common person a power that they had never had. I thought it was great. Almost everyone did.

Then, some artists decided that Napster might not be a good thing, and some saw the writing on the wall. Among the most outspoken were the rapper Dr. Dre, and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. These were both artists that I loved and admired. I couldn’t wrap my head around why they were doing this, and at the time I subscribed to the same argument that was relentlessly used against them – that they were super rich artists that only cared about money.

I remember seeing parodies at the time – I think this one sums up what people were thinking at the time pretty well. It was made at the time – in 2000 or 2001. Just a warning, if you’re offended by language, you might not want to watch it.

That pretty much sums it up – Lars was just a petty, rich asshole that didn’t want his millions diminished.

Now – it’s 2014, and 14 years have passed. I’ve spent those 14 years as a musician, and my attitude towards this event has turned 180 degrees. Lars’ argument was never about the money – he tries several times to explain this on this episode of Charlie Rose from 2000, in which he has a very interesting debate with Chuck D of Public Enemy, who is on the side of Napster.

Lars sums it up with a beautiful and prophetic question at 14:40 – he says:

If it’s intellectual do I have a right to it for free because technology allows it?

And that’s the real issue isn’t it? And we can see the effects of it clearly 14 years later. He even makes a startlingly accurate prediction about Napster itself at 16:11, where he says that Napster has investors behind it, and they’re just waiting for the day when they can become their own IPO and reap millions from their hard work. And that’s EXACTLY what happened.

Chuck D had many good points as well, such as around 21:43 he points out that Napster has started a new paradigm – one that we will all have to adapt to. In this, he was right. We’ve all had to figure out new ways of surviving as artists. But his pro-Napster arguments, which seemed so powerful at the time all boil down to empty, power-to-the-people cheer leading.

The net effect of what was started with Napster is this – there is now a prevailing attitude that music should be free. This extends to almost any form to creative content. I have friends to this day that still hold a grudge against Lars Ulrich, and firmly believe that they have the RIGHT to music for free. Even suggesting that they pay for it offends them. This is the most damaging legacy (to artists of any kind) left by that whole debate, and by Napster.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since putting out my own album and looking back on my own history as an artist on the internet.

After 14 years of putting my music on the internet for people to hear, I can genuinely say that people like my music. On the original mp3.com, I had around 150,000 plays of my music before the site was bought out and the new owners evicted all of the independent artists. Before they sold out, mp3.com did a (what we would view today as) remarkable thing. They started to PAY their artists based on downloads – much like an artist would get paid from plays on the radio. It still wasn’t something that could sustain you solely, but it was real. One month, I made over $2000. They did this successfully, and thrived. So much so that they were bought out for millions. I know it can work. I’ve seen it.

Since that time, they have had many sites try to pick up the torch that was left behind. None of them got it right (in my opinion) until Soundcloud came along. So, a decade later, I upload my music to this new service, and again, I’m having a lot of success with it. I’m fast approaching 200,000 plays. I estimate that over the past 14 years, through mp3.com, Soundcloud and other various sites that I’ve had my music on, I’ve probably been played close to half a million times. But, since the original mp3.com, I have not seen a dime. If this were radio, I would be much better off than I am now. But, since it’s the internet, it’s ok for the providers to be exempt from paying artists. It’s freedom, man.

I recently asked my performing rights representative over at BMI about this situation. I told her about the plays I was getting, and asked if there were any plans to make it so artists would be compensated. She let me know about a legal ruling that upholds a clause in the user agreements on sites like these:

Regarding Soundcloud, their user agreement states that by uploading your music to the site, you license its use to any and all users without any expectation of payment or royalty.

This is because they host your material, which you upload of your own free will, but they do not own, license or exploit it in any way. It is a sharing site, providing an online service to its users. As such, it enjoys safe harbor protection under the DMCA (which you can read here, but I don’t recommend it J). In simpler words, Soundcloud plays are not licensable by BMI or any other licensing agent.

The following is the relevant part of the Terms of Use from Soundcloud, with highlighting by me on the crucial phrases:

Grant of Licence
By uploading or posting Your Content to the Platform, you initiate an automated process to transcode any audio Content and direct SoundCloud to store Your Content on our servers, from where you may control and authorise the use, reproduction, transmission, distribution, public display, public performance, making available and other communication to the public of Your Content on the Platform and elsewhere using the Services. To the extent it is necessary in order for SoundCloud to provide you with any of the aforementioned hosting services, to undertake any of the tasks set forth in these Terms of Use and/or to enable your use of the Platform, you hereby grant such licences to SoundCloud on a limited, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free and fully paid basis.

By uploading Your Content to the Platform, you also grant a limited, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid up, licence to other users of the Platform, and to operators and users of any other websites, apps and/or platforms to which Your Content has been shared or embedded using the Services (“Linked Services”), to use, copy, repost, transmit or otherwise distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, adapt, prepare derivative works of, compile, make available and otherwise communicate to the public, Your Content utilising the features of the Platform from time to time, and within the parameters set by you using the Services.

Can you imagine if something like this was granted to radio stations in the early part of the 20th century? When the first performing rights organization was started in 1914 (ASCAP), it was started because artists during that time knew what it was like to not be paid for their work. They needed an organization to collect money from people that were presenting (and making money from) their music, and have it distributed to the artists. In the 1930’s, radio was much like the internet is now, where performers and artists were not paid, and were expected to work for free.

Through hard work and determination, ASCAP (and later BMI) would create a world where the artist was paid for their work. It was never easy in the beginning. Can you imagine walking into a bar where they played music and demanding a licensing fee for that music when the owner was perfectly used to getting it for free? Some workers from ASCAP were thrown out of these establishments or even beaten. I imagine that internet providers would react in much the same way today if compensation were demanded from them.

I have also seen this “music should be free” attitude first hand. As I stated before, I have had a lot of people listen to my music on Soundcloud. Some individuals have listened more than 200 times, as can be seen here:

SCStats

When I was running my Kickstarter campaign to fund my album, I sent my top 20 listeners the following message:

Hi!

Since you are one of my top listeners, I thought I would let you know about my Kickstarter campaign that I currently have running. First, I appreciate your support by listening to my music! If you’d like a signed CD, or even an LP with original artwork, please take a minute to head over to Kickstarter using the link below and consider becoming a backer! Thanks!

Is this out of line? I don’t think so. I am still under the old fashioned notion that if you like an artist, you should support that artist. I thought that Soundcloud would be a great source of support for my Kickstarter campaign, since I have more than 400,000 followers. I posted audio messages to my Soundcloud page several times, informing them of the campaign. In the end, not even ONE of those 400 some thousand contributed – not one.

I can’t complain – the campaign was successful. My point here is again – not about the money – it’s about the now prevalent attitude that all intellectual property should be free. Chuck D was right – we do have to all figure out how to survive in this new paradigm. However, I have a new respect for what Lars Ulrich and Dr. Dre, among others tried to do at the time in the face of very harsh criticism. I believe they were right, and we, as artists are now back in the position that artists were in at the turn of the twentieth century. We need a new way to deal with this new paradigm, and we can’t just sit on our heels and accept what is now status quo.

Kickstarter!

kickstarter-logo-k-color

The Kickstarter campaign is underway! I have many really great recordings of my music that I would love to get out on CD and LP. I had a great chat about it this morning with the crew over at SoundNotion.tv, and I need any help I can get in spreading the word! If you’ve enjoyed my music in the past, please head over to my Kickstarter page and become a backer of my project. There are many very cool perks and rewards for doing so, including free, signed CDs, and 12″ LPs with original art work by one of five amazing artists. Thanks to all that have supported my music in the past – please join me in taking this next step!

Does Dan Visconti Care if You Listen?

So why am I picking on Dan Visconti? Let me start by saying that I don’t know Dan Visconti. I’ve never met him, or had any kind of correspondence with him. However, something I’ve been doing on Soundcloud prompted that exact question, which gave way to a larger question. I’ll explain:

Every since I got in to this music thing, I’ve tried to raise awareness of classical music to the world outside. I’ve tried to do this with my own music as well as with the music of others. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas, I had a contemporary music show on the campus radio station. When I was a masters student at Indiana University, I created a page on the original MP3.com to showcase the music of other composition students and faculty. Since graduating, I have founded two music podcasts, one of which focuses on classical music, and is aimed at the greater community, and turning people on to this genre of music I love so much.

For my own music, I’ve always striven to get it “out there”, and I think I’ve been pretty successful so far. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting the best recordings that I can, and putting them out for anyone to hear. I do this because it’s important to me, even though having hundreds of thousands of plays from MP3.com, or Soundcloud does little for me monetarily or professionally, it is still very important to me. I feel it’s important for composers of contemporary classical music to make this effort. To not be satisfied with hiding within the small circles of the contemporary classical world, even if they are very professionally and financially successful.

That brings me to the reason I’m using Dan Visconti’s name. Some months back, I noticed I was getting lots of followers on Soundcloud (the number is at 321,000 at the time of this writing). Soundcloud has a great feature – one that allows me to do what I love – share great music with lots of people. In short, I can re-post any track from any artist, and that track will go into the feeds of anyone who is following me. So, if I shared a track right now, it would go into the feeds of 321,000 people. I realized, suddenly that I had a lot of power on my hands, and I could really use it to spread music that I loved to a very wide audience.

Dan Visconti was the first composer whose track I shared to this list. At the time, the list was just over 100,000. However, Dan had a wonderful track that I loved, and it had something like 37 plays. I didn’t think this was right, so I re-posted it to see what would happen. Since this first experiment, I have re-posted many tracks from many different composers. I have not notified them about what I’m doing – I don’t care if they know or not – I just care that more people are listening to their music.

So why the question, “Does Dan Visconti care if you listen?” Let me reiterate once again – I don’t know Dan, and I have little to no knowledge of his real life (which could be wildly different than my uninformed imaginings). But from a distance, Dan seems to be the picture of a successful contemporary composer. Constant, important commissions, artistic director of a great contemporary music ensemble, high profile writer on music, residencies, etc etc. People in the contemporary classical world know his name. He’s getting played in that world. My question is, if you’re successful in that small world, do you care if thousands of people outside of that world are listening?

I’ve actually been asking myself this question for years. The first time I asked it was back in 2002, when I won the ASCAP/Morton Gould Young Composers Award. At the awards ceremony, which was held in Lincoln Center, they would call the name of the award recipient, followed by a reading of their bio to the audience. There were probably around ten winners that year, in addition to their being several winners of the under 18 Junior competition. At the time, my bio wasn’t all that impressive. I had very few commissions and other accolades. The one thing I did have was, I had at that time accrued more than 150,000 plays on the original mp3.com. As Dennis Bathory-Kitsz pointed out when I was a guest on the old Kalvos and Damian radio program, more people had heard my music in 2002 than had heard Mozart during Mozart’s entire lifetime. This statement kind of floored me. At the time, it was my proudest achievement. As I was listening to all of the extremely impressive bios being read, I thought to myself, “At least I have this.”

When my name was called, they started reading my bio to the audience – where I went to school – who my teachers were, etc. I was waiting for my impressive moment – when they announced how many plays I had received – that moment never came. For whatever reason, they decided this wasn’t important, and omitted it from the bio.

It was like being told, “So, you’ve had hundreds of thousands hear your music. So what? Who’s commissioning you and what awards have you won?”

I often wonder if I’ve put my efforts into the wrong area. I often wonder if this is the message being sent from the contemporary classical world – “We don’t care if people listen – we care if the right people listen.”

P.S. – My apologies to Dan Visconti. I hope you didn’t mind me using you as an example, and I hope it didn’t come across in a negative light. I love your music, and will share it again.

“There must be some kind of mistake?!”

“There must be some kind of mistake?!” was the first thing I said when I started to get some serious attention on Soundcloud.com. I couldn’t fathom why so many people – so many people outside of my little classical music world, would be interested in listening to my music. That old cynicism crept in – one that I think many living composers of this kind of music have. That attitude which says, if there’s a lot of people listening to my music, there must be something wrong, some kind of foul play, some kind of trickery! The double-edged sword would continue with something like, if many people are truly listening, this would imply that I’m compromising my music in some way – dumbing it down – selling out.

I’m writing this blog on the heels of hitting a quarter of a million followers on Soundcloud. Yesterday, I was invited to appear on a podcast that interviews viral artists. I guess I’m a viral artist now? It feels good, and unsettling at the same time. Recently, a good friend of mine, composer Jim Holt, had a similar experience when some of his piano improvisations started to receive a large amount of listens. He messaged me via Twitter:







 

 








My response:

 

















My advice to Jim came after I had accepted that people just might like my music – no baggage – no hidden agenda – no mistake.  I have to constantly remind myself of my own advice – “Have faith in your music.  It’s good.  People like it.”

It’s always a great feeling to be validated – by anyone.  This all begs another question though.  Does something like this matter to the classical music world – especially the contemporary classical world.  I’d say 99% of these listeners are not associated with that world.  I still don’t have big commissions or collaborations, etc.  But, I do have 250,000 people listening to my music.  In our small world, is that worth something?  That’s a question for another blog perhaps.

In any case, I’m elated, and proud that this many people would want to listen.  To all of you that have, all I can say is, thank you!

Redefining Success

So, as a traditional classical music composer, I have failed. Now let me start off by saying that this is not a post about failing. Ten years ago, when I was a doctoral student in composition at Indiana University, I had a definite idea about what success was as a composer. My models were of course my professors. I could look forward to the time when I would have my tenured University job and my own composition studio. A time when I would be writing music for ensembles far and wide – where I would be going off to do residencies at other Universities, and when I would be jetting off to that artist colony in the woods during my year long sabbatical to work on my opera. OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but that was my general idea of success.

I had been in school for a long time – seen many of my fellow students graduate with their doctorates and get good jobs. Everything was on track – it was a done deal. Right?

I graduated in 2008, and since then things haven’t exactly gone as planned. I viewed myself as a failure for a long time. I didn’t have ANY of those things that defined success for me. To this day, I still don’t – no tenure track University job – no commissions (well, none of the traditional sort where people actually pay you to write music for them), etc. If I would have had this vision of my future ten years ago, I would have been horrified.

This, as I said, is not a blog about failure. Rather, it’s a blog about my journey from feeling like a failure, to redefining what success really is, and finally, feeling like a winner.

My journey really started in March of 2009. I had a pretty cool job working with the Ft. Worth Symphony and its conductor, Miguel Harth-Bedoya. I had landed that job through pure happenstance. I was grocery shopping in Ft. Worth, and ran into him. Long story short, he asked me if I did copy work. I landed a job working in the orchestra library of the Ft. Worth Symphony preparing scores and parts for publication, and also doing some score and part work for the Symphony itself. It wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, but it was kind of a dream for me to be working so closely with a big symphony, and as a composer, it was an invaluable experience for me to see the workings of a Symphony from the inside. Things were going well – I was making some nice money, meeting incredible classical musicians, and the orchestra librarians had finally accepted me into their lair (which was not the case initially – I was definitely an intruder into their space – lol).

Then, in March of 2009, due to the economic downturn, the Symphony had to lay off some of its employees for the first time in its history. They ended up laying off five people, of which I was one.

This was the beginning of my journey. Since I no longer had a job, I moved to Terre Haute, Indiana to be with my fiancee (now my wife). She had a job, and I didn’t – it made sense. However, I felt like – well – Terre Haute, Indiana?! What would I do here? I would be completely isolated musically – what would I do?? I still had my traditional definition of success that I was following. The answer was very simple! I would just continue to apply for University positions, and I would only be in Terre Haute for maybe a few years. Right?

Well, it’s been almost four years, and I’m still here in Terre Haute. I’ve applied to more colleges and universities than I would care to discuss, and I’ve never even been close to landing a position. I did have an adjunct position for one semester here at Indiana State University. It was wonderful while it lasted, even though it didn’t pay hardly anything and had no benefits or job security – as most adjunct positions go. As jobs that pay the bills go, I’ve had a wide variety here in Terre Haute – from teaching guitar at a local music store, to working in a factory for 3 months, to my current job working as basically a salesman in, well, let’s just say the nations largest music retailer (I’m sure it’s not much of a stretch to figure out what that is).

By the traditional definition of success – one that is hammered into all composers that go through the university system – I am a failure. I believed this for years. I saw many of my former colleagues get “chosen” for jobs, as winners of competitions, grants, commissions and other opportunities. I would think, why am I not being chosen? I have talent – right?

It was then that I decided to start choosing myself. I read a good blog about this recently – check it out – “Getting Picked” – by Seth Godin. It resonated with me, because I had made this choice a few years ago. This choice to redefine what success was for me – to stop worrying about all of the jobs and the competitions and the commissions I was not being chosen for. I decided to start choosing myself by making my own opportunities.

I think this all started in the Fall of 2009. A good friend of mine, composer Elliott Miles McKinley came down to Terre Haute for the ISU Contemporary Music Festival, which was hosting composer Steve Reich that year. Elliott, being the awesome guy that he is, invited me to do a mini residency at the University he was teaching at at the time – even though I did not have a job and could not reciprocate. When I did the residency, it was like re-igniting a light that I didn’t even realize went out. It reminded me how much I love teaching and sharing music. This led to my first instance of choosing myself. I thought, if no one will give me the opportunity to teach, I’ll do it myself. My solution was to start a podcast on classical music with the tongue-in-cheek title of All the Cool Parts. Through this podcast, I’ve been able to meet so many incredible musicians and composers, and it’s kept my passion for teaching and learning about music burning bright. It’s also allowed me to be less isolated – to be “out there” among other musicians and composers, even though I’m here in Terre Haute.

But that’s not all that was started at that festival. One of the events was a special luncheon for ISU students to have an intimate meet and greet with Steve Reich. At the time, I had zero connection with ISU, and I knew no one there. As I can kind of still pass for a college student, I pretended to be an ISU student, and crashed the luncheon. I was seated at Reich’s table – right next to him. However, it wasn’t meeting Reich that changed things. I mean, I had a great conversation with him and he was a very nice man. It was who was sitting on my other side that opened new doors for me here. I was sitting next to Kurt Fowler, the professor of cello at ISU and the Executive Director of the festival.

As far as Kurt was concerned, I was just some stranger from the community telling him, “Oh yeah, I play guitar. We should get together sometime.” Lucky for me that he was open enough to take me seriously. Through Kurt, I met some amazing musicians here – yes, HERE in Terre Haute! I know! I mean, my traditional success mindset would have thought this impossible! I mean, you can only find great musicians in New York, right?

My attitude toward composition also changed. Instead of lamenting that I was not getting to write for huge orchestras or wind ensembles, or for famous chamber groups, I instead decided to write for my friends. To write music for people that wanted to play my music. To write music that I could play myself, and actually have played and recorded. This led to pieces like Viridian Soliloquy, for myself and Paul Bro – Rush, for myself, Paul Bro, Kurt Fowler and Ted Piechocinski, and Instructions, for my wife and a whole ensemble of my closest musician friends here in Terre Haute.

It also led me to my first ever recital as a performer. I performed my own music, along with music of Astor Piazzolla and Andrew York in April of 2012. Many of my friends here in Terre Haute performed on the concert as well. In addition, a local music producer/recording engineer, Don Arney, was in the audience who at the time I had not met. He approached me after the concert, told me he loved it and that he owned a studio in town. His passion was finding talented musicians that he wanted to record and working with them. He told me that he would not charge me, and that he wanted to record whatever I wanted. I was blown away by this gesture, and still am today. I’m still working with Don, and we’re putting together a new CD of my music to be released soon. The point is, none of these opportunities would have happened if I had sat around and waited for someone else to choose me.

Today, I feel very successful. No, I am not a professor. No, I am not being commissioned on a regular basis. I have a pretty low paying job that is tangentially related to music at best. But, I have two successful music podcasts that have allowed me to meet incredible people. I am writing the best music that I have ever written (imho) and having a blast performing it with awesome friends. I’m releasing my first ever CD. And I have an awesome family that is full of love and support. In these times, we need to redefine what success is. There are more and more composers being turned out of universities than ever before, and there are less and less jobs for them. They need to know that if they can’t land a university job (which will be most of them) that all is not lost. There are many great examples of people that are, in my eyes, major successes. People that in the traditional sense, have “failed”. One great example is my friend, flutist Meerenai Shim – and she has a great blog about it.

There are many people in the arts that don’t have traditional success, and despite the day-to-day challenges that they face, are all STILL DOING IT. That’s the real success. Choose yourself, live life and do what needs to be done, and KEEP DOING IT.