Thursday, January 21, 2010

Defining the Path

When I first started submitting music to competitions and performance opportunities, I was often frustrated by the kinds of pieces people wanted. It was all "art music," but the parameters were usually very specific, and I didn't always have a piece that fit the bill. There were (and still are) competitions for pieces of 12 minutes or less for trombone, ukulele, and pipe organ, or other unusual groupings. Some prizes are awarded to orchestral pieces written by students under the age of 30. There are calls for unaccompanied vocal music with texts dealing with living harmoniously with technology. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but the point is that I felt lucky when I came across an opportunity that actually matched up with music I had composed.

Now that I am also looking for opportunities to get my music into films or television spots or advertisements, I am noticing some similarities. One opportunity might be for downbeat Electronica instrumentals. Another might be for quirky pop tunes with female vocals. Or dark heavy metal ballads about losing someone. Then, there will be a rare gem of an opportunity that seems perfect for what I have written. At least the people working on these projects seem to know exactly what they're looking for.

At one point, I was looking at all of this very much from a poverty perspective: There aren't enough opportunities for my music. Which means I can't succeed. What I've created isn't what other people want, so I either have to write something I don't want to or just give up altogether. In other words, the epitome of hopeless victim-hood. It can be quite a temptation. Especially when it means that I don't have to try to create what I want or to be "successful" because I can't have it anyway. And it won't be my fault because external forces were conspiring against me from the very beginning. Melodramatic perhaps, but I would bet that something similar goes on inside everyone's mind from time to time.

What's true is that I can compose whatever I want to. Opportunities for that music might fall into my lap, or I might have to do a little work to get a piece out into the world. Either way, there are plenty of ways that a piece of music can be heard. On top of that, I have enough experience now that I know what kinds of ensembles are consistently looking for new music. And I know what styles of music are constantly being sought by television networks and film projects. If I want to, I can write something that fits the bill with some confidence that it at least has a market.

Of course, a big part of it is recognizing how my strengths as a composer match up with the available opportunities. It will be a while before I have an opera ready to workshop, and it will be even longer before I become a yodeling female singer/songwriter. Those kinds of opportunities are actually in the minority, though, and there is a wealth of possibility when I am willing to see it. Besides, just doing what I'm passionate about engages my creativity a lot more than coming up with reasons why I shouldn't even try.

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