Sunday, August 28, 2011
Recognizing Opportunity's Knock
Frustrating as it is, it's a bit of a boon when there is too much to write about. Sometime soon I want to write about the differences between composing electronic music and composing for an actual ensemble of performers. There are also some other relational lessons I've been getting this week, and I think they could be of value to other people, too. First and foremost, though, I want to say something about how I got involved with the Status Quo project.
Right out of grad school, I took the first teaching position I was offered, as an adjunct professor making a salary that put me just above the poverty line. I absolutely loved being in the classroom, although there were some aspects of the environment outside the classroom that were less enjoyable. When I was offered about three times that salary for a full-time position at a church (based on years of experience and education level), I left that teaching position. At the time, the head of the music school promised that he would review my curriculum vitae and write a letter of recommendation that would get me hired "at the school of my choice." After a couple of reminders and gentle inquiries, I gave up on that.
Actually, the whole experience tarnished my impression of academia to the point that my interest in finding another teaching position has been lackluster, even though I have feedback from many students telling me that I did my job well. I also have very fond memories of the musicians I taught, but instead of focusing exclusively on finding another job in academia, I've spent time searching for other opportunities.
After a year of chasing after a few "career" ideas that were not all I had hoped for, I decided to get specific about what really matters most to me, so I would more easily recognize opportunities that would have real value to me. What I wound up with was not surprising. (1) I want to be acknowledged for the things that I do well, for the skills and attributes that set me apart. After being in unsatisfying situations where I am just a warm body doing the same kinds of tasks that anyone else could do, I know that I want to be using my specific abilities. I suppose another way of saying it is, I want to be seen for who I am. (2) I also want to be a part of something bigger than myself. This seems natural for a composer who writes music for other musicians to perform, but it bears articulating. Collaboration is energizing to me. (3) Whatever I'm doing, I want there to be a real potential to make a bit of money. This seemed shallow to me at first, but some source of money is necessary, whether it's a salary, a commission, ticket sales, or a grant. Hiring musicians, renting out venues, printing costs, software... everything comes with a price tag. I want my efforts to at least pay for themselves.
I soon learned that I needed to add another caveat: No church work. There are plenty of opportunities for me to work in the Christian market, but most of them would require that I pretend to be something that I'm not. I actually enjoy the sound of a lot of the music, and I enjoy being a part of other people's spiritual growth. Churches are hotbeds of politics and power-trips, however, and few of them would feel confident with a known atheist at the piano. So, (4) I won't pretend to be something I'm not.
So, when we moved to Fort Worth in January, my sights were honed in on doing things for which I am specifically skilled, in collaboration with other people, with a real potential to make money, where I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not. Having that clearly in front of me usually keeps me from being distracted by the idea that I have to put aside what I love in order to do something I don't enjoy to "earn a living". It also helped me to see a very exciting project that I might not have considered if I wasn't as clear about what I was looking for. I was actually poking around online looking for other musicians in the Fort Worth area, when I came across an ad for programmers and graphic designers to work on a new video game. As I read the rather compelling ad, I thought, I wonder if they have someone doing music.
It took the initiative to write an email and the willingness to let someone hear my work. It felt like a bold move in a way, but there was really no risk in it at all. Now, I am composing music for a video game in development, obviously with a team of other people working on different aspects of the project. The project just went up on Kickstarter.com, which is a way for investors to contribute a small amount to get something off the ground in exchange for some very creative perks. So, more to come about why composing electronic music has some advantages over composing acoustic music, but for now, I'll leave you with the Status Quo project listing on Kickstarter and you can hear a little bit of what I've written for it.