Some of the inspiration to write comes from a lot of the business and career advice I was given in school. Much of it was either insufficient or flat out wrong. Then there is a whole internet industry pedaling music "success" products that also suck. Most of it is just repackaged garbage that a marketing guy got from some marketing book, which they are then marketing at a profit.
My thing is writing from actual experience. I stay away from topics that I haven't personally applied or at the very least, seen work for a personal friend.
I do this blog thing basically as a hobby to help people out. To spread the stuff I wish I knew a few years ago.
I have good intentions. It would honestly make my day if some things I post here help you get to where you want to be in some area of life. But please test this stuff for yourself and come to your own conclusions! This article is about why you need to do this.
In the summer of 2014, I found myself at the Lucerne Festival Academy. It is an experience I value immensely and it represented a major personal victory. The Academy is arguably the biggest and best summer festival for classical musicians focused on contemporary art music. Somewhere in grad school I made it a goal to attend that program and threw myself at it wholeheartedly. I practiced maybe 3 or 4 months on the first try and didn't get in. Boo hoo. The following year, I did get in. Awesome!
Things really got interesting when I took an audition at the Academy. More on that in second.
In grad school I took Robert Black's free improv class to open up my concept of what improvisation even is. (This isn't Who's Line Is It Anyway? style comedy improv. Musical free improv is A LOT more adventurous, will probably scare young children, and thankfully does not involve Wayne Brady in any way)
Coming from the jazz world, my concept of improvisation was mostly rooted in tonal jazz playing. Robert's class is maybe better described as 'non-idiomatic' improv. Things were sometimes tonal, sometimes not, and most of the time really weird and experimental. This isn't stuff for the faint of heart.
For example, the first class we played with one restriction: only play long tones. After a semester of getting weird every Monday in Room 110, I really grew from the experience. It taught me that in ANY musical situation, the top priority is connecting with the other musicians. That is what makes good music. Connection. If you told me that free improv class would lead to my most lucrative gig of 2015 and 2016 I would have laughed in your face.
That is exactly what happened in Lucerne.
I went to a presentation where the composer in residence for the upcoming year gave a presentation about a project that would require 10 players. Cool composer, interesting musical ideas, high quality of collaborators, not a difficult sell to get me to show up. The actual audition consisted of walking into a room with a panel, no screen, another musician assigned at random, and being told to "just play". No prepared piece, no game plan, just go and try to make great music on the spot. It was in many ways the opposite of an orchestral audition where you try to convince a panel that you're capable of contributing to good music. Almost every single solo and every excerpt is part of a composition that the panel knows really well. A really different challenge from this audition: Make a complete piece of music on the spot with someone. Neither is bad or good. They just test different skill sets.
Being entirely truthful, I did have a little bit of a game plan. It was to go in and do my thing, try to connect as much as I could with the other player, and if the panel likes it, great. If they hate it, that's cool too. I figured if I went in and tried to please the panel too much it wouldn't come off authentically or I could win and lock myself into a situation that doesn't really fit my personality or playing style. Some people were trying to work out what they were doing in the hallway, but that just seemed like a house of cards to me. I'm the best guy in the world at being me in the moment so sticking to that was the best strategy I could think of. Go in there and be me as much as possible and connect to whoever I played with.
It worked. Both the person I played with and I were selected. The project is still in process. Multiple trips and tours in Europe. Great pay. Fun Collaborators. A crazy experience. Good for me. How can I parlay this experience into making things good for you?
Don't get too entrenched in other people's advice. At the end of the day, it is on you to blaze your own trail. Be open to breaking rules. If doing your thing involves going contrary to "good" advice, do it. If it doesn't work you can usually just learn from it and regroup anyway.
Free improv anything putting money in my pocket is contrary to basically all the career advice I was given, even the good stuff. I was taught that is isn't marketable, nobody cares, the "system" is broken (whatever that means), don't waste time entertaining the thought.
Yet the outcome slaps all that in the face. If I was dogmatically following all this advice, I would have missed a great opportunity with measurable positive outcomes. I learned a lot, saw cool parts of the world, and put a considerable dent in my student loans.
Hell, some of my friends and family thought I was nuts to go to Lucerne at all because I wouldn't be able to work for 3 weeks. In their minds, that breaks a rule. Of course they've come around now that they see the outcome.
Be careful about what rules you adopt and even after you do, be open to revision.
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