. Interchanging Idioms: July 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Changes in Technology Means to a Orchestra's Audience

The rapid change in technology is creating a new generation of music connesisseurs that think differently than the typical orchestra concert goer.

Don Pepper made a great observation in his article "The Reason "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25" Struck Such A Nerve" which was a response to this article by Cathryn Sloane. Don's point is that technology is moving so fast it is possible to see innovations that didn't exist for the previous generation making it into the mainstream consciousness. This is having a major impact on how people perceive music consumption.

The gramophone record replaced the audio cylinder in 1910 as the most popular form of obtaining audio recordings --just over 100 years ago. Now, 'record' shops that actually carry LP's (long playing records, for those of you too young to remember that term) are like pawn shops, dealing in antiquated artifacts. The digital age of music has ushered in a new era, and a new way of thinking about how we get music.

In an earlier post, I speak of the many difference in just the last 40 years. Even the last 10 have remarkable changes for the music industry. And yet, we still present orchestra concerts in the same way they were done 100 years ago. Why?

YouTube (owned by Google) is the second largest search engine in the world (2nd only to Google). As of May 2012, there are 72 HOURS of video content uploaded to YouTube every minute. This is up from 60 hours every minute in January 2012 and double what it was the year previous. Users log 3 billion hours a month watching videos (not including mobile devices), music videos are among the most popular items. As "Video Killed the Radio Star" in 1981, launching MTV, YouTube is the undisputed king of music video, creating a generation of users who not only accept video and music together, have come to expect it.

Film scores that don't have lyrics on their CD sell nearly twice as much as those with lyrics in the music. The music side of film is a major contributor to after-market sales. Music from film as well as video games tour the orchestra circuit just like performers, playing to sold out audiences. Music associated with images is big business.

So why don't more orchestras leverage this same attitude when presenting the classic works? The primary reason is the attitude there is some sense of purity to the music. Orchestras, music directors and many of their patrons don't want the performance by the musicians to be overshadowed by multimedia. Yet, they struggle to get the average age of their audience below 55.

The current 'younger' generation is not only comfortable with music and video together, they have come to expect it, come to find performances without it to be boring and uninteresting. It is not because they don't like the music. Their films and video games are filled with classical (or classical like) music. It is because they expect more from their entertainment than just the music.

I went to see Opera Colorado, where the sets were all video images. They were stunning. Did they detract from the music? No. Opera has been putting moving objects with music for hundreds of years and we don't think the movement detracts from the music. Why do movement and/or images detract in an orchestra concert?

The film industry is putting a lot of money and effort into 3D movies. Almost every major block buster released now comes out in 3D as well. This isn't because the film looks better. Set designers and cinematographers will tell you 3D films look flatter than their 2D counterparts, because of the process in making a film 3D. The background and sweeping landscape shorts are not as rich in 3D. So, why the change? Because studios see the future where 'surround' entertainment is the expectation, not the novelty. The first film to include 5.1 surround sound was Batman Returns in 1992. Disney's Fantasia has a form of surround sound back in 1940, but is was still stereophonic. Yet, now if a film doesn't have surround sound it feels flat. Studios are gambling that in 20 years a film without 3D will feel the same.

There is a new generation of music consumers out there. They have expectations that are not being met in the concert hall. Orchestras that fill those expectations should enjoy a healthy boost in their ticket sales and notice a drop in the average age of their concert goer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Promethea - a short opera with words by Eddie Louise, music by Chip Michael

Done for the Mini Operas project by English National Opera

Synopsis: Humanity lies sleeping as The Sweeper of Dreams enters making his daily rounds to clear away the night’s imaginings. The Sweeper is very thorough and leaves no tatters or smattering of dreams to pollute the waking lives of the humans. He is good at his job but does not enjoy it and has perhaps become a bit careless. One of the dreamers, Promethea, is still deeply involved in her dream of flying and freedom. The Sweeper’s actions rip the dream from her and she plunges towards consciousness screaming. Clinging to the memory of her dream, Promethea argues with the Sweeper. When he remains adamant, she steals back her dream, in the process damaging his broom. No longer will he be able to efficiently remove all of humanity’s dreams. The residue of both dreams and nightmares linger to haunt the waking hours.

Promethea by Chip Michael

Featuring the voices of:
Theodore Sipes - The Sweeper
Megan Ihnen - Promethea
Cassidy Smith, Eddie Louise, Chip Michael - Dreamers chorus

Read the full libretto here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Social Media Experts for Classical Music

With the explosion of social media and the desire for arts organizations to jump on the band wagon, hiring a social media consultant/expert seems to be the order of the day. How do you know if you're actually hiring an expert?

I was reading a blog post the other day from a self-proclaimed orchestra expert. Granted the information this 'expert' writes about in terms of orchestra administration, budgeting, and contract negotiations seems to be spot on. {I'm not an expert in these topics so I have no way to certify if the advice is correct or not.} However, this person also claims to know social media and is quite outspoken at how poorly orchestras are using social media, particularly Twitter. I do understand Social Media, Twitter specifically, and find the advice this expert offers to be wrong in numerous ways.

Don't just take my word on what's right and wrong. If you're an arts organization, do some research into the person you want to hire as a consultant. Here are some ways you can determine if the person really understands social media.

It isn't a perfect system. Lots of people abuse the process. But, if the person you want to hire can't achieve a Klout score of 45 then they aren't active enough on social media to warrant your attention. If they can't get a score of 45 for themselves (and they claim to be an expert) how are they going to get you the attention you deserve?

Peer Index and Kred are also good ways to look at someone's exposure in the social media realm. Peer Index gives you a range of topics they are communicating on, and Kred gives you a glimpse at a person's outreach level.

Google Search
If they're an expert in social media they should have a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account at the very least. They should also have at least two other outlets for their online profile. Normally, I wouldn't ask for these things in an interview, but when you're considering social media they are necessary for your research.

Try and find their blog using Google's search. It may not be your search engine of choice, but it is for 80% of the internet so it's a good benchmark. Don't search using their name. Use items they should be talking about: orchestras, classical music, social media. Even go so far as pulling words from their titles and see what you get. If their blog doesn't show up on the first three pages (first thirty hits) they aren't topical. If you can't find them nobody else can either. If they cannot drive traffic and create good search ranking for themselves how can they be expected to do so for you?

On their Facebook page, how many posts do they submit per week? If it's less than three they aren't active on Facebook. How many people do they have as friends (or if it's a page - and it should be - how many likes)? What are they talking about? Is it the kind of topics you want associated with your organization. You can learn a lot about someone by what they say on their Facebook profile.

A friend of mine who is interested in being a professional political activist leans quite far to one one side of the political spectrum. A client hired them to help promote their campaign. However, in the midst of the campaign the client needed to appear more middle of the road. A few of the comments on my friend's Facebook page mentioned working for the client which resulted in these comments becoming public knowledge. Suddenly the client was being painted with the same brush as my friend, even though nothing on the client's social media campaign said anything of the sort. There is an old adage, "We know you by the friends you keep." Unfortunately, while much of my friend's advice was excellent, his personal profile became a detriment to his client.

Twitter is a great way to find out what a person chooses to talk about as well as who they converse with. Look at their tweets. Is there a common group of people they regularly communicate with? If so, who are these people, what topics are they talking about and does it relate to your business? People should be multidimensional, but if there aren't any topics that relate to your business and/or there are topics you definitely don't want associated with your business, this expert probably isn't the one for you.

I was working with someone who wanted to leverage his web business into social media advice. His twitter account was filled with conversations with people in the adult entertainment industry. While I have nothing against the industry, this person was going to have a difficult time selling his services to the local toy store as a social media expert. Twitter was working for him personally, but it wasn't a profile that could work well in general public

Linked in is an excellent professional resource. But keep in mind what you're getting is professional responses. People are less likely to provide details here that illuminate less flattering aspects. While it is great for recommendations and cross checking references, it doesn't provide the whole picture.

The key to hiring a Social Media Expert: Know who you're hiring. Investigate their own effectiveness. Choose someone who not only understands social media but who has an understanding and enthusiasm for your art. Do your homework. It is often thought that someone young is a good choice because 'all the kids use social media'. But just like having a driver's license does not make you a professional driver, using Social Media does not make you an expert.

I don't want to harp on the so-called 'expert' mentioned at the beginning of this post, but I did a little research on him as I am advocating for here. This is what I found: their Klout score is 40, I couldn't find a blog in 10 pages of Google Searches, found no Facebook page, and while they have nearly 2000 followers on Twitter, their tweets are almost 100% self-promotion and very little dialogue, interaction or responsiveness to those followers. When searching related keywords, the only articles I found were his own promotional ones. Basically it seems you are to believe he is an expert because he tells you he is.

For an example of someone who does it right, look to Greg Sandow. He has a klout score of 58, his blog posts can be found on the first page of a Google search, and he has a lively and entertaining Facebook page. Although his Twitter account is less active, when discussions do occur there they are very topical. Key to Greg's approach is his collaborative attitude - he wants to work with you rather than dictate to you.

In the end run, a Social Media Expert should first discover what you wish to accomplish as an organization, and then help establish the social media campaign that can support and enhance those goals and raise your standing in the community. This is work that requires knowledge, experience and vision. Anyone can call themselves an expert, before you hire them, make sure that they actually are.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TwtrSymphony: The Hawk Goes Hunting - video

You may have already seen this, but in case you hadn't or just wanted to watch it again!...

If you want to download the music to put on your phone or mp3 players go here:
Make sure to share the link with your friends

If you'd like to know more about TwtrSymphony visit their website:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The People who helped make TwtrSymphony a reality

My sincere thanks to the following people.

TwtrSymphony The Hawk Goes HuntingFor coming up with the idea in the first place

Alexis Del Palazzo
Erica Sipes
Kim Hickey
Your several hour long tweet conversation on March 3rd, 2012 was the whole reason this project got started.

Musicians performing on "The Hawk Goes Hunting"

Alexis Del Palazzo - Flute/Piccolo
Nikki Warrington - Flute
Bobbi Blood - Flute
Macy McClain - Flute
Lish Lindsey - Flute/Alto Flute
Jonathan Hunt - Oboe
Ronnal Ford - Cor Anglais
Michael Ormond - Clarinet
Scott Harris - Clarinet
Garrett McQueen - Bassoon
Keri Degg - Soprano Saxophone
Greg Wrenn - Tenor Saxophone
Robert Perlick-Molinari - French Horn
Tracy Bass - French Horn
Aileen Douthwaite - French Horn
Laurel Roseborrough - French Horn
Jessica Mullen - Trumpet
Ettore Rivarola - Trumpet

Timothy Breckon - Trombone
Jeff Freeman - Trombone
Sean Greene - Tuba
Blaine Cunningham - Tuba
Shana Norton - Harp
Erica Sipes - Piano
Adam Shanley - Classical Guitar
Rusty Banks - Electric Guitar
Craig Stratton - Concert Master/Violin I
Susanne Hehenberger - Violin I/Violin II
Anna Rose - Violin I/Violin II
Bonnie Gartley - Violin II
Sarah Richardson - Viola
Elyssa Gilmar - Cello
Alison Wrenn - Cello
Janet Horvath - Cello
Natalie Spehar - Cello
Matt Erion - Double Bass
Alvaro Rosso - Double Bass

Other TwtrSymphony Musicians

Jodi Bortz
Janet Bordeaux
Joss Campbell
Kim Hickey

Andrea Myers
Carla Rees
Stephanie Unverricht
Rachael Forsyth
Cory Tiffin

Glenn James
Dave Hutchings
Steve Flory
Manoela Wunder

Musicians who helped along the way

Edwin Huizinga
Tonje Bekken
Edwin √ėstvik

Roberto Burton
Christian Chinchilla
Tammy Evans Yonce

Andy Lee
Peter Cigleris

Administration, Publicity and odd (and thank-less) jobs

Eddie Louise
Lisa Bartholow


Garry Boyle - Sound Engineer
Robert Perlick-Molinari - Sound Engineer
Sarah Richardson - Video Engineer

There are many more people who supported our efforts, offered suggestions and helped by re-tweeting, sharing and generally getting the word out. TwtrSymphony's success is due everyone's effort. If you feel there are other's who should be mentioned, add a comment --let the world know the part they played.

The project isn't done. We've just launched our first track (which you can listen to and download at TwtrSymphony.InstantEncore.com, use promo code HawkGoesHunting), but this is just the first movement of four. We also have several chamber pieces in process. So, stay tuned. We have just begun the hunt!

Friday, July 13, 2012

TwtrSymphony: Strike while the iron is hot?

as TwtrSymphony gets ready to release its first track, all eyes are wondering what to expect

The thing about Twitter is it has a very short attention span. So, while it is possible for something to be trending red hot one day, it is just as possible for the topic to cool and be out of fashion the next. Yet, trying to gather a group of classical musicians together, get them music that is unique for the particular venture, and actually get that music out to the audience is anything but a fast project. Back in early March, the iron was right for TwtrSymphony, the fires continued to stoke all the way through April --and yet, here we are in July and still no music.

Another cliche which stems from the blacksmith trade is "Don't put too many irons in the fire." It eludes to the fact that each piece of iron in the fire cools it ever so slightly. Too many irons and the fire cools to the point none of the pieces of iron are hot enough to be malleable. It's also easy to lose track of which piece needs work and which piece has been in too long.

TwtrSymphony is like this too. Our irons include the writing of the music, the creation of parts, generating click tracks, individual sample tracks, answering questions about articulation, tempo, phrasing... Then we add the process of getting the recordings back, often more than one recording per musician as they couldn't decide which 'take' was the best. Editing the tracks to match them with the rest of the recordings, adjusting timing (and tuning) issues, and applying effects and equalization to get the various tracks to sound like they were recorded in the same room. We're also attempting to create a music video AND generate enough chatter about what's happening to keep the coals of interest still glowing.

As Music Director I must balance this all with the rest of my life, trying to compose pieces for other projects (which includes getting something for the miniOpera project for English Opera, and my entry into the Rapido contest), my day job and spending time with the love of my life.

Fortunately, I am not alone in this project. There are sixty-plus musicians dedicating their time to get tracks to me, an engineer working hard to get the final edits done, a volunteer administrative staff to help with publicity, creation of a video and supporting the social media aspects of TwtrSymphony. So, yes, we have a lot of irons in the fire.

What can we expect from this first track?
TwtrSymphony is a new concept in the symphony orchestra --at least that's what our tag line says. Being a new concept is basically code for the many things we are working out as we go along. The audition process taught us valuable information on what was possible (and some of what wasn't) in terms of getting recordings back from musicians. Working on the first track (entering its second month of edits) is teaching us so much more. We adjusted the way we get the music to the musicians. They have adjusted how they approach the music. The major edits necessary to get the parts lined up for the second track was less than half of what it took to get the first track in line. Although I've only just started editing the third track, there is a noticeable improvement over the second track. We are improving! And there are more ideas on how to get even better.

The engineer is finally happy with "The Hawk Goes Hunting" in terms of parts lining up and the over all sound. Now, it's just getting those last few little touches that happen in the mastering process.

I think we need to remind ourselves that getting to this point is a pretty amazing feat. We are blazing new territory together and have a right to feel proud of ourselves for how far we've come. Creating new forms of art is a lot like blacksmithing - you feel the heat, you must strike while the iron is hot, and you will only know you have succeeded when the piece is shaped, pounded and cooled. But also, if something didn't work you can put it back into the creative fire and start again.

Monday, July 9, 2012

#MoreMusic - Why we need more new music by symphony orchestras to continue

Digital music sales surpassed physical media sales in 2011 for the first time, and music sales overall have been enjoying a steady climb for the greater part of a decade. Although physical music sales are declining, we're in an age where people want more music than ever before. How can the symphony orchestra capitalize on this trend?

In January the Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report produced a report on music sales. Overall music sales were up 6.9%, digital tracks sales were up 8.5% and internet album sales were up 17.7%. Even with the decline in physical media sales, the music industry is growing. Classical music is also enjoying an increase in popularity. According to the mid-year report (July 5th) digital music sales are up another 14% with classical music up 7.2%.

However, looking at the various genres, classical music is one of the few that enjoys a growth leveraging remakes rather than original compositions. iTunes is the #1 digital classical music provider with Naxos a distant second. Amazon, Classics Online and eMusic are the next three with fairly similar market shares. More than 98% of the top two classical music digital distributor's libraries are comprised of music written more than 50 years ago, more than 90% is written over 100 years ago. Yes, the bulk of the classical music repertoire is from before the 20th century. But we have numerous living composers writing new and energetic music, music which connects with a modern audience. Looking at the genre of music sold based on decade (the decade the music was released), the older the music gets, the less popular it is to download. Simply put, people want new music.

What would happen if symphonies started recording new orchestral music? All of the major distributors allow for previews of music before purchase. New orchestral music could be exposed to a much broader audience than just those found in the concert hall the night of the performance. Symphony orchestras could find this new music has an audience they didn't know existed. Rather than competing with 50 other recordings of Beethoven's Fifth, they could be the ONLY one with a recording of insert living composer's name here.

If you look at Grammy winners, the most frequently awarded in the classical music category are Georg Solti, a conductor with more awards than the Beatles, Pierre Boulez who has awards as both a conductor and a composer, and John Williams as a composer. Only Solti got there by performing already established works.

Symphony orchestras need to reach out and start programming more new music. They need to start recording these pieces and getting them out to the public. While sales are up, the percentage of increase in sales is well behind that of other pop genre's. Why? We're playing the same old thing.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We are not Daunted, just delayed. Situations beyond our control

In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends. -
John Churton Collins

TwtrSymphony was due to release our debut track tomorrow. The studio working on the project was flooded making continued work on the project impossible at the present. Garry Boyle, our engineer, was able to recover all the data several days ago and thought he might be able to keep to schedule. But after re-assessing the damages to the studio, it is apparent nothing is going to happen for a least a couple of weeks.

We will keep you posted as to options and updates as they become available. Thank you for your support and understanding. We are not daunted, just delayed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Waiting for the final mixdown for TwtrSymphony: Feeling like an expectant father

I wouldn't call myself a control freak, but I think maybe everyone who knows me probably would

Garry Boyle has been working on the first track of my Symphony No. 2 Birds of a Feather due out Friday, July 6th. While we've been in communication about a number of aspects for the recording, he's in Edinburgh (Scotland) and I'm in Southern California. He's also been extremely busy with paying gigs so communications have been kept to a minimum. I've been pacing the floor a lot. It's 6am on Wednesday the 4th of July, a holiday in the US, so I should be nicely tucked in my bed enjoying extra time with my wife --and yet, here I am typing on my blog, feeling utterly useless.

There are plenty of things for me to be doing.

I need to get images from the score for the videos coming out.
I need to finish the score for Promethea a project for miniOperas
There are several other composition projects that need attention
I have a webpage to provide the initial design concepts for
My day job has moved me from 30hrs a week to 40hrs a week (so I have even less time)
and the pool calls to me constantly when I'm home....
   Ok, that last one is just silly, but still....

Why am I beginning to think I may be a control freak? Because I have ideas in my head, plans of how and when things should be implemented and when I have no ability to actually affect the final outcome I FREAK OUT!

breathe... in.... out.... in.... out... ommmmm.... --it's not working

My sincere apologies to everyone I have ever worked with on a project. No wonder people have felt (feel) I am insane. To add another dimension of difficulty to my control freak nature, communication isn't my strong suit. Nearly every blog post I write has to be edited by my wife Eddie as I'm overtly fond of passive sentences and my grammar and spelling is horrible. My boss is attempting to work with me to improve my proof-reading skills (good luck!) as I currently fail miserably at it. Even my children chuckle at the occasional texts and emails they get from me as often sentences are completely unintelligible due to predicta-text (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). So, for all those poor people who've had to work with me, allowed me to lead them on some wild-hair project and had to put up with my inability to concisely get ideas out of my head and into some intelligent form AND with my over-active need to plan every detail...
   --my sincere apology.

For those of you who have worked with me on more than one project...
   --are you nuts?

To my family...
   --you are (or should be) in line for Sainthood.

To everyone in TwtrSymphony...
   --I am surprised and extremely gratified you haven't run for the hills yet. The project is coming along nicely. Garry is extremely competent and I have complete confidence in his ability. Everyone has done an amazing job adapting to the needs of the project. As I said yesterday, this has been a learning project; we are attempting something that is really quite grand in the scheme of things. I need to let go ... and let it just happen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TwtrSymphony: Lessons in Composition

Every new project has bumps in the road. The key is to learn from them.

As a composer, I am always striving to improve my craft. When I was studying at the undergraduate level, I needed exposure to a broad spectrum of different styles to experience what was possible with sound. At the graduate level, I began honing my skills in the sounds I gravitated to into what resonated most with the sounds I wanted to create. Now, with TwtrSymphony, I'm crafting the pieces together, continually making adjustments as I discover what works (and what doesn't).

If you've listened to any of my more recent compositions, you'll realize I love intense rhythms. Even in the slow pieces, there is an underlying pulse that is fairly fast. These rhythms also shift between groups of twos and threes. I find these small groupings are easy to grasp for both musicians and listeners without the need of counting every beat within them and yet by shifting between two and three, I can create a sense of syncopation similar to some styles of music and yet something unique. It is this unique rhythmic syncopation which shifts to irregular beats I really enjoy.

This style of music has a problem when played by multiple instruments -- the beats need to be extremely accurate. One musician playing a string of fast moving notes can apply a sense of rubato to the string to give it character, flavor. Ten musicians applying "character" to the string of notes sounds like a train wreck! Even when each individual line sounds perfect on its own, the combination of different styles or interpretation fails. Just providing a click track to match the tempo isn't enough to give the 'spirit' of the music to a large group of musicians. The musicians need an overall guide as to what character the melodic string needs --just what sort of rubato (if any) can or should be applied.

As the musicians became familiar with the process for TwtrSymphony, and I twigged to the inherent problems created by my style, the string of rapid notes are getting better. The tracks for the third movement are much closer and easier to align with each other than the first, even though many of the musicians felt the third movements was actually much more difficult to play. What recordings I've worked with for the fourth movement seem to suggest even more coming together of composer and musician with regard to how to capture the sense of rhythm without sounding like a dozen different songs being performed at the same time.

One of the ways I am achieving this is using more mono-melodic movement, rather than the denser poly-melodic movement I tend to write. When all the parts are moving in the same direction, even if they aren't playing the same notes, there is a similar sense as to how those lines should sound, where they peak and where they settle.

Density is another issue I continue to struggle with in my music. When I listen to other composers (past or present) there is a sense of space to the various lines of music. Often, there is only one line that is actually moving, creating the motion of the music, while any other lines present are rather static and subordinate to the main line. When the singular line is taking focus music has a clean sense of direction.

Bach's inventions are a style of music where multiple lines have equal priority and weight. Inventions apply the interweaving of melodic lines. While, I love this type of music too, my struggle is to let each singular line have its moment before I weave other lines around it. When I listen to my music, I hear each line simultaneously, so there is no sense of clutter. Yet, I recognize in performance many of the lines are lost, not fully appreciated in context. It's rather like looking into a forest filled with fireflies. The image of all those blinking lights is magical, but no individual light ever really captures focus.

This is particularly true with TwtrSymphony, where I had only a couple of minutes to bring a piece from beginning to end. It's not that I wanted to cram a dozen different themes into each movement, but that each line has dozens of variations. One variation wraps around another so elegantly I find myself playing with the interplay of the variations together rather than letting them float on their own.

Birds of a Feather has a sense of magic --music shimmering in the distance. There are lines that are quite lovely (IMHO), yet some of them don't get enough spotlight. Hearing the parts come together in the engineering studio I get a chance to really focus on each individual instrument and its melodic line. I'm pleased with how each one seems to be self contained. I don't feel any musician has a part which is just there to provide background for the others. However, when putting them together, I also realize the music becomes dense. The jury is still out as to whether it is too dense. We'll see how people react as the tracks become available.