When it comes to making new music, what is a good investment?

What does it mean to invest yourself in music? What is a good investment?

If you had $100 and wanted to invest it, you could put it in a savings account and earn 0.5% interest. You would have access to your money, but it wouldn't earn much interest. If you put your $100 into a certificate of deposit account you might earn 2 to 2.5% but you'd have to leave it there for the long haul. While you might make more money, you have no access to it. You might find a scheme somewhere that would pay 5-6% interest on your money, but there is a much greater risk that you'll lose it all. At the riskiest schemes it would take you twelve years to make $100 on your initial investment. But this isn't an blog post about money.

If you wanted to earn $100 - in California minimum wage is $8/hr -- so it would take you 12.5 hours to make $100. Actually, it would take you a bit longer than that as you'd have taxes taken out. Let's say 15 hours. That's a lot quicker than twelve years! If you working as a lawyer, it might only take 15 minutes to make that kind of money, but you will have invested years of study to go through law school, then studying for the bar. You might have overhead costs of an office and staff. By the time it took you to make the $100 in 15 minutes, you would have already invested thousands of dollars and numerous years of your life.

What is a good investment for a musician to make in their career?

Outliers: The Story of Success by by Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill -- playing the violin, computer programming, or skateboarding. He calls this the 10,000 hour rule. If you calculate that out it turns into roughly 3 hours a day (everyday) for 10 years. Most world class musicians will tell you they practice 5-8 hours a day, everyday without fail. Now, they are already world class, so chances are they reached the 10,000 hour mark a while ago. But to stay on top they continue to devote time and effort to maintain their skills.

Let's put this relationship to time (and effort) into musical terms. What is the difference between the original "Clair de lune" by Debussy and one of the many 'student' versions available? The first (obvious) answer is the number of notes. A student version of this wonderful piece has far fewer notes than the original, yet, even when a young student plays their version, the essence of the music is there. We can hear the melody and follow the structure of the piece. However, if Debussy had written the original as simple as these student versions would we likely thrill to it like we do when we hear the original, fully fleshed out with all the right notes in place? Are we as moved when we hear a student play the piece with the occasional wrong notes and halting rhythm as we do when we hear a professional pianist add nuances of expression? The answer to both of these questions is no. The beauty of "Clair de lune" is both in its simplicity and in its complexity. It is beautiful because the core elements are extremely simple, and yet, when all the nuances of the music are in place, the music soars.

Being a musician, a composer and a music director are like Debussy's music. It is important to maintain an awareness of the simplicity of playing music. when playing the trombone, hitting high notes with a solid tone without wavering has more to do with breath control than a world class instrument. Mastery of the simple art of breathing is core to being a good brass player, just a the simple mechanics of finger placement is critical to being a good violinist. Of course, that isn't all it takes to be a world class player, but it is important to remember the simple elements of making music. As a composer, regardless of what technique used to build a piece of music, a solid understanding in the instruments can do is critical. A violin can't play below the G below middle C without changing the tuning of the G string. While it is possible to write double stops (playing two notes at the same time), a violinist can't play both G and B (below middle C) as both of those notes are are the G string. A composer has to understand what he/she is trying to achieve and the role the musician/instrument plays in bringing their music to life.

As Music Director for TwtrSymphony, I often meet people who are amazed at how much time and effort it goes into recording a single track of music. They somehow think I wave a magic wand (or baton) and the music just appears. There are hours of work just getting the music to the musicians. Then, there is the time they spend learning the music to get a good recording. Each recording they do needs to be evaluated, added to the rest of the recording and put together to make a unified final product. There is a reason it takes roughly three months to create one track of music. Over the past year I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear we'd spent 3-4,000 hours doing what we've done. If we go back to the 10,000 hour rule, you might think we only need to continue this pace for another couple of years to achieve success.

Well, yes and no. Success for TwtrSymphony isn't as simple as the 10,000 hour rule. Yes, we need to put in the time and effort, but we also need to make sure what we're doing retains some basic principles: We are making new music for people who don't typically go to the concert hall - a new audience.

  • We have to make sure the music we record is music that can capture the imagination of people everywhere.
  • We have to make sure our processes of recording and mixing the music obtain a standard that allows the nuances of the music to be realized.
  • We have to ensure we spread the news about what we're doing to enough people that people who haven't heard about TwtrSymphony have the chance to come across our music.

What is a good investment when it comes to making new music?

Talk to me in ten years. If we have changed the say musicians collaboration over the internet, if we have brought to the forefront a dozen or so new composers who otherwise wouldn't have been heard, if more people all over the world are listening to new classical music, well then, yes, it will all be worth it.


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