My Year in Music, 2013

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Performers, conductors, teachers, fans, friends, family, and My Fellow Composers:

As I have in the past, I want to take a moment, at the close of the year, to reflect on my music career and to set an ambitious course for the coming year.

But first, thank you all for your support, encouragement, wise words, and opportunities for professional growth.  Freelance music is a hard road and I’m glad I’m able to travel it with such wonderful people.

My 2013 saw numerous commissions, big premieres, unexpected divergences (some serendipitous, some momentarily unfortunate), and many lessons learned.  I can say, without a doubt, that this was an incredible year!

REFLECTING ON THE YEAR

I tried to open a publishing business this year.  In fact, I spent a good deal of my time doing research, picking brains, developing plans, and raising money.  Things seemed to be going really well for a while. When I began recruiting composers in October, I was bolstered by the outpouring of submissions from all around the world.  The talent was incredible and I had quite a lineup ready to go!  I felt ready to open the gates to the public for January 2014.

But then things turned sour.  The revenue sources dried up.  Money I had been counting on to assemble the infrastructure and fund the promotions simply wasn’t there anymore.  With no way to move forward, I had no choice but to close up shop before it ever really opened.

This was very hard to accept.  I had invested so much of myself into this effort and truly thought it could be a success.

But it’s a tough business, as anyone will tell you.  I don’t feel bitterly about it though.  In the broad view, I’ve always felt that life isn’t measured in how many times you were knocked down. It’s found in how many times you got back up, learned from the injury, and grew. It’s only when you choose not to get back up again that you’ve been defeated. I’ll be back. Maybe not in this particular form, but I will find something to glean and grow from this experience.

On to other things!

Though my creative output was somewhat hampered by all the focus on business matters this year, I still had some important accomplishments in this area.  The real highlight of the year for me was being commissioned by the Marquette County Chamber Chorale and Marquette Male Chorus to compose a piece commemorating their 20th annual Christmas Tapestry concert.  This was a real honor as, in past years, they had chosen composers much “bigger” than me for their commissions.  And, from an artistic perspective, this was a particularly nice project as it was very open-ended–I was allowed to pick the text and was free to choose the musical style and other important parameters.  The result was a seven movement piece setting winter-themed haiku.  The choirs worked very hard throughout the fall semester and presented a wonderful premiere in December.  In all, nearly 700 people heard this piece live, making it my biggest premiere in a long time.

I was also commissioned to compose two other vocal settings (How Firm a Foundation and When I Fall in Love, both TTBB), completed an unaccompanied piece for horn, finished a work for concert band, did some arranging for a friend’s recital this past summer (Chanson d’Amour and Gershwin’s Hang on to Me), and finally put the finishing touches on a choral setting I had started almost ten years ago in grad school (to be posted soon).  I continued my work with the local drum corps, arranging the Fleetwood Mac tune Tusk for them, as well as doing some editing work on an existing arrangement of Sing, Sing, Sing.  In October, I was commissioned to arrange several Christmas songs for one of the area city bands so that they could accompany the elementary school choir at a holiday event.  I ended the year composing a simple piano setting of Silent Night, the first of what will be numerous preludes for piano, and a piano quartet (which was a Christmas gift for my wife).

In all, I finished 18 musical projects this year.  The year also saw 5 pieces published–and just a few days ago, I signed a contract for a sixth piece to be published.

Some other highlights:

  • In August, I was hired to write general interest music articles for Polonius Sheet Music.
  • I upgraded to Finale 2014 (noteworthy because I hadn’t upgraded since 2007).
  • I flirted a bit with Sibelius before deciding Finale probably had the more secure future (hence the above point).
  • A photographer friend of mine supplied me with some terrific professional head shots, the first time I’d ever had anything like that done.

SETTING THE COURSE

One thing I learned early on this year was that committing myself to rigid production timetables and stringently-defined goals were simply not going to work for me.  Perhaps owing to the relatively quirky nature of my career and the unusual lifestyle demands I have to navigate, flexibility has to be paramount.  Thus, while I will make goals, I’ll keep them open-ended (without being so vague as to be useless).

While my business venture ultimately failed, I gleaned valuable lessons from the experience.  I picked up quite a bit of knowledge about marketing during my research phase, and all of that is still quite usable.  (Who was it who said “nothing you learn is ever wasted”?) So one of my goals for 2014 is to scale things down and market just my own work via a small, sustainable commercial channel.  I will commit to ironing out, in writing, a plan of action and run it by knowledgeable parties.  I still believe, from what I’ve seen and experienced, that personal entrepreneurship has a valuable role to play in today’s music world.

While I pursue marketing my own work, I will also continue to explore placing my work in established commercial catalogs.  These companies have the resources to greatly expand my reach, which could have a ripple effect unto other aspects of my career.

I will enter at least two competitions this year.  While I’ve strongly spoken out against them in the past, I’ve come to see that competitions can bring exposure, increased opportunities, and even a slightly fatter bank account.

I will write works outside of my large ensemble comfort zone. I’ve already begun a set of piano preludes and I’m plotting out several chamber projects for groups that have expressed some level of interest already (more details to come in the new year).

While it would be nice to commit to writing at least a little everyday, I know that’s not likely to happen and I’m not going to set myself up to fail. In any case, there’s seldom a time I’m not thinking about something I’m working on and I do take notes on how I want to proceed when ideas come to me, so even when I’m not in front of my computer, I’m still composing.

I will write in my Composer’s Digest at least once a month.  Reflecting is a good thing for any professional to do.

I will value what I have and what I do.  I will avoid comparing myself to others.

Once again, thank you all for being there for me this year!  I hope you have a spectacular 2014!

Onward and upward!

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6 thoughts on “My Year in Music, 2013

  1. Hi Brandon. I always enjoy reading your posts as they are insightful and I see a lot of me in you, although we are generations apart. I too started a publishing company for composers early in my career and while it was successful, it was overwhelming in terms of time commitment and I had to let it go. I now concentrate on promoting my own music. I also see a lot of altruistic endeavors on your part that also reflect my major focus regarding composing. I applaud your efforts and encourage you to continue your pursuits while being aware of your time and financial commitments. It is all doable, but maybe on a smaller scale. In addition to the above, we share a common name although it is your first name and it is my last. Best wishes for a productive and successful 2014! Sy Brandon – http://cooppress.net

  2. Thanks for your encouragement, Sy! I had a look at your website and I think you have a very interesting approach to music entrepreneurship. I may have to pick your brain sometime (maybe after things settle down a bit). Have a great new year! -BN

  3. Hi Brandon
    So sorry to hear that your business venture did not pan out — but I am sure you learned a lot from the experience. Unlike you, my hubby Pierre composes and arranges pieces purely for our choir (so far) and is busy planning the title piece for our next Christmas CD which we will record in Jan 2015. As a teacher, he has a full time day job, so I am always amazed that he has any energy left to create. As Sy mentioned in his comment, his own publishing business took a lot of his time — your publishing business could have interfered detrimentally with your own creative output. Perhaps things do work out for the best.
    PS
    I have listened to all your work and I love the Silent Night for its delicacy.

    Happy New Year!
    Holly Massie

  4. Holly –

    Thank you for your kind words and support.

    I think perhaps you are right – even if I’d had the money, publishing would have been a huge time commitment and my work would’ve gotten buried. Everything happens for a reason…

    I did learn a lot though and I may apply that knowledge to marketing my own work down the line. I want to have a bigger “catalog” first though, so I must focus on writing for the time being.

    I’m so glad you liked the Silent Night. I may compose settings of other carols and release them as a set.

    Your husband’s work is very good–I hope he’s able to find more exposure for it. If I’m able to help, please let me know,

    Happy New Year!

    -BN

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