Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why we do Fresh Inc Festival

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I have been at Fresh Inc Festival. For two glorious weeks each June, Fifth House Ensemble, composer Dan Visconti (also a member of 5HE), and I gather at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside with the goal of providing composers and musicians with intensive training in the music business while also engaging in lots of music-making. This year, we invited 15 composers and 29 musicians (ranging from undergraduates to post-doctoral students) to join us.

Performance at the Miwaukee Art Museum.
All photos by SnoStudios Photography.
Why do we hold Fresh Inc Festival? As many composers and musicians learn over the course of their lives, there are only a few lucky souls whose careers are formed almost exclusively by winning competitions or landing a major orchestra gig. Most of us eventually figure out that we must take control of our own destinies and make opportunities happen. There are plenty of ways to do this – establish one’s own ensemble or musical organization, formulate consortium commissions, create collaborative relationships with other artists and perform in nonstandard venues – but the majority of us don’t receive entrepreneurial training in music school to prepare us for such types of employment. A few universities are tackling this problem with innovative classes and programs, but for those students who don’t receive this training elsewhere, there is Fresh Inc Festival.
Skype session with Sittercity.com
founder Genevieve Thiers.

Created in 2012 by 5HE's executive director/flutist Melissa Snoza and former member Adam Marks, our two-week festival contains several key components:
  • Workshops on the business of a music career.  We annually offer sessions on starting organizations, handling budgeting and sales, creating educational outreach programs, writing cover letters, developing interview skills, writing commission contracts, and organizing consortium commissions, as well as effective coaching and rehearsal techniques for both composers and musicians.
  • Guest experts who share their specialties with us. This year, we had fourteen speakers including film composer Hummie Mann, video game composer Austin Wintory, Theodore Presser Company's Vice President Daniel Dorff, and James Buckhouse, Director of Corporate Design at Twitter.
  • Composer forums that cover a wide variety topics including copyright, text permissions, mechanical licensing, promotional techniques, online resources, building websites, and running a successful Kickstarter campaign.  Additionally, all composers give presentations on their own music.
  • Freshly composed works written by our composers and premiered by ensembles consisting of a mix of student musicians and 5HE members.
  • Lessons for composers and musicians with members of 5HE, Dan, and myself.
  • Performances in an assortment of venues, including the architecturally stunning Milwaukee Art Museum, Kenosha Public Library, Kenosha Art Museum, Constellation (in Chicago), and the Bedford Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.  We also performed at Roosevelt University as part of Make Music Chicago.
  • New Venture Challenge – this is an activity in which all participants form fictional music organizations. In addition to formulating mission statements and activities for their businesses, groups put together a fictional creative experience design linked to one of our actual festival events.  The groups assemble psychographic profiles for their target audiences, build budgets, work out marketing strategies, and devise a funding plan to cover the expenses of the event.
Millie, the Fresh Inc mascot, poses
with Melissa Snoza and participants.
This year’s festival had a new feature – four returning “2.0” students. These alumni came back with specific projects in mind: Andrew O’Conner put together a CD project that would involve composers writing an assortment of new works for the double bass; Alex Cooke learned the logistics of running a festival; Danielle Simandl, who is the executive director of the Superior String Alliance in Michigan, focused on further developing her skills pertinent to her organization; and Rachael Claire Eid-Reis created plans to establish the Invisible Change Organization that will give voice to Chicago’s homeless via her singer-songwriter skills. Teaching business skills is one thing; applying these skills to a project that you’re passionate about takes what we do at Fresh Inc Festival to a completely new and exciting level.

I want to know that what I do with my life is meaningful. The work that I do at Fresh Inc Festival gives me a tremendous sense of fulfillment and joy.  Each year, I am greatly moved and inspired by the enthusiasm that all of the faculty and participants infuse into all of our activities. Collectively, we transform the festival into something more powerful than what we can each do individually – we learn from each other, we share our ideas and figure out what steps are needed to make these happen, and we make connections that will far outlast the festival itself. The members of Fifth House Ensemble and I are preparing the next generation of music entrepreneurs to take music in new, as-of-yet unimaginable directions. With each class that goes through our festival, I grow more and more excited to see how they put what they’ve learned into practice and change our world.
Eric Snoza leading a workshop on educational outreach.