Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Using summer’s “down time” to boost your career

Traditionally, summer is the time of year when composers have “down time.” There aren’t as many concerts to attend, sheet music orders to fill, or grant/awards applications to assemble. Although composers can explore a good number of national and international summer festivals (as a participant or audience member), they generally have fewer professional opportunities during this season than in any other. 

While you should take a break to soak in some summer rays, it can be very beneficial for your career if you utilize these months to get a number of business items done that you might have been putting off during the year. It is equally valuable to use the time to expand your current portfolio and consider future opportunities. Here are my top seven suggestions:

1. Update your biography, C.V. or résumé, and works list. Add in all of your recent achievements and pieces.

2. Revise your scores and get your notation in great shape. Throughout the year, I make notes in pieces about possible revisions or notation issues. I dedicate a few weeks every summer to adding these edits to scores. You never know when someone is going to want to perform one of your works; having all of your materials ready to go makes you appear far more professional than if you have to tell a potential performer that you need to make revisions first.

3. Update your website. Nothing makes your career look worse than a website that hasn’t been updated in a year or two (particularly if you have an “upcoming performances” section that ends in 2012!). If you don’t have a website yet, now is the time to do it. There are a number of do-it-yourself web programs that you can master yourself without (hopefully) too much frustration. I use Rapidweaver, which is very customizable with inexpensive add-on elements that allow you to build a site that suits your needs. If you prefer to hand this off to a professional, you can hire a website developer to do this for you; however, be aware that you’ll probably need to pay the developer to handle future updates.

4. Register recent pieces with your performing rights organization (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC), and then report the past year’s performances of your works. Reporting performances results in getting royalty payments.  While this process can be time-consuming, it is completely worth getting paid.

5. Could you arrange any of your works for a different instrumentation? For instance, do you have a brass quintet that you could expand into an arrangement for wind ensemble? Or a violin and piano piece you can rework for flute and piano?  Many composers get more mileage out of their catalog by creating new versions of existing pieces. Aaron Kernis has arranged a few of his works with great results. For example, Aaron originally composed Colored Field for English horn and orchestra; he later created a version for cello and orchestra, which subsequently won the Grawemeyer Award.

6. Brainstorm proposals for upcoming grant applications. Annual deadlines for Guggenheim Fellowships, the Rome Prize, and Fromm Foundation commissions can sneak up on you during the year, and a well-conceived proposal can take some time to craft. You might also utilize this time to get fellow collaborators on board for your proposal should you need (or want) to apply with their support.

7. Make a list of your “dream” projects. I find this to be very important, as it is very easy for others to control our composing agenda. If you have specific projects in mind that you’d like to pursue, then you’ll be ready to suggest ideas if someone is interested in doing something with you. For instance, do you want to write a chamber opera? Would you like to organize a consortium commission for you to work with saxophone quartets? Once you make your list of dream projects, brainstorm what the next steps are to make each of these projects happen.

Basically, between your barbeques and pool parties, schedule some time to tackle some items from this list. Your career will be in better shape once fall returns.