Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The importance of a positive routine in the lives of musicians - Faculty Post - Dr. Virginia Croskery

This week's blogpost comes from Assistant Professor of Voice, Dr. Virginia Croskery

“Routine” has a negative connotation in our society, but when it comes to a career in music, it can be a godsend. None of us want our lives to feel like a “routine,” adding a little routine to our practice regimen and daily schedule will promote progress and good health.

Humans are “circadian” creatures; that is we are programmed to function 24 hour cycles, during which we take our meals, do our daily tasks and sleep on a prescribed schedule. Keeping some regularity to our daily schedule is essential for optimum health and mental function.
Check out the National Institute of Health’s website on Circadian Rhythms at

This can be a tough lesson for college students, who tend to have a different daily schedule every day. They might go to bed at midnight one night, 2 a.m. the next and take a 4 hour nap at noon. With such an erratic sleep schedule, they always feel tired! Trying to learn new facts and concepts when you are tired is a losing battle. The brain just doesn’t function well when it is sleep deprived. Students would be well advised to keep a more routine sleep schedule. Of course, they will stray on occasion, but a sleep routine will help your grades! In fact, most research shows that “cramming” for an exam doesn’t help, but a good night’s sleep does!

Students also make the mistake of eating an unhealthy diet. Have you ever noticed that you get indigestion when you eat foods that are either “different” or “greasy?” We become accustomed to foods that we are familiar with and find them to be “comforting.” What do you like to eat when you are sick? Probably something that mom made when you were young. If you grew up in India it might be some kind of curry, but chances are, if you grew up in Iowa it is something familiar to Americans, like macaroni and cheese! It is always wonderful to try new things, but when we stray too far from our personal norm, the body often revolts! Students should consider what foods they eat and when they eat them. That 3 a.m. pizza might come back to haunt you.

Perhaps nothing is more important to the performing success of a musician than a practice routine. Playing an instrument or singing is a skill of “muscle memory.” If you instill the correct muscle memory for playing your instrument or singing into your body, then you can relax during a performance and enjoy creating music. No one wants to worry about the basics of rhythm, pitch and production during a performance. Once the audience is there, we should be creating a musical presentation. That can only be accomplished if the basics are solid in our muscle memory. There is unfortunately no shortcut for muscle memory. Only repetition can instill muscle memory. That means daily practice! Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, about the “10,000 hours of practice” necessary to become a master. Tiger Wood started hitting the golf ball at age two. We can’t relive our past, but we can start working on our 10,000 hours now. “Routine” can be your best friend!

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's all who you know - Guest Blog by Derek Sivers

This week's guest blog post is by renowned musical entrepreneur Derek Sivers, who has founded such companies as CD Baby and Host Baby, been a guest speaker for the TED series, amongst many other impressive accomplishments.
It's All Who You Know 
by Derek Sivers

When you hear, “It's all who you know,” it sounds so intimidating - like you need to be a former roommate of Mark Zuckerburg, cousins with Richard Branson, and dating Taylor Swift.

But simply contacting a stranger can lead to a worldwide network of connections.

When I was 18, at Berklee College of Music, we had a guest speaker named Mark Fried, who was an executive at BMI - a big music company in New York City.

He walked into the classroom just before class began, and I heard him ask the teacher, “Oh, I thought we were going have food.”

The teacher said, “Oh, no, sorry, I thought you ate already! Didn't you have lunch?”

Mark said, “Darn. No. And it's a two hour class. Oh well.”

Hearing this, I quickly ran out of the room and called Supreme's Pizza, asking them to deliver three large pizzas to classroom #115.

45 minutes later, the pizzas showed up. I gave one to Mark and shared two with the class.

He smiled at me and said, “Good move. I owe you one. Here's my card. Call me any time, and let me know how I can help. When you come to New York City, I'll be happy to meet up.”

For the next two years, I took him up on that, sending him my new songs for feedback, and he'd tell me his insights and advice about the music industry.

When I told Mark I wanted to move to New York, he said, “Send me your resume, and I'll find you a job.”

Sure enough, a few weeks later, I got a call in my dorm room from Julie Gengo at Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, saying, “We need someone to run our tape room, and Mark Fried said we should hire you. Can you start Monday?”

Just like that, I was in.

Because I was working inside Warner Brothers, it was easy to meet everybody in the New York City music scene. Every person I met connected me to many more. A few years later, it was no problem to move to Los Angeles, because I now had a huge network in LA, through one degree of separation.

Now it's grown worldwide. Whether I'm visiting Iceland, Shanghai, Rio, Japan, or Silicon Valley, I've got a wonderful network of connections to call on, and people worldwide who can call on me anytime. Usually we know eachother loosely - having only traded a couple emails - but those quickly turn into real friendships.

All because I bought a pizza for a stranger.
Surrounded by success

Soon after arriving in New York, I was surrounded by successful people. I was only 20 years old, but I learned so much from watching how people become successful, hearing their stories, philosophies, and mistakes. Opportunities were everywhere. (A chance recommendation from my roommate got me a gig touring the world, playing guitar for Ryuichi Sakamoto.)

These people shaped the way I see the world. The people you surround yourself with don't just open doors. They change the way you think, and change your self-image of your capabilities!

When you're surrounded by successful people, it feels so easy, it's obvious. Their attitude and actions rub off on you.

But I meet so many people that feel that success is so far away, so impossible to imagine, that they act accordingly, aim low, and complete the self-defeating circle.

I know much of success is luck, but I never realized how much the mindset of success comes from who you know.

Luckily, who you know is up to you, not luck.
No need to be in the big city

I used to advise ambitious people to move to the big city, where everything is happening. And it's still true that it offers some benefits.

But more and more it feels like “where everything is happening” is online - and the way to bethere is to create something that adds to it.

Most of the fascinating and successful people I know now are people I met online. I see something they've done, or they see something I've done, one of us sends the other an email, and that's it. A few emails, maybe a phone call, and we're friends.

What's even more fascinating is finding out that the super-connectors, the people who know everybody and everybody knows, are often physically remote.

For example, some of the most connected people I know now are:

Karol Gajda in Poland
Dan Andrews in Bali
Amy Hoy who just moved from Vienna to Philadelphia
Patrick McKenzie in Japan
Sebastian Marshall who bounces between Mongolia, China, and Taiwan.

The reasons they're so connected are:
because they keep creating great stuff and posting it online, which gets the attention of their peers, so soon “everyone” knows who they are
because they reach out to say hello to the people they admire

So if it seems that there's an uncrossable canyon between you and your heroes, don't forget that all it takes is one connection to catch your rope, so you can shimmy across. And you can do this from anywhere by creating great stuff online, and reaching out to potential friends.

No need to attend Harvard with Mark Zuckerburg. No need to become a cousin of Richard Branson. And no need to date Taylor Swift.

(See. There are three things you can cross off your TO-DO list now.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Faculty post - Dr. John Benoit - In Support of the Concert Tradition

In Support of the Concert Tradition

by Dr. John Benoit

            In an essay titled “Music and the Soundscape” (1993), Canadian author and composer R. Murray Schafer offers an provocative reading of Western music history based not upon the history of musical style, but rather upon the history of performance context.  Schafer observes that in most societies throughout human history, people have experienced music in conjunction with other activities, such as dance, work, ceremonial ritual, or religious devotion.  A relative few cultures, of which the West is one, have developed a tradition of listening to music as an autonomous activity, undertaken solely for the enjoyment of the music itself.  And because focused listening is most easily done against a background of silence, these cultures have created a variety of performance venues designed expressly to shut out the sounds of the natural world.

            It is within this anthropological context that Schafer offers his alternate reading of Western music history based upon the predominant venues in which music is performed.  The first predominant venue was the cathedral.  Its massive stone walls and soaring ceilings created a live acoustical environment.  Inspired by this other-worldly reverberance, composers conceived music whose resonant triads and interweaving polyphonic lines seemed to float down from the heavens and envelope the listener in thick, swirling sound.  The next venue to achieve predominance was the concert hall.  Unlike the cathedral in which music seemed to have no definite point of origin, the features of the concert hall were all designed to focus the listener’s attention upon the sounds created by the performers on stage.  The dryer, clearer acoustic of the concert hall facilitated the performance of music with more intricate textures, expressive nuances, and virtuosic flourishes.  As a consequence of concert hall’s heightened focus upon the details of composition and performance, music was elevated to the status of a “fine art” and musicians were elevated to the status of artists.

            Schafer contends that a third period in Western music history began in the 20th-century when the recording studio supplanted the concert hall as the predominant venue for the creation and performance of new music.  Once again, the new venue had many profound impacts on musical culture.  The first has been the separation of performer and audience.  Audiences are no longer witness to the actual performance of much of the music that they listen to.  Meanwhile, performers can no longer directly gage how audiences respond to their performance.  A second important impact has been the fragmentation and isolation of the audience itself.  Thanks to car stereos, mp3 players, streaming audio, and other personal media options, listeners can now choose the time, place, and content of the music that they listen to.  Listening, as a result, is increasingly becoming a private experience.  Finally, recorded music is now available to us virtually anywhere we go.  There are even waterproof iPods designed for swimming!  Increasingly, recorded music is becoming a “soundtrack” to the other activities in our lives.  Thus, Schafer notes, the Western musical tradition seems to have come full circle in that music is once again experienced primarily in conjunction with other activities, as has been “norm” throughout most of human history.

            I believe that those of us in the music academy should find Schafer’s reading of Western music history to be a bit disconcerting.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  The music curricula of most colleges and conservatories are deeply rooted in the concert hall tradition of listening to music as an autonomous activity.  The academy trains musicians for careers as performers and music educators.  These careers that are predicated upon a model in which the public concert – whether in Carnegie Hall or in a school gymnasium - serves as the culmination of our musical endeavor.  What might happen to our standing as artists if the concert were to no longer hold its place of prestige within Western musical culture?  What could happen to our livelihoods?

            Admittedly, these questions seem a bit alarmist.  Having been central to Western musical culture for over three hundred years, surely the concert tradition is not likely to suddenly disappear.  Even so, history has shown that the tides of cultural change do have the power to alter the musical landscape rather quickly and dramatically on occasion.  Consider two examples from early in the 20th-century during which time technological advancements were rapidly creating new ways to spend leisure time: 

• In the first decade of the 20th-century, virtually every town in the United States of more than a few hundred residents was able to support a municipal band.  These bands were seen not only as a source of entertainment, but as a sign of civic pride and status.  By 1920, however, most of these bands were forced to disband as the public increasingly chose to spend its money on newer, more personal entertainment experiences, such as recordings, movies, radio, and “automo-bubbling.”  

• In the 1920s, grand movie palaces (some seating as many as 4000 patrons) employed theater orchestras to provide live musical soundtracks to silent movies.  In many large cities, these orchestras afforded the steadiest and highest paying work available to professional musicians.  In 1927, however, Warner Brothers had a smash hit with its first “talkie” – The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson.  Within three years, the movie industry had completely transitioned from silent films to talkies.  Just as quickly, the theater orchestras were disbanded.

            As performers and music educators, it is important that we not take for granted the concert tradition that sustains our careers.  We must recognize its centrality to our profession and do all that we can to insure that it continues to flourish in an age of increasingly individual tastes and private listening experiences.  How do we do this?  We can start by taking every opportunity to celebrate the unique qualities of live musical performance – individuality, spontaneity, “risk” – and to extol the amount of hard work and talent that a good performance represents.  We should also call attention to the role of concerts in building community among people who gather to share aesthetic experiences.  As performers, we must all redouble our efforts to insure that our programming is interesting and engaging and that our performances are given at the highest standard that we can achieve.  Finally, we must become regular concert goers ourselves so that our patronage will help to sustain the institution that sustains us.  If those of us who depend on the concert tradition do the important work of maintaining it, then there is no reason that it cannot continue to thrive well into the era of the recording studio.