Colleagues In The Music Business

We have many people in our business who help us do our job; librettists, composers, orchestrators/arrangers, copyists, conductors, librarians,  A&R representatives, along with their record companies and distributors, agents, managers, music licensing companies, recording engineers, sound engineers, lighting and staging professionals, cartage companies, radio stations, computer resourses and streaming music, music schools, private music teachers,  music and instrument suppliers, boutique music shops, repair technicians, concert venues, unions, critics, those who clean up after our performance,  and those sitting next to us… name few.


It is important that we show respect to everyone who helps us do our job.

I would like to explain in this, and in subsequent e-broadcasts, the importance of our friends and colleagues, and what they do to help make us sound good (or bad).

We should consider the 10% rule that says that only 10% of the people in any discipline or job own what they are doing. For a moment we should consider the 10% rule that says that only 10% of the people in any discipline or job own what they are doing. The rest are at some state of treading water or trying to get better. It sounds ruthless, however, if I were to have surgery I would like the doctor that is in the top 10% of doctors worldwide. Nothing is perfect, but minimizing risk is a primary consideration. In the same way it is much more rewarding to play a piece of music where the composer understands what you do, and writes to the strength of your instrument or voice.

THE COMPOSER - The first person in the line of music creation.

I would like to start with librettists, and songwriters, as they face the same dilemma as the full blown symphonic composer. They start with a blank page or computer screen. Think about that for a moment…………With the vastness of music and styles available, they face nothing but that blank page.

Their creativity must come from within their mind, with the tools they have and may not have. It is a bit easier, I would think, to write words, as we all know our language to some extent , and have some idea of whether or not the words we put together feel good. However, the great librettists can tell a sad, funny, profound, or happy story with syntax and a mastery of the language that few of us possess.

There are librettists who write pop music or jazz music, others write show music, opera, and a variety of other styles. They may or may not know music at all. For those that can’t write their own music and put in on to paper or computer, there is the composer as collaborator.

The composer takes the blank page……think about that again……………....a blank page or computer screen…………………along with the words the librettist gives them, and either adds the music or puts the music to paper that the songwriter may not be able to transfer there. (Think of a guitarist-singer who can play/sing his tune, but can't read music.)

I am talking now about pop music and the way music and words get put together. Though it is only the seed of a final product, and perhaps not the arrangement that is required to make a final product, the wordsmith and the pop composer have to come up with a viable product that pleases many people. That includes the audience, and all the intermediary people that get it to the audience, which is no small feat. The point being that something must be done. A band or the writers must learn to play the music or it must be arranged for a particular number of musicians to make it come to fruition.

Next I want to talk about the composer of original classical, film, Broadway,  jazz , opera and art music in general. The blank page is getting more profound.

A composer starts with a blank page.....think carefully about that.Let’s start again with that blank page. I have to say that I have made a living in the music business my whole life, and have never faced a blank page with the intent of writing a major piece of music or even a jingle. I did write and record a blues tune, and that was hard enough. It dumbfounds me to think about the musical mountain that composers must encounter.

They must face every technique of music they own, plus every technique they wished they owned, or have to learn, to reach the summit of a finished piece of music. A composition if you will.

They are judged by almost everyone in their pursuit to create. Though they mostly judge themselves and can doubt themselves, also many others judge them. We, as musicians judge them, the audience judges them, and yes even the critics judge them. Therein lies the folly, as everyone is a critic, but usually a critic limited by their own musical vocabulary.

As musicians, we have all played compositions we thought to be inferior or worthless, usually based on the difficulty (impossibility to be more precise) posed to our particular instrument.  In addition, there is the overall validity of the work. Of course this all changes as time changes. Bach was not all that accepted in his own time either. However, there are plainly inferior pieces of music, it must be said, and that's what makes the great pieces truly great.

Like most musicians, composers (geniuses not included) grow as they mature, and have more technique and sophistication. The composers who seem to be the most friendly to musicians though, are the ones who got an early start on their studies. Not just harmonic and rhythmic studies, but studies about what is the essence of each instrument they write for. Surely, The Rite of Spring expanded the range for the bassoon, but for good use, and while extremely difficult, it was perfect to describe the story.

Many times composers write difficult instrumental parts for no particular reason except not knowing what the instrument can do (theory or lack of theory with no knowledge of the instruments they write for). It is important for the composer to appropriately challenge the player with something that is quite playable even if a lot of practice is necessary. On the other hand, , if the part can be made easier, and have the same effect, the composer should consider this option first. (Oh please don't make me practice)

Another dilemma is the composer who writes on the synthesizer and "steps-in" the notes and then expects the musician to play it back at a tempo that's unrealistic for their instrument.

Composers of classical music almost always write the original music from the blank page and orchestrate the piece of music too. So a composer of this type is also their own orchestrator. They may sketch musical lines and chords, but ultimately they are responsible for every note to be copied into individual parts for musicians.

With the help of computers, today's composers can hear a fairly accurate rendition of their composition. Many composers today write at the piano, or by musical rules or sounds in their head. Imagine the thrill of hearing your composition for the first time. It can be exhilarating, embarrassing, or any other verb you want to use.

Of course, the more skilled the composer, the more often they are satisfied with the outcome of their creative adventure. The ability to communicate the composer's intentions to the musicians is very important at this point, as any first playing is a balancing act just to bring the music to fruition.

What must be remembered is that a media composer is a serious composer with a larger sound and  style palette, at their fingertipsMany music enthusiasts have looked down on the film composer as being less than a "serious" composer. I'm talking now about the film composer who really writes all of their own music. But what must be remembered is that a media composer is a serious composer with a larger sound and  style palette, at their fingertips. This is not to be dismissed lightly.

Think about what has been done in creating something from nothing so you as an instrumentalist can perform a composition by others with respect and understanding of their ability. It is an important part in the marriage of music and all its participants.

Even improvisers work from some sort of a framework, whether it be from a lead sheet or an arrangement that a composer or arranger has created from that blank sheet of paper……..It all starts from a blank piece of paper!

I urge all musicians to ask a composer to compose for them to increase the literature, for the sake of us all. Some composers will want remuneration for their work, and the ones who are financially able or happen to be a friend of yours, will be happy to do it for the sake of our art.

I have commissioned many compositions, and whether they were recorded, as many were, or played for a concert, it was always a rewarding situation for composer, musician, and the public alike.

I will talk about arrangers, orchestrators, and copyists/publishers in my next rather irregular broadcast.