Advice to composers just starting out

How to send unsolicited scores or make first contact with someone you don’t know.

DO:

  1. Research. Does this person/group perform new music and do they enjoy learning new music? (You can still send scores to folks who don’t specialize or perform new music but set realistic expectations)
  2. Be professional and honest.
  3. Ask in your first email (or first meeting/tweet/contact) if you can send them a score or mp3 link, etc. Or include detailed links to pdfs or recordings in the first email. (If you don’t get a response, try a different method like facebook or twitter. Stalk performer/group in a non-creepy way by networking in person at concerts or via social networks…or ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction. After you make first contact, go to #5, then #3.)
  4. Send a score/mp3 if requested.
  5. Keep in touch. Follow up with an email once a year or once every 6 months (but not too often) with your upcoming concerts. (It can be a personal email or mass 
    email.) Make friends with them using social media if appropriate. Network in person if possible.
  6. Be patient and think long term. It may take a while for someone to actually look at your score and consider it for performance. If you do a good job with points 2 and 5, your music will get considered at some point.
  7. Be a nice person. Unless you’re such an incredible genius that others don’t mind that you have no social skills, you will need to be a pleasant person. If you’re not already a pleasant person to be around, learn how to become one without being fake.

DO NOT:

  1. Burn bridges. It’s a small, small music world. If you don’t know how this works, ask a friend.
  2. Send an unsolicited score to a stranger and then send follow up email demanding a reply. (“Um, I never asked for this score. Why am I being scolded by this stranger?”) Your piece will never be considered.
  3. Be dishonest. It’s a small world, people will find out….and then they will talk about it.

EXAMPLE of a highly effective first email (this is an actual email with identifying info left out):

Hi Meerenai,
I am a composer at [institution name] and have noticed that you are active as a performer of contemporary music. I have several works for flute that might interest you. You can listen to them at the link below by double clicking on the title of the piece. All of the works below are available for you to listen to. You can go to
[composer’s web site] for more info on me.

[link to files]

Works that might be of interest are:
[name of composition] for flute and computer-generated sounds (on CD)9 minutes
[name of composition] for flute and piano (8.5 min)
[name of composition] for flute, violin, cello, and computer generated sounds (on CD) 8.5 min
[name of composition] for flute, viola, and piano (12 min)
[name of composition] for flute, violin, cello, and percussion (one player on hand instruments) 17 min
[name of composition] for flute and percussion ensemble (12 min)
Let me know if you are interested in getting any music and thanks for listening.

Best,
[composer]

RESULT:
I emailed this person back and am definitely looking for a reason to program some of this music. FYI, it’s December 2011 now and I received this email in June 2011, I still don’t know when I will get to program some of this music even though I want to play them. But if a colleague asks me for recommendations for cool new stuff, I can forward this email to them. 

[Update - January 1, 2014 - My flute and percussion duo has commissioned this composer. To find out who it is, check out our blog post about this composer.]

WHY THIS EMAIL IS GOOD:
This composer made my life easier by listing every composition (and details like instrumentation/duration) and offering a link to where the pieces can be found. This email was successful because I was not asked to do more work. Everything was laid out and I could just listen to the pieces that interested me. (Also, the tone of the email made me feel like they meant to send this to me specifically, and they weren’t just sending emails to every flutist on earth.)

Please don’t make someone you’ve never met before spend 10 minutes searching for stuff on your website because they won’t. Best case scenario: the performer/group will just never get around to going to your website and they will forget that you sent an email that did not help them at all. Worst case scenario: you will make them feel obligated to go on a wild score chase around your website and they will refuse to do this or put it off until later…and when you email to follow up, you might make them feel guilty or obligated. No one wants to feel like a jerk. Please don’t make me feel like the bad guy because I didn’t have time to look at your website when I didn’t request any music from you in the first place.

AFTER DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT, you may still not hear back from the performer or ensemble. This sucks and I’m sorry. We have to trust that the performer/ensemble means well but just did not get around to looking at your stuff. Everyone is busy. Or they can’t find a way to make your piece work with their current projects. Or they just don’t like it. In any case, it’s highly likely that they just didn’t get around to emailing you back. This is why doing a good job with “DO #2 #5 and #7” are important – they will know who you are and will either give you a chance, or feedback, or recommend your piece to another performer/group at some point.

GENERAL ADVICE: The most successful people I know in composition or performance are all genuinely nice people. If you are just starting out, do not forget this.

(if you have other good advice I should add to this list, please email me at flutemusic@gmail.com and I will add it if it might be helpful for composers making their first contact with performers/groups.)

UPDATE: Here’s a great article called “Composition Applications for Beginners” written by Jen Wang of the new music collective Wild Rumpus.

 

Call for scores update part 2

Last summer I asked composers to send me cool stuff for one flutist/performer.  I thought I would get maybe 30 responses but I had over 100. I was supposed to respond by October to let everyone know if I would play their piece or not.  Well it’s now mid-January and I’m only half-way through the scores. A part of me is tempted to just go through the list really quickly (and likely just saying no to most) just so I can get through them – especially since I feel so ashamed at how ridiculously behind I am – but I will continue at my tortoise-esque pace.

Dear Composers who sent me scores,

I honestly did not know how much time it would take.  I’m sincerely so sorry for the delay. If you have not heard from me since my email acknowledging receipt of your score, I did not forget about you. Thank you for your patience!

Sincerely,

Meerenai

Interview: Composer Noah Luna

Noah Luna

Noah Luna

When I met Noah Luna, several years ago, he was a college student at CSUEB. He was working at a local music store at the time so I ran into him quite often. By the time he was a masters student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he won some composition competitions, started Beauty in Cacophony Press, and wrote a short flute and guitar piece for me. When I was ready to embark on a series of commissioning projects, he was on top of my list.

Thank you Noah, for participating in my first composer-collaborator interview:

M: How and when did you decide to become a composer?

Noah Luna: I decided to be a composer at the ripe old age of 16. I was in love with the game Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, particularly the music. I thought to myself: “Whose job is it to write the music to a video game? I wanna be that guy…” After finding out that there is SO much more than that out there, I fell in love with studying and writing music of all genres. Any job that allows me to write concert music, rock, jazz, and hip-hop, and still pay my bills was a dream come true.

M: Where did you get the idea or inspiration for Entrometido?

Noah Luna: Entrometido was a unique scenario. I heard cellist Jerry Liu practicing a piece he wrote which included cello percussion and I was flabbergasted. I had to write something that included those sounds alongside more traditional playing. I decided to write a piece that explored the two instruments as two separate and timberally diverse instruments, but the thing they had in common was this thunky percussive quality they could achieve when not played traditionally. I didn’t want it to be gimmicky – I wanted it to just show that the instruments were capable of so much more than they are given credit for. And, that that could be the basis for a programatic coupling: two instruments, under-appreciated, finding each other despite all their differences, and making beautiful music.

M: One of the many things that impress me about your work is how quickly you are able to complete your compositions. It seems to me that you completed Entrometido in less than one month. Is there a secret to your process? Do you have special brain food or routine that helps you write so quickly?

Noah Luna: My teacher, Rafael Hernandez, taught me the value of streamlined compositional technique, as well as the importance of meeting deadlines. He gave me the idea for the Sumi-e Competition that my company sponsored a few years back: a 24 hour composition competition. It got composers to just get to business and crank out their best stuff in a day. You know, get over themselves and just make great music. I loved that. But, the idea became so much more to me with regard to my technique overall: just get over myself, get out of the way of the music, and let it come. Once you get out of the way, music comes much more naturally, and much more quickly. Commissioning parties, and the ensembles they contract, are very appreciative of a composer that can meet deadlines. That’s a big part of why I have been commissioned repeatedly and that all the ensembles I work with are likely to do so again. Not enough composers are aware of how much deadlines matter.

Brainfood? Mexican food – I live by the stuff. Oh, and a good craft beer to wash it down. Ask anyone I know and they will tell you that I swear by Brother Thelonious by North Coast Brewery. Inspiration in a glass…

M: You are writing a piece for the Berkeley Symphony for their Under Construction Composers Program right now. What is it like to work with such a great organization, composer Gabriela Lena Frank and music director Joana Carneiro?

Noah Luna: Berkeley Symphony, Gabriela, and that whole program are a dream come true. No exaggeration: Gabriela is one of the most helpful, nurturing, and brilliant composers I have ever known. PLUS, the Berkeley Symphony musicians are top-notch in every regard. I cannot imagine a better program for a young composer to be a part of. I plan to get a lot out of this program and use it to make as big a splash as I can in the New Orchestral Music community.

M: When can we hear your piece performed by the Berkeley Symphony?

Noah Luna: April 29th. Visit http://www.berkeleysymphony.org/ for more information.

M: You have a baby named Violet and I hear that you have “morning music time with Violet and daddy” every morning. What kind of music do you listen to together? Does Violet have a favorite composer, other than her daddy?

Noah Luna: Morning Music Time is the highlight of my day, every day, no question. She loves old vocal standards: Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, etc. That’s the music I love as well. But, I’m not just projecting (I swear!) When she hears a trumpet or a saxophone tooting out the opening bars to “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” or “I Should Care” she freaks out and starts giggling uncontrollably. As for classical music she likes, she digs the big Romantics: Rachmaninoff, Wagner, Brahms. I think she just likes anything loud so she can Ooh and Aah and squeal along and not have it drown out the music.