Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Kind of Musician Am I?

It has become increasingly apparent that I need to decide what kind of music I want to be known for and what kind of musician I want to be known as. I was warned about this several years ago by my friend and fellow composer, M. Ryan Taylor. I’ve been thinking about it all this time, but it’s finally come to a point where I don’t feel I can delay this decision much longer. It’s as much about soul searching as it is defining my audience.

 This is not an easy decision for me. I grew up hearing early country and western music from my mom, who would sing older country and folk tunes that she learned from her father.

 When I was a teenager, I dreamed of playing piano and singing pop and jazz songs in clubs, or playing my trumpet in a jazz group. I know. A teenager who wants to grow up to be a lounge act is one weird kid. At the time, I was listening to a lot of big band music, like Maynard Ferguson and Glen Miller. I was also spinning folks like Chuck Mangione, Tim Weisberg and Tangerine Dream, along with a few pop and rock acts like Billy Joel, Rush and Dan Fogleberg. On top of that, I was digging the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, and the occasional John Williams soundtrack. I was listening to a lot of genres. My own music was mostly love songs designed to woo the young women I was interested in.

 During my senior year of high school, I discovered three musicians that changed my way of thinking about music: Arnold Schoenberg, Phillip Glass and George Winston.  I started writing new age piano music. At the time I thought minimalism was pretty cool, but twelve-tone serialism was the silliest thing I’d ever heard of. Still, I did write a short twelve-tone piece for a music theory course I was taking. It wasn’t until college that I developed an ear for, and the musical understanding of, the language of modern art music. Now I’m hooked.

 In college, I was introduced to electronic, event oriented music and had a mind blowing experience. I was moved beyond rational thought, somehow understanding the structure and language of what I was hearing from the very first tones. Needless to say, I started writing electronic music as well.

 That is the exact problem. I love it all. I’ve written music, and continue to write music, in almost every style imaginable, but you can’t make a name for yourself doing that. You need to specialize. When someone asks me what kind of music I do, and I start running down the list, a little of this and a little of that, their eyes glaze over. I need to be able to describe myself in a simple, short, and clear way. I’ve never been able to do that.

 I know that making this decision doesn’t magically bar me from working in other styles. It does require that I focus my output more on one area, though. If I’m going to market myself within a pigeon hole, I’d better have a product that reflects it.

1 comment:

  1. It's called "Personal Branding", and it's part decision and part evolution. You can paint it in pretty broad strokes, and still give yourself some room for variation. I've been branding myself for years as a "mormon rocker", but I've written the occasional folk tune, a couple of ballads, and a few odd-ball ones that defy classification. I did a rap tune, for heaven's sake! It depends a lot on what you make the most and what you promote the most.