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.