Composer, emerge thyself!

Can I come out yet?

Now that the smoke has cleared after last weekend’s ginormous recital/premiere extravaganza, it’s time to pop out of the foxhole and see what the past five months of preparation has wrought.

It was a big project. Self produce an evening long concert of new music, all written by myself. It seemed like the entrepreneurial thing for a fledgling composer to do.

For those of you that don’t know, self-production is a lot of work. Assembling the artists, coordinating schedules, finding venues… not to mention marketing and publicity, with a few grant applications on the side (all skills that have very little to do with composition). And then there’s the nitty gritty bits like laying out a program, distributing flyers around town, and buying the right amount of crackers for the post concert reception. And, of course, there’s the small matter of getting the music to sound right.

So how did it go?

Artistically, I’d rank it as a smashing success. I was thrilled with the performances of everyone involved and am looking forward to being able to share large chunks of the evening in future posts. The Alice excerpts, added to the concert almost as an afterthought, came off more charming than I expected and, with any luck, may get a second life after a three year break. Jason and Cary Ann are both remarkable actors as well as singers, which made them perfect for both Alice and the Brief History cycle. And the string quartet played the heck out of On the Rails, a piece that I hadn’t heard live in over a year.

As far as audience development, that was more of a mixed bag. It was a healthy and enthusiastic crowd, however, from what I could tell, it consisted almost entirely of people I had personal connections with. On one hand, that’s WONDERFUL! It’s great to have a network of supportive friends willing to spend their Saturday night listening to new music. On the other hand, if the goal is to introduce your music to new people, it’s a little less encouraging. And it certainly made me wonder if the money spent for postcards and advertisements was wisely spent. I’m not sure if they brought a single person to the show… Still, brand development is a marathon, not a sprint. And there were a number of people in the local composition scene who were able to hear my music for the first time. Peter Joscheff from the Paul Dresher Ensemble and Earplay showed up. And Erling Wold (whose opera Queer is a featured performance with the the San Francisco International Arts Festival) seemed to really enjoy himself, declaring it in an email as a “perfect evening”! (He said I could quote him.) So, good music heard by good people. Not bad so far.

Financially… well… it could have been worse. If it wasn’t for the Subito Grant from the American Composers Forum, I would have taken a serious bath. The bulk of the cost went directly to the performers. Being on the other end of that equation, there was no way I was going to ask anyone to perform for free. Venue rental was reasonable, as was the fees for audio and visual recording. There was some unexpectedly high expenses in the form of licensing fees to the estates of the poets whose works were still under copyright law. I feel strongly that getting permission through the proper channels was the right thing to do, but I was a bit distressed that the sum total of those licensing fees ended up costing half of what we took at the box office! And even with those high fees, I don’t have permission to distribute any recordings of some of the pieces.

In the end, the concert cost around $2,000 to produce. The Subito Grant covered about $1000 of that, and the box office brought in $700, for an out of pocket loss of $300. So for $300 (and untold hours of preparation) I got some good video and audio recordings of my pieces, a fair amount of exposure, and a fun party with wine , cheese, and a bunch of friends saying great things about me. That’s really not bad.

So, those are ma adventures in self production. All in all, it went smoothly. No last minute surprises or cancellations, financial results within acceptable parameters, a supportive and appreciative audience. And now that it’s finished, the ability to get back to the real work: composing music worth producing…