Reflections on Collaboration and New Ventures


Networking.

Collaboration.

New Ventures.

Risk taking.

Now that my first year teaching music entrepreneurship at the College of Music at Florida State University has drawn to a close, I have been spending time reflecting on these topics — which have been major components of class discussion this year.

Throughout the year, I have been reading up on these topics and surveying other people’s ideas and experiences about entrepreneurship broadly and arts entrepreneurship more narrowly. But I’ve also been trying to live out these ideas–more intentionally–throughout the past year. Within the structure of my FSU course itself, I guided students through the development and implementation of a series of “pop up concerts” around the Florida State University campus. These pop up concerts offered many more opportunities to think about event marketing, audience engagement and development, community engagement with the arts, and project management generally.

At the same time, I’ve been engaged in two new (and interrelated) artistic ventures of my own. First, I’ve been writing, recording, and producing my audio novel / podcast. This has been my most important new venture since August 2016. (Thanks to those of you have been listening!) Second, I’ve been intentionally composing more, both music for the podcast episode and new recital pieces, particularly chamber music. While the financial risk producing these projects has been low, my investment of time has been substantial. (And time, as we all know, is our most precious personal resource.) Most importantly, both projects have inspired ideas for more new artistic ventures, and I also have some thoughts about how I will expand my podcasting efforts. I will be sharing more about that expansion soon.

Both the entrepreneurship course at FSU and my podcast production work have given me more opportunities to reflect on the powerful musical experiences that can occur when one opens oneself to the insights of trusted colaborers. Allow me to share an example that is very important to me.

Back in March 2016, I began composing a relatively lengthy duet for violin and saxophone. The piece was inspired by conversations I had been having with Sophia Han, who has since completed her doctorate in violin at Florida State University. I completed the initial duo over the course of a weekend while visiting Houston, but I was not completely satisfied with the result. Further consultation with Sophia and saxophonist Zach Stern led to a completely new conception of the duet: a set of miniatures for violin and saxophone, with contesting styles and affects. 

Throughout Fall 2016, I continued to turn drafts of movement over to Sophia and Zach for their comments; this collaborative approach resulted in ever-improved drafts of the various movements. By early 2017, it looked like we’d be ready to either publicly perform or record the movements of the duo in mid-2017. In the end, we had an initial recording session on the afternoon of Saturday, April 22, 2017; collaboration continued to be the hallmark of the journey even then, as Sophia and Zach asked questions about interpretation, offered their own suggestions on several aspects of performance and interpretive nuance, and helped me to better understand the relationship between certain sounds we wanted, their notation, and the manner of their execution.

I’m sharing some pictures from that first recording session, which capture the collaborative nature of that moment in the duet’s history. But collaboration runs even more deeply: we were recording in Sound of Cypress, the studio of my friend and colleague, Michael Strickland. At the same time, we were being photographed and filmed by Brian LaBrec, a young, entrepreneurial photographer, videographer, and film maker. My conversations with Michael and Brian have helped to further shape my thinking about my own shorter-term (and longer-term) musical goals, but they have also furnished more real-world stories of musicians launching creative new ventures, even fledgling music businesses.

One of the key issues about arts entrepreneurship that has come up time and again as I have read, studied, and listened to radio and TV reports this year is the central place that networking and collaboration play in so many successful ventures. Although as a culture we tend to celebrate individuality, positive outcomes in life, work, and art are often much more communitarian. We cannot risk losing sight of that fact.

I look forward to bringing the insights I have gained as a composer and project manager to my class next fall, and I’m thrilled that I’ll also be able to show how some of my friends are working to bring their new ventures to life.  And as I noted above, I’ll be sharing more about the next steps ahead for my own new arts ventures.

In the meantime, enjoy the “backstage” photos, and check out the link to the video of “Four Miniatures for Violin and Saxophone,” movement two, which is available on my YouTube channel, found below. 

Recorded at Sound of Cypress Studio (Tallahassee, Florida).

Photographs by Brian LaBrec.

Check out a sample video from this recording session here.