News, Thoughts, Soapboxes, and/or Essays

On Music Entrepreneurship – 2

Continued from yesterday.

Some of the suggestions that the College of Business suggested we change or include in Music Entrepreneurship involve the following topics:

Idea Generation, Creation, and Evolution.

Customer Interviews

Project Management

Value Proposition

Business Model Canvas


Minimum Viable Product

Exit Strategies

As I mentioned, my knee-jerk reaction was “But we don’t DO this in music!” And that tapped in to the issue I have with a lot of books on music entrepreneurship–several that I’ve read are along the lines of “You’re a musician already! Here’s how to write a business plan!” (more on this later)

Getting this list from the College of Business (and to be clear, the list was far more detailed and informative than what I’ve included–I’ve excerpted to protect their ideas and mine) forced me to question why we don’t do some of those things, and it started becoming clear that we should.

On Music Entrepreneurship – I

About 10 months ago, NDSU ramped up their Entrepreneurship efforts, all branded as NICE: NDSU Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship. As part of that push, the NICE Center started a faculty fellowship (called NICE Fellows. Seriously.) of which I’m pleased to be a part. One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about since is how we teach music entrepreneurship at NDSU and elsewhere.

Our Music Entrepreneurship class is a music business class originally intended for juniors and seniors seeking elective credit, and has become a requirement for all music majors. Which is great to have in the curriculum, but it creates a challenge in developing curriculum, especially as sophomores through seniors take it. It’s in a perpetual stage of being tweaked.

Recently I submitted the course in consideration to substitute ENTR 301, the College of Business’s “Entrepreneurship Toolbox” course. Business responded with a list of suggestions of how we could bring our course in line with their course, which my first thought was “These are great, but we don’t…do…this in music.”

And then I started wondering why.

Beginning some thoughts on the creative process

In the mid 1920s, nearly a century ago, Graham Wallis proposed his model of the creative process in a book called The Art of Thought. The four-stage model borrows from earlier work and thoughts by Herman von Helmholtz and Henri Poincare, and consists of Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification.

Preparation is the realization of a problem that needs to be solved, Incubation is a subconscious working out of the problem, Illumination is the conscious work on the problem, and Verification is checking to make sure that the end result matches the preparation.

It’s a compelling model, and it seems to have aged well over the past ten decades.

And I think it’s wrong. Well, maybe not wrong. Incomplete.

I think there are several problems with the Wallis model, but the first issue and the one most important to artists is the lack of aesthetic judgment. The model addresses what is right or what is wrong, but not what is good, or what is quality.

To be continued…

Better Composing through…paperwork?

As I’ve been teaching composition and refining my own creative process, I’ve found that I think of composition gigs as projects: Write a tape piece, compose a tuba sonata, record an album, plan a recital, and so on.

This works pretty well for my own process, but some of my other students don’t have such a process. Instead, they have multiple works going on at the same time, and while there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, it’s often paired with a lack of focus. To make matters worse, the works don’t often get played. Their composing is for the sake of composing.

This is related to three other issues with composition and with how we teach music in general. The first issue deals with delusions of grandeur and transformative change: The idea that “this is the best piece ever and it will make me famous”. Honestly, being delusional is an important part of my creative process, it goes along with the maniacal laughter part of my process. But the idea that one piece will change everything is a bit of a pipe dream.

Unfortunately, starting out as composers, our plan to become famous is by hope: The hope that someone will notice how brilliant we are.

The second point this touches on is project-based music making, which is something our music major curriculum doesn’t always address. I think composers have it better off than most musicians, since compositions are more project-formatted than education or performing, but we don’t really frame our curriculum around projects. There’s a lot more to say on that subject and how it interfaces with entrepreneurship at a later time.

Finally, there’s the idea of compositional intent. Intent is another big topic that will receive attention soon. For now, we’ll leave the discussion as “we need to know where we’re going if we’re going to get there.”

How do we do this with composition? And also, how do I get my students to do it?

In my process, I’ve introduced a form. a Music Creative Brief.

The Music Creative Brief forces me to address some of the big questions that come up at the beginning of a new music project. First and foremost, the deadline. It asks for which performance forces, what the piece should be about, how long it should be, what it can or can’t do, other similar pieces, and what inspires it. There’s also a section for marketing, which addresses the competition, how to sell it, and who might be interested.

Music Creative Brief Page 1
Music Creative Brief page 2

For example, for my next piece, a clarinet choir piece, I have a physical copy of the form that lists what the scoring is, the other pieces on the program (so I know what to do/what not to do), who some of the major clarinet choir groups are, and so on. It’s been incredibly helpful since I started using it about a year and a half ago, and my plan is to start having my students do the same this spring.

A PDF copy of the form is available at

Late Work and Creativity

I spend a lot of time in my teaching trying to find the happy medium between mercy and justice.

This especially manifested itself this past semester in terms of late work. With an expanded number of classes and students, I instituted a new late work policy, which is basically that everything turned in by the end of the week (11:59 Saturday night) would be graded without penalty. Everything turned in after that would not be graded. In my immediate experience, students who needed some extra time to complete an assignment only needed an extra day or two.

This worked well for my freshman intro to college class. For my entrepreneurship and arranging classes, less so, probably because I’d make an exception once early in the beginning of the semester, and after that it was unfair to enforce it.

Also, the work we do in my non-freshman class is largely project-based, and when working creatively, sometimes writer’s block happens.

So, what I need is an easy-to-administer, easy to understand late work policy that gives students the flexibility to navigate their busy schedule (and promote self-time-management) and affords students the ability to spend some extra time on a project to bring it to its full potential.

This semester, I’m instituting the Late Work Pass.


The Late Work Pass (LWP) is a physical business card-sized piece of card stock which each student gets at the beginning of the semester. If they have an assignment to turn in after the grace period, they can turn it in with their LWP.

Even though each student gets one LWP per class, there’s nothing governing whether they keep it, barter it, sell it, or stockpile it for future classes. It can only be used for one assignment (no turning everything in during the last week of classes, unless you have enough LWPs to cover it), and you can’t use it outside of a semester (no turning in things after grades are due).

As an added benefit, it opens the discussion for supply and demand in Music Entrepreneurship.

And it lets me spend less mental energy on late work. And probably less on grading, too.

Earmarks listed as semi-finalist of The American Prize 2020

I found out earlier today (as I was driving from Fallon to Fargo) that Earmarks has just earned me a place as a semi-finalist in the Instrumental Chamber Music division of The American Prize national non-profit competitions in the performing arts.

You can learn more about The American Prize at or follow the news on Facebook: or Twitter:

Teaching Composition – The Technical and the Inspired

I have almost exactly the sort of teaching position I want to have. Of course there are always things that could improve, the role I get to play right now is my favorite.

Julius Bahle in a 1930s paper divided composers into work-type composers and inspiration-type composers. Though I’m not sure if I follow that specific dichotomy, I think that there are two styles of composition instruction: the inspired and the technical.

These categories have some baggage that I don’t intend: I don’t mean that technical composers aren’t inspired or vice versa. Rather, it’s about how each type approaches composition pedagogy.

Whatever that is.

In my case, I approach composition from inspiration, and I’ve had students who have clearly had technical instructors previously. They talk about their chord progression, their form, how their 21st-century piece conforms to an 18th-century norm. And then I ask them about energy-line analysis or how their piece evades expectations.

Do I think theory and analysis is important? Very. Do I find it the most interesting part of the creative process? Hardly.

This is the creative side of my truth vs quality talk.

At NDSU, I don’t teach theory—aside from Instrumental Arranging, I don’t do much typical theory teaching. But I try to be active in our theory pedagogy conversations. I get to play devil’s advocate for the curriculum. I get to have a bunch of random ideas and challenge the status quo.

When students come and ask about cadences and say that this chord meets their checklist of what a cadence is, I counter with “does the music breathe here? No? Then it’s not a cadence.”

Technically correct? Maybe not. But the technical isn’t all we teach in music schools.

Fall 2019 Teaching Recap

Fall 2019 was a challenging semester.

I think I taught alright—none of my classes were new preps. There was just a bunch of it. To recap:

NDSU: MUSC 189: Skills for Academic success, or “how to be a music major”. 1 credit.

NDSU: MUSC 331: Instrumental Arranging. 2 credits.

NDSU: MUSC 385: Music Entrepreneurship. 3 credits.

NDSU: Composition lessons: this semester I had a studio of 6.

NDSU: NICE (NDSU Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship) Faculty Fellowship.

NDSU: Freshmen composition projects.

VCSU: MUS 120: Comp 1: 15 students. (Online lectures)

VCSU: MUS 220: Comp 2: 10 students. (Masterclass format, new this semester.)

VCSU: MUS 320: Comp 3: 3 students (including one doing a composition capstone project.)

VCSU: MUS 302: Advanced Scoring and Arranging: 5 students, for a total comp studio at VCSU of 33.

Again, no new preps, but just A LOT of moving parts. And that’s not including my composition or technology work.

A couple of things became very clear through this process: the first is that there are some things I need to tighten up in my syllabus if I have any hope of giving timely feedback, and the second is that my teaching philosophy and my assignments don’t always match up.

Luckily Spring 2020 is going to be lighter, which is great because next fall likely won’t.

Three New Pieces

Over the past month or so, three new pieces have shown up on the website. Together, they represent 40 minutes of new music.

So working backwards, Calibrating the Moon is a tuba sonata written for Connor Challey. No media or score (partially because it’s a commission, and partially because issuu has decided to start charging for embedded documents), but there’s a program note. This work will be premiered nearly next month at NDSU.

Also receiving its premiere next month is Tape Piece, which is a tape piece (like stereo fixed media) about and using tape (like scotch and duct). Unlike Calibrating the Moon it does have media. It’ll also receive its premiere next month, but given that it’s tape, you can hear it in all its glory right now if you’d like.

Finally comes Four Views of the Butterfly Effect, which is a commission from the MinusOne Quartet, and which was a pain to write. I’ll dive into an explanation of it a little later. No program note, score, OR media at the moment, because all I have are mock-ups.

Upcoming Performances for Spring 2020

Hey look! It’s some upcoming performances!

On February 10, I’ll be giving a Faculty Composition Recital at NDSU. The program includes the full cycle of The Notes Between the Notes and world premieres of Calibrating the Moon and Tape Piece. 7:30 PM in Beckwith Recital Hall.

Cassie’s giving her faculty clarinet recital the next day, same time and place.

I’ll be heading to Nashville for a performance of Creatures from the Black Bassoon and a talk on the creative process. That all takes place at the CMS Southern Conference at Vanderbilt University at the tail end of February (Feb 28-Mar 1).

March 12-14, I’ll be heading to the University of Virginia for the 2020 SEAMUS conference, where we’ll hear the American premiere of The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow.

At the same time, Stephen Bomgardner will be premiering my first song cycle collaboration with Walter Jordan, Five Pointless Haiku, with Carlyle Sharpe at the University of Central Arkansas as part of the CMS South Central regional conference.

And then at the beginning of April (3-4) I’ll be in Michigan at Oakland University for yet another CMS conference (Great Lakes), talking about the creative process and running the electronics for Crosswinds.