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On booking travel to music conferences

This post is primarily for my students, the ones in Music Entrepreneurship who do a similar project.

This evening, I finally booked my travel to SEAMUS 2020 at the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. In all honesty, I was procrastinating putting together this week’s Comp II masterclass, but regardless it needed to get done.

SEAMUS is an electronic music conference, where they’re doing the US premiere of The Earth Shall Soon Dissolve Like Snow. I’d already paid the registration fee earlier this week, so the logical next steps were to handle the travel arrangements. This was complicated by two things, the first being that the schedule isn’t out yet (the conference is the 12-14 of March, but without knowing which day I’m on I’ll just have to stay the whole time), and the second being that Charlottesville isn’t particularly close to large airports.

Why not wait to book? I usually try to book no fewer than six weeks in advance, and we were coming up on that time. I don’t know that this is the best time to book, but I think I read that somewhere once and it’s stuck in my brain.

I have a Chase United MileagePlus card, so I usually try to book through them if possible (read: cheap). The first thing I do in this case is pull up ITA Matrix and look for Fargo (and close airports) to Charlottesville (and close airports). Matrix allows you to do trips to FAR-IAD with a return DCA-GFK or things like that–some of which I’ve done before. For this flight, I looked at flying to Richmond (RIC), Washington Dulles (IAD), Washington Ronald Reagan (DCA), Baltimore (BWI), and Charlottesville (CHO). Dulles on Delta turned out to be the cheapest option, so I picked that.

I could have gone cheaper if I’d done basic economy–I’ve done it before, and the Chase card makes it a decent option–but I like the control of picking my own seats. Aisle, left side of the plane, as far back as possible.

I also could have gone cheaper if I’d flown out of Minneapolis instead of Fargo, but once you add in four hours of driving each way, and parking (I’ve also done this before, it’s a decent option).

Personal preference: I don’t fly American. They stranded me in Dallas once, and I rented the last rental car at DFW at 2 am–but that’s a story for another time. Others have had great luck with them, but that’s not me.

So, flight booked, now to tackle the hotel. The conference has a hotel with a conference rate, and after some looking around it seemed like a good deal. I used to use Hipmunk to search for hotels, but they’ve gone away unfortunately. I usually use my AAA membership to bring hotel rates down further, but in this case the conference hotel won out. The hotel will be close enough to walk to the venues, so that’s good. However, getting from Dulles to Charlottesville will still require a car.

Extra charge: Hotel parking: $7/night.

Next, over to Hertz to get a car. I usually pick one of the SUV options if it’s not much more expensive than the basic rental (though the last time I did this I ended up with a full-size truck. At a new music conference.), I usually pay up front, and the Chase card substitutes as their damage waiver/insurance. Being a AAA member brings down the cost quite a bit.

A few words about AAA: We got a membership a few years ago less for the auto repair options (which I think we’ve used once) and more for the travel discount options. What we found was that with our travel, at worst we break even and at best we save a great deal of money. The only other better deal that we’ve encountered is the ND Government State Rates on ND Hotels or through Hertz.

So I get to Virginia the day before the conference at 1, which gives me the rest of the day to get to Charlottesville. The drive puts me pretty close to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, so why not? Two fun travel things this summer were driving from Park City, UT down to the Great Salt Lake, and driving from Denver to Parachute, CO for the Aspen Composers Conference.

I get an inbox full of confirmations, all of which I forward to Tripit for keeping track of my travel plans.

On Music Entrepreneurship – 7

(Continued)

Perhaps all of this talk about our students knowing how to do something is moot–after all, I’ve heard the argument that “our students learn what they need to despite what we teach them,” and this is largely true. Most musicians I know (myself included) haven’t had much in terms of entrepreneurship training, and yet we figure out how to get our music performed or how to find performances.

An assignment I’ve put into my music entrepreneurship class is a travel funding assignment. It’s pretty open ended–Assume that you’re going to a professional conference and you’d like to ask for funding. How do you construct a budget, and how do you present a case for how much funding you need?

It’s a fairly straightforward assignment: Look up airfare or mileage, look up hotels, list your fixed costs like registration, and figure out a way to ask for per diem. These are all very obvious things–if you already know how to do them.

Some assumptions we operate under, and some mistakes my students have made on this assignment:

  • Flights are usually listed round-trip, as a total. Hotels are usually listed per-night. I’ve had students not realize that they have a 5-day conference and they have a one-night hotel stay.
  • There is a federal mileage reimbursement rate that many organizations use. If you claim mileage, or if you estimate your gas costs, make sure you calculate mileage there AND back.
  • If your hotel doesn’t offer a shuttle, then you have to get from the airport to the hotel somehow.
  • If you have oversize luggage (say, an instrument) then that’s another cost.

Trivial mistakes to make on a class assignment. Disastrous if you’re on an actual trip. Compounded even more so if the trip is international.

On Music Entrepreneurship (6)

(Continued)

Back to music projects. Some of the things we do in the music curriculum are essential operational knowledge, such as theory, history, and aural skills. While we can (and often do) put together projects as assignments, the importance is primarily the underlying knowledge, not the “how to” part. Working musicians need theoretical, aural, and historical knowledge as a skill, not necessarily as a project in itself. As such, the business suggestions mentioned earlier don’t necessarily track. 

Lessons, Concerts, and Compositions are all musical projects where the process is repeated: the work is never done. Composers don’t write one piece and quit, performers don’t just give one recital. These are (usually) discrete events that must be repeated to make a musician’s career. 

And yet, this is the part that it appears we don’t teach. We have students give recitals, but are we teaching students how to give recitals? 

I say appears, because all I see is the result. Perhaps our students are being taught a project-based view of the music curriculum, but they’re not internalizing it, and by extension they’re not displaying it. 

On Music Entrepreneurship – 5

(Continued)

I never had the chance to take a music entrepreneurship class or a music business class in college. Drury was too small, and Oklahoma at the time wasn’t interested in such things. And with a school the size of OU, there’s a diversity of thought, and unfortunately a fair amount of thought I saw rejected music as a commercial enterprise. If you wanted to do commercial music, there was the Academy of Contemporary Music in OKC, if you want to find out how to make money with your art, well, we don’t really do that here. 

This wasn’t stated, and it may even have been a minority view, but it was my perception. And I think I understand the idea. I made a conscious decision early on that I wouldn’t pursue algorithmic composition, despite my interests in both music composition and programming. My reasoning was that I wanted my art–the creative process itself–to be as organic as possible, and all the other parts of being a composer (marketing, self-promotion, deciding what to compose, etc.) should be as systematized as possible. 

I happened upon–and quickly integrated–a quote by Gustave Flaubet: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” 

The question, it would appear, is where to draw the line between work and life. 

On Music Entrepreneurship – 4

(Continued)

I don’t want to give the impression that we should blow up the music curriculum. There’s a lot we have to go through in not a lot of time.  

Some of the things we have to address in the music curriculum: Grammar and/or Math (Music Theory), Fluency (Aural Skills), History (Musicology), Individual Technical and Artistic ability (Lessons), small group work (chamber music), large group work (ensembles), performance practice (recitals), and then for music education majors there’s a universe of ed classes. 

Engineering doesn’t necessarily include history of science. Communication doesn’t go all the way back to grammar. We cover a lot of ground in a four-year music degree–we assume that all students read music starting out, but it’s not an absolute requirement.  

But even with these challenges, there are still opportunities for entrepreneurial music teaching. There’s another problem. 

On Music Entrepreneurship – 3

(Continued)

Everything we do in Music is a project.

We very much do not teach music this way.

Thinking back to the list of things from the College of Business, they’re all project- or product-driven. You don’t need Idea Generation for existing, you need Idea Generation for improvement or for something new.

In Music, every new composition is a project that requires Idea Generation, Business Model creation, Audience identification, and so on.

In Music, every concert is a project that requires the same or more.

In Music, every ensemble is a project that requires the same or more.

In Music, every lesson is a project that requires the same or more.

And so on.

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

Channels

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.

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 https://ip.vanderburg.io/files/document/2BFBCD4D-5B3C-4BC6-AB6C-45F17A69D17E/