Open Waters

Open Waters was a terrible movie that you've never heard of. Don't watch it. It's bad. Instead of watching that, you should check out Kristin Center's Kickstarter project. It's about music and bees. Well, rather, using music to help increase awareness of certain social/environmental problems that we are facing. In this case, bees. It's a pretty cool project, with or without the bees. Music has long been used as a vehicle for social ideas and ideals, whether it's Wager's Gesamtkunstwerk in art, Shostakovich's private rebellion against dictatorship and authoritarianism, or Schoenberg's revolutionary ideals in the emancipation of dissonance. In fact, it is difficult to find any composer whose music doesn't put forth some social idea or another. Even Cage, or rather especially Cage, was putting forth a social and personal ideal when he was using chance procedures to create his music.

All of this is very interesting. You could spend a whole tenure writing about this idea. But it gets academic rather quickly. Instead, I want to talk about a different aspect of Kristin's project that we can abstract and extract for ourselves. This is where the open waters come in.

Bloody Oceans, Blue Oceans

I read some time ago a business book titled "Blue Ocean Strategy." The book itself is not so great. The idea, however, is quite relevant to the problems we face in Classical Music. The central idea was, there are two kinds of markets (sitting on extremes across from each other, of course): bloody oceans and blue oceans. Bloody oceans are markets where there is intense, vociferous, often cutthroat competition. Blue oceans are areas where there is very little competition because nobody is there.

If you consider the current market for classical musicians, the symphonies are most obviously bloody oceans. There are so many players competing for almost no spots in the symphony. The first few rounds of cuts are essentially a total gamble. You might as well be playing the lottery. This is bad business as a musician, pure and simple. We don't want to gamble our entire livelihood. We want to create something reasonable and sustainable.

This brings us to the blue oceans. Kristin's project represents a blue ocean. Not only is she using her classical training in combination with her singer/songwriter skills, but she is using that music in a way which is not often (or ever) used by contemporary classical musicians. You never see the symphony using their music to draw awareness towards social issues. It's just pure music. That's not a bad thing. I'm just pointing out the difference, and why the market Kristin is entering into is open.

Breaking Bad Boxes

Right now, the audition market is so bloody because of our preconceived notions. We have an idea in our head of what a successful classical musician looks like. That musician is usually wearing a tux or a black dress on stage with a bunch of other musicians wearing tuxes and black dresses. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in a symphony. However, right now, it's a terrible market to be in. Total buyer's market, and us musicians are the sellers.

If we want to move forward and find success, we must start redefining success for ourselves. We must start driving forward in new, possibly risky directions. But consider this question. Which is riskier: going with a risky plan, or gamble your musical livelihood in the 1/10,000 odds feeding frenzy that is the symphony audition? I know my answer. It's not necessarily your answer. But you must answer it.