Five Tips for Thriving on a Touring Show

Today’s Five Things Friday post was written by trumpet player Christi Wans.

For the last year, I have been traveling with the North American tour of Kinky Boots. The show has a great message, the music was written by Cyndi Lauper, and I’m getting to see parts of the country I never thought I would see. Most importantly? I have a full time job, with benefits, where all I have to do is play my trumpet.

That being said, it’s not always the most glamorous life. There are several things I have learned to help me survive:

1. Develop a routine early on.

This doesn’t just apply to playing your horn. When you’re traveling all the time, food options can be very limited, traveling is exhausting, and it can be easy to fall into the rut of laying in bed playing Candy Crush all day. Staying healthy became necessary for my sanity.

If you start out your tour active and making good decisions, it will be a lot easier to maintain. I like to run, so I decided to sign up for races ahead of time in the different cities we visited. Some people would hit the gym like clockwork as soon as we got to the hotel. Exercise becomes even more important for the musicians, because we are sitting in one place for three hours while the cast is running around burning calories on stage. Set yourself an alarm to be out of bed by a certain time on non-travel days so your internal clock isn’t completely backwards.

Try to resist the temptation to go out and drink every night. Some of this is important for building relationships, but it gets expensive and your body will hate you. Also, eating gas station food and McDonald’s all the time will drop a sodium bomb on your body. We would make the occasional bus stop at a Walmart or Whole Foods, and during these times I would try to stock up on healthy options (protein shakes, tuna fish packets, etc.) I also travel with a small bullet blender so I can make myself green smoothies (kale, apple, lemon, cucumber, chia seeds). Everyone has their own diet they need to follow, but one universal truth is that nobody can live on cheeseburgers.

Lastly, one of the biggest perks of traveling nonstop is that you get to see all different parts of the world. Do some research and plan ahead to see what there is to see (unless you’re in Flint, MI…nothing to see there). Plan a quest for the best cheesesteak in Philly, go for a hike in Alaska, tour the Alamo in San Antonio. Take lots of pictures.

2. Keep an organized suitcase.

On Kinky Boots, we were each allowed ONE fifty pound bag and then a small carry-on size bag (which I wasn’t able to bring because my case is my carry-on…sound familiar?). While we did have a few layoff weeks, I never went home during them because I have a boyfriend who is also a touring musician. All of these considerations combined meant that I literally had one suitcase of clothes for 9 months of tour.

My BIGGEST recommendation would be to buy a set of packing cubes. If you aren’t familiar, these are small rectangular nylon/mesh pouches that work to compartmentalize your suitcase. It transforms one large catch-all into essentially a dresser, providing separate spaces for everything, so when I inevitably couldn’t find the one shirt I wanted I only had one section of the suitcase to blow up instead of my entire belongings. I’m sure they’re all very similar; I like these ones because they are cheap, come in lots of sizes, and I can use the shoe bag as a small laundry sack for my dirty socks and underwear:

Gonex Rip-Stop Nylon Travel Organizers Packing Bags Red https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9R0CC1/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_q3jiBbAWPPJ7W

A few other useful suggestions for packing: as you find yourself not wearing certain things even when they’re in season, ship them home in flat rate boxes and save yourself the extra poundage. Keep Tide pods in a ziplock bag to spare yourself the need to buy new detergent in every city (not to snack on, silly kids). Invest in a handheld luggage scale so you don’t have to repack at the airport and slow your group down.

3. Find ways to keep your playing fresh.

If you rely solely on playing the show to keep your chops up, you’re going to end up with issues. In our setup, I am surrounded by plexiglass covered in acoustic foam panels. We each have an individual Aviom and in-ear monitors, which is a curse and a blessing: even though I was completely deadened and blocked off from everyone, I could make my own mix in my ears and add back that reverb I was missing. We all hate playing with ear plugs in, but at least you can pipe back in your own sound (and protect your hearing). I adjusted to this all fairly well, but whenever I had the opportunity to play naturally it took a chunk of time to find my center again.

My absolute favorite thing to do is play piccolo trumpet and soprano cornet, and there is none of that on this show. While I feel like the show has helped further develop my lead playing, I found myself really missing what I was passionate about. Somewhere in the middle of tour I decided to start plugging away at the Charlier book again, and that helped. I would meet up with fellow trumpet players and play with them, trading off on flow studies, flexibility, articulation. We are heading to Asia in a month, and I just purchased a little single picc case so I can take it with me as a personal item and work up some repertoire in my free time.

4. Maintain your contacts at home.

This was something I worried about a lot – you spend so much time building a freelancing career and making those relationships, and if you are out of the picture opportunities can vanish very quickly. It’s not at all impossible, but very important, to keep in touch with your home network and keep them updated on your schedule. A few weeks before a layoff, call the church you used to frequent and see if you can arrange something. Set up a meal with your old professor. I’ve been busy filling my break with meaningful performance experiences that also help pay the bills and keep me in the loop – I just finished up a concert series with the Sacred Winds ensemble in Kentucky, and next weekend I get to play the Haydn Concerto with the Oklahoma Haydn Festival! It’s been great to have a goal to practice for.

5. Be fearless.

As a musician and a person! The commercial music and theater industry is very heavily dominated by men. People are going to look down into the pit and be shocked to see a female musician (we were lucky enough to have two in ours). Do everything you can to break that stereotype. One of my old teachers was actually convinced that women were not physically capable of achieving the same power on the trumpet as men because he had encountered so many timid female players. Shocking, right?

The best thing I learned in graduate school was to stop worrying about how I looked, worrying about not being ladylike, worrying about missing notes, worrying about what everyone else was thinking. Trumpet is an inherently masculine instrument in that it takes a powerful and aggressive approach, but that does not prevent anyone from lighting it up on stage. All it takes is confidence and hard work.

To quote Kinky Boots, “you’ll change the world if you change your mind.”

Interview with Jen Baker – trombonist and composer

Jen Baker, trombonist/composer, has collaborated with artists all over the world in site-specific mixed media performance, concert halls, solo and chamber commissions. As an improviser she is featured on the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s Oscar-nominated Encounters at the End of the World. She has performed internationally in festivals and has toured with Arijit Singh, Karole Armitage, and Mansour, and new music ensembles S.E.M., TILT brass, and the mobile ensemble Asphalt Orchestra (founding member). Her forthcoming book, Hooked on Multiphonics aides composers and trombonists in understanding and executing the deep complexities of multiphonics. She currently teaches trombone and composition at Sarah Lawrence College and also Brooklyn Conservatory, through which she goes to after school programs in various neighborhoods in Brooklyn for trombone classes (New York City does not fund public school music education, so this program is a vital way of bringing music to kids who wouldn’t have it otherwise.). She loves improvised vegan cooking (10 years and counting!), teaching, listening to animals, and long meandering walks.

 


  1. Tell us about your project, Silo Songs. How was the process of recording and putting it together different than that of your previous albums like Blue Dreams? How did you balance that with all of your other responsibilities in NYC?

The fundamental inspiration for both projects came from physical surroundings of the family farm where I grew up. At the time of Blue Dreams I was intrigued by the beauty of slow motion decay and decomposition many disused barns were undergoing (and continue to do): rusting roofs, peeled paint, weathered wood, bent rebar, piles of orange twine knotting together, entire barns leaning impossibly far but not falling. Silo Songs was developed entirely inside one of the buildings on the farm- a large concrete grain silo, completely empty since the 80s.

Silo Songs was a slow accumulation of ingredients that eventually clarified itself during the four years I spent workshopping ideas inside the silo. Silo Songs bears little musical resemblance to my solo album Blue Dreams aside from the continuity of multiphonics, a world that I obsessed over and lived within for several years. Blue Dreams was conceived early on in my immersion into through-composed and through-performed multiphonics pieces, and it was recorded during my most prolific stage as an improviser when I was living in Oakland, California. Free improvisation is another area that I focused on for several years, particularly in the Bay Area, where I was in close proximity to a hotbed of creative musicians with open minds and gigantic listening ears. I long to saturate myself once again in that world, playing as I float along the stream of consciousness, and i look forward to reuniting with improvisation sometime. As to recording Blue Dreams, I gave myself 3 hours in a gorgeous studio-all wood and dim lighting with a fantastic audio/sound engineer/percussionist/improviser (Karen Stackpole) who I knew would give me the psychic space I needed to improvise crystal clear ideas. My sole focus was representing what I heard/saw/thought/felt from the collective stream of consciousness in the form of multiphonic trombone pieces/songs. In the weeks prior to the recording, I sketched out a basic harmonic form for three or four pieces, and played multiphonics daily to build endurance.  

Recording Silo Songs was a completely different experience. For starters, I spent several years working out the physical and technical kinks of playing outdoors in various temperatures. I was also living and working in New York at this point. Economically, the silo project all had to be done by myself – there’s no way I could have hired someone to travel out to Jonesville Michigan every time I experimented. Besides, I vehemently believe that my personal and psychic space needed to be uninterrupted by others. As an individual who is influenced by others to a disturbing degree, I struggle to hear my own thoughts. In order to make artistic decisions unfettered by the ideas and opinions of others, I must honor my need for solitude, the chameleonic Pisces that I am! So there I was, learning how to be a field recording engineer, while also assessing the acoustic phenomena of the space for what pitch sets would be optimal, and testing out how other found objects and instruments reacted in the space. Eventually (in the final year), I was also thinking about the mechanics of actually playing trombone in such an unlikely performance space.

Within real life this recording project was one of many varied performing and related projects. Having many irons in the fire (professional, personal, and otherwise) tends to keep me alive and focused – I thrive on a plurality of identities! Silo Songs could have been done in a month’s time, but the beauty of spreading it out is that it had time to marinate and simmer alongside other projects like commissions for Loadbang and The Fourth Wall, and writing my book on Multiphonics. My work in the silo was done at times of the year when performance seasons have a lull, like February, early July, August, and so on. It worked out rather seamlessly with my “regular” NYC life. I’d like to think that is because I spend a lot of mental energy manifesting – in this case, manifesting an ideal schedule that doesn’t cause any outrageous double bookings. It more or less worked out.

 

  1. What inspired you to write Hooked on Multiphonics? What were your original goals with the book and how do you feel now that it has been out for a little while?

I remember in 2011 noticing how often I had to repeat myself to composers who wanted to write extended techniques for trombone. “Why don’t these people learn more about the mechanics of the trombone in school,” I thought. Or, “if you’re so interested, why don’t you look it up?” But when I looked around for resources to point them to, no text or resource really gets granular and specific enough to convey what the trombone can do. So then I thought I’d just make a quick sheet or two of musical examples to hand over to any composer interested in my instrument…well, that quickly exploded into multiple chapters, and eventually into a two part book, because trombonists need to understand the mechanics of multiphonics as well, and tricky passages could be made easier by having some studies to practice. I’ve heard good things from both composers and trombonists who are using/have used the book. Personally, I’m still editing the book in my mind. I think the process of making the book exacerbated my inner critic and perfectionism has now run rampant in my life. I’m gently swinging the balance back toward spontaneous fun and play in my musical life.

 

  1. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

What does it mean to be a female brass player? This is a really small club, one that’s so small most of its members didn’t even know there were any others in it! I certainly didn’t. Being a female brass player for me has meant taking a “joke” that isn’t very funny and is demeaning to women; walking into a room of colleagues having “locker room” talk and quickly dwindling down to a murmur when you enter; or worse, having locker room talk right there in front of you and expecting you’ll just be cool about it; having to relate outside of yourself in order to “get” male humor, and if you’re hetero, dealing with the complexity of human attraction with an awkward proportion of “date-ables.” And a lot of other stuff. In other words, the ratio of men to women in brass world is tricky to navigate, even for a tomboy at heart like myself!

I think as human beings, we all have a responsibility to one another to keep one another in check by our own sense of (hopefully) good ethical/moral/professional standards. As a population, we will evolve more constructively if we all pitch in, and this is how communities become strong. So to break that down into a smaller sector- the responsibility a female brass player has – it isn’t any different. At least not to me. We are all responsible for our community and subcommunities that we identify with, whether we actively participate or not. We do this face to face, at jobs, after hours, on the train, social media, and on the rare occasion we can get out of our spheres and do something non work related. I’m still working on being better at participating in my communities-especially in the non work, friend hanging portion. It’s a long term project and we can all choose how we contribute to it.

 

  1. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or in your teaching?

Well, more than ever, if you want to be a musician, it had better be a huge passion, and you’d better not be worried about stability…and if you are thinking about stability, then music is just simply not a good career choice. The hardest thing for me to do as a musician is to have fun and remember that I do this because I love it (I really do love it). And make space-psychic, physical, emotional, mental – to create!! Creation is left out of a lot of music education- it’s up to YOU to put creative tasks back into making music!

 

  1. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

I wish I’d known social skills were an integral part of life and of music and of freelance musician work in particular.

Secondly, I wish I’d been trained in sight reading and switching quickly between style/articulation more rigorously and to understand how important that is!

 

      6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, etc?

Silence changed my life.

 

 

Five Tips to Combat Impostor Syndrome – by Mariel Bildsten

Mariel Bildsten is a trombonist, based in New York City. Mariel works as a bandleader and side-woman in New York, playing in jazz big bands and small groups, as well as world and Caribbean music, classical, funk, r&b, and Latin music bands. She has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, the Chicago Jazz Festival, Perth International Arts Festival, Caramoor Jazz Festival, Smalls Jazz Club, and Smoke Jazz Club, among other venues. Mariel has also performed alongside Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Hargrove, Wycliffe Gordon, Frank Lacy, Brian Lynch, Cyrus Chestnut, and Lew Soloff. Her own groups (ranging from duo to septet) have headlined jazz festivals, played around the country, and gig regularly in New York City. She graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in December 2015. During her time there, Mariel had the opportunity to study with fantastic teachers and mentors, such as Elliot Mason, Steve Turre, Vincent Gardner, Mike LeDonne, Reginald Workman, and Jane Ira Bloom.

Photo credit to Lauren Desberg

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes named impostor syndrome as a feeling of “phoniness or fraud in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Impostor syndrome presents itself through chronic self-doubt and feeling unworthy of opportunities. 

It is a thought-process that we all deal with, to varying degrees. Even as I’m writing this blog post, I’m telling myself “Mariel, who are you kidding? You’re not a writer, go and practice trombone!” 

Here are 5 tips to combat impostor syndrome. 

  1. Remember that you are there for a reason

Whether “there” is a gig, rehearsal, recording session, teaching position, or conversation, people who struggle with impostor syndrome will look around and say “How the hell am I here? I am a fraud. This must be a mistake.” 

I tend to place everyone else’s musicianship on a pedestal above my own, and believe that I’m only on a gig because no-one else was available and I was the 50th person they called.

However, if you truly brought zero value to a situation, you would not be invited because people don’t have time or energy to waste. You MUST believe this. Your voice on the instrument is unique and has characteristics that listeners enjoy, without the accompaniment of the bullshit in your head. An audience doesn’t know your journey as a musician: where you’re coming from or where you’re going. All they receive is your sound and stage presence. 

Your individual concept is valuable, and different from the other people in the room. You bring a positive energy. You interpret music in a playful way. You’re an excellent sight-reader. You’re an expansive improviser. Your sense of rhythm is incredible. You swing your ass off. You have a beautiful sound. You know every song under the sun. You push the other musicians around you. What’s your thing? 

          2. Bring your A game

This being said, do your job! Focus on bringing value to the situation.

Being prepared will help quiet those voices. If you did your best and leave each situation feeling proud of your work, that’s a win.

         3. Ask questions 

Use your impostor syndrome to fuel your curiosity. My fraudulent thoughts will run rampant when I think I don’t know enough about records, standards, or lack understanding of chord changes and theory, particularly around other jazz musicians. Rather than shutting up and shutting down to conceal my self-perceived inadequacies, I’ve started to ask more questions. 

“What’s this record?” 

“That’s a gorgeous tune, what is it?” 

“I don’t know the chord changes to this song, can you teach me?”

This does a few things: 

  1. You actually learn something!
  2. You make others feel good about what they do know
  3. You’re creating a situation where sharing and learning are welcomed 
  4. Others may be wondering the same thing. Thank God you had the balls to ask!

Along these same lines, how can we shift the perspective to be one of more gratitude? 

Self-gratitude for your own hard work and musicianship, and gratitude for the people that see your value. Be sure to get out of your head enough to say thank you. 

       4. Be a leader

Create more opportunities for yourself and the musicians around you. As I mentioned above, your musical voice is unique and needs to be heard. Dig into the music you love, create something, and go for it! This builds confidence, community, and a vision that is individual to you. As a bandleader, I’ve been able to play with my favorite musicians, employ them, and create a larger musical community. There are opportunities for every single musician in the world. Think globally and outside-the-box. 

As a side-person, know your value. If you have a special skill, bring that to the table when others hire you. Take the lead on that, others will be grateful. 

       5. Call a friend

Call a friend, mentor, family member, or someone you trust, and share how you’re feeling. Everyone has moments of insecurity, so don’t be afraid to share and ask for an encouraging word.

IMPORTANT BONUS! Diversity

A reality is that some opportunities come specifically because we are women. Whether it is an all-woman band/horn section or an organization is looking for more diversity, it will happen. We work in the entertainment industry and for some, image matters. I feel it as a woman, but everyone deals with this. People are often hired based on their age, race, gender or identity, culture, pregnancy, and/or disability. Sometimes the intention will be crystal clear, other times not. Obviously, some situations are to be avoided, and we all have varying levels of comfort with that dynamic. 

I hate feeling like the only reason I’m hired is because I’m a woman. It feeds my impostor syndrome. However, once you’re in the room, prove them wrong. Play your ass off, be prepared, be professional, know your stuff. Perhaps your gender got you in the door, but now you’re there as a musician. 

I hope these tips will help your mindset. Good luck and keep on keeping on!

For more about Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes’ research on impostor syndrome check it out here.

Five Questions to Recent Music Graduates – by Kate Amrine

Today’s post is by our very own Kate Amrine – she felt inspired to do some end of semester reflecting after seeing so many friends, colleagues and students graduating. 

A passionate and creative performer, Kate Amrine is a prominent trumpet player balancing a multifaceted career from developing new repertoire and curating concerts to freelancing with many different groups in the New York City area. Recent performances include a tour of Japan with the New York Symphonic Ensemble, a solo recital in Mississippi at the Music by Women Festival, and an opera at BAM with string ensemble A Far Cry. Upcoming performances include new music with orchestra at Carnegie Hall and the Miller Theater, a workshop of a new off Broadway show by Duncan Sheik, a concerto in her hometown in Maryland, and a concerto and orchestra tour to Japan. Kate is extremely dedicated to commissioning and performing new music, premiering over 30 pieces both as a soloist and a chamber musician. Her debut album was released in November 2017 and features new music by women composers. Kate also frequently performs on Broadway and in other regional musical theater productions both in and outside of the NYC area. As an educator, Kate enjoys teaching in several after school music programs and teaches private trumpet lessons as an Adjunct Instructor at New York University. 

 


  1. What do you want to do?

This is perhaps the most obvious question of them all. I am sure we have all heard this from friends, family, teachers, and even people at the grocery store. But it is super important to think about – even if what you want is “unrealistic.” Thinking about your version of an ideal career can open your eyes up to what is possible, what would be the best case scenario, what you are willing to do to get here, and what you don’t want to be doing at all.. Also, don’t be afraid to think big – what would be the best case scenario for your career – it could be something like winning a job, playing with a certain famous musician, or giving recitals across the country. Similarly, don’t be afraid to think “small” – sometimes what you want to do could be as simple as recording an album in the year after graduating or starting a group with friends. Having goals of different sizes aimed for different points of your career is definitely the way to do it.

One more thing about goals – they should be SMART. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

So for example, my goal of playing with the New York Pops isn’t a SMART goal because it isn’t something that I have any control of the Time aspect. A goal of making an album of music for kazoo and slide whistle (completely just made this up) is SMART though because all of the factors would be in your control – including what you record, when it is released, who is involved, how you will measure its success, and how it will all come together.

 

  1. Is this Aligned with my Goals and What I want to be doing?

I’m not sure where I first heard this but just to state the obvious, without a plan you’ll end up somewhere that you don’t want to be. I had this experience when I finished my undergrad and I don’t recommend it. Most people when they graduate from music schools with a degree in their instrument come out of school saying something like “I just want to play” or “I’m down to work in any musical scenario.” While you may be eager and these statements may be true for you, hopefully you’ll realize from the previous point that these aren’t SMART goals. Of course we want to take every gig that comes our way – but after a certain point, our time gets more and more valuable and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. So when faced with these decisions, you will have to answer this question – does this new opportunity align with my goals and what I want to be doing? As I wrote about in my recent blog post, we aren’t always able to make every decision with our goals 100% in mind. Sometimes there may be a situation that comes up where you really want to take a certain gig yet have to stay in and teach because you need the money to cover student loans or your monthly expenses. Being financially stable is a very important goal and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked when going for our musical goals.

 

  1. Who is on your team to help you get there?

As a recent graduate, presumably you have a good relationship with your teacher, other professors, recent colleagues, friends, and family. These are all people that can help you accomplish your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, bounce ideas off of friends, or have these tough talks with people who are on your side. On the other hand, there may be times that the only person that knows what is best for your career is YOU. Your parents or friends can’t possibly understand everything that you are trying to do in your career or be able to understand and accept tough situations like how taking a low paying gig with a better future opportunity might be better than a short term higher paying gig. There are also many more resources available to help you get where you need to be. Here in New York City, the Musicians Union and Actors Fund both have many career workshops, financial counseling, and other wellness events. I also sought out a coach – Karen Cubides –  to help me focus on my career and get everything in order. Don’t be afraid of asking for help when needed!

 

  1. How are you going to leave the scene better than you found it?

I realize that this might be a bit of a dark topic to address in a post intended for college graduates but life is short! We aren’t going to be around forever and now is a good time to think about things like the kind of impact you want to make and what would happen if you weren’t alive anymore. I like thinking about it in relation to a campground – that old saying, leave your surroundings cleaner than you found them – it totally applies here. What are you going to do that goes beyond playing gigs and focuses on serving others and making the world a better place? This doesn’t have to be a huge grand gesture because there are many little ways that we can go beyond in the world around us. Things like offering a free masterclass at an organization with financial problems, performing in senior centers, teaching, and so many others – these are all totally doable things that you can try and see what works best for you. How do you want to be remembered?

 

  1. How are you different than everyone else?

This is another question that you might have heard before. Many music business and entrepreneurship texts often focus on building up as many skills as possible so that you are “marketable” or “hirable” or filled with added abilities to make you more attractive to work with. These things aren’t wrong – but it can be unrealistic to think about being a master at your instrument, teaching, the technology aspect, and all of these other facets of being a musician. You don’t have to be a Jack or Jill of all trades – but being able to offer a bit more than just someone who can show up and play will help you in the long run. I remember when I was in school someone told us to look around and that the room was filled with our colleagues for life – people who would hire you and be on your side – so we should all be careful how we come across to others, even at a young age. As a recent graduate, hopefully you have already made these smart choices – but if not, no better time like the present 🙂 These people graduating with you are able to hire you when they need someone but also remember they may be your competitors. This goes back to the question – how are you different than everyone else? This goes far beyond how you are in a playing situation and relates much more to how you are personally to work with and everything you completely bring to the table.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments! I would love to start a conversation about these things 🙂

Interview with Audrey Flores: Horn Player in NYC

Professional HeadshotAudrey Flores is a freelancing horn player in New York City. She attended the Juilliard School and the Mannes College of Music, and regularly plays in Broadway productions and with orchestras in the tri-state area. Formerly Principal Horn of both the Allentown Symphony and Symphony in C in Camden, NJ, Audrey has also played with the New World Symphony, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, the Miami Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Mariinsky Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble. She was a musician in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Orchestra in 2011 and 2012, and in the New York Spectacular in the summer of 2016. She released her first solo album in June of 2017.

Audrey also enjoys a full teaching schedule in addition to pursuing a varied career. She is a Teaching Artist for Midori and Friends, an organization in New York City that works in tandem with the Department of Education to supplement and provide music instruction for public school students. She taught beginning and intermediate brass at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine in 2006, and coached chamber music for the Juilliard Pre-College Program in 2005. She specializes in teaching beginning brass students.

When she isn’t working, Audrey enjoys cooking, swimming, traveling, and being home with her family. She is married to Steven Behnke, a horn player whom she met in New York Youth Symphony. They have a two-year-old son and a baby daughter. They also have a perfect rescue pug named Rocky!


  1. You have a considerable web presence in the form of your Facebook Live series “Musicians of Now” and your blog. We really admire your blog’s honesty and candid tone, writing about many aspects of being a musician that are often not discussed. How did you choose the topics you wrote about? Why did you start the Facebook live series?  

I’m glad you (editors note – Kate Amrine) were one of the first guests on the series!  I actually got the idea to start doing this from an NPR series I was listening to in passing.  It focused on the stories of corporations that started from nothing, went through some tough times, and ended up being wildly successful.  I realized that I was uncomfortable listening to it, and it’s because of the simple reason that while we were hearing about these big companies, there were many others who made better product that didn’t have the big money number to hook any outside interest.  There are many companies with similar stories that we’ll never hear about, and they might be great people, and have great stories, but because they haven’t hit the traditional mark of success, no one will care about their plight.

I’ve had unofficial, full-time employment as a classical musician, and I didn’t know how to reconcile myself as a figure for change and positivity in that role.  The times when I’ve felt the most alive and useful as a musician have been those random concerts where the conditions aren’t fabulous, but the audience is excited.  After you play for them, you know that you’ve encouraged them to go to those big concerts of musicians that are traditionally thought of as the authority figures in our field.  I think that these freelancers are really the ambassadors of our art, and it’s imperative and exciting to appreciate and examine them as they are now, and not some years down the line when they’re no longer freelancers.

In covering the life of the modern freelancer in an honest way, I find it necessary to share both the good and the bad.  Historically I think we’ve all been told to put on a brave face because it’ll make you look busier, which attracts more success.  However, I really believe that there’s less work now, and if you’re generally thought of as busy, the calls are more likely to go to someone that is just as talented, but not as lucky as you’re coming off.  Most of us just want to know that we’re ok, and I’m trying to cultivate a new way of thinking, one blog post at a time. I really feel that we’re all going through the same doubts and fears, on every level, but we use our Carnegie Hall photos and our social media as bandaids for those sentiments.

  1. Tell us about your recent album and your inspiration behind it. How did you balance recording an album with freelancing in New York City and your other responsibilities?

My first real love for the horn came from listening to hours and hours of solo horn CDs.  I learned a lot from that intense listening, and I knew that I always wanted to give back to the next generation of horn players that were following their passion.  I put it off for many years because I didn’t think that anyone would listen to it it I didn’t have a big orchestral job. In all honesty, I went ahead and made it because I wasn’t getting a lot of work, and I wanted it to be known that I had talent on my instrument, if it happened that I never got called to play anything professionally again.

I had many rehearsals with Manon Hutton-DeWys, who has now completed her doctorate!  It was tough to turn away paying work for those rehearsals, but I’m so glad I prioritized that time.  I chose pieces that I was excited to play, and I looked forward to coming home after teaching classes to sit down and play through them.  The actual recording happened on two dates, so it’s quite easy in early February to block out entire days and record for four hours. I was fortunate to fund the project entirely by myself, so I didn’t have to depend on availability of halls that I was getting for free, and wasn’t at the whim of a recording engineer who was donating time, as I know many musicians have had to do.

  1. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

(such a great question!)  I think we as brass players, regardless of gender, steel ourselves when we walk into a brass group with a mentality of “I have to keep up” or “I’m gonna let everyone know I’m Alpha because I can play loud” or “It’s time to be tough”.  We probably associate this more with men because they historically have occupied the brass section, and it has definitely been an uphill battle for the women that have paved the way for us. I’ve definitely heard things like “you can play surprisingly loud as a woman”, and I’ve been hit on in the workplace, or referred to as “babe”.  Our responsibility as female brass players is to create, and not to respond to the music, and external pressures, around us. Most female musicians I know approach music from the big picture in, and that grace is something we can share with everyone around us. Having had children, I have seen first-hand twice-over the awesome creative powers of women.  In every major professional situation I’ve been in, I have been judged solely on my talent and cooperative nature by men, and I am sure that we will lead the next generation by example.

  1. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?

I think musicians now have less fixed opportunities to play, but almost too many opportunities to think big.  Everyone can use social media to their benefits and exploit technology for the novelty of it, but there’s a decline of talent and refinement.  Playing live for other musicians keeps you honest in your trade, but playing over a computer with bad speakers leaves us less accountable for the way we sound and play in real time.  A major priority of mine is to sound and play as well as the people I love to listen to, and sometimes I think younger musicians neglect that. When I teach, I emphasize two things: listen to the colleagues around you and use your sound to make the group better, and never work to be better than the people around you, but play to be as good as the people you admire.

  1. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

I wish I had known that the level I play at isn’t necessarily going to make me successful.  You can do all the right things and check off the right boxes, but the opportunities that come your way will be very different from those of someone else’s, and talent can sometimes have very little to do with it.  Constantly comparing yourself with your colleagues will just lead to envy and depression. The musicians with the longest careers stay in the business because they love the life, and couldn’t imagine anything else.  I wish I hadn’t gotten caught up in where I measured up against everyone else.

I think female musicians, or even female professionals, are quicker to self-correct than men, and sometimes this leads to us feeling incompetent when we are around men who aren’t so hard-wired to think the same way.  My advice is to combat that doubt with ability and determination. Be better and know that you are because of the practice hours you’ve put in. Be confident in the voice that you’ve found on your instrument through those precious hours you’ve spent with your instrument.

  1. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.

Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

NYP/Bernstein Mahler Recordings from the 60s

Learning Mahler Symphonies from Scores before recordings

Emerson String Quartets complete Schubert Quartets, Shostakovich Quartets

Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss

Five Subtle Sexist Things You’ll Encounter in Your Career (and how to address them)

Lauren Husting, trombone, is a low brass teaching artist working in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. She performs on tenor trombone with the jazz-infused Scottish/Irish traditional band Brass Lassie, plays bass trombone with the Adam Meckler Orchestra, and is a freelancer in all genres from classical and chamber to jazz, pop, and contemporary. Adjunct faculty at Hamline University in St Paul, Lauren also manages an active studio of learners ranging from beginner to advanced, middle school to adult, and works to provide private lesson opportunities for low-income students in her region. She is committed to building community among women in the local and regional music scene, and encouraging all her students to develop healthy and creative ways to make music in their lives.

Lauren received her Masters in Trombone Performance from the University of North Texas in 2007, and her Bachelors in Trombone Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2003. She can be found online at laurenhusting.com and is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Thanks Lauren for sharing this post with us!


I’ve talked to very few women musicians in my life who claim to have never experienced bias or sexism while at work or in training. Most of us, at some point, will be on the receiving end of chauvinistic behaviors ranging the gamut from subtle to severe. In many cases it may just be a person unaccustomed to speaking to professional women, or an older colleague with a slightly outdated mindset who doesn’t really mean any harm. But even the smallest offenses can be exhausting and discouraging for us.

There are ways to fight back, if you can recognize the symptoms. Here are five categories of bias that I’ve encountered in my career, and ways in which I’ve managed the situation. In no way is this an exhaustive list; let’s keep the conversation going!

 

  1. Patronizing comments/disbelief in your competence AKA “You play pretty good for a girl”

The classic. Someone just can’t seem to get over the fact that you play well, and they want to know exactly how you got your skill. It might be just an offhand comment or an awkward way to start a conversation with you, but sometimes it can manifest as utter disbelief in your ability. When that happens, it can feel pretty insidious and disconcerting. Sometimes it feels like they don’t think you actually understand how you got there yourself, or that it’s all luck or talent.  I’ve usually answered with responses that are a variation on “here are my credentials” (and sometimes with a snarky “Well, I’ve got lungs and arms and a pair of ears, so…”). The best way to fight it is with action: continue to play your best, speak your opinion, and act professionally. Continue reading

Five Lessons from my Embouchure Change

This week’s Five Things Friday post comes to us from trumpet player and recent high school graduate, Katherine Idleman. Katherine recently decided to undertake an embouchure change, and has chosen to share what that transition has taught her. Thanks to Katherine for writing!

Katherine's HeadshotKatherine Idleman is 18 years old and will be majoring in music education at Bucknell University this fall. She plans to join the many ensembles at Bucknell and hopes to become a band director for a middle and/or high school. She has played trumpet for 8 years and is learning trombone, clarinet, and saxophone as well. Katherine was a member of the Intermediate Wind Symphony and Jazz Band at Interlochen Arts Camp
in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, she was a member of the World Youth Wind Symphony and trumpet institute at Interlochen. Katherine was chosen to conduct the famous Interlochen Theme. This summer, she is going to be a camp counselor at Interlochen. She was also a member of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra for two years. She became a member of MYSO’s flagship orchestra, the Senior Symphony, her second year. She was a member of her high school’s concert, jazz and pep band and conducted her high school band for a band arrangement of the Finale
from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at her last concert. She is an avid advocate for music education and currently volunteers her time raising money for and teaching music at the Albert E. Kagel school in Milwaukee, shadowing band directors throughout Wisconsin and playing for churches in her community.


“You need to change your embouchure:” These are words no brass player ever wants to hear. I had gotten used to hearing it, though, and it made me upset every time. I knew that changing my embouchure meant I was going to sound like a beginner again but I could never find a convenient time to take a few weeks up to many months to go through this process. However, one day I told myself, you know what, it’s either now or never, and I am so glad I did.

Photo of Katherine playing in 2016, with the rim of her mouthpiece clearly set inside her top lip
(Picture from Summer of 2016)

March 2017: I couldn’t wait to get my braces off; I had them for five years, for goodness sake! I learned how to play trumpet with them, which means I did not know what playing without them felt like… or HOW to play without them. Nevertheless, my unrelenting optimism had me believing once these bad boys are off, everything is going to be perfect! Boy, was I wrong.

Although I struggled with the process of adapting to a new way of playing, the difficulties of deciding to change my embouchure and going through with that change have taught me more than just where to put my mouthpiece. The following are five lessons I learned through having to change my playing again and again:

Lesson #1: Change is the only constant. As brass players, our mouths are everything. However, we have to remember that the mouth is a part of our body and our body is always changing. I became acutely aware of the role of my mouth and the change it was undergoing when my braces were removed. These incidents can make playing much more difficult or even force you to stop playing for a few days or months. It can be easy to put yourself down while going through a rough patch while everyone else around you seems to be happy and playing just as easily and beautifully as the day before. No matter what happens with your playing physically or psychologically, it is important to embrace change and accept the hard parts of the process. This leads me into the second lesson I learned:

Lesson #2: Don’t be so hard on yourself. On March 12th 2017, I got to see, hear and meet one of my absolute favorite trumpet players and role models, Tine Thing Helseth, perform. The next day, I got my braces off. The first thing I did when I got home was bolt up the stairs and rip my trumpet out of its case. I eagerly placed the mouthpiece in the leadpipe and put it up to my lips in the standard correct position, which I had never used. Oh geez, uh, this doesn’t feel right, I thought. I buzzed my lips and could not make a sound. What?! This isn’t what this was supposed to be like!! I tried again and produced an obnoxiously loud splat noise that left me appalled. This wasn’t my playing!

I started questioning if I was still a trumpet player; all of a sudden, I could not play the trumpet. I wanted people to hear me play but I didn’t want people to see my odd embouchure.  I started thinking negative thoughts and convinced myself that people saw me as a ditsy blonde who had no idea what she was doing. I really believed that I was let into groups, winning awards, and earning more challenging parts because people felt bad. I wish I knew then but I definitely know now, that is completely untrue.

My embouchure would not have been such an issue if I were a beginner or just playing for myself, but, being someone who absolutely loves music, I had joined as many musical groups and gigs as possible. How could I explain my sudden inability to play trumpet, which I would need months to fix, to those groups? I had no idea, so I avoided the issue by switching right back to my old embouchure—just without the barbed wire fence in my mouth this time. If I switched to the new embouchure, I would lose all of my control, range, tone, everything… but if I kept the old one, I could keep all of that and at the time, I didn’t care how improper it was, I just wanted to play. Over the next year, I made changes to improve my embouchure and at the beginning of 2018, I thought I had found a lifetime embouchure. It worked wonderfully, judges no longer pointed it out and, yes, it still looked a bit different. But everyone’s does. This brings me onto my third lesson.

Photo of Katherine playing at her recent recital, with her old embouchure
(Picture from my senior recital from this April 2018)

Lesson #3: “Suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” I stumbled upon this quote by Jim Rohn a little over a week ago. While my old embouchure worked well for short periods of time, I was playing on the red of my lip and I got fatigued quickly. This forced me to compensate in other ways. My band director, through my stubbornness, suggested once again that I really should change my embouchure. I was frustrated; I felt like I was at the top of my playing, everything was going fantastic and I could not be happier; Why would I change it again? He told me that this was the last time he would give me that advice. I could either take it or leave it. I didn’t know right away what I would do. I didn’t even want to touch my trumpet that day, I was so conflicted. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon the above quote. I decided to be disciplined. I no longer wanted to postpone my embouchure change, convincing myself that everything was fine the way it was when I could improve. On May 3rd of this year, a day after speaking with my band director, I wiped the slate clean. I worked on fundamentals, playing chromatically from the G below the staff to the G in the staff and Clarke technical exercises. The difficulty I had in those first few days gave me flashbacks to middle school beginning band and my scale preparation for my college auditions. I am finding my voice on the trumpet again, and, thanks to this embouchure change, my playing is so much better than it was before. I’m finding that I can play more effectively, with much better intonation and it simply feels easier. Other than the fact I have a lot of range and overall control to build back up, I am so happy I made the decision to change my embouchure and actually change it this time. I can see and hear now that the reward is really worth the wait.  

Photo of Katherine playing with her new embouchure
(Picture from May 12th 2018)

Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to admit when something isn’t working. One of my greatest challenges in this process was just admitting to myself that something really needed to change. Once I accepted that my old embouchure was holding me back, I was able to begin the process of finding something that would work better. It is easy to get stuck in your ways or to fear change. Our self-worth can get tied up in how we see our playing, and acknowledging a fault or room for improvement can be daunting. However, acknowledging weaknesses is the only way to get better.

Lesson #5: Reach out for support when you need help. Times of transition can be tricky, and can feel impossible when we approach them alone. Without the help of my band director and trumpet teachers, I never would have changed my embouchure. I had thought, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, however, it took the urging of my wonderful teachers to see that, it really was broken and needed fixing. Additionally, I have leaned on the support of my friends and family as I have worked through this change.

 Transition is hard, but sometimes necessary. Believe in yourself and never give up!

Thank you for reading! My Instagram is @katherineidleman
I would absolutely love to connect with you!

 

Interview with Sarah Belle Reid

Sarah Belle Reid is a Canadian performer-composer, active in the fields of electroacoustic trumpet performance, intermedia arts, music technology, and improvisation. She is a co-developer of the Minimally Invasive Gesture Sensing Interface (MIGSI) for trumpet: an open-source, wireless interface that captures performance data and provides real-time extended sonic and visual control for improvisation. Reid has presented and performed with MIGSI at institutions and festivals around the world including Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), the International Conference of New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2015: Brisbane, Australia), New Media Art & Sound Summit (NMASS 2017: Austin, TX), University of Oregon, UT Austin, and UC Irvine’s Women in Music Technology Symposium (2016), among others. Reid received a Bachelor of Music in trumpet performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, where she is currently on faculty teaching music technology (Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence, and Design), and music theory.


1.You have so many interesting projects, from composing, interactive media works, teaching, and your own performing. How do you keep track of everything and decide where to focus your attention?

I’m the type of person who always has a lot of different projects on the go. Over the last 6 years or so my practice has evolved from being exclusively focused on the trumpet to something that is much more interdisciplinary in nature: working with technology, incorporating different media, and exploring ways of presenting and interacting with sound-based performance that fall beyond  a typical recital hall or concert setting. I find that working this way—merging music and sound art with electrical engineering, computer programming, and some elements of theatre or performance art—truly enriches my creative output and feels most genuinely like me.

I guess what I’m saying is that I always have a lot of projects on the go because I am constantly inspired by things I don’t fully understand. That leads me to study and learn about something new, which then inspires me to create something with those new tools or skills. And from there it’s a very fortunate snowball effect—if you’re open to new directions and collaborations, you’ll always be busy!

Of course, there’s always a balance that needs to be struck, as time and energy are limited resources. One on hand, learning new skills and tools can enrich your creative practice and open new doors, but on the other hand, it’s necessary to focus your practice in order to develop your craft. The way I try to handle this is by checking in regularly on my priorities and goals as an artist (and as a human). Is this project really fulfilling to me? Is it distracting from other goals I have? It’s important to ask yourself these questions and to really try to trust yourself. What makes you happy? This is a very different question from, “What do others think I should be doing?”

Beyond this, I make a lot of to-do lists, and schedule my time meticulously. I’ve learned that if I don’t protect my practice time and studio time, it’ll get buried beneath a hundred other obligations, so I carve out time in my calendar every morning to make sure it happens. One approach that has been particularly helpful to me over the past year is time blocking. This is where you block out time in your calendar for particular areas of focus, rather than specific tasks (e.g. you might block out an hour each day to business-type tasks such as answering emails or updating your website, or you might block out a few hours each Saturday to dedicate to composing.) Then, separate from these time blocks, you maintain a detailed list of all the individual tasks that fall into these categories and you pull one out at a time to focus on for that time block. This approach helps me stay focused and know that I’m constantly taking small but steady steps toward my goals.

 

2. How did you get started writing music for yourself and others? Do you have anything coming up in the near future?

I started writing music for myself and others around the same time I started to get interested in working with technology. At the beginning, I felt intimidated by the word ‘Composer’ because I had no formal compositional training, and a lot of the work I was creating used systems, instruments, or modes of interaction that didn’t really fit into traditional Western notation. I resisted calling myself a composer for a couple of years (even though I was regularly creating work for myself and others to perform) because I felt like people wouldn’t take me seriously. I eventually decided that I wanted the same opportunities as people who called themselves ‘composers’ and wasn’t going to let a silly word get in the way of my goals. Sometimes you just have to jump in!

One of the first large works I created after this point was called Disonillum. The piece is a multimedia installation inspired by memory imprints, which incorporated hand-drawn graphic scores printed onto three-dimensional acrylic objects. The performance of the work took place over the course of a week, with one performer entering the space to interpret the scores each day. As they played, their sound was recorded and sent into a long term degenerative audio process. One by one the performances would be added into the room, layering on top of each other and gradually degrading until almost unrecognizable.

I recently premiered a new concert-length work for augmented trumpet, modular synthesizer, and large metal objects called Timepiece. The metal objects are suspended throughout the performance space and are each outfitted with a contact microphone and surface transducer, transforming them into resonant feedback instruments. The trumpet I play has a custom hardware interface called MIGSI attached to it that I have been developing for the last few years. Using a number of different sensors, MIGSI captures gestural information from me and my trumpet as I play, and sends that data to a computer as control information. In Timepiece, data collected from MIGSI is used to control and interact with a Serge modular synthesizer.

The next performance I have coming up is a 45-minute solo set on trumpet with MIGSI as part of Moogfest (in Durham, North Carolina) on May 17th. I’ll also be leading two workshops on building interactive systems and performing with electronics throughout the weekend.

 

3. Tell us about your work on Patreon. How does that influence your process in terms of output of music, posting on social media, and more? Why did you decide to move to this platform and what do you hope to achieve from it?

Patreon is an online membership platform that makes it possible for people to support their favorite artists and creators. It’s a lot like a subscription to Netflix or a magazine: for example, if you like my music and the work I’m creating, you can become a patron by making a monthly pledge of $1 or more. In return, you can receive exclusive content, early access to releases, behind the scenes footage, mentorship, or other perks like free downloads and discounts. For independent artists such as myself, this platform makes it possible to grow and connect with your audience in a really meaningful way that might not otherwise be possible.

About a year ago I launched a patron-only collaborative project called The Postcard Project, in which I compose graphic scores on the backs of postcards and mail them to my patrons all around the world. They perform the piece in whatever way makes sense to them, and then create their own graphic score for me and mail it back, which I perform, and so on. It has been inspiring to see this project grow to over 20 collaborators spanning multiple countries, with more continuing to join in!

Even though my Patreon community is still relatively young, the motivation and support I have received from my patrons has been life changing. The monthly pledges I receive make it possible for new projects to come together (such as Timepiece and recent MIGSI developments) that would otherwise never be possible without external funding. It also means I can focus more time and energy on actually creating work and less on project-specific fundraising, pushing merch sales, and so on. I’ve been more productive than ever this past year and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I feel like I have a cheering squad behind me every single day!

 

 4. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

As a woman who plays trumpet and works with technology, I am regularly at the receiving end of comments that downplay my accomplishments or question my expertise. Many of these come from more or less well-intentioned audience members who don’t realize that comments about someone’s body (“how can such a small girl produce so much air?”); gender (“I never knew a woman could make noise music”); or technical ability (my personal favorite: “who coded/built/set all of this up for you?”) are draining, offensive, and damaging to self-confidence. Unfortunately these biases exist within our community as well. I was recently hired to play in an all-women band for a high-profile artist. Upon sharing the exciting news, I was told by a male colleague that it could have been a success for my career, had there been men in the band too—as though the presence of men would somehow legitimize the job and my position within it.

I know I’m not alone in facing these types of issues, and regrettably, I see many of my students grappling with very similar challenges. While we have certainly have made progress toward equality in this field, there is yet work to be done. As an artist and teacher, one of my main goals is to create a space where students feel excited and empowered to explore new things, whether that’s learning new repertoire, programs, tools, or creative interests. I think it’s important to recognize that we all have the capacity to be role models for the next generation of musicians and creators. We all have the capacity to promote confidence, hard work, and self worth in our students, and to foster an educational environment that is rigorous while being supportive and inclusive.

 

5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

I think one of the most important insights I’ve gained over the years is that it’s okay to be different (in fact, it’s good to be different). I struggled as a student because although I loved playing the trumpet, I felt disconnected from the repertoire I was studying. At the time I didn’t feel confident enough to admit that I didn’t love every aspect of what I was studying, so I pushed myself to keep going. I didn’t recognize this at the time, but I became unnecessarily stifled and nervous as a result. My performance suffered as a result, and my progress on the instrument plateaued. But when I started to improvise, build my own instruments, and integrate elements of theatre into my work, I immediately felt as though I had found my voice as an artist. I remember the first time I stood in front of an audience performing a work that truly spoke to me. I had been playing trumpet for my whole life, but it felt like my first honest performance—I never looked back.

At the end of the day, here’s the most important point: Find that thing that makes you feel utterly and completely fulfilled, and own it. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important, not marketable, not serious enough, or any of that nonsense. Just be you. It takes a huge amount of work, dedication, and perseverance, but if you’re focused and inspired, you can do it. People will notice your passion, and they’ll listen.

 

6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, etc?

I learned about time blocking from Suz at Rock/Star Advocate, who is a wonderful resource for musical entrepreneurs and freelancers.

For anyone who’s interested in getting into technology:

Five Ways to Make your Emails More Effective

Monica Benson is freelance trumpet player and music educator in the Chicagoland area. Her enthusiasm and experience ranges from classical to contemporary, from rock and indie to pop music, and the occasional musical. Known for her professional work in the Chicago area, Monica has performed with multiple ensembles and bands from all over including the Brass Band of Battle Creek, The Illinois Brass Band, all-female 60s pop cover band The Bangers, and indie band The Generationals. During the summer months Monica can be found at The Arlington International Racecourse, playing the “Call To Post” as the official Arlington Bugler. Along with an active freelance career, Monica also teaches in the DePaul Community Music School’s Chicago Public Schools outreach program during the school year and the Sistema Ravinia program during the summer. Monica is currently working on her Master’s degree in Music at DePaul University.

I know an article about emailing can seem about as exciting as an article about office plants, but trust me when I say being a good communicator will help you get and keep gigs. Do I have your attention now? Whether you think you are or not, you are a business. Part of your business as a musician is being in contact with others who could potentially hire you. As much as musicians would like to think their lives are “all about the music,” wouldn’t it be nice if the music made you some money? As a student and freelance trumpet player in the Chicago area I have learned many things about corresponding with different groups and venues as both a musician and contractor. Below, I have compiled five things that have helped make my emails more effective and, in turn, helped me get and keep gigs. Happy emailing everyone!

1. Respond in a timely manner.

This is probably the easiest, and most fixable, thing you can do to increase your professionalism with regards to email. In this day and age, there is really no reason why it should take more than 24 hours to respond to an email. The old “so sorry my week got away from me” or “this email slipped by me on accident” is not such a valid excuse anymore. If you have never used an excuse like this to save face after a late email response, you are either: 1. Lying to yourself or 2. A magical being that exists only in folklore and on carefully curated Instagram pages. With email at our fingertips 24/7, it is easier than ever to keep up with electronic correspondence. Of course, we have all had weeks where email is the last thing on our minds (we are musicians after all). If it is not possible to respond with a valid or thoughtful response within the 24-hour time frame, send the recipient an email stating that you received their email and need to gather more information before properly answering their question. This way, the person knows you have at least received their email and are actively working on a response for them. However, it is important to consider that your timeliness could be the difference between getting the gig or the gig passing you by.

From a contractor’s perspective, musicians who are good communicators are hidden gems.  At the racetrack where I work during the summer, I am often in charge of hiring other musicians. Communication with the people I hire is key. If someone is difficult to communicate with I will most likely not hire them again. The piece of mind that is created when you are working with someone who is professional and prompt is far more important than having the best player. Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship has to be there too, but I would rather hire a good communicator than a musical prodigy. Gigs can be stressful, and to be worried about whether or not your musicians will be on time or be able to find the gig just adds unnecessary anxiety.

 

2. Establish all pertinent information in the first correspondence.

Recently, I received an email that read like this: “Monica, are you interested and/or available to play the (name of concert) on (date) at (venue). I have 10 pieces.” Notice anything that’s missing? I can’t tell you how many emails like this I have received. Emails like this are incredibly frustrating for most musicians because of the lack of information. In the above email there is no information regarding time, rehearsals, pay, or personnel. This made it impossible for me to give a definitive yes or no to this gig right away. By not including all the information in the first email, an extended back and forth correspondence was created just to determine the details of the gig itself. Not to mention, after finally getting all the information deciding if I was available for the gig. Listing all the logistical information in the first email is key when hiring musicians for an engagement. If all the information is presented up front, it makes for a quicker response time from both parties and streamlines the hiring process.

3. Don’t be an askhole.

Although having all the information is a very important part of determining the success of a gig, there is a right and wrong way to gather information from a contractor. For example, say you are unclear about what the dress is for the gig. You thought it was concert black but have a nagging feeling it’s black pants/white shirt. Before shooting an email to the contractor, look back through previous correspondence. This question could have been addressed in a previous email. If the question is still unanswered, check the email recipients to see if you recognize a colleague’s name. It is possible to ask your colleague if they have any info that will help answer your question. If you still strike out on this front, compile all unanswered questions you have into one email and send it to the contractor. It is not ideal to ask a question about something that has already been discussed in a previous discussion, whether in person or via email. This makes you seem disorganized and unprofessional. Contractors are typically very busy people, so the less you need from them, the easier you make their job. The amount of info you will need to feel comfortable on a gig will vary from gig to gig. Some contractors send all the info right away, others will be like the above email. Be as proactive as possible about your role on the gig before including the contractor. You will be surprised how often we can answer our own questions. Some deductive reasoning and a little help from Google can go a long way.  

 

4. Be concise.

As mentioned above, contractors and musicians are busy and usually working on multiple projects at a time (such is the nature of the job). Very few people have the time or desire to read an email novel. There is a way to be concise without being rude. If you feel like you need to include paragraphs of niceties to make your voice via email less curt, don’t. A simple, “Thanks! Please let me know if you need any more information from me.”  is just as polite as a long-winded response. What most people don’t know is that people would rather read the shorter emails. When you think about the emails that take the longest to respond to, they are usually the ones that are on the longer side. It’s very easy to procrastinate on longer emails because it is more information to sift through. With gig information, try to include everything in the email or subject line instead of in an attachment. The fewer places a musician has to go to get the info they need the better. If everything is included in one email in one spot, it is much more efficient.

5. Be appreciative.

In regards to politeness via email, I end every email with a short “thank you” or “thanks.” This goes a long way. By including a thank you or a “please let me know if you need anything else from me” you seem flexible and easy to work with. Also, if someone is offering you a gig, thank them! They didn’t have to ask you for that gig, but they did, so it is perfectly acceptable to extend a word of thanks. Even if you are unable to take the gig that is offered to you thank them anyway. A simple “thank you for thinking of me, please keep me in mind for future opportunities” is the best way to help ensure future correspondence with that person.  Affecting an attitude of gratitude will not only make you stand out, but it will also make your career much more enjoyable. We are very lucky that we get the opportunity to play music for a living, either full time or part time, and the people who help provide us with opportunities to make music deserve our thanks.