David Cutler, professor at University of South Carolina’s School of Music, is no stranger to being viewed as a maverick musician singularly standing out as a recognized entrepreneur-savant in the circles of classical music’s collegiate academia.
His mission is very much one that I – and many prominent figures in academia – feel a close kinship with.
It is a difficult mission to embrace for some.
It involves a nearly impossible change in something seemingly unchangeable…
Our own mindsets.
So what is this mindset-changing mission…
That musicians, with collaboration, timing, effort, innovation, and human agency, can take charge of their careers into their own hands.
It’s a significant issue many parents that work with me understandably are concerned about when wondering about their musical son’s or daughter’s futures.
Making a career happen that is fully satisfying artistically is certainly no easy feat.
What interests me most about his work is actually how many music schools across the US are adopting the entrepreneurial philosophy outlined by David’s vision; his seminal work The Savvy Musician has guided many college-level syllabi on the subject of making a living – albeit creatively, uniquely, and wholly artistically & originally – with music.
Chamber Music America – a conference whose board of directors is comprised of many higher-ups in the classical music world – is no stranger to asking music colleges to present bold ideas and networking opportunities to predominantly classical musicians.
I was invited to this conference by David himself; I’m happy I went.
David’s One Lesson That We Can All Take Away
“What IS Marketing?” David Cutler mercurially asks a room, with emphasis on the “is” verb, fraught with professional musicians previously or currently training in music schools.
Some in the room say it’s a good website.
Some say it’s social media.
Some say it’s radio.
Some say it’s print media
Some say it’s shelling out the big dolla’ $$$$ for PR and publicists.
David isn’t one to discard these answers, because they are true; these are tools that musicians use for marketing.
But David didn’t get to the front of the room by thinking like the rest of the room.
David says “Everything is marketing.”
Sure, the way a website presents who we are is marketing. The way a social media page is handled is certainly marketing. And print media and advertising are, in our collective consumer consciences, the mecca of marketing.
But did you ever take the time to realize why we dress the way we do when performing music; why we talk the way we do when talking about music; why we introduce ourselves the way we do when introducing ourselves to other musicians, or audiences.
It’s simple; because we are looking to get a message across.
And isn’t marketing ultimately about selling, in a literal or social transactional currency, a message to someone else.
A Prominent Music Critic Casts Light On Why People Care About Hearing – And Seeing – Music In the First Place
A guest of David’s at the event, writer/blogger Greg Sandow, one of the prominent voices on the widely read ArtsJournal website, provides a powerful anecdotal example of a musician who is no stranger to attracting large crowds to his music.
I should mention I respect Greg quite a lot – he’s an outstanding first-class critic in the music space. You should read his work if you haven’t yet. I linked to his blog above.
Greg brings up Philip Glass, specifically his Appomattox Symphony. If you aren’t familiar with the Appomattox Symphony, it is a viscerally-charged operatic work of post-minimal art addressing difficult but necessary themes of politics & race.
Greg is less pointed on the marketing angle, while David’s musical radius is much more pleasantly edgy about it when he speaks. The contrasting tone between the two speakers is nice; it provides a complete circumference of musical perspective.
Greg’s outlook is that to get audiences to care about the music you write and/or perform, the audience must feel a “Total Experience” from the art.
What does he mean? An audience must like the sound of the music, the meaning behind the concert, the message tucked away between the staves of a piece, the hidden idiosyncratic musical gestures that speak to a work’s seemingly in-the-moment singularity.
All of us should be conscientious individuals when discovering why we like any kind of art in the first place.
All of us should be conscientious individuals when unraveling what we are trying to say – and who we are trying to say it to – when participating in the ‘total experience’ of composing and performing our art.
On the next page, a member of acclaimed music group Alarm Will Sound tells us about his one secret to growing as a profoundly individual musician…