Monday, February 18, 2013

Creating culture.

It's been a few weeks since my last post!  I hope you all enjoyed the interview with Peter Seymour as well.

Over the past weeks I've been doing a lot of reading and I came across a really great quote from Hugh MacLeod on creativity.  In his book Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, MacLeod has a cartoon that says "Stay ahead of culture by creating the culture."

This really stuck with me.

I do a lot of poking around the web trying to discover groups that are presenting music and art in exciting new ways.  One of the most challenging things for groups starting out is figuring out how they can create a new and innovative way of saying what they want to say.  It's certainly a challenging thing.  There are a thousand string quartets out there all playing Beethoven and Brahms, but then you look at a group like Kronos Quartet who took a totally different path and is one of the biggest names in contemporary music.

Same goes for a group like Canadian Brass.  When they started, there were little to no opportunities for a brass quintet.  After 40 years of brilliant performances and forward thinking, they are probably the only truly household name in the brass world and have created a style of concert presentation that has inspired the work of countless other ensembles in and out of the brass world.

The impact that has been created by these groups is pretty astounding to think about and whether it was intentional or not, groups like these that thought outside of the box have created a culture that other groups have naturally followed.  No matter how hard any groups try they will never be able to top what the pioneers of these movements have achieved.  So this is where the challenge comes in.

What can you do to stand out and get noticed?

One last thing, please check out this video of Kronos Quartet members discussing this topic.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview with Peter Seymour of Project Trio

I had the great pleasure a few weeks of ago of making my first trip to Brooklyn to meet and interview Peter Seymour of Project Trio.  If there's one guy out there I've met that really knows what it takes to work hard to create your own opportunities, it's Peter.  I hope you will all check out the work he does with his group.

Also, for you Philly folks.  He and his group will be performing at World Cafe Live later this month.  Info can be found HERE.

Check them out on YouTube too!


Seth:  Hey Peter, would you mind introducing yourself to the readers and giving them some background info on Project Trio?

Peter:  Sure.  My name is Peter Seymour and I am the bassist, manager, and CEO of the chamber ensemble, PROJECT Trio.  When we started the Trio we were all in the same place.  None of us had won full time orchestra jobs and we found ourselves unsatisfied with our musical situation.   We’d always thought that having our own group was something we wanted to do and we decided to take one year to fully commit to the concept.  We didn’t know if it would work, but we knew we had to devote the time to trying it out.  And fortunately, through a lot of hard work (some lucky breaks, and some tough breaks) we have been able to make it a fulltime gig.

Seth:  How do you guys divide up the work?  Does everyone have specific responsibilities or how does it work?

Peter:  Everybody contributes.  At the beginning we didn’t have specified jobs.  We all got together and wrote the music and brought different ideas to the table.  Over time, I assumed the full time roll of business manager, booking agent, and travel agent….basically doing everything that needed to get done.  It is important for ensembles to have one person who is going to be the voice outside of the rehearsal/office space.  If there is too much going on and too many voices (too many cooks in the kitchen), it can be detrimental to the group.  I’ve always had a unique energy for doing this stuff and quite frankly, I enjoy it.
With that being said, all three of us are constantly coming up with concepts and direction for the group. Together we brainstorm tons of ideas and then my job to implement the strongest ideas.  For example, when we were first discussing the group, we decided to make the trio a non-profit organization.  I spent the next 6 months studying and doing the paperwork required to establish us as a non-profit; which was great, because now I not only understand how that works, I can do it again.  Of course, you can pay someone to do this job, but we fully believe that you can do anything that needs to be done to further your ensemble and your group will be stronger because of it.

Seth:  So once everything got off the ground, what kind of gigs were you guys doing?

Peter:  Ah, the first gigs……I remember them well.  The first thing I did was get in touch everyone I knew that could somehow help us get performance opportunities.  I originally scheduled three gigs for us.  The first was in Detroit at a chamber festival a friend of mine was running.  Second was in Boulder, Colorado at a small arts center that we actually paid to do.  The last gig was at the Jewish Community Center in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. We all came in town and slept at my parents house! 
The first gigs were all very random and spread out, but very important.  I have always believed the perception of something happening is something happening.  If you’ve got a CD, shows, a website….you’ve got an ensemble!  Once you’re doing gigs and getting out there, it leads to more gigs and more opportunities.

Seth:  Would mind elaborating on Project Trio’s CDs and how they’re recorded?

Peter: All of our albums are self-produced and we have had different situations for each one.  The first album was recorded in a crazy little studio that we got through a friend.  It was a wild session because we didn’t really have any money, so we did the entire session in 2 days. 
The second album we actually did in Eric’s mom’s house, again to save money.  But hey!  It still works and it’s got a nice homey feel and interesting qualities to it.  And for the last few we’ve had a larger budget to record, but we still self-produce and self-release.  That means doing everything from finding or making the art work, finding the space and the sound engineers, and everything else that goes into recording an album.  Recording CDs is extremely easy these days.  Releasing it and PR’ing it is a different story.

Seth:  Could give a quick overview of how the group handles the finances that fund these projects?

Peter:  Starting out we financed most things ourselves and with some help from our family.   Now it all comes from shows, residencies, grants, and selling merchandise.  Now we have 4 CDs, a DVD, T-shirts, and the whole deal. We’ve sold thousands of CDs over six years, and that provides income for the group and the ability to keep making music.
Also, when we go on tour we are working as much as possible.  We don’t travel to a city and only play the evening concert.  We may get up at 4:30am to travel, make it in early and head to an elementary school for an AM education concert.  After that we could do a high school show in the afternoon and then relax a bit before the concert that night.  Then wake up and do it again somewhere else. And you know what?  A lot of the times education concerts pay more than the concerts we are there to play. 
All of these things are sources of income that we pay to ourselves and also pay back to the group. 

Seth:  Now, when you guys go to these distant cities, how do you get in to so many schools and places to perform?

Peter:  Well at first, if we were booked in a particular city, I would start making calls and sending emails.  Now that we’ve been doing it for 6 years, we are building a strong network.  At just about every single show we’ve done, we have been offered some other kind of opportunity.  Maybe it’s an offer to play at the Horticulture Club, the VA hospital, another school….these show may not pay well, or maybe don’t seem important, but it’s a performance opportunity and I stay in touch with everyone.  It’s important to utilize your entire network.  Wherever we go, I reach out to performers and teachers in that city.
I also looked at where other groups similar to PROJECT Trio might have played and I find who is in charge of booking those shows.   At first I probably sent out a hundred emails and probably only got two responses.  But you know what?  I could probably write another hundred emails tomorrow and still only get two people to write back.  That’s just how it is and why it takes all the hours to book a season.

Seth:  Now, at what point did Project Trio make the jump from doing smaller concert series performances and education to doing performances with orchestras?

Peter:  It’s been gradual and we still try to do everything.  We have always done more education shows than evening concerts, because you CAN do more education.  Concerts usually only happen a few nights a week, but we can do an education concert anytime. The orchestra concerts are something all of us wanted to do, because that is our background.  I just started emailing every orchestra, especially the education directors, because I knew our family and kids show would be a blast. The first orchestra to write back was the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  We set up a meeting and he asked me what kind of music we had for trio and orchestra.   At the time, we didn’t actually have any music for orchestra, but I told him we had a bunch of great stuff!  Then, I went to the guys and said we had to get some material!  Eric, our cellist, jumped on it and arranged one of our trio tunes for orchestra and that was how it started.
After that show, I started writing everywhere again, but this time I could say that we had recently performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.  Then more bookings started to happen, which meant the repertoire was going to have to grow.  Currently we have 8 pieces for trio and orchestra…5 originals and 3 arrangements of William Tell Overture, Brahms Hungarian Dance, and our version of Peter and the Wolf.

Seth:  Awesome, thanks so much for sharing all of this with me!  So what’s next for the trio?  Is there anything new and exciting on the horizon that you don’t mind sharing?

Peter:  There are definitely things brewing!  We are right now in talks with an amazing composer about doing our first big commission, which will be a concerto for PROJECT Trio and orchestra.  This is a few years down the road…we are looking at the 2015-16 season. More details coming soon….
We are also excited about our second annual Summer Music Festival, PROJECT: The Camp!  Last year it was in Bay View, MI and this year we are looking to have it in NYC in July.  Should be fun!
And we are pretty much booked through 2013 and working on new bookings for 2014.  We are going to be traveling the world, going as far as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine with the US State Department and also performing with orchestras like San Diego Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, and many more.  So, we are staying busy!

Seth:  Cool.  So to wrap up, do you have any words of wisdom you could offer the next generation of musicians and artists?

Peter:   Work hard.  I know its cliché and obvious, but it’s true.  No one is going to do anything for you and your ensemble.  You’ve got to do it yourself.  Think back to your early years of college and how hard you worked at becoming a great player.  You’re going to have to work that hard, if not harder, at doing the business.  When you are a musician in a chamber music ensemble, you must put as much creative energy into the business side of things as you put into the art you are creating.

Work really hard! Keep track of everything and write all of your ideas down.  Dream as big as possible and conceptualize what you want to be.  Then, when you put the plan into action, if you can get some of your dreams in, you’re doing pretty good!  It is a long process and if you stay at it, you can make all of it happen.  We are still working at getting our vision out, but we get closer every day.
The main thing is that you absolutely can do it.  Good luck!!