Author Archives: Ramon Ricker

Invisible Musicians

Posted on December 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, gigs |

At the end of this blog is a letter to the editor that was published in the December 13 Louisville 
Courier-Journal. In it the writer laments the absence of an orchestra at this year’s Nutcracker performance. The tone of her letter is typical of what I had read in the past when ballets have opted to use recorded music instead of live. The experience just isn’t the same. Coincidentally, during the same time period I was playing the national touring company production of the Broadway show, Billy Elliot. The basic instrumentation (not accounting for doubles) was conductor/keys 1, keys 2, guitar, bass, drums, horn, trumpet, reed 1 and reed 2.  In this particular production only the conductor/keys 1, keys 2, guitar and bass were in the pit. The four “horns” were in a separate, very large, room behind the pit. Our space was delineated by curtains on pipes. We had our “clubhouse.”

Our Clubhouse

The drum set was also in this large room but he had a special little glass “house” which was about 20 feet from us. We all had our personal video monitors, which broadcast the conductor, and a mixing board that we configured in any way we wanted. It seems that this set-up was chosen to better control the sound.  The instruments that were in the pit we all electronic, and their sound went directly into the house sound system. Therefore no sound actually emanated from the pit. As they explained to us, if the acoustic instruments were in the pit, they would be mic’d, but some acoustic sound would naturally be present. The overall sound experience for the audience wouldn’t be as good, since the sound engineer would not be able to totally control the mix. The orchestra or parts of it in a remote location is an option that has been used for several years now by Broadway shows. Sorry for the long-winded set-up just to get to the point of this blog.  .  .  and it’s not even going to be about electronics taking over the music world. My point is that the four “horns” didn’t feel part of a performance. Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to have the gig, and the four of us in our little clubhouse did form a bond over the two weeks. We had a good time and played well, but even though the pay was very good, it was somehow unsatisfying. We were literally “phoning our parts in.” We came to the theatre in street clothes. Sat down, did our thing and went home. It was like a recording session, but with no second takes. During the bows the conductor would motion to the four players in the pit. We wondered if the audience asked themselves, “where are the drums?” What concerned me was that the audience didn’t see half of the pit band, and had no inkling that we were even there. I began to think that by playing our parts in a remote location, our importance to the overall show experience was devalued. The sounds that came from our instruments were anonymous. For all the audience knew, we could have been a recording.

My Musical World for Two Weeks

Then I read the letter to the editor that is at the end of this post. In a way, what we were doing is a step in a progression to using total pre-recorded music. A musical experience is always better in a live situation. I don’t think any of us has given our favorite CD a round of applause upon its completion. The feelings the writer to the Louisville newspaper expressed, were similar to what we felt. Live is definitely better. The following letter is from a reader and was published in the Louisville
Courier-Journal on December 13, 2019. A Tradition Muted What a very sad Christmas story tonight. Like so many years prior, my family
was very excited to attend the preview performance of “The Nutcracker”
Friday evening. The energy and richness of years past was replaced by a more
hollow experience. Gone is the pre-curtain excitement and anticipation that mounts as the
musicians tune their instruments. Gone are the shadows of light and movement
as the musicians lead the way for the dancers. Gone are the lingering notes
that transition one scene to the other with the tenderness of a conductor’s
lead. I had no idea how much the emptiness of the orchestra pit would impact the
experience, especially from the balcony. I was so distracted by the vacant
lifelessness of the pit, like a toothless mouth, the transitions of music to
OFF, the frequent speaker feedback which plagued the second half of the show
(my heart breaks for these technicians trying to replicate an orchestra). I
felt so sad for these dancers who have invested their bodies, souls and
lifetime of work into the thrill of performing live, and they now dance to
canned music with feedback (hopefully resolved after the preview). Should we prepare for an eventual recording of the dancers on stage, too, as
the quality of the ballet experience becomes additional carnage? We could
run a “Nutcracker” recording from years past and save the trouble of
performing it live. Is anyone going to take the lead and figure out how to
undo this orchestra train wreck? This was my first experience of the great loss for our city and of all of
the artists, technicians and patrons enduring the consequences. Bah, humbug! KRISTIN CRINOT

Louisville No comments The Polyphonic Mark

Someone is Stealing Your Stuff-Attitudes About Copyright are Morphing

Posted on August 17, 2019 at 10:13 am by Ramon Ricker
in Getting Ahead, copyright, web |

If you’re an older person with copyrighted material you probably have a different view about protecting and publishing your creative work than a younger person. Here’s an interesting blog from Andrew Taylor in Arts Journal that was posted on 6/7/11. It seems that times could be a changin’. (more...) No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One - A “Jack of Nothing,” How Diversified Should You Be?

Posted on August 7, 2019 at 1:01 pm by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, Musicans as Brands, professional |

This is always a difficult question to answer and it varies from person to person.  It stands to reason that if you do one thing and take it to the max, your chances of being superior to the person who does two or more things is enhanced. (more...) No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—Key Measures of Success

Posted on July 27, 2019 at 12:57 pm by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, Musicans as Brands, professional |

The ultimate measures of success are trial and repeat, and the buyer is the final judge. If a manufacturer of just about anything, from dishwashing detergent to automobiles, gets you to try their product, and you are satisfied and return to purchase again, that is success.  Using a music example, let’s say you get a last minute call to sub on a woodwind quintet educational concert in a high school.  That’s your trial.  If it goes well you are a hero, even if your playing isn’t absolutely flawless.  In a last minute situation the other players’ expectations are reduced, and they will cut you some slack.  They’ll be happy to get through the gig without any major train wrecks!  But even if you do a great job and impress the other four musicians they might not immediately call you back.  There just might not be another opportunity for a while.   That quintet already has a permanent member, and as long as he or she continues to do good work, it will remain his or her position.  However, the chances are very good that they will recommend you to other groups, or at least relay the story of how you saved the day.

No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One - Brand Image Associations

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 12:50 pm by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, Musicans as Brands, professional |

It’s important to understand image.  Your brand exudes a certain image and is made up of the following: Tangibles & Intangibles[i] Tangible—Can you play accurately?  Do you show up on time?  Are you a good sight-reader? Intangible—Do you have a beautiful sound?  Are you musical?  Do you make the notes come alive?  Do you add something extra with your presence in the group? (more...) No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One - It’s All about Connection

Posted on July 9, 2019 at 12:43 pm by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, Musicans as Brands, professional |

Here is the third installment in this series of blogs that discuss the musician as a brand.  If you are new you can catch up quickly by reading the two previous posts. You’ve probably heard the cliché, “To get ahead it’s not how you play, but who you know.”  Certainly having connections or a network of friends and acquaintances can help your career, but that’s for another blog.  What we will discuss here, for a moment, is the manner in which you connect, or bond, with your audience—the public, other musicians, contractors, conductors, producers, agents, etc., etc.  In the end your success will depend upon how well you and your brand bond with your audience, which can be on different levels.[i] It could be that you connect: Cognitively—They are aware of you and are familiar with your abilities.  Do they consider you all the time?  Are you the only one they consider? Are you one of many, one of a few or not on their radar screen at all? Behaviorally—They may consider many, but they always come back to you. Emotionally—They like you.  They’ve hired you for years.  You are friends.  Or, they don’t like you.  They had a run-in with you years ago and have never forgotten it. Fit—Do your abilities and personality fit the need of the occasion perfectly, somewhat, or not at all?   Are you well versed in the style of music required?  Do you have a good attitude about playing it? In the next post we’ll discuss image. No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One - What Is Your Brand?

Posted on June 26, 2019 at 11:07 am by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, Musicans as Brands, professional |

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—What Is Your Brand? The last blog gave a few definitions to work with. Now think about your brand. And it isn’t just about your playing, but we can start with that. What do people think of when they think of you? Make a list and write it down. Here’s an example of a hypothetical musician. Good player, great sound, terrific technique, OK sight-reader, inexperienced in orchestra and show work, a little unreliable, no car (you have to give him a ride), can be argumentative. Does this list describe a person you would hire to play a show? Maybe not. His brand has too many negatives, or liabilities. But in reality some of the listed negatives could be based on isolated incidences. The person who views this player as unreliable and argumentative could be basing that on hearsay or on just one observed occurrence. Musicians who wear several different hats (read: Legos) may be able to extend their brands to adapt to various situations. For example, a person who is a fine composer could also be a great instrumentalist and make violin bows as well. It’s possible that some may be familiar with this person only as a composer and have no idea of these other talents. I hope that it is clear here that the type of good brand building I am talking about is based on good deeds and good playing, both of which occur in an organic sort of way. I’m not talking about a brand that is artificially created by an agency for a movie star, pop-music artist or boy band. I’m talking about the reputation that everyday musicians build over time, as they go about their daily work. As previously stated, a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer, stands apart from other brands and that the consumer feels good about using. Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Renée Fleming, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Bono are all strong well-known brands. These are the brands of music mega-stars. But, there are also strong brands that are known only by the musicians in a particular subset of the music world. Think of orchestral trombonists, flutists, concertmasters, jazz saxophonists or bassists. Within each small music business subset there are those who stand out above the rest. The musicians in that field know their names. This is true of every community of local musicians, for example in your town or school. Your brand is built over time and is determined not only by how well you play, but also on how you handle yourself. Recitals, performances and publications all contribute (read: Legos), but even non-musical things play a part in your brand, as well. For example, the people with whom you associate, your appearance, as well as your personality all add to or detract from your brand. It takes a considerable amount of time to build a good brand, but it can be tarnished very quickly with sub-par performance or actions. It only takes one example of sloppy technique to create doubt in the minds of others regarding your expertise. There is probably truth in the old saying, “You are only as good as your last gig.” No comments The Polyphonic Mark

What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One-Some Definitions

Posted on June 16, 2019 at 11:15 am by Ramon Ricker
in Musicans as Brands, professional |

The next several “lessons” will center around the professional musician as a business—a store—where clients can get musical expertise. If you buy into the idea that musicians are small businesses, you can take it a step further. Companies spend a good deal of time and money thinking about, developing and protecting their brands, and there are business professionals who think about this on a daily basis. What follows will be six, or so, blogs discussing musicians and brands. What Is a Brand and Is Yours a Good One—Some Definitions What is the first thing you think of when the company Coca-Cola is mentioned—how about Apple or Mercedes? These are all strong brands that have distinct images associated with them. As a musician you also have a brand. You, Inc. means something to those who want to hire you. Let’s think about that in business terms for a minute. Put on your business hat again. Here come some definitions. “A brand is a trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer.”1  And brand equity is a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand (name and/or symbol) that add to or subtract from the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or to that firm’s customers. 2  Whew! Even I have to read that last sentence twice! As musicians we don’t often think in these terms, but whether intentional or not musicians develop their brands too. Some would call it your reputation or image. Picture a musician like Yo-Yo Ma. What do you think of when you hear his name? It could be—he’s at the top of his field, artistic musician, wholesome, diversity, multi-cultural, wide-range of music, personable, good guy, etc. How about Wynton Marsalis? It could be—cultural roots, has respect for the history of jazz music and its preservation, great classical as well as jazz musician, Lincoln Center Jazz, Juilliard, etc. (read: diverse Legos). If Miles Davis is thought of in the same manner it could be—innovative, legendary, cool, hip, bad boy, eccentric, etc. In business a strong brand is identified with a message or image that is meaningful to the consumer. It stands apart from other brands and the consumer feels good about using it. Marsalis, Ma and Davis are all strong brands. It could be argued that there are other musicians who are equally talented and artistic, but the brand of these three musicians sets them apart from the pack. Some might perceive Davis’s brand as having some negative descriptors, but remember what is perceived as negative to some can be positive to others (or reason to go to a concert to see and hear what this person is about). When people consider going to a Marsalis or Ma concert or purchasing one of their recordings, they base much of their decision on past experiences with these artists. For example, they saw Wynton on television. They liked what they saw and heard, and therefore decided to check him out in a live concert. This potential concert-goer was linking back to past experience in an effort to predict future outcomes. “I like his recordings. I’ll like him at a concert. We’ll have a good time. Let’s buy a ticket.” We will talk about your brand in the next blog post. FN: 1 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000 2. David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership (New York: The Free Press, 2000), p. 17. No comments The Polyphonic Mark

Rethinking Music: A Solutions Focused Conference

Posted on April 26, 2019 at 10:31 am by Ramon Ricker
in Being a Professional, copyright, piracy |

An interesting conference for musicians will take place on April 26-27, 2011.  The presenters call it, “Rethink Music: Creativity, Commerce, and Policy in the 21st Century.” It’s billed as a “solutions-focused conference,” and the presenters are the Berklee College of Music and MIDEM in association with the Harvard Business School.  Get more information here. Allen Bargfrede is the Executive Director of Berklee College of Music’s Rethink Music Initiative, and in a guest blog in Billboard he sets the stage for what to expect at the conference. The issue of copyright and the changing manner in which music is delivered should concern all musicians. It’s not just a commercial or pop music problem. Certainly the creator of a song or a symphony that is pirated is most impacted, but there is a trickle down effect that impinges on all musicians in direct or indirect ways. (more...) No comments The Polyphonic Mark

Note to Conductors: Your Hand Motions Make No Sound

Posted on April 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm by Ramon Ricker
in General, Hiring and firing, Labor relations |

For the past month or so musicians in the orchestra world have been buzzing about Roberto Minczuk, the Music Director of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).  It seems, at his urging, the orchestra management has decided to re-audition every member of the orchestra. You can imagine the outrage that this decision has raised among musicians and others not just in Brazil, but around the world.

To his credit, Mr. Minczuk has tried to explain himself in Norman Lebrecht blog of March 8, and found here.

This controversy raises interesting issues about orchestra quality control, the value of musician’s experience, standards, and “dead wood,” etc.  But that is for another blog or article.

Here is how the orchestra dealt with it yesterday. It’s a good reminder for conductors and musicians alike.

No comments The Polyphonic Mark

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