Tag: Bach

Musical Indentured Servitude

“It’s really hard to make a living as a musician. It’s almost impossible.” – Billy Joel

servitude500In order to make a living with music, we have all done what we had to. We have studied, practiced, achieved degrees, taken paying music positions, and played whatever gigs we could find so that we could eat, live, and support ourselves and our families. The problem is, it is usually on someone else’s terms. Even if we are the boss, or own our own business in music, we have clients who dictate what we do for them, and how we create or produce the music.

This has been an issue throughout music history.

J.S. Bach was mostly always employed and creating his music for use in his job as organist or music leader. At some points his job required a new cantata each Sunday! That’s one way to build your catalog! And like all of us, he knew the struggle to make amazing music and please his bosses.

My masters are strange folk with very little care for music in them. – Johann Sebastian Bach

Joseph Haydn had many jobs as a music teacher, a street musician, and accompanist before he got a sweet gig for the prince of Esterhazy, and rode that job for decades. But he was often little more than a paid servant, and felt that way. As with Bach, in order to have music ready every week for the music hungry Esterhazys, Haydn’s output was extraordinary. Eventually he was able to work with a publisher, gain some fame outside the estate, and later become more independent in London and elsewhere.

Mozart was one of the first composers to say no to working “for the man”. But even with many commissions and a post here and there that didn’t last very long, it was a struggle for one of the world’s best ever composers to make a consistent living.

The first to really sever ties and find somewhat lasting success was Beethoven, who after moving to Vienna in 1792, began to establish a reputation as a superstar pianist and composer. He was able to secure patronage to write and perform the rest of his life, making him somewhat the first successful “indie” musician.

Why This Matters

Getting to the music we want to make is very difficult in a life where we make or work in music for someone else. Even as a full-time traveling artist, there is booking, marketing, and other things to do besides actually composing and being artistic. It’s just hard to make music when there are so many other things to do (I’m looking at you Facebook, Twitter, and oh yeah, the next job I have to do to continuing getting paid so I can pay a mortgage, car payments, etc.)

The key is finding that balance, like turning off email and social media for the weekend to compose, or self-imposed block out times to sit at your instrument and just create.

On the other hand, being secure in a music position may allow us to create much of the works we will leave behind, just as Bach and Haydn did. We will make things we never expected because a client, boss, or sponsor will suggest a direction, a subject, or a use for a piece.

Wherever you fall on the indentured servitude scale, whether an instructor, producer, orchestral member, composer for hire, or whatever, finding the balance between the thing you love and making a living is crucial.

If you can create an honorable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want. – Anita Roddick

Have a great week!

EC

John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if you think this is drivel. He’s just your everyday, full time music producer who is also pursuing a musicology masters because he wants to help all music folks and students how to make a great living in music.

Why You Are Like Bach, Mozart, or Schoenberg

I think the really amazing thing about studying music history for me has been the way it has shown the similarities between the masters, and myself and other artists I work with daily. While most musicologists focus on musical forms, genres, and theoretical tendencies, what interests me is how I am like Mozart, or Bach, or Miles.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not compare myself to them technically or musically. They would all laugh at my MIDI accomplishments and “producer” title. Bach would shake his head, Miles would turn his back, and Mozart would just giggle I imagine.
But comparing how they lived and worked, how they loved and dealt with daily life, that is where we can see who we are. Because we, as current artisans, are just reflections of those before us. They dealt with fame, work, and love (or the lack of them) just as we must.

So whom do you resemble? Let’s use a short list here and see if you fit in one of these three types:

1. Maybe you’re Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the equivalent of today’s modern church music director. If you have a steady music gig at a church or school, then you and Bach have lived similar lives.

Bach served as “Cantor” or music leader of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany from 1723 until his death in 1750. He was also musical director at the principal churches in town.

As you may know, his output was voluminous, but you would expect him to have written a lot when he had to have music ready for the week’s services for 27 years! Plus he had similar jobs back to 1708. Dude had a resume!

You may work on a lot of songs too every week, getting things ready for Sunday services or for classes. It may seem overwhelming, and it may seem somewhat under-appreciated.

But so was Bach. Although he was highly respected in Europe as an organist during his lifetime, he really didn’t become infamous as “Bach, the composer that defines the Baroque period we all know and love” until a revival of his music in the 19th century.

So take heart, Bach-ites. Maybe somewhere in 2123 is when your genius will be discovered and revered for all time.

(In the meantime, enjoy some Bach and get back to your planning…)

2. Maybe you’re Mozart.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was simply the Michael Jordan of music history. I mean yes, you have Bach, and Beethoven, and many that are masters without doubt. But Mozart was the natural. The prodigy that would never be denied even as a child or on his deathbed. His works are varied, and original, and striking.

But despite the unique and powerful works, his financial life and personal life were kinda iffy. Like many musicians, especially the really crazy gifted ones, he put way more emphasis on creating than he did a steady gig. Especially since that meant having to “be” what princes or other possible benefactors wanted from him. He taught piano to rich ladies, and wrote operas and other things on demand for folks, but truly just wanted to write songs to his own liking, not what others wanted.

You may fall into this kind of thinking sometimes. I know I do. My whole creative life has been about doing things my way. I skipped piano lessons, scoffed at a music degree, and never really embraced traditional music gigs or jobs. Instead I built a music business I could totally do my way.

But at what cost!

This kind of attitude, a decision that you want to live as a creative musician doing art your way has it downsides. And one downside is that money can slow to a trickle fast. It did for Mozart. He liked to live with his wife in a big fancy house with servants and buy pianos, but the truth was he went into debt doing it and was still trying to get out of debt at the time of his death.

Being like Mozart is a two-sided coin. You have a talent for music, but yet demand music fit into life the way you feel it should rather than more traditional means.

(Hide your bills, and enjoy some Mozart, and then write something amazing whether it sells or not…)

3. Maybe you’re Schoenberg.

Arnold Schoenberg probably isn’t as known to you, but he is a very important figure in the history of music, not that you’d probably care for his music. Well, maybe you’d feel comfortable with his early music, which just echoed and continued the tradition of Wagner and Brahms.

But Schoenberg developed the “twelve-tone” technique, which kind of put western music on its ear. The random sounding music can kind of sound a little like a horror movie score on acid. It purposely went away from the harmonics and tonality of the previous two centuries. A whole way of thinking (the Second Viennese School) with other composers following Schoenberg’s evolution came next, and the 20th century started out with a crash. At least that’s kind of what it sounded like.

How could this relate to you? I hear folks all the time declaring how music, or any genre, is stale and the same old, same old. So, they break away from what everyone else is doing, and try something radically different, often breaking the established rules of musical taste of the time. At first people may not like it, but sometimes new music has to cause a revolt before it becomes famous. (See Disco.)

Some of his early concerts of the new atonal stuff actually caused fights in the audience. Schoenberg himself tried to physically escort troublemakers out of the concert hall.

Now hopefully you won’t have to do this, but you may come up against criticism or haters when you are trying to do something different.

(Tune them out and listen to some Schoenberg. Or send it to them for torture…)

WHY THIS MATTERS:

Each of us can read the history of the lives of composer and find traits that reflect us today. That’s the beauty, and real value of studying music history. We learn from the masters, who were just real, frail, vulnerable people, like you.

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and paid artist nurturer. Whether he’s right or not, he firmly believes the knowledge of music history can help musicians and artsy types in the present. Be part of the fun by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or…Telegram.