When I decided that I was not going to grad school immediately after my bachelor’s, I initially feared becoming stagnant in my musical education. Although I have never been shy about being an autodidact, my concern was that I would lose motivation, direction, or both. After I plunged right into a 9-to-5 position, I began to contemplate what it would look like to create a routine that would facilitate the continuation of my education in music while being outside of academia.
In that first year, I played gigs occasionally and taught a few students on a regular basis. Aside from an inspirational session at the St. Mary’s Summer Composition Intensive that summer, I hardly composed. I didn’t intend to take a break, but the combination of letting other priorities crowd my schedule and simply feeling a bit directionless allowed the time to fly by.
It occurred to me that I needed to surround myself with new people and new ideas in order to continue studying composition in the way that I wanted. Though simple questions such as “How far have you gotten this week?” or “What scores have you been studying?” are not the reason why I continue to compose, I came to realize that having the accountability and the support of peers and mentors motivates me a lot more than I’d like to admit.
Basically, I felt that I needed a more structured and musical environment to further my studies. However, pursuing another degree seemed cost-prohibitive at the time, and I had already decided that I didn’t want increasing debt to negatively impact the opportunities I would pursue.
My first major step in continuing my studies was to budget for private composition lessons, which I realized would cost much less than tuition in the meantime and would get me what I craved most: one-on-one mentorship. Utilizing a mixture of Skype and in-person lessons has helped to accommodate both of our schedules, especially when traveling to meet up is less convenient.
Eventually, I learned to make a conscious effort to connect with new peers as well. One of the greatest challenges for me as a musician outside of academia has been tapping into a community of those who are in similar stages in our careers, which is a natural feature of most degree programs. I’ve learned to better keep in contact with those whom I’ve met in school or at summer programs, for example. We share what we’re working on and discuss the challenges we are facing in our development.
I’ve also found that seeking out and attending local concerts and recitals regularly has helped— especially if I force my introverted self to hang around and chat with people afterwards. I can think of a few friends whom I’ve met while attending local concerts, and we still keep in touch and share our current work or the music that we’ve been listening to.
Over time, I’ve also found ways to break through the geographical barriers of meeting other artists. I used to shy away from social media until one of my teachers convinced me that it can help build a network when used well. My expectation was that online networking would primarily lead to more career opportunities, but what I didn’t anticipate was how much it would connect me to others who have much wisdom to share.
Thanks to others’ recommendations, I’ve stumbled upon several resources, like this website, where I can learn from other artists who I haven’t been able to meet in person. Below is a sampling of resources that I have been following over the past few years. Some are geared specifically to composers, performers, or teachers, yet much of the advice is transferrable from one field to the next. Some focus on the business aspect of music; others focus a bit more on the creative process, improving technical skills as an artist, or simply sharing new works. The best part is that many of these are free or low-cost. Most of these reference or link to other artists and resources as well, so I totally recommend following the rabbit holes as much as your heart desires!
deBreved: The Tim Davies Orchestration Blog, by Tim Davies
Of Note, by Robert Puff – a blog of tutorials on popular notation software
Audition Hacker, by Rob Knopper
Musochat – a monthly discussion forum about classical and new music
Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music, by Angela Myles Beeching
The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler
The Savvy Music Teacher: Blueprint for Maximizing Income and Impact, by David Cutler
Break Into the Scene: A Musician’s Guide to Making Connections, Creating Opportunities, and Launching a Career, by Seth Hanes
Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, by Elaine Gould
Podcasts. . .
. . .On business skills:
The Portfolio Composer, by Garrett Hope
Music Publishing Podcast by Dennis Tobenski
The Musician on Purpose Podcast, by Clair Condit and Allie Tyler
. . .On profiling artists and their creative processes:
Listening to Ladies, by Elisabeth Blair
1 Track Podcast, by Anthony Joseph Lanman
Composer Quest, by Charlie McCarron
Lexical Tones, by ADJective New Music
Meet the Composer, by Nadia Sirota
Orchestration Online, by Thomas Goss
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Sakari Dixon Vanderveer’s work connects people of all ages and backgrounds over a shared love of music. A composer, violist, and teaching artist, she eagerly collaborates with creatives of various disciplines, especially if such projects enable children to experience the joy of creating art. Photography by William Vasta, 2014