Back in February, I wrote a post about my experiences with the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman as she worked with the Gaudete Brass Quintet on their latest CD. Having never worked with a producer before, the experience of working with her during the session was nothing less than a gift. That gift, however, pales in comparison with the gift that I received in my inbox on Tuesday when the quintet sent me the final audio files for the CD for one last listening before they get pressed. I’ve had a few of my works recorded in the past and love hearing them, but this one felt different when I heard it…and it got me thinking about what having a good recording of a work means to a composer today.
There were several reasons why this piece felt different. My work on the recording, Brass, had been a commission by the Gaudete; I wrote it in December 2011, it was premiered at Symphony Space in NYC in January of 2012, and it was recorded in February of 2012—less than two months between the time the work was finished until the time that it received its definitive recording, so it is by far the most recent of my works that has been recorded and the best demonstration of what I’m doing now.
The experience of working with the Gaudete as collaborators was amazing; their openness to new things, their patience with a composer’s requests, and their willingness to push the composer to make the piece even more than what it might have been originally still stands out in my mind as a model of how it can and should be done.
Finally, the finished product. Normally one listens intently to hear any mistakes or slight rough edges to polish, but when I heard the recording for the first time I realized I wasn’t focused on the performance because I was hearing the work—my work—exquisitely played and masterfully recorded, exactly as I had heard it in my head back in December. That transcendence of what I had created from a live performative interpretation to a sterling and permanent expression hit me hard. You’ll have to remember, because of my background in education, jazz, and film music, I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m now a professional composer. In many ways, this recording feels like the final leg in my own journey.
Today, one cannot overstate how important it is for composers to have quality recordings of their works. Most applications for grants, residencies, artist colonies, and other valuable opportunities require recordings before they’ll even make a consideration. As many composers today are self-published, they don’t have the advantage of someone else “talking them up”—they have to prove their place in the world on their own and recordings are the most effective way to do that. To that end, with social media becoming the primary conduit through which musicians interact, the ability to distribute a sample of one’s music through a SoundCloud player or other similar method in an e-mail or on Facebook is quickly becoming standard operating procedure for many composers.
For today’s composer, having a recording is more than just an archive of a performance or a “calling card”—it is an important and necessary tool in the creation and sustainability of a career, as well as the external expression of who a composer is.