Inside the Meet The Composer Studio

Even just a few decades ago, getting to know the men and women behind new musical compositions could be a challenge. In 2010, however, you might be able to connect with them on Facebook or Twitter with just a quick search.

Taking a cue from the new opportunities provided by 21st-century media trends, Meet The Composer has launched MTC Studio, a new program that neatly melds new media with MTC’s core mission to engage composers with the public. At the same time, it will also allow them to explore new online patronage methods already familiar to online audiences through fan-funding sites like ArtistShare and Kickstarter.

To get the project started, six composers based in three geographical areas across the nation—Kati Agócs and Yu-Hui Chang (Boston), Marcos Balter and Glenn Kotche (Chicago), Dohee Lee and Ken Ueno (Bay Area)—have been tapped to post audio files, video clips, and blog posts about their works-in-progress to the studio site, and they have each offered a selection of premiums such as signed CDs, concert tickets, and even dinner meetings and lessons in exchange for contributions made in support of their work.

“Mechanically, it’s not that different [from other fan-funding sites],” explains MTC President Ed Harsh, “but from the point of view of what the work is and how we see our relationship to it, it’s very different.” Unlike the Kickstarter model, where the project must meet its full funding goal or everyone goes home empty handed, MTC guarantees that the composers will be compensated properly for their work, regardless of the amount of public support they are able to generate through the studio. The collaborations are also artist generated: The initial group of composers were handpicked by a roster of ensembles which will premiere the new works in the spring.

In an email interview, participating composer Ken Ueno noted that although it was still too early to say to what extent the studio experience will impact his music and composition process, the connections it is trying to make with potential audiences could not come at a better time. “The best thing that can happen is that more people who are not already acquainted with new music will become, not only aware of us, but will participate in the culture,” Ueno says. “As government funding is on the wane throughout the world, this type of new initiative can help America lead the way into the next era of new music. Culture depends upon people caring enough to support it!”


Screen shot of Glenn Kotche’s page on the new MTC Studio site.

In addition to the online transparency the site hopes to offer the public, several live events are also planned. The introduction of the site will be marked with an event on November 15 at the 92YTribeca in New York. The project’s initial run will then culminate with the Three-City Dash festival in New York City: the Metropolis Ensemble and Music from China will play works by the Boston-based composers at Symphony Space (April 7); Alarm Will Sound and ETHEL will present works by the San Francisco composers at Le Poisson Rouge (April 11); and So Percussion and ICE will perform new scores by the Chicago-based composers at the Morgan Library (April 14).

Harsh characterizes the MTC Studio as an experiment in leveraging new media to make connections as well as in exploring how viable new patronage models are when applied to new music, especially as compared alongside the more traditional motivators of larger gift giving.

“Springing up in new media are these ways of supporting artists’ work which are new, but still built on the basic idea of individuals supporting the work of creative people,” says Harsh. “There are all kinds of motivations, but can they work together in one place?”

The initial run will give MTC the opportunity to evaluate the studio in terms of both its impact as a public engagement tool and its potential to fully fund projects through multi-tiered online giving.

Harsh is realistic, but also optimistic about the resulting outcomes. “We don’t expect a home run on everything, but if we get positive signals, we’d like to integrate the studio into all of our programming,” he says, indicating interest in opening it up to projects from all the MTC commissioning programs, and making it “a part of how we do business going forward.”