Complaining Doesn’t Work

I just got back from the Los Angeles area where for the past week I participated in the second ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo. As with the very first expo last year, this three-day early morning-to-late night extravaganza was an amazing coming together of people who make music in every possible sonic manifestation. It was a hotbed for practitioners of urban/hip-hop/R&B as well as country. Composers of film scores and TV commercial jingles sat next to jazzers and rockers of all stripes, from mainstream to experimental. The event even attracted a significant quorum of those of us who write music what we call contemporary (as if those other folks weren’t living amongst us) or classical (as if we weren’t living ourselves).

For a brief all-too-finite period of time we were all one community, albeit one that is defiantly not monolithic, even within individual stylistic paradigms. And many of our long-term aspirations, as well as our immediate needs, seem to be remarkably similar. We all want people to hear our music. None of us seem to have enough time to be making as much music as we’d like. And most of us haven’t yet figured out a way to get the word out as effectively as we’d like in order to reach the potential audience we all believe we deserve. But we all could use some of the same common sense advice which was there in droves. My favorite: “Complaining doesn’t work,” a quip from record producer Dean Serletic, who has worked with alt-rock bands like matchbox twenty and Collective Soul. He could have just as easily been talking about folks trying to get the world to pay attention to their wonderful yet underappreciated string quartet. Don’t wait for somebody to make something happen for you and don’t introduce yourself to folks who can by telling them that no one appreciates you. They won’t either.

That lesson was further driven home by folks there who have achieved remarkable success in almost every genre whom we could interface with and learn from across the genre divides, everyone from Randy Newman and John Rich to Regina Carter and John Corigliano. In the opening session, Corigliano shared his explorations of spatial music with Jermaine Dupri who seemed sincerely interested and wanted to learn more about it. Who knows, maybe Janet Jackson’s next album will utilize 5.1 surround in new and unprecedented ways. Perhaps dancehall beats will start showing up in John’s next composition. Imagine the possibilities. What would happen if all the hip-hop producers started sampling Henry Brant? Stay tuned to the 21st century.

8 thoughts on “Complaining Doesn’t Work

  1. JKG

    Ah yes, Frank…
    It IS reassuring that the contemporary music bubble largely remains unpopped. That way, the rest of us can go about creating, sharing, and investing in our collective personhood while laughing at the admitted spawn of certain “intellectual” pursuits of the 50’s through the ’80’s. Perhaps some new composers into experimental styles will eventually contribute something, but most of them are simply ingenuous posers with about enough musical talent to bang a toy piano. I’m glad you had a chance to see some REAL musicians!

    Reply
  2. Frank J. Oteri

    JKG, I interface with “REAL musicians” all the time in our community here. Why do you always have to lace every quasi-compliment you parse with an insult to this community? What good does it ultimately serve? Wasn’t that the whole point I was trying to get across when I said I was inspired by Dean Serletic’s extremely apt and succinctly-stated quip: “Complaining doesn’t work”?

    I’d really appreciate it if some other folks chimed in here to offer thoughts on Serletic’s seemingly obvious but frequently ignored observation.

    Reply
  3. jaquick

    Complaining does too work!
    …depending on what you want it to work for. It absolutely will not advance your career. However, if you have a career that is, to put it politely, unadvanceable, complaining helps deflect the sense of blame from your own lack of talent onto somebody else’s machinations. The question is whether the psychological value is worth the real damage to your aspirations. I know a composer who constantly complains about the number and quality of his performances. He verbally abuses performers and composer colleagues, to the point where in some quarters the very mention of his name induces laughter. He’s a talented guy, but he’s shot himself in the foot so many times that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. So… being positive does help!

    Reply
  4. Chris Becker

    “What would happen if all the hip-hop producers started sampling Henry Brant?”

    You might want to check out dalek’s new CD…

    As a composer, I have gotten a lot of inspiration watching choreographers produce their works here in NYC as well as in Columbus (when I was in school) and later in New Orleans. In addition to creating a work, the choreographer is often the PR person, the stage manager and liason between the company and potential funders. Dancers rehearse like crazy – much more (in my experience) than musicians with rock bands being the exception. This willingness to wear a variety of “hats” and dedication to making sure the work is as strong as it can be are qualities I try to cultivate in my own life as a composer / performer / producer.

    Before I began working with and taking lessons from choreographers, I was similarly inspired by bands like Black Flag, REM and The Dead Kennedys…later it was collectives like the AACM and The Black Rock Coalition…and on to people like John Zorn and the people who realize the annual VisionFest here in NY…the DIY spirit is still alive thankfully in NYC…even though at times it feels like it is being strangled…

    Reply
  5. Frank J. Oteri

    Dalek
    I have Dalek’s Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots but have only had a chance to spin it once thus far sometime in 2005 if memory serves. I had heard great things about that record which compelled me to pick it up, but it hasn’t yet grabbed me the way that the old P.E. Bomb Squad productions have, or more recently, the work of the Anti-Pop Consortium. But now, based on your comments Chris, I will make sure it returns to my turntable in the not-too-teribly-distant future.

    Reply
  6. Chris Becker

    Atmosphere’s last CD is pretty wild – it really reminded me of the Bomb Squad in that it’s over the top emotionally and full of subtext meaning in its sound collage. A guy named Ant is the producer on that CD. Someone else worth checking out.

    Do you think that the walls that came down and the spirit of community you experienced recently happened here in NYC say back in the 70’s and 80’s only to vanish as people retreated to their habitual prejudices and weakness in the face of Reagan and later Bush Sr’s regimes? I see a lot of musical activity here in NYC – but people are stuck in their little (mental and tangible) islands and ensembles and audiences as a result don’t represent a cross section of culture that one experiences being a New Yorker. This is just my own observation…it may be others here have a very different perspective on live music and its performers and audiences. And if that is so, I’d like to hear about it.

    Reply

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