Keynoting Composers

When SVII was founded in 2005, it was to support Innovators and Innovation Advocates everywhere at all levels. Although founded in Silicon Valley on Sand Hill Road in the Quadrus Center, one of the top tech venture concentration centers in the world, we were interested in supporting the arts as well as technologists and entrepreneurs from the very beginning. Three tag lines we use are variations on the same theme; to turn vision into value, insight into income, and concept into commercialization. This was because having a great idea has never been enough. The idea has to be continually and continuously delivered by a compelling and directed individual to many others in order to get enough traction to prevail. This is just as true for the arts as for business and science. The SVII definition of innovation is simply applied insight. It is a lot easier to have insight than to apply it as anyone possessed of insight rapidly discovers. Resistance to new ideas does not discriminate against particular groups. Pretty much all new ideas are resisted.

Most of my life has been spent with technical and business innovators but in recent years a new group has become close to my heart, composers. In asking composers what their single largest problem was and is, the answer was getting our works performed. This familiar territory is the same as inventors experience – getting someone to use their invention. Or entrepreneurs experience getting someone to pay for their product or service. All three groups also have need of some sort of patronage or investment. During the extended period, these creators are working on getting traction with investors, patrons, audiences, and customers to secure contracts, commissions and outlets they frequently absorb a certain amount of negative feedback while also learning many new skills to communicate about and manage their creations and teams.

An old but still useful concept, especially to creative populations is Group Mind, the notion that the mind of a group is more powerful than the mind of an individual. This is also one of the underlying principles of collaboration. New York seems to have a larger population of composers than technologists so the notion of gathering composers came up, and n0t just any composers, but those with something to say in addition to some works to play, hence the name Keynoting Composers. Think about extended interactive Ted talks occurring within the context of musical works.

Ted talks are great for audiences. As creators are more interested in creating than consuming, they like to be part of an exchange of ideas more than part of an audience. Conversations amongst peers can be inspiring and emotionally supportive and they can be accelerated by conversation starters. Who better to start a conversation than a keynoter, someone who has something to say that inspires dialog. And for composers conversations revolving around musical works that they are composing are hot topics. Or at least that is the theory as we are kicking this off this month.

A New Business Arts Model


Perhaps you have noticed how much more difficult it is to make a living being creative, than doing the same old thing that has been done  forever. Perhaps it has always been this way. After all, who wants to pay someone, to do something they do not already know how to do. It is risky for the creator may never learn how to do it, or get a good result or have a market. Also it will probably take longer and cost more  than expected, which anyone who has ever invested in a new direction quickly learns. On the other hand this where tomorrow comes from so it is exciting but you have to pay to play. If tomorrow is to be different from today, than someone has to pay for it with time or money, usually both, in addition to other things like emotionally, psychologically and psychically as well.

Fortunately,  creative people do not like to keep doing what they already know how to do, they want to do new things. They get bored with too much repetition which is a prime reason they create, because they have to, certainly not because someone told them to.  Since machines will be continuing to replace most repetitive work, as they cost less than people, it is a good thing that there are those among us, who do not want to do what is replaceable by machines. For if they do not continue to involuntarily create, humanity will be in big trouble.

Artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and other nonlinear creative types have always had to sell their ideas in some form or another, in order to get funded, unless they already had the resources to pursue their dreams. This means they have needed to become s good at storytelling. No story means no stakeholders.  In some way or another, creators benefit from patrons. Which could be feudal lords, the church, family, friends or even alumni associations,. anyone with the resources. 

So far, this is probably not news to you, especially if you had to learn to tell stories and suffer the consequences or rewards. Sometimes story tellers are charming and funded, and sometimes investing parties feel burned. Both can happen at the same time! One size outcome does not fit all here. Here is a take on current conditions at the intersection of technology, the arts and customers (audiences).

Lets start with the market for usually they are precondition to get funded. Current audiences for culture, and lets focus on music for the moment, have decreasing attention spans. There are two very good reasons both technology driven, desire for diversity and convenience. The democratization of technology (meaning it cost little enough for everyone to have it) has provided for audiences nearly infinite choices and infinite convenience at the same time. If everyone has a 100 course smorgasbord available at every moment the attention given to any one course tends to shrink. So factor one is the market wants smaller units of excitation but lots of them so they can binge. 

Now lets shift to the product, what is being offered and continue sticking to culture in general with music in particular. The barriers to entry to write and perform music are pretty low which has enabled tens of millions of amateur musicians out there. If only 1% of them want to attempt to be professionals and earn enough to live pursuing their art, there are hundreds of thousands of wanna be music professionals out there.  The current prevalent success model seems simple;  outperform everyone around you all of the time, and also be extremely lucky by finding a market. The act of creating a following takes a great deal of effort, time and money, and is therefore not very motivating to the hundreds of thousands considering this career path. One reason is it is too ego driven and not enough art driven. 

Here is a potential solution, I have participated in for the last two years. Collaborate and cooperate instead of trying to outcompete everyone around you. Here is what we did, with the we being a bunch of night school students at Juilliard.  Imagine a concert where instead of two or three works being performed, written by two or three composers, there were 25 pieces performed, supplied by ten composers. This drives huge changes. The length of the pieces is shorter permitting more different pieces and types of pieces to be performed. This addresses and provides for both the diversity smorgasbord and the shorter attentions which seem to characterize modern audiences. Theoretically, this is a better way to create a market.

And, by including ten composers instead of two or three, there are more hands available to share the work through a collaborative cooperating community, as well as a larger initial audience for ten people have more friends to invite, than two or three people. This makes a concert event far more likely to occur and far more likely to work.

I will save for another time, the discussion of how ubiquitous bandwidth will be dramatically impacting the delivery of intimate performances to larger audiences, becoming more fiscally viable.

The bottom line here is if you want to make it as an artist or by extension an inventor, you need to do  things that require getting your ego out of the way. Become a better story teller, collaborate more, and put yourself in the audiences (customers) place.

What does the market want that you can deliver? How can you reduce required resources. Solve these two and create a viable business model which shrink competition from 500 thousand down to a manageable number – for how many people can collaborate and get their ego out of the way.

Specialist vs. Generalist

Humanity seems to have a love affair with specialization, yet curiously almost all specialists work for generalists. Do you assume bosses makes more because they are worth more? Do you think specialists make the breakthroughs that change the world? Are both points of view correct? Can a person be both?

Here is a completely admittedly non-comprehensive set of perspectives. You might say why do I want to read anything that is not comprehensive? I counter with when was the last time you had the time to read anything that was? And in an Internet Knowledge Age would it even be possible anyway? So get used to smaller snippets and hopefully choose ones with insights.

Qualifying this Perspective 

After attending school full time until the age of twenty-seven, then working for several more decades, I have achieved some measure of expertise as technical specialist at Bose, Apple and DARPA.  Primarily I have had a professional life functioning at the intersection of innovation, physics, engineering, sound and music. Additionally having founded technology companies and the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute, I became a generalist managing specialists. Having been a college dean, department chair and faculty member, I found in academia many people end up playing both roles. Simply living several decades exposes one to large numbers of both.


The bottom line is one must collaborate, for none can be specialists in everything, nor manage everything we are involved with at the same time. From time to time we run into people who think they can, an excellent reason to believe in karmic payback.

In no particular order are some unintended ramifications of our general worshipping and rewarding of specialists and specialization.

1) There is no one (but you) to integrate all of the independent streams of information flowing into situations. Take for example medicine. Have you, or a loved one spent any time dealing with an ongoing medical condition, especially if it involved a hospital. In this case you become the generalist attempting to converge the specialists but you are not their boss so your results may vary.

2) Generalists run everything. All businesses, all nations, everything! Imagine a college student majoring in a difficult rigorous field where more people dropped out than graduated. What happened to those who did not make the grade? Some changed their majors to managment and become supervisors of those who did not.  Sometimes it even work!

3) More information is published about every field than any individual can ever digest. This sometimes forces people to narrow their attention to a “reductio absurdum” level, where they can know everything about nothing.

One potential solution floated is called the T-shaped Person, one who is deep in a field (specialist) and wide but shallow in many others. These people respect both the specialist and the generalist, for they are both.

In our Internet Age of “there is an app for that” where we can just Google or You Tube anything and everything – it has become easier to learn to address more topics than ever before.  Marketing people who develop messages selling us on concepts, that we need neither expertise nor executive assistants are at least partially right – everyone can do more. 

What do you think? 

Music Meanderings 

9/9/18, 8:30 AM

Western Classical Music has a great tendency to focus on Melody and Harmony as it’s two most important aspects as they are incredibly powerful for delivering an emotionally engaging and cathartic excitation to the human system (to us). There are however many more and less obvious aspects of music which can be taken into account, and successfully managed to achieve emotional engaging outcomes.

If you have ever thought about the vast differences between live and recorded music, some can be explained technically along with economic consequences. At the moment most musicians earn their living from live performing and merchandise, not from recording, licensing  and collecting royalties. Presumably in part, this is because audiences are willing to pay a lot more to hear live music than recorded music. Many of the differences between live and recorded have nothing to do with harmony and melody but rely upon the factors.

In order to earn a living a musician, it may be worth understanding something about these other factors. Even if you are not a musician, but listen to music and would like it to continue to be written and performed, you may also want to be concerned about factors which impact most types of music in addition to classical.

Crossing over from the art side of music into the science side of sound, we find many correspondences but not identical one to one mappings which is the reason for this mini physics lesson.  The three dominant dimensions of sound are spectral, dynamic and spatial. 

The dynamic refers to the range from soft to loud.

The spectral refers to pitches from low to high (bass to treble).

The spatial refers to how energy is distributed in space.

Harmony and melody live firmly in the spectral domain where pitch and frequency are descriptors used by musicians and scientists which are denoted on scores by placing dots on staves to show what notes to play and for how long and in what combinations.

There are dynamic markings musicians use to indicate loudness while physicists use SPL or sound pressure level in decibels to measure loudness. Then there is the field that bridges these two called psychophysics which has to do with relating emotional variables of music to physical variables of science, by how we perceive sound. Here to there is not always a one to one mapping of variables as we are more sensitive to some pitches than others which also shifts as a function of loudness. For the most part recordings have been able to capture the full dynamic range from soft to loud and the full spectral range from low to high notes pretty well. However the remaining spatial domain not as well.  

If you attend a live concerts of multiple un-amplified instruments, you may have noticed you can tell where the instruments on the stage are located even with your eyes closed. The ability to process directional information has been critical to our survival because the ability to hear around corners, but not see around them, often saved us from predictors. This is one of the great losses of recorded music when compared to live music. A symphony is a hundred channel sound source not very credibly deliverable by a two channel system, 

Even when attending concerts pumping all instruments and voices through PA systems (which for the most part are monophonic and not even stereo) a tremendous amount of information is lost. I miss this information. High quality stereos in the past did a reasonably good job creating a spatial field that approximated the sound stage. Today most music we listen to is stored as mp3 files which are terrifically compressed to be able to be streamed. Compression is always achieved by losing information. Losing the spatial experience is one of several casualties. However, the incredible convenience of streaming compressed audio justifies me happily paying for Pandora and Spotify every month. I do not confuse for a moment that this sounds like live music, which is why single concert tickets cost much more than monthly streaming fees.

Musicians desiring sustainable business models might want to understand some of these issues. There is much more to say about this topic and an overall positive projection, as increasingly available bandwidth reduces the need to discard the information that contributes to music sounding live.