In a series I titled, “The Musicians’ Survival Guide,” I have been writing about things musicians can do during the slow times that can make a big difference in the big picture of their careers. One of the things that I did during the slow times that made the biggest difference was to compose music. My career has not been very normal. I had to literally make things work when nothing was going my way. Instead of wasting time when the gigs weren’t coming in, I invested a lot of that time into writing original compositions. To date I have over 300 original works for brass ensembles and a variety of jazz instrumentations.
What difference does it make if you write music?
More than anything else, for me in my career, my compositions opened up performance possibilities for me that most likely would never have happened otherwise. And of those opportunities, not all of them actually involved performances of my music. It’s difficult to explain.
You know, sitting here thinking about how this works, I remembered what my good friend Reggie Goebel said about his performance at Cezanne (Houston’s most prestigious jazz club). When I asked Reggie how the gig went, he said that no one showed up. I think he said that only two people came out to hear him play. I told him I was sorry to hear that and he said “don’t be.” Reggie told me that being listed on the roster at Cezanne got him a bunch of gigs. So even though the gig itself didn’t go well, he was able to benefit from it.
Well, the composition stuff works that way as well. The doors that composing opens are not always directly linked to your compositions. I think that when people know that you compose, they see you as something more than just a trumpet player. They see you more than just a performer. You are now a musical mind, someone who is perceived as being more valuable than just a musician.
The problem is finding time to write. That’s why the best time to compose is during the slow times when there are fewer gigs. If you are not composing for a living, then you cannot afford to write all the time.
Writing during the slow times also gives you a way to enjoy your “time off” in a way that is more creative and a bit more flexible than the performance part of your career. After all, there is no rule that says you must slave away at your compositions at home. Why not rent a beach house and compose there? Or visit family or friends in another city? You can compose anywhere you want. In fact, sometimes the places we travel can give us inspiration to write more interesting compositions.
More important than anything else is that we should not dread or fear the slow times. Make them happy times when we can create happy memories. Composing music can be a major part of that process.