U.S. Air Force photo, public domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first post of my SoundMakers composer-in-residence position with Soundstreams. The residency is rooted in the idea of making the act of composing more visible, more tangible, more participatory. This is the main challenge for musical creators in 2014, and a subject I’m very passionate about.

We don’t live in a very composer-centric time. Celebrity chefs have taken over the cultural role composers used to play, and the performer-focused nature of the pop music scene has downplayed the importance of the composer’s craft. To most people, composers are a relic of a bygone age, or perhaps ultra-specialized craftspeople who serve at the pleasure of a film director. We are abstract and far removed from daily concerns, like the engineers that design traffic signal algorithms, and for that reason composers and composition receive scant attention from the public at large.

Read the rest of this article on the SoundMakers blog >>

Soundstreams 2014/15 composer-in-residence

I’m happy to announce that Toronto-based new music presenter Soundstreams has chosen me as their 2014/15 SoundMakers Composer-in-Residence. The residency includes the commission of a new piece for four digitally prepared vocalists, as well as a series of blog posts, educational efforts, and several other activities.

Check out the kick-off Q&A interview I did with Soundstreams, where we discuss everything from how I became a composer to what kind of shoes I wear. You can also check out the first blog post I wrote for SoundMakers, titled Composers Should Be More Like Chefs.

Also, make sure to poke around the SoundMakers site, which is a fantastic archive and remixing tool full of CC-licensed materials for downloading and sampling.

“Construction worker” by Christoph on on Flickr.

A common complaint among grant recipients, both in the arts and more generally, is that too many funders only support “new capacity”: they aren’t willing to chip in towards general operating expenses or other core activities that require ongoing support. It’s not hard to see why this is. Overhead is not a particularly sexy thing to fund, it doesn’t produce flashy case studies to show off—and of course it’s much easier to fund one-off projects with finite bounds than ongoing programs that demand detailed auditing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with project-based philanthropy when it’s one funding option among many, but it becomes problematic when it’s the only show in town. The imbalance fosters lopsided organizational growth. It encourages waste and misuse. It can even backfire financially, creating costs in excess of what recipients receive in funding. Read on ››

“Jenga!” by Michael on Flickr

This is the second of my pieces on straightforward, practical ways that institutional arts funders can be more effective. Here, I want to discuss the challenges of evaluating applications in terms of their artistic merit. Naturally, if you’re going to the trouble of funding the arts, you may as well try to fund the good stuff. As such, most funders rightly place artistic merit near the top of their priorities—even programs not specifically aimed at merit usually have an indirect connection via arts education, underserved niches, emerging artists, etc. Given this focus, materials that demonstrate excellence in art making, such as work samples and press clippings, feature prominently in application guidelines.

But noble intentions aside, artistic merit is difficult to judge. It has a tendency to get overshadowed by more objective but less relevant criteria, often without anyone realizing it. When you set out to pick the best applicants, it’s unfortunately not enough to create fair guidelines and lock a bunch of arts professionals in a room. Read on ››

CC by Superlekker on Flickr

There is never enough money in the arts. Equally problematic, the money we do have is not always used very efficiently. In the United States, most arts funding outside of ticket sales comes through philanthropy, whether by individual donors, private foundations, or nonprofit advocacy groups. While individual donors don’t usually have the clout to sway an entire sector, the larger arts funders can and do. As such, they shoulder greater responsibility for the financial inefficiencies that affect the arts—not out of malice, but simply because many a well-meaning initiative has relied on accepted wisdom that isn’t actually all that wise. Now, there are indisputably organizations conducting innovative work. But doing philanthropy well is really damn hard, and the bar could certainly stand to be raised.

Philanthropy is about 90% how and 10% what—it’s not enough to have an endowment and good intentions. Read on ››