Thursday, July 3, 2008

A New Professional Direction for my Creativity

I've always wanted to do something creative for a living that utilizes my talents, strengths, and passions. I suppose that goes without saying and is something everyone strives for. I've dabbled in it a bit from time to time, even succeeding to some degree. I've been a professional (by that definition, I mean getting paid at least once for my services) drill designer, singer, trombonist, web designer, arranger, and music teacher. Unfortunately, none of these endeavors have stuck to a point where I can make any reliable money out of it.

Oh the marching band instructor gig was a long-term thing, with 14 consecutive years working for at least one band a season, but that was only for 3 months of the year and the money was not exactly stellar or reliable. Professionally, if not financially rewarding. The quartet gets paying gigs now and again, but usually just enough to justify the hobby itself. Personally rewarding, but not lucrative by any means. Drill designing is something I've always wanted to do for a living, but to be honest, I haven't really marketed myself much or broken through to the "big time" as a noteworthy designer. Chicken and the egg: break through to make a name, or make a name to break through.

With no marching band gigs, designing OR teaching, for the past 2 years, I haven't had much opportunity to make a little extra scratch with my talents (aside from the occasional quartet gig). Now, however, it seems I have found a new outlet along similar lines to pull in a bit of extra cash now and again: part recordings.

For you non-barbershoppers out there, most barbershoppers can't read music (at least not well), and those who do can usually use a crutch of having the part sung correctly in their ear to help learn and memorize it. I have been recording multi-tracks of myself for years - ever since high school on my double deck tape recorder. I found it fun to play around with chords, learn multiple parts of any given song, and even try my hand at arranging with it. Most would turn out fairly decent after a few tries. Over the past couple years, I've refined my techniques a bit at a time, adding more high-tech equipment, utilizing the computer, getting better software and equipment, etc. Now, I finally have a set up that - while not ideal or particularly professional - works very well. I'll spend a while on each part, recording each attempt with my recording software until I learn it and get something I can work with. Then I do the same on each successive part, remove the noise with some of the nifty tools, refine the tuning with a cool plug-in I found for my program, move the balance around for a stereo sound, add reverb, and VOILA! I have a decent sounding track that - though not something I'd put on a CD and sell as an artist - sounds pretty cool and gives me a giggle. Meanwhile, I've expanded my own repertoire and made mself more effective to teach parts or fill in quartets on multiple parts.

Eventually, I started using this technique to help my own quartet to learn songs, starting with ones that I arranged. I shift the balance of one part to one side with the three remaining parts on the other side, allowing the listener to adjust the balance according to how much help they want. I later found that these kind of recordings are used frequently in choruses and quartets to learn songs. Once I got my tuning software, I offered my services to my chorus, noting that the learning tracks they did were often of poor sound quality, lacked precision at times, and were just plain time-consuming and difficult to coordinate with 4 different guys' schedules. The director was happy to not have to worry about the hassle and was pleased with the results.

I did this for free as a favor to the chorus, since we're always financially struggling as a chapter and I have fun with it anyway. Now as a form of compensation, the director and a couple other chorus members have been dropping my name whenever the need is mentioned for learning tracks!. I have a friend or two that do this for a living and make some decent money at it - like $200 per song sometimes. I don't plan to charge THAT much, as my stuff isn't quite as polished as theirs, though it's every bit as effective for the purposes. However, I've already been contacted by a couple guys who want my services in the past month! One was a chorus member I did 1 song on the cheap for. The other is a guy on the west coast who wants about 10 songs! I'm waiting on word from him as to how much I'll do and for what money.

This should be a LOT easier to break into than drill design, and may even lead to some arranging gigs! Regardless, it's a chance to use my knowledge of and talent for barbershop as well as my skills with my computer and be appreciated for it. Even if it only brings in a little extra cash for lunch money now and again, it's nice to be doing something I love, have it appreciated, and (being paid even NOMINALLY) be called a professional at it.

Guess it's time to add another service to my Keiser Pageantry website and maybe take it a bit of a different direction. There may be a bit more money in this "hobby" than I thought...

If you want a sample of what I do, you can contact me through Keiser Pageantry Productions. I'll be adding the learning tracks to my services on that site soon!

No comments: