20: Diversify the Stand with Ashley Killam and Carrie Blosser

Show Notes:

Happy February! I am so grateful for you to be here with me, at the 20th episode of the show. It’s hard to imagine that we’ve been here together for almost 5 months, and I hope you are still loving this show as much as I do.

Today’s topic is something that I personally really look forward to, 𝖈𝖔𝖒𝖒𝖎𝖘𝖘𝖎𝖔𝖓𝖎𝖓𝖌. In the musical world, commission means that you pay someone to write a piece of music for you.

One way of supporting living composers is to perform their works in concert halls, and another is to commission new works. And why is this important? Because it gives us a chance to help shape the future of repertoire literature. 

My guests today are Ashley Killam and Dr. Carrie Blosser, co-founders of 𝗗𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗶𝗳𝘆 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗦𝘁𝗮𝗻𝗱. It is an organization dedicated to working with diverse musical voices to create accessible educational music. 

They are committed to expanding repertoire and providing accessible educational works by composers of color, gender-marginalized composers, and LGBTQ+ composers. 

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Diversify the Stand:

Website: diversifythestand.org

Instagram: @diversifythestand

Facebook: Diversify the Stand


Instagram: @theconductorspodcast @tingchaowen

Website: www.chaowenting.com

Facebook: Chaowen Ting

Ashley: 0:00
So the four major categories that we considered are just overall designing–what you want to have happen, contacting composers, logistics, and then outreach.

Chaowen: 0:16
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalists. I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind-the-scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians, and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting students, musicians, and non-musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry, and business.

Chaowen: 1:03
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of a conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you simple, actionable step-by-step strategies to help you take action on your big dream, move through the fear that’s holding you back, and have a real impact. Now, pull up a seat, make sure you’re cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 1:38
Hi there and happy February! Welcome to Episode No. 20 of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, and I’m so grateful for you to be here with me at the 20th episode of the show. It’s really hard to imagine that we’ve been here together for almost five months. And I hope you’re still loving this show as much as I do. How is your 2022 so far? Do you already have performances canceled, like me? I have already had both in-person and virtual rehearsals for the month of January, and I am really hoping that we will find a new normality to coexist with this virus. Of course, I also hope that you are still fresh and energized and healthy and are ready to take on new, old, or any overdue projects.

Chaowen: 2:38
Today’s topic is something that I personally really look forward to: commissioning. In the musical world, “commission” means that you pay someone to write a piece of music for you. It’s a very old tradition, actually: if you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, you probably remember the scene where a masked stranger mysteriously commissioned a record from Mozart, and the very sick composer took it as a sign of the death hanging on his own death. Yes, that is a commission.

Chaowen: 3:17
If you know me a bit, you will know that I am very passionate about supporting living composers, especially women-identifying and non-binary composers. One way of supporting them is to perform their works in concert halls, and another is to commission works, paying them to write music for you. And why is that important? Because it gives us a chance to help shape the future of band, orchestra, or solo repertoire literature. Isn’t that exciting? For your ensemble, it’s always really exciting and encouraging to learn, rehearse, and to perform a piece that was written just for them. It creates a sense of ownership and is a step further from merely working with living composers, as my friend Rachel Howley and I discussed in Episode 11 of the podcast. As always, you can find the show notes at chaowenting.com/11. My guests today are Ashley Killam and Dr. Carrie Blosser, co-founders of Diversify the Stand. I first met the two of them at the 2021 Girls Who Conduct symposium, when they did a presentation on their work. Diversify the Stand is an organization dedicated to working with diverse musical voices to create accessible, educational music. They are committed to expanding repertoire and providing accessible, educational works by composers of color, gender-marginalized composers, and LGBTQ+ composers. Their first book, Winds of Change, is a collection of 12 trumpet solos with piano accompaniment for student-level players, which received 109 donations to successfully crowdfund over $10,000 to fully fund this book.

Chaowen: 5:34
Welcome to the show, Ashley and Carrie! I’m so thrilled to welcome you both to The Conductor’s Podcast. This is the very first episode to have multiple guests–I’m so excited. And I can’t wait for you to share your story and experiences with my audience.

Ashley: 5:51
Thank you so much for having us! We’re so excited.

Chaowen: 5:54
So just before we get started, though, will you please give everybody a brief intro, just a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now?

Ashley: 6:04
Sure. My name is Ashley Killam. I am a trumpet player, educator, now-entrepreneur, nonprofit founder, a little bit of everything. I started out–I got my bachelor’s in music education from the University of Illinois. Then I went off and got my master’s in trumpet performance from the University of New Mexico. And then I bartended for a year while I started a whole bunch of research, and then the world shut down and everything I had been doing turned online. And so I’ve been figuring things out for the past year, got connected with Carrie, and we’ve been doing some really fun projects that I know we’re going to talk about later.

Carrie: 6:49
Yeah, thanks again for having us. I’m Dr. Carrie Blosser. I also play the trumpet and co-founded Diversify the Stand with Ashley Killam. I have a similar background to Ashley. I did music education as my bachelor’s, I did a dual master’s of music ed and trumpet performance, I taught middle school high school band, went back to Colorado and did my doctorate in brass performance pedagogy. I actually conducted a community orchestra, the Rocky Mountain Concert Band, as I was finishing up my doctorate and after I was done, and now currently I run DTS with Ashley, and I’m doing some volunteering with some other groups.

Carrie: 7:31
But I’m a military musician. And I just got to conduct the military band for the very first time, a pretty challenging piece. There’s some mixed meter, lots of tempo changes, lots of time changes. So it was a good technical challenge for me. And it’s really fun. So I was so excited that we get to come on the podcast–to talk about our project, but also to like, be together as conductors. Because sometimes you can feel a little like isolated [and] alone when you haven’t done it for a while, again, with the pandemic and whatnot. So yeah, thanks again for having us.

Chaowen: 8:06
Thank you so much both for sharing that. And I didn’t, I had no idea that you’re in the military. We actually just received a request for Girls who Conduct–someone contacted us wanting to feature military musicians, especially like military band conductors. And that was a great project; we’re just trying to figure out how we can get to–it’s really about visibility. So a more like more…I’m stumbling. (laughs) Alright, we’ll cut that out. So, Ashley, you said you recently got connected with Carrie. I was surprised because I had thought that you’d both known each other for a long time. But how did you get connected? And why did you have this idea to start something that is so awesome that we can talk about?

Ashley: 8:58
Yeah, both Carrie and I had a lot of time on our hands at the start of the pandemic. And we are in separate states; we’ve only met in person once. A year and a half later, we both started volunteering for the International Trumpet Guild. We got connected to other people in the board just to help volunteer our time, and I got forwarded an email from someone in the organization, saying, Hey, there’s this person that you might really like. And so it was Carrie. And we just started working together, and we formed the diversity and inclusion committee for ITG to make a bunch of change there.

Ashley: 9:40
But with large organizations, it takes a while for change to happen. And so Carrie and I had a ton of ideas, a lot of time on our hands, and we wanted to make some fast change. And so we just started brainstorming ways that the two of us–how we could give back and how we could make some lasting change–starting out in the trumpet world, because we are two trumpet players–but we wanted something that could help, you know, all musicians. And over the course of a few months, we kind of formed what would then become Diversify the Stand.

Carrie: 10:13
Yeah, it was really awesome because I just sent an email to volunteer and I actually made some really great connections–which I know in your rapid-fire later, this is one of the questions I know you like to ask–but I just kind of cold emailed a lot of people to see what stuck, and I met Ashley through ITG. And she has this great collection she was researching of, like, historically marginalized and underrepresented composers, kind of focused on the trumpet.

Carrie: 10:40
And it’s super interesting, because as we were looking at that, and kind of like the backbone of how we built Diversify the Stand–again, we’re trumpet players and music educators and, like, kind of band people, so that’s where our expertise lies–but we were able to use a lot of Ashley’s research and kind of see [that] in what’s available, you know, music by not-dead white guy composers, there wasn’t much in terms of solo literature, especially for middle school, high school like that kind of like beginner intermediate, like early advanced pieces and shorter pieces. So that’s how we kind of…like, if you ever go to school and do a dissertation, or if you start a project, you want to find where is the hole in either the research or in the market. You have to find what’s not there and then create it.

Carrie: 11:31
So that was kind of how we got together initially. And when we were like, What is the change that we’d like to see, you know, specifically to us trumpet-wise, like, what do we want to see? Well, I want to see music by composers that are living, first of all, and then I want to see compositions by not just cishet white men from the United States in what we’re playing.

Chaowen: 11:56
And I wanted to ask a sort of unrelated question, because I’m really curious: did you both teach trumpet playing or any kind of brass playing during the pandemic online? And how was it? Because from my experience, just listening to audition tapes, that was difficult. And I talked to my students–they said there were all sorts of problems from the recording and from all the other things. So I’m just curious about your experience. What were the challenges, or were there any good things that came out of this experience, maybe?

Carrie: 12:31
So I had one student that I taught in Colorado, and actually, a few of my students, after I joined the military and had to move to a different area, had continued taking virtual lessons. So I had actually been doing online lessons before the pandemic kind of forced everyone. So those students were fine. I did some teaching with a program that was kind of like an international base where I was teaching a student in Nigeria, which was really cool. But it was through a phone and then like the microphone–we’re trying to make it work, but sometimes, sometimes it’s great; sometimes it was kind of just like, it sounded like a metal guitar, but it was a trumpet. So it’s really hard to give feedback and positive responses. We found some good workarounds. But I had really, really great experiences, and then also ones of just like, the trumpet’s really loud and overloads microphones.

Ashley: 13:37
I also taught students before the pandemic was cool. Before online teaching was cool. And I ended up joining a friend and connection I made over the course of the pandemic, Estela Aragon: she’s built up two really awesome trumpet resources. One’s more self-paced–that’s trumpetheadquarters.com. And the one that’s online, face-to-face lessons is her MusicFit Academy. And she ended up [having] so many students that she couldn’t take on [herself]. So I ended up joining her team, and I teach online lessons through there. I currently have three students from her program, and it’s awesome. I spent a lot of time talking with her on how to diagnose and how to work with students and how to get it to make sure that I am seeing everything. It’s definitely different because we’re not side to side, but I’m still finding it works pretty well. I’m having a really good time. And it’s really cool because now I have students in New York and in Texas right now.

Chaowen: 14:41
That’s really awesome. I found that being one of the benefits as well because in normal times, I wouldn’t have met the two of you for sure. But now we’re in Atlanta and in Illinois and in West Virginia, and we can connect with a lot more people And I don’t know if you felt the same, but from my experience teaching conducting virtually, it was really hard for beginners, or for less experienced conductors, because they can’t imagine what you’re asking them to do when everything is so abstract with no sound, especially for conducting. And do you feel the same with like, beginner students? [Is it] more difficult to show them, for example, amateur [things] or like how to breathe, because you can’t really see them physically?

Carrie: 15:33
I think it just depends on how–like if you can get like a parent or guardian involved to get their phone and do like a video around the student as they’re playing. Like you can diagnose them.

Carrie: 15:46
Trumpet’s one of those things where I feel like, [and] maybe it’s every instrument, but it’s really easy to develop bad habits. And then you fix them over a very long period of time, but then they come back so quickly if you’re not being really mindful.

Carrie: 15:58
I think that’s just everything, right? We probably have the same thing, the same mannerisms in conducting. [For] me, it’s too much mirror conducting, like when I get excited, or I’m always big all the time, because I’m just so pumped to be in front of people. But yeah, the trumpet is like that. So I’ve had good experience of getting parents and guardians to like, you know, surround video, which is helpful. And just kind of use my imagination as to how I can describe things the best I can.

Ashley: 16:27
That’s the biggest thing, trying to describe [things]. Like today, I just taught a nine year old, whose bad habit–he’s only been playing trumpet a few months, but he plays puffing out his cheeks. And if I were in person, it could be just easy to be like, Alright, let’s play. I had to spend today like going through being like, Alright, cheeks touching the teeth. And now his mom is ready: for all this week, anytime he gets out the trumpet, she’s gonna, like, have her hands gently on his face, so he can kick this habit quickly. Because this is not awesome. So yeah, it definitely takes a little longer, because I have to make sure that what I’m trying to say gets through to them. And I know it would be so much easier if it were in person, but you do what you can.

Chaowen: 17:17
So I know we kind of talked a little bit about Diversify the Stand; that is your brainchild. So can you share a little more about kind of how you really started it, and then I think it is now a nonprofit organization as well. So like, it has a lot more involved than just commissioning a piece. Because going through that is a big undertaking. And I really want to congratulate the both of you.

Carrie: 17:47
So we talked about this a little bit before, but we’re talking about trumpet literature and what we wanted to see change. So we commissioned 12 individual composers to write 12 pieces for trumpet and piano in a progressive book–that was where kind of like the business needed to happen, was we actually asked our friends, colleagues, trumpet players from around the globe, Hey, would you donate money to this project, so that we can commission 12 composers? We believed in it so much that we were just gonna empty our savings accounts and just make it happen if [necessary], because you sign contracts with composers and you need to honor that, and that was really important to make sure that we’re paying people for their work.

Carrie: 18:30
But we were able to crowdfund a lot over $10,000 to create the book [and] fully fund the program. You know, we donated, our families donated, everyone I think I ever studied with as a private teacher–they all donated; it was great. So [having] this really cool community of people who also wanted to see similar music, I think was a really awesome experience.

Carrie: 18:54
That was kind of why we started the Diversify the Stand brand, but really, we’re thinking about, again, our experience as music educators and conductors and band people, you know, what are we really playing, like what music and I see a lot of the same stuff programmed over and over again–not that it’s not great music, but there’s so much more out there. And our students are diverse in their backgrounds. And I think as teachers, we need to be really responsible in making sure that we’re showing all different kinds of music from all different kinds of people–living, dead, like having a wide range of that.

Carrie: 19:32
So that’s where the DTS idea first came from: we were just getting started, so we were like, okay, what are ways that we can make a difference quickly? Do the commission, right? That was a year long process. We now have a book, which is gorgeous and beautiful, and we love it so much.

Carrie: 19:49
We started a podcast because that’s a great way for us to showcase voices of other people, music educators, conductors, composers, manufacturers like instrument builders; there’s so many different careers and opportunities in music. We wanted to be featuring other other people and bringing them onto our podcast to talk about their experiences in music.

Carrie: 20:14
And then we do a book club, which will be kicking off in 2022. We did a few, just some books that I think–I always like that reinforcement of, I have a meeting, I have to read these chapters, this is my assignment. For me, that external motivation is really helpful. So again, it’s just trying to think about different ways that we can engage with, you know, people who are interested in Diversifying the Stand, through either book club or the podcast or the commissions. And that’s what I’ve got. Ashley, what did I miss? This is why we’re a great team.

Ashley: 20:47
Yeah. And then I went through resources that I recommended in lectures I gave, and we started making a lot of connections with different organizations and different resources. And right now on social media, every Monday, a different organization or different resource gets featured, because it’s important to us, I mean, to make these connections with other groups to kind of connect our little circles and our little bubbles. But this whole thing, it’s so much more than just us as individuals, and we really want to connect with the other people that are doing the work and, you know, share those resources with our audience.

Ashley: 21:30
Yeah, and then we have plans to expand. You know, our first book is trumpet, but we have plans to expand into other instruments. So then us as a DTS organization, we can be, you know, we can have resources for all instruments and for all educators. So yeah, we’re really trying to, you know, start looking into flex pieces and start looking into chamber stuff for future books, because we just want this to be the connections we make with composers; we want it to be applicable to everyone and to be useful for everyone.

Chaowen: 22:09
So I have one quick question about the 12 pieces that you commissioned in the book, because you talked about that they were educational, and for kind of leveled players. So were the 12 pieces for the same level, or do they progress from one to the other?

Ashley: 22:30
Yeah, the whole book is progressive. And we’ve organized the book to be like the simplest piece through the most challenging work. When we went to about commissioning, we ended up commissioning three pieces that were for beginning trumpet, four for intermediate, and five for advanced. And we tried to give as few restrictions to the composers as possible: it was really, you know, don’t go beyond this range, if you could stick within these general keys, because that, like obviously, we don’t want a beginner playing like concert F# major, or anything like that.

Ashley: 23:06
So we gave them very few restrictions, because our goal was to get the composers to use their voice–even though it was for, you know, not a crazy challenging trumpet part itself, to still have their voice come out. And that was really successful. Because all all 12 of the works are just so completely different in the best way, and it really fits the composers. When we interviewed all of the composers, it was a nice challenge for them too, because most of them had never been commissioned for an intermediate level before. So they got a new kind of challenge in toning the difficulty back while still making a really great work.

Chaowen: 23:45
I definitely found it’s also a challenge for large ensembles as well, because a lot of the composers are writing or aiming for the highest level of ensembles. For example, an orchestra award if you can get a commission from the LA Phil [or] from the New York Phil, that makes you, of course, more prestigious. But the reality is, most of the conductors don’t have an LA Phil or a New York Phil to work with. And when I used to conduct a concert band–I conducted concert band for five years, that’s why I commissioned Lightway from Jennifer Jolley. I don’t know if you heard of that piece. But I was telling her, Hey, I’m so stuck trying to find pieces for my students. Can you write a not-so-difficult but good music piece for us? She was like, that’s really hard. I said, That’s why! That’s why I need you, because it’s really hard to find [or] to write simple, good things. So did you have any objections or–you said most of the composers had never been commissioned to write for intermediate or even beginner level? Did they have any concerns? Or did they have to check with you? Or did all the composers have background playing trumpet themselves?

Carrie: 25:10
All the composers had written for trumpet and in trumpet in some idiom before, so they were experienced in it. So that was part of like–as we were looking through Ashley’s very large spreadsheet of composers, you know, we’re looking at composers that we just really liked the writing, had written for trumpet before, so [that] it wasn’t a fresh new experience. But I think the the best thing that we did was put a cap on the range, because for trumpet, it’s just physically challenging to go higher into the range. And some kids get it, some adults get it, some don’t right away. And it’s a really discouraging factor.

Carrie: 25:49
So we wanted all, especially the beginner pieces and the intermediate, to not go up really too far above the staff, because it’s going to make students not play it. And we wanted accessibility, not just in like, you get a bunch of different solos, but also like, you can physically play the first three [in] your first, you know, few years of performing. So I think for us, like Ashley and I both spent a lot of time teaching private studios. So like I know that was the reason why some students would stay and some students would go, was just because they couldn’t play the high notes, so they felt like they weren’t doing well, which–90% of the stuff that I play is not that screaming high staff, like above the staff, like most of it is in the staff. So anyway, but that was something we did, I think, that was really helpful.

Ashley: 26:40
Yeah, and the composers were all completely willing to work with that. Carrie and I made sure–not all of the composers play trumpet, and so like, there’s a big difference between midi trumpet and actual trumpet–and so we made sure that our inbox was always open that, you know, if they wanted to send something, we could play it back. We had multiple Zoom meetings with composers to, like, test out what the trumpet can do versus you know, what they’re hearing. Sometimes it was the same; sometimes they had to adjust. And so yeah, it was a good, you know, open communication, when occasionally we asked for a few more rests, like after we got drafts back, because children need to breathe. Everyone needs to–I need to breathe. (laughs) And with every composer that we’ve worked with, they’re so willing to be flexible and to make any adjustments. And yeah, they were awesome to to work with on this.

Chaowen: 27:35
So that sounds like an awesome commission experience when we know it’s not always the case, unfortunately. (laughs) So the process went for a whole year, maybe? From when you commission until they deliver everything.

Carrie: 27:52
Yeah, we’re just at one year now. So it was this time last year that we were emailing to gauge interest, and commission and get rates for the composers, and we were like mailing out contracts in December to secure the composers. And then we started our crowdfunding in January of 2021. So it was less than a year from idea to physical book, which is pretty fast.

Chaowen: 28:24
Wow, this is such an amazing turnout. Of course, I know everybody’s at home, so we had more time to compose and do other projects, that’s for sure. But it’s still amazing. But I know that for people like us who are used to commissioning and working with composers, we talk about the things as we’ve experienced it. But for audience members or anyone that’s listening who is not familiar with the process of commissioning a piece, can you maybe talk about the step-by-step guide of what this process is like from beginning to the end?

Ashley: 29:05
So our four kind of major categories that we considered are just overall designing–what you want to have happen, contacting composers, logistics, and then outreach. So for designing, that’s kind of the brainstorming area: thinking about what kind of group you want a piece for, if you want it to be for a large ensemble or a flex ensemble or solo instrument or some sort of chamber group–just having an idea in mind. Thinking what kind of level, what instrumentation, you know, it may or may not be exact, but at least having some sort of skeleton makes it easier when you go to reach out to composers.

Ashley: 29:48
It’s a lot easier for a composer to give you a quote when you have a rough idea on how long you want a piece to be and what kind of instrumentation do you want, instead of just saying, Hey, I’m interested in commissioning a new piece, because their immediate follow up is going to be: Alright. What are you looking for? So if you can go in and have a rough skeleton, that helps the composer out, and you can kind of figure out, you know, where this project could go, where this piece could go in this initial design stage.

Ashley: 30:21
So when Carrie and I reached out, we asked, I think we reached out to around 50 composers, and we said, Alright, what would your rate be for a three-minute educational trumpet solo with piano accompaniment? And that gave that rough skeleton to, you know, give us some rates. So we were able to kind of think about what we wanted from there.

Ashley: 30:45
And before this, before even reaching out, which Carrie will talk about, we did a whole bunch of listening. And we went through, we listened to all of these composers, seeing what kind of voices we wanted to ask, because we knew we wanted to ask more than just the 12 composers to kind of narrow things down.

Ashley: 31:02
And that was at the point when we started thinking about, do we want to crowdfund this? How can we go about, you know, paying this? If you’re thinking about one individual piece–you know, again, thinking, do you want to crowdfund and get multiple people coming in? Do you want to make this more of a consortium where a lot of people help fund and make this happen? Do you want it to be a solo commission, where just you are funding this? So those are the kind of big design ideas to ask yourself when you’re thinking about a new piece of music.

Carrie: 31:34
And then I’d also say, it’s definitely really important to always have contracts, because it’s like, you’re being very fiscally responsible, and you’re kind of guaranteeing things with the composers, right? Things that are really valuable for composers are having a recording of the piece. So like, we can do a lot of services, [as] performers, to composers being like, Hey, what would be the most helpful thing? Let’s write that in the contract.

Carrie: 32:01
There’s also things like exclusivity and all sorts of things that you can work out. And I think that’s a cool thing. It’s a conversation of like, what would you like this project to look like? Rather than, I don’t know what’s happening; I just want to play high, loud trumpet notes. (laughs) If you have something very specific in mind, like “I want this to be a concert opener”, I think that then communicating that is the most helpful thing.

Carrie: 32:28
So when we were reaching out to composers at first, we spent a lot of time listening to a bunch of different composers that wrote in different styles. And it was really important for our solo book for everyone to have a very specific and individual compositional voice, because that we felt like the strength of our project was having 12 very different composers, because then literally, there’s a piece for everyone. Maybe I’m just like, trying to get rid of any naysayers [who might] be like, Oh, well, I don’t like any pieces in that book. Well, that’s impossible, because there’s 12 very awesome ones, and they’re all very different.

Carrie: 33:04
But we just kind of explained what we were looking for, and [as] we mentioned earlier, for the trumpet, range is really important. We were kind of envisioning this for, you know, potentially for us. So one ensemble thing or in a recital or like end of year project that you would work on in private lessons, and then play either with a MIDI background or with a relatively professional pianist. So we said for the piano, Composers, have fun. For the trumpet, especially the beginner/intermediate, here are some guidelines that will help this be achievable by students.

Carrie: 33:43
We reached out about budgets, because we wanted to make sure that we were being super fair in everything that we’re doing. So like all the people who wrote, beginner, all people were intermediate. And then the more advanced, they’re longer pieces as they get progressively harder. So we wanted to make sure that financially, everything was the same for each composer in the beginner, intermediate, [and] advanced, based on how long it was. So again, just like kind of keeping that equality going and like the value to everyone’s voice being equal, as you get progressively longer–that was important for us.

Carrie: 34:19
Deadline-wise, we had a lot of time, because it was the pandemic: stay at home, work from home. I mentioned before [that] I play in a military band. So we made our deadlines in terms of, if I went back to work full time, what could I manage?–because I did a lot of our finale edits. Like in through Logic, I did some backing tracks that are basic, but they’re something just so people can listen to the music. Because [in] the final project, I just wanted everyone to be able to hear the pieces and to be able to connect with them, even if it’s not exactly the way it would be performed with a live pianist. It’s just that first step into like, is this piece a good fit for me as a musician, and how that would work.

Carrie: 35:06
And then we made sure that we had a contract, made sure that the composers were on board. And everyone was fantastic. We got pieces early. And not like sometimes when you do commissions, depending on how large the ensemble is or what’s happening–like sometimes composers are really on the deadline or need a little bit more time because of changes that happen. And that’s totally normal. But everyone was on time early, which was really fantastic. We didn’t have to–like, you have contracts so that you’re protected as the business and the composer, we didn’t have to, like, get any lawyers involved or have any hard conversations. Everything was super aboveboard and really easy to do, which I’m really grateful for. We had those 12 amazing people that were on time and early and really, really good at communicating.

Chaowen: 36:01
That’s really surprising, I think out of the around 10 commissions that I’ve had, maybe only one of them was early, like two days early. But I commission for large ensembles, so it’s a different beast. That’s a very different thing. But I just wanted to make two quick comments, if that’s okay,

Chaowen: 36:23
for people who are not familiar with the commissioning. So what Carrie mentioned, the exclusivity thing is something that’s pretty standard in commissioning. That means that the commissioner, meaning whoever pays money, either you or a bunch of people that are together with you, would have a certain period of time that only you can perform this piece. It can be from three months to one year; sometimes they don’t want this, they just want to have the premiere; it’s kind of the protection for the commissioner.

Chaowen: 37:00
And the other thing is, sometimes the composer will have their own contract template. It’s nice to get their idea to see what they are coming from. But never be shy to communicate with them, because the standard template might not suit your specific needs, such as if you want piece to be between 10 to 15 minutes, or if you want it to be not as scary and as I said, like within a certain range or for a specific purpose. That should be really addressed upfront, so there is no surprise. No one wants surprises, like kind of midway, saying, Hey, I wanted something that is a little easier, or I want something as a happy concert opener, but you’re writing me a really sad, melancholy piece that I can’t perform, or that kind of thing would really delay the process hugely.

Ashley: 38:01
Exactly. The commissions I’ve done by myself, I’ve always gone through whatever contract the composer has done. And it’s always been great, and really easy to just list all of the, you know, money amounts and deadlines and timeline there. Because we had the 12, that’s why we designed our own contract.

Ashley: 38:25
And with the exclusivity: so we asked all of our composers that we have a two-year exclusivity period in the book. So for our particular project, the composers can’t sell their individual pieces for two years, following this past November 1st. But in exchange for that, the composers get a cut of every book that’s sold. So something that’s special for this is that 60% of the profits go back to the composers off every book sale; the other 40% goes back to stock up so that we can secure the composers for our next book. So it’s going to take a little bit, because it’s going to be all of the proceeds from this first book. So we’ll have to wait just a little bit. But once we have that, that’s going to fully fund what we do next.

Ashley: 39:19
Yeah, and with all of the money and everything, that kind of gets into our third point in our like four part commissioning series: thinking about the logistics of how you’re paying composers. Well, when I commissioned them on my own, I thought it was very standard to pay 50% upfront and 50% at the end. And depending on the composer, that may be standard. Again, like you said, keeping communication open.

Ashley: 39:47
Carrie and I didn’t have–we did if we emptied our savings, but we knew we wanted to do the crowdfunding, and so we didn’t have 50% upfront right away. So what we ended up doing for this project was give each composer a small, like, retainer fee just to secure them for this project. But we had it written in the contract that as soon as we receive the money from our crowdfunding, we will pay you up to that halfway point. And then whenever you finish the piece, will finish paying you. None of the composers had issues with that, because again, it was all in writing, it was all signed, it was just what we could do at the time. So if you can’t do, you know, whatever the “standard” process is just keeping that communication open and making it clear to the composers.

Ashley: 40:36
Again, something to think about, if you go the route of crowdfunding–we ended up doing a mix of Indiegogo and PayPal; they took about the same cut. We just knew personally that some people like Indiegogo, like those crowdfunding platforms, some people don’t; some people like PayPal, some people don’t. So we figured, let’s have both options, and we make everyone happy. For normal commissions, when it’s just, you know, you commission a composer, you don’t have to deal with tax forms or anything like that, because our composers are all getting part of the proceeds. And because we paid some of them enough to hit that like 600 bar for a lot of our composers when dealing with tax forms, so just something to consider.

Ashley: 41:21
And then if you are going the route of a consortium, working with not only a composer, but with the community, just making sure that everyone feels like they’re a part of the process. We kept all of our 109 donors–we kept them involved every week, and they got updates with where we were, and they got updates throughout our whole process. So even though, you know, Carrie and I were the link that we’re making the book, and that we’re talking with the composers, everyone still felt connected and part of the process because not only did they just, you know, help fund this project, but they got to see kind of the start to finish of how it all evolved, which is pretty cool.

Carrie: 42:02
And then we kind of did outreach in the beginning to composers and to our like other trumpet teachers and performers and people that we knew in terms of getting that crowdfunding money we used, and this we kind of [kept] doing this the same model, right, we’re reaching out at the beginning to help get funds.

Carrie: 42:20
And now [that] the book is finished, we’re reaching out to the same people that maybe hadn’t purchased the book so that they can buy it for their studios, or they can ask their school libraries to get it or their students can do it. One, Montana State University, their trumpet teacher there, she donated to the project. And she has every one of her students working on one of the 12 pieces throughout the book as like their studio project for the semester, which I think is a really cool idea.

Carrie: 42:47
So it’s so great to see like the book out in the world, after like working on it for you know, 11 or 10 months. gBut we did a lot of outreach, email blasts, reaching out to, you know, our colleagues, our mentors, our friends who play the trumpet, who teach the trumpet, just to kind of help spread the word about the book itself so that we can initially get the crowdfunding and then now [that] we have the final book, we can get it out for people to perform.

Chaowen: 43:17
This is really exciting. I can’t believe you had 109 donors as I heard, that’s such a success. I’ve never been successful with crowdfunding. I’m not very good at that. (laughs) But this is such an awesome thing for that studio to perform all 12 pieces. That is wonderful.

Chaowen: 43:38
So I will say just from my experience commissioning for large ensemble, the only thing that I would add is, I always give composers a deadline that is two months before when I actually need it. Because I need that time to check all the part–if there are any things that need to be corrected, if the correct parts need to be rearranged for easier page turning, for example, and to catch a lot of the formatting issues, especially with younger composers who are less familiar with the process of creating parts for large ensembles. But sometimes with very experienced composers–like two weeks ago, we just caught another piece that had pieces not exist, like lower than the lowest notes on the viola.

Chaowen: 44:35
So my viola player is like, Dr. Ting, there are some notes we can’t play. I was like, What? Did you not read it? And they were like, No, they are the B’s. We only go down to C; we don’t have the B’s to play. But mistakes are–we’re human beings and you can’t really expect perfection from every part, and I’ve had a composer rearrange parts of the previous commission, and one section, like one violin session had different rehearsal numbers from the other section because she cut and pasted some parts, so they don’t match each other. So that’s just something for everyone [to be aware of].

Chaowen: 45:17
The communication and the process of being part of the creation is actually one of the greatest things, that you’re in this creative process And sometimes even involving the students–I would very often invite the composers to talk to them and share the experience. So I know that you have like plans for your next commission. So you’re not doing another crowdfunding for that?

Carrie: 45:46
Our goal is to not have to crowdfund for art. Like Book Two, the idea is like part of the profits from Book One are going to help us to create Book Two, so that way, we can kind of build that into the business itself, so that’s kind of like a self sustaining, commissioning force, which makes me really excited. We want to take our first book–it’s for trumpet now–and expand it to other instruments. So we’re toying with the idea of either doing crowdfunding per instrument, applying for grants. The crowdfunding is great, and it was really helpful.

Carrie: 46:20
Working with 110 people plus the 12 composers, [though,] it’s just a lot of contact. And that’s a lot of bookkeeping, and a lot of just details to make sure that you’re on top of. So I think that we’d like to, if we can, it’s much–not much easier, but it logistically, it is easier if you’re only dealing with like a donor that’s gonna help us fund like, create this book for saxophone, or to create this book for trombone. So it’s good that we did it the way that we did it; it worked really well. [But] if we can kind of streamline that income where you’re writing one grant, and just getting one check, it makes it a little bit easier on the bookkeeping end.

Ashley: 47:02
That’s why ideally, within the near-ish future, you know, with this expansion is to not only continue working with these composers, but work with some different collaborators and experts on other instruments to see what’s possible. Because it may be possible on certain instruments, it may not. We’re going to try to, you know, make this as accessible as possible, and make these solos accessible for as many different instruments as we can.

Chaowen: 47:32
I do know that there are similar collections of books for string instruments, but they’re not commissioned. So there are collections of pieces by women composers by levels, or pieces by Latin next composers by level, or like African Americans. There are a few out there. Mostly for violins, of course–I think they were maybe one or two that I have seen for cello and viola, but there are definitely more resources for students [so] that we don’t have to only play what we learned as a kid; there are more things to be exposed to for sure.

Chaowen: 48:13
So my one last question was, I know that you did outreach from the beginning. And this is well received. But did you hear any objections? Or did you meet any people that were hesitant to try these new compositions or even use this new book with their students?

Ashley: 48:35
I don’t think we did. I don’t remember anything, at least. I know, I think the most…not even objection that we faced was, before we launched this, we were just fearful that, you know, we think this is a great idea. But does everyone else think this is a great idea? Because it hadn’t been done, so we didn’t know. I could not have imagined the amount of support last December, when we were planning this out. And it was really, really cool to see how much support there was to back this up, whether or not everyone could financially donate, just with helping to share and spread the word.

Ashley: 49:19
And the amount of people that are really excited to dig into these pieces, you know, for the wide range of styles. Like we have one very contemporary piece, like a lot of extended techniques, very modern. And I know, [for] me personally, I didn’t grow up learning those kinds of techniques. And so it was a challenge for me to work on that piece. And I know for others, you know, they may have experience doing it, they may not. And it’s a really cool project for professors and for their students to just kind of dabble in and try a whole bunch of these styles to see what they like, because then it also opens up a whole bunch of doors.

Carrie: 49:58
Yeah, I didn’t hear anything from anyone. All I really heard was like, This is such a great idea. Why hasn’t this happened before? Thank goodness that you’re doing it. And like, you know, pandemic is awful, right? A lot of people died, like, it’s still affecting our performance. But I don’t know that I ever would have had that much time to sit at my computer and try and find a project or try and create this much of a, I don’t know, ripple wave in the trumpet community. So like, I’m thankful that I’ve had that time to make this project and build, you know, this book with Ashley and work with these 12 composers. And, yeah, it’s been a very meaningful experience for me, and no one is throwing any shade our way that I know of, so. (laughs)

Chaowen: 50:44
That is wonderful. And I do feel as well, that the pandemic made people somehow more sympathetic, and we are more willing to give the good vibes and kind words now than before. Now I’m receiving a lot of encouragement every day, and it’s really heartwarming. So thank you so much for all that you have shared. And I will put everything in the show notes, but I wanted the listeners to hear it from you. So where can they find you?

Carrie: 51:14
You can go to our website, which is diversifythestand.org. You can do .com; it’ll still send you back. We are a nonprofit now; I optimistically bought both domains when we first started so that we had both .com and.org, because I thought we’d become a nonprofit. And guess what? We are!

Ashley: 51:35
And we’re on Facebook and Instagram. Same handles: @diversifythestand. Yeah, find us there.

Chaowen: 51:44
So go ahead and follow the awesome Carrie and Ashley, and thank you again, so much.

Chaowen: 51:53
Okay, my friend, there you have it. I hope the information in today’s episode is useful. All the information that Carrie and Ashley had provided was super valuable. And the only thing I would add is to leave enough time for the composers to deliver the part to go through any typos or potential mistakes before you distribute it to your ensemble when you’re doing a large commission for large ensembles like band, choir, or particularly orchestra.

Chaowen: 52:28
If you’re not sure about commissioning a piece on your own for the first time, there are quite a few consortiums that you can join. And We Were Heard, an organization founded by my dear friend and Girls Who Conduct colleague, Kaitlin Bove, has a few opportunities that I will link in the show notes.

Chaowen: 52:50
Next week, we will demystify Broadway with Hamilton music director Lily Ling. If you’re ever curious about what a musical theater director does for a show like that, or just want to learn some tips about working with singer actors, be sure to tune in next week at the same time, same place. Bye for now.