Lauren’s System for Stress-less Freelancing

One of the things I love about summer as a freelancing brass musician is the renewed influx in gigs spanning many different musical genres other than classical and art music. But summer can also bring with it lots of ‘freebies’ and ‘exposure-generators’ that don’t do much for career or enjoyment. Because of this I have a (year-round) system for accepting gigs that has contributed immensely to my well-being as a musician and human being.

Introducing my “System for Stress-Less Freelancing”- a simple formula that will help you work while you create your art and create your art while you work.

Gigs generally fall into one or more of the following 3 categories:

  1. Offers fair compensation for your time and skills
  2. Is artistically valuable to you in some way (i.e. good or unique repertoire, challenges or refines your skill sets, is enjoyable to perform)
  3. Gives you the opportunity to work with people you value and/or like as people and musicians

If a gig can offer you at least 2 of these categories, it’s worth considering. If it’s just one- or none- well, you might find it’s not the gig for you.

Sometimes a gig just pays, and pays well, and in that case it might be a good thing to take it and use that financial freedom to take a ‘riskier’ gig down the road that you really want to do or offers you a new experience. But it’s likely that even if it seems like it just pays well, it probably also affords you networking opportunities or is a resume-builder. You also never know who you’ll reach with the communication you offer through your art. That said, remember that you’re in charge of keeping your musical soul healthy, and too much of just ‘work’ can really dull the joy of making music.

Being an artist isn’t just a job. If it’s starting to feel like one, take a step back. Maybe putting a few ground rules to what you say yes to will help you find the opportunities that really make you sing.


Conceptual Desire Paths and the Modern Musician

Many of my students know that I’m big fan of podcasts, and one of my absolute favorites is the design-focused program 99% Invisible. The shows are usually about 25-30 minutes long and cover all number of topics from architecture and city planning to the everyday objects you use and broad societal concepts that have been designed into our lives. It’s a brilliant show and it’s opened my eyes to so many new ideas and patterns in our world.

One of the latest episodes, a sort of compilation story they do every now and again with shorter ideas that can’t make up a full episode, introduced me to the concept of desire paths.

A desire path (formally referred to as desire line in transportation planning, also known as a game trail, social trail, herd path, cow path, goat track, pig trail or bootleg trail) can be a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall or traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. – Wikipedia

Of course we see (and use!) these everywhere, but I had no idea they had a name. The concept sat with me a few days, percolated, occasionally surfaced in real life (I cut across grass yesterday while gleefully bubbling a little ‘desire path!’ tune), and then suddenly came crystal clear as the description I’ve needed all along for how I’ve built my career and life.

Our lives are desire paths. We shape our careers, relationships, lifestyles, homes by shortcuts (and longest) to the most efficient or desirable ways of being ourselves.

Musicians trying to make a name these days are learning this the natural way- understanding how to navigate a changing field and career market and make an impression in the best manner possible. We have an industry structure: 1. Practice hard 2. Win a gig 3. Success, but we’re realizing more and more that that serves a distinct and small part of our musical population, and the opportunities to follow this path are not available to everyone. The rest of us can either quit in frustration, stymied by a metaphorical sidewalk that doesn’t go the way we want it to, or walk around it, making our own path.

My desire paths as a musician include:

-Seeking out effective resources to help me build a teaching studio and to teach effectively and inspirationally; developing my teaching philosophy (stay tuned to see that in writing, finally!); expanding my outreach and values geographically to the people who are ready to receive it

-Building a list of skilled and competent musicians (with a strong focus on women and/or performers of color) from which to build my community; finding my audience and incorporating it into that community

-Choosing the gigs I want- and developing the skills for them- carefully; being consistent with the image I want to portray and the healthy career/life balance I strive for: changing the ways in which the embedded musical concepts of ‘industry standard’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘virtuosity’ affect my mindset and my performance and taking only what is valuable

What are the ways you’ve incorporated metaphorical desire paths in your career and life? What ways can you see yourself trying new directions in the future? How can you help someone else navigate their own desire path? Let’s redesign this business, one dirt track at a time.

IWBC Recap

Last week I was able to attend the International Women’s Brass Conference for the first time, and it was an experience of a lifetime.  In a nutshell, I met some of my heroes, made some new ones, connected with old and new friends, competed against some top-class performers (3rd place- not too shabby!), heard amazing performances by individuals and groups alike. Here’s a little breakdown of what I took away:

Day 1

  • Prelims for the solo competition- I performed movements I and II of the Rota Concerto and was awarded 3rd place for my age category.
  • Heard soloists Ashley Hall, trumpet, and Velvet Brown, tuba, perform with the Rowan Uni wind ensemble, helped honor the conference’s Pioneer Award winners
  • At the opening reception, met and talked with one of my inspirations, Abbie Conant, and worked hard to stay collected and calm. 🙂

Day 2

  • Recitals by Natalie Mannix and Ava Ordmann, trombones (all music by female composers!), and Donna Parkes, trombone (AMAZING rendition of the Sulek)
  • panels by Debra Taylor (on focal dystonia and recovery) and Stacie Mickens (on practice habits and tricks)
  • evening performance by Athena Brass Band (new life goal: get in this ensemble!), an all-female British-style brass band.

Day 3

  • Panels on Alexander Technique with Lori Schiff (Julliard School) and racism in the music world with Marquita Reef (St Louis educator)
  • Recitals by Julia McIntyre, bass trombone (some of the loveliest playing I’ve heard in a long time), and Ashley Hall, trumpet (incredible sounds!)
  • Heard my dorm-mate Kaitlin rock her finals performance for the competition
  • Played duets out of my new duet book with Gabe
  • Knockout evening performance by DIVA Jazz Orchestra

Day 4

  • Panels: “Who Gets the Gig”- social psychology and music by Maureen Hogan, Georgia Tech, and “Entrepreneurship” with several working musicians in different fields
  • Jeannie Little, trombone, presented a lecture-performance on the Tomasi Concerto and the influence of Tommy Dorsey- her performance of the Tomasi was superb.
  • Recital performances by Velvet Brown (MOJATUBA- with dance and percussion), and JAM- Joanna and Michael (tubaeuph/cimbasso duet)
  • Final evening performance from Monarch Brass, the signature group of the IWBC. Such. Sounds.

Some slight organized thoughts:

  • It’s so inspiring to see all these women working at a high level. Meeting the heroes of the earlier generation and mingling with those of mine- it’s great to see how far we’ve come
  • That said, we have ages to go. The competitions, open to all genders, were mostly won by men. I have thoughts about how they could be structured different, but in the meantime- what will it take to get women into those winning spots more frequently? Is it confidence? Training? Access?
  • I would like to see more rest/social time built into the conference schedule. It was jam-packed, and everything was interesting, so we were exhausted at the end of each day.
  • I would also like more time to play and network with my colleagues. Reading sessions with all the trombones, or ad-hoc brass quintets. Anything to get us out of our cliques and talking to new friends.
  • The conference, like much of the music industry, is still very ‘job-oriented’, focused on winning that orchestra job or finding the tenure-track college position (that will disappear in the next 10 years anyway). I wanted more from freelancers, non-conventional performers, and educators building careers in their communities using all the strategies available to them. How does the younger generation find work in a changing economy? How do we all stay happy and healthy as musicians, whether we’re top dog or working like one?

All in all, it was a week to remember. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have gone, to have had the chance to compete, and to make new connections. I’ll have lots to sustain me for the next few months, and I’ll be back for the conference at ASU in 2019 (hopefully with my own panel/performance, and with Brass Lassie in tow!)!

Lauren at IWBC!

I’m very excited to be traveling to Glassboro, New Jersey, this week, to attend the International Women’s Brass Conference! My friend Gabe Mueller will be joining me, and we both plan to compete in the Susan Slaughter Solo Competition, as well as attend workshops, performances, and clinics throughout the week.

Some of my lady brass heroes will be attending as well, such as pioneer trombonist Abbie Conant and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra.

Watch this space and my Facebook page for updates throughout the week!

Summer is upon us!

Students, friends, family, and fans,

Summer is in the air and it’s time for an updated lesson schedule as well as info on upcoming gigs and performances!

If you are a student or a potential student, make sure to check out my Summer Schedule for lesson availabilities.

I also will keep my Performance Calendar updated as the summer goes on. Upcoming gigs include a stint on bass trombone with the Swing Sisterhood and Brass Lassie’s first summer show at the Normandale Lake Bandshell in Bloomington.

Brass Lassie will be very busy this summer, performing at the State Fair, the MN Irish Fair, and the Vintage Band Festival in Northfield! I hope you can make a performance.

Video from my 2nd Doctoral Recital!

Hey, all!

These have been up for a while but I’ve neglected to get them on the blog. My April 3rd, 2017 recital in Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall at the University of Minnesota is now available in convenient YouTube form! Take a gander:

Thanks for watching!