Bob a judge in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest
They don't wanna be big stars
Student musicians look to pursue professional music careers, but not fame
So you've heard of Tracy Chapman, and you've heard of Guster. These professional musicians were once just fellow Jumbos. But do you know junior Bridget Kearney? How about senior Geoff Brown? Well, wait a few years, and you may hear about these aspiring professional musicians. But more importantly, they'll be professional musicians - whether you've heard of them or not.
You may say she's a dreamer, but junior Bridget Kearney plans to pursue a professional career in music - and the ruling from the 2005 judges of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest indicates that she may have what it takes. The bassist, composer and lyricist won a Grand Prize in the contest for her jazz song "Sometimes When I'm Drunk and You're Wearing My Favorite Shirt," and could now win one of 12 Lennon awards to be announced in early May.
Kearney, an English major who is in the five-year double degree program with the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), is confident that she will be able to pursue a career in music, and doesn't feel that she needs to have a backup plan. "The double degree program has allowed me to dive right into the music world, while still getting a 'normal' college education," said the currently abroad Kearney in an e-mail. "I guess some would say that my Tufts degree is sort of a 'backup plan,' in that it is more valuable professionally than a music degree, but I don't like to think of it that way."
Kearney sees a future for Lake Street Dive, her group that recorded the winning song. Lake Street Dive is a quartet that features the talents of current and past NEC classmates Rachael Price, Mike Olson, and Mike Calabrese. She has high hopes for the band and will be touring the Midwest with them this summer and recording their first full album. And Kearney's hoping the exposure from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest couldn't hurt, either.
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest is an international songwriting contest with some impressive judges: D12, Bob Weir, The Black Eyed Peas and The Bacon Brothers, among others. Open to amateur and professional musicians who submit entries to one of 12 categories, the contest provides its 24 Grand Prize winners (two for each category) with $5,000 in Project Studio Equipment from iGuitar, Roland, Edirol and Audio-Technica as well as a $500 Gift Certificate from Musician's Friend.
This is quite the opportunity for young musicians to get their music heard by the industry - the goal for all professional musicians, especially those just beginning. "It's tough being a young musician sometimes. You can't just leave your fate up to chance," said Kearney. "You have to constantly be pushing your stuff out there."
What does this mean for the Tufts music scene?
Considering the live music performances every Wednesday evening in Brown and Brew sponsored by the Office of Student Activities, as well as venues available in Hotung and Oxfam, Kearney finds that Tufts is generally encouraging for would-be musicians looking to promote themselves. Over the past two years, she's established a regular performance schedule at Brown and Brew with junior saxophonist Ben Roseth, who is also NEC.
Junior Evan Lichtenstein is the current supervisor at Brown and Brew, and responsible for scheduling live groups on Monday and Tuesday evenings, independent of the Office of Student Activities which schedules for Wednesdays. He has noted large turnouts in the past for certain performances - for example, the group of Fletcher students, Los Arrestados - and he credits poor turn out to, in general, students' study schedules during the week.
Through his role booking musicians, Lichtenstein has found that the Tufts music scene is "small, but it's definitely there," and that it could be appreciated more. "There are a lot of talented people that no one bothers to come hear," said Lichtenstein.
The business of promotion is a difficult task for a young musician. Ryan Saunders, the events producer and publicist of the music department, said that while the department does make an effort to promote events, it may require, for individual students, a bit of time and effort to get what he termed the "name brand recognition" that helps fill venues.
"I think the entire Tufts community is a very welcoming group for musicians of all levels and abilities," said Saunders. "The most important thing to us is, 'do our students have the opportunities to perform?' When we move into our new building, we'll be able to do more."
Saunders drew a distinction between pursuing music professionally and attaining fame with music. Saunders said that there are many Tufts students who are "more than capable" of pursuing a professional career in music in either an academic or commercial track, but he noted that most music majors at Tufts are involved in other majors.
"You don't have to be playing in the Tufts Symphony Orchestra to be a musician," said Saunders. "But being a musician, it's more than a hobby. It's understanding the reality of the music world, while you're still performing at a high level."
You may say Kearney's a dreamer, but she's not the only one
Senior music major, guitarist and composer Geoff Brown says he already pursues a professional career in music. "That's where my money comes from these days," said Brown, who books private parties and gives music lessons.
He and his band, Funk Attack Squad, which is composed of primarily Tufts students, have even currently run into some distinction, winning a Boston semi-finalist spot in the European and North American contest for up-and-coming, unsigned bands, the Emergenza Festival. The win clinched them a show at Boston's Paradise Rock Club on May 12th. Brown, a guitarist, will be playing with bandmates Aaron Morris (keyboards), Shahan Nercessian (bass), Ben Bornstein (drums), and Doug Pet (sax), at the fifteen-year-old Emergenza Festival, which lauds itself on its Web site as "the most widespread, reliable and well-known musical event in respect of numbers, visibility, facilities, partnerships and contacts offered to bands."
For Brown, networking like this, as well as drive, is just as important as talent. He doesn't define where his music will take him ultimately; for him, being a professional musician is subjective. "The only reason I am a professional musician is because I say I am," said Brown. "I put 'musician' on my tax forms."
Brown is looking to pursue a commercial career in music, and though he loves the music department, says that it focuses more on the academic route. The talented faculty can do more than prepare music majors for grad school, said Brown. He finds that the program is composed of incredibly talented students, as well.
Freshman and jazz saxophonist Doug Pet, a member of Brown's band and a double degree NEC student like Kearney, isn't so sure about his musical future, but doesn't discount an academic one. Pet taught private lessons out of his home throughout high school and served as a counselor at a music camp. He said, "I love to teach music...so I've thought a lot about going to grad school and getting a master's or PhD and teach music in a college. I think that'd be great and really fun."
Pet remains uncertain about what career he will pursue, but finds that the dual-degree program is where he wants to be right now. "It [the dual-degree program] basically allows you to be indecisive for five years and still get to do all things you like to do," said Pet.
In Morocco with the School for International Training Program (SIT), Kearney is far from her home, but she is never far from her music. The exposure to the new culture has been an amazing experience for Kearney, giving her an opportunity to learn in a way neither NEC nor Tufts could have provided. She sees travel in her future, but doesn't know her destination. She doesn't know where her band Lake Street Dive will go. But she knows she'll be pursuing music.
"I love traveling and playing music, or being stationary and playing music," said Kearney. "When I finish school, all I want is to live modestly as a musician."
Kearney plans to be a musician upon graduation, but she doesn't equate that with stardom or expect riches. "I'll get a dog and a nice boyfriend and we'll move into a small apartment in a decently safe neighborhood, play music all day long and have enough money to shop at Whole Foods and give to the Red Cross," said Kearney.