The life of a freelance composer: Music meets business – The Justice

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The work of freelance music composers is not as solitary as it may sound. They collaborate with institutions, theatres and individuals. They work on operas, orchestra pieces and solo pieces. They have a flexible working schedule for exploring and envisioning creativity in music, yet they live a busy lifestyle managing their music careers and businesses at the same time. Last Thursday, Feb. 4, the Music department invited freelance composer Stacy Garrop to share experiences and reflections on her career in the first Music Department Colloquium of the semester. 

Garrop’s freelance work is founded on a tightly knit network that she built during college and over her 10-year career as a professor at Roosevelt University. Throughout her career, Garrop found herself always coming back to musicians and friends with whom she collaborated in the past. She told the audience that it was important to start looking for collaboration opportunities early on and to reach out to various kinds of people in college. In order to take the first step to build sturdy long-term relationships, Garrop suggested that music students should spontaneously reach out to record labels, universities, theatres, orchestras or others they want to work with. She also encouraged aspiring composers to promote themselves by building accessible personal websites that list their music pieces and personal information. Garrop recalled, in the early days, after dozens of emails and cold calls, she received one response, and that exact collaboration opened up all other opportunities for her. She later was recommended to other theatres and her work was distributed to her potential clients. 

Garrop continued to collaborate with various orchestras and universities throughout her higher education and later into her career. She was very close to being given tenureship at Roosevelt University when she decided to quit her beloved teaching job and chase her dreams of composing. The composer told the audience that a full-time tenureship at the university often comes with responsibilities in administrative tasks, which greatly limit time for music composing. The time conflict and the awakened dream rooted deeply in her pushed her to become a freelance composer. 

In addition to discussing her personal experiences and insights, Garrop also shared some of the work she recorded during the pandemic, catering to the special time we are all experiencing. She composed the piece “Solitude of Stars” in more than 20 transposes for different musical instruments. The song, Garrop described, had a simplistic melody that could be practiced more easily when large-scale music was hard to perform under COVID-19 safety measures. 

Multi-media music performance was another innovative means of composing which Garrop adopted during the pandemic. She collaborated with opera singer Keanon Kyles from the Chicago Opera Theatre in “Meditation for the Inner Storm.” In the recorded video, Kyles sits solemnly in all black with his fingers moving around the glass, creating sound effects. His voice beautifully performed the inner struggles of a person during a panic attack — the aggregated tension, confusion and the return to tranquility. 

With new sound technology, Garrop also took on the challenge of organizing large-scale online performances, including a piece called “The Battle of the Ballot.” With the help of a technology specialist, the orchestra members were able to perform separately and their sound tracks were later joined together seamlessly. Garrop confessed that she never thought such a performance would be possible, but was very glad about the result. 

At the end of the event, Garrop shared some of the rules and guidelines she had compiled over the years in composing. She concluded with 10 characteristics and 6 things to do RIGHT NOW, that can be found on her website. With early preparation and detailed career planning, Garrop hopes that all the composers succeed in their music careers. 

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