Dear 1999

It’s hard to believe, but here we are, at the dawn of a new decade.  Personally, the past 10 years have provided a wild and exciting ride.  During this period I got married, had a child, built friendships, travelled four continents, pursued a host of artistically fulfilling projects, got a university gig, worked with talented students, and published a book. There were many challenges along the way as well, and I learned a ton in the process!

Thinking back…As the Twentieth Century drew to a close, I was halfway through a doctoral program in composition at Indiana University, Bloomington.  At that time, I was already thinking outside the box in some ways.  But I wasn’t yet a fully certified savvy musician.   I didn’t always make decisions that enhanced my long-term prospects of professional success.  Though you can’t alter your past, I wonder what would have changed if the 2009 me could have delivered a letter to the 1999 me…

December 29, 2009

Dear 1999 David,

It may be hard to believe, but this letter is from your future self, written at the end of 2009.  It’s been a long time!  The 2000s will be a wonderful decade for you, so fear not.  But I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice to help you achieve greater success. 

You’re already thinking big in some ways, which is great.  Your compositions fuse eclectic elements, piano playing spans classical standards to jazz improvisations, and performances embrace interdisciplinary collaboration.  This “brand” of openness and anything goes will serve you well.

But I encourage you to think even bigger.  How can your unique skill sets lead to opportunities that aren’t sought by most other composers?  What will make you a leader, both in and out of the music world?  How can your music reach broader audiences, including those that normally have little or no connection with the kind of artistic expressions you offer?  Questions like these can lead to solutions that are not only financially rewarding, but also deeply meaningful.

Consider your circle of acquaintances, for example.  With few exceptions, they are all musicians.  While this is a great network to have, branching out will vastly influence your potential impact and perspective.  Surround yourself with the greatest minds available.  Find ways to befriend influential leaders, artists, educators, media voices, business owners, arts patrons, and other interesting personalities.  These relationships will lead to fulfilling encounters and open many doors.  Doing this is easier than it sounds and a fun challenge!  Join the board of at least one service organization.  Attend conferences on a variety of subjects. Volunteer for some causes in which you believe. And, at every phase of your development, adopt mentors who continuously challenge you to grow. 

I notice that you read a lot of books, but most nonfiction selections are about music.  Increasing your scope of knowledge will make you a more interesting person while bringing your career to the next level.  For best results, educate yourself about marketing, finances, entrepreneurship, business, and other areas. 

The Internet is not just a fun toy, but an essential mechanism for career building.  It will become the great equalizer, enabling individuals to compete with large corporations.  Learn as much as you can about this tool, and take full advantage of it ASAP.  For heaven’s sake, don’t wait until 2005 like I did to set up a website.  And use your web presence to establish yourself not only as a great musician, but also a leading authority in something.  With all the changes that follow in the coming years, savvy musicians who learn to harness the power of the Internet become big winners.

Financially, I am so appreciative that you didn’t saddle me with credit card debt!  Your careful treatment of money has positioned me well to save for retirement, buy a house, invest in my career, and pursue some passion projects.  But can you find some ways to think more strategically and long-term?  Currently, you’re doing quite a few gigs and commissions, but each one is treated as a separate entity.  That’s not the most efficient use of time.  I recommend starting a business that may require a good deal of effort on the front end, but begins to generate income on its own at some point.  Or set up a structure where opportunities more likely to lead to additional work.   

Oh, and David, things will work out for you.  You can look forward to a beautiful family and phenomenal career (incidentally, quite different from what you currently envision).  But make every moment count.  No matter what happens, or which obstacles are thrown in your way, become the eternal optimist. 

I expect great things from you.  See you in 10 years. 


Your future self…The 2009 David

PS—Y2K is a complete hoax.

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