Musical Risk-Taking from the Captain's Chair

After visiting the wonderful Star Trek Tour in Ticonderoga, NY this summer and taking my place in the Captain’s chair, I realized that risk-taking and discovery has always been a part of my musical approach. The risks have not been on a grand scale like the Starship Enterprise, but I have consciously tried to do something new on each project I write. At times this has engaged listeners. At other times it has distanced them. With my new album, “The Tropical Dream” coming in January, I’ve been reflecting on what risks I have taken this time around. Here are some of them:

*it is my first (loosely structured), concept album

*it has more varied instrumentation (piano, steel drums, harp, cello, etc…)

*I worked with a variety of new people

*tried recording most of my parts in advance before tracking others

*tried remote recording with people in different cities

My most significant risk was creating the music around a concept. Musically conveying a tropical vacation was very clear in my mind and I followed it through from beginning to end. Although loosely structured, how many artists today create concept albums? There doesn’t seem to be many. This was a risk, for sure. Its outcome is still to be determined.

Trying out new instrumentation in my arrangements was rewarding risk. It required some studying and consultation. To assist me, I reached out to several people who have refined skills on a particular instrument. While there are exceptions, I have had better results with people who know their instrument well and have “lived” it as opposed to multi-instrumentalists.

One other interesting area of risk I tried was working remotely with others. With some instruments, there were no local players with the skills to pull off what I wanted. Consequently, I had to search outside of my city. It was more cost effective to have people play to my existing track and send in their work in via Dropbox. This, of course, is a big risk! I’ve learned that you have to be very specific with what you want, communicate clearly and then relax and trust that the people you’ve hired will give you their best. On this project, I’ve been very fortunate.

At least in musical terms, there is an immense satisfaction with taking risks, no matter how small. They may not always yield exactly what you had hoped for, but the exploration and discoveries along the way make it all worthwhile.


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