Rick WilliamsMarch 17, 2010
A 2008 graduate of Eastman School of Music, and alumnus of the Arts Leadership Program, Rick Williams is an active freelance percussionist in New York City and a Radio Analyst for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), while also pursuing a Post-Baccalaureate Business Certificate at Columbia University. In the following interview, Rick discusses his process of transitioning from student to working professional, how his experiences at Eastman shaped this process, and the learning he has garnered along the way.
Since graduating from Eastman in 2008, you’ve been building a diverse musical career for yourself in New York City while furthering your studies in business at Columbia University. What have you learned about creating and pursuing professional and educational opportunities to fulfill various interests and career goals?
Everyone knows that the music business is a tough industry, but it doesn’t fully sink in until you go out and try to be part of it. One of the most important things that’s sunk in during my year and a half in New York is an increased appreciation of how music and business are intimately intertwined, and how promoting yourself and your “brand” is very much like promoting a business. There are so many great musicians and great music businessmen and women out there that you have to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Highlighting your strengths and addressing your weaknesses are key, and ultimately the more skills, certificates and job and performance experiences that you can put on your résumé, the more marketable you will become.
Additionally, a broad network goes a long way. Anyone you meet on a gig, in a class, or at a job or internship has the potential to provide you with invaluable information or contacts. So it is important to meet as many people as you can. Always have your business cards on hand, don’t be afraid to hand them out, and remember names!
How do you balance such an active and varied professional life?
Scheduling and prioritizing. You have to know what needs to be completed now, and what can wait; which projects are time-sensitive, and which are ongoing. It’s also important to know your limits – you want to strike a good balance of working enough without burning yourself out.
How did your experience at Eastman and your involvement in the Arts Leadership Program influence you or help prepare you for a career in music?
Eastman is a great place for developing your potential both musically and professionally. In addition to the top-notch musical instruction, the busy schedule that Eastman students have to balance certainly helped with the scheduling and prioritizing aspect of a music career. We’re also fortunate that Eastman is a school that really fosters and supports individual artistic discovery and growth. The friendly competition doesn’t hurt, either!
As a student, it’s sometimes tempting to want to focus solely on performing and to postpone learning about many of the important business aspects of music. This is why it’s great that Eastman developed the Arts Leadership Program to teach us the importance of learning these business aspects, and learning them before you have to enter the “real world.” The program’s instruction, guidance and support were extremely helpful and relevant, and the two internships that I did gave me valuable real-life experiences before I even left college.
What thoughts or advice might you share with other young conservatory graduates as they begin to explore possibilities in the professional world?
Be creative! You’re not going to get your dream job right away, so find a place and a path that will surround you with the people who can help you go where you want to go professionally. While I feel I’ve now settled musically and professionally into the New York scene, it took hundreds of résumé submissions and numerous part-time jobs before I landed my current full-time position, and broadening my freelance performing schedule is still a work in progress. Remember, any gig that you do (even a non-paying one) is an opportunity to meet someone who might refer you to another gig.
I would also encourage conservatory graduates to seek out alumni of your school. For the Eastman grads, if you’re moving to a new town, find the names of some of the Eastman alumni living there. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee, and ask them what it’s like working in that city’s music scene. And definitely stay in touch with the people in your graduating class, especially those moving to the same city as you – you’ll all be going through similar trials and tribulations together.
What are your professional and musical aspirations?
They really change day to day! Right now, I’ve been looking into putting together a new band again in the near future. I’ve been composing a lot recently, and I want to hear what some of the works sound like off the page.
Professionally, working in the creative side of the music industry has always interested me. I’ve always been fascinated by jobs in production, and I’d eventually like to be involved in studio work where I can help put together a record through songwriting, composing, performing and giving musical advice throughout the session.
I’m still taking the time to try everything that I’ve wanted to try until I find my niche. While it’s challenging, I don’t necessarily look at it as a challenge…I’m just having fun.
Rick Williams – Biography
Rick Williams is a 2008 graduate of the Eastman School of Music. He received a Bachelor’s of Music in Percussion Performance under the instruction of John Beck, and an Arts Leadership Certificate through the Institute for Music Leadership.
During his time at Eastman, Rick worked as the Public Relations & Marketing Intern for the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, NC, and the Special Projects Intern at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for their CD “Honor: Portraits of America.” Rick also performed and recorded with the Eastman Wind Ensemble and the Canadian Brass on the 2007 CD “Manhattan Music.” Additionally, Rick traveled with the Eastman Percussion Ensemble to perform in international percussion ensemble festivals held in Croatia and Slovenia, was chosen to participate in Rice University’s 2007 Shepherd Careers Forum in Houston, TX, and was the recipient of the 2007 Links, Incorporated Scholarship.
Rick was also a founding member of the classical-pop fusion group NeoCollage. In addition to performing with the group, Rick coordinated most of the public relations and promotions for the ensemble. With NeoCollage, he recorded two albums and performed at venues throughout the state of New York, including performances at the Glimmerglass Opera House and the 2008 Rochester International Jazz Festival.
After moving from his hometown of Centreville, VA, Rick currently resides in New York City. He works as a Radio Analyst for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) where he listens to radio programs and identifies feature songs, station promos and music clips to determine what songs are played on-air so that the songwriters are paid royalties. Prior to this position, Rick was the host of three classical music radio programs on WKCR-FM in New York, and an orchestra librarian for the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas.
Rick maintains an active performing schedule as a freelance percussionist. The freelance orchestras, church ensembles and jazz combos that he performs with bring him through venues as varied as an art gallery in Greenwich Village, a private school in the Bronx, a concert hall in Baltimore, and City Hall in Lower Manhattan. In addition to performing, Rick is currently pursuing a Post-Baccalaureate Business Certificate at Columbia University.