We had the good fortune of connecting with Mattea Williams and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mattea, how do you think about risk?
Although taking a risk is always a little scary, I feel like it almost always results in either a success I wasn’t sure was possible or an opportunity to learn more about what doesn’t work for my target audience and why. Both of which, are steps forward! I think about risk now in terms of those two outcomes. I will take a specific risk based on whether I am trying to learn if something works, or if I have a goal in mind that I am not sure I can reach or that I’m not sure how to reach. The main thing that used to hold me back from taking risks was not the fear of failure, but honestly the opposite. I would think to myself “If I do this and it works and its great, then it will raise the standard for the quality of the product I am producing. How can I keep that up? What if I lose momentum? What if the next thing isn’t as good?” But so far, I’ve come to find that anxious, perfectionist voice to be the thief of productivity and successes, big or small. Everything works out in the end.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an African American, woman composer based in northern California’s Bay Area. I incorporate found sounds from everyday objects or manipulated sounds from traditional instruments in my music to create sonic textures that accompany stories based on themes of magic, horror and Afrofuturism. I do some commissioned works for band, orchestra, choir and small ensembles in addition to media scoring projects for video games and I just signed on to score a short film for the first time which I am very excited about! Hopefully the first film of many! Through my art, I am hoping that people–especially student musicians in marginalized communities–can see a living black woman composer doing all the things that they learn about white male composers doing by just sharing my own authentic voice through my art. and hopefully, that encourages some of them to share their creative voice as well.
While I do use the manipulated musical textures in my commissioned works as well, the storytelling component mostly plays a role in my personal projects. Like many creatives/business owners, as a contemporary composer, you can’t really wear just one hat. While I do have outside publishers for many of my concert works, I decided in my composition career to be largely self-published. I am currently in the process of providing print scores of my music on my website, which means not only writing the music, but also editing scores, creating cover art, getting them printed, binding them, keeping track of orders and shipping. I also have to maintain and update my website regularly and promote my music. I also provide demos of my works that are available on both my website and streaming services, so that means a bit of audio engineering. And I would also love to write an orchestrated novel that I would eventually publish as an audiobook, so we can add some creative writing to the list as well.
I got to where I am professionally today, through school (college and grad school) and having a “regular” 9 to 5 day job that I have used to fund my ability to work on my dream career and personal business. Mostly, I have used my day job to be able to afford equipment. Someone once tweeted “being a musician is disrespectfully expensive” and that is definitely a sentiment I concur with. I haven’t quite yet reached the point in my business where I am making enough money to be able to quit my day job and compose full time, but I have reached the point where I can see that being very possible in the relatively near future, should my composition career continue on its current trajectory. Nonetheless, I am very happy with where I am professionally now, and honestly it gives me the motivation to keep working and dream bigger.
There have been many challenges in getting here, however. The main challenge (which I am still facing) is something I like to call the work/work balance. I think a lot of people experience this. I struggle to be able to spend enough time composing because I spend so much time at my day job, but I currently can’t compose without my day job so I have to find a work/work balance. I teach piano lessons to students mostly ages 5 to 16 at a music school in town and I am fortunate that most of my students can only take lessons after school anyway. So my solution has been to compose in the morning before going to teach in the afternoons. Overall, I would say time management/getting to know realistically how much time different tasks actually take me to complete and saying no have been a big lessons I’ve learned. This helps me to be able to realistically determine how much I can take on at once; I don’t overwhelm myself but I also don’t agree to things that I end up not being able to follow through with. All around less stressful for everyone.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This question is so funny because my best friend from Ohio actually did just visit me here in northern California last week! This is where I took her.
Starting with Bodega Bay, which is a spot on the coastline in Sonoma County that has great seafood and is the perfect place to picnic and enjoy a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. Unlike Southern California, our beaches up here in Northern Cali are not sunny and warm, even in the summer. You can get in the water if you’re brave, but even with a wetsuit it’s not the best surf so I usually opt for a picnic.
The Next day we explored a little bit of Napa. There is a lot of great wine tasting opportunities but you should also check out downtown and make your way to the Oxbow which is where we had lunch. If its later in the day, there is a great wine bar downtown called Cadet that my friend really enjoyed and I love it there as well. Then we went over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco. I took her first to the Castro district which is where the SF Pride celebration is held and they still had all the Pride decorations up so that was fun to see. While we were there, we got some pastries from Hot Cookie and then hopped in the car and made our way to Pier 39. Here, there is lots of food, and fun shops. You can see the sea lions pretty up close and we went up the piano stairs (which play the notes when you walk on them) and went through the mirror maze. If you like museums San Francisco has a few cool ones. You could visit the Exploratorium which is a really hands on interactive science museum or the MOMA which is the museum of modern art. If you’re going to SF bring a jacket, and maybe a kite. It’s beautiful and fun but also cold and VERY windy.
Other fun things to do include: Muir Woods National Park, Berekely for shopping, Yosemite National Park and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (if you’re willing to drive a bit).
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to give a shoutout to all of my composition professors as well as my friends who have always been genuinely excited about my music and the crazy projects I use it for. Thank you for always encouraging my creativity and creating a space where we can shamelessly share our art.
Other: Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/70LK0GcDGhwBOmrBnsaW5w TikTok: mattea.williams