Today we’d like to introduce you to Adam Scott Neal.
Adam, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m a composer by training and I have a few “day” jobs. I’m the Assistant Director of the Office of Engaged Learning at SMU. Our office coordinates funding opportunities and workshops related to research and entrepreneurship. I also teach audio courses at the Art Institute of Dallas, and I’m the stage manager for the Dallas Chamber Symphony.
My wife and I moved to Dallas from Greenville, NC a little over a year ago. She is a professional French Horn player, and there wasn’t much work in a college town. I was a full-time audio engineer for the university, and I was severely burned out. We looked at a few cities and settled on Dallas as our next home. It seemed like the best combination of affordability and opportunity (and has stayed true to that).
Going further back, I grew up in Atlanta and went to college at Georgia State University. I studied music technology and then freelanced as an audio engineer and piano teacher. I then got a Master’s in music composition at GSU. Following that, I spent a year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I earned my second Master’s, this time in “sonic arts” (think electronic music and multimedia). I had almost two years of the starving-artist life in the New York City area (mainly walking dogs and making lattes) before doing my PhD in music composition at the University of Florida.
Besides those life twist and turns, my music has changed over time as well. When I started college, I wanted to be a rock producer. I played keyboards and bass in a few bands, ranging from punk to art rock to hip-hop (I even played in a cover band at Six Flags). When I did my Master’s degrees, my music was very experimental and atonal. But I occasionally wrote some “pretty” music on the side.
During my PhD, I made a huge stylistic change. I was really sick of the more “academic” side of electronic music, so I basically shunned it and focused on small group pieces. I was writing very slow, sparse, but pleasant music. Since then, I’ve started writing some music that is a little faster, has a groove like the rock and funk music I grew up on. But I’m still focused on some small detail or trying to find all the variations I can find in some small idea.
Since we made this big cross-country move, my composing has slowed down. I’ve finally got into a groove with my jobs and am hungry to do more. In North Carolina, I collaborated with choreographers several times and hope to do so again soon. But I am also trying to get my piano chops back in shape and work on some compositions with piano and backing tracks that I can perform live. One of these projects is mellow music that can be used in yoga classes.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being any kind of musician is a precarious prospect. I’ve been lucky in many ways and not-so-lucky in others. My family has always supported me, and most of the time I’ve found some way to squeak by. It helps that I’m versatile both in music and outside it.
I’ve made some mistakes and taken some risks that didn’t pan out. When I moved to NYC (“technically” New Jersey, but closer to Manhattan than many people in Queens!), I hoped to network, get some performances, and maybe go to school there (I was waitlisted at NYU but didn’t make it). Making ends meet with your stereotypical barista and dog-walker jobs killed my energy for going out or being creative.
I went for a PhD because I hoped to become a professor. The job market is absolutely terrible though – 200+ applicants for many positions. From 2014-2018 I applied for nearly 200 professor positions. I was “shortlisted” (top 12-20) maybe 15 times and was a finalist four times. I’m sure some people are disappointed that I’ve “given up,” but I think you do have to throw in the towel at some point. Fortunately, there are positions like mine in higher education where you can still make a difference for students and be connected to the intellectual and artistic community.
Can you give our readers some background on your music?
I’m a composer but that probably needs a little more explanation. I don’t write music for movies or Broadway. I write a lot for small classical groups, and I’ve written a fair amount for modern dance. I also make video art – abstract short films where I do the visuals and the sound. And I sometimes perform improvised music with small toy instruments and/or hacked electronics. I have a fairly experimental mindset, but I don’t tend to write music that’s loud or abrasive.
I’ve been fortunate to have performances in at least 12 countries. It’s not like huge world-premiere symphonies though. More like, someone in Finland bought one of my duets and played it there. It’s hard to say what I’m most “known” for, but I am hoping to collaborate more with choreographers and compose more for symphonic bands. What I “sell” is the service of writing music. Either someone pays me to write a new piece for them, or they buy some sheet music to play or an mp3 to listen to. It’s a tough way to make a living – hence the three day jobs!
What were you like growing up?
I remember being described as a “little old man.” In a good way, as far as I can tell – serious and thoughtful rather than forgetful and cranky (like now). Like many kids, my first career goal was to be a firefighter. After that, I wanted to be a movie director. Some kind of artistic endeavor was always going to be in there.
Obviously, music was a big part of my life from an early age. I started piano lessons in 3rd grade, played trombone in band, jazz band, orchestra, and community orchestra through college. I sang in church choir and begrudgingly joined the handbell choir (begrudgingly because I was a 14-year-old boy playing with a bunch of church moms).
I’ve found many other things I’m interested in now tie back to my childhood. I like tinkering with electronics and audio. My dad taught me how to solder while we worked on model trains. I later took apart my first keyboard and soldered on more speakers (not really knowing that you need more amplifiers to actually make it louder).
My mom had a big garden and I helped grow some plants (we won a few ribbons at the county fair back in Georgia, thank you). I’m renting a house after years of apartment living so I’m excited to do some vegetable gardening again. I’ve always been interested in cooking, though I only got good at it in the last couple of years.
- Solo and small group sheet music: $5.00-20.00
- Band and orchestra sheet music: $80.00-100.00
- Music (mp3) downloads: $3.00-8.00
- Website: adamscottneal.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/adamscottneal
- Twitter: twitter.com/adamscottneal
John Dixon, Niki Harlafti, Davis Martin, Brent Milam