During my first year as an undergraduate music major, my jazz ensemble professor gave me some invaluable advice: save everything. What he meant was that I should keep any physical item(s) associated with an accomplishment.
Up to that point, I had been sort of doing this already. My mom, a well-organized person, had been saving all my achievements and compiling them into a scrapbook. When I got married and moved out of my parents’ house, my mom bestowed this book to me, and I have it now. It goes as far back as third grade— when I was in the newspaper for the first time for cleaning up a local reservoir with my Cub Scout den— to the end of my first year of college, the point at which my wise professor encouraged me to keep the saving tradition alive.
I listened and obeyed. And I’m glad I did, because now I have hundreds of individual pieces of memorabilia that document nearly every musical accomplishment in my career. To contain it all (in addition to the scrapbook), I have two bulging clear plastic zip-up holders that pick up where the scrapbook leaves off. I will probably need to start on a third pretty soon.
Since the early 90’s when my professor gave me the “save everything” advice, digital technology boomed and spawned new ways of saving things. Thus, I eventually created “digital holders,” that is, hard disks, that chronicle my digital accomplishments.
I actually have a few different types of “save everything” holders for different facets of my career. For instance, one is for my performing and teaching (the zip-up holders). Another is for the work I did as a member of the West Point Band’s publicity staff. This amounts to about 75 physical products, which I keep in a padded envelope, and 25 video products, which are on hard disks.
So what types of things have I saved, and why would anyone want to save these things?
To answer the first question, here’s a partial list of what I’ve saved:
letters of commendation
Now why did I save all these things? Because I use them.
Here’s a partial list of the things I’ve used them for:
social media posts
These items have really come in handy over the years. Here are three examples:
1. Employment. A job application once asked for examples of programs I had performed on or directed. This was easy to do, because I simply unzipped a clear plastic folder, pulled out a few pertinent examples, photocopied them, and sent them off.
2. Publicity. I recently updated my website with a Photos page. Several of the photos are from gigs I’ve played over the years, which I had scanned and saved to disk. It was a snap to upload them to my website. And when media outlets needed photos for a story, it was easy for them to find on my website.
3. Education. For teaching an entrepreneurship course, I have actual examples of professional documents I can use as models, such as performance contracts and publishing agreements.
Nothing says, “I really did this,” like a cultural artifact. Because it is one thing to say, “I performed at X well-known venue,” but is entirely another thing to have a photo of you at the actual gig. The effect is impressive— a picture paints a thousand words.
In another way, the value of saving everything can be for yourself. As an entrepreneurial musician creating your own career, you will have ups and downs. Some days will be more challenging than others, and you may question the merits of your decision to have a life in music. In turn, breaking out some of those old concert programs or media reviews may lift your spirits and remind you of why you got into this crazy business in the first place— because you love music. And it may inspire you to keep going. It can be instructive to look back on earlier days and see how far you’ve come. It can help put things in perspective and point a way forward: where have I been, where am I now, and where would I like to be? This tangible history of your career progression can be valuable to you as you take stock of your achievements and chart a future direction.
So, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to begin saving everything. Organize your items into whatever kind of receptacles work for you, and store them in fireproof containers. And add to them on a regular basis. You’ll be glad you did, because you can be sure something you’ve saved will be useful one day.