School of Music students merge music and entrepreneurism

Group ShotAt one point in their student careers in the Northern Arizona University School of Music, Liza Stegall, Drew Worden, Owen Davis, and Jess Ryan realized that musical success doesn’t happen without a lot of effort and time. They also realized they had good chemistry together and wanted to help each other succeed.

“We share a passion for the music we’re playing, and we’re all friends,” said Worden. 

So they formed Erasable Color, a contemporary music quartet and business venture.

Stegall (saxophone), Worden (percussion), Davis (percussion), and Ryan (piano) are all seniors in the School of Music at NAU. Most music students learn about theory, performance, and composers in the classroom and onstage, and find that having a job outside of practice hours is pretty difficult due to a lack of time. 

But Erasable Color has bypassed big record labels and created a real music business that takes care of press kits, bookings, social media, website, and budget management, as well as performs contemporary music of a most exciting caliber.

“Our business venture is actually a bit of a risk to us as students because of the extra time commitment it requires, and the low money we initially earn from it,” said Worden. “But we’ve bought into the DIY mindset of the 21st century; with technology offering as many opportunities as it is, with the right people and chemistry, starting a business has never been more accessible.”

A new musical model 

Northern Arizona University’s School of Music director, Todd Sullivan calls them "an interesting model for new musical endeavors." He went on to explain that entrepreneurship is a vibrant, growing trend in the world of classical music, as well as how Erasable Color is breaking ground and establishing a model for other student groups at NAU.  

coloring“The changing landscape of classical music performance, specifically, the steady disappearance of traditional full-time positions, has prompted performers to broaden their professional skills to include education, community engagement, marketing, social media, artist management, contracting, commissioning, and budgeting—functions formerly handled by specialists in large organizations,” said Sullivan. “Erasable Color models this full-range musical entrepreneurism.”

Davis and Worden conceived of the idea for Erasable Color from the Sō Percussion Workshop they attended in New Jersey during the summer of 2011. They were each funded $2,000 from ASNAU to attend the workshop.

“We were able to learn a lot about the entrepreneurial side of our project from researching existing models from other professional ensembles, exploring current literature, attending international conferences, and perhaps most importantly, through discussion with our professors,” said Davis. “In fact, the discussions we’ve had with Dr. Bergeron, Dr. Hemphill, Dr. Reiprich, and Dr. Sullivan have helped us refine this dream into a practical reality.” 

Forging stronger bonds 

Playing music and starting a business together has made Erasable Color into a tight-knit group. 

"When we play music together, that brings us closer. We can count on each other musically; we have each other's back. We can also count on each other logistically," Ryan explained.

performanceThe quartet members are classically-trained musicians who share a passion for fresh, versatile music by 20th and 21st Century composers—living, breathing music that's fresh on the page.

"Contemporary music can sometimes be misunderstood," said Ryan. "As advocates for contemporary music, we try to connect with our audience at every show through our music. By providing some background information on the works, the composers, who are still alive in most cases, and the unique instruments we use, we try to create a really intimate setting for listeners to experience this music."

With all their hard work, Erasable Color is well on its way to becoming a thriving contemporary music business.

"As I prepare for the professional world, working with Erasable Color has been something that I can invest in right now for the future. As we all continue to invest in ourselves with the all the aspects of being a music ensemble—like electronics, programs, advertising costs, instruments, music, etc.—it makes every performance more valuable to me,” said Stegall.  “In time, I plan to turn this investment into a very profitable business and lifetime career. "

For more information about Erasable Color, please visit www.erasablecolor.com.  A clip of their music can be heard here

Upcoming shows:  

  • “An Evening of John Cage Music with Guest Performers,” March 3, Performing and Fine Arts Bldg., Rm. 146, 7 p.m. 
  • “Five Brand New Works,” April 27, Performing and Fine Arts Bldg., Rm. 146 at 7 p.m.  Featuring work by composers Frank Rosaly (Chicago-based drummer and improviser,) Ryan Springler (ASU composition student,) Owen Davis (Erasable Color percussionist,) Kevin Austin (NAU composition grad student,) and Bruce Reiprich (Professor of Music Theory and Composition at NAU.)
  • Flagstaff New Music Ensemble concert, featuring Erasable Color on April 6, 7:30 p.m. at Ardrey Memorial Auditorium.