Business of Reeds

I’m feeling unusually relaxed this evening – because I just got my big reed shipment mailed off and I know that I can devote myself to music-making for the next couple of days.

I don’t do a lot of writing about my reed business.  It’s not that interesting, because it’s just so constant.  Every day I find one to two hours to sit down and scrape, and every couple of days I send out some reeds, and twice a month I mail a ton of them to my subscribers.

Actually, that’s pretty much it.  Scroll to your next blog.

But on the other hand this reed business has really defined my life for quite a long time.  It’s taught me a lot about professionalism, marketing, and accountability.  Musicians always have to be entrepreneurial, but without this business pushing me toward growth I might never have gotten my own online presence organized.  I am not very tech-savvy, but I have had to maintain my current site for a long time now, keeping it updated, learning how to sell online, changing servers and fixing links and designing pages.  It’s been fascinating.

Even when I am sort of on vacation, as I was sort of on vacation during our Colorado stay, I am never unconscious of the reed business.  If a friend emails me chattily, it could take me days to email back (sorry!), but if you send me a question about reeds or an order I am fidgety until I can make my prompt, polite, appropriate response.  I’ll pull over at a rest area to sit and type or hustle down off the mountain. 

Because making quality reeds takes time – a little time, anyway – but acting professional when people are paying me money to be should not. 

The art of reed-making is a difficult one for many reasons.  It is extremely subjective- one person’s great reed could be another’s unacceptably hard one, or a biter with a heavy embouchure could struggle to play a reed set up for someone who likes to play in a very relaxed way.  Since everyone’s body and approach to the oboe is different, in a an ideal world everyone would make his or her own reeds.  That’s the best way to know what you are getting, and to take control over that all-important aspect of sound production.

In fact, though, because the skill is time-consuming both to learn and to do regularly, many people choose not to, and so the challenge for the professional reed-maker is to make a basic reed.  One which is objectively good, and doesn’t strongly suit one type of player more than another, because when you run an online business you have no idea who it is that is ordering. 

Even when I try to make changes to my own reeds –  to balance them differently or change the size of the opening for a specific purpose – I have to continue to turn out “normal” reeds for everyone else. 

I think this might sound like complaining.  I love my reed business.

It holds great advantages for me. My winding and scraping speed and consistency have improved enormously.  I can make use of all of my raw materials – even if a reed is not performance quality for me I can usually make a good basic reed out of it.  It’s a valuable third income stream, and keeps me honest during slow weeks.  And I pretty much always have a reed to play on.  What oboist could complain about that?

But still the day after I drop 40 reeds into the mail I breathe a little easier.  I luxuriate in a project completed, and allow my knife callouses to soften a little, and maybe actually go to bed early.  What a treat!

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