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Making Your Work Samples the Best They Can Be

Making Your Work Samples the Best They Can Be
October 29, 2013

As our project grants are taking off, our grants team has some words of advice for applicants about work samples:

Work samples aren’t just about showing your creativity to the panelists. They are also vital in promoting yourself to venues, other artists, donors, and fans. They should demonstrate compelling artistry, superb performances, and relevant examples of your work in the clearest, highest-quality recordings possible.

If your project is awarded through New Music USA’s project grants, your project will be published. After the panelists are finished, great work samples have the potential to bring new audiences to your work.

Let’s break down the importance of your work samples with some Do’s and Don’ts:


  • Do provide recent work samples – think created and performed within the past 3-5 years. If you’re awarded, these will represent your project’s artistic ideas to the public, and they give listeners an informed sense of your current work.
  • Do provide media that is relevant to your project. If your project focuses on a work for large ensemble, then show a large ensemble in your work samples. Provide examples of your own work and the work of key collaborators. If you have aural/visual examples of the proposed project or prior collaborations, provide them (and keep in mind that MIDI samples are always weaker than actual recordings) – doing all of this helps listeners get a complete impression of your project and your work.
  • Do choose intelligent starting points. First impressions are key; listeners should be immediately compelled and interested in your work, particularly with such a high volume of competitive projects in the mix. If the most interesting part of your piece takes place 4 minutes in, then direct listeners to that spot in your work sample’s description.
  • You have space for 1-3 work samples. Use that space; show us your work.
  • AUDIO: Try to avoid MIDI. Even super rough cuts and garage recordings are better than MIDI realizations. If you have to provide MIDI, then try and make the sound samples as realistic as possible.
  • VIDEO: try and provide the most stable, high-resolution/high-quality video samples you have – especially for dance projects. Show the quality of your craft as clearly as you can.
  • Do pretend you are someone else experiencing your work for the first time. If you were viewing hundreds of new music projects and came across yours, what impressions do you think your work samples would evoke?


  • Don’t provide old work samples. If your piece wasn’t created recently (the past 3-5 years) then listeners won’t know that it’s a relevant example of your work.
  • Don’t assume that the beginning is the best place to start. If your work sample has 20 seconds of silence, tuning, an intro, blackout, text, or a very slow build-up, then excerpt it or suggest a starting place. You can control what first impression you make – the beginning of a piece isn’t always the best way to draw people in.
  • Don’t provide shaky, low-quality, low-resolution, or poorly-lit video samples. This is mainly important for dance and theater projects: extensive close-ups, shaky video, grainy video or poor lighting makes it really hard to see and enjoy your work.
  • Don’t forget to include work samples of vital participants – if you are applying on behalf of a few people or organizations, try to show the work of each one, especially the composers and performers.

And of course, you can always visit www.newmusicusa.uservoice.com to find answers to questions other applicants have asked, or to contact our grantmaking staff. Happy applying!

6 responses to “Making Your Work Samples the Best They Can Be”

  1. Orianna Webb says:

    Is it a waste to include a work sample that is already in my profile, or a collaborator’s profile? In other words, for a project with several collaborators, should I assume that judges will or won’t be clicking through to collaborator’s profiles?

  2. emily says:

    Hey there! This is Emily Bookwalter. Great question. It is not a waste to include a work sample that is already in your profile on your project page – in fact, the work samples on your project page are top priority and should be highly representative of the project for which you’re applying – so if that means that you use the same work sample on your project page that you also list on your public profile, that’s fine. That being said – for projects with multiple collaborators in particular, the panel very well might click on individual profiles to get a better idea of the artists and organizations involved, so having other media listed there can be incredibly helpful for a panel, particularly if you feel that the work samples you provided on your project page might not fully encompass the work of everyone involved. Hope that’s clear, good luck!

  3. Rova Arts says:

    I just want to say that you all have created a fantastic set of videos and written “how to’s” here on your site. Everything is made clear. Makes the whole process so much simpler. The video explaining how the panel process works is absolutely fantastic.

  4. Warren Byrd says:

    I seek to understand which medium is being referred in “You have space for 1-3 work samples…AUDIO: Try to avoid MIDI…”. Would MP3 generations of Music Writing Apps such as Finale or Muse Score fall under that description/heading?

    • Sam Reising says:

      Hi Warren! This is Sam Reising from New Music USA. MP3 MIDI realizations exported from Finale or Muse Score are discouraged. Projects that use MIDI realization work samples tend to score worse among panelists than work samples that are actual recordings, even if the quality of the recording itself is not professional. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot us an email at info@newmusicusa.org.

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