Here we are at the end of April 2016 and what a year it has been here! I have just released my third record in the span of one year and have finally freed myself for more projects with all these backburner ones completed and made publicly available. It has not been easy, and not all of it has been pleasant, but with my recording of Robert Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood launching this past Tuesday, it’s a massive relief to be finished.
I started these endeavors all the way back in April of 2013. I was reviewing older pieces in my repertoire and started thinking about putting out a collection of classical piano works. I had been toying with the idea of an album since the latter part of 2007, but being in school, not having a fully equipped home studio and not having an idea of what to do for it was the biggest setback. I made a few demos in those days, mostly of original ambient or new age styled works just to get a feel for producing, and they were never made public. These were homemade discs in home-assembled jewel cases with graphics printed out on an inkjet printer and made exclusively for friends and family. It was tedious, frustrating and looked like garbage. I didn’t want to repeat that sort of thing, and with a professional studio setup that I had been running for a few years, I figured now was the time to make a proper record.
But what to do?
At this point in 2013, I was just about to record Erik Satie’s Three Gymnopédies, and considered those as a single, just to get the ball rolling. However, I felt that my first public record would have to be something a little better than just three short and easy piano works. That’s when I decided to do Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood. It wasn’t virtuosic or anything, but it’s widely known, approachable to pianists and listeners alike and provided enough material to make a proper length album.
I started reviewing each piece in the opus, as it had been years since I had looked at them, and decided I would record them as soon as I was comfortable with the interpretations. I started in July 2013, but a few setbacks started to take hold come September.
While in the middle of recording the third and fourth pieces, I started taking extra classes in electronic music with Berklee Online. The project heavy courses meant I had to compose and produce a fully realized EDM track every three weeks in addition to the standard course work, discussions and sound design projects. I had to wait until Thanksgiving to record “Catch Me!” and “Pleading Child” since it was the only chance I had between classwork!
In the winter, I enrolled in two classes, another electronic music class and one in world music. This created a delay in recording both “Perfect Happiness” and “Important Event” as I now had twice as much work. Then, something interesting came about.
I had composed four major electronic tracks for these courses and I felt they all went along with each other. That’s when I got the idea to also work on an EDM album on the side, in between Schumann sessions.
Then it got even better.
Come May of 2014, I was in a bit of a depression and the music of Satie was a big help to me. This got me thinking about my recordings of the Gymnopédies a year prior, and I decided I wanted to play and record the Gnossiennes as well. Now, I had never played these pieces before, so I had to buy the sheet music and learn each one. In doing so, I deliberately set out to find and record the seventh Gnossienne as every Satie record I had or saw excluded it. (The reason being it was not written as a companion to the other six, and was part of at least two other suites Satie had written, the one that is also known as Gnossienne Seven was originally written for two pianists, but has been rearranged for a single player many times in the past century.)
Fortunately, these pieces were very easy and I was able to learn and record all seven in less than four months. It would have been faster had I also not been reviewing and recording the remaining works in Scenes from Childhood and composing another EDM track. All at once!
To calm things down, I decided to reduce the EDM record to an EP (extended play) release over a full-length album, and that the one, gigantic track I was working on at the time would be the title track and the last one I did before calling the project complete. Just a little bit of original material in the midst of all the impressionist and romantic works to avoid being pigeonholed as a strictly classical musician.
Then in July of 2014 my studio computer crashed. Big time. It stopped turning on due to a problem in the boot protocol that prevented the operating system from moving forward in the startup. I had a good friend of the family repair it, twice in the span of two months, before it just stopped turning on at all come September. It was just a white screen with a spinning wheel (typical Mac display). I had to move all my work over to my college laptop that was half the RAM and a third of the hard drive space while a brand new hard drive was installed on the studio iMac (kids, don’t get a Mac, they might look nice, but they’ll give you a headache and make your wallet puke. Trust me). Installing a new internal hard drive on an iMac is the worst thing ever. My friend, Ahmed, who has repaired my family’s computers since I was in high school, had to rent a windshield repair tool just to get the glass edge of the screen off. You see, Mac screens are held down with powerful magnets, you can’t access the inner workings unless you open up the screen, and nothing can remove this except tools from the auto repair trade. See why you should avoid Apple now? They make their products so hard to repair so that you’re more likely to buy a new one over fixing the one you have, and therefore getting more of your money.
Anyways, that gets taken care of while I record and produce music on a laptop barely capable of handling the job. The classical works aren’t hard; it’s just sequencing the performance in Cubase with the Ivory II plug-in on a single track. But the EDM track basically had to be delayed as it was using up to 93% of the CPU’s power when trying to play it in Ableton Live (compared to the 75% on the desktop, still lofty, and this is with frozen tracks and CPU-intensive MIDI plug-ins converted to audio). After the desktop comes back, and I spend three or four days reinstalling hundreds of programs and copying over all my files from an external backup, I was back to work.
During the time my desktop’s hard drive was sputtering, I did manage to finish the Satie record, but I waited until it was repaired to begin mastering. That didn’t matter anyway since I wait at least two weeks after recording or mixing original music to master it to avoid any bias in the process. Ideally, I’d have it sent out to another studio to do the mastering, but I wanted to keep my budget tight and was able to approach it without any major issues.
It is now October of 2014. The Satie album is finished and mastered, and I have just come back from a photography trip to the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA to create the related artwork. The Schumann record only has about four tracks left, and I have just finished writing “Earwig Rising”, the eight-minute title track for the electronic EP.
Come January, everything is looking good, the Satie recordings and artwork have been sent to the Copyright Office and it’s ready to go. Earwig Rising is mastered but missing artwork, and at the end of the month, the final tracks of Scenes from Childhood are recorded. In about a year and a half, I have created three records, now to release them! Should be a cakewalk, right?
I planned on releasing the Satie collection on March 10, 2015. I made the date without any trouble, but trouble did rise come June of that year. A troll had emerged and filed a fake DMCA notice against my recordings, forcing me to remove them from CD Baby and all other digital distributors until the case was resolved. Because I filed a counter measure and the troll didn’t respond, the case was dropped. The same damn person filed a second strike against my work two weeks later and the only thing in his report was basically a note about how much he hated me and that was it. It’s taken down again, but restored within a week because I have the proof of ownership with the Copyright Office and can prove that all the tracks are in fact my own performances.
Bear in mind, every time this was removed, I had to pay to have it put back on CD Baby and then sent to the digital distributors like iTunes and Spotify. This one record cost me over $600 because of this problem. A problem so bad that the person filing the fake claims, a non-existent company that went by “Jakob MILLZ World Entertainment, Ltd.” had to have their IP address banned to prevent any future headaches to me or my distributors.
You’d think that a company that has no address, phone number, website, email, a CEO, or anything else pertaining to it would alert the receiving parties that this is a fraudulent case. But in today’s YouTube fed algorithmic copyright systems, where making false claims has no consequences for the accuser, the burden of ownership always lies in the hands of the accused.
No matter, he was taken care of.
But this left a huge financial hole in my budget. I had planned on releasing all three records in 2015, now I was over my ideal spending threshold from having to pay for the Satie record three times as a result of this blatant harassment by someone I’ve never even met. It’s July, and I’m planning on releasing Earwig Rising on August 25. And because I was so busy having a nervous breakdown for the past month and a half, I haven’t even done the artwork yet!
Seriously, I had to shoot the cover art for that EP about a week and a half before the release date! I wanted the cover to look like an old B-movie, like Beginning of the End or Godzilla. My father helped me build the set using Styrofoam to create Wiggy (the giant earwig), an unfinished birdhouse we started when I was 8 for the frame of the building that was then covered in cardboard, and then cardboard and tissue boxes to create the rest of the set, built around a now dilapidated electric train set I had when I was a kid (that was also unfinished in building, so yeah, lots of those sorts of things lying around). I bought some dye cast cars from CVS and smashed them with a hammer and lit one on fire so that I could add to the devastation. The front of the main building was painted, torn, crushed and abused in so many other ways to give the impression that a giant, cheesy monster was responsible.
I ended up shooting this in my basement with all sorts of crazy lighting setups and sacrificing my large black backdrop to contain the entire diorama (it ended up with dirt and dust all over it from being in the cellar, and it had to be stapled to the rafters in order to be held up over such a long and awkward stage that it ended up tearing afterwards). But I managed to beat the deadline and get that out just in time.
Now with two records available online, and the financial burden created by the copytroll, I decided it was best to promote what I already had and wait until the next spring to release Scenes from Childhood, ironic considering that was the one planned to be my debut in the long run (I went with the Satie because the final tracks had already been mixed and mastered before 2015 started, while the Schumann tracks were all still in mixing by February 2015). I booked myself at several local events to showcase the artwork I have for sale on Fine Art America, and a limited run of physical CDs alongside download cards.
These didn’t go as planned. The Horseshed Fair in Lancaster came on a day when a major nor’easter hit the area, and the surrounding days (and weeks) of heat and dust were replaced with temperatures in the forties and heavy rain. And this is an outdoor event with no rescheduling. The winds were so bad that even if I had had a tent, it would have blown away! I had to cancel as a result of the weather and the damage it would do to my work whether or not I had the canopy.
The next event was a craft show at the Sterling Village nursing home. Of course, I was put on the second floor where nobody went. I was sharing floor space with a group of elderly ladies selling their knitted works, a young man around my age who crafts jewelry, and an older woman selling homemade fashion accessories. All of us bombed compared to those on the ground floor. I managed to sell a couple CDs, a tote bag and a lot of greeting cards, but then a middle-aged woman ran off with a whole box of the Satie discs, making for a major financial loss at the end of the day.
But that brings us here. It’s a new year, with new promotions and new projects to come! I’ve sold a ton of records in the past year, mostly overseas in Europe, Southeast Asia and in Israel, and have had the chance to give Scenes from Childhood the promoting it deserves that fell a little short last year due to trolls, set design mishaps and other family issues. I’ve also learned a lot more about how to promote myself successfully after a lot of trial and error last year.
So, what’s next?
I don’t know. I have a lot of original compositions to get through now that had been pushed aside for these three behemoths of recording projects. I’m working on original classical, jazz and blues music at the moment. The classical works are virtuosic tone poems, the last two out of five (the other three being very easy), the jazz works are mostly for a trio format (piano, bass guitar and drums) and the blues are solo piano. It feels nice to be playing exclusively original material now, but also a bit anxiety inducing as I find I’m second guessing myself more on these as there is no reference, no prior recording or performance of them, to compare and take notes on. Especially when it comes time to improvise on the jazz and blues tunes. It’s all me, and that can be a frightening place to be on stage or in the practice room when you have an anxiety disorder. You can be your own worst enemy.
But other than music, I’d love to get back to making some short films. My last movie was three years ago, and that was my first one in nine years! I have been making short movies for a long while, like, all the original ones are on VHS or VHS-C tapes. Deliverance Chips was the first publicly available film I ever made done entirely in digital. I’d like to do more of those. I’ve been talking about it for years now, the whole 2-minute movies series, and now that I’m not working on a major record (at this point, they get done when they get done) it could be a nice change of pace. Especially if I paired the music from some of these releases to accompanying visual stories, sort of like a video spin-off of the classical records I’ve made. “Earwig Rising” (the track) definitely needs a music video, but for what I’m picturing, it would have to be animated, and I’m not an animator.
Right now, I just want to start enjoying working on my own pieces for once, getting back into the gigging scene and relaxing after all that work, stress, depression and frustration. But at least I can confidently say I proved all my high school bullies (which included a few teachers and guidance counselors), numerous haters and other people who have told me I’d amount to nothing and that I’d be better off working in a paper mill, completely wrong. And I have the income from my record sales to prove it too.