I've been keeping very low profile lately, going so far as to cancel all performances and galleries in much of the Northeast US for the majority of the year. I had written a post a few months ago explaining my absence, but had to remove it. The reason being that I have been the victim of a violent stalking incident that has only just stopped in the past four weeks. This is my story.
Originally posted 8 August, 2018:
I have been rather quiet lately on the site, and I want to write to explain what has been going on.
Beginning in December of 2017, I have been dealing with perpetual, organized harassment directed at myself, my family and my friends. This is not internet trolling or junk comments on a website. This is criminal harassment, stalking, and assault and battery. I am actively involved in a court case regarding this matter and as a result, I will only share the details that I can.
On 7 December, the local police came to my home and demanded to speak to my sister. My sister Hannah passed away on 3 May, 2004 so it was an incredible shock to be hearing this from police officers, never mind that it was in the midst of the holidays when her passing weighs heavily on me no matter how much time has gone by. The reason for the police response, I was told, was that my sister was making threats to my former high school sweetheart over Facebook, and that I had to contact the police in Chelmsford, Massachusetts to figure out what was going on.
I have not spoken to nor seen that ex-girlfriend since December of 2004. I called to wish her a Happy Christmas and her father answered, where he proceeded to call me an anti-Semitic slur word and threatened to outright murder me if I called again. That was the end of that relationship and any mutual friendships it bore.
I explained to the officers that Hannah had passed away over a decade ago, and that she never had a Facebook account because it didn’t really exist back then. She didn’t even have a MySpace page as those were fairly new at the time of her passing. The officers were very shocked that this was going on, and further informed me that they had little information other than that the Chelmsford Police had been trying to contact me all day.
I never once received a call from the Chelmsford Police that day, or anyone for that matter, meaning someone in that department was lying.
To solve this mystery, I called the Chelmsford station. I spoke to an “officer” after a long time on hold who never identified himself by name, and refused to give me his badge number when asked. He told me to stop bothering people on Facebook, and to cut out the pranks. I informed him that my sister had no Facebook and I had no means of making any such pranks using the site as I seldom use it anymore and, at the time of the incident, my account was deactivated and had been deactivated for several months while I was upgrading my studio computer system and had no time for social media nonsense.
He refused to listen to me so I told him, very bluntly, to inform my ex to leave me alone and to never bother with myself or my family again. The officer nonchalantly agreed and hung up, seemingly irked that I had him figured out as causing trouble on her behalf.
My high school ex-girlfriend, a woman whom I have not seen nor spoken to in (then) 13 years, and her mother made a false report at their local police department just to harass and upset my family. The officer was talking to me off the record, as a favour, which would explain his failure to provide his own name, and why I couldn't hear the usual beeping noises of a police phone system recording the conversation.
This woman has shown up from time to time online via this website and the social media pages I had in the past since late August of 2011. She always would appear out of the blue, asking to be friends again and when I refused, she would leave a stream of poorly spelled threats, anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs, and comments directed at my closest friends and relatives.
Each year in May and again in the November and December holidays, times when I was (and am) at my emotional weakest, she would reappear with new names, new email addresses and new social media accounts just to torment me. Her mother got involved in it, and eventually, so did her husband.
What began as an online nuisance became a real world threat last December. This is a woman who was willing to lie to the police and openly falsify police reports in order to attack me, and to attack my friends and family. If she was capable of this, and if the police were that willing to side with her just because she "knows so-and-so at the station,” it put my entire public life in jeopardy.
Just as I’m recovering from this latest reappearance, the phone calls started. I would receive dozens of calls a day, all in my ex’s name on caller ID. One day she called my cellphone 57 times in a single hour. Every day she called. She called my cell, my landline, my parents’ house and their cell phones. So far, I have received over 500 phone calls from her, and they continue to come each day. In addition, her best friend, the mutual friend who had set us up back in high school, has also been involved in calling myself and my family. This mutual friend’s father, who is (or was) a police sergeant, has also been calling which is extremely unnerving.
They never leave a message. They almost always hang up if the call is answered. If they don’t hang up they just shout slurs into the phone. Their primary phone numbers have been blocked since December and they still call, knowing that the blocked call message is enough to cause aggravation. When the primary numbers don't get through, they use a new, unblocked, cellphone to call from.
Last month, my family and I hired an attorney to handle this ongoing situation. That is all I can say about that for now. The calls are still coming in, and just today they called me four times and my parents three times.
I have been afraid of leaving my house because of their connection to the police. I fear that if I am out performing live, they will harass the venue or call the police to the location to arrest me in front of an audience on counterfeit charges. They have used these ties in the past in order to issue a false arrest warrant on my best friend, which was dropped after the police in her area realized it wasn’t authorized by a living judge (it was “signed” by a long deceased judge from Kansas).
For this reason, I have kept a low profile online. I normally see and can now expect an uptick in harassing, incessant phone calls after posting this. Every new post I’ve made since last December results in such activity.
I can only hope that the justice system hasn’t eroded completely, and that I can bring charges against this woman and receive a restraining order against her for my own protection.
Shortly after posting this, I began receiving threatening calls from a man claiming to be a police officer in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Things escalated further when two men claiming to be from the FBI came to my home. They had no badges, and did not provide names. The only thing they were interested in was the personal information of friends of mine (addresses, when I last spoke to them) which I did not provide to them before demanding that they leave my property.
My attorney called just as these men were leaving to go over the Cease and Desist notice to be issued to my stalker and her family, and a few weeks later it was mailed to them. They immediately retaliated by having the Chelmsford Police Department call my house (their number is permanently blocked due to this harassment) over Labour Day weekend, even sending the local authorities to my property. I showed them the court notice and they left it at that, knowing that they were being played and that my ex was bypassing the court order by establishing indirect contact using the Chelmsford PD for her illegal gain.
The calls started again after that, pushing the number to around 900 in total.
My stalker then hired a relative of hers in New Hampshire, near the Canadian border, claiming to be an attorney (I have never found his name in the Bar Association or any legal records to this day) who then proceeded to slander my name by publicly proclaiming myself and my family to be a danger to society. At the same time, my stalker began sending me death threats where she stated she would shoot me on sight if I left my house.
She sent several similar threats to friends and family across Canada and the United States.
This resulted in many of my closest friends discontinuing contact with me, leaving me more alone than I've ever been.
I contemplated suicide during the height of this period and was nearly hospitalized for that, for incredibly high blood pressure (that was measured at 148/102) and frequent asthma attacks.
Then all of a sudden the girl who set my ex and I up back in high school emailed me using a Tor address, and confessed to being an instigator in this entire seven year ordeal. She claimed to have moved to Europe so she felt that there was nothing we could do legally in response to her actions.
Everything stopped after that.
Some of my friends and relatives who did receive death threats from my stalker did end up pressing charges and there are now warrants for her arrest in the states of California, Pennsylvania and Washington, and in the province of British Columbia.
Right now I am cautiously optimistic that I can advertise, perform and host galleries again. I have no idea if this woman is in police custody and fear searching for it as she is crazy enough to use that against me.
For now, I'm posting this update and hopefully can return to a normal life.
Oh boy, here we are again. After last year’s insanity of posting my music to YouTube where I was hit by copyright strikes (not claims, but full-fledged strikes) for having the nerve to post my own copyrighted audio recordings of public domain music, the roles have now been reversed.
For the past few years, my published albums have been available on YouTube Music courtesy of CD Baby’s digital distribution partnership. However, upon finding my “Topic” page that was created by YouTube automatically when the audio was submitted, I was dismayed to see that the page was showcasing a stoned, fake blonde dude with a slacked jaw staring into space as the profile image, desperately trying to become the next sensation on the site.
The music was fine and that’s what mattered, but this bozo’s mug created a lot of confusion amongst my fans who assumed either that this dude was a plagiarist profiting off of my work, or that I was and that he was the original creator. And while I don’t admit I’m good looking and hate everything about my body and appearance, I at least know I’m better looking than that!
Last year, in order to stop this image confusion, I contacted CD Baby and they told me I needed to file an artist separation request because the image was chosen by YouTube from their algorithms merging the wrong channel information to create the topic page for my music. I did just that and about two months later, the profile image was the same as the cover art for my debut album. Then came a few weeks ago.
I linked to the page to help spread the streaming services I’m listed on such as Spotify and Google Music, and noticed that the YouTube Music page was now displaying a cement mixer as the profile picture. I filed for another artist separation, and it was changed back to the fake blonde bozo. Frustrating, but still not the end of the world. I filed again and linked once more to my actual YouTube account to correct it, but this time YouTube fought back.
My album of Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood had been completely destroyed just for writing to report that YouTube was once again using the wrong profile image. What was once my album and artwork, with my name in the credits, was now generic artwork listing the tracks as “hip-hop and rap,” “techno” and “country” all while giving credit to artists such as “Piano – Topic” and “Café Lounge – Topic” on the same page specifically made for me. Upon listening, these were in fact my recordings of Schumann, but they were now being credited to generic relaxation topic pages, who were in turn collecting the revenue instead of me.
I promptly filed DMCA takedowns on all 13 offending tracks and am awaiting a resolution from YouTube. But because I have battled this for years, and because YouTube continues to create issues for me by linking my music to unrelated pages with different headshots, adding video folders to the topic page that include content such as violent bar fights, illegal gun modification tutorials, and racist rants, and has defamed my name and put my reputation at risk as a result of this dissociation, I have asked that CD Baby end my relationship with YouTube Music as soon as possible.
My tracks will remain for sale and for streaming on all major storefronts and services, with the exception of YouTube. It will take about 30 days for the topic page to be deleted and I have no plans on picking it up on my own through my channel as I can’t stand using that site and only use it to watch. I prefer to use Vimeo to upload and share my films due to a more creative friendly environment over "video games and privileged white boys doing dumb things" as found in abundance on the 'Tube. The reason for this is explained the last time I wrote about YouTube and copyright issues and I have no interest in going down that route again.
Oh, and screw YouTube Music once more for good measure.
I have just released a two track single of piccolo bass recordings!
This may be a way to release new music a lot faster, using smaller releases instead of EPs and LPs at the moment, especially given that nearly 100% of my income is from streaming services. Not sure just yet, but it would give me a lot more freedom and control over the music I create and have the opportunity to share it sooner so I can focus on making new pieces and not the tedious production that goes into a full album release.
This single is available for sale on my CD Baby store, iTunes, Amazon and streaming on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and more!
Last month, the music and podcasting community began to contemplate the future of distributing our works after rumors circulated that SoundCloud was going bankrupt. The financial stability of the company is still rather ambiguous as information comes out on deep financial cuts and layoffs within, alongside news of a bright future for the site (the latter coming mostly from the powers that be suspiciously close to investor meetings). Given that even major plug-in companies like Waves and iZotope were giving instructions on Facebook on how to secure your uploads so that they could be safely moved to another platform (why don’t you have the original files? Curses!), the future of SoundCloud looked (and continues to look) grim. The constant barrage of likes, follows and reposts from the spam and porn accounts that infest the site isn’t helping their image either.
In an effort to keep my recordings streaming on my own website for fans, potential students, venues and collaborators to hear, I decided to put my entire focus on my existing Bandcamp page which, up until this time, had only been another resource to host my three albums alongside CD Baby. This was a task that took a single afternoon to accomplish, mostly in creating album images for each of the portfolio playlists as I already had the audio files in .wav format at 48kHz so that I could also add them as "art tracks" on YouTube.
A few weeks ago, you may have read a post on my blog about subscribing to my YouTube channel and how all my music would be there for primary (free) distribution. You may have even seen how YouTube playlists had replaced the Bandcamp ones around that time within my portfolio. Well, as you can see now, it’s all back on good ol’ Bandcamp and I plan on keeping it that way. Why? Well sit down, because it’s storytime with Uncle Mike.
After creating video files with all of my pre-prepared audio in Premiere, and the exhaustive task of exporting them on an aging iMac that can barely run properly for the basics, let alone video rendering, I began the long task of uploading them to YouTube, arranging them in playlists, adding tags and descriptions, you know, the same thing that every gamer on there has someone else do for them so they can focus on creating content and not metadata. This took a good week due to the constant input of information for each track, adjusting the settings on a track-by-track basis, dealing with the occasional glitched export, etc. When everything was finished, I added the YouTube playlists to my site and looked over at all my hard work, and noticed numerous copyright claims.
The Content ID system on YouTube is notoriously flawed and with classical music, it often falsely flags your own version of a piece as that of a major label’s upload. I also had claims on selected tracks from my EP, Earwig Rising, though that was due to my own copyright and only meant that any ads that played on them would be revenue for me regardless. No big deal. I filed disputes on the three classical videos that had been claimed, explaining that the Mozart recording is mine and the music itself is in the Public Domain, and then on the two Satie tracks that were hit, I explained in detail that I owned the sound recordings, performances and audio productions on them, and that they were copyrighted by the US Copyright Office under the Registration Number: SRu 1-194-109.
The claim on the Mozart track was dropped within a week. The first Satie track, claimed by UMG for Universal Music, had the dispute ignored and would likely have expired after 30 days. However, SME, on behalf of Sony Classical, actually rejected my dispute one day shy of the claim terminating due to a lack of response by the claimant and then counterclaimed, saying that my Registration Number was not proof of copyright and that they owned that particular track and had the rights to monetize it. This is when it went insane.
To reject a dispute, a physical, living person has to read the response and manually dismiss it. Someone read my protest, the included Registration Number, the link to the Library of Congress file that holds the information in regards to my copyright online, and the ISRC code that I gave for the track and still decided “No, that’s ours.” and sent me on my way despite the overwhelming proof to the contrary.
I filed an appeal, and Sony Classical threatened litigation against me for copyright infringement if I didn’t comply with their orders. That’s total BS. I gave them everything I had to legally prove my ownership of the track, and they were vehemently rejecting it, hoping to get a few more pennies in their coffers rather than admit that a Public Domain piece of music can be recorded and copyrighted by artists that are not on their label. Sony Classical was, at this point, committing copyright infringement against me as well as committing a crime known as “monetize without consent.” It’s just what it sounds like.
I had to ask for help from CD Baby as they published the record, the AFM since I’m a union member, as well as issuing notarized legal complaints to YouTube by mail and fax (you try looking up information like that), and to Sony Classical via email. None of them responded.
I had a lawyer contact the companies with the threat of filing litigation against them for infringing on my copyright, but YouTube merely sent an email back with a special dispute email to reach SME by (and it’s some crappy Gmail address, you’d think a major label would have the money to have a domain based email, even I have one!) and said they do not mitigate copyright issues before signing off for good on the matter.
We filed a notice to SME through the email address we were provided with. We gave them 10 business days to comply with our order to remove their claim and illegal monetization of my copyrighted work alongside a scanned image of my Certificate of Registration:
Personal information redacted.
They didn’t respond until the last possible day, and rather than a professional reply and apology for these criminal actions, they spouted off about how our legal notices were a form of harassment and that I was stealing work that one of their artists had made (they never gave a name because it's my property and not theirs) and that this would be the last they would hear of it. The next day, my track was deleted and I had a copyright strike issued against my YouTube account.
This was the most unprofessional experience I have ever had with a major company, both with YouTube and Sony Classical. Everyone in the AFM and with CD Baby, as well as my lawyer of course, said it was blatantly clear that Sony Classical was in the wrong and that I had more than sufficient evidence to support my ownership of that track. But because money talks, SME was able to profit off of my work for over 30 days without my permission, and then shoved a hickory stick up my bottom when they realized I wasn’t going to back down.
This is why so many new artists don’t want affiliation with major labels. They can steal from indie musicians under false pretense and have the power to win, even with plenty of evidence to prove them wrong. You want to take them to court? Good, they have the cash to sit on a case like that, delaying it and holding you back until you are bankrupt and are forced to withdraw the suit entirely. If you want to try, make sure you come from old money first.
I will keep my YouTube account as a user, but I’ll be damned before I ever upload any content there again. Oh, and because I was hit with a copyright strike, I had to sit through a patronizing Happy Tree Friends video on copyright infringement and pass a test on it. When I was the proven copyright holder from the beginning. (And you can’t tell me that Mondo Media made that YouTube Copyright School video willingly, they’re better than that.)
As I wrote on Twitter in the aftermath of all this, to hell with YouTube. They hold average users to insane requirements for advertiser friendly content, claim fair use content (such as film critiques) are infringement on a regular basis, and sometimes just delete your channel for no reason. But if you’re a major corporation you can infringe on someone else’s copyright and they’ll take the side with the bigger dollars every time. Just look where I am.
You can follow me on Bandcamp: mikesmale.bandcamp.com.
Today I received a threatening phone call from an unknown number located in New York state. I didn't answer it as it was outside of my area, and I don't know anyone in NY outside of NYC. What I got was a vile, venomous voicemail that included threats of violence and legal action in a voice that sounded like the caller was talking down a taped off paper towel roll.
Looking up the number, it's connected to a known debt collection scam calling itself "CCA" (Consumer Compliance LLC Group Inc [so, what's that "A" for now?]) which calls with a threat of legal action against you, someone you know or even a total stranger. The person on the other end, usually a guy named something like Needle Weenie, will then give you back your personal information (or a relative's or, again, a stranger's) including Social Security number (in full), bank account numbers, addresses, etc. and threaten you with legal action or violence. Needle Weenie claims to be an attorney in NY state working for CCA, but if you ask for his Bar number, he cannot provide it and then claims he isn't an attorney. So he's only a lawyer when it's convenient for him. Yup, I'm buying this malarkey.
Anyways, this rotten little worm (I'm being nice here) either called himself with a robot voice, or (allegedly, according to the message) had his daddy call me claiming I was repeatedly calling and upsetting poor little Needle Weenie (you're in your 30s or something and need daddy to fight your battles?). I haven't made a single outgoing phone call in three months, this was complete bullshit. But they claimed my phone called them (and read back my number) and demanded other personal information in restitution and other such nonsense to try to scare me into handing them the key to my identity. Not gonna happen, you idiots.
Remember, you called me and left me a message threatening violence against myself and my family. I can now bring that to the police and press charges against you. Even better, I know you can see this because I know you found my personal/business phone number off of this website and linked my name to it since that's the only way to trace my own number to my name (the bill is in a relative's name and my phone is his yearly birthday gift to me).
The weirdest part about this is that Needles the Bug Fondler here called my unlisted landline to make the threat, and yet he clearly already knew my cell number and was accusing me of calling him on that. First, how did he find my landline? Second, why not just call the cell phone since that's the one that he's alleged had called him (or was hijacked by another scammer like him as is known to happen in this day and age)? That's dumber than a pre-used bag of kitty litter.
If anyone ever calls you claiming to be a law firm, debt collector, lawyer, etc. demand to know the state they operate from and their Bar number, if they refuse, hang up. A lawyer or firm must provide this information just as a police officer must provide their badge number. Anyone claiming to be an attorney who cannot provide a Bar number is a liar and is committing a felony much like Needle Weenie and CCA here. Upon looking up the number in Google, 855-202-4849 is a known scam number, is auto-blocked by the Mr. Number app as a scam, and everyone agrees that the person on the other end is a con artist impersonating an officer of the court.
Since CCA can see this, screw you.
Update 13 July 2017
I just received numerous calls from a Foster and Monroe law firm in upstate New York from the number 844-822-4455. The person on the other end was the same as the one from CCA, and identified himself as Henry Clarke and that he was a lawyer. When I asked for his Bar number he replied "Why are you doing this, you are wasting my time." He only spoke through an audio distortion effect to mask his voice but it was the same voice as the one that left me a death threat Tuesday and he accused me of prank calling his law firm. Again, I haven't made any outgoing calls in three months, until today. After he was done, I called the Clinton Police Department and informed them of his name, both active phone numbers and the nature of the threats he is sending.
Looking at the Foster and Monroe site, it's a basic design with no editing of the preset layouts, the firm has no physical address, just a PO Box number, and the request information by email form does not work and freezes on the "sending data" bar. This "company" also has 46 complaints filed against it with the BBB at the time of this writing. Numerous new businesses are showing up lately in upstate New York that have no federal licence, like Foster and Monroe, and are nothing but extortion scams that pose as debt collectors and lawyers to scare you into giving out personal information. Never believe them, hang up and report the calls to your local police to get them in prison.
Block 855-202-4849 and 844-822-4455 right now. No law firm uses 855, 844 or other 800 numbers to contact you (though they may use them as information lines for the firm, they will never use them as a primary line for contact). Even Saul Goodman has a real number.
Clinton Police Department
Should I Answer?
Who Called You
Unlike most people, I always start my annual Halloween celebrations early. Usually, this is something I reserve for my old "alter-ego" site with Krowness, but in the past few years, posting on that site hasn't really had the same spark that it used to have for me. Sure, going there from time to time and seeing articles littered with curse words purely for the sake of it alongside other rants is funny, but I also realize how much I've grown over the past several years and that the need to hide my real personality behind a "clown" in order to deflect hurtful comments from trolls and generalized internet ne'er do wells, as well as fears of coming off as "unprofessional" just because I'd like to inject some humor into my writings, feels outdated.
As a result, I'm going to start using my own website to post critiques when I'm feeling the need to review something (a music video, software, an event, etc.) as well as for the occasional satire or comedy infused piece. Most of these are going to move away from the sailor mouthed rantings of my Viking alter-ego, so it'll have a more professional and family friendly flair, but anything that just requires that sort of language will come with a NSFW warning so that younger people (and my own younger students) know to keep on scrolling and ignore it. This is something I've already started with the creative writings I've shared, as many of those touch on more mature subjects or use profanity as a means of expression or tone setting. So from here on out, if I drop a nasty word that would get Ralphie a mouthful of soap, it's only going to be for a good reason and you'll know in advance if the blog post contains such materials!
Anyways, moving into the spirit of the season, I just can't resist sharing one of my favorite costumes from way back when. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be the best dressed when going out for candy, or when I was older and running "the haunt" at home where my dad and I would try to make the scariest display and features (we'd always beat the competition as he had been working for Spooky World). Out of all the costumes I ever had, the two favorites of mine were Duke Nukem (complete with body armour made of foam and an unloaded BB gun) and Torgo.
You don't know who Torgo is? Well, then I have to introduce you to the worst movie ever made! Manos: The Hands of Fate was a mostly obscure flick from the 1960s made on a bet. It involves a family on vacation who gets lost on their way to the Valley Lodge when they stumble upon The Master's polygamous cult (complete with an evil dog) and a satyr named Torgo taking care of his house. This movie became infamous after Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured it, and it has since gained a cult following amongst MST3K/Rifftrax fans and connoisseurs of B-movies alike. I just had to do a theme off of this after I saw the MST3K version when I was in high school, and I did the best I could!
Since I went to a private school, I wasn't allowed to have a beard (and mine wasn't that thick or course anyway, even at 15), so I used a burned piece of cork to create that part. The walking stick was a branch that fell off a tree across the street from my house, the hat was an Indiana Jones fedora my dad had, and the coat was just my winter jacket. It looked the part. Since I was older, this was a costume to be used in the haunt. My dad was The Master, but reimagined as a skeletal nightmare maker instead of "guy with a moustache" like the movie.
My favorite part was getting Torgo's irregular accents of words down, and I was amazed by how many people were scared of me! I was a pseudo-satyr with a speech impediment, once they got past me and hit my dad, it was crazy! I got so much free candy from the bags and pieces they dropped as they ran I may as well had gone out as a "Halloweenie"!
Anyways, here's 15-year-old me, a sophomore in high school as Torgo!
Pardon the non-canonical braces.
Note: This is the original article that I posted on August 12, 2016. I linked it to a Facebook group about certain Arts involving Piano Pedagogy as a way to help fellow teachers further explore classical music beyond what we already have and to shut down the stereotypes that often plague not only the genre, but art in general. I received so much hate mail for it that the admins deleted the link and kicked me out of their group! I ended up writing a rebuttal over the content in the original link to show how far they missed the point (and to make it visible to them if they went back to it).
So, here's the original writing. If you can figure out what was so inflammatory about this, please let me know in the comments below because I'm stumped!
If you’re involved in the arts in any way, it won’t be long before you come across the typical artistic snob. Whether you are perusing a piano forum, checking into a Facebook group for painters or just heading out to a concert or gallery, it won’t be long before you come face to face (or monitor to monitor) with at least one such person at any given event. These are the individuals sitting atop mighty pillars of ego, looking down on everyone else who enters their domain, ready to drop a nice steaming load of narcissism onto anyone who thinks differently from them, for we all know that any interpretation of an artwork that is different from theirs is inherently wrong. And if you consider yourself a teacher of the arts and dare go against the grains of this one person’s predetermined conclusions, then it is nothing short of blasphemy!
Because the arts are such a massive, diverse arena to cover, let’s go to an old stereotype and just focus on the classical music snob in order to save bandwidth.
We’ll begin our study on snobbery in the arts with the story of a concert pianist named Wallace Stuckupington. Wally is not just any pianist though; he’s the best in the world! How do we know? Ask him (but he’ll tell you regardless)! He will gladly point out how your performances are flawed compared to his own (or those of Gould or Horowitz on the occasion he’s feeling particularly humble), how his emotional interpretations of Chopin can end wars, how only the music he plays matters and to Hell with all others and those who enjoy them! You can’t say otherwise, because Wally has won several classical piano competitions and has studied with only the best instructors at the only best conservatories, and that alone should be proof that what he says is fact and not blind self-devotion, because criticizing him must mean you are also criticizing those institutions or competitions. Don’t be naïve! After all, you can never be anywhere near his level of talent or greatness! Just smile and know that you had the chance to bask in the light of The Great Stuckupington at least once in your meager little life! That alone should make you happy, so put down your instruments now and give up. Greatness has been achieved, perfection and godhood is at hand, and there is no use in trying now. You can add nothing to this conversation that hasn’t already been said.
That is what it can feel like when one of these snobs shows up to a post or event and starts putting his or herself before everyone else. Even though they’re a minority of artists and art connoisseurs, with over 7 billion people on the planet, you’re bound to find one statistically speaking. This attitude is not limited to just classical music, or music at all. As mentioned earlier, you’ll find these sorts of people in jazz clubs rattling on and on about how jazz hasn’t been innovative since 1949, or staring sardonically at a new painter’s latest creation and brushing it aside because the color choices and brush strokes aren’t the same as Monet’s. It’s a disease that has plagued our world since the first human decided to create something new, and it’s become stereotypical of our culture as you’re now guaranteed to see at least one stuffy character with a fake accent (possibly with a monocle or perpetually wearing sunglasses) in attendance of anything involving art in any film or cartoon you happen to watch. Many from outside our circles make assumptions about us as creatives purely because of how solidified the image of the egotistical musician, artist, dancer, actor, etc. has become in modern society. And for the vast majority of us, it is simply untrue and we are left on the defensive while we try to show our collective audiences that we are just ordinary people like them who happened to follow a different career path or passion (or got lucky in making it successful).
I came upon this on a piano forum that will remain nameless for the sake of their privacy. A young woman had recently been hired to accompany a performance of show tunes and pop-styled music and was asking for suggestions on how to memorize and more easily navigate roughly 20 pieces in a short amount of time. Since I have done this sort of job many times myself, I suggested that she write the chord symbols over each measure and even include a numbered version (Nashville system or Roman numeral, personal choice though I recommend Nashville more for its ease of use). This way she can see the harmony right away, use that as a road map and if a slight mistake were to be made, she would still have the foundation of the part until she could recover it. Adding the Nashville styled chords make it easier to transpose in the event a singer or the musical director requests a key change to better fit the vocals. The Nashville system is based on the root of the key signature so in the key of E-flat, the E-flat chord would be “1”, A-flat would be “4” and an inverted chord like B-flat/D would be “5/7”. This makes changing keys incredibly easy as it’s based off the movable “do” of the scale rather than having to rewrite the parts or the letter-based chord symbols if the need arises.
She was very happy with the suggestion and the post started to dwindle. Then the classical music snob showed up. Seeing my post, he responded thus: “For pop music and jazz maybe. You wouldn't do it for this or classical music in general. Say a Beethoven violin sonata.”
Good point, so it’s a good thing we’re working with pop and jazz music then, isn’t it? So why wouldn’t we do that for this particular set? He never answered, but his response gave me an idea. While I was studying at Berklee, we would often analyze classical scores and then write not only piano reductions of them, but also the letter-based chord symbols above the reductions so that we could dig deeper into the theory and harmony used in the piece. It was a way of looking into the composer’s mind, discovering what made their music sound the way it does and a means of finding new harmonic ideas that we otherwise might not have explored.
I proposed that this thread-hijacker try it on the first few measures of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata 1 just to see what he could find, and in the process, try to humble his now out of control attitude (that the others in the thread were exhausted of). Maybe, by studying the chord progression and the melodies and counterpoint painted with that, he could find something that wasn’t there for him the last time he played or listened to it. That he may hear the piece in a new way or think of it differently once he knew what was going on “under the hood” so to speak. This way, he has a deeper knowledge of the piece over playing back the written part without knowing why it was written that way at all.
Rather than even consider the audacity of such a thing, he responded: “Not unless it was written as figured bass. Changing Baroque figured bass is okay. Composers know what they want and they write it out. Beethoven especially. I wouldn't dare reduce the quality of their music by reducing it to simple fake book chords. It might make it worth more in the realm of improvising and jazz, but it would be blasphemous to the composer. I love jazz and improvisation, but I don't think the two should interfear [sic].”
So, instead of analyzing the progression, he jumped to the conclusion that I wanted him to recompose the piece, remove the written notation in the piano part and replace it with nothing more than the chord symbols, leaving the accompaniment up to the pianist in an improvised setting. That’s not at all what I asked. Oy, this is a tough one to reach!
I clarified my point, telling the snobby thread-hijacker I was merely asking him to analyze the harmony, nothing more. But, if he wanted to, try leaving it just as chord symbols and either orchestrate a new part, or go all out and let the pianist improvise the accompaniment as an experiment. Continuing my challenge, I asked him; what would that sound like? What sort of pianist is needed to perform under those circumstances? If we leave the violin part as written, what would happen if the pianist were to improvise the accompaniment? Vice versa? What would happen if such an improvisation were as strong as the original written part, or at least better received by the audience that way?
These are merely questions to get him to think of an old piece of music differently, to challenge his preconceptions of Beethoven and just to explore not only the original work but music in a broader sense, to try to open his mind up from the echo chamber he was so blatantly trapped in. Instead, he walked away and started to heckle another teacher who was looking for ways to help a student who was a little too inexperienced to play “Let it Go” from Frozen, all the while talking about how music in film and on pop radio has nothing on Beethoven and can be “safely ignored”.
This sort of snobbery, while difficult to confront, can only be defeated through critical thinking. As we have seen here and with our fictional story of Wally, snobbery is born of ignorance, whether it is ignorance of other genres and techniques, or just an unawareness of one’s own limitations that are overcompensated for with immeasurable ego. By challenging people like this to think harder about something they believe they know everything about, you can open them up to some humility and the acceptance that they, in fact, don’t have all the answers and are not the gods’ divine gift of music to the whole of mankind. My first bass guitar teacher once told me “those who think they know it all still have much to learn”. A line he had found in a Zen guitar book and one that I strive to live by and instill in my own students.
We have to accept that the composers of classical music were human, like you and I (but not Klepbor from Omega Epsilon VII, he’s from another galaxy entirely, sorry). Music, like all art, is born from our emotions and because we are not divine beings, our emotions are imperfect. These little imperfections make art unique to us as creators. Not every composer used a groundbreaking chord progression or rhythmic style, many were set in their ways towards the end of their lives and little nuances can be discovered if you look closely at Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Chopin, etc. and find where they used the same sort of ideas across many of their works. This is what made their music theirs, and it comes from the fact that they were not perfect writers, that they often recycled older ideas that they had used in other pieces, and that it was these imperfections that gave them an original voice. Modern composers do the same thing. As a contemporary classical composer myself, I am also guilty of it. We all are!
From the standpoint of those experiencing the music, we too have our own set of images that go through our heads as we listen to a sonata or concerto that tells a story based on our tastes, our experiences and what makes us unique. There is no such thing as a “correct interpretation”, just interpretations that either did or did not resonate with the player and/or audience. Unlike high school English lectures where the instructor’s ideas are final, art in the real world is far more fluid. One performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations may strike you as boring, but another pianist’s (or even a different recording or live concert by the same musician) may speak to you in ways you never thought possible.
We also have to understand that classical music and art are not exempt from criticism, something people with those holier-than-though personalities tend to ignore. An exercise I give my students in any subject is this; listen to the music or look at the artwork like you are the first person to ever hear or see it. What makes it work for you? Is there anything here that doesn’t work for you? Is something in this piece filling you with joy or sorrow, or is it boring you? This makes the work relevant to them; it gives them the desire to learn more about why art makes them feel a certain way, but not someone else. It helps them understand what makes a strong interpretation of a musical piece, to hear your own emotions come alive in someone else’s notation. This makes classical music more approachable to the layperson that believes the genre sits atop an ivory tower that only the most elite (or super-villainy) of our society can appreciate (or play).
Art is subjective, and all too often we grade what others do based on what has already been done with the same material. This is why I’m not a fan of music competitions, especially in the classical style. Many judges and critics are basing their opinions of the performances not on the originality or the passion in the musicians competing, but how well those recitals resemble the likes of concerts and recordings by Janis, Horowitz, Gould and Weissenberg. What made a piece speak to any one of those concert pianists was different, and the same goes for anyone else playing that music. Competing musicians are told never to “play to the judges”, yet when the material is subjective by nature, how do you play naturally when one moderator may deem your natural performance as pandering to them? It is not an easy feat and I applaud anyone with the stones to go up there, often before a critical audience of people who have never played a concert in their dreams (including the journalists who will be symbolically breathing down their necks the entire time) and still perform to the best of their abilities. That takes a lot of guts just to go out there, never mind making it into the finals or placing.
Trying new ways of performing old music keeps our understanding of it fresh. New variations on old themes we’ve long since memorized give us room to challenge our technique (for example, Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin's Etudes) and force us to relearn something we thought we already knew. Most importantly, it keeps music from centuries past relevant to young students who, growing up surrounded by the negative stereotypes of the genre and those who play it, may be reluctant to give Bach a shot.
Bear in mind, almost all of the great composers were also great improvisers. Improvisation is a mostly forgotten art in the classical world and many of the composers, whose works we play to the note without question in the 21st century, were quite fond of inventing new parts while they performed. We don't hear those pieces today like audiences did in the composers' lifetime. This is true of Bach and Liszt, the latter being known to have improvised entire concerts, a display not common outside of jazz in this day and age. It is worthwhile trying it just for the sake of experimentation when you go back to The Well Tempered Clavier or a prelude by Rachmaninoff, just to hear what happens.
The good news is that improvisation in classical music is starting to come back, and the idea of recomposing classical works has taken off in recent decades. Both of these are some of the foundations to Third Stream music, and are increasingly a requirement for performing contemporary classical music where entire development sections of sonatas may give you nothing but chord symbols and slash notation (the cue to start noodling)! Contrary to what the earlier snob said, you most certainly can meld classical and jazz ideas together.
But that’s not the point here (I can easily do an article on fusion and contemporary recompositions, but another time). The point is that snobbery, as we’ve seen, is detrimental to art and extremely dangerous for students, especially young ones who are more open to experimentation. It turns people off of art, it discourages children from picking up an instrument, it makes it harder for us to make a living because of all the negativity and stereotyping that surrounds our careers. When we see people acting like this, we need to give them something to challenge that mindset. They have it in their heads that they know it all, that there is nothing new for them to discover. Give them that new idea to explore and try to open them up! Show them how complex the world beyond their echo chamber can be, and offer them an invitation into that greater realm.
The world needs more creators and art teachers working together for the common good, not more self-absorbed Wallace Stuckupingtons who can’t find their way out of their own ass, and are so set in their unbending methods that they refuse to even consider the existence of other paths to achieve the same goal.
Note: Read the original article here. If you can find what's wrong with it, let me know.
You can probably tell from looking at the URL to this post, that I've changed the title, and with it, the content. This is because the original post that challenged snobbery in the arts, particularly those few self-centered individuals of the classical music world, whether they be listeners or performers or what have you (because I wanted to keep the article under a dozen pages and focused only on one subgroup of the arts) received so much hatred that I feel I need to update the link to the post so that all those who disregarded my writing or missed it entirely can figure out what went wrong, and to address a very serious issue that came about in the aftermath of it.
I retold and quoted a story about an encounter I had on a piano forum (that I will keep nameless for their sake, just as I did in the original post) where a young woman was hired to be an accompanist for a pop styled performance and I gave her some advice on keeping track of the accompaniment part. My advice was to write out chord symbols over each measure either as letter based chords (such as Eb) or, ideally in the Nashville style in case any of the vocalists she was working with needed the work transposed (so if the key is in Eb, the first chord would be written as "1", the Ab as "4" and the Bb with a D root as "5/7" etc.)
This is something I learned doing accompaniment work in my late teens when the MD I was working with demanded that the key for one song be changed so it would fit his saxophone part better, even though the singer couldn't work in any key other than E-major, the key of the piece (not a trained singer, wasn't a major show, huge amount of trouble including legally with that MD, not worth talking about him). By using this sort of system, if you have the need to change the key it makes it much easier to adapt the accompaniment to any key over going through the song and rewriting the letter chord symbols or trying to do it in your head live. This is why it's the preferred method for session musicians in Nashville (hence the name) and also goes by the West Coast System from the session scene in Los Angeles.
Anyway, after I made this point, and the original poster was happy with a solution that made learning nearly two dozen pieces easier on herself, another user chimed in stating that I was being "foolish" because that is no way to approach classical music accompaniment. Never mind that the music we were discussing wasn't classical at all, but pop and show tunes, he had to get that sample of traditional classical music snobbery going and hijacked the thread about why classical music is better, why the composer's notation is flawless and why the performer should always adhere unquestioningly to the written note.
Because this went off point, I decided to try something. I asked this thread hijacker if he would ever consider even the notion of trying this sort of accompaniment technique. He scoffed at it and said it would never work for something like a Beethoven violin sonata and that any sort of reduction to "simple fake book chords" would be "blasphemy" to the composers who know best.
Wanting to challenge his snobby attitude, something the other posters in the thread were quickly growing tired of putting up with, I proposed that maybe he try analyzing the harmony in Beethoven's first violin sonata, writing chord symbols for it just to dig deeper into the harmonic aspect of his favorite composer's mind and then, seeing what he could find. He refused, stating again that it would be a disgrace to the composer and lower the work's quality.
First, I corrected him and said I only wanted him to analyze the harmony, as any student would in a Music Theory/Harmony course in a conservatory or music program just as a start. But, since he brought up the idea of recomposition/arranging, I challenged him to consider what that may sound like, and that maybe a classical improviser out there could use nothing but the chord symbols to provide a new and daring accompaniment. What if the violin part stayed the same and you had a player with the improvisational skills and ears like Keith Jarrett give it a shot? Just try it as an experiment. It wasn't like I was attacking classical music and saying written music should be abandoned for entirely improvised work. I wanted to challenge his understanding of music and propose a new idea and approach to an old work, just to think about it in a new light. He ended up leaving the post soon after and started another flame war on a thread where a teacher was trying to find strategies to instruct a young pupil on how to play "Let it Go" from Frozen, talking about how the movie and its music was garbage compared to Beethoven. Sigh.
I explained the majority of this in my original post, and approached it with a bit of humor towards people with that ridiculous attitude. I then went into the heart of the article explaining my approach for giving my students a new idea on older music, whether it be classical, jazz, blues or Tin Pan Alley standards. I discussed a teaching approach where I tell my students to think of classical music, or any music for that matter, as if they were the first person to ever hear the piece. What works for you? What doesn't? What sends a burning sensation throughout your soul? What is boring you in this piece? The idea is that classical music and art should not be exempt from criticism outside contemporary performances or showcases of it. That we have just as much right to critically analyze the original page of a classical work and discuss it just as much as we would a new piano sonata by a contemporary composer that was published this past week.
I raised a lot of points about how to analyze music in the traditional and contemporary repertoir in order to make students think of what they often see as "really old music" in a new light, to show them that these works still have staying power, why they have that power with some but not with others, etc. And, most importantly, that the composers were human and they didn't always use the best or most unique chord progressions or note choices as music comes from one's feelings and our feelings are imperfect by nature. That imperfection is part of classical music because classical music is part of the human experience, and that it is not part of an ivory tower that constitutes some sort of defined perfection that only an elite few can tap into as listeners or performers. It was that simple.
I shared my findings on a Facebook group for piano instructors. They had a field day calling my article "reverse snobbery", the whinings of a "jazz snob" who couldn't handle the idea that these classical players were better than me (they also missed the point where I released two classical records and am a contemporary classical composer, which they would have known if they had read the article in the first place), that my writing was unprofessional and I needed a good long read of the self help book "How to Make Friends and Influence People" because "my words were doing nothing for [them]". Because trying to help music teachers teach music in new, inventive ways is how you make enemies apparently. And from my experience, that was exactly the case. An admin of the piano pedagogy page ended up deleting the post because of all the hate it was getting, then messaged me about being nicer to a community of classical musicians and teachers and that "[my] attacks on them would not be tolerated".
Yes, because talking about the harmonic analysis of scores and thinking critically of not only classical music, but music in general, was an attack on The Art of Piano Pedagogy group and its nearly 12,000 members (at the time of this writing). The reaction of the group, and how they saw it as an article about them just reveals that there is indeed a great deal of narcissism that infects the page (including the admins). That's absolutely pathetic. This reaction from the group's members shows that they are, in fact, more interested in putting importance on themselves than they are the common good of sharing musical ideas and discovering new teaching techniques. You're not doing your students (or music) any favors by behaving like that.
All but two people on the entire page that offered their commentary missed the point so far that if this were a Red Sox vs. Yankees game, I would be throwing the ball at Fenway while they were all in New York trying to hit it. I have never seen so many teachers miss a point like that or give into the very judgemental attitudes that I had discussed at the beginning of the article as a lead into the heart of the matter. Something I would think these mostly classical instructors would have liked to read as that core was on using these ideas to keep classical music relevant for young students. However, they read the title where I was challenging snobbery in the arts, took it to mean that I was making a direct attack against them and their group, activated Super Saiyan Rage Mode, and threw so much verbal fecal matter at me that I felt like I was in middle school again. Thanks a lot, your students must love having to work with you people if that's how you treat them.
My favorite comments came from a guy who decided to go for the low hanging fruit and rather than even mention the article I wrote and shared, decided to make fun of my disabilities. You see, I have a form of dyslexia and spelling is not my forte (and never was). If it weren't for spell check and many careful re-readings, I'd come off looking like an idiot a lot of the time. He jumped at the chance to mock misspelled or wrong auto-generated words and that I should "go back to school", never mind that I was writing comments with my phone at 3 a.m. (and the screen is damaged so it's not as responsive as it should be). I really hope you don't instruct special needs students, sir. That behavior towards the disabled makes you come off like a monster.
After the post was deleted by an admin, this morning I awoke to find my professional inbox filled with quite a few threatening letters directed at not only myself but also my family. All of them came from the most rage filled instructors on that Facebook group (about three of them, and they each sent more than one email). I am now taking these emails to the local police as they make threats of violence, sexual assault or are just outright harassing.
This is not acceptable behavior from anyone, let alone music teachers who principally work with children! For Christ's sake, show some professionalism and respect. You jumped to conclusions, you ignored what I had to say when you so obviously missed the point (and refused to consider the challenge of rethinking music that was posed in the article and comments), and then you carry on a temper tantrum as grown adults and try to turn the table and make me look like a snobby brat, rather than accept that maybe you didn't read the article in full or at all, otherwise you'd see the hypocrisy in your own words and actions. Then you send me threats of assault or rape? What sort of person are you?
My answer is someone that should not be teaching, let alone be near children, or anyone who's interested in learning.
This past Wednesday, I did something I was always interested in trying but never had the opportunity to do before. After hearing Keith Jarrett's many improvised performances from The Köln Concert to more recent records like Creation, I had always wanted to perform an entire set in a similar fashion. No sheet music, no lead sheets, no traditional preparations. You go to the venue and make up everything as you play it, rolling with any "mistakes" made and creating entirely new, original music on the spot that can only live in that one point in time, never to be played the same way again.
A couple weeks ago, I put my name in to volunteer at a local senior living center as an entertainer. I didn't hear back from them at all after a week and assumed they didn't have time, had found someone before I got my message in, or they just weren't interested. Well, on Monday afternoon, they get back to me about performing just two days later on Wednesday for 90-minutes at noon. I had no time to prepare a full set list as I wasn't expecting to hear back from them, or to have the gig so quickly (had I been given at least four days notice, then yes, I could have run through a couple set lists and had a ton of prepared music with improvised solos ready to go). I decided that this was the opportunity I had been looking for to try performing a fully improvised concert.
It was a private setting, so it was a safe place to experiment with this sort of thing versus being on stage and having the attention fully on me, and they provided a baby grand piano so that saved me a lot of aggravation with carting around my Nord and a sound system for it. As soon as I sat down at the keys, I was glad this was the direction I had chosen to go in; this piano was in rough shape. Many of they keys were sagging and either didn't produce any sounds, or required heavy accenting for the faintest of tones. They were also slow to return to the attack position which meant repeating a note in succession was extremely difficult to do accurately with such loose action. Almost all of sagging/non-working keys were in the (out of tune) upper register, forcing me to rely more on the tenor and alto register of the piano as the keys worked better and were in tune there. The bass end was also poor in response and it wasn't uncommon for me to strike a key and get nothing out of it without a few repeated hits to get the hammer working right, the sound was also rather tinny in this register. The sustain pedal didn't work right and often got stuck in the downwards position, which required me to use my foot to push it upwards to get the damper back down, and the sostenuto pedal didn't work at all. The soft pedal shifted the keyboard as it should, but the difference in tone was almost unnoticeable. Using the soft pedal also resulted in many upper register keys failing completely and getting stuck in their downwards position, making them completely unplayable.
I started off by playing the introduction to Philip Glass' Metamorphosis to get a feel for the instrument and quickly wound up improvising over the ostinato in the left hand, and gradually moved on to other themes over ii-V progressions and some familiar changes like the chords to "Blue Bossa" and "Maiden Voyage". I played about 30 minutes with no interruptions before ending my little medley and starting a new improvisation, the successors being shorter and changing styles from a ballad feel over a ii-I vamp to a gospel/rock fusion sort of sound over the same chords before moving along the progressions and into new keys.
The gig actually flew by and it went over incredibly well. I've been dealing with a lot of personal issues lately and this helped me express them in ways that I couldn't do in any other way and the residents at the home enjoyed the performance (and were able to get their blood pressure checked, which is why I played the extra half hour, it was a ploy by the facility to get the residents in one location so they could take and treat them as many were forgetting or ignoring their meds).
Had I prepared a traditional set list ahead of time, many of the pieces wouldn't have come out at all as the notes required the use of the dead keys or pedals that didn't work, which would have made them sound incomplete or worse, poorly played. This is definitely something I want to do more of in the future (with better instruments of course!) but not something I would recommend anyone do without a lot of practice in improvising, especially in two hands. Just playing chords in your left hand and soloing over them is fine in a band, but on your own, in a fully improvised concert, you need to have grooves, countermelody and much more support coming from the left side than you would normally need. It's okay to start a set like this using a simpler approach like that, and it lets you get a feel for the instrument so you can settle into it, but as the set moves on, you need to keep it interesting and moving in ways that speak to you and the audience, you can't bore them, especially over extended vamps!
This was one of my first major solo performances in nearly five years (have been doing a ton of band work in the last half decade) and it feels good to get out there on my own again, but I'm just hoping that next time I have more than 36 hours to get ready!
You want to know what I love? Getting woken up at 5:49 in the morning on a Sunday to my phone ringing off the hook only to find out some con artist is on the other end.
The call came from New Jersey, and I have a lot of very close friends in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I didn't recognize the number and assumed that if it's calling at this hour, it has to be an emergency and could be coming from one of their friends' or relatives' phones. Nope! What I got instead was a man with a very heavy accent calling himself "Murphy Brenna" who was interested in "lessons for his dafter who is ten" (yes, dafter, he must be calling me from the 1700s) that would be three times a week for an hour each, but only for one month. He never specified any kind of lesson. Just lessons.
This was yet another Craigslist scam.
The form is identical to many emails, texts and other contacts I have gotten. A person wants lessons (and in text, it's always spelled as "Lessons" with no reasoning for capitalizing it) multiple times a week, but only for a brief time, and if you reply, they will ask for your address to mail the check to, or just blatantly ask for your account and bank routing number. Before I continue, if anyone ever asks for your bank numbers, just hang up and call the police. There is never a time outside of visiting your bank when somone asking for this information has honest intentions.
What Murphy here wanted was my physical address so he could mail me a check for the lessons in advance. But there was a catch! I had to deposit his check, then withdraw $2000 from it, send it back to him and then he would deposit that $2000 back into my account. This is a basic check scam. The con artist sends you a fraudulent check, you deposit it, do as he says, then after he has the money, the bank should be caught up and realize the check you deposited was fake. The con artist now has money that was taken out of your own account and not his check and he's nowhere to be found by the time the bank alerts you to the theft.
Now, how anyone can fall for something so obviously shady is beyond me, but gullibility is a rampant problem these days. Just how many calls do you average from Rachel at Cardholder Services to lower your interest rates, or David from Super Happy American Solar to give you a $40,000 solar panel that never comes and the phone number they called from doesn't work when you call back? I'm guessing a lot. They wouldn't call you 53 times a day if it didn't work at least a few times.
Every time I advertise my studio on Craigslist I get dozens of these calls or texts. They're all obviously fake: spelling errors on every other letter. Referring to your services as "Lessons" instead of something more realistic like "piano lessons" or a camera you're selling as "the Item for sale". Phone numbers from states hundreds of miles away that you didn't advertise in. Requests to mail what you're selling to yet another state thousands of miles away and you'll be paid after it has been delivered. Using only their escrow services or Western Union to pay for shipping. It goes on.
I hate using Craigslist for this reason, but it's a free way of posting ads in the area that would otherwise cost me hundreds to thousands of dollars in papers that few people read anymore, let alone the ads or classifieds. There is a whole demographic that you'll miss out on by not utilizing the site. And then there's the matter that for every dozen or so scams you get, you get a real customer that you never would have found if it weren't for Craigslist. And as a single man operation, all advertising options are mandatory in order to survive.
Craigslist seriously needs to figure out how to manage scams and spam, but they simply don't care. The site structure is around 20 years old but people still use it, and that's all that matters, even if they are only using it for lack of a better, equally popular, option. Putting a warning about avoiding scams seems to be the best thing they can think of instead of taking a more proactive approach to halting abuse. I mean, this is a website serial killers have used to hunt victims. And you know it's an issue when you Google "Craigslist Killer" and it asks you to specify which one (as of this writing, at least 86 murderers have been linked to using Craigslist to commit their crimes).
But really, if you're going to run a con by me, why does it have to be at 5:49 in the morning!? I work out of my studio Mondays through Fridays. I practice 4 to 6 hours a day on Monday through Saturday. Sunday is my only day off, my only day to sleep in a little and my only day to relax. Why do you have to go and ruin it with a stupid check scam that any clown could spot from miles away?
Regardless, when he asked how much it would cost for his ridiculous request I just told him $24,000 in cash. He called me a slur word and hung up. That's what I did today. And it's only noon.
The site's changed a bit since my last post. Most noticeable, the removal of the header and the appearance of a proper logo. I've also added a section for Literature where I will be showcasing short stories and poetry.
I have been writing short fiction, hell, since the 1st grade when I made short picture books about snakes fighting farmers. Yes, I can remember that. I used to write poetry every day by high school like any angsty teen should, but I was also interested in the possibility of making a career out of it, but once I really started taking the music more seriously, it just sort of waned.
When I applied to colleges, I had actually selected Photography as my major, but on the urging of my guidance counselor, I changed it to Professional Writing and stayed in that when I first started at Fitchburg State. Big mistake. You see, at that time, FSU kept you in the major you applied in, unlike all the other schools I had been accepted to. Come my third semester, I was being forced into numerous, extremely boring English classes, and this is where the trouble started. All English majors have to complete a portfolio, and this is especially true of Professional Writing. Every essay you write in school needs to be in it, in some form, with special attention to the essays you write in a course called "Approaches to English Studies", which is just a class on how to analyze themes and agree with a single interpretation of a work that your professor has selected for you to agree with.
My first day of classes my professor for that course was late, like maybe an hour late. I had left after half an hour, twice the acceptable time limit for a tardy teacher. Then, she didn't show up for over half of the classes as the semester moved along! The ones she did show up for, she was usually late by about 45 minutes. We were never assigned a single project, paper or anything. We all left with 4.0s.
This created my dilema. If nothing was assigned, yet the essays from this class are mandatory to be in the final portfolio, what do I do now? Because we had filed numerous grievance reports regarding this professor, getting an alterative to that requirement should have been easy, but the department wasn't helpful at all when I brought it up, and I'd rather know what to expect as a sophomore than as a senior weeks before graduation. The only other option was to retake the class, and I wasn't about to do that.
Getting to the point, I was never really happy at FSU, I only went there because I could afford to go and it was close enough that I could save money by commuting. It was as simple as that. When I found out what Professional Writing really entailed (it's business writing and writing instructional booklets, for the Cliffsnotes version of the most common career outcomes), I completely lost interest and basically wandered around the school's majors until I ended up in History because I could finish it the fastest. Outside of that major's requirements (and the school's liberal arts requirements), the only other classes I took were in music or creative writing.
All the poetry and the single flash fiction entry I posted this month were all written in my final semester in a creative writing course with one of my favorite English professors (the exception being "Autumn Turning", which was originally written as a song in 2007). After school, I took some time off to deal with a personal issue, then enrolled at Berklee Online to continue in music. Writing just sort of stopped while I focused on performing, engineering and composing. It wasn't until I started reading the short works by Franz Kafka that my interest became piqued again, and I decided that it was time to share a side of me that had become hidden for six to seven years.
I had been planning a few short horror stories, but felt it had no place on my website and I didn't want to use places like CreepyPasta (and get buried under mediocre Jeff the Killer tales) and open my works to Creative Commons licensing as I had been screwed by that in the past. But now it just feels right to bring all this back out and just be me. I always talk about the importance of being yourself in your work, yet a huge swath of that work was left hidden from view just because I wanted to be seen only as a writer of music, and not of words also.
That's about it right now. I'm hoping to get a new short film out next month as I've taken this week off of my practice routine to get some recordings done and because I'm just burned out at the moment. Too much going on in the bad, not enough in the good, etc. etc. insert whitewashed Eastern religious proverb.
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 “MillsApparatus 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.
Recently, I’ve removed all but a very small number of videos I’ve created from YouTube. Most of them are audio only and are readily available here and directly on SoundCloud, so having them on YouTube seemed like a waste of my time since they take twice as long to create compared to uploading an audio file alone, and they never have the same number of hits that I generate from SoundCloud. The few left are either very popular or are selected virtuosic pieces I’ve intentionally left up to shove into the mouths of the trolls who have told me I’m incapable of playing the piano or bass and to subsequently commit suicide, something I get on YouTube so frequently that I have had to moderate all incoming comments since bloody 2008 (and that was an older channel I closed due to the hate filled comments and private messages I was constantly getting, didn’t take them long to find me again under my new name).
But this is not the issue here. I’m sure you are all very well aware of the Fair Use question on YouTube. Many channels, including very large and powerful ones, have taken massive hits and copyright strikes when their content falls into Fair Use protection without question, and despite YouTube making an effort late last year to start an initiative to fight back against this, the first two months of 2016 have been notable for many major channels disappearing or taking up the fight to be restored.
I Hate Everything was taken off twice, first for providing a negative review of Cool Cat Saves the Kids in a blatant abuse of the DMCA system by the movie’s creator in order to censor criticism, and again for no clear reason other than “spammy content” for uploading a video where he destroys DVDs of The Little Panda Fighter (an obvious rip-off of Kung-Fu Panda). Channel Awesome, home of the Nostalgia Critic, was hit with a strike and now has a limited account for matched third party content despite that he is providing commentary, review and other original additions to the clips that all fall under Fair Use laws. Today, Nintendo hit Jim Sterling for using Splatoon clips in a previous episode of the Jimquisition and put ads up on the video in order to collect revenue all for themselves. When YouTube launched this Fair Use protection system, Jim Sterling was one of the channels used in order to show creators what constitutes Fair Use in the first place, and now here he is a victim of the system.
I have not been unharmed from this. Last year, my recording of Mozart’s “Alla Turca” was hit with a copyright strike by a German symphony orchestra. Their version, as you can guess, is a full orchestration of the same piece, while mine is a solo piano recording. It didn’t matter, and my video was removed within a day of uploading it. First, these recordings are in no way the same. Second, it is my recording, my performance and my engineering work. I own it. Third, the damn music is in the public domain! If you want a good example of public domain classical music, saying Bach, Beethoven and Mozart is the best way to get anyone to understand the nature of PD’s “life plus 70 years” component! It took me a month to get that one video back online after filing a counterclaim to state that I was the creator, the music is public domain and my performance is in no way remotely close to the orchestra version that I was being falsely accused of infringing on. And even then, it only was restored because the channel that filed against me didn’t do anything after 30 days and the claim expired on its own.
This wasn’t the first time either, I got hit for uploading my first film in over nine years, Deliverance Chips, because someone made a claim on the Mendelssohn music I used as the soundtrack which was, once again, my performance and recording of a public domain piece.
What sort of repercussions did these channels face for filing a false copyright claim against me? Absolutely nothing. You can currently abuse YouTube’s copyright algorithm as much as you want without any consequences. But if you get hit three times with a copyright claim, you are deleted and banned. Show’s over, kid.
And what gets me is that if you did this in the “real world” and brought phony charges against someone, you’d be in a whole mess of legal shit as a result of lying in a court of law and making false claims. But I guess the Internet isn’t the “real world” despite how we all rely on it for information, we can make livings on it, we can work through it instead of having to commute to a stanky office five days a week, and how it is the centerpiece of all modern functionality, communication and commerce on a public and private level.
YouTube is becoming the virtual embodiment of the Orwellian nightmare your Libertarian friend is always talking about, except in this case it’s real and it’s happening. If the corporations in bed with Google don’t like something critical, say a negative review of After Earth, or just want to make more money (because it’s what they do best), they can strike your videos and take your money for themselves without any protections for the creator even if their content falls into Fair Use guidelines, such as a film or game review that used a small number of clips to showcase what they were talking about.
Musically, this has made posting cover songs almost impossible today. This is how many artists get their start, or in the very least, become popular. My cover of a Kelly Clarkson song on SoundCloud has more hits than any other track at 6227 listens as of this writing. However, posting this would get a strike instantly on YouTube with the state of the current system, despite that cover songs are your own work, and therefore, Fair Use. The music industry goes even further and protects cover songs under a compulsory licensing system, meaning that the original creators have no right to say, “You can’t record that, it’s our song, and only our song!”
Hell, there are even musicians and filmmakers who are getting copyright strikes for posting entirely original material just because someone saw their video and thought “Maybe I can make something off of this!” flagged it, the real creators get a strike, and now the channel that made the fake claim is getting all of the ad revenue without having done anything besides making a false copyright allegation. They can make that money for a month before deciding the actual creator’s counter claim is legitimate, or the claim expires from the faker not bothering to pursue the matter any further (because it would require moving to court in most cases). The original creators do not get that money back for the lost month.
This is a system that benefits only the claimants, provides no defensive measures or leniency on the creators being accused of copyright infringement and can be abused with a few mouse clicks. Even a blood-drenched inmate at a maximum-security penitentiary who has been accused of brutally attacking another prisoner has better access to defensive procedures than any YouTuber. We may as well have no regard for any copyright if we can’t even work within the laws now. YouTube shows absolutely no respect for copyright if they are willing to disregard it entirely when it comes to content that is Fair Use.
For this reason, I am considering discontinuing all use of YouTube for my own needs outside of watching and managing my subscriptions. Vimeo provides hosting for my films (because I have a lot more coming now), but I don’t like their plug-in; you can only get SD or HD (no specific quality choices), the player isn’t shaped that well for browser viewing, and it just looks like a mess. Also, they’re starting to get on board with YouTube’s train wreck when it comes to copyright claim abuse. The one that comes with my site is garbage and can only play a couple seconds before it has to buffer. This isn’t the early 2000s and dial-up! Get with it Weebly! I’ve been looking into the JW Player now for a couple years, and the pricing has come down, but I want to make sure it won’t quit on me because my viewers have exceeded the bandwidth limits or other background issues. I also notice it skips like a worn record on Cinemassacre from time to time, forcing me to watch the YouTube versions to avoid that sort of steaming clunkiness.
But I’d rather use something like the JW Player to avoid the arbitrary third party content matches that YouTube generates through an algorithm that you have to fight on every upload, the abuse of the copyright system, and the site’s own inability to work with Fair Use and let billion dollar companies walk all over creators who are in no wrong. That way, anyone who thinks that their copyright is being violated has to deal directly with me. And because I don’t pirate media and create all my own work, this isn’t an issue. But don’t tell that to YouTube because they clearly don’t know what it means to be a commentator, a critic, a gamer, and now, even a completely original creator.
Where’s the Fair Use?
I’m not going to sit around here and drill the cliché of “practice makes perfect”. As a musician (or any artist, athlete, etc.), we all know you have to practice just as the scientist must research in order to discover new things and meet expectations. This is a fact. But how much practice is too much? There’s a fine line between an expert level of work and pushing yourself to an anxiety attack, no matter your skill level or years of experience on an instrument. Here’s my take on the whole thing.
On average, I practice for four hours a day. I usually spend three hours on the piano, and one to two hours on the bass. I never practice on Sundays because you need at least one day off to gather your thoughts and give yourself a chance to go outside and take a walk in the woods. And to dust and clean the studio, that’s also important. Of the six days leftover, on piano I balance it between classical music on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and jazz, blues and improvised music on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I play my standard bass on classical days and my piccolo bass on jazz days so that I can get to everything on both of my principal instruments.
Some people may say this is too little, and that a true musician (here comes that “No True Scotsman” fallacy again!) would never practice less than eight hours a day. Yet, I get to everything I need to in that allotted time frame, including reviewing older works in my back catalog, technique exercises and highly difficult classical works and jazz improv (and on two instruments). I’m not having any trouble, and no, I’m not some exceptional wizard, I’m just like you. What it comes down to is this: if you need more than four or five hours of practice a day, either you are working on too much at once, or you are not practicing correctly.
I was watching the documentary Virtuosity a few months ago, and I remember the winner of the Van Cliburn Competition was a young man who admitted to practicing eight hours a day. This is a man who is simply playing too many pieces at once and requires that much time to get to all of them in a single sitting instead of breaking them up over the course of the week. This is not psychologically healthy practice, and is a good recipe for a nervous breakdown later on in his career. While he’s highly skilled, he is placing that all at risk by putting more on his plate than he can eat in one meal. That is not a proper approach to rehearsal, even for a touring concert pianist.
This is what got me thinking about how many hours one should sit at their instrument and just work. These people, most of them the same age as me, are spending nearly their entire waking day playing exercises or playing excerpts of well known concertos and etudes as exercises, and it made me feel that maybe I was doing something wrong. Then I started researching well known concert musicians who have already “made it” in the performance circuit, and found that the amount of time they put into their work was almost always half that of any of these kids in the Van Cliburn Competition. It looks counterintuitive at first, but there’s a reason for this.
A professional musician needs to know how to practice smart. Spending eight hours a day pounding away over the same thing is not going to do anything but hurt your body, damage your confidence and torture your psyche. And if you develop arthritis from all that overworking, your goals are going to end up moot from the very process you used trying to reach them.
The first rule I follow is to never practice any one piece longer than one hour. What you’re working on should be divided into smaller segments, such as four to twelve measures depending on their difficulty, and then working on that one little segment for ten minutes. After those ten minutes are up, move onto the next segment, continuing to do so until the hour is up. You will learn more of the piece, learn it more accurately and accomplish more in an hour than you could in a single day. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a digital clock (because they’re quiet) nearby so you can keep track of how long you’ve been working.
The next rule is to practice slowly. Whether you’re playing Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit or Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, always practice each segment very slowly (about half time, maybe a little slower with those bebop tunes) and then gradually work the tempo up until it’s in time. For this, you’ll need that dreaded metronome, but don’t worry, if you do it right, she’ll become your best friend! In one piece I had composed, I was having some difficulty getting very fast runs down. I had the tempo, but was missing the accuracy I had wanted. The piece is 80 beats per minute in 3/4, so I kept the metronome at that tempo but played at half the speed, so I was now playing each click as eighth notes instead of quarters (it has lots of sixteenth tuplets, believe me, subdividing helps!). Within a week I had worked the entire section up to eighth notes at 160, or quarter notes at 80, the target tempo, and had gotten the accuracy I was craving.
Without using the click, this would have taken at least three to four times longer and with iffy results at best. The trick is to gradually increase the metronome by two to five bpm every few times you play it (once you have it under your fingers), and before you know it, you’re playing it ten to twenty bpm faster without even realizing the transition had happened! Keeping this up lets you reach your target, which brings up the next point.
Set your goals for each day, or at least the whole week. Make a list of everything you need to do and on what days you’re going to do it. Check them off as you accomplish them so you can keep a solid track of how many hours you’re working. When working on getting a piece up to tempo, set a target tempo for the next day, and slowly push towards it. Note what tempo you were able to reach by the end of your allotted hour, and adjust your next session’s advancement accordingly. Set how many pages or measures in a segment you are going to work on, then keep track on how many you are able to get through. Don’t make your goal “Learn the Mephisto Waltz”, make it more like this:
Practice first 28 measures, slowly with metronome.”
Remember to keep track of what metronome mark you finished on. Then repeat for the next several measures, and put them all together, so on and so forth until you have the entire piece playable.
If you’re having difficulty with a particular passage, don’t overwork it! This is something I did when I was younger and I can safely tell you it only leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger and anger leads to you never wanting to play again. Yoda warned you of this sort of thing in those crappy prequels. Instead, walk away! Take a breather from that one section or just move onto something else. If you need to, even take a break from it for a couple days and look at it from other angles, see what other players have done to produce desirable interpretations and experiment for yourself to find a solution that works for you and your body. More often than not, difficulties on one section of a particular piece are the result of too much playing and sore hands/lungs. Coming back after a rest will likely produce better results.
These steps are crucial in smart practice over plain old practice. Work on a single piece no longer than an hour (half hour for youngsters), and only work on smaller segments within that piece at ten-minute intervals. Use a metronome to gradually work up to the target tempo, subdivide where needed. Set realistic goals for each piece, and keep them in check. And above all, stop playing too much when things get frustrating or difficult, relax, and step aside. You need time to get out and have fun, socialize and grow. It helps you interpret written scores, gives you stories that can lead to improvisations or compositions and prevents you from going stir crazy in front of an instrument. Anyone who tells you four or five hours a day is too little to be a professional, or practices twice that himself probably doesn’t even have his own shit together. A great performer on the stage doesn’t necessarily mean a great, disciplined student in the practice room.
It’s taken some time, but I’m finally at a point where almost everything I work on during my daily practice routine is original material. This transition has been difficult, but not for the ways you’d expect. I have several years’ worth of material (and continue to add more), so that’s not the issue. I’m comfortable editing an older work if I feel it should have more fanfare or if it should be simplified, so not that either. The issue has been in overcoming an entire lifetime of dedicated studies of other composers’ material and becoming comfortable as a musician/composer, rather than being one or the other.
When I started formal lessons, everything I played was under the control of my instructor. If it wasn’t in my staff paper book as an assignment, it wasn’t to be done. And since I averaged about twelve assignments a week, there wasn’t enough room to fit in additional things anyway. Yes, twelve. It usually consisted of one classical piece, one jazz song out of the Real Book to be arranged, a second jazz song to practice improvising over, a written solo (think the Charlie Parker Omnibook), a solo I had to transcribe by ear, a written jazz lick to be played in all twelve keys, a blues lick to be played over a twelve bar, etc. And this was just from my jazz teacher! I often had three to four major classical works under a different instructor at the same time, but subtract one because I usually played one of my four classical works for the jazz instructor simultaneously so he’d be happy on that end, but I wouldn’t get as overworked.
Let’s not count that I was also studying jazz bass while taking two piano lessons a week, and playing as a soloist and in a big band. Oh, and I was also writing my senior thesis for my history degree at Fitchburg State University.
Just reading that back to myself, and I’m amazed I was able to accomplish anything during that time period! But this is the point; I spent so much time, and so many years playing the works of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, etc. that whenever I had enough time to work on an original piece, I felt... dirty. Playing other people’s music had become so engrained in my training that I felt as though I was doing something wrong when I started to put aside my Chopin ballads and Liszt etudes in exchange for classical pieces I had written myself, or when I started to improvise over a jazz lead sheet I had created instead of opening the Real Book once more.
It’s still something I’m adjusting to.
In the classical world, there is a well-established air of snobbery that has emerged over the past century. Many musicians in this style are more or less forced into studying signature pieces for their instrument because it’s what’s expected of them to play as a soloist, or for auditions at the world’s leading conservatories or orchestras. A pianist who walks on stage and starts playing two sonata’s she wrote herself is a great risk compared to Beethoven being regurgitated for the billionth time. Critics may not like seeing that sort of innovation as they came to the performance wanting to hear what’s already been done before, and it’s a financial risk to promoters and managers alike if people are going to a concert where the music is all new over the reliable, existing repertoire.
This is a toxic environment for a musician/composer. On one hand, you are expected to play dozens of virtuosic pieces that everybody knows, and then you’re also expected to be writing new, equally virtuosic material. But if you dare combine those schools and play your own work in the concert hall? Damnation! Well, not really. But it’s not encouraged as much as premiering your works in the middle of a set that largely consists of existing dances, tone poems and sonatas that have been done to death. To go on stage and play an entire concert of your own material is something that is sadly not seen as much today in the classical school. I’m thinking it has more to do with composers focusing on large orchestral works over solo and small group pieces for their own instrument(s), probably in an attempt to break into the film and game scoring world that pays a lot better than writing music for the sake of art in the 21st century.
In the jazz world, the opposite seems to be true in my experience. The soloists or bands that get up and play a whole set of new material get a much better following than those that play out of the Real Book. Granted, in the world of wedding bands with small combos or (especially) big bands, the standards like “Satin Doll”, “Girl From Ipanema” and “April in Paris” are a must. Everyone knows these songs, and jazz, at the end of the day, is dance music. People at these functions want to dance to something they know doesn’t have an 11/16 time change in the bridge.
But when studying jazz in my lessons, it was all focused on cover songs. What songs are best to play at restaurants, which ones for weddings, etc. and playing all of the big standards. And just when you think you have enough, you find more that you need to know to survive any future gigs!
So when the time came to start focusing on my work, you can start to see why I was a little timid to approach my own creations. But you have to think of it like this; Chopin would probably be a footnote in history if he hadn’t been a writer (without using Google, name me a major concert pianist from the mid 1800s), Miles Davis became famous for the pieces he and his bandmates wrote, Rush became the prog heroes they are today by writing about space fascists, sentient trees and cars. None of them were strictly cover bands.
Sure, you put out a few covers here and there, and when you’re starting out, that’s the best thing for you until you’re comfortable on your instrument and in your settings. It allows for learning and experimentation. I spent many, many years studying what are essentially “covers” to the point that the repertoire I was creating had to be put on the back burner until recently.
I’m becoming more and more comfortable with my identity as a classical, jazz, electronic and whatever else I want composer and performer of that same music, as both a pianist and bassist. Some may be perfectly fine only playing Debussy and Bach for the rest of their lives, and while I love those works, I want to write my own in that spirit, or in a style that’s entirely myself that doesn’t fit into any existing school or though process at the moment.
That’s how boundaries fall and how you can find your own voice.
You must have seen me making change or showing off some of the products I brought to the Sterling Village for the craft fair today. Don't think I didn't see you though. While I was busy with some of the very few paying customers I dealt with over the course of five hours, you managed to sneak away with a box of my Erik Satie album. Not sure how many discs it had since I've sold several, sent others to radio stations, offered more as gifts to friends, family and neighbors, but I know there were over 60 in that box that you swiped.
You stole over $720 worth of merchandise from me today.
I alerted staff regarding the incident, but you were already gone by that point, and because the venue was part of a nursing home, there were more important needs to those living there than hunting you down and returning the stolen discs. And because of the nature of the location, I couldn't very well call out and stop you while you ran off. Not with all these fine old folks in wheelchairs around that could be easily upset by sudden commotion.
What a middle aged woman who wears the highest fashion that Sears has to offer would want with over 60 CDs of classical music released on an indie label is a question I guess I'll never have an answer to. Maybe French impressionism is just your fancy where others have jewels or cocaine. I just don't know.
But one thing I am sure of after all that has happened today: lady, you are a tit.
I will be hosting a booth at Sterling Village's "Holidays in the Village" for their annual craft fair. I have just received confirmation on my spot here and do not know where my table is, or what floor it is on yet. I may not know until I set up on the day of the event, which is November 7.
I was unable to do anything at the Horseshed Fair in Lancaster earlier this month because a nor'easter ripped through the state and dumped more rain on us than we've seen in months, as well as wind gusts over 60 mph. From what I know, hardly any vendors showed up and very few customers bothered to come in that weather. Lancaster, being themselves in their old timey ways to the point where they refuse to allow traffic lights to be installed on the busiest intersections where their country roads cross 117, would not host a rain date in the event of these circumstances. So there's $50 lost, which would have been the case had I gone anyway and gotten all my prints and merchandise damaged by water because you can't get a tent in October when everyone starts selling ice melt instead of summer fun things like said tents.
All the items stocked for the Horseshed Fair will be at Sterling Village instead, which includes the tote bags, pillows, prints, etc. as well as the CDs and download cards for my Erik Satie record and Earwig Rising. Because this is indoors, weather should not be a problem unless we get a blizzard. And with my luck, I won't rule that possibility out.
This past Tuesday my second album, Earwig Rising, was released without incident (unlike that previously mentioned debacle involving harassment surrounding the Satie record). It is available for download now with a limited stock of physical CDs for my friends and relatives.
For upcoming events, I am going to appear at the Horseshed Fair in Lancaster, MA on October 3 at booth #62 selling physical CDs of both the Erik Satie album and Earwig, alongside download cards that you can purchase for an electronic only version. I will also have a very limited stock of fine art photography sets available in greeting cards, smartphone cases, tote bags, throw pillows and matted prints. These supplies will be very small and will be sold on a first come, first serve basis. Directions to my online store will be available so that customers can purchase anything that has been depleted, images that were not available for the fair or on items that were too bulky for the booth's allotted space.
My MP3 store is back online today with everything intact and without any issues. Now I will explain what exactly happened.
This past Friday I received a DMCA takedown notice regarding my Erik Satie album, despite the fact that the music itself is public domain, I am the only performer on the record, and I have copyrights on the recordings and artwork (in addition to all my recordings and artwork, where applicable).
The notice was fraudulent, and should have been obvious since the person who filed it included offensive language and slur words in the attached message, butchered the English language with nearly every word misspelled and without any sentence structure at all, and the "company" that filed the DMCA does not exist.
The business in question was listed as "MillsApparatus World Entertainment, Ltd.", a business that has no address or PO Box, no associated legal paperwork such as tax returns, no phone number, no email, no website, no social media presence, etc. It's imaginary, plain and simple. The user who issued the takedown is a troll who used this semi-official but mostly-BS sounding name to abuse the DMCA system in order to harass, humiliate, or otherwise cause problems for myself and my business.
After a lot of issues that involved scanning and emailing copies of my copyright paperwork to prove I am the owner of the recordings, the record was reissued and the IP address of the troll was banned from accessing this site, and is on record as a known abuser on any store I associate with now so that any future filings that are connected to that address or that moniker will be automatically discarded.
This was the issue that resulted in a blackout on my MP3 store over the past five days or so, and it brings up a good point about the abuses of the DMCA system. While being able to protect content creators from unlicensed usage and profits by another person is inherently a good thing, there are too many issues with the current model for DMCA takedowns. This is an issue that Jim Sterling, a well known game critic, has dealt with often, usually at the hands of developers of subpar games that can't handle criticism.
In the above case, Sterling's use of the creator's video was covered and protected under Fair Use laws as he was providing criticism or commentary on top of it, thus adding his own content (no different from a film critic using clips from an upcoming movie to highlight his or her points and better relate the criticism, either positive or negative, to the audience).
In my case, we can see just how broken the DMCA system truly is because first, it was all content that I own and have proof of copyright to, second, the takedown was done as a form of harassment from a user that had no connection to the product in any way, shape or form and third, it shows that the reliance on copyright management via algorithms is not efficient, is easily manipulated and provides very little, if any, reliable and fast dispute system for the creator who has been flagged. The latter is an issue that most people with a YouTube account know all too well.
Because filing a DMCA takedown is so easy to do, many people, especially trolls, like to implement notices in order to harass and harm other users that they disagree with or simply do not like. They utilize a system that is meant to protect content creators to bully competitors or other selected targets by having their own work temporarily taken down and forcing the users to perform various tricks for the websites they're affiliated with just for laughs or for petty revenge. This gives way to swaths of original material being labelled as infringing on copyright with little to no evidence to backup the claim until the affected users file a dispute or contact the sites in question directly.
Most copyright infringement claims are managed through bots that simply flag content that matches an algorithm and that's it. The rest is up to the creator to handle and dispute as they are notified of the problem. I've had dozens of classical music recordings, all my performances and all public domain, flagged and taken down as soon as I've uploaded them to SoundCloud or have been flagged on YouTube simply because I'm not the only human being in the world to have played them! Last year, a Mozart recording I did on the piano was flagged as "matched third-party content" on YouTube because an orchestra had played an arrangement of the same piece. Any human could easily see that this was in error and would likely remove the flag as soon as they saw it, however, robots do not, and cannot make those decisions.
Combine this black and white robotic system with people who are all too willing to make false DMCA claims and you have a mess of trouble that often goes unpunished because the only thing the troll can do after a dispute is issued is take the matter to court, and that would compromise their anonymity and get them into a lot of legal trouble with regards to falsifying claims and harassment laws. And I've never seen one take their BS that far simply because it is BS.
However, it does not stop a particularly dedicated cyberbully from repeatedly filing claims, watch as the creator panics or has to play the game in response, then after the 14 day response period on the end of the filer has expired, laughs at nobody as things return to normal, only to file a second fake copyright notice under a new name just to make everyone angry again.
I'm all for protecting your own work, but I'm not going to go out of my way to issue frivolous DMCA takedowns unless another user is blatantly posting my recordings, images or films and taking credit for them. If you wanted to use my music in content of your own, that is legally a violation of copyright, but I'm different in this way:
If you use my music, or images or clips of footage, and you ask for my permission, you credit me and you link to this site, and your content that includes parts or wholes of my own is not monetized, go ahead. I'm not going to go out of my way to enforce takedowns unless I absolutely have to. And even if you do have monetized content, please allow for a way to share royalties and then you're all set. Simple. That's how this business has worked for a long time and this is what creates a network of artists rather than individuals in their ivory towers shunning everyone else around them and placing barriers around their own works rather than properly sharing them.
What needs to be done to prevent these sorts of issues in the future is: One, the person filing the claim has to have definitive proof (YouTube generally requires this) and sites cannot just take their word for it.
Two, hire more living humans to oversee the flagged content that the bots have collected and take the proper course of action whether that be removing the mark because the flag is wrong, or taking action against a user who is illegally uploading clips of South Park to the Internet without permission.
And third, take action against those who abuse the DMCA system either to monopolize content or make false claims, or those that will file claims for infringement of content that does not even exist on the sites they are filing a claim against.
Lying in order to have another user's content removed for laughs is fraud, and is punishable under the law. But the people who perpetrate it continue to get away and continue to do what they do simply because the Internet has no way of enforcing the laws of the "real world" as easily as the streets can without risking the freedoms that the Web provides.
I have repaired the damage done by this troll, but there are many other artists out there suffering because of this sort of escapade and far too many more will end up quitting completely because they can't deal with the countless, harassing takedowns issued fraudulently against them just so a scumbag with no life can smirk for a couple seconds.
Some updates since I've been quiet over the past couple weeks.
First, the Kawai piano I had purchased to replace the Nord was an absolute abomination. The keys were far too light and "springy" for a piano, especially one that costs around $1200. It was also damaged in shipping and the entire cabinet was cracked with a cylindrical puncture in the upper right hand portion of it. The sound quality was very poor and because the only speakers are underneath the instrument, it makes them sound muddy since they're not being projected to anything but your feet. In addition to this, the audio outputs, MIDI inputs and outputs and all other controls were underneath, meaning that if I wanted to record a piano part in Ivory (my preference for piano music), I'd have to crawl underneath the instrument, get behind the pedalboard, and insert a MIDI to USB cable in a very hard to reach area. Pass. If you changed sounds from the default grand piano, the instrument selection light constantly flashes too, which is incredibly distracting when working. It looks like a glitch, but the manual says it's intentional. Ugh. That thing went right back to the store.
I ended up biting the bullet and bought the Nord Piano 2 the next day and have been happy ever since. I also found a new repairman who can fix the keyboard assembly in the Nord 1 and get that back up and running so I have a solid piano to use on gigs instead of the older Yamaha P60 I still have stored in my cellar.
And lastly, artwork for Earwig Rising is coming out of final pre-production stages so I can at last get to that EP. There have been a lot of financial setbacks in April alone due to the piano incident, the cost of the replacement and the repairs on the original, so it may be delayed by a month as a result of this. I was aiming for a June release, but mid to late July is probably the earliest you'll see it now.
The Nord Piano 2 was returned to Kraft Music after all the white keys started to clunk and then got stuck in the downward position due to a defect. Kraft outright refused to refund the order at first even though it was within a proper time frame. Will update on that one later.