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.