During practice today, my Nord Piano, a keyboard that I've used for nearly five years and recorded three albums with, played its last note.
Over the past few months, I had noticed that a few keys were clicking or squeaking when played. Mechanical noise isn't uncommon in an instrument that you use every day for close to half a decade. So I contacted a lot of local shops to see if anyone could check it out and fix anything before it turned into a major issue.
After finding somebody who actually does work on digital keyboards, I had it fixed without issues. For a few weeks. This is why I'm going to leave this particular business nameless. A few weeks after the first clicks were fixed and the keys tightened, I noticed my middle-C key was doing the same, but like really, really loud and annoying. I had it fixed again, from the same business. That lasted an hour before it started clicking again, and the last C on the board, the very top key, was now clicking when it never had before. The technician had a very hard time removing the keys in the upper register, and was very aggressive in doing so. But he managed to remove and tighten them all, which I had requested since I figured it may as well be done to rule out this happening again anytime soon.
Today, while playing Chopin's Waltz Op. 34 No. 3 in F, that A key you see in those images just shattered under my pinkie. Yes, my pinkies are that strong, I am a Super Saiyan or something. Never mind. The reason for this is because the clip that connects the key to the rest of the lever mechanism has completely sheared.
I keep my instruments in the best care possible. Nothing is ever left to chance and I always protect them, clean them, and maintain them on a regular basis. This thing fell apart like paper when I touched it. The only thing that could have done this was the aggressive removal of the key a few weeks back to adjust its action, and now I'm paying the price for poor workmanship on the end of the technician.
I love Nord keyboards. I would have gladly gotten a Nord Piano 2 or a Stage HA88 (which could also serve as a master MIDI controller capable of sequencing anything with its synth controls, aftertouch and weighted keys) to replace this but it's just too much money right now. I still have my old Electro 2 (predating Nord's application of physical draw-bars) and would love to get the dual manual organ from them as well. This is not a Nord issue. Nord is all about quality and I've never had a problem with any of their equipment. This is nothing but bad performance on the end of the guy who I trusted to properly adjust some of the issues the instrument was having from frequent playing and age.
I am hoping that I can get this repaired and get it back on the road. I have already ordered a Kawai KDP90 to replace the Nord in the studio, but this thing weighs around 100lbs and is in no way fit for gigging. That's what a solid stage piano is for. If I can get it repaired correctly, I will reserve the Nord for gigging and travel use since it has such an awesome sound palette and all three pedals with half-pedal function. If, and this is likely, repairs are too much money or not possible, I may have no choice but to have the piano recycled at the next electronics dumping day.
I ended returning the Kawai after a day since it was garbage. The sound was terrible due to having the speakers built underneath the keybed instead of over or behind it, the instrument was damaged in shipping and had missing bolts. I ended up getting the Nord Piano 2, but that was also crap due to a factory defect in the keybed that set it forward by about 1/16th of an inch so some of the keys got stuck or audibly clicked as they grazed the casing of the piano.
After a long fight with Kraft Music to return the Nord Piano 2, I got a Roland RD 800 from Sweetwater and it's the best digital piano I've ever played. I will never use Kraft Music again after they refused to let me return the defective piano for four months, even though I reported the issue within a week of purchase and asked for a refund.
Sweetwater has never let me down.
After many, many delays, my home studio is finally finished! I started this project all the way back in August. It began with removing the old bookshelves that were in my current room. These things were at least thirty years old, were covered in dusty old books and trinkets and were falling apart in every corner. The shelves were sagging and the mess of old literature and and instability of their structure was a reason they were so neglected and covered in dust. I ended up throwing out a few books, mostly outdated encyclopedias and dictionaries, and donated all the others that were no longer needed.
In the process, I reopened a return vent that had been blocked off for three decades (and was covered in a nice, thick web of black dust that came off in sheets). This eliminated the dust problem in the room and got the temperature back to normal (the room was always overheated due to being on the southwest corner, and without a return, there was no airflow so it got about 20-degres warmer in here than the rest of the house). I replaced the bookcases with some Billies from Ikea that now neatly hold all my sheet music, cameras, lenses, tech books, etc. with plenty of room leftover.
The next step was to remove the rug. This thing was a dizzying blue that made it hard to see anything, darkened the room and I tripped on it constantly since it always slid around and would have lumps in it. I got a new one at Ocean State Job Lot while out and about one afternoon in October and immediately chucked the ratty old one into a dumpster, scrubbed the floor, and laid the new one down.
I had an old work desk in here as well next to my audio/video/photo workstation that was taking up far too much room. Since I had new bookcases to put my sheet music on, my filing cabinet was left with no purpose, so I ended up taking all the necessary items out of the desk and moving them to the cabinet, then moving the desk to another room for a separate computer. In the process, that computer's desk was removed and replaced with the antique one. With the extra space, I was able to get an ionic air filter to further reduce dust and improve the air (an my computer's safety, since dust and a virus both killed the original hard drive over the summer).
The last step was to put up all new soundproofing. This was the worst part. I ordered the acoustics in November, but had to wait until March before I could do anything with them! Two problems arose. First, I needed a way to put up the foam temporarily so that I can move it with me and so that it won't damage the walls. I solved that problem by coming up with the idea of using a 3M spray adhesive to mount the foam to tagboard, cutting the excess, then installing the pieces onto the walls with Command Strips.
The second problem came from that solution. The adhesive spray is highly toxic, and if inhaled in a room with poor ventilation, can result in a bad trip or death. I chose to use the spray because it wouldn't be absorbed by the foam as much as superglue, and didn't want to change the course after buying everything. As anyone in the US knows, New England had the worst winter on record this year; in Clinton, we had over 100 inches of snow over the course of three weeks, and days that averaged in the single digits every day. I had to use this adhesive outside, but had no ability to do so until it stopped snowing and was warmer than 10-degrees.
That finally happened last week, and I was able to mount all the treatment over this past weekend, and some extras yesterday to reinforce a couple lingering trouble areas. The room is now clean, fresh and fully soundproofed. There is no natural room noise or reverb, flutter echo is completely eliminated and the overall quality for listening has increased dramatically.
With this, I am now opening by studio to the public for audio-post production. What this means, is that I am only taking on jobs regarding mixing, mastering and restoration. This room is just too small to offer recording at this time and I'd have no way to properly isolate a microphone, let alone accommodate more than a couple people!
This is an issue that's caused some problems in the past. When I've advertised post production, I constantly get calls asking if I can record a singer, or a voice actor, despite the ads only showing mixing and mastering as being offered. Many people who have contacted me believe that "mixing" is the industry term for recording. It's not; mixing is the process of editing individual audio tracks (stems), overall and individual levels, EQ, panning, compression, special effects, pitch correction, reverb, etc. It's strictly done after the initial recording to make those tracks sound high quality and professional, and isn't the recording process itself.
At this time, I am only working in post-production. In the future, I do plan on offering recording services, but that is only after I have more room. I have to start somewhere, so I made this studio to be the best possible listening environment that it can be to professionally mix, master and restore music, soundtracks, sound effects and all other manner of audio. When I have access to a larger facility, I will make the necessary adjustments to provide recording, but until then, this is where it's at.
Another update, this time on the site end. You may have noticed that new "Store" page in the navigation bar. You may now purchase my records from CD Baby directly on this site, and purchase fine art photos through my Fine Art America store the same way! The photos are available as prints, framed prints, greeting cards, smart phone cases and throw pillows. This took a little longer to get running as well, but was mostly due to administrative and banking things that had to be taken care of first, but both the music and photography stores are now officially up and running, in addition to all amenities listed under "Services & Rates"!
CD Baby Store
Fine Art America Store
So, thanks to that silly Old Man Winter (die, die!) hanging around longer than he was welcome, this endeavor took much longer than I had initially planned, but is finally complete. Here is the finished studio space:
Today, the Erik Satie record was approved for digital distribution and will go on sale March 10 as originally planned.
I will create a new page for "Discography" with links to my CD Baby store where it can be purchased as a download or as a CD for those of you who still want to be retro and use physical media. It will also be available for download on iTunes, Amazon and other .mp3 stores, as well as steamed through services like Spotify. The price for the .mp3 version will be $9.99 and the physical CDs will be sold for $11.99 (with a 20% discount for those who buy in bulk such as retailers). Bear in mind, these are the prices I set through CD Baby, and some sites have their own pricing systems that may exceed what I chose, or be offered for a little less.
I can't thank the people at CD Baby enough for helping me with a lot of the questions I had regarding the release of public domain classical music. The responses were detailed, fast and reliable, and this would have suffered so many delays if not for their customer service team.
Now, I'm moving onto the finishing up Earwig Rising. I still have to prepare the artwork, graphic design, register copyrights and register this one with ASCAP since it's all original material. All the audio work has been completed for a few months now, having finished mastering around Thanksgiving, so it's all about the look and legalities. I'm aiming for a late June or early July release so it comes out when all the big summer dance tunes make their appearance.
Last night, I ordered everything for the Satie record to be put into publication. However, a couple things have arisen that have been a huge headache on my end.
First, I can't sell physical copies on CD unless I send CD Baby five retail ready copies, so I had to order a crate of physical discs from their replication center first so I can satisfy that requirement which means that physical copies won't go on sale until after the digital version is released.
Second, an issue has arisen with the titling of my tracks for digital distribution. This is very specific and one wrong character can throw a project into limbo, but in my case, it was that the pieces lacked the keys in the title; something that's not required for these particular pieces, as keys are only required if a piece is well known by it such as "Frederic Chopin: Etude Op. 25 No. 1 in A-Flat Major" and the keys are never used in the titles of these particular Satie compositions.
I'm hoping this does not push back the release date, and am working with CD Baby to resolve any remaining issues before launch. If a delay does come about, it should only be by about a week.
Well, this took longer than expected, but it's finally set: my Erik Satie record is going to be released on March 10.
I had a couple setbacks in getting to this point. First, we've had a major snowstorm every week (every Monday to be exact) and I hate to run my computer and do work with it when there's a risk of a power failure. I've had the power go out while it was running before and it helped contribute to a complete hard drive failure and the pain that comes with reinstalling every single piece of software in the studio.
Second, I was also backing up my main studio external hard drive to my cloud account for safe keeping and I've had glitches with files that I have open or are uploading to a website while they are also being uploaded to the cloud at the same time. This can include randomly changed sound samples, disconnected plug-ins, video files becoming unlinked in Premiere, etc., so I didn't want to upload the record to the distributors while that was happening and risk a corrupt file on either their end or mine.
There were a few personal things that got in the way over the last two weeks, mainly things involving my accounts getting hacked and my identity stolen (again, for the eighth time in ten months), which delayed the funding for the release.
With this one ready to hit the shelves, it's time to start getting together artwork for Earwig Rising, the electronic EP I'm planning to release this summer!
All the major challenges have come to an end to complete my first record. Today, all of the legal work was finished and the copyright acquired on the recordings and the artwork. Tomorrow I am going to register the ISRC codes for the individual tracks and start triple-checking the graphics before I send the whole package off for replication
The final cover art:
The release date has not been chosen yet, but I should be able to announce it by the end of the week.
Once all this settles down, I can start focusing on the artwork for the electronic EP and repeat the same process with paperwork. The Schumann record is now only three tracks away from completion, but I am going to hold off on releasing it until 2016.
In addition to all these updates, I have resumed a somewhat normal schedule so I am aiming to spend more of my time composing now, and focusing more on original music in my practice routine (I still work on at least two major classical pieces, usually one very difficult work and a smaller, easier one, or a collection of pieces and a few others in between). This means that there can be more new music in the near future, though I am looking forward to a break after starting and completing three albums in just over a year.
I am currently doing a major overhaul of my home studio. This has been in the works for a long time, but I have finally gotten a design and layout that works best for what I want to accomplish. For too long, I have worked in very cramped quarters with a lot of excessive junk lying around (I gradually built my studio in a room originally designed as a study or spare bedroom, and much of the room's original purpose was leftover), and with an arrangement to my setup that's very difficult to work with.
In the coming weeks, I'm completely rearranging the studio, dismantling old, partially collapsing, bookshelves, installing new lighting and the big one, all new acoustic foam and treatment. I will still have to replace some of the bookshelves with newer, less decrepit ones for my sheet music library, but they will be in a new location to optimize space and put everything I need into one working triangle. The big addition to all of this will be a small isolation corner for recording solo instruments singers or voice actors. This is one of my biggest requests from clients and one that, in my current arrangement, have been unable to adequately host due to the smaller size of the room and the current (read: poor) setup of equipment. With a new layout, I will have plenty of room and soundproofing to accommodate a single instrumentalist or a singer with no issues.
I'm hoping to have this finished by Thanksgiving at the latest, and have already rented the dumpster to start removing anything I don't need, as well as problematic items such as the rug (starting to fall apart and it tends to bunch up, will get a new one), low hanging light, and the aforementioned shelves. I will post a series of images showing the before and after of the room, as well as some nice shots to help promote the new features.
In addition this project, I have just begun wrapping the recording for my Satie album, and am planning the layout and artwork for the cover and booklet while I start the final mixing and mastering. Once that has been finished, I will share the final cover art here as well.
When you hear about great concert pianists, one of the first things you learn is just how early they started their training. Most start around six, others as early as two. Never do you hear of any artist beginning their studies before they reach double digit ages. Many will state that this sort of training is not only recommended, but required if you ever want to play classical music at a high level. I'm here to call bull.
I started playing the keyboards at the age of six and a half. I only could practice on a small, 61-key Kawai board since digital pianos didn't exist yet and my family could not afford an upright. I received the training of a concert pianist, but fell in love with "outside" styles like jazz, funk and blues, so I pursued my classical studies alongside those as well. This is not something that sits well with many devoted classical artists, since it can be seen as a distraction from the music that "matters". To them I simply point to Keith Jarret, a renown pianist of both classical and jazz styles. Anyway, let's get back to the point.
Starting an instrument young is a rewarding experience, but it comes with great sacrifice. Many children of exceptional talent I have read about or seen on YouTube all have the same biography: eight hours of practice a day, six days a week and lessons with a very expensive instructor at the nearest conservatory, even if it requires a long commute. These kids have few, if any, friends, have no social life and are actually thinking like adults. Their childhood has ended before it even began. There is nothing wrong with studying music young, but when does the line get crossed? Is it not cruel to force a child to become a socially awkward, borderline hermit just for the sake of art? Even if they are enjoying it, is it healthy? For many of these kids music is more of a drug than a hobby or career path, and a day without practice causes deep remorse and depression, like the mental equivalent of the dope-sickness that comes with heroin withdrawal. That is in no way healthy for any child.
One of the biggest reasons that so many instructors urge that children start playing the piano as soon as they can reach the keys comes from the idea that their muscles will be trained better and their hands more dexterous. However, what these instructors neglect (they are music teachers, not physiologists after all) is that muscle development must be done slowly and over time. You can't just assign a youngster four major pieces and tell them to have them ready for next week. Muscles grow through slower exercises. When using weights, bodybuilders will use lighter dumbbells and more reps at a faster pace for toning muscle. To build strength, they use heavier weights, less reps and a slower pace, gradually adding weight over time. Children cannot handle that much exercise because it can damage muscles and joints, this includes piano or any instrument exercises.
I have found that in recent years, many people who started studying at an older age, between twelve and sixteen, not only have more dexterity at their instrument, but far more technicality and artistic integrity than their peers who started much younger. They are also ready for higher level pieces sooner than the ones who started earlier. Why?
One of my theories is that kids today are learning to type earlier than ever. I didn't learn how to type at a computer until the 7th grade when computer classes started. Today, there are kids in kindergarten that can out-type my generation by dozens of words per minute. The technique for using a computer keyboard has similarities to the piano and other keyboard instruments, so the proper hands and dexterity are there long before an interest in music may fully develop.
With many of my older students who started in their teens, they have another similarity; video games. These students have very high level technique and can tackle level 8, 9, and in some cases, 10 pieces despite only having played three years. The one thing they all have in common is that they played or play video games. The act of working a controller, and the hand-eye coordination it developed, has greatly improved their technique despite not having rigorous training right out of the crib. Granted, this is no excuse for actual practice, but it really defeats the idea that only those who start in diapers will have the talent needed to do anything with their instrument.
The greatest reason for this thinking today is the myth of the child prodigy. No child is born with the ability to play an instrument (or produce great work of any nature on their own, keep those last three words in mind). Those we see as prodigies are more often than not heavily pushed to practice to the point of obsession. Mozart was pushed by his own father until he was molded into the legend he is today. His father never gave him a chance, he was forced into music and was forced to keep it up once it started. When we see kids up on stage in classical piano competitions, they are there only because they have been pushed to become what they are, whether of their own will or not. Many who claim this is what they want probably only believe that because they have never had the chance to try anything else in life, or they unwittingly want their parents' or teacher's goals realized through them. You go out there and find me one kid who doesn't want friends, or to go to parties, or to relax and enjoy their childhood of their own free will. They don't exist.
These children may oftentimes have the technicality of the works played, but are all too often lacking in the emotional responses to them. It's no doubt that the reason for this is that they haven't lived long enough, or have had life outside of practice to experience things that can be reflected in the music. This is why so many musicians continue their training after leaving the conservatory and study with the great masters; their playing lacks a story, expression and soul. They can play the notes, but they can't feel them! This is something that cannot be taught either, it's something that only comes from living a life full of experiences, and what life experiences can someone who's been trapped in their practice room for twenty years have?
Music studies must be done alongside other activities, even if your goal is to become a concert pianist or orchestra member. No matter how much you practice, you need to be allowed to live in an equal amount of time, no matter the age! Even if your child starts lessons at three or four, give them a chance away from the instrument. As a professional, I practice piano and bass in equal proportion and max out at around four hours a day (I alternate each day so I do piano one day and bass the next so give me equal time). Five hours is the maximum I'd recommend anyone to practice, especially in children. After that, the muscles and joints become overworked and deprived of fuel, leading to damage and even arthritis. The fact remains that practice makes perfect, as cliche as that is, but too much practice makes problems. If you want your music to be anything that expresses the deepest part of your soul, you need to be able to find that soul and how to speak through it with experience.
There's a big world beyond the practice room, and the music that happens in there can only grow through what's out there.
Over the past week, I have worked to redesign the layout of this site. The audio players that come with the build tools are absolutely pathetic; they'll play one second of audio, stop, buffer, one more second, stop, buffer, etc. Only after reloading the page will it sometimes work. If you want to experience what dial-up was like, I highly recommend trying out a Weebly built audio or video player.
I have already been using Vimeo to embed my films (more coming by the way!) but getting around the audio issues was creating problems. I decided to go back to SoundCloud and see what I could do from there. I had had an account there for a few years, but when I first joined, the community was rather small, the organization was lacking and the price of a pro account was astronomical (and only showed in Euros, something my bank would not and still will not accept transactions with). I was pleasantly surprised when I logged in for the first time in months to see a new, more usable layout and pro accounts in US dollars that don't require an amputation to afford. As a result, I have uploaded my audio there and have embedded it here for faster and more reliable playback.
I do plan on getting a Pro Unlimited account within the next few days to continue this trend. Once I have recorded some more elaborate pieces, I also plan on embedding selected works for the piano and bass, rather than just the entire playlist. That way, I can streamline this site even more, and have tracks on SoundCloud that are only available there.
My 2-Minute Movie project has suffered a setback, but it's getting on track again. I had to take a hiatus from side projects and focus entirely on music and audio for the past month in order to create a professional portfolio, to host my resume and to join the American Federation of Musicians. As a result of unionizing, I will be forced to raise my prices in accordance with AFM and Local bylaws but it won't be by much.
Now that things are quieting down, I am focusing on getting ready to record Chopin's Etude Op. 25 No. 6 (in thirds, and one of the hardest etudes in the entire series) and a new, complex arrangement for the piccolo bass.