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5 Takeaways from Covid-19 outbreak for artists

The Coronavirus also known as Covid-19 has dramatically impacted the lives of every American. At the time of this article everything except non essential jobs have stopped. Most of our cities are in a Stay at Home order with no end in sight. This has devastated us in many ways. As musicians and artists our lives have been turned upside down. Many of my friends have gone from having good paying jobs to no income. While this situation is dire and sad I’d like to take some time to reflect on some takeaways we can have from this situation. What can we do as musicians and artists to prepare ourselves from other disasters?

Now I don’t expect another global pandemic to happen anytime soon. But there are other scenarios that can affect our ability to make an income. Depending on your location you can experience an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or just a general economic hardship in your community. If you plan on being a musician for life, one of these will occur near you and affect your ability to work. Covid-19 is a reminder of that. A reminder that it’s not just about mastering our musicianship, but understanding that our ability to work goes hand in hand without the local economy. You could be the greatest musician of all time but if people are hurting and unable to pay, it doesn’t matter. So what can we do to prepare for this reality? How can we be better prepared for the next economic or natural disaster? 

HAVE A SAVINGS ACCOUNT 

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I know this can be a touchy subject for people, but ultimately we live in a capitalist society and money can solve a lot of problems. Not every problem and maybe not even the important ones, but having a savings account can greatly help alleviate the financial stress we have in tough times. I myself have done a poor job of this and honestly I have no good excuse. Sure I can rattle off a bunch of unfortunate things that have happened the last couple years to justify a lack of a savings account, but honestly those are just excuses. I have to hold myself accountable. I have done a poor job prioritizing my savings and I’m sure if I was more dedicated and disciplined on it that wouldn’t be the case. We all need to have a savings account. We should all be budgeting for savings. It should not be something we think about once we make an unknown amount of money. Whether you work minimum wage or have a six figure income you should be taking a portion of that money and setting it aside for emergencies. Now how much and what your goal is that is up to you,but this should not be negotiable. Most experts say three months of bills saved up is a good savings account. That’s a lot, but again, we have to start somewhere and with something. I’m making the commitment now that I’ll never be without a savings account that has at least 1-3 months of bills set aside ever again. I urge you to make the same pledge. 

HAVE THINGS PPL CAN BUY 

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With the inability to go outside to gig, perform, and teach now is a great time to remind people of things you have for sale. You should have your online store ready and open for business. Again, this is an area I need to improve on. Having things for sale is great because this can be a way to ask for money without just asking. You could simply put up a post talking about how things are hard and you would greatly appreciate it if people would buy your music to show their support. Also be sure to have non music things for sale. Personally I love merch like T-shirts way more than music. I don’t own a record player, haven’t listened to a CD in a year, and I’d rather just stream on Spotify. Does that make me a horrible musician? Maybe, but it’s also inline with the rest of society. People don’t buy music. Whenever I do it’s usually because I just really like the person and want to support them. I’ve bought over a dozen albums on bandcamp and have never listened to one front to back on the platform. So give people something they want. I love a T-shirt because I get to support the artist and get a product I could use that looks cool. I’ll wear that shirt all year long while music I’ll probably stream elsewhere. Also get creative with alternative ways to make money. Offer private lessons, in-house concerts, sheet music, a personal song. Give people different options so you have something for everyone. 

LEARN ONLINE STREAMING 

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I’ve been very frustrated seeing how few musicians were utilizing online streaming before this pandemic. Many of my peers work in orchestras, teach at university, or play constant high paying gigs. Now all of that is gone and many now have had their income dramatically reduced or dropped to zero. So now I’m seeing a lot of my musician friends trying to do online streaming for the first time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, etc. Why did it take so long! I’ve been talking about the benefits of online streaming for years now and tried to show people how useful of a tool it was. I’m so upset that my friends have rested on their laurels for so long and now are suddenly scrambling to set up their streams, create a schedule, and build a fan base all in a state of emergency. So please, learn online streaming. Figure out how all the platforms work, which ones you like, which ones your fans are on, and a schedule you can commit to. THIS IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD BE DOING AT ALL TIMES REGARDLESS.  

Gigs come and go, but having an online streaming presence as a musician is invaluable. Believe it or not I’d take 50 people watching me consistently on twitch over a $300 Saturday night gig. The 50 people on Twitch aren’t going anywhere and it can grow to so much more and while the Saturday gig has benefits that are immediate and financial, Twitch is the long term better option. Again, you shouldn’t be picking one over the other. You should be doing both. For too long musicians have been picking the money. This is a time to learn online streaming and adapt to our changing world. 

HAVING A PATERON 

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Having long term funding is a good thing. Patreon allows for that to happen. Using Patreon can be a way for you to fund the time you need for making YouTube videos or to steam regularly on Twitch. The beauty of this is you can keep it going forever and have all your hardcore fans on one key platform. Having something like Patreon is great particularly in times of financial duress because again you can encourage people to support you on Patreon and have tiers that are low enough for anyone to be a part of. 

WEBSITE/SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS UP TO DATE 

Again, the internet is vital to your career. Make sure you are active on all the social media platforms you like. The key ones are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, LinkedIn and Snapchat. Honestly you should be on every platform but if that seems too daunting try them all out and pick a few to be consistent on. Website is even more important. The website you own. Social media will come and go so make sure you have a good website. Either learn how to make a website using WordPress and Wix templates or hire someone to help you. Look at other musicians websites and see what you like and what you don’t like. So many musicians have terrible websites that look like they were made in the 90s. They are clunky, cluttered, and hard to navigate. Even good musicians can have bad websites. Don’t be one of them. 

CONCLUSION 

This is a tough time for all of us. So I hope these takeaways can be useful for you to improve your career now and in the future. I know this can be a lot to digest so feel free to come back to this later if you don’t feel up to it at this time. But do come back to it. I firmly believe these are must do tasks for every musician. So take them seriously and address them as needed. And, as always, leave any questions, comments, or feedback below.

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My Career Over The Years

A person’s career path is never a straight line and today I’d like to go in-depth on how my career has changed over the years.

When I think about my career in music it’s hard to pinpoint the start. Like many people, music has been a part of my life since the beginning. So when did I really take it seriously as a profession? I’d say that started for me when I was 17-18 years old in 2005-06. During that time hip hop music was my obsession. I was listening to the music 24/7, annoying my friends always talking about my favorite albums and my favorite rappers, and I even begin writing my own raps believe it or not!

The Hip Hop Years

So I actually started to make music and I had my friends helping me by making beats for me to rap over. They were primarily rock musicians but they were spectacular at their craft. So even though they were out of their wheelhouse they helped me tremendously. After a couple years though I realized they just weren’t as serious about making hip hop music as I was. I understood they were primarily rock musicians, but I was taking this music seriously and I needed to be around people who took it seriously. So I did some soul searching and decided to be a producer myself. I’d go back to school, learn how to make beats, and then work with other artists while also working on my own projects on the side. I started googling things like “How to be a producer” and asking people for advice on getting started. One thing that came up was the benefits of playing an instrument. It’s not a requirement but many said knowing how to play the piano would help me understand theory and harmony and make it easier to use a MIDI controller. So I used my sister’s piano and started playing. Than everything changed.

The Piano Years

I fell in love with the instrument. I was instantly hooked and couldn’t get enough. Suddenly the piano became my life and I went from wanting to do hip hop to wanting to play the piano for a living. So from 2010- 2017 piano was my main focus and specifically jazz music became my main focus. I went to college for it, graduated, and began playing gigs and teaching. By 2015 I was officially a professional musician! I had made it.

The Game Audio Years (Present Day)

In 2019 I started to search for other ways I could contribute to the world with my skillset. After thinking about it and trying different things I decided to work in game audio. I wanted to create compositions and use sound design to enhance the experience players have in these worlds. So I began creating a demo reel, working with an indie dev on an RPG, and learning all I can about audio implementation. Working in game audio has been one of the more challenging and thrilling things I’ve done in my life. There are so many new things for me to learn, but it’s so fulfilling when I figure out how to make the sounds work the way I want them to. I’m looking forward to where this next step in my career takes me and I’m so glad I’ll be able to document it all here on my website.

Conclusion

Throughout the years my career has changed so much. I went from rapper, to producer, to jazz pianist, to composer and sound designer. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is to be willing to adapt and change as I adapt and change. To not put myself in a box and force myself to become who I said I was but to just be who I am. Some may see these different roles and think I’ve been all over the place, but I was really just progressing through my career, expressing myself through music, and finding out where I felt the most comfortable and where I could make the biggest impact in the world. I’m glad to say that the biggest way for me to impact the world through sound is in the game audio space.

What’s your career looked like? Did you always know what your calling was? Did that ever change? Would love to hear your story and your journey in the comments below.

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Where I See Myself in Five Years.

Where do you see yourself in Five Years?

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Where do you see yourself in five years? This is a question people ask at job interviews all the time. So today I decided to unpack the question and answer it with 5 predictions on where I’ll be in five years. These are in no particular order and they are a mix of my professional ambitions along with some personal goals. 

 

Prediction 1. I will be living in LA.

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I don’t know when my love affair with Los Angeles began but I know I never want it to end. I’ve visited many times in the past four years and plan on moving there in the fall of 2022 at the latest. While I love the environment and culture LA has, I mainly want to go for work. As a composer and sound designer, living in LA puts me in a great position to work with game developers, studios, and musicians. The energy the city has along with my tremendous work ethic will put me in a position to reach my fullest potential. I love Chicago and always will, but I feel that living in LA will give me the opportunity to live my ideal life and it aligns with my mission to impact the world through sound. 

 

Prediction 2. Working as a Sound Designer at a AAA Studio. 

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This has been a goal of mine for a while. I’d love to work at a AAA studio in LA. I want to work with a team at a scale larger than what I am currently capable of doing alone. The collaboration, scope, and impact I can make through audio in this environment is why I wake up every morning. Can’t wait to make this goal a reality. 

 

Prediction 3. Be done with work by 6PM.

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As a freelancer the work can never stop. It’s awesome being your own boss, but are you a good boss to yourself? I’ll be honest, I’m not the best boss. Overwork myself, promises of downtime never occur unless we are on the verge of a breakdown, and there are poor benefits. By 2025 I will be done with work at 6PM. I want to spend my evenings relaxing and spending quality time with friends and family. Obviously, if I get that AAA position this should be an easier goal to achieve, but even if I’m still freelancing and doing it all myself I want to commit to being off by 6PM. If I need to get things done I can wake up early. I need to spend my evenings with the people that matter. 

 

Prediction 4. Working on other Music and Non-Music based projects. 

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I love making things. It’s why I’m in audio. Whether it’s making an SFX, composing a song, or writing an article. I love having an idea, exploring its potential, and sharing. It with the world. Since my main goal is to work as a Sound Designer at a AAA studio, making music making will ultimately be taking a backseat. I’d like to keep exploring my music creation as a side project and keep making other non-music-based projects. Whether that’s writing about sports, writing about games, or even making videos, I plan to still be making different projects that are not work-based and are just fun things I want to share with the world. 

 

Prediction 5.  I will be married.

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Obviously, this is a personal one and not 100% under my control (but really what is?) but by 2025 I want to be married and ideally have a child. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for 11 years so it’s time to make this official. I plan on asking her to marry me this year (it’s coming up 😬)  so this one should be the easiest one to accomplish, but as anyone who has been in a serious relationship can tell you, it can also be the hardest. We’ve been through a lot, but until death can be a mighty long time. I’m committed to getting married and making it work and I’m excited about starting this next chapter of our lives. 

So there it is. In five years I see myself living in LA as a sound designer at a AAA studio, done with work by 6PM, married, and working on cool music and non-music based projects. Where do you see yourself in five years? Comment below!

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Why I DO What I DO

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Since as early as I can remember I had a stronger relationship with music than my friends. I obsessed over collecting albums and having conversations over what music was good and why. Eventually, this lead me down a path from being in constant conversations about music to being a music creator myself. This journey has led me to all parts of the world and has challenged me throughout the way on what music means to me and what I can do with music. How can I reach people? What is my purpose? What can my impact be? Having these feelings and conversations have led me to game audio.

 

Music and games are two of my biggest passions and marrying them together to try and enhance both experiences for not only myself, but the general population made so much sense to me. I have fond memories of different game audio experiences. From the sound of changing my weapons in Jak 2 to the humming of the melodies in Child of Light, to my friends playing Fallout 3 so much that I memorized all the jazz tunes from the game. The thought of giving other people that same feeling, enhancing the immersion they have in a game, and giving back to the music and gaming communities that have given me so much to me made so much sense to me. 

 

I do what I do because when I looked at my life and what I wanted it to be this is what I wanted to do. I want to make as much great music, as much great audio, as possible. I wanted to positively impact the world through sound the way so many others have done for me. And that’s why I do what I do.

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The Release of Impulse

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I had a lot of ideas about what to do after my Nine for Nine project was released in 2017.  Would I do a full fledged Jazz record? A piano album? Maybe a Christmas album! Instead, I did nothing. Well, not nothing. I worked on some music that was commissioned for a couple of podcasts, I  composed some Jazz tunes, and did the occasional cover here and there. Still, as 2018 was wrapping up, I found myself disappointed and frustrated about my lack of production. It felt like I worked a lot, but had nothing to show for it. I figured that was that, but then I suddenly became inspired while teaching on a Saturday.

I had an early jazz piano lesson with one of my students and while helping them work on one of their tunes I felt inspired to just make something. I think the fact that they were starting to get it, starting to understand harmony and scales, it just motivated me to make something ANYTHING that day.

So I quickly came up with a setlist and we booked a time to record. With just a short conversation and a couple tracks the entire record was completed. I’m very pleased with how Impulse came out. With little to no preparation, I went in and recorded some standards with emotion and authenticity. I feel this is my best work so far. I’m very happy with how it came out. And hopefully, you feel the same.

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Nine For Nine Retrospective

I’m so proud of myself for having completed my Nine For Nine Series. From April till the end of the year I released a new track on my Soundcloud every month. My primary goal was simply to get the project done. Simply completing the project would be considered a success to me. Since I did just that I’m thrilled with all I accomplished with this project and my musicianship as a whole. Still, some things definitely could’ve gone better. So today I want to break down this project. The highs the lows, the reaction, etc. Let’s jump right into it.

 

I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew

I loved doing this project, but I doubt I will do anything similar to this for a while. Doing a new track every single month was pretty brutal. You are always in recording mode. Either learning the tunes, composing, arranging, recording, editing, promoting, or brainstorming for what’s next. I talked to and read work from others who had similar projects and everyone said to plan ahead and have a couple tracks done if not all the tracks done. I did neither of these things. I had a rough estimation of what I was going to do, I had most of the months planned in advance, but I didn’t have all the details sorted out who was gonna play on the tune; what the instrumentation would be , etc. If I ever do this in the future it will be a shorted project with everything figured out months in advance so I don’t feel like I’m rushing through everything all the time.

Keep It Simple Stupid (Or at least plan for the complex)

I had so many ideas for all this music, but I had to cut out so much because I was on a time crunch and didn’t have everything done. A good example of this is “Stranger Things Theme” I did a good job learning the tune and doing the necessary research on the music, but I had all theses great ideas I had to kill. I wanted to expand the theme, maybe write a string section in or do some more electronics, and maybe do a brass arrangement.  Time got the best of me I kept on changing the original idea and in the end I had to just do a short piano rendition to fulfill the goal. Again Keep It Simple, if you want to do more you better have the idea further along or allot the time you need to actually get it done. Next time I’ll plan ahead or kill that idea earlier so I don’t get frustrated.

 

What I thought Would Happen

Many people have told me that predicting how the general population will react to your work is a difficult things to do and a nearly impossible skill to master. Whether you sell sneakers, bake cookies, or write songs figuring out what you make and how much people will like it is crucial to our success. I’m a new artists with no fan base or data so it was hard to predict what type of audience I would  grow throughout the year and which songs they would like the most. Here were my predictions of most views before all the music was released.

  1. Pyramid Song
  2. And I Love Her
  3. Stranger Things Theme
  4. Legend of Zelda Overworld Theme
  5. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
  6. Christmas Song
  7. Of Dreams To Come
  8. Maiden Voyage
  9. Liberating Hoop Villain

 

Here’s What Happened

  1. Pyramid Song
  2. Legend of Zelda Overwold Theme
  3. Liberating Hoop Villain
  4. Of Dreams To Come
  5. Maiden Voyage
  6. And I love Her
  7. Stranger Things Theme
  8. Christmas Song
  9. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

As you can see there are significant differences between these two lists. The only thing I got right was “Pyramid Song”. Legend of Zelda was only one spot away, but everything else is far off.  Course people are still listening to this project so perhaps this list will change over time, but as of now it’s quite clear I don’t know what the masses will gravitate towards. Here’s hoping I get better at figuring that out and that more and more people will listen to my music either way.

 

Recording Issues

Albert Amey (guitarist and producer here in Chicago) and I have a ton of stories from recording this project. From great recording sessions to musicians failing us, having to rework our schedules, and other audio malfunctioning fun. Overall I’m so happy Albert Amey was with me every step of the way. Without him this project would have been much harder to finish, and I have no doubt the audio quality would not be as good.  Some have commented that they thought the audio quality could improve,  I’m happy with it. These are essentially home recordings. Also, a lot of times I had to record people remotely or I’d bring Albert just a bunch of different files and he had to mummify it into existence. The time will come when  I will shell out thousands of dollars and do a recording in a big studio, but for now I’m satisfied with what we did.. I’m so grateful Albert puts up with my incompetence.

Closing Thoughts

This project was my baby: my first full fledged project where I had 100% control over everything. People who know me in my personal life understand that I like things my way. Once I have a superior, a boss, or I just disagree with the direction, I become negative and check out. My independence and freedom means more to me than others. This project is truly me. Jazz, rock, and hip hop. This is some of my best work. I love the reworking of strings I did on “Pyramid Song” , the solo and electronic take I had on “Of Dreams To Come” , and the original composition “Liberating Hoop Villain” which ended up as third highest viewed song.

So please listen to my Nine For Nine project. Tell me what you think, what you liked, and even what you didn’t like in the comment section below.  I loved making  this project, and I am just as pumped with the next couple projects I will be announcing in the upcoming weeks. So stay tuned and thank you for your support.

 

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Nine For Nine: Christmas Song

Here it is! The final song from the Nine For Nine series. Let’s breakdown why I chose to perform the “Christmas Song” as my last tune for Nine For Nine.

I knew I wanted to record a holiday song for December, but I wasn’t quite sure which one. After talking to my guitarist we decided “Christmas Song” would be a good tune to do.

Initially we wanted to have it be a bit more complex then it turned out. We wanted to add other instruments and to try different styles and sounds. Unfortunately time ran short on us and the best option to ensure it’d be done was solo piano. Luckily I was up for the challenge.

I really enjoyed the entire process of learning and recording this track. It was fun going through dozens of different holiday songs and thinking about how I’d go about recording them and what they could sound like. Perhaps in the future a Christmas album with a tour could be in the works?

This is the final song in my Nine For Nine. I had a blast recording the music and sharing and talking about it with all of you each month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and maybe gotten to know me better because of it. I’ll be doing another post this week where I’ll discuss talking the entire process of recording Nine For Nine and that’ll wrap up this project entirely. I’ll talk to you all then. Cheers