New video: Mercurial

I try to make videos of pieces I record whenever I can. Sometimes a live performance video looks good enough, but most of the time it's hard to produce a good multi angle video at a concert when I'm busy actually preparing for the performance. 

I had a few days last week when inspiration and some extra free time magically aligned. Thanks to NASA's public domain videos and animations, I was able to edit video of Jay C. Batzner's Mercurial for flute and fixed media. This piece can be found on my last album, The Art of Noise. Enjoy!  

RIP Lucy (2007-2015)

Lucy the Bernese Mountain Dog. At the dog park.

Lucy the Bernese Mountain Dog. At the dog park.

Lucy was diagnosed with bone cancer on April 13th. On April 22nd, we said goodbye to our precious baby girl. She was 7.5 years old. It's been a very difficult few weeks. Thank you for your emails and cards, etc. Dave and I really appreciate your messages. 

I made a video memorial for her since she was like a child to me:

How much does it cost to make a CD?

This is a common question I get from classical musicians. I'm going to do my best to answer it in a way that it's most practical and useful for the classical musician who is serious about producing their own CD. Here's my advice based on my experience.

THE EASY STUFF FIRST

Physical copies of CDs don't seem to change in price. It's about $1000 to manufacture 1000 replicated CDs in a jewel case with a one double-sided page insert. If you want fancier packaging, it can get really expensive but there are many options these days so it helps to do your research! Read more about CD manufacturing, the difference between replication and duplication on the internet. A company I like to use for CD replication is Oasis. The Oasis website is a great place to start to read about the  manufacturing process. Shipping costs from the manufacturer to you may not be trivial. The $1000 number is a good placeholder for ball-parking budgets.

Distribution. If you're going to self-release an album, I recommend going with CD Baby for world-wide physical and digital distribution. They charge a one-time fee per album. You should use the barcode they can assign your album (extra $20, totally worth it). You should also put your album on Bandcamp. (Read up on ISRC codes. You're going to want to use the ones CD Baby assigns for digital distribution on Bandcamp too.) For most classical musicians (performers and composers) the Standard distribution package (currently $59) is what you want (plus the barcode) at CD Baby

OTHER COSTS

Recording, editing, mixing, and mastering costs can vary widely depending on your project.

You need to answer the following in order to estimate your costs. Some questions will lead to more questions as you answer them:

  1. What am I recording? 
  2. How long will each piece take to record?
  3. How long will each piece take to edit and mix?
  4. How much do I need to pay my collaborators?
  5. Is it best to record this in a hall or church or is it better to record in a studio?
  6. How much is the hourly or day rate for the engineer and/or studio?
  7. How much does it cost to rent the perfect hall or church?
  8. Am I going to produce this all by myself or do I need a close colleague or teacher to help me record my best performances at the studio/hall on the day of recording? 

The only way to answer #2 and 3 is to try recording and mixing something. It's a good chance to try a new recording studio or engineer or space. You might be a genius that gets the perfect take every time, the first time, and maybe you never need to edit anything. You might be a perfectionist that needs to record the same thing 20 times and then listen to the takes obsessively over several days before deciding to completely record it again. So a lot of the recording costs depend on you. If you hire the best collaborative pianist in your area, your sessions will go quickly. If you don't hire professional collaborators to record with you, you will waste a lot of time and money on recording/editing/mixing. If it's going to be an entire CD of solo piano music recorded in one location with the same engineer, your mixing process will be pretty quick. If you have mixed percussion or if the instruments are recorded separately, not all at once and in the same room, it's going to take longer to mix. In general, the more instruments, microphones, locations used, the longer it will take to mix. After your experience with recording/editing/mixing one piece, you will have more information to estimate the recording costs for the rest of your album. 

How do you choose a good recording studio or engineer? The best method is to ask around of course. If you're new in town or just don't know anyone, I say evaluate the studio based on the staff. You want someone who is smart, organized, and not lazy to be your engineer. If an engineer seems bothered when they have to get up to add another microphone, Get. Out. ASAP. 

I tried out three local recording studios before I went to Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. Fantasy Studios and all three engineers that work there - I've worked with all three - are the absolute best. (I can go on and on about how great they are but this blog post is not all about them so... Just take my word for it.)

Mastering. Find out who mastered the CDs you like that use the same instruments or style that you will have on your CD. Ask your recording engineer for recommendations too. If your recording/mixing engineer did a great job on mixing AND if the style and instrumentation of the entire CD are similar, the mastering process will not take more than a day in the hands of an experienced mastering engineer. A mastering engineer should be able to give you their hourly rate and an estimate on how many hours your CD will take to master based on length of the entire CD, number of tracks, style and instrumentation. 

Mechanical Licenses. If you composed/published all the music you're recording on the CD, you can skip this paragraph. For everyone else, you need to pay for the Mechanical License to the publisher of the music you are recording unless it's in the public domain or if you are recording a piece for the first time and you have negotiated an alternate arrangement/rate with the composer/publisher. The Harry Fox Agency is the main company that administers these licenses online. If you know the composers or have a direct relationship with the publisher you can ask if you can pay them the license fees directly. In this case you save some money that you don't have to pay Harry Fox. This will require really good record keeping on your end. 

After all this: there's more. Promotion. Getting your CDs reviewed. Etc. These are promotional costs you should consider since it makes no sense to make a great CD that no one gets to hear because they just don't know you recorded and released it. (Maybe I can get a guest blogger to address this! *hint* *hint* Any takers??)

DO MORE RESEARCH

Most of the information I've found on the internet are geared towards indie bands and singer/song-writer types but all those industry how-to's and articles are totally worth reading. Read everything you can. It's all out on the internet for free! Some of my favorite resources for recording or indie-music-ness:


Do you still have specific questions? 

I am available for consultation on certain topics. If I don't know the answer, I'll try to refer you elsewhere. 


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New Music Open Mic

As a new curator at the Center for New Music in San Francisco, I am starting a New Music Open Mic show. Often, I have a piece or two that could be ready for performance but I don't have a chance to add it to a recital or other program. If you are in the same boat, I hope you will join me at the New Music Open Mic!

The first show will be on June 18, 2015. You can read more about it here.

A year in Lucy photos!

As always, I've had a great year. It's great because I've always had a place to live and rarely had to skip a meal during my entire lifetime. I have access to healthcare, heat, clean water, chocolate, people who care about me, and my dog. My family and I live a life of privilege. 

This year, I'm replacing my humble-brag end of year recap with a slightly less annoying post. Here are some photos of my dog Lucy taken throughout the year:

Adopt a Composer! and help me make my next CD

UPDATE Dec 22, 2014: Thank you to everyone who helped me get to 115% of my original goal!! Although we didn't get to $4000, I'm still looking into finding an excellent illustrator willing to make the album art. Stay tuned! And thank you again! 

UPDATE Dec 5, 2014: Thank you to the 100 most good looking and intelligent people who backed my project! We are over the initial goal of $3000! AND we have 11 more days to go! So if you haven't backed the project, there's still time! I also have a stretch goal: If I can raise $1000 more, I can hire a real graphic designer to design the cover, instead of doing it myself. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. XOXO!

I am raising funds to pay the composers who wrote the pieces on my next album. The six composers (Gregory C. BrownEli FieldsteelDouglas LaustsenEmma O'HalloranIsaac Schankler, and Tina Tallon) have collaborated with me to come up with some excellent rewards for those who contribute.

You can be a part of this next album for just a $2 pledge:

Get your name on the cover of my next album! Any pledge over $2 = your name in the CD cover art!

Read more about my Kickstarter project and make a pledge.

As you may already know, Kickstarter projects will only get funded if the project meets its goal. In this case, my goal is to raise $3000 by December 16th. 

If you can give $2, please do so. If you can give more, you can get some really fun rewards. I would appreciate your involvement in the making of my next album. Thank you for your consideration. If you cannot make a pledge I would really appreciate it if you could share my Kickstarter project with your friends. The link: http://kck.st/1uq5nJ0


This fundraiser will cover a part of the commissioning fees and mechanical licenses that I will pay directly to the composers.

Input-Output is my third solo album project. It will include these newly written works:

  • Pheromone for flute, piano, and electronics (2014) by Isaac Schankler*

  • Pencilled Wings for flute, piano, and stereo playback (2014) by Emma O'Halloran*

  • Fractus III: Aerophoneme for flute and quadraphonic electronic sound (2011/2012) by Eli Fieldsteel

  • New work for flute and electronics (2014) by Douglas Laustsen*

  • Huge White Canvas [working title] for flute and elecronics (2014) by Gregory C. Brown*

  • New work for piccolo and live electronics (2014) by Tina Tallon*

*commissioned for this record

Pianist Jacob Abela and I already premiered and recorded the O'Halloran and Schankler in July 2014. Videos of the premieres:

Between February and June 2015, I will perform and record the other 4 pieces.  

I expect to complete the mastering process for Input-Output in June 2015 and release the album in the Fall of 2015.

WHY ADOPT?

"Sponsor a composer" just didn't sound as good. :)

DIY flute key modification

Different C# touch-piece key thing made by Nagahara.

Different C# touch-piece key thing made by Nagahara.

squishy left index finger rest made from a mechanical pencil gel cushion and blue painters' tape.

squishy left index finger rest made from a mechanical pencil gel cushion and blue painters' tape.

Cork plug in my E key. Silicone plugs work too. I just prefer cork.

Cork plug in my E key. Silicone plugs work too. I just prefer cork.

Not every flute or mechanism is the right size/shape for every hand/body. 

On my main flute (the Nagahara Full Concert) I have one permanent modification and a couple that I add now and then: 

After using a plastic "C# key extension" made by Brannen for about an entire year (and having to replace them all the time - at $40 a pop! - because they were made to fit Brannen and not Nagahara) I was still unsure if I wanted to make a permanent change to my flute so I asked my local flute repair wonder-woman Lori Lee to make me a removable but more sturdy metal extension. Lori's contraption worked very well for a while but I finally decided to make a permanent change. I requested a different C# key shape from Nagahara and they were able to replace the old C# very easily. I must not have been the only person to request this modification. The price of the key replacement was LESS than what I spent on replacing the plastic Brannen extensions! In the future, I would make my own temporary C# key extension out of buttons (see below for photos) and save some $ while I decide whether I need to make it permanent.

I found that my high register technique and comfort in my left hand improves a lot when I can bulk up the tube where my left hand touches the flute body. I made a left hand index finger/hand rest by pulling rubbery pencil grips off some mechanical pencils and cutting them lengthwise. The beauty with this material is that it keeps its shape and will fit on a C flute without leaving any marks on the silver. I usually put a piece of masking or painters tape on top of it because the rubber is too tacky sometimes. Some people use a piece of adhesive moleskin padding instead and that works well too but I found that I needed to replace it much more often because it will eventually fall apart or get dirty. On my Sankyo Kingma system flute, I use a piece of plastic flexible tubing I bought from the hardware store instead (see additional photos below).

In my right hand, I usually place a cork plug in my E key because my ring finger naturally wants to drift closer to my middle finger and I have to make an extra effort to cover the hole otherwise. 

Experiments with my new Sankyo Kingma System flute: 

I glued two buttons to each other with glue. The bottom button is taped to the key with double-sided foam tape. This is what I would suggest as a DIY C# key modification.

I glued two buttons to each other with glue. The bottom button is taped to the key with double-sided foam tape. This is what I would suggest as a DIY C# key modification.

Another view of the left index finger/hand rest made with flexible plastic tube that I cut in a hurry with a pair of scissors.

Another view of the left index finger/hand rest made with flexible plastic tube that I cut in a hurry with a pair of scissors.

I had to remove the buttons on this flute in order to actually use all the extra Kingma system keys but here's another view of the buttons. Way cheaper than the plastic Brannen C# extension. 

I had to remove the buttons on this flute in order to actually use all the extra Kingma system keys but here's another view of the buttons. Way cheaper than the plastic Brannen C# extension. 

I use the same plastic tubing on alto and bass flutes but it's not to bulk up the left hand area, it's just for a bit better traction. On these larger instruments, I also use a piece of adhesive moleskin pad where my right thumb touches the flute for comfort.

the plastic tube cut to fit around my Trevor James bass flute for better traction with my left hand

the plastic tube cut to fit around my Trevor James bass flute for better traction with my left hand

another view of the plastic tube part on my bass flute

another view of the plastic tube part on my bass flute

moleskin pad on my bass flute

moleskin pad on my bass flute


For some flutists, an offset G is not the ideal setup. I told myself that I would go back to an inline G on my next flute. But my next flute ended up being a Kingma System Sankyo so an inline G is not possible.  

There is no hard and fast rule about who should have an inline or offset G. Some say that the off-set G is more ergonomic - it might be more ergonomic for some people, but NOT EVERYONE. Those with short fingers should give a flute with an inline G a serious audition (over several days) with fast technical passages in the high register. I've seen/heard those with really long fingers play very well on inline and offset G flutes. I've also seen/heard those with short fingers play very well on both types. Play the flute that works best for you, keep an open mind/ear, and stay aware of your body so that when your hands give you hints that something is not working well, you can make the necessary changes.

One reason that some (especially flute repair pros) might favor the offset G: it's easier to maintain and work on since there's less going on in the main rod. Because of this, I think it's probably easier to manufacture student model flutes with the offset G. I'm speculating that this is why most new student model flutes are offset these days, not because it's more ergonomic than inline G flutes. If anyone has a good explanation other than it's more ergonomic (because I do not buy that reasoning) please let me know!

If I did not play so much contemporary music, I would get a closed-hole or plateau style flute - in which case, it's not as important whether the flute in in-line or offset. 


Seeking local collaborator(s)

I would like to meet some local, like-minded artist-types interested in making/producing time-based art projects. I live in Campbell, CA, which is right next to San Jose, California. 

If you're interested, please poke around my website first. If you are still interested, please email me and let's meet for coffee. 

Major plus if you can appreciate the occasional fart or poop joke.

Detour

For my 3rd album, I thought that I wanted to record an album of Classical and Romantic repertoire. I had the pieces planned out and started recording but the first few recording sessions were difficult for various reasons. Other important details for the project were really hard to work out too, so it made me rethink my plans. This was repertoire that I love but there were too many things that seemed to be working against me. 

It did not bode well that these were some of my recording studio companions on the first two days of recording.

It did not bode well that these were some of my recording studio companions on the first two days of recording.

Instead of continuing with the project, I decided to abort plans for the album and change directions. I hope that some of the material I recorded can be released in the future in different or smaller packages but, for now, it's mostly time and money wasted. I guess I could have planned more carefully or taken more time to think it through but that's not my style. 


I recently listened to some of the material I recorded earlier this year to see if I can do something with them and found this single (unedited) take from February 3, 2014.

Friedrich Kuhlau "Grand Duo" Op. 30, Nr. 2, Adagio lagrimoso with clarinetist Cory Tiffin:

(Stream it or download it for free at meerenai.bandcamp.com!)


I've started again on the 3rd album and it will contain only contemporary music. I feel better about it already. I hope to release it sometime in 2015. 

Cory Tiffin

Clarinetist, good friend, and collaborator, Cory Tiffin has been fabulously too busy to make a website or maintain a bio online anywhere so I took it upon myself to write up a short bio for him right here.

Cory Tiffin is the principal clarinetist of the Las Vegas Philharmonic. He splits his time between Las Vegas and Chicago. In Chicago he teaches at the Chicago High School for the Arts and holds adjunct positions at DePaul University and Loyola University. 

(Once I find a good, up-to-date bio for him, I will link to it from here. Also, I only have goofy photos of Cory on my phone so this will have to do for now!)

Here's a little something we recorded earlier this year (More info on the project.):