The Evolution of a Website

Today is an exciting day.  Today marks the launch of the completely redesigned Pet Dragon Music website.  This update has been a lot of fun, because, for the first time, I worked with a designer.  All I needed to do was tell her what I wanted, and then it was up to Lisa Wright (of Wright Now Designs) to figure out how to make it work.  No more web designing for me!

Now, this latest update got me thinking about about the evolution of the site over the years.  I mean, I don’t think it’s a revelation to say that composers need a web presence.  There are lots of components to that presence nowadays – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, WordPress, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, even MySpace in its day.  But those things are most often anchored around a website, and when I decided to launch Pet Dragon Music.com, a website was just about all that was available.  And as a student, I had no money to pay someone else to design it, so I had to do it all myself.  At the time, there were only a few WYSIWYG web design programs, and fewer free ones, so I learned some basic html coding and downloaded Netscape Composer.  And launched my website with my cute little cartoon dragon logo on a nice, peach-y background.

The original Pet Dragon

The original Pet Dragon

OK, I never claimed to be a visual artist.

All things considered, I was pretty pleased with the site, though.  Over the years, I made sure I kept it updated with current news, changed the background and layout a few times, learned how to stream my recordings.  I was pretty proud of myself.

I also continually worked on improving the site, streamlining it.  It started looking cleaner and more professional with each update.  But my design options, like my html skills, were pretty limited.

Then I bought a Mac – complete with iWeb.  That was actually a lot of fun.  I could play with the templates, change the look of my site pretty dramatically, and I didn’t have to delve into html coding. A little iWeb fun Not bad.  There were a couple of limitations I had to figure out how to work around, and a couple of others I couldn’t conquer, but all in all, I was happy with the look.  Until I realized how many sites I was seeing that looked the same as mine.  I started to recognize which iWeb template people were using.  In other words, I wasn’t unique any more. It was clear I was going to need help.

So I turned Lisa.  I knew that the first order of business was an update to my cute – but very cartoonish – Pet Dragon Logo.  So she created a fantastic design for me, and I took the opportunity to update my website once again.

What a difference that logo makes!

I also started looking around at new design options for the site.  One key component was the ability to sell my music, and the (now discontinued) iWeb templates I had didn’t easily lend themselves to any kind of storefront.  I checked out a number of services that could provide that storefront ability.

There are some decent options out there, and if you want to keep your design costs low, they are definitely a good way to go.  Ultimately, though, they are all based on templates.  Templates anyone else can make use of.  Templates that are only available if I change my web host, which I’m not interested in doing.  Templates I could only customize with some back-end hacking and html coding and – well, honestly, I’m really not interested in learning any more about website design.

What I really want is a site that is mine and mine alone.  A site that’s unique.  Cue another call to Lisa, who immediately got started on the brand new Pet Dragon Music website.  She created a site for me that is entirely unique.  It’s also the perfect balance between professional and fun that I never achieved on my own.  It gives me everything I wanted, and best of all, it was designed by a professional web designer who actually knows that they are doing!  I don’t have to code any more!

So I cordially invite you to head over to my new and improved Pet Dragon Music website!  Take a look around, listen to the music samples, maybe even buy a copy of something that excites you.  (And keep an eye out for the dragon tail as well…)  And while you’re at it, maybe take a moment to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, or right here on my WordPress blog.  You’ll never miss an exciting moment again!

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On New Year’s Eve

Here we are at the end of yet another year.  It seems 2014 has flown by so quickly!  But it’s been a good year.  If I had to put my feelings at this moment into a single sentence, it would be this:  I had a ton of fun in 2014, and I am looking forward to a busy and very exciting 2015.

A number of years ago, I heard an interview with James Galway.  The interviewer was in a limo with Galway as he traveled to the Hollywood Bowl in preparation for his concert that evening.  What I remember vividly is the sheer joy and excitement in Galway’s voice as he exclaimed, “I still can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I love!”

That pretty much sums up this last year.  Make no mistake – I don’t command the kind of money that Galway gets (not yet!), but I do get paid to do what I love.  Some of the highlights include another residency with the band students at West Genessee Middle School, a collaboration with choreographer Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell, and pieces on two different CDs, one with Samba Laranja and the other with Trio Casals.  And I’ve been been performing throughout the year as well.

It’s been busy, and it’s been a lot of work, but I have enjoyed every minute.  And it’s given me a running start to kick off 2015!

So, what is coming up in 2015, you ask?  Well, a re-designed website for one, with the ability to purchase either hard copies or downloads of my works.  Plus a couple of confirmed premieres, a residency in yet another school (my 5th one, if you’re counting), and you’ll even have the chance to watch me conduct one of my pieces.

One last bit of news – you’ll be hearing me over the airwaves again!  I have re-joined the team of professionals at WCNY-FM, and began dusting the cobwebs off my broadcasting skills just this week.  I’ll be on the air occasionally, doing fill-ins so those wonderful hosts have the opportunity to take a well-deserved break now and then.  I always enjoy spending time with the Classic FM listeners.

In case you want to keep up on the increasingly busy happenings around here, you’ve got a few options:

I’ll keep you updated with all the exciting things happening in 2015!

Before I go, let me give you my heart-felt wish for your new year to be filled with music and joy, as well as the chance to spend some time doing what you love.

Have a happy, healthy new year, everyone!

Embracing Human Limitations

Have you heard the one about the efficiency expert who went to a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony?*

Funny?  Sure.  But nowadays, it’s not too far off the mark, I fear.

I read an article a few years ago (and for the life of me, I can’t remember where, or by whom, and I haven’t been able to track it down) about reaching the limits of efficiency.  Orchestras are the most dramatic example of late, but many live arts presenters are struggling to get the greatest possible return with the least possible investment.  Theaters are moving pit orchestras to separate rooms so they can sell more seats.  Concerts are programmed based on what music the organization owns so they spend minimal amounts on new repertoire.  Sets are becoming more “minimalist” – in part, because it is less expensive to paint flats than to build a full-blown set.

In the recording industry, artists and engineers are increasing their use of multi-track recording and digital manipulation to make a few musicians sound like a crowd.  And music distributors are moving farther and farther away from “hard products” like CDs in favor of digital downloads.  It’s just getting harder and harder to recoup your investment.  Everyone is looking for the shortcut.

Every arts organization I know of is tightening their belt, looking for ways to do more with less every single year, and still bring quality performances to their audiences.  But I fear they are approaching a limit that cannot be worked around, buried, or simply willed away.

The human factor.

What I’m about to say could apply to almost any artist, but for the sake of this blog entry, let’s talk specifically about musicians.  The first factor is practice.  No matter how efficient a musician may be in their individual practice sessions, there comes a point where the body and mind simply can’t absorb the information any faster.  Once that kind of efficiency is reached, there are no shortcuts to be taken.

Nor is there a shortcut for group rehearsals.  Even if every single musician in an orchestra has practiced Torke’s Jasper until it is memorized, they still can’t simply hop up on stage the night of the performance, and give a solid performance of a 12-minute work cold.  It takes rehearsal, at tempo or below, enough times to get it right.

And then, there is the performance itself.  There are no more shortcuts left, which is the real joy of live performance.  A 12-minute work takes 12 minutes to perform.  Audience and performers are swept up in the same musical currents for the duration of a piece, bringing a unity to all the participants that is unique to the live experience.

Meanwhile, arts organizations are cutting, cutting, cutting away as much as they can, to make the most of what they have.  And I fear they are reaching that limit, the human limit, that cannot be cut any further.  Yet we continue to ask individuals to do as much (or more) with less, because there are no more shortcuts available in other areas.  In other words, we ask the impossible.

Believe me, I wish I had a solution to achieving the highest performance standards with even lower costs.  Unfortunately, I don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Just in case you haven’t heard it . . .

An efficiency consultant gave his critique of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony:

  1. For a considerable period, the oboe players had nothing to play. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
  2. All 24 violins were playing identical notes. This seems unnecessary duplication, and the staff in this section should be drastically cut. If a large volume of sound is needed, this could be obtained by the use of an amplifier.
  3. Much effort was involved in playing the 16th notes. This seems an excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded off to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
  4. No useful purpose is served by repeating with horns the passage that has already been played by the strings. If all such passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to 20 minutes.
  5. The symphony is in two movements. If Schubert did not achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut.
  6. In the light of the above, one can only conclude that if Schubert had paid attention to such matters, his symphony would probably have been finished by now.

 

When Things Come Together

It’s an exciting time!  Rehearsals for the 2014-15 concert season have started, the Brazilian ensemble has had two performances in the last week, with two more scheduled for this week.  The flute choir repertoire is set after our reading session last week, and rehearsals start in earnest next week.

And CDs!

Last night I got a copy of the (nearly) final master for the upcoming Samba Laranja CD, featuring my work, Travels.  I am so privileged to have been involved not only in the recording of Travels, but in both performing and giving artistic input on the rest of the CD as well.  The last CD won a SAMMY – and honestly, this one is sounding even better.

Which has raised my excitement level for the new Trio Casals CD as well!  I’m working closely with the sound engineers at PARMA right now, to get Three Songs sounding just perfect.  (Not a difficult job, really, given the incredible performances by Trio Casals!)  Now I realize what a difference it will make when I can hear it in context with the rest of the CD.  I’m even more excited to hear the full master!

It’s also exciting – and a bit nervewracking – to watch the Indiegogo funding campaign.  With just 18 days left, I haven’t quite hit the 20% funding mark.  So here it is, another request for you to check out the campaign and make your contribution.  Then share it with your friends and family, and ask them to support it as well.

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, 'cello

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, ‘cello

 

Still not sure if you want to support a new and untried work?  That’s understandable.  And so I encourage you to read this article from Minnesota Public Radio.

Three Songs Re-launch

I love September.  In many ways, it feels like a re-birth to me.  Rehearsals start up again for Samba Laranja and the CNY Flute Choir.  The concert season begins in earnest for most music and arts organizations.  Days are breezy, nights are wonderfully cool, leaves are showing the first signs of turning.  It’s as though everyone and everything is pausing just enough to catch a deep breath.

Sure, August ended on a low note.  But I took my own deep breath last weekend, and now I feel re-energized and ready to push ahead once more.

That’s why I’ve launched another campaign to raise funds for my Three Songs, this time on Indiegogo.  Once again, I’m starting from scratch, but I am much more confident this time around.  I’ve learned a lot, and I expect I’ll be better able to spread the word to not only the folks who tried to back me the last time (and hopefully will renew that backing!), but to an even broader audience. 

I’ve said it before, and it’s not news – making new music available to a broad audience takes resources – monetary resources.  Recording, publishing, performers and performance spaces, publicity – all of this comes at a cost.  No matter how frugal I am, it won’t happen for free, especially considering this is much more than a simple CD release.  The enhanced CD includes extra digital content (scores, liner notes, interviews), and the whole process culminates in two live performances, one in New York and the other in Philadelphia.  Believe me, every single dollar is being stretched to its limit!

As for the actually fundraising, this time around I’m concentrating even more on sharing my music with you.  I’ve added several music videos to my Vimeo page for you.  And I’ve given you a little more insight into the inspiration behind the Three Songs in my Indiegogo video, in the hopes it will inspire you to fund these Three Songs

I’ll also be giving you more blog and Facebook entries, and I would love to hear from you with any questions or thoughts you may have.  The smallest funding level is just $1, which means our conversation can start with, “Thank you so much for your support!”

A Kickstarter Summary

It’s official.  My Kickstarter campaign did not get funded.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed.  And poorer in the end, of course, since I’ll be paying for it all myself now.  But what I really am is incredibly disheartened.

I realize I’ve never been a social guru.  I was never part of the “popular” crowd in school.  I don’t post my breakfast, lunch, dinner, random bathroom thoughts and such on social media every day.  Nevertheless, I saw myself as generally well-liked and relatively well-connected.  Apparently, though, my connections don’t translate effectively into crowdsourcing.

Before I go any further, I want to give a very big thank you to everyone who did back me.  Your support – and more importantly, your belief in my music – means a great deal to me.

And that’s what I am holding onto right now.  The knowledge that I have friends and family who really do believe in me, and are willing to support me as best they can.

But you know what’s really disheartening?

This.

Some guy jokingly asks for $10 to make potato salad, and winds up with over $55,000 in his pocket.  That’s more than I made in a year at my last full-time job.

Potato salad, for $*&#()@ sake!

I tried to raise just a tenth of that – to pay for recording, mastering, production, distribution, and TWO live performances – and couldn’t even break $1,500.

I won’t get into a discussion of what makes a crowdsourced project “funding-worthy,” because that’s the whole point of crowdsourcing, right?  The public picks and chooses what they want to support.  If they want to pay for someone’s potato salad, or pirate pancake skillet, or meat soap, more power to ‘em.  And statistically, only 44% of Kickstarter projects get funded, so it’s not as though I’m in the minority.

I think sometimes, though, folks lose perspective on what they’re being asked to fund.  You know, every project up on Kickstarter is required to produce something tangible, in my case, a CD and a live performance experience.  Backers aren’t buying my groceries or paying my rent, they are buying my music.  Whether it’s a digital download, or a CD purchase, it is a tangible, real product, with significant, quantifiable costs.  So maybe the folks who pledged $110 for potato salad could have knocked it down to $100, and backed my project for the other 10 bucks.  Then they could have listened to my piece while they snacked on their bite of potato salad.

In reality, though, the broader issue is even more complicated.  When my friend, Ovidiu, put out his Kickstarter to fund a recording of the complete Bach ‘cello Suites (with PARMA as well), he raised over $8,000, pretty handily.  My project included him as a performer, and PARMA as a partner – and tanked.  So what did his Bach CD have in common with potato salad?

People know what they’re getting.

People know what potato salad should taste like.  And people know what the Bach ‘cello suites should sound like.  And they already know whether they like these things or not.

But new classical music?  That requires . . . courage.  It requires the listener to be willing to take a chance that they will like what they hear.  Or maybe not.  And it’s that “maybe not” part that keeps people away.  That makes people decide that they “don’t like” new music, without even listening to it.  Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

Well, maybe not better.  But certainly easier.

Which presents me with a challenge.  Tempting though it is to just sit around, disheartened and disappointed, it’s not going to be very helpful.  No, I need to rise to the challenge, I need to find creative ways to disseminate my music to a broader audience, and hopefully encourage people to open their ears and their hearts and – potentially – their wallets.

Because I would like to be able to truly say that I make a living as a full-time composer.  Maybe it’s a pipe dream in the current day and age, but I want to at least try.

Wish me luck.

Funding New Music

This Kickstarter campaign for my Three Songs recording and performance has me thinking a LOT about money recently.  (Surprised?  Didn’t think so.)  As of this post, I have 23 backers, and I truly can’t thank them enough for showing their support and belief in this project.

I’ve also had LOTS of folks sharing, and talking, and giving me moral support.  Which is appreciated.  But what I need is backers.

If every backer pledged $25 – that’s another 168 backers.

With 6 days to go.

That’s a pretty big climb.

I’m not discouraged.  I have faith that people really do want to hear new classical music, live and recorded.  And I’m trying every way I can think of to spread the word.  (Short of hiring a skywriter – if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be asking you to pitch in, would I?)

It has forced me to think more creatively, though.  Not only about this CD project, but about marketing myself in general.  Because composers (like so many artists) are earning less and less through their music.  According to this article, “composers are producing more for less money, while also having to find other means of generating a significant income.”

I’ve been brainstorming, trying to come up with creative ways to combat that.  And you’ll see more things here, and on my website and Facebook pages, as I work on getting more music out there.

But for now – and the rest of this week – I’ll be focusing on my CD release.  And asking you to help.