Updates – Aug 2014

About a month ago, I have moved from Philadelphia, PA to Oberlin OH. I got a new job as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Technology in Music and Related Arts (aka TIMARA) at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. I am extremely happy about this opportunity,  and am ready to meet great students and artists.

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Oberlin is quite a different place than my former job at the Community College of Philadelphia. I worked at a metropolitan community college for six years, meeting a diverse group of students in a vocation-oriented curriculum. I strongly recommend CCP if you are in the Philadelphia area and wants to learn about recording and production. My current job, on the other hand, is in a private liberal arts college in a relatively small city, and I am expected to teach yet another group of diverse students who are studying in a music conservatory environment. They also seem to have  a different goal and aesthetics (compare the works of my CCP students and those of TIMARA).  It is thus inevitable that I need to create a different teaching plan.

Below is the link to my new syllabi for Fall 2014. I am teaching courses that I have not taught in my previous works, but my experience gained at Philadelphia is thoroughly integrated in the new syllabi. For example, two+ years of directing an electronic ensemble at the Community College of Philadelphia taught me how to plan a 16-week long improvisation ensemble class for any kinds of instrumentation. A SuperCollider class I taught at the Temple University became a basis for the Algorithmic Composition class that I’ll be teaching for an upper-level TIMARA students.

This year is going to be an exciting year for my life as a teacher. Like the past few years, encounters with brilliant minds and hearts will give me a chance to grow. I hope to do the same for my students.

Lastly, if you are around the NE Ohio area, please come to my first Oberlin concert on  9/10/14 at 8PM. The show is free and open to public.

How much I made with 100 Strange Sounds? $15.38

100 Strange Sounds is my recent electronic music project. It consists of 100 videos of live original music on YouTube. I worked on the project for 1.5 years, producing 5 hours of music using computer, found objects, and consumer electronics. I worked on the Strange Sounds harder than any other projected I have done, and it gave me a chance to grow artistically. It also produced the income from advertisement:

15.38

I am satisfied with the number of views, but the total estimated earnings of $15.38 is a laughable number. I made more money at working 3 hours in my first job that required sitting down in a room for few hours.  Here’s what $15.38 income taught me about video streaming monetization.

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After becoming a YouTube Partner, I started to allow YouTube to monetize my video when I started 100 Strange Sounds project. To monetize means that I allow YouTube to show an advertisement in my uploads, either as a fullscreen or as a little box in the video. Whenever the viewer sees or clicks an ad on my video, I have a possible earning from the ad. My first 100 Strange Sounds video was uploaded in mid December of 2012, but I did not make earnings from the ad until June of 2013 (see above chart provided by YouTube Analytics).

This is because allowing ads on the video does not automatically pay the channel owner. It seems that Youtube/Google needed to verify that  I am a real person and have been uploading legal contents. The verification process took longer time than I expected.  I received a snail mail (not email) from Google to finalize the process after 6 months of monetizing my first  video.

I do not know where my ad earning of December 2012 to May 2013 went, but I decided to forget it for now.  For a better understanding of my earnings calculation, here is another version of the graph that shows the period when my videos started to earn ad money for me.

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You may estimate that my earnings per view would be $15.38/34094=0.04¢, but it is not. There are some 100 Strange Sounds videos that I decided not to monetize. More specifically, I have not monetized videos that feature my family or friends for moral reasons. Also, many views are not counted towards monetization if YouTube decides that the viewers did not see the ad.  If I see only the views that are counted for monetization, which is about 10% of the total view, I can calculate that the earnings per view is about $15.38/3533=0.4¢ or $0.004.

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I also noticed that the videos with most earnings are not necessary the one with most playbacks. For example, Strange Sounds #42 has 170 monetized playbacks, but it creates less earning than Strange Sounds #47 with 121 monetized playbacks. My wild guess is that No 47 is one of the only videos that mentions a specific toy in a specific brand, but I have no evidences.

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The last thing I learned about online streaming earning is that my Google Adsense account has payment threshold of $100. In other words, Google will not cut me a check if I earn less than $100. With 0.4¢ per view, I still need about 21500 more valid views to reach the threshold. If I continue to get about 3500 valid views per year , I’ll get my first payment in about 6 years.

To summarize, here are the financial lessons I learned from 100 Strange Sounds:

  1. Earnings per view is 0.4¢ only if the view is counted as monetized playback
  2. The Adsense account for the Youtube needs to be completely set to get earnings. It took me almost 6 months since the first monetized video to complete the process.
  3. I get paid in chunks of $100. With 0.4¢/view, 25000 monetized views are needed to see the payment in my bank account.

Despite all these financial discouragement, I don’t regret about uploading my works at YouTube. There are far worse services that will put an ad on your video without your permission and will not even consider giving you a share of the ad earnings (more on this story later). I will continue to monetize my 100 Strange Sounds videos for study purposes. I am planning to take some economics courses in the near future, and I am hoping that my personal hard-earned financial data could be useful in some research.

PS: If you liked reading this article or any works I do, please support by watching my video from my YouTube playlist

Making Your Life as an Artist

Making Your Life As an Artist by Andrew Simonet is a free, concise book that can be downloaded at the Artists U site. It took me less than three hours to finish the book, but it gave me great tips and advices on how to live a balanced and sustainable life as a musician.

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The author is an active choreographer, but the principles discussed in the book can be applied to music (or any other art). I was stressed for not having enough time and space to work  in the past week. After reading this book, I learned good strategies on how to plan, finance, make time, and focus on artistic mission. I’m not so stressed anymore.

The first three chapters discusses about the role of artists in the world, why artist have challenging life, and the skills that artists already have to overcome such challenges. The last five chapters provide practical examples and how-to’s on making a living as an artist. I was also enlightened to read about entertainment vs art, science vs art, career vs mission, perfect vs good enough, and other analyses. I particularly love the analogies and examples:

“[Seed savers and some farmers] grow things that don’t fit with industrial agriculture. They preserve the seeds for plants we may need someday. This is what artists do culturally.” -p29

“Art is not cultural broccoli, something you hate but should consume.” – p33

“A lot of artists’ lives are built for 23-year-old single, frenetic, healthy, childless workaholics. That doesn’t last. Our lives change and our needs change” – p77 

For its price and quality of information, the book has great value for my artist friends. It has even greater value for my non-artist friends since it will help you understand their art/music/dance friends a little better. I am planning to use the book as a reading material for my improvisation ensemble and upper-level music classes. I look forward to have a great discussion with the students about artist sustainability.

 PS: For my musician friends and students who are starting their post-college music career, I also recommend Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching. 

PSS: Since I mentioned about art and dance, here’s a little clip on my  collaboration with a dancer friend.

Listening Through the Noise

If you are a musician who ever thought “what am I doing?” or “why am I doing this?” about your music and performance, I recommend Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music by Joanna Demers. The book surveys and analyzes aesthetics of electroacoustic music, electronica, sound art, and many of their subgenres. Aesthetics is not an easy subject for me, but all the post-it notes I have put in the book should  attest that I have throughly enjoyed reading this book.

DemersThe author defines experimental music as “any music that rejects tradition and takes risks through running counter to musical inventions”, and experimental electronic music as “anything that challenges conventions of electronic music.” I recently witnessed a passionate debate on the definition of experimental music, and perhaps that is why I read this book again. I like the author’s emphasis on the risk in defining experimental music. Experiments assume that there is always a chance to fail, and I’d like to think that experimental music has risk to fail to be conventionally musical or meaningful, which is not a bad thing.

One thesis of the book is that the electronic music has “dismantled the musical frame.” When electronics are involved in music making and listening, non-instrumental sounds such as field recordings, noises, and silences become musical and valuable. Those sounds also blur boundaries between real-world sound and music. The author ends the book by stating that the sounds in electronic music are “strange in the real world, but they also succeed in making the real world strange. ” That is a beautiful thing for me, and I think this is why I keep making music with electronic devices.

To finish this post, I would like to share a piece that I asked myself “does this work?” and “am I doing a right thing?” It is a good sign that these thoughts came up in my mind. Electronic music is good at asking questions.

Work in Progress : The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I’m in charge of the sound and music for The Renegade Company’s upcoming theatre production. The company will reinterpret The Hunchback of Notre Dame in a silent movie style. There will be no dialogues in this nightmarish and grotesque version, and my electronic sounds will fill the space instead.

The director of the company proposed me to make a painful sound to reflect the main character’s suffering.  The play is set in Quasimodo’s dream, and therefore the sound should also convey Quasimodo’s severe hearing damage as well as his emotional state. I imagine that many years of playing the church bell may have caused Quasimodo tinnitus or ringing in the ear.

The most challenging part of this project is that I will not be able to attend some of the shows as I will be 7+ hours away from the theater (a beautiful church in Center City Philadelphia). Despite this geographic challenge, I do not want to make a fixed audio file for this project.  Instead, I want to make an easy-to-operate  software that make unique sounds for each show.  I also decided to focus on the emotional aspect of the characters.

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The instrument I am building has four emotion sliders: fear, happy, sad, and anger. Each emotion currently has 3-4 different sounds that are controlled by corresponding slider. Also, there are buttons to turn on a sound that simulates tinnitus  and trigger bell sounds.

Below is an example sound of what my current system can do. I improvised for about 6 minutes by combining different emotions as well as triggering tinnitus and bell sounds.

For the actual show, I expect that the sound guy will do the following  tasks:

  1. Press emotion buttons whenever there is a scene or character change. The button will randomly trigger a sound. For example, Quasimodo’s happy sound could be different from Esmeralda’s happy sound.
  2. Increase the slider as the character’s emotion intensifies. For examples, if Quasimodo is little sad, put the slider to 30%. If Quasimodo is extremely sad, crank up the slider to 100%. The change in slider movement will change the “intensity” of the sound. There are many different interpretations of intensity in this software.
  3. Click Tinnitus button. The sound is very long and emotionally draining
  4. Click Bell button according to the play’s cue. The bell sound has an algorithm to play different resonances every each time.

There are many benefits of composing a software instead of recording tracks.

  1. The sound can response more flexibly to the character’s action, especially at improvised sections.
  2. The music sound different every time it is played. They will sound familiar, but the details will be different (think about a jazz pianist interpreting a standard. The pianist would play the same chord progression, but the actual resulting sounds are different every time).
  3. The software is easy enough to be operated by anyone. I shouldn’t have to be there to create sounds.

I’ll be meeting with the director in few days to show my progress. If the director likes the idea, I continue to work on it. I’m also waiting for the response of a percussionist. If he is available, there will be a live percussion accompaniment on top of the electronic part. If he’s unavailable, the sound needs to be a little more exciting.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on the sound and performance approach. Does it resemble the sound world of Quasimodo’s nightmare? Do you foresee any technical troubles?