My Life as a Musician
In the midst of releasing my forth album I figured I’d take some time to write about the arts and my time spent with them.
On Monday June 4th 2018, my friend Aden and I finally put up preorders for our new album “Omnition” under our band name COSM. The project took around five years to finally reach completion. Now you may be wondering “what the hell took so long?” Well, there are a few different things to blame. First off, writing music with other people can always be difficult as everyone has their own schedule and life. Secondly, the music we were writing was so large and with so much instrumentation that I personally wasn’t able to record and mix it into a result that was acceptable; after all I’m only one completely untrained person. Thirdly, we actually set out to only complete an EP. We finished our six song album last year but after someone reached out to us multiple times seemingly showing interest in signing our project we put on the brakes. We were told that our music was good but that labels don’t like to release EPs (news to us) so they asked if we’d be interested in making a full length. At first we just laughed, that was the craziest idea ever. We’d just spent years painstakingly finishing our EP while screwing up career paths, relationships…all in the name of putting our heart and soul into something. Why the HELL would we do even more? As we continued thinking about it; the music industry has changed so much, how would we alone launch this beautiful project into the world and find an audience? Slowly but surely we decided to give it a go.
Within about six months we wrote around 6-8 new songs all within the same room, all at the same time just like the first songs. The mixing process was gruesome to say the least. Beating our heads against the desk trying our best to figure out how to achieve the sound we had in our heads. Some days we’d work 12 hours just mixing, bouncing out the track and then checking the mixes in cars and other speakers only to do the same thing the next day. Eventually we achieved some sort of “completion” or contentment with the state of the tracks and decided it was finished. We eagerly sent off the album to the “label”. About three days went by (not the best sign considering this person would communicate immediately with us via facebook) we received an email back saying “this is pretty good, what are you guys looking to do?”. Needless to say, the short email came as quite a shock. I suppose we were under some impression that this guy had heard our music and really believed in it (every independent musician’s dream, SOMEONE WANTS TO HELP US). Sadly we found out over the next few emails that this guy like almost everyone else in the world; he simply wanted our money.
It was difficult not to feel slightly defeated but alas we took our EP and busted our asses to make something even better, something we could be even more proud of. We picked ourselves back up and tried to devise a plan for moving forward. We figured it a good idea to invest in a radio campaign. We didn’t have the money but we slowly raised the cash and got hooked up with a seemingly trusted promotion company. 4000$ spent we figured they’d communicate with us and help us (as they said they would) to decided which songs off our record were best to lead with. We picked three songs we thought were the best representation of our project and sent them over. They sent an email back saying they picked three different songs (not one on our list) and not a word on our choices. Then due to timing they stickered our albums with their song choices and moved forward with the campaign never even questioning if we were okay with the choices. When we called to inquire or maybe even complain we were met with excuses like “the song choices really don’t matter” and so on. Turns out…they were like almost everyone else in the world: they simply wanted our money. Things were definitely looking up…
I wanna take a moment now and completely deviate from the subject matter so that I can share my background… so prepared yourself for some life-story:
I’m a trained 3D animator that later quit his career and pursued music full-time. I come from a lower/middle class family. My father is a mechanic and my mother a cleaning lady (is that the right term?) I knew I wanted to be a musician since I was seven but I never had any support from my family and my parents never bought me an instrument. After they divorced and dated different people my brother and my lives became second or even third in importance. I never noticed at the time that we were simply being escorted to different schools and homes on account of our parent’s relationship status. Putting myself back into those mental spaces I now know that what I was feeling was unimportant and actually like quite a burden. Parents having to pick you up at different houses and complaining about each other only ever really makes kids feel like they’re a pain in the ass.
I later moved to upstate Pennsylvania with my mother because my living situation in Glen Rock Pennsylvania had pushed me to my young mental breaking point. I got in so many fights with stupid ignorant people that I finally decided to carry a knife around the town in hopes of physically harming some of these folks. My parents thought it might be wise at this point to send me to therapy.
Life upstate actually got better. School was filled with complete redneck people whom I was already slightly used to in the first place. Turns out that a lot of these folks are really nice when there isn’t diversity to shake them up “That persons different! HURT EM!”. One day my stepfather, whom really worshiped music, decided to go into a music store and buy a drum set. While he was buying it some part of me really thought somehow that he was buying it for me even though he made abundantly clear multiple times that it was for him (he couldn’t play but some part of him thought he could). Over the next year I began teaching myself how to play. This didn’t make him happy and he would later resent me for it. Eventually that family broke up and I was back to no drums and no music. I changed schools again and….things were definitely looking up. Eventually I got involved with some musical people in school and started learning guitar; thankfully I even found out that I could sing.
Music was all that really mattered to me. I never really had any idea how I’d pursue it but I knew it was all I really wanted to do. My teachers and family urged me to go to college and quit all the music nonsense. It turns out that if you grow up in a small town where no one really does anything and no one ever achieves any success, they won’t for a even a second try to say positive things about your dreams and goals. All that makes sense is money. Make money…make family…work and die. Surely there’s something else to this whole “life” thing.
So I went to college. Thankfully I only went for an associates degree because I hated school. Since I knew at such an early age what I wanted to do with my life, literally everything else that I HAD to do felt like a waste of time. Either way, I was going to study animation. My two great loves in life are music and cartoons/comedy. Maybe I could get a job that wasn’t too awful. The school I was going to had literally just adopted in this new Animation course. Many things were promised and considering my talent in the arts I was gonna do great. Sadly their promises soon faded and my class was left strictly studying one program and one program only, 3D Studio Max. 3D animation was “where it’s at” they said. We barely touched pencil to paper. 3D was going to get us jobs and set us up for success. The whole degree ended up being a joke. Our teachers would quit constantly and they’d usher in a new young person right out of college to teach us and then later, they’d quit. I knew the feeling all too well, I had once again become of lesser importance. It turns out that colleges, like almost everyone else in the world simply just wanted our money. The director of the entire animation program was later fired because he lied on his resume about his actual credentials. None of this mattered though as I was the only one that actually landed a job using these boring skills that I didn’t really want I the first place.
I worked for three years at a small business modeling almost anything I could think of in 3D. My job took place in a cubicle and I hated it. Immediately after school ended I had an emotional crisis (I’m sure many folks do) and started smoking weed everyday because I couldn’t accept the fact that this was going to be my life. I made 11 dollars an hour with a specialized technology degree graduating the top of my class. Rather quickly I developed stomach problems and all day chronic pain in my neck and shoulders (which I still live with). I’d never had a health problem in my life. I also couldn’t smoke weed anymore because one bad experience with it caused my brain to be permanently switched into anxiety mode. I started having daily panic attacks and was always convinced I was having a heart attack.
Around 2008 I found another job doubling my salary. I felt awesome at first. This money would finally prove my worth and obviously life would get better. I was about 23 years old and I had NO idea what to do with money. My panic attacks worsened sometimes to the point where I couldn’t walk. Driving home from work was a nightmare as I’d have to pull over constantly from anxiety and panic. I didn’t actually have any thoughts or fears in my mind but everyday a part of my body (usually my stomach) would start slowly going numb and it would spread until I couldn’t feel anything. I’d be left crippled and couldn’t move my hands, not fun when you’re driving on the highway.
THANKFULLY one day when I was coming home from work I got a call from my boss saying that my project had ended and I was being laid off. At first I was terrified. Had I not done good work? Did they not like me? Did they see the porn on my computer? Nope…just being laid off. I found out that I could get unemployment and thanks to my higher salary I would receive the highest payout per week which I think equated to something like 630 bucks. Hot shit man. I sat around for the first two weeks doing nothing. This was gonna be great. Everyone that has a stupid job that they hate always dreams of sitting around doing nothing. The whole movie Office Space was founded on that idea. Sadly for me the dream wore thin very quickly. A mirror was held up in front of me and all I could see was a scared and broken person that always wanted to call himself a musician but had nothing to show for himself. I consistently felt like I wasn’t good enough to write music by myself, I needed another person, a person to bounce ideas off of and to kill all the self-doubt and insecurity. Well…having all the time in the world and nothing to do, I could either shut the hell up and DO something or I could continue making excuses. Pretty hard to make excuses when you’re getting 630$ a week to do nothing, so I started writing.
One week I finally went to a guitar center and asked around “how the hell do I record stuff”. A nice dude took some time to really explain some things to me and tell me what I needed. For years before I struggled with stupid gear and analog recorders just failing miserably and eventually giving up. Now I was FINALLY doing it, making songs and moving forward. “Am I good enough? Is my voice good enough? What’s my sound? Are my lyrics any good? Do I sound smart?” All that crap had to just sit by the wayside because as far as I was concerned I was being paid by the government to write music.
I put some covers up on youtube and I got a little better each week. People on youtube were actually really kind and supportive. One of the most reoccurring comments was “you’re gonna be famous”. Things felt like they were going in the right direction. I eventually struggled to get my songs to really sound professional so I sought out a studio nearby and recorded real drums and re-did my vocals. When I first sang in the vocal booth the engineer told me I had great “tone” and I was gonna be famous. Hot shit… The whole endeavor ending up costing me around 8000$ to finish. I’m a perfectionist and want things right. I had dreams about sending the album to radio stations and labels; I was gonna get noticed man. My hidden gifts were being heard and I was on my way…. but as it turns out, that whole “send music to labels and radio stations thing” actually died out in the 90s. You can’t do that anymore. Legally these companies won’t open your packages and most of them won’t even open your emails. I released my music on iTunes and youtube and felt it only a matter of time before I got “discovered” but eventually that time grew longer and longer until I had to go back to work.
My wife and I moved to Philadelphia. We found a strange opportunity where I could take care of a building and we could live there rent-free. It sounded too good to be true and THANK GOD I didn’t have to rush right back into the working world. For literally one month it went well (haha) but soon enough we found out that there was a power struggle amongst the owners of the building. The place and whole area we lived in was a dump. I had aspirations of fixing things and cleaning the place up but as their power struggle worsened so did my relationship with them. I had no idea who I was supposed to answer to and I began to hate the place. Along with that we lived in basically an all black neighborhood and sadly they hated us. The area was so shitty that during my weekly exercise jogging I would randomly abandoned cats and dogs that were sickly/dying and my wife and I would hide them at the place and nurse them back to health. We spent thousands of dollars on these animals. Needless to say the owners didn’t dig that behavior so…they fired me. We were practically homeless and I couldn’t find any work at all. The stress led my wife to become anorexic and it’s still one of the darkest times of my life. Somehow, thankfully we found a small apartment near by. It was in a similar area but at least we had a home. I found work at a packaging company loading trucks. I was one of the only white guys working there and eventually everyone warmed up to me and we were friends. They told me crazy ass stories about stealing from white people in their neighborhoods and they told me over and over that I had to move out of my apartment immediately before I got hurt. They often said about my living situation that I was like a “fluorescent lightbulb in a dark room.” Things were definitely looking up… Also, if my saying these things offends you, I’m literally just conveying facts from my life. This is how it was. Racism and hatred come in many different forms in this world. Moving on..
I got a couple other shitty jobs until I landed another decent paying cubicle gig. I worked drawing technical manuals for Graco baby seats and strollers. If you own one of these things there’s a good chance I drew the “how to assemble” manual. This job was just like any other but my boss was cool. During my interview, it took about five minutes for her to tell me she was gay and didn’t believe in god. I’ve always had a way of cutting through the bullshit with people; obviously, I was hired. After about a year and a half of this stupid boring job, the company started to struggle and people were getting laid off. My boss decided within one day she was quitting. Since I was under contract with her and not the actual company she told me that she could either lay me off that day or a day of my choosing. Holy hell… What a weird blessing. I could literally get my finances in order and simply stop going to work and yet again collect unemployment. The gay nonexistent gods were smiling down upon me.
Unemployment rates and payouts had changed pretty dramatically since the last time I was laid off but either way, I didn’t care. I started work on my second Phyllotaxis album. I was convinced that this time I could work hard enough to write, record and complete the whole record myself. So I did. I also knew that I never wanted to go back to a cubicle ever again so I sought out a School of Rock in my area and decided I was going to teach people how to sing. I’d never taught anyone anything really but I’d studied the voice for years and knew my shit. I wrote to them and I was interviewed and hired in less than 24 hours.
I finished my second album. I got shirts made and my wife made me these awesome letterpress printed posters. I made preorder bundles and did everything I could think of but alas my second album was received the same as the first. I once again kept the hope and mentality that my hard work and talent would shine forward and be later discovered but no such luck.
Shortly after this time, work I had done on a album with Doc Coyle was finally coming to a close. The band was called Vagus Nerve. We managed to raise 7800$ to get our EP mixed and mastered professionally. Aside from my minimal successes this seemed like it might actually get some attention. The record turned out great in terms of sound. We filled all our orders and people seemed to be digging the music even if the views were on the smaller side. Doc shopped the record around a little as he’s been signed and in the game for a while but sadly, what we kept discovering was that no one wanted to sign us because we weren’t an actual “working” band. We live scattered across the whole US.
Life seemed to reoccurring point me in the direction of California. Maybe I could live there and try this music game out for real but having a wife and being around 28 years old, the time for being completely broke chasing a dream didn’t sit quite right with me. Especially with moving to one of the most expensive place to live on the planet. I had a home and my wife owned two business’. I couldn’t just be selfish and uproot both of our lives. So the project and my relationship with Doc grew into some weirder directions seeing that we couldn’t relate to each others situations and we didn’t know how to perpetuate success on the album without living nearby and playing shows and shows and shows. We still tried and we actually did two small tour runs. One in California and one in New York/New Jersey all to very small crowds. I’m not complaining necessarily as I’d never done that before and these were some of my very first times on a stage. You definitely can’t expect to just go from writing an album to then playing shows in front of thousands of people but I guess I expected more than five people to be at some of the shows.
And so we arrive more or less back to now… That was quite the trip from where I started but I wanted to tell my story. The past six years now I’ve been teaching people how to sing. I’m good at it and my students love me. It’s a cool feeling and way better than any job I’ve ever had but it’s not the dream by any means. Teaching music is a weird thing and sometimes it’s scary because we’ve all seen the older 80’s musician guy that never “made it” so he just teaches his ass off and kinda resents his students. I don’t wanna be that guy but it’s also strange because I haven’t really had any success. I’m literally teaching people how to do what I do but it hasn’t really done anything for me but make me a good teacher. Isn’t that sorta weird? “Listen to me…trust in what I say and one day you too can…ya know….teach others haha”. I also play multiple instruments, have 30,000 dollars invested in a recording studio space and I can write, mix, record and sing well. Most people will never push themselves to that area of expertise but…who knows, it’s weird…all I’m saying.
I’m putting out a new album. The response to this album has so far been way worse than anything I’ve ever put out. I’ve been working on music now collectively for about 10 to 11 years. Pouring everything I have into yet another album to only have it be received so minimally sends my mind wandering into many places.
Last week was the first time in my life I’ve actually considered quitting writing music. It was a scary feeling because it actually felt kind of good. The chasing, the ego, the wanting respect, the desire to share and help others through art, the vulnerability…all of it gone but then who am I without it? It’s all I’ve ever really cared about…. Now don’t get me wrong, the amount of work I’ve put into my dream can be absolutely minuscule compared to some others but either way, how many albums and years have to pass with absolutely no success or financial return of any kind before it starts to actually become embarrassing? How old can I get before I’m the loser at the party that still thinks he’s a music guy and is really good but has nothing to show for himself? All the years of youtube views and comments. All the emails and messages commending me on my good work. So many “fans” saying things like “awesome work, don’t give up. Keep going!” All those comments now, with no one willing to back up their fandom with actual money, feel like a harder and harder pat on the back; a pat that slowly becomes a shove with me standing on a cliff. It’s everyone saying “I like you, but you’re not worth my money.” People actually believe now that they’re supporting music and art by “sharing” it or by even just watching a video and clicking thumbs up. We’ve all been there too. We’ll see a video about animal abuse or a really worthy cause and we’ll click “I like this” and feel better. HOLY HELL! Could more effort be mustered?? Still we feel a slight sense of completion. That’s like seeing a guy get hit by a car and you give him a thumbs up. “I see you buddy…good luck with that broken ass.”
Anyway, my attitude has always been as follows: I have to write music. Its something that I need to do to survive. I need to express these feelings so whatever success or failures I have I will continue moving forward. As I’m aging now though and I see this diseased culture I’m not sure how I want to proceed. My work regardless of whether it takes me years of weeks will continue to be received like everything else; it will be consumed quickly and folks will move on leaving nothing behind but a thumb up or a comment (if I even get that lucky). I have a wife and a home… I’m always wanting like most people to build a better life. I need to make money in order to do that.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading about my life. It’s cool to share with people about these matters. A friend of mine recently said he thought people would benefit from hearing my story and I’m all for helping folks so, here it is. As I’ve said many times in the past, art is a higher form of communication. Some of us even claim to receive our works from higher sources (myself included). Having said that art is also the voice of our collective consciousness; the voice of the people and forces around us. If you look at popular music and art right now…people are not saying much. It’s all been dumbed down to fill a fleeting need. I’m at the gym, I feel sad, I wanna party. That’s about the extent of it. The rest of 2018 I’ll mostly be putting my efforts into building a vocal program for people to purchase as well as singing god damn everything. I’m going to be putting the majority of my efforts into my voice and sharing it. If there’s one thing people can’t deny in this world (for the most part) it’s a good voice. I happen to have a good voice but because of my artistic integrity and stubbornness I haven’t covered or shared it that much. I’m at a point now where I don’t care haha. So look for those videos and if you wanna learn how to sing…that info is coming too. Things are definitely looking up…