Aug 232014
 

frustrated SkafishMany of you already know that I have quite a large back catalog of both unreleased and previously released material that is currently unavailable. With some of it, like What’s This? 1976 – 1979 and Bootleg 21-35, I’ve been able to successfully get it out there. At the same time, there are still many other compositions and recordings I’m in the process of trying to release, including my first and second album.

From time to time, I go into the archives and check out how something hits me again. Earlier this spring, I decided to listen to several unreleased tracks I recorded back in 2003-2004. I wanted to see how they hit me and if they might be worth getting out there. These are tracks which I recorded at home, where I did all the singing, instruments, production, recording, arranging, and most of the engineering.

One of them really caught my attention more strongly this time. It’s a cover of the Monkees classic, [I'm Not Your] Steppin’ Stone. Recorded by everyone from Paul Revere and the Raiders to the Sex Pistols, it’s a song that I feel has a lot of edge and still holds up well today. It also takes me back to my childhood when the Monkees television show captured such a free-spirited, idyllically cool and fun vibe. When I used to watch the show, I thought to myself, “I’m too weird to be in a band like this, but wouldn’t it be fun?”

So I started the wheels turning in my mind. I thought that it could be a great idea to get the track mastered, do a video, and release it as a single – just for fun. Doing a video, even if that was just a simple performance clip, was crucial. But I knew that I had to have a video, so people could check the song out online, especially on You Tube. If not, how would anyone hear it? Recent studies show that 91% of all people listen to a song on You Tube before buying it, and discover their music there.

So I started researching who owns the copyright to the song and how to get in touch with them, so I could request a video sync license. You may already know this, but everyone is supposed to get a video sync license, in writing, to be able to put up a video when doing a cover of someone else’s song.

I discovered that the publishing is owned by EMI, who is actually owned by Sony/ATV, one of the largest publishers in the world. In mid-June, 2014, I put in a call. I was surprised that my call was returned within an hour by a helpful and nice lady. In that conversation, I explained my situation and told her that I am an independent artist, without financial backing from any outside entity (such as a record label), who wanted to post a low-budget promotional video to my cover version of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” After a lengthy conversation, she told me how to contact their license request hotline, and that they would be able to direct me on how to complete the process. She indicated that they always like to grant licenses, and even added that I might be able to get it for free!

Once I filled out the request form online, I was contacted via email by someone named Ryan Saylor who was supposed to assist me in this process. We started an email exchange, where I explained my situation again. What was odd, though, was that Ryan’s emails kept asking the same questions I had just answered. “Where will the video be shown?” was one of his responses to an email where I had just answered that very question. Like I had just written to him, I wanted to post the video online on my You Tube channels, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Skafish.com, my blog, my Facebook pages, and on my social media accounts. After several emails, he told me it would cost me $1250.00 per year, EVERY YEAR, to post the video online. Keep in mind that I wanted a license in perpetuity, not just for one or two years. So, at ten years, that’s $12, 500.00. At thirty years, it adds up to $37, 500.00. That’s just to post the video online, not sell it in a DVD package or make money from it directly.

I wrote back and told him I didn’t have that kind of budget for this. I asked if we could negotiate, and that I heard in some cases the license could be had for free. He didn’t write back. I waited for weeks, and then I put in a call to him and left a message. I even told him to just please let me know, yes or no, either way, so I could either proceed with this project or move on to something else. Still, no response….

At this point, we’re going on almost two months and I decided to call the lady I originally spoke with again. She got in touch with Ryan and he told her several times that he was going to call me – but he didn’t. Days later when I spoke with her again, she told me what Ryan Saylor said the terms would be, which was quite startling.

I was told that I can post the video to You Tube for free, but only on You Tube. That term is based on a deal that Sony/ATV and You Tube struck. It supposedly allows anyone to post a video of a cover song from the Sony/ATV catalog on You Tube. However, it was made clear to me that they don’t really like people knowing about this “deal.”

So, to recap these “terms,” I can only post a video on You Tube. I would not be able to post anywhere else, such as Vimeo, or even my own website. It wasn’t clear whether I could embed the video from You Tube on other sites. I also have no idea whether I could run ads on the clip, or if Sony/ATV would puts ads on my video.

However, here’s the real shocker: They refused to put it in writing. No contract, not even an email stating that I could post it for free on You Tube. HUH? Are you kidding me? That leaves me completely vulnerable to copyright infringement lawsuits, trouble with You Tube (all they would have to do is ask me to show them proof that I have the rights to post the video), and the idea that at any point, Sony/ATV might have a spat with You Tube and force my video (along with any others done this way) to be yanked. I would have zero recourse.

Keep in mind that Sony/ATV is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They explicitylty know that contracts are a necessary part of doing business. Everyone at that level in the music industry knows that there needs to be a written agreement for this type of thing. When I put up my video on You Tube to “Disgracing the Family Name,” which I own entirely, You Tube made me prove to them, in writing, that I was the copyright owner.

So I was left with the reality that the agents of Sony/ATV won’t, can’t, or aren’t willing to put it in writing. After over two months of phone calls, emails, waiting, and several unsuccessful attempts to have one conversation with Ryan Saylor, I had no choice but to give up the project. There was no way I was going to put up a video of my version of someone else’s song without a written agreement, especially because of You Tube’s rules.

I would love to let you hear the song, but unfortunately, I would have to buy a license from Sony/ATV for that, too.

Of course, it’s disappointing, but there is a bigger issue at play here. As many of you may know, there is a compulsory license law that allows someone to do a cover song. Meaning, if a song has been already released, even just once, anyone can do a cover of the song, as long as they get the license and pay for it. So even if I got a free license to post a promotional video to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” Sony/ATV would have made money from every copy of the song I sold.

I believe that we need the exact same thing for video. If there could be a compulsory license with a uniform fee, everyone would have the chance to put a video out there, the artistic community would be more enriched, and the copyright owners would get paid — it’s a win-win for everyone.

Well, until then, I am working on my next project – and of course, I’ll keep you posted.

Skafish

Dec 292013
 

IMG_20131228_202518I wanted to let you know that I just joined Instagram and I would love it if you followed me there — it would be great to have you on board. Here is the link and my first Instagram pic!

instagram.com/skafish#

To a fantastic 2014 for you — Skafish

Dec 072013
 

For those of you who missed it the first time, or for those of you who want to share the experience again, here is the complete Skafish Midwest Beat NPR interview with host Tom Lounges that originally aired December 3, 2013 on Lakeshore Public Radio. On the show, we discussed and listened to tracks from my first holiday jazz album, Tidings Comfort & Joy: Jazz Piano Trio Christmas The callers were just amazing, and for me, it was a truly magical time.

Click here to listen:

Skafish NPR interview…..

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Walking out the door pre-show.

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with show host Tom Lounges

With show host Tom Lounges.

Special thanks to Tom Lounges, Tavis, Dan, and everyone who took the time to call in and share their thoughts, memories and wishes! I hope you enjoy the show and leave a comment here. To a magical, prosperous and safe holiday season for you! — Skafish

Nov 282013
 

Join me this Tuesday, December 3, 2013, at 6 PM United States
Central Time, when I’ll be a guest on NPR Radio’s Midwest Beat with Tom Lounges. This special broadcast will be devoted to discussing and playing tracks from my first holiday jazz album, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy, a Jazz Piano Trio Christmas.” Call in to the show, say hello, and you’ll have a chance to be one of 5 lucky winners who will each win a copy of the album to brighten their holiday season.

Tune In on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 6 PM United States Central
Time on 89.1FM-The Lakeshore or stream the show live at
www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org/radio. You can call the show at
219-769-9577.

I have to say that recording and releasing “Tidings” has been one
of the highlights of my career, especially because it showcases
another side of my talent, which is my ability as a jazz pianist,
producer, composer and arranger. Although a huge departure from
what people had come to expect, it’s opened up a whole new avenue
of artistic expression and audience for me.

Hope you can tune in, and I truly wish you a safe, prosperous and
fantastic holiday season!

Skafish

Oct 232013
 

From 12 years of bullying and abuse in Catholic school to the controversy and violence that followed my band and I in the early days, to where the saga is at today, including industry tips for up and coming musicians, it’s all here in my recent Podcast conversation with Sheldon Snow on Eclectic Max! I hope you enjoy the candid conversation and let me know what you think! — Skafish

Sep 172013
 

Check out the recent review of BOOTLEG 21-35 by Jake Austen in Roctober Magazine. As many of you already know, the bootleg is a live recording of my 21st birthday party concert at Ratso’s in Chicago on August 29, 1977.

The recording was released digitally 35 years later to the day on August 29, 2012. Click here to read the review:

Enjoy the madness — Skafish

Sep 082013
 

Most of us don’t go into being an artist with any sense of preparation for criticism and rejection. We have a dream; maybe it started in front of the mirror in our bedroom. Some of us fantasize the fame and fortune we crave as our ultimate form of validation. We may even believe that we’re on a special mission and we’re compelled to fulfill it. However, we get brought right back down to earth and blindsided by the inevitable criticism and rejection that always comes, no matter how talented we may be. I would assume that none of us like being criticized and rejected, regardless of the bravado we may wear as a shield of armor. As someone who has been through this more times than I can count, here are my suggestions on how to handle the criticism and rejection that we all have to face as artists, and still thrive.

Start by self-critiquing your own work. Did you play and sing badly? Did you hit bad notes? Were the songs well rehearsed? Could you have been more professional? Are you ready for prime time? What did you miss? Do you know what your music is trying to communicate and are you pitching it to the right people? Record audio and video of your work and look at it as dispassionately as you can (this is not science, but always good to aim for as much objectivity as you can). Since there is always room for improvement, what areas do you still need to work on?

If a performance didn’t go well, were you perhaps in the wrong venue or playing the wrong style to the wrong audience? Remember the video of that wonderful scene from the “Blues Brothers” where Jake and Elwood are standing behind chicken wire singing “Rawhide” and everyone is throwing things at them? In this movie, here are these guys who loved the blues, yet by performing in a country bar, it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s not about the talent, but about the match between the artist and the audience.

Boy, did l learn this lesson the hard way many times. One of the greatest mismatches I went through as a performer was on February 4, 1977, when my band and I opened for 1950s nostalgia rockers “Sha Na Na” at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. What happened with it clearly being the wrong venue playing the wrong style to the wrong audience? The 6,000 member audience threw things, rioted, attempted to rush the stage and someone from the audience pointed a gun directly at me. The Chicago police forcibly stopped the show.

So whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time or not, be open and willing to always self-critique your own work, regardless of how successful you are or may become.

Some artists are simply too oversensitive to any form criticism, whether from themselves or others. The ego, necessary to being a performer, can also have the reverse effect of hindering us from improving our art through being defensive, closed to input and in denial of what we need to work on.

When someone criticizes and rejects your art, for most of us, our first reaction is to take it personally and have an internal reaction. Your emotions and ego get engaged, you feel upset, pissed off, hurt, etc. However, you have to be able to at least cope with this, and hopefully, learn from it.

Instead of being oversensitive and closed, ask yourself if there is any merit to the criticism? The reason I pose this question is because there is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. If somebody is coming from a constructive place, it’s at least worth considering their opinion. Even then, though, some well-intention critiques may not be that valid or helpful, but it’s still important to be open to what is being said because something may be able to be learned.

It’s a completely different matter, though, when the criticism and rejection are destructive. If someone doesn’t like you, your style or art, if you happen to push their buttons or walk into their ego and defenses, or if your work is ahead of its time, many will attack. Never forget that art that is ahead of its time is always rejected in its time, and that genius is not for the masses. Since most people don’t function on the genius level, they can’t grasp or resonate with an artist who does.

In those instances, the criticism and rejection may be personal, prejudicial and highly biased by nature. Instead of someone just saying that they just don’t relate to or understand your work, they can engage in attack. This way, the artist looks inferior and wrong while the critic looks superior and right. They’ll usually be clever enough to claim what they’re saying is because of your lack of talent, bad performance, derivative songs, etc., and not personal by nature.

Because what I did was so different, I’ve gotten some really nasty and hateful reviews in my time. One of the most vicious ones came in February, 1978, when David Witz wrote a deliberately scathing article of my band and I in the Chicago Reader titled, “The Importance of Fleeing Skafish.” In the piece, he spoke of how awful it was that “Skafish” was representing Chicago, and how horrible that was for the city, especially because my band and I had already played places like New York. He referred to me as someone who couldn’t decide if I was a fat ugly 12 year old boy or a fat ugly 12 year old girl. He issued an impassioned plea for everyone to stop coming to my shows. He mentioned that my band could only play one chord together.

It is worth nothing that the band he was referring to includes a bass player who has been a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago for over 25 years and has a Master’s Degree from the Julliard School of Music (one of the most prestigious schools on earth). That “one-chord band” also featured a drummer who at the time had a Bachelor’s Degree in Percussion from De Paul University. He is also the drummer that Iggy Pop snatched up as his touring drummer in the early 1980s.

Just like with David Witz’s highly personal attacks on me, you don’t have a chance as an artist – it’s not a fair fight. When that’s the case, you must remind yourself to consider the source and try to rise above such rejection. Even though it is personal by nature, try to not take it personally. Do your best to disregard what is said, because it is not coming from any semblance of objectivity.

Clearly, no matter who you are and what you do, no matter how great your art may be, everyone will not like it. They can’t. That’s because everyone is at different levels of consciousness and evolution on earth, therefore, something as subjective as one’s taste in art will also vary.

What’s always important, though, is how YOU react and deal with criticism and rejection as an artist. If you observe your reactions honestly, not defensively, you can learn about yourself, your art, and work toward improvement.

After being criticized and rejected, how have you reacted? Did you make excuses for yourself, like saying you just had a bad night on stage, or that the monitors weren’t right? That is not acceptable. To the person watching you perform, all they know is that the performance wasn’t very good. A great live performer is like a championship athlete, who no matter what, manages to get the job done. Did you engage in self-pity, based on your art and/or your life not going well? That is also not acceptable. Has criticism and rejection helped you to lose your focus as an artist, hold back your performing intensity, songwriting, musicianship, or singing? Worse yet is when one gets angry, acts out, or escapes through alcohol, drug use, and self-destruction.

If these are some of the issues you’re contending with, here are some suggestions:

Learn about yourself and how you react and work on healing those issues. Try to be OK with your art and believe in yourself. At the same time, accept criticism for what it is, especially when it’s coming from a centered perspective. Try to not get defensive because that turns you into a victim and a martyr, which will distort your entire perspective on art and life. Learn all the time, and don’t allow rejection the power to define you in a negative way. Instead, try to have a non-attached attitude, improve your art and make the journey on your terms.

Ask yourself if you really want rejection by someone else to define or interfere with your sense of who you are as an artist and as a person. In most instances, the internalization of rejection (without working on improving your art) will in one way or another adversely affect you. It will suppress, hold back and diminish your openness, light, power and expression. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s awfully hard to deliver as an artist and learn to get better, whether as a performer, songwriter, singer, or in any capacity.

When criticism and rejection is repetitive and coming from multiple sources, it can become overwhelming. In those instances, some artists try to compromise their art and its message as a way of seeking approval. It’s hard for me to put into words how horrible I think this is.

It is the artistic equivalent of changing your hair style because your neighbor made a snotty comment, hiding your sexuality because your family won’t approve of it, or dressing more conservatively because people will make fun of your appearance. As an artist, this sense of approval-seeking compromise will take the light, bite, emotions and power out of the work, and make it what your haters want, which is to suppress it, sanitize it and tone it down.

Sometimes, one can take the rejection and channel it into something positive. For example, when Michael Jackson’s album “Off the Wall” album didn’t garner as much acclaim as he wanted, he took that sense of “rejection” and deliberately channeled into his desire to create a huge blockbuster, and he did so with his next album, “Thriller.”

An artist can write a song about the rejection and channel their feelings in that way: The Sex Pistols joyously lampooned the record label that dropped them on the track “EMI.” In that sense, they got the last laugh.

It’s one thing to do your best to become immune to rejection, but another to not be open to constructive criticism and get toughened in the wrong way. Sometimes we go on the offensive, act out, and shut down to the joy that fueled our art in the first place. Toughness can also make one a really not nice person, which in my opinion, is never a good thing. It also adversely affects one’s art systemically, because closing down positive parts of you is not good for any part of the creative process.

Sometimes, an artist may try to counteract the criticism and rejection they may be experiencing through the media, the public, or through diminishing record sales by surrounding themselves with “yes men.” In need of approval, the artist may self-insulate and surround themselves with those who will tell them whatever they want to hear. Imagine how many people told Michael Jackson that he was here to heal the world and save all the children on earth. This type of situation is so dangerous because the artist might start believing what they are told! For me, “yes men” have no place in my life, and if you’re an artist, I would recommend that they have no place in yours, either.

Instead of “yes men,” surround yourself with honest friends and those who will tell you what they really feel. A truthful opinion with love is a priceless gift. If you write a song that is not any good, a valued person will tell you so, albeit in the nicest way possible. That sense of rejection is constructive criticism. Also, these should ideally be people who have something of value to offer. There is a difference between an acclaimed record producer giving you an opinion versus a snotty critic who for the most part, hates everything.

Through all of the different aspects of criticism and rejection and learning to deal with it correctly, here is a great way to not only survive it all, but to prosper: always come back to the real foundation of why you became an artist in the first place. That was because you loved it and you found magic in it. You experienced a sense of belonging, purpose, meaning and connection. You felt release, catharsis, freedom, excitement, and transcendence — and perhaps the best reason of all – was because you had fun. — Skafish

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