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November 30, 07

How to have a longer bow

"It's not that I have a longer bow - it's just that I have better math!"


- Quote from Pam Frank on better bow distribution for longer notes. Classic!

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November 29, 07

A Sure-Fire Way to becoming a Millionaire Musician

The other day, during a chamber music rehearsal, some of the students starting talking about one of Curtis' hotshot pianists who is currently enjoying a fantastic international solo career with one of the industry's highest-octane managements. Evidently, this person has an obsession with clothes shopping, buying hats like Amelda Marcos bought shoes, and even racked up an $800 cell phone bill at one point. The kids sighed and pined that it must be nice to have such a career to be able to afford that kind of lifestyle.

At this point, my Dave Ramsey-indoctrinated motor-mouth kicked in, pointing out that if this person didn't get a hold of their finances immediately, they would be soon spending their way into fiscal - and professional - oblivion.

I can't think of a single music student that doesn't have the starry-eyed dream of winning a major orchestra job, or being picked up by a big management for a superstar solo career, thinking that such a move would be the answer to all their financial dreams forever-and-ever-amen. But with ever increasing numbers on the classical music "supply" end of the chain and diminishing "demands" on the other, winning major jobs and getting major management is becoming more and more akin to winning the mega-million lottery. Even the folks who are enjoying careers in the big orchestras (and i know several) will attest that most of them are up to their eyeballs in debt, and that orchestra life is akin to working in a Dilbert-esque cubicle, with conductors for "bosses" (shudder). On the other hand, few people see the un-glamorous side of touring as a soloist: running like crazy through airports to catch connecting flights (or waiting for delayed ones), dealing with late or missing baggage, holing up in miserable hotels, ordering Chinese food or Chef-Boyardee cans for affordable meals between concerts, wondering how in the world one is supposed to come away with anything after travel expenses, lodging, food, taxes, and management take their bites out of paltry artist fees.

Rather than pin all one's hopes and dreams on winning pie-in-the-sky jobs that don't actually pay that much, i proposed to the students that they begin thinking about sound financial principles, like spending less than they earn, staying away from credit cards, and investing 15% of their income into growth financial products like mutual funds.

According to Dave Ramsey, the average family income in America today is $40,000 per year. I'm going to borrow one of his financial examples and have a little fun breaking that down into terms an average musician can work with, one that doesn't enjoy a big orchestra job or a major solo (or chamber ensemble) career.

$40,000/year breaks down to about $3,333 per month. If i were to offer private lessons at $40 per lesson, i would need to teach 83 lessons per month, or about 20-21 lessons per week - roughly 4-5 lessons a day, and that's leaving my weekends completely free! Even if i were to be more modest with my lesson fee - say, teaching at only $25 per lesson, i would only need to teach 33 lessons per week - the extra 13 lesson load could easily be added onto a Saturday (the most popular teaching day for musicians, btw), or spread out so that weekdays have 5 lessons each and Saturdays would only have to have 8.

$40,000 doesn't sound like a lot, i know...but hold on. Let's say i'm really good about staying away from debt and have the discipline to invest 15% of that income into good mutual funds which average a 12% rate of return over the long haul, starting from the age of 20 fresh out of Curtis - i mean, college. 15% of $40,000 is $6,000 per year, or a monthly withdrawal of only $500 ($125 per week, if you want an even smaller breakdown). With the magic of compound interest (and using a cool online compound interest calculator from www.monkeychimp.com),
we can see that even if this poor musician never has another student added to his teaching load - even if he never wins that fabled job, or get recognized for his amazing talent by IMG - if he can maintain his investing discipline, by the time this person is ready to retire at age 65, his investment nest egg will be worth $10,111,231.44.

Let me repeat that number: Age 65 = $10,111,231.44.

Ok, so you know that most musicians tend to hang around and teach way past the age of 65 - average cut off age tends to be 80. At age 80, with no significant career improvement and no increase in teaching fees, this musician will then be worth $55,595,009.88.

Let me repeat. $55,595,009.88.

No orchestra job, no solo career, no platinum records breaking all sales records. Just a humble teacher, teaching a handful of students each week, being wise with his money and disciplined with his savings and investments.

For a more humble look at just making your first million, you would be 46 years old with $1,124,484.47.

Yes, i'm really kicking myself for not having known this when i was a 20-year old fresh out of Curtis. But there's no better time to start like the present!

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November 23, 07

Post Turkey-Day Thoughts

Um...how NOT to fry a turkey...or better yet, just DON'T -



Alton Brown has a better turkey frying method, but i think i completely lost interest after the zip tie step...no entree should be THIS much trouble...



Alton Brown from Food Network TV, by the way, has the hands-down best turkey recipe i've ever run across - it was a repeat hit at last night's Sung household with all its briny goodness leaving nary a nibblet leftover on our 13 pound bird.

ShopRite, our local supermarket chain, has a terrific accompanying website that has a great selection of recipes with javascript shopping list generators. Free membership signup is required - the Herbed Beef Tenderloin and Caesar Salad with Cilantro and Green Chile Dressing recipes were especially delicious compliments to our meal. This was my first time cooking a 4 pound beef tenderloin and i didn't realize it would cook as quickly as it did - fortunately, my trusty probe thermometer did its job and kept the beef nicely medium rare.

Kyungmi and i had entirely too much fun cooking together yesterday, with a wonderful evening spent with family and dear friends from church - i hope your Thanksgiving holiday is filled with love, gratitude, blessed contentment - and an absence of turkey fryers!



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November 19, 07

Under the Microphone: Tales and Tips on Recording CD's

This has been an incredibly busy few months with recording projects. Last month saw me shuttling back and forth to Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where i recorded the Janacek and Hindemith violin & piano sonatas with Victor Danchenko.

Recording setup in Friedberg Hall, Peabody Conservatory

Violinist Victor Danchenko

Posing with Tablet PC and Piano in Friedberg Hall

Our engineer extraordinaire was Ed Tetreault, who did a fine job of locating the acoustic "sweet spot" with his beautiful set of Neumann microphones.

Ed Tetreault on the far right, placing microphones

A gorgeous set of Neumann microphones
Note how the microphones are turned slightly away from center - that helped to give a wider stereo pan and a "fuller" tone to the recording. Here's a shot of the internal microphone setup for the piano:

Internal piano mike setup

Peabody has an amazing audio tech setup with a terrific Sony mixing board and even one of those dummy-head microphones that is supposed to produce incredible stereoscopic recordings by simulating the physics of the human head! I'll try to dig up my pictures from our previous session working on the Shostakovich sonata (must be in one of my other computers...) Ed was talking about me coming back down to Peabody for a tech lecture and demonstration at some point next semester for the recording arts students, so i'll keep y'all posted if that comes to pass.

Fast forward to last week, which found me spending about 3.5 days in New York City recording an album of Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar at the prestigious Clinton Recording Studios in Manhattan.

Recording Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar

Everything about this project was high-end top quality - we worked with Da-Hong Seetoo, perhaps the finest classical music recording engineer in the field today with several Grammy's under his belt (Da-Hong produced most of my CD's to date with Aaron Rosand and Jeff Khaner).

Da-Hong Seetoo in his command chair, getting ready to beat us up in the studio

A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway was rented from Pro Piano, complete with piano technician who was constantly on hand to keep the instrument in tune and the hammers nicely scratched (Hamburgs tend to have very hard, densely compacted felts on their hammers - long lasting for sure, but with a tendency to sound a bit brittle unless scratched just so on top).

A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway, rented from Pro Piano

Of course, no Hamburg Steinway is complete without a Tablet PC...

Piano technician John from Pro Piano

The Clinton studios are the most sound-proof recording spaces i have ever come across in Manhattan. Bruce Springsteen apparently was just in the other day working on an album, and the space is used for a lot of orchestra movie music scores.

Maurice and Da-Hong across the street from Clinton Recording Studios

A phalanx of microphone boom stands

Crates full of AKG headphones and vocal wind pop screens

Isolation booth at Clinton Studios

There's even Ed Sullivan's old Steinway (American made) sitting in the studio - a nice, cozy instrument, warm to the touch and ear...

Ed Sullivan's old Steinway

Recording is always grueling work, and this project was certainly no exception. The great thing about having an engineer like Da-Hong is that he's able to make the sessions go by with great efficiency while catching all the details that need to be fixed with laser-like precision. Here are some cool new tips i picked up from this last session:

  • The best way to mute a violin for recording is to stick a rolled up dollar bill between the strings under the bridge (i'm sure a $20 bill will sound exponentially better...lol)

    Dollar Bill violin mute trick

    Detail of the dollar bill mute trick - note how the rolled bill slides under the D and A strings

    You won't believe how warm this makes the violin sound without muffling the high end! Apparently this is a trick well known by orchestra musicians who rush into rehearsals late with missing mutes...


  • The best way to stop a plucked string is with the fleshy part of your right thumb just in front of the bridge.


  • One way to estimate the time it will take to record and fully edit a CD project is with Da-Hong's "10-to-1 ratio" - in other words, he usually estimates that each hour of music will take about 10 hours to record; each hour of recording will subsequently take 10 hours to edit (for a total of 100 editing hours). Keep these numbers in mind when budgeting the use of a professional engineer for a top quality project.


  • Most musicians work best in 2 hour chunks. Sometimes this can stretch to 3 hours, but most folks usually burn out by that time and their playing deteriorates to the point where takes in the third hour become useless. Total daily output shouldn't exceed 8 hours (ex: 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, final 2 hours of recording, go back to hotel and crash for the day)


  • Virtually every CD project i've done takes up 3 days of recording. Budget your time, money, and energy accordingly.


  • Coffee=good. Candy=good. Complex carbs=good. I keep a constant supply of black coffee on hand, along with chewy sugar candies like Bit-O' Honey and Skittles or Fruity Mentos. Beware the post session sugar/caffeine crash though...


  • Keep a sense of humor through the session. Don't waste time apologizing for flubs and musical mishaps - s*tuff happens, get over it and do another take. Smile now. Weep later.


  • BTW, Da-Hong's new session setup allows him to record continuously and mark takes on the fly without interruption. This is an AMAZING way to record, as it keeps the work flow incredibly smooth and seamless! No more, "Hold on, let me get the machine rolling...ok...Brahms, movement two, take 12..." Every recording engineer should learn how he does this!



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    November 12, 07

    Self-Tuning guitar (wish they'd put this on pianos...)

    ...or on violins...or harps...especially harps...



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    Tablet PC sighting From the Top

    Well, whattaya know! i was sitting in my hotel room at Skidmore College the other day channel surfing when i came across the TV version of NPR's "From the Top", the PBS show featuring Classical Music kids and hosted by pianist Christopher O'Riley. I had heard the show on the radio a number of times, but never realized that there was a televised version, taped in front of a live audience at Carnegie Hall. So anyways, i'm watching the show and noticing that the music on Christopher's piano is awfully thin...and bright...and there's a funny cable snaking under the piano...



    Whoa! Looks like Christopher is using a Toshiba convertible Tablet PC (my best guess, given the color scheme and button layout) with the screen flipped around - note the double-page layout in portrait mode, allowing him to see two pages at a time instead of the single-page portrait mode that i use with my Fujitsu slate model. I'm curious about the pedal system he's using to turn the pages - i'll see if i can email him about that. Anywho, the Tablet PC is certainly much more aesthetically pleasing for the camera than having to flip pages by yourself (as you can see one of the young pianists doing in the above video) or having a huge wall of paper scores as in this other video of Christopher playing Elliott Smith:



    Ah! i just did a bit of research on Christopher's site and found from his 'comments' page that he is using a Gateway Tablet PC with the eStand music reader software and its accompanying footpedal.

    Now how cool is that?

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    November 08, 07

    Crazy days...

    Visual recital performance this past Monday at Inglis House with the Astral Piano Trio...another Visual Recital solo performance yesterday at the Hamilton School in North Philadelphia...have to start driving up early tomorrow morning to Saratoga Springs, NY for my recital with Gary Schocker and Jan Vinci later in the evening, sleep 3 hours then drive back home to drive kids to swim lessons Saturday morning, followed by a business lunch meeting and rehearsals for a CD recording project taking place next week in NYC...days of insanity are keeping me from updating this blog! Aack! Much to catch up on, just not enough breath to sit down and type...stay tuned, LOTS of neat stories to come...hopefully... No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    November 03, 07

    Going where the Cattle Graze: thoughts on YouTube marketing

    I've really enjoyed working with Blip.tv, given its multiple distribution capabilities and lack of time limits for video clips. In my heart, Blip.tv clearly wins in the 'technical functionality' category. Nevertheless, it's become pretty clear in the past month or so that the segments i've started to cross-post to YouTube have been attracting a much wider audience - pretty inevitable, i suppose, given that YouTube is the 3rd most visited site on the Internet (behind Yahoo and Google), according to Alexa.com's Global Top 500 list on 11/3/07.

    Chris Koenig, a Microsoft developer (or, more correctly, a "Breadth Developer Evangelist in Microsoft's South Central District" according to his site) just came across my first anniversary video demonstrating Tablet PC's and was kind enough to share it on his blog:



    This video of my interview with classical accordionist Lidia Kaminska seems to be approaching a "tipping point" of sorts - over 8,000 views as of this writing, and the number of views seems to be growing exponentially:



    This isn't to say that simply posting to YouTube will guarantee an audience - the following video seems to be suffering a "middle of the sandwich" syndrome of sorts, being a "part 2 of 3" from my Visual Recital workshop in Boulder, Colorado - it's a really nice montage of performance snippets at the 2007 Mad Cow Festival featuring various musicians and aerial dancers, but it's garnered zero views so far, compared to the higher viewership of part 1 and particularly part 3 (though that might get skewed now with this posting):



    Oops - it just jumped to 18 views from the start of my writing this article! LOL - the internet is reading my mind! :D

    Then again, some videos seem to garner lots of attention by simple association with a hot topic or product. The word "ipod" has much more to do with this clip garnering over 7,000 views than my ad hoc camera skills, i'm sure:



    I guess the lesson i'm coming away with is that while YouTube is a major contender for getting your work out in the public sphere, it still takes good ol' elbow grease to promote your material. I'm still committed to working with Blip.tv, as i really love the functionality of the site, but i'll be sure to continue my cross-posts to YouTube as well.





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    November 01, 07

    In the mix with the Classical Symphony of Philadelphia

    This week has been full of rehearsals with the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, billed as "Philadelphia's other great orchestra" and helmed by Karl Middleman.

    Here are some pictures from our rehearsals at the Settlement Music School, Mary Louise Curtis (South Philadelphia) branch:

    The renovated PNC Bank/Presser Hall is so much nicer now!
    Karl Middleman and the Philadelphia Classical Symphony players

    The ever ebullient Maestro Karl Middleman
    The ever ebullient Maestro Karl Middleman

    Concertmistress Hirono Oka
    working together with Concertmistress Hirono Oka

    Trumpet soloist Darin Kelly
    Trumpet soloist Darin Kelly


    PCS, which originated as a Mozart Orchestra, then as a period instrument ensemble, now has evolved to its current permutation as a nimble organization with a cutting-edge sense of programming and audience outreach. A terrific concert is being planned for tomorrow evening (Friday, Nov. 2) 8 pm at the Trinity Center for Urban Life, 22nd and Spruce Streets:

    Soloists Julianne Baird, soprano, and Darin Kelley, trumpet


    Hugo Wolf – Italian Serenade
    André Jolivet – Concertino for Trumpet, Piano & Strings
    Roger Quilter – To Julia
    Alessandro Scarlatti – Cantata for Soprano, Trumpet and Strings - Su le Sponde del Tebro
    Igor Stravinsky – Concerto in D


    I'll be busy with the Jolivet, that's for sure - tons of fiendish notes in that one! Believe it or not, i've actually worked on the piano reduction (HAH! more like "augmentation" compared to the original piano-only parts!) with trumpeters for several years, but i've never played it in the full setting with strings.

    The Quilter is a gorgeous set of "Hallmark-moment" love songs - lovely writing, really!

    For the Scarlatti, i'm bringing in my Roland RD-700SX and Muse Receptor embedded with a Harpsichord preset by Pianoteq modeled after a reproduction of an instrument by François Etienne Blanchet, "Château de Thoiry" (1733).

    My virtual Blanchet Harpsichord, thanks to Pianoteq and Muse Receptor

    This will be my first time playing in the Trinity Center space, which originally serves as an Episcopal church. This is a view of the building from across 22nd street:
    Trinity Center for Urban Life as viewed from 22nd Street

    ...and another view from the Spruce Street side, this being the main entrance:
    The Trinity Center from Spruce Street

    Astral Artistic Services uses this venue frequently to feature their roster of artists. The acoustics are marvelous for classical performances!

    Here are some pictures from our rehearsal earlier today:
    The PCS rehearsing at the Trinity Center

    PCS rehearsal from the players' point of view

    I couldn't resist trying to get a shot of the beautiful stained glass windows!

    Hope to see lots of you at the performance tomorrow night - it promises to be a terrific one!

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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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