Why It Sucks And It’s Awesome At The Same Time To Be A Performing Artist

I’ve been a performing artist for a few years now, be it solo with my guitar, with Solitaire Revival or doing spoken word poetry sometimes. Being on stage has its fair share of perks as well as challenges, just like anything else.  The experience of performing your own creations on stage, be it poetry, music, theatre, etc. is truly exhilarating and rewarding, no matter how much money one makes doing. I would know, being a musician that doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around. Since I always like to deliver the bad news first and the good last, I’ll start with why it sucks to be a performing artist:

WHY IT SUCKS:

1. Haters.

When I first started playing guitar I felt a little behind the curve, considering I was 18 going on 19 with absolutely zero musical experience or background, save for classes in school that never put an instrument into my hands. I never joined the school band, was not confident in my singing voice and didn’t know the first thing about guitars.

For the most part people were supportive. I learned from a friend how to play the basics and eventually took lessons, which amplified my progress a great deal. It wasn’t very fun though when I would encounter a few negative remarks here and there in regards to my new venture into becoming a musician.  Some people I would talk to about it would tell me that I had started too late and wouldn’t get anywhere. Starting a journey into an art form is a lot like wearing a new piece of clothing: many people admire the new look, but the few that notice that tiny little imperfection on the right sleeve are the few whose comments you can’t seem to forget.

I got a bit more flack when I started singing. I knew my voice was lackluster but I just did it anyway. I figured I wasn’t getting any younger and I have my whole life to improve, why not try and sing? Once again many of the people around me told me I sounded nice and to keep working at it, but the few people who told me I sounded horrible or shouldn’t try were the comments that stuck. I had one friend tell me that if I didn’t sound good already there was no point in trying.

I still getting the occasional negative comment on my Youtube channel or what have you, but I’ve learned to shake off the negativity and if anything to use it to improve my skills.

2. Finding places to perform.

In a place like New York City, there is no shortage of places to play by any means, but a lot of places want experienced artists. If I learned one thing from job searching this year it’s that you need to have experience to get more, and to initially get anywhere you need to be humble and start smaller than you may originally want to.  I began going to open mics and performing my original songs, starting with a very supportive crowd where I had my guitar lessons, The New York City Guitar School. There’s actually a video on Youtube of my very first performance there! My voice was very shaky and out of key, and I was extremely nervous but afterwards I felt the stagefright lift from my shoulders. I was lucky to have the resource of a supportive atmosphere for an open mic, because many musicians just starting out don’t know where to begin.

3. Hobby? Or Job?

Where I currently am on the spectrum of my musical career is trying to turn my favorite hobby, performing with my band, into a paid gig. It’s way harder than it seems to keep up with bandmates, draw enough people to get paid for live shows, pay for studio time, etc. Everyone in the band has their own personal, work, and/or edcucational endeavors to deal with in addition to the band, which is the case for most young musicians in any sort of musical group.  As a hobby it’s already an amazing experience, but the dream has always been to get paid to play one’s own music.  It takes a lot of hard work and diligence as well as creativity and good chemistry with the people around you to do this. It’s very hard to break through into paid gigs, but I’m sure if I acheive a level of skill where I can live solely off musical earnings the rewards will be vast.

 

WHY IT’S AWESOME:

1. Creativity coming to fruition

There’s nothing better than putting a brainchild of yours into the universe and having it received well by your peers, especially strangers who have never seen you before and will offer a truly unbiased opinion of your work.  I wrote most of the lyrics for my band’s songs as well as over 50 solo songs, and there’s nothing better than getting positive feedback from a song I wrote myself or had a part in creating somehow. Whether its someone rocking out to our music when we’re on stage or if it’s someone commenting on Youtube or Facebook that they like a video of mine, I feel the utmost appreciation for whoever sent that love my way, and love my own creations all the more at the same time.

2. Performing artists make great friends

It’s true. Many startup artists become friendly right away when in the same room, because no matter what venue of the arts one is in, the struggle is shared of looking for work, picking one’s own brain to write/compose more works of art, and most of all the all-too familiar feeling of being on stage where as proud and vibrant one may look, they are actually at their most vulnerable point. It’s one thing to be on one’s own at home, ‘woodshedding’, or practicing and rehearsing to yourself, but to share your art with others who do the same is one of the best pleasures I know. It’s so great to find someone new to jam with, to write poetry with, or to be in a band and to play a song together.  Also, I have found through my journeys as a musician that performing artists of any kind are usually the most chilled out people alive and are great to have around, whether you yourself are an artist or not.

3. Immortalization

Now I don’t mean that I’m invincible. What I mean is that hopefully after I’ve left this earth, my great grandkids will ask what I was like as a person, and someone down the line will have saved recordings of my music.  To publish art, be it paintings, illustration, jewelry, music, theatre, literature, means that it is out there in the universe and you never know where and for how long it will float around, but if you’re an artist of any sort you may like to think that your creative endeavors may have resonated somewhere with someone in the world and hopefully helped them somehow in their own life.

4. “Hey, I’m in the band,” is an excellent pickup line after a show. – RSM

Weird Dream Log 1

SO i had this very ridiculously weird dream.

I dreamt that I was in some town where I had a few friends and drug dealers would hang out with tables on the street selling some kind of drug that you smoked that wasn’t weed, and it was legal there. I remember being high on it the whole time I was dreaming. I remember seeing a lot of really odd happenings.

For instance, there would be cars that would pull up to places completely encased in a thin layer of white, wavy ice with layers. I remember parting ways and then rejoining groups of friends in different houses. the entire town was built on some plateau-like land. I remember going to the play ground in the town and it was completely normal that I was playing in the same place as little kids high off my mind.

Alot of people were my age and wore neon colored clothing. The weirdest part was that people would consciously engage in really odd behavior and it was just part of the town’s society and culture. So it was normal toward the end of the dream when I was sitting in a cafe with clear windows as walls to a neighboring firehouse.The firetruck in it had the look of a prop of a movie set and at one point I saw three guys put on yellow bicycle helmets and red and yellow children’s size backpacks and then 2 of them rode bikes into the night while the other jogged behind them. I asked someone who I was friends with in the dream what they were up to and i got a reply that went something like “Dude, yeah. That’s the fake firehouse. duh!”

Weirdest experience ever in a dream. – RSM

A Few Goals

I tend to be very ambitious when setting goals for myself. Especially in recent years I’ve adopted a ‘shoot for the moon’ mentality when writing down my dreams. In the word of an Emmett Smith biography I read in grade school, “Goals are just dreams until you write them down.”

Here are a few goals I would like to accomplish within a the next few years in my life:

– Complete a master’s degree in Spanish

-Complete a Ph.D in Linguistics

-Be fluent in 6 different languages in 6 years.

-Publish a novel within the next 3 years.

This is the first step in becoming a linguist. I want to master my native tongue at the level of an academic in order to better communicate with other Latinos, have better marketability in the job market and for personal peace of mind.  I’ve always wanted to be fluent in Spanish and have made leaps and bounds in learning the language as an undergrad.  I would like to eventually travel to Latin America when my Spanish skills are developed enough to get around by myself.  This will open the door to my next two goals. I would like to enroll in a New York City based college or university by the Fall of 2014 for an M.A. in Spanish.

-Complete a Ph. D in Linguistics.

I’ve always dreamed of speaking mulitple languages, and using this knowledge to travel the world.  I figured there’s no better way to study language than the field of linguistics.  I see it like this: I’m a musician and in order to learn how to play any instrument, one must have a working knowledge of music theory. Linguistics is the music theory of language.  This goal may take a while to complete but rest assured it will happen eventually.

-Be fluent in 6 languages in 6 years.

Although it may sound very challenging on paper, this goal will work hand in hand with the first two.  I’ve picked up different languages while studying abroad very fast and have learned that full blown immersion is the best way to learn a language.  I want to be able to speak, write, read and understand Spanish, French, Japanese, Cantonese, and Arabic apart from already knowing English.  With any of those three languages mastered, I could land a job translating, pehaps even for the U.N. That would be amazing. I figured I have 6 years and change to master 5 languages, 2 of which I have studied before and one (Spanish) I already know pretty well.  My goal is to be fluent in all of these by the time I’m 30.

-Publish a novel within the next 3 years.

My lifelong goal has been to become a published author. Techinically I have many published works already in the field of journalism, but I would like to take my authorship a step further into the realms of fiction and non-fiction.  I would love to write any and every kind of novel, and already have a few solid ideas and short stories to build on.  Although many may say print is dead, that is not the case at all for the written word itself.  The way I see it, like many industries the publishing industry is being changed by recent technological progress we have acheived as a society and will continue to grow albeit in a slightly different avenue from that of the traditional.  Whether it’s in print or if it’s on a Nook or Kindle, my goal is to become a bestselling author at some point in my life.

Hopefully one day I’ll look back at this post and reminisce about my journey toward accomplishing all of these.  I guess until then, I’ll have to take it step by step and hope, and work for the best outcome. Peace -RSM

What is Latin Alternative?

Latin Alternative is an umbrella genre for many different styles of Spanish-language modern day music across a vast array of sounds, countries and musical subgenres. Anything from rock music like pop-rock, alt. rock, rap and club music like reggaeton, 3bal, ruidoson, and other EDM variations, and even as far as Spanish reggae could fall under the meta-genre that is Latin Alternative.The name Latin Alternative usually is used in the United States to refer to all these different genres, although each sub-genre sounds very different from the next.

Personally, my favorite genre of music is alt. rock, and the case is no different when it comes to Latin Alternative.  Here’s an example, with a song from one of my favorite bands, Libido:

Notice the mellowed out intro and harmonious vocals, abruptly turning up the intensity at the pre chorus to an emotional ballad-like tone. Definitely an alt. rock feel. Libido is a Peruvian band that started in the late 90’s and remained active and very popular through the 2000s.

I have a soft spot for Shakira’s early stuff as well, when she sounded more badass and less like the Top 40. Here’s one of my favorites of her olden days:

Here you hear palm muting guitars, and basslines matching with acoustic and electric guitar melodies. Also, the video is pretty trippy, bro.

Moving onto another realm under the Latin Alternative banner is Spanish reggae. My personal fave is Manu Chao, a socially aware Spanish reggae musician who sings in English and French sometimes as well as Spanish:

The smooth, wavy sounds and ska-like rhythms are reggae signatures, mixed in with Spanish lyrics and guitar melodies.  Very cool stuff.

A very interesting side of Latin Alternative music are 3bal and ruidoson, two genres of EDM mixed with traditional Central American rhythms, often fused with cries against political corruption and economic imbalances in Mexico. Here’s an article I wrote about these two developing musical genres.

Some artists and bands to check out are Juanes, Mana, Ataque 77, Rata Blanca, and a little something by yours truly (and please forgive the bad Spanish):

Peace – RSM

What I Learned In College

Consider this a bit of a warning, juxtaposed with a ‘those were the days’ kind of piece. Kids, in the summer of 2008 I began my first semester of college at St. John’s University. It was awesome. I lived in the residence halls my first year and a half, went to Europe for the length of my 4th semester and joined a fraternity the following year. I kept my grades in good shape until my tomfoolery got the best of me.  My grades began to decline while the good times increased; with my eyes nowhere near the prize I inevitably lost sight of the main goal, which was graduating with the credentials and honors needed to make me stand out in the job market.  Although I made up for lost time in epic fashion I still fell short of my ultimate goal and consider my time as an undergrad, albeit an experience of a lifetime, an academic failure, due to a lack effort and a skewed set of priorities which led to an imbalance of fun over work. Don’t get me wrong; I still graduated, I still had fun, still went to a great school and made lasting connections, had memorable experience and learned a lot. Some may call me a perfectionist, but I feel like I could have done better. This sentiment haunts me every time I apply for job, look at my degree or reminisce about the times where my pen and paper should have been busier than my party schedule.

I started out strong my first two years at St. John’s. After my first four semesters I had a 3.2 GPA and had a few academic organization memberships under my belt, not to mention the study abroad trip of a lifetime which sent me to three different European cities over a span of four months.  The following year, my junior year I joined a fraternity on campus, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for all the right reasons (no sarcasm intended). I learned about my culture and historical background on an unprecedented scale and felt a new sense of pride in my Puerto Rican roots.  The catch, however was that once I finished my pledging process I stopped caring about my grades for that semester, the cardinal sin of being a neophyte, a.k.a. a new member of a fraternity or sorority.  As my ‘neo summer’ began, my stellar academic record’s golden age was coming to an end, and little did I know would enter a dark age which took several semesters, summer courses and CLEP exams to correct.

In the Spring of 2011 I let procrastination spill over into finals’ week, which is like a soldier going into battle unarmed. I was on an academic suicide mission all due to my own thirst for good times via wild parties, a thirst all fueled by my irresponsibility.  I failed three courses in the Spring of 2011, bringing my GPA down to a 2.8. I was devastated and disappointed in myself. I could have passed every course I had failed with a C at the very least. I knew I was harder working and more intelligent than to have three Fs show up on my grade report, but then again “Your grades are not given, they are earned,” said every teacher ever. I had never failed a course before in my life.

The following semester the pressure was on the redeem myself. It was my senior year, I was behind in credits and I was in danger of losing my partial scholarship. I balked epically at the chance, but had just enough success to barely keep me going.

I got caught up in the party life, this time worse than before. I was Jay Gatsby of St. John’s, focused on the vanity and the craziness that would not matter after I was finished with my undergraduate career. My grades, however, mattered very much and were declining at an ever more rapid rate. I passed 9 credits worth of CLEP exams to make up for the three classes I had failed the previous semester. The catch (there’s always a catch) was that I had to withdraw from all of my  classes in order to not completely ruin my GPA, except for one class that I had not fell completely behind in.

The stage was set in what I hoped would still be my last semester as a Johnnie before I graduated. After two semesters of crazy nights and horrible grades I took it upon myself to try and right my wrongs.  I took on 27 credits in one semester. That’s right, 27. I took 6 classes, amounting to 18 credits, plus 9 credits of CLEP exams. I was not easy and although I tried I fell slightly short, failing a class and earning 24 credits instead.  I toned down the good times in West Egg, although my shenanigan-ridden shindigs still went on from time to time.  I had 4 credits left before I graduated, enough to be able to walk across the stage with my class at the May 2012 commencement.

I felt like I didn’t deserve it. Any of it. All the praise I got that day, my family coming out to see me on campus, my sophomore and junior friends hugging me and saying “Congratulations!!” felt like a total sham.  Call me a perfectionist, but I felt like my commencement was ruined by no one else but the man in the mirror. I was determined to make that change and finish up strong.

The following semester I registered late and had no choice but to take 2 classes with professors that I was not on very good terms with; one professor I had not worked meshed well with and would often skip class and come in unprepared during my Spring 2011 semester, and the other professor was the only professor whose class I had failed during my 27 credit crusade. I had to juggle morning classes 3 times a week in Queens, a part-time job at Union Square in Manhattan and being part of a band complete with gigs all over the city, all the while living at the very top of The Bronx.

It was the best semester I ever had, save for my time Europe.  I came into the Fall 2012 semester deeply embarrassed that I was what the kids nowadays call a ‘super senior.’ I was surprised to find out that many 2012ers like myself had gone the ‘whole nine,’ semester-wise and I was not alone in my plight to finish a bit past the 4 year expectation.  I loved my classes. I studied diligently and really immersed myself in my coursework. I finished my final semester with an A- and a B+, the latter grade coming from the class I had failed the semester before.

I am now proud to say that I officially graduated with the class of January 2013. It wasn’t easy and wasn’t perfect, but I did what I had to do and got the job done.

A few lessons can be learned from my experience. I had many moments of self reflection, challenges galore as well as good times, ultimately forming a novel’s worth of memories and experiences to cherish. Here are some lessons that I learned in college, in a few short phrases:

“All work and no play make Jack dull boy, but no work and all play might make Jack fail out of school.”

“Life is what you make it; you get out what you put in.”

“Balance is the key to life.”

And my personal favorite:

“Redemption is sweet.” – RSM

Second Annual Enlightenment Conference sheds light on José Martí

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Student-illustrated program for the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second annual Enlightenment Conference was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning on Saturday, June 8th. The day’s events featured talks from scholars and educators from the Greater New York Area focusing on the central figure of the event, nineteenth century Cuban writer and revolutionary, José Martí.  The event drew dozens of high school students, college students, recent college graduates and educators alike to discuss topics regarding Latin American politics and history.

The conference opened with two speeches from the Salutatorian and Valedictorian of the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning’s Class of 2013.  The top honors tandem were brothers Ramón Luciano Capellan and Ramón Antonio Capellan. Both brothers, who are originally from the Dominican Republic, delivered inspiring words detailing their hard work as well as what motivated them to strive for academic excellence.

“I feel connected to Martí’s life because I am Latin American,” said Salutatorian Ramón Luciano Capellan in his opening speech. He felt motivated to succeed by Martí’s struggles and accomplishments. “Look at me,” said Ramón Luciano, “I came from the Dominican Republic three years ago, and didn’t speak any English, but I didn’t let that stop me from becoming who I am today.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Salutatorian, Ramón Luciano Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

His brother, Valedictorian Ramón Antonio Capellan, expressed similar sentiments. Speaking of Martí, he said “Today I am here telling you about a great young man who made his dreams possible.”  He expressed gratitude for his family for giving the opportunity to succeed. The young scholar ended his speech with “If you want to change something, you have to fight for it.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Valedictorian,  Ramón Antonio Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

There were six workshops held throughout the event focusing on particular movements and viewpoints of Latin American history, culture and politics. The event was divided into four time sections.  Conference attendees were given two workshops to choose from for the first session: ‘Martí’s Ideology and Today’s Immigrant Family Experience’ by Luis J. Nicho, JD. or ‘Teaching Martí to our Youth’ co-hosted by NYC Assistant Principal Diana Isern and event facilitator and NYC History Teacher, Jorge Sandoval.  Both workshops in the first session focused on José Martí’s life and work in order to relate his experience to modern day struggles of today’s youth as well as modern day immigrant families.

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Enlightenment Conference speaker Luis D. Nicho facilitating a discussion on today’s immigrant families. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second session gave conference attendees three options: ‘José Marti’s presence in the Young Lords Movement’ by CCNY Graduate Student Jorge Arteaga, ‘Socialism, Capitalism and Corporate News Media in Latin America’ by NYU Graduate Student Ramiro Fúnez, or ‘Jose Martí Discusses Today’s Education 115 Years Ago’ by Jorlui Sillau, MPA. These workshops kept Jose Martí and education in mind as well as delved into modern day politics, media relations and corruption in Latin America and the struggles of modern day Latinos in the United States.

The third session of the Enlightenment Conference was a lunch hour featuring several fundraisers and a presentation on the Icla Da Silva Foundation by Jorge Santos, M.S. in Sociology and Anthropology. The Icla da Silva Foundation is a bone marrow registry formed in hopes of finding matches for transplants for those who have life threatening bone marrow deficiencies.  Dozens of conference attendees signed up for the registry. The lunch hour fundraisers included a silent of auction of several pieces of student made José Martí portraits. Over $500 was raised throughout the day through fundraising and generous donations of attendees.

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Students’ depictions of José Martí on sale throughout the day by silent auction. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The final session, entitled ‘The Diasporic Martí: New York and Beyond’ was an intriguing look at Martí’s life in New York City in the late nineteenth century.  The first half of this session was presented by Guesnerth Josué Perea of AfroColombia New York, focusing on José Martí’s own commentary on his experiences living in the NYC. Martí met with several of his revolutionary contemporaries during his time in New York, such as the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tío. This session displayed Martí’s depictions of Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and several other famous places in New York City.

The latter half of ‘The Diasporic Martí’ was presented by Gabriel Higuera student at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Higuera presented the life and experiences of nineteenth century Filipino writer and revolutionary, José Rizál. An extraordinary individual in his own right, Rizál was a linguist, world traveler, doctor, and dissident of the Spanish colonial regime. The Filipino Renaissance man had many similarities to José Martí, and was only seven years his junior. Presenter Gabriel Higuera hypothesizes that Martí and Rizál may have met during the time that Rizál visited New York, although there is no documented proof that this meeting occurred.

All in all, the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference was a great success, combining grassroots community organization and participation with culturally rich and intellectually stimulating discussions. Attendees learned a wealth of information about José Martí as well as other aspects of Latin American culture, politics and history.

Here are some more photos, all of which are courtesy of Photographer Cynthia Sandoval:

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Enlightenment Conference host and speaker, Jorge Sandoval delivering his introduction to the conference. 

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EC Attendees during the opening of the conference.

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EC attendees having a group discussion during the ‘Teaching Marti to our Youth’ session.

The Second Annual Enlightenment Conference lived up to its name. I hope to see even bigger and better things from it next year. – RSM