Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Social Media is Overhyped

Ever get the feeling you're being super dumb?  

Yeah, I said it. And I’ll raise the ante a little more: I don’t think indie authors really need social media. It’s not a career essential, in other words. This isn’t just my opinion, either. I have actual evidence to support my conclusions.

The funny thing about being an author these days, indie or not, is that technology is pretty much the master of your fate. There’s no getting around it. And tech is really fickle—almost anything can and will happen. To demonstrate this, let’s get round to the evidence.

Full disclosure: I have grown to despise social media. So temper my remarks with that. I’ve lately been heard saying, “If I could cut social media out of my life, I would. I’m only on it because of my writing.” I think there are more productive ways to spend about an hour a day, broken up into four segments of fifteen minutes each. You can trim your nose hairs, for instance. You can unload the dishwasher. Or load it. OR YOU COULD FREAKIN WRITE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. Anyway enough with the disclosures.

Here’s fact #1. Over the weekend, I managed to move about 5,500 copies of The Marsburg Diary, and on Monday, I managed to move about 2,000 copies of K [phantasmagoria]. Both of these were free promotions designed to get my work in front of more people, not to make me fast money. But if I added up all my followers from all the social media sites on which I’m active, and if all those followers downloaded a copy of my book, that number would not approach the number of books people downloaded for free. So that’s food for thought.

Here’s fact #2. I’ve noticed that social media is like direct mail (only worse): you’re lucky to get about 1% or 2% positive response. The math is real easy for me on Google+, where I have right around 2000 people in my circles. When I post up something about one of my books, my blog, or even news about my weekend promo book going totally viral, out of those 2000 people I will get 1 or 2 “+1’s” (the same as a Facebook “like”). So if you’re really paying attention to these numbers, social media is a lot like direct mail, only it’s one tenth as effective (not 2% but one tenth of 2%). I know, I know, there’s no way to quantify who clicked on the link and downloaded the book. But if you think all those downloads came from my social media contacts you’re crazy.

Here’s fact #3. When I woke up on Saturday morning, the first day of the Marsburg promo, global downloads of my title had already started going viral. Downloads in the first few hours of the promotion already exceeded or at least tied other promotions I did with other books on previous days, and those numbers for those books were the culmination of two days and lots of time spent on social media. The numbers for Marsburg mushroomed and went ballistic in a matter of a few hours, not two days. About two hours after that, Marsburg was already approaching 1,000 downloads. It wasn’t even noon on day one yet, and I still hadn't done anything on social media yet.

Here’s fact #4. In the days before my promo blitz began, I went through Amazon’s pages and did some tagging. If you've done this, you know how powerful it is. Aaron Patterson is the guy who taught me on this score. I’ll just say it like this: One of the inspirations for The Marsburg Diary is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I love literary fiction, I love the Victorian era, and I love that Stoker wrote his novel entirely out of the diary entries of his characters. It’s genius. I wasn’t able to pull that off, but there’s enough of a similarity from Marsburg to his work that I tagged Marsburg with Dracula and Dracula with Marsburg. It makes sense, it’s one of those things that made the book go viral, and by the way…if you want to sell books in the UK, Germany, and so on, you’ve got to do your tagging on those sites as well. Just Google “Amazon UK” or "Amazon Germany" for example.

Here’s fact #5. I sent out an email to some author friends of mine in preparation for this weekend promo blast. I included the link to the book, gave them the dates, and asked them kindly to help me blast it on social media over the weekend. In exchange, I proposed in the email, they could please let me know how I could reciprocate for them. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable proposition, being a little ignorant about author promotions still. Now, let me be very clear here: I do not harbor feelings of resentment. I’m not whining about anything. I think most interpersonal drama is just root selfishness anyway. But it’s telling that none of my author friends did what I asked them to do. Well, one of them did…kinda. But I’m suspicious that they’ve already figured out what I’m blogging about here, and that’s this: you can’t sell books via social media. At least not your own. The fact is, I was conducting an experiment on the overall worth of my time spent on social media, and it failed spectacularly this weekend. Winner? Time spent on Amazon. Big time.

Here’s fact #6. Most of my social media “friends” are—guess what—friggin authors, like me. That means that 99% of them are broke like me, and they aren’t even remotely interested in buying or even reading my books because they’re too busy trying to sell their books to me. But I’m too busy trying to get them to buy my books. Talk about bad business practices. Authors, especially the indie kind, are too broke and overworked to read other indie authors’ crapola. And you know what, I don’t even read fiction that much. I prefer history and really old dictionaries. So I’m the last guy to whom you want to market indie scifi. Yet how much time to all my author friends (God love 'em) spend marketing their books to guys like me?

Here’s fact #7. Marsburg broke into 2,000 units in the US by 5 PM on day one. At that point it was ranked #2 in short stories and was in the top 100 in free books. That’s for the entire Amazon.com Web site. By the end of the day it had blasted through 3,000 and was #1 in short stories, which is where it would stay for the duration of the weekend. My UK numbers for this title alone very nearly matched what I achieved worldwide for some of my other free titles on those other promos. Think you can use social media to get that kind of exposure? You're crazy.

Here’s fact #8. I saw the ranking for Airel, in which there appears a vignette (at the end) that Marsburg is based on, jump up about 500 spots in the ranking this weekend. I can’t verify 100% that any of it is related to the Marsburg promo, but it’s plausible that some of it is.

Enough of the facts. Time for some analysis. I think there are four things at work here.

Thing #1 is tagging. My sales were dismal until I started tagging smartly. Wanna know more? Talk to Aaron Patterson, the Amazon tagging guru.

Thing #2 is association. I am fortunate to have been able to start my writing career by co-writing with an established bestselling author like Aaron Patterson. I will never deny that co-writing the Airel series with him is equal parts inspiration and strategy, and he knows that full well; occasionally coaching me on essentials. Of course, one has to be a self-starter, one must have talent, the fire in the belly, and on and on. But part of the success for this weekend’s viral blast was that Marsburg is a spinoff from Airel, and all that implies.

Thing #3 is Amazon's KDP Select program; specifically the free promo. Hello, indie authors, are you listening? It may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to sell more than 5 copies a month, you have to give away a whoooooole lotta them first. I'm not bummed that I lost 5500 potential sales this weekend. I'm stoked that 5500 people took a chance on me for free. Do you have any idea what that will do to my career, if only 1% of them write a positive review on that one book, and tell a few friends about it? And here's the other thing: I removed this book from the B&N Nook site just a few days before I enrolled it in KDP select and set it out on promo. Here's something to chew on: you can read a Kindle eBook on every mobile device, whether Apple or Android or Mac or PC or on an actual Kindle, except for the B&N Nook. Seeing as how I only managed to sell 2 copies for Nook through B&N in the course of 4 months, I think I made the right decision to pull it. Nook owners: a brand new Kindle is $79. Make a note of it. I know it sucks that a Betamax machine won't play VHS, but life is like that sometimes. In this case, you may have bought an HDDVD player when the world went BluRay. Don't blame guys like me.

Thing #4, and this is mentioned last because it's most important, is Revelation 3.7. I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up: Jesus Christ is the One who opens and no one shuts. What happened this weekend, and what continued to happen Monday for K [phantasmagoria], is nothing short of a miracle and I’m unafraid to say so. I’ll also say this: I pray all glory to God. Thanks readers and fellow authors. Thanks for going on the journey with me. This is just the beginning.

The Marsburg Diary can be yours for $2.99 by clicking here.
K [phantasmagoria] can be yours for $2.99 by clicking here.
The free book today and tomorrow is Strongbox. You can get it for free by clicking here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Free Book Promo #4!

Hey there, folks. Turns out giving is better than receiving. Over the weekend I gave away more than 5,000 copies of The Marsburg Diary, based on a vignette that appears in Airel. Do you know what it’s like to have your work appear in front of more than 5,000 people in a single weekend? I’ll tell you what it’s like. IT’S SO FREAKING FLUFFY, that’s what it’s like.

Anyway, in conjunction with my guest post on Shah Wharton’s blog, I’m offering you a second chance on another book, and it’s today only: K [phantasmagoria] is a thriller that pulls no punches and is designed to challenge, frighten, and cause the reader to think. The timid need not apply here.

Again, the synopsis:

How far is too far? If a man is pushed past breaking and all bets are off, what are the rules then? K is a man severely damaged by life, by circumstance, by a past he can’t remember and probably by the meds his government-mandated psychiatrist has him on. He struggles violently, trying to make sense of his bipolar hatred for God, for people, for all the stupid assumptions, for himself. Is he going crazy? He sees the most horrific visions, a phantasmagoria that is slowly wrecking him. Day and night. And it can only be explained by the idea of precognition…until even science fails…and whatever barrier there is between this world and the next is destroyed by the unexplainable. This is a chilling and sinister story packed with lies. Some of them may be true...

And again, K is free today only. This is the last time for a while, so get it while you can, peeps. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Promo #3!

Lately I've been trying to set great wheels in motion. In order to do that one must use leverage. The lever Amazon has given us is the free book promotion. It's what makes eBooks the vastly better part of awesome, because I can afford to give away free downloads of my books in exchange for a little exposure, without having to pay for scads and scads of paper. Mikey likey.

So this weekend, you have the opportunity to download a novella that's equal parts literary fiction and paranormal thriller. Find out the backstory on the backstory. Why was William Marsburg in Germany at the end of Airel? What was the deal with that book of Kreios thing? And how did it end up in Germany? And who the hell is Harv and why does he live on Dr. Pepper and cigarettes? Find a few answers and lots more questions in your free copy of The Marsburg Diary this weekend. Be sure to tell all your friends... this one won't be free for long.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Author Editor Relationship

Last night I put on a clinic. I always wanted to say that. It has implications of awesomeness that even in my wildest imagination I have trouble living up to. It’s like that scene from The Office where Dwight is telling Jim about his wildest fantasy and Jim’s like, “Let me get this straight: in your wildest dreams, you are in hell, you make $80,000 a year, and you’re the assistant to the devil,” or some such hilarity. I’m just saying, you’d think my wildest dreams would include a base level of competence, y’know?

But I digress. Where was I?

Oh yes. Writers and authors need editors. Cue rimshot.

I was curious to know what kind of responses I would get to a few questions. I like the Socratic method of instruction; more of a guided discussion or round table if you will. So I try to get the audience participating. To that end, I asked the following questions, and got the following responses.

Editors have what function?
“Tough love.” –With which I agree wholeheartedly. So many times an author, especially a greenhorn, rides in on a high horse and needs to be relieved of it if the journey is to continue.
“Edit as a reader.” –This is great. I think a good editor can see the story being told like a movie, just like the reader will. A great editor will catch little inconsistencies and offer suggestions so that the story’s technical bits are never a distraction.

What is the purpose of a book?
“Getting your story out, entertainment.” –Word up. And many other things besides.
“Torturing my middle school students.” –On this, I got nothin. But I think it’s an example of poetic justice for those of us whose ship of youth has sailed.

On this point, I have something to add. A book can be entertainment, art, story, the passing along of knowledge, a record of history, a way to kill time, a way to earn money, part of the social construct, highbrow, lowbrow, offensive, profane, hilarious, funny, wrenchingly sad and tragic, salient, prophetic, idiotic, beautiful, ugly, and the worst of these… average.

Why are you a writer and why are you writing what you’re writing right now?
“Passion for the English language; both writing and reading.” –I can relate. I think all authors should.
“I can’t not be.” –This, I love. In the end doing what we were made to do is an addiction in some ways. We write because we must. Our voice must be heard.

What makes a good book?
While I did not record any answers from the peanut gallery on this question, I came prepared with something to say (you know how I roll): What makes a good book? Is it plot? Character? Lack of errors/perfection? Originality? Commercial success? A dashing cover? Sheer size? The label on the jacket? Whether it goes to print or not?

My answer? Yes.

I hope sincerely that some of these insights helped illuminate what makes editors and authors tick together as a whole. For more on this kind of stuff, just type in “How to be a good writer” in the search bar to the right. And thanks for reading what I write.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Free Book Promo #2!

Howdy there, folks. You should be extremely excited to be reading this, because I am so completely nuts as to give away yet another book. This one is called Amethyst, and it's my personal fave. Yep. I said it. Out of all the stories I've written, this is the one I personally regard as my best. It shows where I'm going as a writer, so if you like it, you'll be wanting to bookmark me everywhere.

Here's the lowdown on Amethyst:

Rosewood, Florida was a peaceful little town just off the Gulf coast until January 1st, 1923. Then Frannie Taylor claimed she'd been attacked, and for six days it became a black and white war zone. Five were murdered in the purge. Sam Cooper was tortured and then shot. For what? Whatever dark motivation that was behind the massacre remains forty years later, and a simple blind man, Mario Laforest, is right in the middle of it. He's a criminal inmate at the Rosewood Sanitarium. But is he really so insane just because he refuses to speak the word "Amethyst?"

This one is free today and tomorrow. Be sure to tell everyone in your circles/your friends list/your twirp followers, etc. They will thank you. You can be sure of it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Random Thoughts on the Order of the Universe

It occurred to me last night that man has no cause to boast, even if he does fulfill the original Great Commission to fill the earth and subdue it, because the idea does not originate with man. 

Mankind was commanded to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it," in Genesis 1.28. I have a friend who looks at this as the original Great Commission (the second being what Jesus Christ commanded us in Matthew 28.19). Whatever the case, the idea originates with God and therefore also returns to Him because it must. 

Man has no cause to boast of anything under the sun because nothing comes from or returns to man. It all comes from and returns to God. Man does not choose the place and time and circumstances of his birth or death, therefore again, man has nothing about which he may boast. 

A man cannot do anything to influence his own birth, but he may try to usurp authority from God and choose to take his own life. But what profit is that to anyone? And still, man acknowledges the Holder of all authority even as he attempts to usurp it, because from Whom indeed does man attempt to take the authority of the place and time and method of his own demise? This too, as the teacher says in Ecclesiastes, is vanity, and again I say: man has no cause to boast. 

The best a man can do under the sun is to sojourn for a time, for his appointed and predestined time, and pray he comes out unspotted in the end. And this is impossible utterly, except in Christ.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Free Book Promo #1!

Hey guess what? You can download a free copy of K [phantasmagoria] today and tomorrow. Don't miss out on this chance to get in on something that might make you a genuine bona fide fan of a great story well told. Want the details? Here's what others are saying:

"Chris White has the talent of long ago writers interlaced with his own unique voice. Anything this man writes keeps me up. I literally have to schedule time to read his work because I know when I start I'll not eat, sleep, or bath until I've finished it. K. is nothing short of his signature work. In fact this might be his best novel to date. K is a character that you can't even begin to summarize. His experiences are all too familiar on so many levels. His relationship with others and God is eerily too close to home for not only myself but so many I know. You simply have to read this book."
Here's the blurb on this definitely-not-for-kids novel:

How far is too far? If a man is pushed past breaking and all bets are off, what are the rules then? K is a man severely damaged by life, by circumstance, by a past he can’t remember and probably by the meds his government-mandated psychiatrist has him on. He struggles violently, trying to make sense of his bipolar hatred for God, for people, for all the stupid assumptions, for himself. Is he going crazy? He sees the most horrific visions, a phantasmagoria that is slowly wrecking him. Day and night. And it can only be explained by the idea of precognition…until even science fails…and whatever barrier there is between this world and the next is destroyed by the unexplainable. This is a chilling and sinister story packed with lies. Some of them may be true... 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I guess life can be like a box of chocolates. Sometimes I bite into one of those rancid cherry-filled ones that make me gag. Bleagh. I hate those. Chocolate and imitation fruit are like fingernails on a chalkboard. Not that anyone knows what that is anymore. But life can sometimes be like that. You think you’re getting something amazing like caramel and peanuts and you get some limp-wristed and pale attempt at imitation awesome, and it might be awesome if it were real, but it doesn’t even go with what it’s been put with so not only is it not awesome or even imitation awesome, it’s infuriating, because who puts cherries with chocolate? Who!? It’s like wrapping a turd in a tortilla.

But I think life is more like a trumpet. At least it can be. Okay, it’s nothing like a trumpet. It would be more accurate to say that people are like trumpets. Okay that’s not really accurate either, the more I think about it. Let us dispense with the generalization, then.

Here’s what I mean to say: I am like a trumpet, okay? That’s what it is. I’m especially like the one I just bought. I told you in the Trumpet Crowdsourcing video I posted up that I could do it; I could find a decent trumpet for a couple hundred bucks. I did. After I tell you this story though, I’m pretty sure you’ll think it was God doing the doing and not me. And you would be correct.

I used Kickstarter to raise funds for the launch of my new studio. My goal was $500 and I reached that goal at the last minute on my birthday, thanks to acts of extreme generosity by some very dear friends. And, thanks to one interested student, I have begun to teach. He’s already showing improvement.

Helpy Helperton.
Now, just so you know, a professional trumpet can cost, brand new, at least $2000, if not $3000. That’s for a run-of-the mill type, the kind every serious high schooler thinks is the bomb. Rightly so; I have played some of those Yamahas and they’re a revelation. A really good pro-line trumpet will set you back about $5000, and there are some out there for $20k or more. If you want to spend less you’ve got to be savvy and you’ve got to do the research. I had a hunch I could find something decent—albeit old and used—for about $500. I just didn’t know how good it would be.

I looked on craigslist.com at first, knowing that’s where the local deals would be, knowing that I could play-test the horn before making the final decision (an important consideration not always available on Ebay). Of course there are some stunning examples on Ebay, some of them vintage horns made before 1980. It’s not that every trumpet made these days is junk. It’s just that they were freaking incredible back in the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s, that some of these  trumpets are going for $400 - $700, and these are every bit as good, if not slightly better than a brand new $3000 trumpet made recently. If you don’t mind a few dings and dents. You know, character. These old trumpets wear the passage of time on their sleeve, but then again so do I.

Red rot.
I perused the makers marks on Ebay with interest: C.G. Conn. Reynolds. Bach (that’s Mt. Vernon, not Elkhart). King. Schilke. F.E. Olds. Even a very rare Italian rotary trumpet by Rampone & Cazzani of Milano that switches from Bb to C with the twist of a lever. They were thinking of these things back in 1916. Very smart. Stuff that people aren’t doing now, except for David Monette, maybe, (Adam Rapa had him build a trumpet in low G, which sounds like the tenor sax version of trumpet; way cool and different) but his stuff is a little out of my price range.

Anyway, Ebay’s got the goods. I was “watching” a few items, and if you’ve ever done this you know what it’s like. Gratifying and terrifying all at once, because you’ve marked the item as something you want, but it’s still there for someone to buy, and what if someone else takes the risk and gets the deal and you don’t? ARRGH.

One day, and I don’t know really why, I started looking at Olds trumpets. Their student model Ambassador from the 50’s and 60’s is said to be every bit as good as the typical pro-line trumpet nowadays. I looked them over. In my price range, or just a little over it, there were Ambassadors and even a bashed up Super Recording, a Mendez, and some other stuff. Then, and again, I do not know why, I realized I hadn’t checked Craigslist in a week or two, and I decided to check it.

Polishing with a Dremel tool and Tripoli.
Up popped an ad for an Olds trumpet, $165. I looked at the single image. I typed in CTRL > + to zoom in on the miniscule thing, but the resolution was poor. “Huh,” I said out loud. I don’t remember Olds, or anyone else for that matter, manufacturing a silver plated student model trumpet, I thought. I looked at the price. “A hundred and sixty five bucks,” I said aloud.

I need to back up a little here. Kickstarter works like this: people pledge support over the life of the promotion, but if you don’t reach the goal, Kickstarter doesn’t run the transactions. If, however, you do reach the goal, they run the transactions and deposit the funds into your Amazon account (minus their fee). My Amazon account was bulging, over the weekend, with about $458, my net of $500. I requested a transfer to my bank on Sunday night, but Amazon says they need up to seven days to get it all complete, so I wasn’t expecting to see my bank account change until the subsequent Monday or Tuesday. But lo and behold, the funds popped up first thing the very next day.

Quite excited to be shopping in earnest, I got tapping and browsing, and that’s when I discovered the Olds on Craigslist. I called the number on the ad. I got the guy’s wife; she said he was busy with a client but that she would give him my number and have him call me back when he was free. She said she had picked up the trumpet at a yard sale and given it to her son to play when he was in high school years ago. Beyond that she had no information.

Looking better.
I sat down to watch Secretariat with my wife. I’d never seen it. I wondered if the guy was going to call me back or if he would forget. Maybe I would have to wait until the next day for a callback; I didn’t know.

Around 8:30, in the middle of the movie, the phone rang. I answered. It was the guy with the Olds. I asked him for some pertinent information on it: serial number, any engravings or markings, do the slides move, do the valves move. He replied that everything on the trumpet worked, then rattled off the serial number. That dated it to the late 50’s, when Olds moved production from LA to Fullerton.

And then the piece de resistance. “It says, ‘Opera’ on the bell,” he said.

“Does it,” I said, trying not to sound too interested. The word rang into the deepest recesses of my brain, setting off vague alarm bells that said in essence, jump on it. “Is it too late to pop over?” I asked, looking at the clock: it read about 8:45 at that point.

It was not too late, he told me, and said I could even play the thing as much as I wanted in order to make a good decision.

When I finally got to his house, which is in Caldwell, it was about 9:30. He cracked the case open on a genuine F.E. Olds Opera Bb trumpet, about 60 years old. It needed a good cleaning. There was a cobweb in the leadpipe. The first note I played came out very mellow, forced, soft. I removed the cobweb with the snake brush that came with the trumpet and tried again.

My Olds Opera.
Clear, bright, eminently modulatable, easy and free was the tone, the sound that came out of this fine instrument. It has been languishing for God knows how many years, waiting for this moment. The moment of its rediscovery. The moment it could be used for that which it had been built. The moment I took it up.

I played octave slurs with ease. It was fluid, easy, fine. It worked with me, greeting me, inviting me on, hinting at undiscovered delights in musical expression. One of the valves was quite slow; I oiled it and it loosened right up. There was “red rot” all over the finish. The bell had a gigantic patch on it, the size of a nickel, where there had been a hole. It was obvious that the thing had been munched at some point and then been repaired—brass is like paper; it can crumple and even rip. The munching was pretty bad, I guessed, to produce the need for a patch like that. It was a little hideous, but it played like a marvel. It made me sound better than I am.

“I’ll take it,” I said. I gave the guy $180 and told him to keep the change. It felt right in my gut, which, by the way, has grown to be so prodigious that I cannot ignore it even when I want to. Cue the rimshot.

I didn’t know until I got home that what I had bought was what I had been looking for in a trumpet all along. See, a really nice friend of mine shipped an old Conn trumpet to me on his own dime about a month ago, telling me to find a use for it or pay it forward. The Conn is nice, but it has issues. There’s a certain telepathy, I guess, that develops between a musician and his axe, and the better quality instrument he’s playing, the clearer the link and the better the result. With the Conn there was a blockage for me, and I deduced that it was rooted in the bore size.

See, most manufacturers today have settled on a bore size for trumpets, measured at the 2nd valve slide, of either .459 or .460 inch. That’s ML or medium large bore. The Conn uses a stepped bore design that’s supposedly a revelation in playability, but it’s really small at .438 and one cannot argue with physics—you can’t move the same volume of air through a .438 aperture that you can move through a .459 aperture. I played on a .459 trumpet for years; I know what they feel like. I had developed hunch that a large bore trumpet would suit my style of playing quite well. Since I’m so full of it. Hot air, that is.

I did more research on the Olds after I got it home. Turns out it’s an XL extra large bore instrument, at .468 inch. In trumpet terms, that’s like the difference between a wheezing 4 banger grocery getter and a supercar. No wonder it played so light, so easy. I could play just as effortlessly at pianissimo as I could at fortissimo. It was second nature.

I also found out that Olds Opera trumpets are quite rare; not many were made in the first place. That’s why there weren’t any to speak of on Ebay. Well, there was one, but it was way out of my price range at $3000. I think the guy’s asking too much, but if people will pay it, I suppose on some level the price is right. I think he will get a buyer, eventually. As for my Olds Opera, it’s been cleaned pretty well, lubed, and is now in fighting trim. I’ve played it at length once, as of this writing, and I can tell you something: I’m not equal to it. It makes everything easier—far easier. It may need some more work, like a professional valve job, but it’s still a precision tool. One has to know how to use it. I’ve not yet discovered the limits of this beast. It takes everything I can throw at it and demurely asks for more. It’s like that Bill Cosby sketch where they’re playing buck-buck, where Cosby tackles one of the rough kids and the rough kid says, “what was that? A piece of paper?!” This Olds is enormous.

Trumpets are like people. There may be some that look the same, have the same model number, or similar outward appearances. Some are old, some young, some understated, some larger than life. Some, also, were made to endure. Some wear their “red rot” as a badge of honor, a testimony to the hardship they’ve had to endure. The character that accumulates like a crust, tempering, even armoring the glossy and perfect shine that lies beneath, ready to be revealed by loving hand. Tubes of cold metal can be made to sing like angels, trust me. I know. It is the same with these elegantly designed but fatally flawed sacks of dirt we call our bodies, our temporary homes. We too can be made to endure, to become warm and glowing under loving hand, indeed, to sing.

This now is what I have purposed to do with my own life. This Olds Opera, so very much like me, is the mouthpiece for my song; the instrument of choice. It’s seen better years, yes. It shows its battle scars. It’s been bashed and repaired and it shows. But the sound it makes! There might come a day when I plunk down the 2k that will be needed to completely restore it. But that might not be money well spent. It may be that the imperfections, the patched holes, the dents, the patina produced from sixty years under the sun, the rarity of an unconventional large bore, the quality of its hand-crafted build… these make it sound so good. And I think when beauty surprises us in unlooked-for places, well… it’s all the more arresting. To a guy with his own scars and issues, I probably couldn’t have paired myself with a better trumpet. And to all my Kickstarter supporters, thank you. You’ve invested in the beginning of something, well, XL.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updates are a Comin!

Gang, I've got some information that I'll be posting up here later today or tomorrow about my Kickstarter trumpet fundraising campaign, life, art, and music. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Revelation 3.7

I hold in my hand a check I wrote but which was never remitted. It never will be, either. I had written the check out in the car in the parking lot before I went inside, intending to pass it to my trumpet instructor, Dennis Keck, at the end of our time. He refused to allow me to pay.

Through the convoluted process of networking doing its thing, I met with Dennis, a professional musician, for an evaluation. He was for a long time the second trumpet in the Boise Philharmonic. He’s an educator par excellence as well. So much of good teaching is just clearing the floor of pretense and making the complex simple, and he did that for me. But to refuse to allow me to pay? Just wow. What’s going on here?

Allow me to back up a little. I walked into Dunkley Music not long ago, asking about renting a trumpet. They told me, “Hey, why don’t you take one home for a week and see how you like it?” I didn’t turn them down. Then I got a call from the department head, later in the day, asking me if it was the Chris White that had borrowed one of his trumpets. Turns out the department head for brass and woodwinds is an old friend of mine. He wanted to do all he could to help me get started playing again. He gave me the contact info for one Justin Stamps, the current second trumpet with the Boise Phil and trumpet instructor at BSU. Justin agreed to meet with me to discuss strategies for making my way into the professional network here in the Treasure Valley, and he also gave me contact information for some of the premiere players around here. One of them was the guy I met with who would refuse, a month later, to allow me to pay for my lesson: Dennis Keck.

After making the initial contact with Dennis, we finally synced up our schedules and met. I made sure to ask him what his rate was so that I could be prepared. I guess I didn't need to know. We hit it off really well. We didn’t do much “evaluating,” really, because we were too busy talking excitedly about trumpet geek stuff, trying to sight-read some jazz duets and chatting about teaching kids. And at the end of the night he refused to allow me to pay. Did you get that part?!

As we made our way to the parking lot, Claudio Roditi came up. He’s the dude with the Weird Al hair in this video. It's around 5'00" on the timeline. An amazing trumpet player. Turns out Dennis went gaga for him when he heard this solo as well, and went out and bought everything he could find that featured him. So that was common ground.

We also talked about trumpets; which one to buy. He confirmed my suspicions about the intonation problems I’ve been having on the Conn that I’ve been playing (it’s not me, it’s the horn), and also highly recommended the Schilke X3 I’ve been watching on eBay. You can tell yourself you’re smart all day long, but you won’t believe it until someone else confirms it for you, ya know? So that was really cool too.

He also asked me where I planned to teach, and gave me some pointers on the mechanics, the logistics of it. Since he’s changed up his gig (letting the Boise Phil go), he’s also taken up a job at a local middle school. In the process he’s had to let much of his private studio roster go. He now wants to tell these kids to come see me, have me teach them. At least, as many as are able and don’t have another teacher now. Is that crazy or what?!

The best part was this: as we were packing up to leave, he said, “Make sure to send me your contact info so I can distribute your phone number to those students. And also make sure to get ahold of me about once a month so we can get together and jam to some more jazz duets.” I was like, “Really?” I must have looked like a kid myself. So here’s this world class musician who’s inviting me into his circle of influence, not just as a colleague but as a peer who will get together with him to jam occasionally.

I’m still blown away.