Happy Tax Day, Artists

It’s tax day and my Twitter and Facebook feed is exploding with everyone rushing to meet the deadline.

A well visited post of mine, Tax Write Offs for Musicians, is probably a bit outdated but it still gets hits.

Because it’s too late for 2018, and because I am typing this on my phone at the Secretary of State, I thought I would share a few suggestions that have made my tax experience less painful and more predictable.

Your budget

If you don’t have a budget for your business activities (Schedule C) and a personal budget where you track all expenses by category, it’s hard to be ready for available write offs, and it’s impossible to attempt to predict your tax situation. I recently made this simple google sheets budget that has some formulas built in and can help track the money flow. Feel free to make your own copy! There’s also other great softwares and programs out there to help you manage it all.

One of the things I do every year is track the expenses related to my home, which allows me to easily total and percentage out my home office expenses.

I also can monitor my business income profit and estimate tax liability as the year goes (important especially if you’re not paying quarterlies).

Exemptions on your W4s

For individuals with multiple part time jobs, and freelance work, filling out your W4s (for the part time work) can be misleading. If you look closely at the form, there is a spot for your exemptions (and a worksheet), which when you add a number there, reduces the amount of taxes taken out of your paycheck, based on the notion that this is your ONLY paycheck. Here’s what it looks like: 

W4 main page.

At this point, I always make sure my W4s are filled out as “single” with “0” exemptions. This guarantees to pull taxes out at the highest rate possible for that one job.

If you follow the worksheet, it will guide you to claim exemptions for all sorts of things. This is fine and dandy except for when personal exemptions are eliminated in the new tax law. Or if you have multiple part time jobs, your gross income becomes much larger than any one of your part time jobs, so the taxes taken out do not add up to you actual tax liability and you end up owing money. I speak from experience on this. Here’s the exemption worksheet:

W4 personal exemptions sheet.

To repeat myself: if you are an artist with multiple part time jobs, my recommendation is to claim zero and file as “single” always. This can be especially helpful if you have a Schedule C (self employment) to add to the mix. With the extra taxes you owe from the Schedule C, if done right, the highest tax withholding from your part-time or full-time work can offset taxes owed from your self-employed income.

Get a CPA

My last bit of advice for your 2019 taxes is to find a CPA that fits your budget. Sit down and make an appointment to have them help you file your taxes. Come organized and loaded with questions. Learn as you go and have a tax professional think through things with you. If you file a Schedule C, you can also write off their services!

Now that you’ve suffered through this tax season, be prepared for next tax season by getting organized!


Brewing Up a New Music Concert: the finances, the timelines, the troubles

One of my life goals is to encourage transparency around making a living as an artist–how much we make, how we do it, and all of the gritty details that are rarely-of-ever discussed in the real-world, home, or academia. So in this low key rando blog post, I will discuss in depth, the collaboration, finances, curve-balls, and details behind ÆPEX presents: Pantomime, a concert of new music by diverse, living composers, hosted in a brewery in Kalamazoo, MI.

Collaboration is key

Making cool things in this world is even better with collaboration. I am fortunate to have friends and colleagues in the organization ÆPEX Contemporary Performance out of Ann Arbor, MI. By aligning our goals, it was easy to join forces to present an evening of new music. However, collaboration is not always easy. The more partners you bring together, the more resources, but you also create more potential for conflicts. Before we get to that, let’s look at how this project came together.

Money is essential, most of the time

This project started in the Fall of 2017, when we applied for a KADI (Kalamazoo Artistic Development Initiative) grant through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, to simply present a concert of diverse, living composer. Full transparency: this grant is for individuals, so I applied for it as an artist (not an org) in collaboration with ÆPEX, which required me to have some skin in the game (a composition on the program, and acting as a fiduciary). We asked for $4,500 but received partial funding, amounting to $2,916. I received 90% of that in May 2018 and have been sitting on it until now, November 2018. ÆPEX has agreed to cover any remaining costs, which we are currently whittling down.

So where does this money go? Mostly to paying musicians (from Ann Arbor and beyond) to rehearse and perform the works we have programmed. Here is the program:

  1. “Displaced” by Christopher Biggs
  2. “Sure baby, mañana” by Sarah Gibson
  3. “Piano trio No. 1” by me
  4. and a new piano trio titled “Glitch” commissioned for this concert, by Nina Shekhar

Musician fees, which are modest (even for Michigan) amount to over $2,400 [at the time of writing, we are still working on the budget after the re-programming of Unsuk Chin’s cosmigimmicks, with Sarah’s piece]. This falls in line with my philosophy of investing in people first. Pay your players decently- they have to practice what is usually very challenging music, then perform it for an expecting audience.

Other expenses fall into targeted Facebook advertisement [$45], piano moving and tuning [$595], live streaming software subscriptions (Switcher Studio) [$39], and the commissioning fee [$400]. For other potential costs like the venue, chairs, stands, stand lights, equipment to stream, personnel time-we relied heavily on in-kind donations. In-Kind donations are services provided at no cost, by invested partners. For this concert, this includes:

  1. Kevin’s time (conductor)
  2. Garrett’s time (admin)
  3. Adam’s time (operations, organizing, promoting, etc)
  4. The venue (thank you Boatyard Brewing Company!)
  5. iPads borrowed from work for live streaming
  6. Chairs and stands and lights I have yet to procure
  7. Printing posters from various places of work
  8. Using the sound system, students and, faculty from Western Michigan University (for Biggs’ piece)
  9. leaning into friends to help the day of, and with promotions
  10. A radio interview and website post at WMUK 102.1
  11. …probably more stuff I forgot about

In-kind, aside from financial savings, builds relationships in meaningful ways. It’s also not usually a burden for the giving organization or business-at most, it is some extra time schlepping stuff for you and your org.

For the numbers-minded: without In-Kind support, we could be looking at an additional $3,500+ in expenses.

Venue, Ticketing, and Marketing

Procuring the venue was not an easy task. We started from a simple goal: get outside of academia. There were easy connections with Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, but to a certain extent, we felt limited by the perception of a concert in a standard recital hall.

I had a simpler goal: I wanted craft beer and new music. This was not the easiest task. Many local breweries just didn’t have the right space, or space rental was a little beyond our financial capabilities. After exploring some great rooms and writing a lot of emails, I ended up with a giant list of options, met many awesome people, and found a few more leads, which led me to Boatyard Brewing Company, where the concert is taking place.


Believe it or not, we started conceiving this concert project in the spring of 2017, a year and a half before the actual event takes place. The first grant submission on May 15, 2017, did not fund the proposal. Instead, they invited me to re-apply for December 15, 2017. With more clarity in our writing surrounding the nature of the collaboration between ÆPEX and myself, I re-applied in December and received partial funding. From there we could start to make arrangements. Here is a rough estimate of the timeline:

May 2017: apply for grant, get denied

December 2017: re-apply for grant, get partial funding

February 2018: collaborate on another concert at Kalamazoo College in the meantime

May 2018: identify composer to commission and select date range for concert

June 2018: create commissioning agreement with Nina Shekhar

August 2018: identify venue and lock in dates

September 2018: start to coordinate marketing and performers

October 2018: We can’t perform the Unsuk Chin so we regroup! Although it was a piece we were hoping to present, we saved some money and we programmed an awesome piece by Sarah Gibson. Secure sound system and staffing for Biggs’ work.

November 2018: Marketing on Facebook, making images, posters, rehearsal schedules, WMUK 102.1 interview, all operations leading up to the event

These processes are messy, fluid, and unpredictable, especially since ÆPEX is a young organization and I am moonlighting as a composer/presenter, so time and resources are scarce.

Return On Investment / Impact

What do we get from spending a year and a half on a relatively small new-music concert with very-little-to-no built in audience, no series, no guarantees?

This is always a tricky one for me to settle with. At the end of the day, as the point person for all operations, marketing, and fundraising, I work really really hard to not make any money. At least I zero out on actual cash. So what do I get? What does ÆPEX get?

Here’s what we get: experience, record of a successful event, establishment of a brand [ÆPEX and/or myself] in the Kalamazoo scene, emails of enthusiastic new music lovers, social media presence, radio interviews, good karma from the community and other composer, and a performance and recording of the (hopefully) successful event.

We are playing the long game. I am convinced at least half of the successful composers in the world made it through perseverance. You can argue with me on that one on Twitter.

Hopefully the transparency of this article was helpful to my colleagues, fellow composers and musicians, artists, and students. If you would like to learn more about the event, you can find it on Facebook here:

ÆPEX presents: Pantomime

iOS Live Streaming DIY Tech

During the month of June 2018, I had the pleasure of writing a four-article series for New Music Box, the publication of New Music USA. I received this invitation after presenting an hour-long talk at the 2018 New Music Gathering, at Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

Although live streaming has gained a bit of popularity, it can be problematic finding the right live streaming solution for your music applications. Well, I wrote 4 blogs about it! First, I wrote about why we live streaming, for my first New Music Box blog:

Live Streaming 101

The second blog focuses on where to host your stream, how to prepare for it, advertising, and what to do with it afterwards:

Live Streaming 102

This article focuses on the tech. I’ll spend some time in this blog linking some tech I love and use, so you have a clearer idea of where to start with equipment.

Live Streaming 103

The fourth article is a wrap up read that spends some time looking at collaboration, graphics, and more ideas of what to do with the content.

Live Streaming 104

The Tech

Finding the right tech is perplexing, time consuming, and usually not people’s favorite part. I, however, love the research behind it! So I present to you a short list of ways to get great live streams, with good audio

iOS + mic

Sometimes the simplest solution is to use your phone camera, which automatically connects to many streaming apps like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. But the audio from your phone isn’t the best. I have been using the Shure MV88 and so far, it’s a great simple solution (all images below link to the amazon products).

This mic is a stereo mic that plug directly in to the lighting port of iOS devices and can be controlled by the MOTIV app. You can adjust the mic pattern, EQ, set gain, and more. Using this in performance situations, it gives a true sound of the room.

PRO TIP: this mic has an excellent sound and great controls, but it requires your iOS device to be on “do not disturb” and airplane mode, so your wifi signal has to be good to be streaming with those settings. If you don’t, weird electronic interference occurs every time you get a phone call, text, or push notification (yes, this has happened to me).

iOS + audio interface

If you want to use your own mics, there are some great interfaces that are compatible with iOS or other USB devices. The Presonus iTwo is a great choice. With two inputs and phantom power, this interface will connect to your lighting port, and allow you to control your stereo mic pair.

Tascam also makes the Tascam iXR, which is very similar to the Presonus. Two channels, phantom power, and mobile recording via iOS.

Keep in mind; just like the microphones, the audio interfaces must be able to take over the audio input source of the iOS device. Not all connections do this!

PRO TIP: audio tech is constantly changing. Just because these are my two recommendations doesn’t mean there won’t be cooler iOS capable interfaces in the future, or interfaces that also work well with Android. Either way, do your research!

Stands and Mounts

The other aspect of a great iOS streaming set up is how your phones, ipads, and audio sources are set up, and how they are mounted. My method has been to use mic stands (because I can also use them for recording and GoPro needs), and different types of mounts.

The slew of products available for mounting iOS is incredible, but I recommend these versions which I have used, and been pleased with. For the iPhone, this mount is affordable and easy to use (image doesn’t work for some reason):

ChargerCity Music Pro Lyric Pole Bar Microphone Boom Mic Stand mount for Apple iPhone X 8 7 Plus 6s Galaxy S7 S8 Edge Note LG v30 MOTO X Blu Smartphones (Holder opens up to 3.5″)

For iPads, I have been pleased with this mount product, which can both clip onto things and connect to the microphone stand end with ease:

For mic stands, it’s helpful to have a well made tripod stand that has a 2-tier boom arm for the most compact adaptability. I have K&M mic stands that are super old and still in excellent condition.

I actually just used all of this equipment for four live streaming events at the 2018 Gilmore Piano Camp. We were wireless, iOS, and fully functioning with multiple camera angles thanks to the Switcher Studio apps. You can watch these streams on the Gilmore Education Facebook Page.

As always, please reach out if you have questions about my methods, the equipment, and streaming in general. I highly recommend reading through the four articles at the top of this page if you are unfamiliar with streaming tech and want to get started. There’s always a lot to consider.

Happy streaming!

Something to Hunt

Since the fall, I have had the pleasure of working with ÆPEX Contemporary Performance to produce and present a concert of music by living, diverse composers. I am the only “white” male composer on the program. This concert is today and you should either come or live stream it.

I present two arguments for supporting this project. 1.) diversity across experiences is more important than ever, and 2.) your ear needs to be challenged, and this music will challenge you.


In this political climate, diversity is a subject that keeps coming up. Regardless of your political leanings, the world is getting smaller and more mixed up. To assume you can avoid interactions with someone outside of your race, religion, socio-economic class, etc.- is to live in a bubble. Future generations need to be able to handle this, and this starts now. Part of the awareness of diversity comes from intentional inclusion. For my line of work, this is intentional inclusion within the arts. 

If we want the arts to continue–meaning we have a continuation of audience, and a continuation of creators and performers–then we must cultivate artists that reflect the population around us. If we want contemporary classical music to reach more people, let’s start by presenting an actual snapshot of the people making this music. It’s not just white dudes, despite the majority of composer you will find as the “composer of the day” at the Society of Composers, and other such traditional organizations.

Our concert Something to Hunt features two women composers, an African American composer, a Mexican composer, and myself, the white male composer. We are not always defined by our gender and race, but statistics (and my day to day work interactions) show that we still move through our world with a white-male-dominated lens. Simply presenting and purposefully showcasing a diverse group of artists gives the audience a real slice of who makes up the classical contemporary music scene. It also gives future generations the ability to see themselves doing these things.

Your Ears Need to be Challenged.

Like any art form, the sounds of new music will most often challenge the ear. Tonight’s concert is no exception. The opening piece by Matthew Evan Taylor is a duet for saxophone and bass clarinet, boisterous and groovy, and will disrupt your evening. Follow that with a piece for solo violist by composer and friend Cassandra Kaczor.  Then the most harmonic and soothing pieces appear on the program, the world premiere of my “glass studies” for solo piano. Consider this my gift to your ears. After intermission, we reach into the mind of Edgar Barroso who begins his piece with the instrumentalists’ making noise with anything BUT their instruments. Gestures and shapes abound, but it’s not your normal listening experience. The program will end with Ashley Fure’s “Something to Hunt,” a piece that is far more interested in timbre and effect than anything pertaining to melody and harmony.

Most of the time, we go out to be entertained. This program will do that, as the sounds you hear are so unusual they will captivate, but they never labor on. However, tonight’s program will also invite you to contemplate the titles, the sounds, and the meaning of what you are listening to and why you are here. This exercise of questioning is just as important as breathing, and will hopefully allow you to create an inner dialogue with yourself–dancing around the sounds you like and the sounds you don’t and why.

Tickets here. [K-College Faculty & Students Free, Students $5, $10 all other]

8pm, Dalton Theater, Kalamazoo College. 

Live-streamed here: ÆPEX Contemporary Performance

and if tech goes well here: Adam Schumaker’s YouTube


Go Fund Yourself

I recently released my first guest blog with The Portfolio Composer. It’s about making your own opportunities and it’s specific to composers and musicians. You can read it here.

The conversation surrounding how to make it as an artist- 5-9, freelance, or something in between- is never ending. It is always changing. It’s also something you don’t do alone. Talk to you friends, colleagues, mentors. Learn what they are doing, how they do it, and what they did.

I am always up for conversation surround this topic. If there is one take home, other than my clever title, here it is:

Don’t sit and wait for opportunities to come. Don’t just apply for competitions and jobs and await your application results.

Get out there, be active, and make things happen on your own terms.

Talking about Live Streaming

You should be live streaming.

This is why I spent an hour talking with composer Garrett Hope, mastermind behind the Portfolio Composer Podcast, about the subject. Music and video work so well together, and it has never been easier. There is no excuse for not streaming your work.

The podcast discusses some of the technical nature of live streaming from my personal experiences streaming with phones, YouTube, Facebook Live, and Livestream. The podcast, episode 171, is right here. You can also find it on your podcast app.

Here’s an example of my live streaming work for my own compositions:


And here’s an example of live streaming through my work at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival:

Zlata Chochieva, Chopin Etudes, Op. 25

I’ll write an in-depth, slightly technical blog about live streaming soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the podcast and feel free to hit me up with questions.

Dear (Music) Students

Dear (music) students,

I bet this semester will be filled with hours of practicing, too many required courses (like music theory), and many hours of self-doubt, wondering how these activities will lead to a job. Well, I bring you this encouraging message: “they won’t.”

All of these things we want you to do will not necessarily lead to a job. They may not lead you to your “breakthrough.” A college degree and all of its promises will not always guarantee your success.

I have taught in higher education as an adjunct, part-time, and visiting instructor for almost 10 years. I absolutely believe in the college experience. I dream of going back to finish my doctorate because I simply love learning. I know that a society that is willing to seek information, critically think, and grow–will be a better society–and I want to be part of that.

However, at some point, those who gave us guidance became confused. Although the future was uncertain, a degree, any degree, was the path to success. In some ways, it still can be, but the notion that “degree = job” is a fading reality. At its best, “degree = job” was a pleasant correlation rather than a causation (Yes, some degrees in medicine, sciences, and engineering are required for the job, but I am speaking to the arts and humanities today!)

Once you forego the belief that your academic success will land you a job, you can create your own successful and rewarding life. Yes, it is still important to go to class, get the best grade you can, study long, and work hard. These experiences are rewarding in and of themselves but also contribute to your future success as an employee, a business owner, a creator, and a thoughtful, caring human. But outside of the academic grind… there is so much more you should be doing right now.

Embrace your peers and colleagues. These people will be your friends for a long time. They will also be your network to learn from, collaborate with, lift up, and support.

Seek help and support from your professors. It’s our job to help and teach. Asking for help opens up a line of communication that can get you on the right track academically, or lead you to insights and opportunities not found in the classroom.

Experience opportunities outside of school. It’s too easy to say “I have homework” instead of going to a concert. Get outside of the classroom and the studying to experience the world around you. See and be with visual art. Go experience theater and live music. Eat different food. Volunteer. Do something new every week, at least! Experiencing the world around you will lead to more opportunities, and more knowledge about potential paths to take.

Start projects outside of class. If you are interested in something, chase it. You will never have more time or resources to do this than while you are in school. Crazy, right? Start a business. Release an album. Get gigs and play shows. Blog. Begin the momentum for your future work and gain some valuable, practical skills while you are at it.

Be the person you want to be when you graduate, and when that idea changes (because it will), bravely change your course. Taking the time to reflect in college is especially crucial. If your writing classes haven’t pushed you to do so, write in a journal. Write honestly and write often. Put a pen to paper and get physical with it. Discover yourself through careful reflection. Write down goals, observations, failures, and plans. Especially write down your dreams.

Once you know yourself better, you can give more honestly and determine what “success” means to you. Only then can you craft a life that is yours.

And that is what this time is about. The courses are your canvases. The ideas gathered are your paints. The conversations, discussions, activities, and experiences are the dreams upon which you paint your reality. Whether you are aware or not, your painting, your composition, is taking form as your college experience unfolds.

Take a moment to see what picture appears before the paint dries.