1) JOACHIM, YOU ARE A MULTI TALENTED INDIVIDUAL (COMPOSER, PERFORMER, ORCHESTRATOR) AND I WILL BEGIN THIS INTERVIEW CHATTING ABOUT YOUR STUNNING PIANO VIDEOS THAT MADE YOU WORLD FAMOUS! WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE OVERWHELMING RESPONSE? CAN YOU ALSO COMMENT ON HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE WEB?
Yes, I was happily surprised that the project has gained so much attention so quickly! I have certainly tried many things that have flopped or fizzled before, so that informed my current approach.
Studying music in Cuba in 2015 was a life-changing experience for me. When I came back, I was inspired to create a piano-driven video project that captured a certain over-the-top attitude and combined a little bit of everything I love: composition, re-arranging classical music, piano performance, Caribbean and South American music, interesting percussion, and sound design (in this case, using the body of the piano). Moreover, I wanted to create something very personal that joyfully celebrated music from around our planet, as part of my long-term goal of becoming the Anthony Bourdain of music 🙂
I thought very carefully about how to do this in a way that really respected everything that inspires me. It took me the course of a year of testing, recording, re-arranging, practicing, filming, editing, and mixing “Beethoven In Havana” to get it right. I shared it privately with many friends and colleagues for feedback for several months, refined it, and ultimately timed the release with Beethoven’s birthday.
My marketing concept is to whole-heartedly commit to an idea and take it as far as it can possibly go (without taking myself too damn seriously), hopefully inspiring people to recognize the enthusiasm and share it online. It seems to me that people are very proud of their interests and love to promote something that validates their passion, especially if that passion is not particularly mainstream. Also, I have observed that many piano players look to YouTube for repertoire, and will champion what they discover, especially the unusual arrangements. So I designed the promotion of my videos around specific niche groups – Rumba music fans, Beethoven lovers, Piano players, etc., basically, anyone who would potentially amplify the project and be proud that this exists.
Interest in the videos has made it possible to sell downloadable scores through my website, which is a new source of income (I’m not buying a yacht anytime soon, but it’s a start). In some cases, parents have emailed me saying they enjoy playing the lead piano part of “Beethoven in Havana” while their kids play the percussion parts on the family piano. As long as no one bills me for damage, I’m really proud of this! I try very hard to be attentive to an online community of people who are supporting me.
2) YOU ARE ABLE TO WEAVE IN AND OUT OF MANY GENRES AND STYLES: COMPOSING FILM SCORES, SONGWRITING, MESSING WITH BEETHOVEN (!) ON THE PIANO…IS MUSIC A MONGREL? A MELTING POT WITHOUT BOUNDARIES IF YOU WILL?
Why not? Nothing should be off the table. In the same way that a film score is designed to make you curious and engaged in a story, I am designing my videos to make you curious about music that you might otherwise ignore. These arrangements/re-compositions are “Invitations” – the idea being that I’m not just merging genres for the shtick of it, but rather these separate worlds of music are invited to the same party. At first, all they have in common is this one friend who guilted them in to coming all the way to Balboa on a Tuesday night, but soon they realize, after a couple mojitos, that they have the same sense of humor and dated the same girl from Cape Verde during High School. Next thing you know they have a beautiful friendship of their own.
3) YOUR RENDITION OF HERMANN’S ‘PSYCHO’ THEME WOULD PROBABLY GIVE HIM AND HITCHCOCK GOOSEBUMPS. HOW DOES ONE EVEN BEGIN TO APPROACH SOMETHING SO ICONIC AND PERFECT?
Bernard Hermann was the best film composer ever, no question. Just like Bach, his brilliance was that the material was both raw and refined, so it lends itself to an arrangement very well, I think. I had the idea to do that piece with mallets and piano, but while thinking about the video, I thought it would be a clever trick to make the performance seem like the shower murder scene, so I practiced hitting the piano strings with a tip of kitchen knives (it’s actually very hard to get a good tone with a thin piece of metal). Other than that, I transcribed the piano part from the orchestral score, added some pianistic aspects (arpeggios under the long melody, etc.) and I guess I couldn’t resist adding a piano solo with some more rhythmic ideas.’
4) YOU SEEM TO HAVE A FIRM HANDLE ON THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THE INDUSTRY WITH MULTIPLE AGENTS REPRESENTING YOU. WHY IS ‘TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS’ SO IMPORTANT TO MUSICIANS?
Nothing creative and inspiring can happen if your business is a mess. I have been burned many times and made many mistakes in the past, so I I’m grateful to have good representation who are open to me forging my own way and understand my long-term vision.
I think it’s worth mentioning that agents and managers need something to work with if you don’t have a long list of major credits (which I don’t). It’s really not enough to be a Hollywood composer who can kind-of-sort-of imitate anyone – you have to bring something unique to the table. The “Invitations” have helped distinguish me in the eyes of at least some producers, and has led to scoring and other opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.
5) HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR BUSY WORK ETHIC WITH BEING A FAMILY MAN?
This is by far the hardest challenge of my life. You can’t do everything you want and make everyone around you happy all of the time, and sacrifices must be made. My priorities are being a good husband, father, and making an impact in music. This leaves me with a social life that is a bit pathetic and having never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones. NO. GAME. OF. THRONES. EVER. #hardship.
Also, I try very hard not to take on projects that are a psychological drag, and I focus on working with people I like and respect. Of course, you don’t always have a choice, and you have to have a can-do/yes-to-almost-everything attitude, but life is too short for dealing with clowns who destroy your life-force, so it’s best to put energy towards relationships with the good directors and producers out there.
I should also add that being mentally present (i.e., not thinking about music or work when I’m with my family) is particularly challenging for me. It’s hard for me to turn it off. Especially with working from home, I have a hard time switching gears. Lately, I’ve found that meditation is very useful in regards to learning how to stay focused on the task at hand.