Dr. Starinken's Failed Adventures.

experimentation & exploration

DanMichael @ 25 years olds, 5 months and 17 days

I don’t make much money doing what I’m doing, but I don’t give a fuck. If I cared about money then I’m sure I would have studied finance. It’s not that I think money or having it is bad because money is definitely necessary, but I definitely don’t need a lot of it. I don’t need a nice apartment, the one I have at Bed-Stuy does right for me. A Moog would be nice, but I’ve learned to design software synths and have tricked classical composers into thinking they’re listening to a live orchestra when it’s really just me in my bedroom fucking around on Logic. I write for this website and they pay me; I compose music for a few clients and their films and they pay me. Sometimes I get big paychecks and sometimes I get next to nothing. But for me, there is no difference between a paycheck that pays for three months worth of rent and a paycheck that barely buys me an appetizer at Todd English. 

It’s not about the money and it will never be about the money. I’m not writing for Revive/Okayplayer for the measly-ass paycheck I get (no diss to the company). I’m composing for people’s films because one person pays me over a grand and the other gives underpays me egregiously. I don’t haul keyboard and amp over to Queens to play for a fucking meal that I can prepare for myself because I can’t afford food. I do all of this because it because my writing, compositions and my music is an extension of who I am as a person. 

If you truly want to know who I am as a person and if I’m being honest to you, then who I am as a person is clearly revealed in all my articles, the few films I’ve scored, and in my playing. My work is a direct expression of who I am at the moment and judging from my work then I would say I’m where I need to be. 

My writing, compositions and playing show promise. It has a voice and it has flair. I definitely think that it can be spotted from a mile away and anyone who would be familiar enough with me will be able to recognize that it’s me. I have a distinct taste for things and it shows in my work. But having good taste isn’t half the battle, it’s a quarter. The execution, technique, and language still sounds like a 25-year old trying to get better and that’s where I am right now.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see six figures in my lifetime, but I don’t give a fuck. I would rather live my life a thousand times over - thank you eternal return - and fail each time in pursuit of what I believe is my calling than betray myself. That last sentence is really fancy talk for the colloquial, “I gots to keep it real.” 

Some people can work for money and have their paycheck be their end goal. There’s people I know who like the idea of what society ascribes to being a prestigious job. This is all fine and dandy and to each their own. I’m not attacking anyone’s life or life choices. I’m merely writing this for me. This for me to remind myself that when I see my name on an envelope from Blue Note Records and in the envelope contains tickets to a show that I’m supposed to review, I get happy. When I see my name plastered on Revive/Okayplayer’s website - a website that I’ve followed for years - I feel pride. When people come over the apartment and I record them in my living room then show them the final product a week later and see their face go “that’s us?” gives me validation. When I turn in my work to the director, producer, writer and s/he says “You really helped bring out my film,” a part of me wants to hug that person for 10 minutes and not let go. When I’m playing and I hear the crowd go “WHOO,” I forget that I’m not getting paid for this gig. It’s not about the money for me and it never will. 

The law of diminish marginal utility states - in a nutshell - that the first bite into a burger will be the best bite you’ll have of that burger and each bite you have won’t be as good as the first. I’m not so sure my obsession with music is the same way. I’m at the height of my musical prowess and I can’t stop. If 25 year old me played for 18 year old me then the teenager would say “If I could just get to where he is at 25. I’ll be set.” The 25 year old is wise enough to know that there isn’t a “get to where s/he is” ever. The first time I ever played there was this feeling I got and that feeling has never left me. I still feel it when I listen to The Roots and I still feel it when I write - even now. 

It’s not about the money and it never will. I don’t care about prestige. All I will ever care about is the chance to live my life in its fullest capacity at every waking moment. What matters to me is being the best I can be at the moment while pushing the envelope. I’m okay with living like this for the next few years. I know that this is temporary and I’m working to attain a higher goal. I also know that the day I get to where I want to be, I’ll enjoy it for two months and start figuring out where I want to be again. 

That’s the joy of music. There might only 12 notes I’m working with, but all the possibilities with those 12 notes… 


How do I explain that an eight year journey that started at a little known music academy a few minutes from my house has ended? Or was it the at the LAX Marriott where I played my first gig where our story began? Perhaps it was the day of the Berklee audition or the day I got rejected from Berklee, maybe it was my audition into Fullerton College. 

Wherever the story does start, it definitely didn’t begin in New York and somehow I have the slightest feeling that it doesn’t end in New York either. 

This isn’t my winter break, this is the one month respite to take it all in and reflect on what it means to have finally graduated. 

So what does graduating mean? It means that I can finally move on with a chapter in my life that took more than one plot turns. Finally, I can close this part of my life and start another. I look forward to the new headaches, challenges, and whatever my next goals, aspirations, and dreams are. 

Lastly, I thank God for blessing me with a life full of love, laughter, friends and family, and most importantly, music. 

What I’ve Learned in Music School.

1). Discipline and Diligence

Musical mastery doesn’t care about your background. The end of the tune requires your opinion and your artistry and pays no heed to whether your parents were both music professors at a conservatory or if they were deaf. I have classmates whose parents teach at a conservatory level whose development isn’t as refined as those who have parents that aren’t musical. While growing up in musical hot spots like Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, etc does have an impact on a young musician, I also know people from Eastern Europe that can bop with the best of them. In a world of youtube and internet forums, there is no excuse of not doing your homework and not learning any specific musical language. 

Phrases like “I started later in life” are also not to be given any quarter. Whether the musician grew up in a musical family, went to a performing arts high school, or learned music through the streets, proficiency on an instrument still requires hours in the shed. Sentiments of feeling behind compared to child prodigies are also thrown out the window because the only thing that separates us from them are the countless hours spent behind the instrument. 

To be good at this art from, the musician must be driven to obsession, even if it means walking to a metronome and synchronizing your steps to the upbeats of the click.  

2). Your place in history

The reason Jackson Pollock’s work can stand toe to toe with classical masters is because of his awareness of where he stands. Similarly, Robert Glasper is able to play a hip-hop jazz fusion and be considered a great jazz artist a la Art Tatum because he’s a contemporary of his time while understanding his instrument’s history.

This understanding is what separates artists from journeymen and women. The complete artist is both a historian and a rebel. Historical context must be learned before we can push the envelope. An understanding of the harmony of Bach can be applied to producing Dillaesque beats, and eventually you learn that there are more similarities between the two than differences. 

3). Outward appearances don’t mean shit

Ryan Knapp and I have attended the same school from Jr. High all the way to college when we were both at Cal Poly Pomona. During our time with Cal Poly we would look at people and notice how they carried themselves, the clothes they wore, and the way the spoke and immediately make a knee jerk judgement about them. This doesn’t work in music.

The most outspoken extroverted life of the party person won’t get gigs or play with anyone if s/he can’t play for shit. On the contrary, the weirdest motherfucker who secretly has a taxidermy job on the side could be the one hitting at Vanguard every night because that person knows how to navigate his/her way through music. 

Maybe in the business world the difference between an Omega and a Bulova watch makes a difference, but on the bandstand it don’t mean shit. 

4). Play what you hear, never back down

After all the homework and learning your history properly, your opinion and your personal voice must be heard. Learning how to be fluent in any musical language is difficult, but learning how to speak and have your own style is harder. 

It’s like English, we’ve all learned it through grade school and perhaps have even taken classes in college, but very few people can write like David Foster Wallace. 

Bill Evans played some of the baddest shit ever and it would probably take me decades to develop playing like him, but at the end of the day I need to play what I hear in my head and not worry too much about criticism. 

This is very hard to do. On one hand a sense of objectiveness about your work needs to be in tact to be able to take advice so I can hone your voice, but on the other hand, a sense of individuality must be rooted deeply in your core so you don’t get jaded and lose your voice.

The world doesn’t need another Robert Glasper or Brad Mehldau, it needs us. Glasper had Dilla and Mehldau had Radiohead, we have new musical outlets that they don’t know about and it is our job to show the world what goes on in our heads.

5). Humility

I have the hardest time with this. It’s not easy to listen to someone say that you’re at the beginning stages of your development as a jazz musician when you’ve been playing it for over five years. Five years is the an undergraduate degree with one year of experience in work for most people, but for the musician, five years is a small scratch of an eternity of work. 

The realization that our work as musicians, writers, filmmakers, producers, composers, and artists will take a lifetime to master is a humbling experience. It keeps us in check and always leaves us in a place wanting more and reaching for higher things. There’s a difference between a workaholic and someone who is passionately pursuing something. The former can’t stop working - as per the definition of the word - the latter understands that life mimics art and realizes that creating art is purely for art’s sake. 

There is huge pantheon of heroes in any creative field, the artist must come to the understanding that humility is a key trait to begin to follow in the footsteps of great men and women from Camus to Holliday. If perhaps one day the artist is so lucky and fortunate to gain notoriety for his/her work, then let it be for the refreshment of the human soul and the glorification of the ultimate Creator.