3 years ago I quit my office job and started renting out concert halls to give out my own concerts. Tomorrow I'm performing a sold-out concert at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC. We're livestreaming the whole thing for free. AMA!
Tomorrow's the biggest day of the year for me, possibly my entire life.
I'm a pianist and composer who used to work as a financial analyst in NYC. 3 years ago I quit my job and became a full-time pianist. But of course, no one was going to hire a financial analyst to perform at their concerts - so I rented out venues to give out my own. My first rental was Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (!) and performed my debut concert.
Tomorrow I'm performing at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, at the Terrace Theater which is a 400 person theater. The concert begins at 2PM EST and it will be 90 minutes of my original music + remixes of some classical pieces.
Unlike my previous concerts, this time we are sold out, but I'm livestreaming the whole thing for free on Youtube.
I'm in the midst of a lot of preparation but happy to answer any questions.
Edit: Livestream link for those who are interested
I'm a full-time Youtuber. I'm not huge or anything - I barely make around 80-100k a year and I invest 100% of that into my music, into concerts like this.
Not huge, but makes 100k a year on YouTube. Lol
He has over a million subs. 🤣🤣🤣🤣
It's hard to be a "big" music Youtuber, because music content isn't really the kind that gets people coming back. Most of my subscribers subscribe, watch a few videos but they don't actually follow my music. I'm not complaining of course, because Youtube is my primary source of income...
I am not trying to knock you at all. Or saying it isn't hard. You literally have two full time jobs. You aren't a small Youtuber though. Your comment made me think you had less than 100k subscribers. And in the YouTube space maybe a million subs is more like 100k now these days.
I would say one million is definitely making it though. Your average American would LOVE to make that much money off all their jobs combined. I could live stress free if I made essentially double what I do now.
I do understand that you wish people would actually follow your music. That being said you just sold out a concert that you didn't rent out. Seems like you're well on your way. Congrats, sir.
Thank you. I never wanted to be a Youtuber - it was the only way to fund my music and expose it to the world. But a lot of times Youtube only rewards you when you make "meme" or "hype" content that people want to watch. Serious music often gets ignored or suppressed by the algorithm.
Are you nervous about tomorrow? How do you usually deal with nerves?
Because this is the 4th self-directed concert I've given, I'm not as nervous as I was the first time. But still, it's crazy because this time I'm adding backing track, a violinist and cellist...
Every time before I get onstage I do a quick prayer and I record myself talking to the camera about my dreams. I remind myself that this is what I wanted as a kid and that there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than onstage playing piano for people who actually want to listen to my music.
Did you leave your previous job because you were unhappy or you just wanted to follow your hearts calling?
Also congratulations for coming this far!
Thank you, I quit my job because I was unhappy with not pursuing my childhood music dream. I was 29 almost 30 when I quit...
What job did you quit? How long have you been working this job?
I was working as a derivatives valuations analyst at a hedge fund administrator. I was pricing financial instruments such as options, futures, CDS, swaps, IRS, etc, and running risk numbers on them.
Before that I was a risk analyst at MSCI (morgan stanley capital international). In total spent 8 years in the industry.
Those sound like the most boring job roles in the world. You'd have to love numbers to keep that role.
Nope, you pretty much can't get more boring than that. Maybe accounting (sorry, accountants XD)
How much financial runway did you give yourself or did you really throw caution to the wind?
I had about a year's worth of savings, and one of my biggest fans helped me get started by hiring me for his company's private gigs. But I had to move into my parent's basement for about a year until Youtube was able to provide me a more consistent income.
How did your parents feel about your career change? Were they supportive? What was it like living with them, did you clash or was it okay?
It was hard in the beginning. They love me but I was 30 living in their basement... it was a combination of "OK I guess we'll try to be parents again" vs. "when are you going to get married and have kids?" They are easygoing though, which I love and appreciate them for.
But as a man, I knew I couldn't stay long. I moved out as soon as my finances got better.
I remember reading your 1st AMA. Congrats!
What's the most important lesson you have learned?
Lots of lessons:
As a pianist: The most important lesson I've learned is that musicality trumps all. If you don't understand the music, you will never connect with people.
As a composer: Be bold when writing. Don't hold back. Yes you can write cookie-cutter crowd-pleasers, but if you're a serious artist and want to be taken seriously - be bold and write stuff that no one has ever heard.
As a Youtuber: Create content that you yourself actually want to watch, not just content that the algorithm is currently trending or whatever. This is the most difficult thing for most Youtubers especially once they reach a certain level
Why livestream it free? The socialist in me says ‘bravo’, the capitalist says that’s one hell of an opportunity cost for an already sold out gig…!
I don't want my fans in the rest of the world to miss out on this. In my opinion all concerts should be livestreamed for free. The audience members who bought tickets, get a once in a lifetime experience and direct connection to the artist.
I think most artists want to have their concerts livestreamed, but they can't because their record labels or sponsors don't allow it.
I just subscribed to your YT channel, and the first video I am listening to right now is "Closed Doors" and it is absolutely beautiful. Congratulations on your hard work and success, I hope to be in that position one day!
Who first introduced you to piano? Are they still in your life and what was the process like of learning, was it an instant obsession and love to keep getting better or is your story different entirely?
Thank you, I appreciate that a lot. Closed Doors is one of my lesser known pieces and I'm glad you enjoy it.
This is a really good question that has a long answer but, to save you the long story, my Asian parents got me into piano, and I fell in love it once I started writing my own music, and realized I could express a deep meaning within myself that I could not share with words.
What advice can you give to people who are also planning to quit their jobs to pursue their passions?
I was hoping someone would ask this question!
The most important thing? Just do it. I was 29 when I quit. I should have quit when I was 23.
I kept making excuses, and telling myself "just one more year..." and that turned into 2, then 5 years of working. It's not like I hated my job, it was a cushy job that paid over 160k and I spent most of my time surfing Reddit. But it was not for me.
If I had quit when I was 23, I would have had 6 more years of writing music that matters. Especially during that time my musical tastes were different than now - it's a weird thing to say but I believe that most artists's best music comes out between the age of 20-25. Once you get older, your tastes become more sophisticated, but that also suppresses the inner child within you which is more playful and exploratory.
You've given me hope man. I'll submit my letter Monday. Cheers!
Good luck. Yes, you're going to run into pitfalls and roadblocks all over the place. But you enter a different frame of mind once you're on your own with no plan B. DM me if you ever need any advice!
What was it like the day after you quit your job? Do you remember what your first day of your "new" job (what you're doing now) was like?
What's a typical day look like for you? How much do you practice a day?
It's been a crazy journey. Moving into my parents basement it was primarily just content creation, hanging out with the parents. Then once I moved out in mid-2020 I just stayed at home making content and practicing piano, maybe 3-4 hours a day.
2021 I tried to go out a lot more despite COVID. I did a show in Germany, and went on a few road trips. Getting a dog also made my days go by a lot faster :)
What are some marketing methods you’ve used to get the word out, apart from Reddit?
Primarily Youtube - I'd say around 90% of my audience will come from my Youtube.
The remaining 10% is friends/family friends, and people who discover the concert via Kennedy Center's website.
I know this is a big controversy these days. Personally I'm fine with Spotify and other streaming service payouts.
The reason why some artists are complaining is because they're signed to record labels which take around 60-90% of their streaming revenues. So they end up seeing very little.
No record label would touch me with a 10 foot pole so I get 100% of my streaming revenues and it's pretty good for me - around 2k a month for about 400k streams.
Really interesting insights with numbers, thank you! Curious if you are sizable enough to negotiate better rates or if it's roughly flat or are there most contractual size tiers?
Nope I'm pretty sure Spotify plays a relatively flat rate. I could be wrong. But I don't think I get better or worse treatment per stream than any other artist.
How many years have you been on youtube before you could even think of doing something like this?
Many. I started my Youtube in 2008. On and off for some years but went full time in 2019.
Hi would love to watch and listen where do we find you on you tube?
My Youtube Channel is the same as my username :)
I am a huge fan, and have been listening to your music on spotify and youtube since I found you a year ago. I'm so excited for you that your show is sold out, and for us that we'll be able to watch online for free!
What's your favorite piece that you have created?
P.S. My kids get so excited every time you release a new remixed/intense/etc. song. They request them every time we get in the car
Thank you so much <3 and please extend my greetings to your kids. I'm super excited for you guys to be watching!
My favorite piece is - remix - Pachelbel's Nightmare (Dark Canon in D), EDM - Moonlight Sonata Nightmare. Original, probably Imprisoned Soul or Gallop 2.0. But I love them all (except the 5 levels arrangements)
Woah, I remember a few years back a friend of mine shared your video of you playing chopin revolutionary etude. Congrats on 1M subs and I hope your concert goes well!
Do you have a good budget keyboard you can recommend to basically a complete beginner? I took basic lessons once a few years back, and have been trying to get back into it. My current keyboard is a 61 key keyboard from the 90s... haha
Great question lol I encourage you to watch my video "I went to a music store" on my channel, I visited a guitar center and gave my opinion on a couple of brands/keyboards. You can search "visiting a music store musicalbasics" on youtube to find it!
What was your financial situation when you quit your job? Was there a safety net in place, like a good amount of savings and/or financial help from family? Were the circumstances more dire? I ask because, if I were to quit my full time job right now and pursue my "dreams" if you will, I would probably be out of money in like a month to no real fault of my own. Working class life and all.
I had some savings on my own. Keep in mind I was 29 and manager-level at my company. I had a huge fan who helped me out a lot during that time.
Congratulations!!! How did you build up a following so that you ended up selling out a concert hall?
What kind of piano training do you have? I.e. did you have lessons, did you study at a conservatory, or self-taught...
Financials: How did you support yourself when you were starting out? Are you now making a living from being a musician, or are you breaking even, or in the red?
Music: who are your favorite composers and pianists and why? What is your favorite genre of music to play and why?
Sorry for so many questions!
Thank you! I have a Youtube channel which I'm not going to link but you can look it up (same as my username)
I studied piano in middle school and high school, and went to business school to study finance. I took some adult/evening classes here and there at schools like NYU and Juilliard, but I really regret not getting a conservatory training.
I'm barely breaking even - all of my income I put back into my music and concerts such as this. Last October I did another concert in Germany that cost me well over $5,000.
My favorite composers are constantly evolving. I used to be a diehard Beethoven fan but now I'm more Stravinsky and Bach. I find myself appreciating modern composers more every day, such as Kajja Saariaho, Rebecca Clarke, Caroline Shaw, Ellen Reid (I just realized they all happen to be female...)
Last October I did another concert in Germany that cost me well over $5,000.
As a professional musician... this model baffles me. You have a successful YouTube channel, why are you losing money on performances? You have a following, you can put butts in seats. Wouldn't it be a better idea to perform more often in smaller venues that will book you for free and then pay you for bringing in an audience? Why spend so much money on renting out "prestige" venues?
I'm a classical musician who writes his own music. Small venues like bars or nightclubs don't really consider that a crowd-pleaser genre. Bigger venues are my only choice and if I'm going to put in the effort it's better to just get a "prestige" venue and pay a few thousand more for the rental.
I lost money on the Germany concert because 1) COVID restrictions made it impossible to fit more people into the hall and 2) I donated all the profits to charity because it was in honor of someone important to me.
Thanks for responding! Found your YouTube channel. 😋 How would you describe your musical voice and style?
Good to hear!
My style is evolving as well, when I was a kid I used to write baroque/classically inspired melodies. In college and in early days of my Youtube I wrote powerhouse romantic (think epic Beethoven or Liszt). Recently I'm experimenting with more impressionistic and atonal music.
Very cool. What's your plan, if any, to start making money from this? Where do you want to take your music career in the next few years?
For now as long as I can support myself I'm fine with the current income I have. I could try to become a big Youtuber and aim to make millions but that would require a lot of effort making content that I'm not really interested in making.
After this concert my immediate plan is to start composing like crazy - for different chamber music arrangements such as Piano Trio / String Quartet, and hire musicians on Fiverr to play my music.
How's your dating life going?
It's almost non-existent, to my parent's dismay. I simply don't have the time or patience to "court" someone properly.
That's fair! Any plans on changing that in the future? (...I'm not trying to hit on you, just curious 😅 )
At the moment, no :) as Confucius says, chase 2 rabbits you catch neither
What is a typical cost to rent out a concert hall?
I can't reveal the exact amounts but it varies. The more prestigious the venue the more expensive, and it also depends on seating capacity. Anywhere from 5-20k
This is awesome. Do you edit your own YouTube videos? Or do you pay someone to do it? If you do, did you pay someone from the very start even if you didn't have any subscribers?
I sometimes hire editors, but most of the time I just edit my own videos.
Editors are very skilled, but they never quite understand the same vision that I have. So the videos I edit myself usually end up getting more views.
If you have a lot of raw footage, I would pay editors to do the first cut. Condense all the important moments down into a 20-30 minute reel. Then as the Youtuber you do the final cut narrowing it down to 8-15 minutes or whatever length.
Do you sell tickets directly or do the venues require that you use something like Ticketmaster?
They (Kennedy Center) actually prohibited me from using services like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite.
I had to sell all tickets directly from my Youtube channel. Which sounds easy but is a lot harder than you think - a lot of my subscribers do not get my videos recommended to them anymore, and even if they do, no one reads the description and sees my note on the concert.
Jeez. That seems like an impossible task.
Curious, does the Kennedy Center require you to audition for them? Would they just rent it out to any musician?
They asked me to provide proof of previous concerts I've given - so showing them I performed at other big halls (Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Kongresshall Statdhalle) definitely helped. Otherwise I doubt they care much about your actual skill because you're paying them really an insane amount of money
Congratulations!!! Does your talent with numbers help with reading/playing music? Seems like there are physicists, for example, who are great at guitar (Brian May, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter), so maybe it's not so unusual after all.
No, numbers does not help. Music is not about numbers, it's about understanding (or imagining) the music on multiple levels - I'd say imagination is the number one skill to have as a musician.
Case in point that you have to lay down money to start a career in music. Any advice for someone starting out? Where have you gotten the most value for your money?
If you're just starting out, get the most basic video & audio equipment you need to be not just a musician but also a content creator. Content creation and music is intricately linked these days and unless you are a super lucky artist who gets picked up by a record label early on, you're going to have to do a lot of your own schilling in the beginning. Example, take Jacob Collier, the guy spent countless hours making amazing Youtube videos even though he himself is already a god-tier musician.
I would not recommend renting out concert venues until you have at least a decent following.
Wow it's been 3 years?! Time flies and I'm really happy for you! I remembered it was such a big move and was rooting for you back then haha.
It's actually a sad reminder for me actually since I haven't succeeded in YouTube yet XD but I'll keep trying. No questions for you but keep going at it sir!
Youtubing is hard lol, even if you think you've "made it", a month later the algorithm ditches you and you're back to square one. I've seen plenty of channels with millions of subscribers die out because they get less views than a channel with 10k.
Hey I just watched your most epic piece ever. Nice work!! What’s on your wrists?
Thank you! It’s Soundbrenner. I’m not sponsored and I don’t recommend their product.
How excited are you to perform at the Kennedy Center? It sounds like you have worked hard for this for your whole life?
Wishing you the very best!
Excited would be an understatement. And yes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I'm preparing a ridiculously ambitious program, premiering multiple new works. I'd say more but you know what just try to watch if you have time haha
When learning a piece, hands together or hands separate?
Both. You do hands together to get a holistic view and then hands separate on individual sections that you have trouble with.
What is your favorite video on your YouTube Channel?
Moonlight Sonata Nightmare which is my EDM/Dubstep remix of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Dubstep was produced by one of my fans named Lone-R and I couldn't be more proud of the video, the story, and the collaboration.
How did you manage that financially?
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