Thursday, April 23, 2015


One benefit of joining the Music BC Association was getting a contact of the Conquer The World Promotion Service recommended by them. The service was online promotion on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and such. It’s sad to see that they don’t exist anymore as I can’t find them online. Although the service was pricy, it did work as promised. One of the issues with similar companies is that most don’t really work with real people, don’t create personal contacts, the Likes on Facebook are not real etc. The recommendation by the Music BC proved true, and very soon I started seeing the benefits. The number of MySpace friends started growing very fast. That was very encouraging, especially as the price for the weekly service was $50. I believe I was paying those $200 a month for at least a year if not longer. It was worth it as at the end of that year I had about 60,000 friends on MySpace! And all of them were actually legit. The CTW team had a clear and productive strategy, and I could see them working daily on promoting my music. This reflected on the number of people who accepted the friend request, listened to the music, and liked my Facebook page. If I had not been laid off from my day job at the time, I would have probably continued using their services. I’ve learnt that most artists who used similar services got way better results than the ones who were trying on their own. It requires a lot of work, and a very specific promotion strategy with some automated message generation processes that one is very unlikely to master on their own, unless they focus on that full time.

One relatively minor problem with this was coming from constant changes on social media sites. I figured they make the changes not only to improve on service, but even more so to get people back to their sites to hang there for longer periods of time. Even though I was paying for the service, I still had to spend every once in a while updating my profiles, changing security settings etc, etc. This was at times very frustrating, but not because of the CTW Promotion, only for the strategic changes in social media sites.

For a while after I got laid off I reduced their service to a less expensive package of $20 a week, but I couldn’t sustain that for longer than 6 month so eventually I had to stop. However, I highly recommend similar services, only if they work with real people and not artificially generated numbers. To figure out who is legit and who is not requires some time to research, test, and look for trusting sources of recommendation.

To be continued...


As my CD got done and I got all 3000 copies packed in all the drawers and storage I could find around my house, I created a CD Baby profile and sent the 5 copies of each CD release (the Serbian and English version). I signed up for hard copy as well as the digital release, and in a few days my music was all over the internet. Four years after, several online profiles later, many and many hours spent on online promotion, I only have 1 CD sold, and 3 digital copies, and several streaming of songs, all together not adding up to $50 minimum that CD Baby requires to send you a check! Sad I know.

However, even after all that discouragement, I still believe that one of the best moves in all this was actually creating a profile on CD Baby and posting my music. Why? First, because for a very modest fee per album you get it permanently (hopefully forever) online, and in their stock. Personally, that means a lot to me even if it does not sell. Second, they seem very professional, and they know what they are doing. The service is smooth, the site is with no glitches, your info and stats about your sales are easily accessible and it’s all very well organized. Another very important benefit for me personally was that soon after I had posted it on CD Baby, the Canadian Library of Archives had contacted me requesting copies of my CD for their archives. To date, this is pretty much the most valuable thing that happened to my CD not only after I posted it on CD Baby, but otherwise as well. 

A couple things I would have done differently though. First, I would seriously reconsider posting my music on Itunes (so called digital distribution). I’m still not quite sure if I would completely take it down or not post it at all. In any case, the streaming sites I would avoid completely. On CD BABY you are able to track when and who bought your music and in what form. You can also see the prices each individual paid to get or stream your song. I have my music on several streaming sites and one stream is paid $0.0004 on Spotify! Rhapsody pays $0.0091, Muve Music pays $0.00099, Xbox Music: $0.0023, Rdio: $0.008, $0.0005, My Space: $0.0007 etc. Deezer pays $0.3564 for a song download!

It’s not surprising the latest scandal about the mainstream artist who had his song streamed millions of times and got only $3,000 for it!

That is the very reason Taylor Swift boycotted the online streaming. Guess what: She “Occupied Her Music” and her CD sales skyrocketed!


In the meantime my CD was out and I had it registered with Socan, Music BC, and The Canadian Songwriting Association, and subscribed to their magazines. I thought if I wanted to get anywhere with all this I needed to throw myself right into it and keep up to date with the latest buzz. I’ve created profiles on both Socan and The Canadian Songwriting Association. My feelings about the effect of it are mixed. While there was no immediate benefit, the opportunity is there if you have time to utilize it. You are kept in the loop, you know what is happening at any moment in your city or the country, and if you got time and money to travel and mingle you will sooner or later gain some contact, some gig or such. If you are willing to schmooze there is some paid as well as free events organized by the Music BC, and similarly in other provinces. For me so far it hasn’t worked. The events I wanted to sign up (a few of them) didn’t work because of the time and location. Having to work daytime, half the day is out, the rest was usually a question of should I work on my new song or spend the evening schmoozing. I always chose the new song. At least I got a couple hundred songs in the last 4 years! I’m not good at schmoozing anyways. I believe that a musician should be able to either hire someone to do it for them – if he or she has means for it, or to get into an agreement with a PR or a music manager, label or similar.  Plus, I don’t believe in having to go around and beg people to listen to my CD or check out my Facebook page. And that is a big problem in general. Back to my first statement at the top of this article, if your song is on TV you don’t have to do much to get it heard. If people like it they will reach for it anyway. To this day I hate begging people to turn their heads and stop and listen. Do we ever do that on the street? No, and most likely most people would just pass you by if you did. I ignore all requests like “check out my CD”, or “Listen to my new song”, even when they are given for free, especially then, because I believe that giving it for free diminishes the value of the work, plus I don’t want to support giving the art away. Hence this series of blog posts. However, if the artist intrigues me with some content on his / her profile I will make time to check the music, and even keep up to date with what’s happening with it. 

Aside from registering the music with Socan, which should be done by default, the magazines have been the most important benefit from getting into the Music Associations so far. The gear updates, software and hardware updates, events, festival information, competitions, songwriting techniques and analysis, gig experiences, music business info etc. they are all things that you might benefit from at any point in your journey. I keep all the magazines still, as I haven’t read them all front to back yet, but I’m hoping I will get back to them sooner or later. Usually to leaf through them to get the sense of the overall, and read the main articles  it takes me about 30-45 minutes. Add to that about 1.5 hours of social media updates (there is many more sites that I will talk about later), that is minimum 2 hours a day spent on creating your online presence. Usually, that is way too much than I feel I should be doing. As the time goes by, I’m spending less and less time on it, simply because I don’t see the results that would make it worthwhile.

To be continued...


Immediately after the final mixing was done and I got the master recordings, I started creating online profiles. It was reasonable to accept at the time that online resources and opportunities should be used. Very soon after creating a bunch of online music profiles I realized that this might not be what I thought it was, and it would not bring the results I was hoping for. Especially because I don’t think my expectations were all that high anyway. However, the one expectation that was totally unrealistic was the thought that no matter where it is music matters to people. 

Not quite.

The only proven thing is – music trully matters to people only if:
1) It  gets on TV. 
2) It is played on radio. 
3) If you play live.
4) If you hit the jackpot of creating a viral video of your song or cover.
5) If you are in a business that uses free music as their main bait for customers.
6) If it’s free.

Everything else will bring you a few (valuable though) listeners and followers here and there, in return for hours of online presence – if you got time for all of it.

The first profile I created was on MySpace. 




It’s amazing how much things changed in regards to this online media for music promotion in only a few years. I couldn’t wait to post songs on there, so I posted 7 full songs thinking everybody will jump on the new thing curious to hear it. What a joke! It was only the first song that got a bit more listeners, and only after I would spend an hour or more online trying to communicate to people and pitch my profile. Looking at the activities and reading the comments of other people trying to figure out why they are there, I realized it’s not the music. For the most part, the social part of it was the reason to hang out. Mostly to get laid actually! At the time Myspace was the biggest online music promo thing, but who was mostly listened? You guessed it: the biggest acts in the music industry. The ones from TV and the radio.  The little guys and gals, including myself, were trying to piggy back their popularity by working really hard to get them as Myspace friends. I even talked to some who were claiming to be the actual artists, but very quickly I realized it was people they hired to work on their online presence. 
Aside from my enthusiasm rapidly melting, the website itself was quite buggy and unreliable. The design changes they kept introducing were screwing up my habits, slowing down my computer, crashing it even. At times it was really frustrating. 

Initially I started spending a few hours a day on Myspace working on acquiring friends. One of the strategies I thought logical at the moment was to friend the most famous artists who in any way influenced my own music or I for any reason respected. My hope was that having their names on my friend list would benefit my own music. That proved totally wrong and useless. The only thing that was beneficial there was the free promotion THEY all got in return for pretty much nothing. Soon I realized that I would have to spend many hours daily to gain any significant number of friends. The percentage of them who actually had listened to my songs proved to be very minimal. In 4 years the top song (and one of the best on my album – You and I instrumental) has gained less than 2000 listens! 

Now I only occasionally go there to check my profile.  The interface has changed completely, and the music seems to be even less important. Last time I checked I couldn’t even stream the songs on my iPhone because of some incompatibility issues they were blaming on Flash Player or something – I lost interest in trying to figure out all the reasons they come up with. At the moment, it is possible to stream the music on your mobile device, but it’s somewhat cumbersome to access your own profile and find the music. Reading the latest comments of the people, MySpace still keeps losing its popularity over Facebook as much as it keeps trying really hard to become a relevant social media site where people would come and hang out for longer periods.

The second profile I had created was of course Facebook. My page was up and running very quickly. However, getting people to like my music on Myspace from Facebook was a challenge. I hoped that linking it and promoting it on Facebook, and creating the presence on the page daily would make a difference. At times it felt the opposite – the more presence I created the less interest I provoked. Later I learnt from some research that only 5% of all people you friend on social media sites will actually click on your page and take a look! Not to mention the % of people who would actually reach to buy your music, which is almost insignificant! 

So, needless to say, as soon as my presence on MySpace subsided, so did the interaction with people and the number of listeners.

To be continued…

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Occupy Your Music - Part 2: Lawyers, and all that crap...


The Olympics have started in Sochi, Russia... Watching the opening ceremony I couldn't but feel increased hope for us all. One idea, such as The Olympic Games, can still unite us. Even with all the corruption involved, the Corporatism which is inevitable even in such an event, with politicians involved in mafia or not, all the bad that one might think of surrounding it can not diminish one thing: dream! More than ever we need to dream, we need dreams...

I digress...


I brought all my audio files to the studio, all in 24bit 44.100 Hz resolution (there is no point in having it higher as no CD is recorded in better resolution anyways, at least not yet, so investing in equipment that does it higher is questionable). I've done all the base arrangements myself, with lots of midi files converted to audio, all individual instruments, sometimes in several channels, and several instruments playing the same themes for the fullness of the sound etc. I've done all vocals and back up vocals myself, and NONE of the audio files were pitch corrected! Only the song Good Night we pitch corrected at the studio as it was a bit too much off, but I insisted in not editing anything else, as I was looking for real, raw emotion, as deep as I can get it. For some stupid reason I thought this would be actually appreciated more! Wrong. Technology, and the industry itself, will rather support false representations than the real thing. All in a desperate run after the illusion of perfection, as the real one is impossible to achieve.

I digress again...

I had violin, drums, bass, dobro guitar, solo guitar, bass clarinet, and a double bass done by pro musicians. One of my favorite was the clarinet player I caught at his concert at the CBC Vancouver Studio and asked him if he would do the bass clarinet for my song Katarina. He looked at me sort of like 'who is this guy now?" but to my excitement he accepted. His name is Milan Milosevic, and is the son of the legendary Yugoslavian / Serbian clarinetist Boki Milosevic. Milan has created quite a successful career on his own versatile professional musician path. When I sent him the final product of the CD, he surprised me with how much he loved the song and being a part of the whole project. My heart was full!

So the recording sessions were going well. Kelly was getting everything organized in a highly professional manner. It's crucial to have someone involved in the industry who knows what needs to be done so you can relax and focus on your art. The sound engineer was also extremely supportive and professional, and above all punctual. I didn't think I will encounter that in such a creative environment. But Sheldon Zaharko is deservedly one of the best engineers in Vancouver, if not Canada, for a reason.

At the end of that week I had two master Cd's in my hands and I was ecstatic. During the recording sessions I was also doing my homework finalizing the steps of where to go and what to do with the promotion and planning the whole business side of it. The very first thing was meeting with a prominent lawyer in the local industry, the only one I could find that focuses particularly on music and music business issues. Even more importantly , he was directly involved with the major music association in Vancouver. He was to be the first to listen to a few songs from my CD.

Session 1

Looking back, I have no idea why I was so exited about the whole thing, especially when I had to pay $100 for an hour of his time! The album copy in my hands was so precious and big, I couldn't wait to share it with him. If I was a teenager, that would had been understandable. So I'm there, the receptionist didn't waste time to promote his bosses new CD, even to mention that the author does not perform live. It sounded like: "He is so above it all, he doesn't have to bother...". I smiled and set at the office waiting. The guy came, took the CD and put it in the player. My heart at first inflated,  but the sound was so awful I was left speechless. The sound system was set to a booming bass setup that screamed Rap and Techno style or something like that. Why did I ever expect more attention to something so essential, especially in a major music association in BC I will never know. My expectations definitely dropped under the dust in the carpet! What we were listening through that booming system was so terrible I couldn't wait for those minutes to be over. For the matters to be even worse, there was no time to request anything better, or to adjust the sound. The minutes were clicking, and with them the dollars I've paid. The music was the least important.

In a way this was the main point I got from that session. From this perspective now, the music is really not that important at all. Your album, as much as it looks huge as an achievement in your own eyes, is just a crumb in the loaf of good music out there. Not to mention the mediocre ones. What is important in the industry's eyes is to make your music available to as many huge businesses, real and online, as possible, and for free! And not for your own good. This is what the industry grew to expect.

So, the dollars were clicking as the lawyer gave me a short storyline: "Your music is sort of adult contemporary, but more localized in ethnic character".

- I should focus on my own Serbian community to start, which is good as it defines my niche already.
- I should look into online promotion opportunities.
- I should send the CD to radio stations.
- I should look into online and real store distribution opportunities.
- I need to play live a lot if I want to sell Cd's.
- I need to create a bunch of merch I can sell at the gigs.
- I need to become a member of his association.

Nothing concrete, no contacts, no recommendations, nothing. I already knew all of that. He asked me if it was useful, I smiled. I didn't want to be rude as I can be. I was too eager to start the whole process of promoting my music, I didn't want to care about it. But it did leave me with a deflated feeling.

Another important lesson I've learnt from all of this: there is a lot of work to do, and it's just starting! For some foolish reason I thought creating music is the most important. After that you find people and companies to help you with promotion, distribution, gig finding, merch production and design, street promos, and everything else based on belief in your creation, and you are set. You can focus on creating, and slowly build your business till you are able to make a living out of it. Good I kept my day job all this time!

In fact, very little, or no companies out there will be willing to do the leg work required for you. Everything is expected from you and only you. You need to set everything up yourself to the point where some company will be willing to even consider you for their roster. In a way, it reminds me on the Canadian show "The Dragon's Den" where a group of major investors are approached by people or groups with ideas in various stages. No idea is accepted unless it already makes sales. The bigger sales the better! It hurts to watch those desperate creative individuals go through the begging process, only to sell off their ideas for majority of the investor's interest. In some cases years of establishing the business around an idea are gone in the pockets of the investors, where they put as minimal effort into the whole process as possible! Sure, the investment is helping the creators in many ways, but at the end only the investor is really gaining from the whole deal. You make the cake, they are only happy to sweep the cream off of it!

This is exactly what the music industry is doing to all of us musicians hoping that our music will see the light of day. If you have to do everything yourself why do you need anybody anyways? Do you have time for all of it? Do you want to focus all that time to the other part of the business aside from creating?

For many this is OK, and I'm glad to see there is musicians out there who manage to make a living playing their own music. It usually comes after years of focus, while at the same time managing another business on the side which pays the bills till the music grows.

For me that is not an option, for now at least. With another career on the side, I do expect the industry to offer much more so I can keep the music being the focus, and not the business. However, my hopes that this will actually ever happen are very lean, and I will elaborate on this in the next posts.

The most important thing in all of this: save yourself money for "professional advice". If you are into your music and figuring out the ways to make it work, you probably already know what is best for you and which way to go. There is so much free resources available at your fingertips that you will rarely, or at all need to spend extra dollar to reach the points of your voyage. Your friends are most likely your best advisers.

Session 2

Another contact with lawyers was after several months of my online promotion I was running strong.
I was approached by a company on Twitter. They loved my song Katarina, and they kept sending emails about wanting to include the song into their library. I do believe that song is very good, if not the best on my album, was flattered with the attention from them, but still a bit puzzled with the amount or praise I was getting. So I did a bit of research about the company and it was legit. Nothing too successful, but being in New York and surviving was a good sign. So finally, I responded to their email and agreed to go over the agreement they were about to send.

Got a two page licencing agreement and read it several times very carefully. Several flags were raised in those readings, and the gut feeling was not good at all. There were things cut and pasted, sentences not making sense at all, but the most important thing, typed in very small letters was a clause about giving the company the right to modify, edit, rewrite, rearrange the song in any way they see fit! I knew right there and then I will not sign any of it but still curious about the interest I refused to see what was obvious. I decided to consult a lawyer again.

Another $110 later, one 10min phone conversation, and a couple emails exchanging the files, and I was left with what I knew already. Not to sign.

Sure, I was told, if I want my song to have some more exposure I could sign, but it's not advisable. And this is what I realised every company in the industry is relying on: on our desperation to get our music exposed to the point where some will be willing to give up all the rights.

First lesson from this is: if it doesn't feel and sound right, it is not right. Don't waste your money on advice you already know.

Second lesson: there is predators out there. Even if they genuinely like your music, you have to be extremely careful with considering their offers. Everybody is there to make money off of your music. That does not mean that you will.

Last lesson: stop giving your music away. We need to respect our own creation more, so others respect it as well. When did you last see the big names you see on TV are giving away their albums? Not even individual songs. We should start doing the same.

Occupy your music!

To be continued...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Occupy Your Music

In February 2010 I released my first album "You and I... Twenty Years Later" in two languages, English and Serbian, as two separate releases. Some of the music you can hear if you browse the gadget to the right of this text. The title mostly refers to the voyage with this art of creating music, which I was hoping will turn into a business. I would like to share my experience in the last three years, in hope that people who are in the business, or are still dreaming of starting it, may find some of it useful. This will include the process, as well as my views of the companies I have been approached by, and the services which I have been using, which at the end will give a more wholesome view of the music industry itself as I've learnt about in the last three years . For those interested, you can check out my website for more info about the music and the project.


In 1994, back in Serbia, things were going well with my bend Dina. Over the years, from 1988 to 1994 we had won a few awards in local festivals. I was 30 years old and it seamed just the right time (although a bit overdue) to finally make it with this one big festival just formed that year in Belgrade. Our song "Put ka sebi" (Path To Self) was accepted with raving reviews, and it was everyone's favorite. Things were looking really good till the news came that for the lack of sponsorship everything but the jazz night had to be stripped off of the schedule. With the war in Bosnia and an opportunity for "a better future" I ended up in Canada, starting all over again.

At the time I was eager and full of optimism, so it didn't matter that I didn't speak English, was missing about 30 years of my own history in the new country, and had to learn pretty much everything from scratch. When you change your life like that, be prepared to erase everything you know because for most of it you won't get credit and you will have to fight twice as hard to get where you want to be. If not multiple times more. To make a long story short, even with all my education, qualifications, and skills it took me 15 years to get to the point where I can afford to start a music project I was dreaming about, and to finally build my own home studio. This includes still ongoing learning about the tools for creating music. Also, one should know that this all was parallel with (re)building a career in architecture as the main career path that can support all of this other stuff.

Thinking about making a career in music in the years after I moved to Canada was out of the question for several reasons. First, as I never spoke English before, I couldn't sing any of the western music, and I never had a repertoire in this language. Second, playing songs in Serbian was not attractive enough. I moved to another country to present my art to the western world, I was content with what I achieved in Serbia, so I never had an urge to even try. However, the biggest reason I never tried anything in the first 6-7 years here was pretty much losing my singing voice completely. I could hardly whisper songs in rare occasions I attempted playing, which was extremely discouraging and demoralizing. I figured this was for the Cultural Shock I, like most people in similar situations, had to go through. Lucky for me I eventually dug myself out of it, for the most part, as many people never get through it.

Slowly I started regaining control over my voice, as I was regaining control over my life in my new country. With those years passing by, I had to ask myself where I want to go with my music. Do I start working on a western music repertoire, do I start rewriting my old songs, or simply keep writing new stuff as my inspiration was gradually coming back. The latter two happened spontaneously, while the first I had to push really hard for. I felt I'm sort of wasting time doing it as I was completely unhappy with my accent. Truth to be told, I had already gone through a long phase of playing other people's songs in Serbia. If I was in my twenties as I was in Serbia when I was entertaining my friends and others, it would had been different. Now, almost in my forties, I felt my priority should be on my own music, the time is trickling down really fast, especially when you have all other main career already going on. So the choice was obvious.

It took another three or four years of bringing my voice to a satisfactory level, the level that was giving me enough confidence to embark on the whole project. It took two years to rewrite the selected songs in English to a point where I could with some confidence say: "Ok, this sort of sounds like written in English!" See, when you are 15 and 20, your criteria is so low, you are eager, you go for it with not much thinking but with your heart only, your dream is as big as the Universe, and nothing can stop you. When you are twice as "young", the mind gets on the way of everything, and things progress that much slower, while your dissatisfaction with everything you produce grows so much stronger.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles in this kind of life transition is lack of support circle. Back in Serbia I was more then lucky to have a great support of my closest friends, my bend, and others. They were the driving force and motivation that was working even when I wasn't. They were the ones who asked for us to play so often that you didn't have to even think about it. Everything was sort of automatic. Here, everything was gone. It felt like the cloud under my feet dispersed without a trace. The fall was quite hard. Over the years, as I have rebuilt a small circle of closest friends, this motivational part still appears to be permanently gone. Some ask about what I do, but I'm yet to be asked to play for them. I can think of many reasons for this starting with me still not playing any (or very little) of the western music. As open as this country is, it's very difficult to accept and embrace something so different as Serbian folk, especially if it's sung in Serbian. What surprises me the most is even from my Serbian friends I never got this boost to play for them, although some are into creating music themselves. In many instances, the most support and boost I got was from complete strangers. Nevertheless, I've never lacked self motivation, and believe me you will need it too if you want to keep going, so at the end it all worked out.

The Project

As it usually happens completely unrelated, through a friend of mine who is not a part of the music industry, I met a musician, Kelly Stodola from Vancouver, BC who has been in the local music industry for over 30 years. At the time I learnt about him through his wife, I was far from ready to start anything, but I made a mental note that this is the guy I will talk with when things get settled. The time eventually had come some years after, and I must say, from this whole experience in the last four years, this was the contact that benefited me and I cherish the most.

It is worth mentioning that I did the graphic design of the CD including all images, logos, and preproduction. I was lucky to have a good graphic designer in my architectural office who helped a great deal for everything to work out as professional as possible. The whole graphic design and photography project took at least a year!

As for the music, I truly didn't know anything about the local scene, and the whole concept about the music industry in North America in general started unfolding before me rapidly. In English. You have to understand, this was a whole new world coming at me like an avalanche, and if it wasn't for my previous challenges, I would have probably run away screaming! It was crucial at that time to have someone beside me I can trust completely, and rely on with complete professionalism. Kelly listened very carefully to my demos, gave extremely motivational reviews not lacking in productive criticism, and was offering solutions tailored to what my music is about. I can not express enough gratitude to his approach to the whole project, especially his way of listening. This skill seems, together with all the rest of degradation brought about by DIGITALIZATION of our reality, to be almost forgotten.

Eventually, he found a studio, a sound engineer, and musicians I asked for. I wanted the best in Vancouver that I can afford. Turns out in 2009 you could hire a very good studio musician for about $100 - $150 per song. A studio mixing session  per day for $600 if you need a week or so of work. Unfortunately, as things in the music industry are changing daily, the studio - The Factory Studios in Vancouver, BC - has been closed. Below is the list of musicians I had a privilege to work on my album You and I ... Twenty Years later... (Ti i ja... dvadeset godina kasnije...)

Kelly Stodola - Drums, Co-Producer
Robbie Steininger - Guitars
Dennis Marcenko - Bass
Ian Cameron - Violins
David Hoerl - Harmonica
Milan Milosevic - Bass Clarinet (video from a concert I approached Milan to join my project at)
Sheldon Zaharko - Sound Engineer

The project was unfolding pretty quickly, once everything was in place. My audio files were ready, and the studio was booked for a week. I took that week off from work to be able to focus on the production. It was the most exciting part of the whole process. The sound engineer was extremely friendly and professional, everything went very smoothly. On Sheldon's recommendation I hired a very good mastering studio, and soon enough - the project was in my hands. More precisely, in every drawer, and every shelf I could free throughout my condo! I ordered 1,500 copies of each release (Serbian and English) convinced that it will all be sold in the next year and I will be able to recover most of the $30,000 I spent on everything - from my studio to the final product. Needless to say, that turned out to be completely wrong. And it's still rolling...

Soon after, I posted an add in Georgia Straight in Vancouver looking for musicians hoping to assemble a band while at the same time working on finding gigs. Turned out that was not as easy as I thought. Nobody wanted to join without a list of gigs set months in advance! At the same time, no music service business was willing to consider an artist who does not already have established list of gigs and audience, nor they were willing to do the leg work needed.  It still makes no sense to me, but I will get back to this in more detail in the next post. Eventually, a great percussionist who just moved from the interior USA to Vancouver responded to my add, a gig happened to come my way just at the right time, and we made our first appearance presenting the project. The Rebel Bran And The Funky Orkerstar was formed, and we presented the music in completely new arrangements, with new and old music, together with some Eastern European covers, which defined the sound I'm working on at the moment.

I have to say, the fact that I was so naive about the whole thing gave me a completely clear view on everything in the music industry and defined my path after as it tought me what I do not want to do. It might not have given me financial and publicity return I was looking forward to, but it did something even more important: it made me get back to where it all started and what is most important - creating music.

To be continued...

Monday, May 6, 2013

What is Serbia?


I was born in Yugoslavia, and for most of my life there, before the country became nameless, and then completely disappeared, I was proud to call myself a Yugoslavian. I was proud of "Brotherhood and Unity" (Bratstvo i jedinstvo), the idea brought to life by "the communist dictator", a Croatian,  Josip Broz Tito. The same idea that is very much alive here in Canada, only under the cover of so called democracy, the idea that I am still very fond of and which is making me a very proud Canadian today.

Alas, reading today about the history of Yugoslavia, before 1945, when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and  Slovenes was formed, I feel yet another low punch for my own naivety and at the same time I feel that same punch on every Serbian, and former Yugoslavian naive believer. It turns out that the love and the dream was in vain, as the country was never meant to sustain its existence. Some claim that after the disintegration of Austro-Hungarian Empire the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed so that the Kingdom of Serbia gets erased, and its power disperse. I will leave you to research the topic on your own, but please try to avoid the Wikipedia, as most everything that is written about Serbs in recent decades appears to be written by nationalist Croats, in a very biased, anti-Serb way.

One thing seams consistent throughout - Yugoslavia was not meant to last. There was too much tension between Croats and Serbs even back then, and only a "dictatorship" held by Mr. Tito's firm fist was able to hold those tensions together in a civil manner. I, for once, could not see that, and was refusing to hear about any tension and any nationalistic tendencies that were apparently existing behind the "Brotherhood And Unity". I had and still have a Croatian sister, for God's sake, how could I? Living in Canada today, I still don't understand why it wasn't possible. On a second thought, the Operation Storm, the Croats' offensive on Serb civilians in the latest Balkan war, where over 250,000 are expelled from their land and homes in a matter of couple days, and who knows how many are killed, is celebrated as a national holiday in Croatia today! The same Operation Storm that was condemned by the Hague Tribunal as one of the biggest genocides in today's world. Maybe, just maybe, things should be clearer in my head why it couldn't have worked. But it's not. The difference is - I'm at last over Yugoslavia.

Going back to the roots

The point I'm trying to make here is that I was never identifying myself as a Serb back then, I was a Yugoslav, and that was all I wanted to care about. I was aware of all the flaws of both Croats and Serbs, and Bosnians, and Montenegrins,  and Macedonians, and Slovenians, and Kosovo-Albanians, the jokes were going around about all of them, but that was fun, colourful, that was what was making Yugoslavia unique and rich in culture. And I remained a proud Yugoslav all up until the war in Bosnia, when the international community and the media proclaimed Serbs - The Bad Guys. The only bad guys in all the mess created, and everybody who remotely tried to give the other side of the story, from the Serbian perspective, even from a completely objective perspective that does not demonize Serbs -  was as ostracized and condemned as the nation itself. So when Yugoslavs with Serbian heritage, under the constant pressure of the international media, started feeling shame of being associated with their own heritage, I had it! This very condemnation of the Serb nation made me go back to my origins, and start identifying myself as a Serb.

Since then I was doing my small part in showing that Serbs and Serbia are not a demonic country and people, in all my personal and business contacts and activities. It was fun watching people being surprised and confused by seeing a very nice, although a very straight forward, educated, creative Serb-Canadian in front of them, and trying to connect it with the demonic image the media was bombarding them during the war in Bosnia with. At times it was not fun as some people are too dogmatized by the official opinion served by the TV and newspapers, as much as they love to see themselves as open minded and non opinionated. Over time though, as always, things and opinions adjusted, and there is more and more people now questioning what the actual truth was in all of that, and are not too quick in judging the actions of Serbs. However, there is still a long way to clearing the face of the nation.

The image of Serbia I have always known was the one created by my immediate circle of friends, family, the circumstances following my path of living. One friend of mine during our conversation in 2008 when I was visiting and talking about the changes needed in Serbia to better the living conditions and political and economic situation, said: "Who is to make those changes? All the best people have left the country." I said: "You are still there! This is the Serbia I know about. It does exist, no matter what the international community and the media thinks about it. Hard working, creative, highly educated, sophisticated, artistic, ingenious in many ways, hospitable, funny people."

So here is a short list of prominent Serbs:

Nikola Tesla

When I was trying to figure out what is it that makes Serbia and Serbs what they are, of course, the first thing I came up with was my renewed interest in Nikola Tesla, as one of the most important figures in modern day history of the world, some claim the most important figure in science and technology of our civilization. I believe his role in our civilization is yet to be fully understood as the world only scratched the surface of what he was inventing and working on. One thing I want to make clear here, once and for all: Nikola Tesla was born of Serbian parents. He was a Serb. Much in love with Yugoslavia though, yet undeniably a - Serb. His father was a Serbian, Orthodox priest. Tesla was born in a village located on today's territory of Croatia, and that is the only touch with Croatia he has. So if anybody claims that Tesla was a Croatian, I hope you will be brave enough to tell them off.
You can read more about him on my Art Vrbaski gallery page:

Mihajlo Pupin

Mihajlo Pupin is after Tesla, the most acclaimed Serbian scientist, physicist and physical chemist. He was born in Vojvodina, today's northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. Pupin is best known for his numerous patents, including a "means of greatly extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at predetermined intervals along the transmitting wire (known as "pupinization")". Pupin was founding member of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA.

Mileva Maric

Mileva Maric was Albert Einstain's wife from 1903-1919. Mileva, Mitza was born in Titel, in Vojvodina, today's northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. She was his main "math collaborator" while he was working on his Theory of Relativity. Her role in his life is yet to be given the importance it deserves. You can read some of her story here:

Ivo Andric

Ivo Andric was born in Travnik, Bosnia, of Croatian heritage, but let's make it clear: he identified himself more as a Serbian. He was a Nobel Prize Laureat for Literature in 1961, for "Na Drini Cuprija" (The Bridge Over Drina). He wrote most of his work in Serbian language, approximately 1/3 in Croatian, and some he mixed both.  He lived in Belgrade, Serbia, and was buried in Novo Groblje in Belgrade.

Here might be interesting to point out that many public and creative figures who marked the Yugoslavian period were originating from Bosnia, and widely accepted as Yugoslavs, yet many were clearly Serbs from that territory.

Aleksa Santic

Aleksa Santic is a locally famous Serbian poet whose work helped mold generations of new writers, yet at the time of Yugoslavia, nobody talked about him as Serbian. Although the world might not know of his name, I list him here as he is one of the crucial cultural figures in Serbia, and former Yugoslavia. I had to go back in my research and dig deep to reacquaint myself with who was really shaping cultural image of Yugoslavia at the time. His poem "Emina" is so universally accepted in all former Yugoslavian Republics - today states, that Croats are very quick to claim it theirs. And that is only one of the examples. I could have a whole blog on its own dealing with only those issues and clearing all the misconceptions. Sometimes, they are intentional efforts of rewriting cultural and civil history of the area by other nationalities in the area, particularly Croats, but that's another topic...

Emir - Nemanja - Kusturica

Emir Kusturica is internationally acclaimed director, musician and actor born in Bosnia, of Serbian origins. His work in film was awarded a few times with Palme d'Or in Cannes, and nominated for best international film for an Oscar. His band "No Smoking Orchestra" still records successfully. For years everybody was calling him a Yugoslav film director, and you could never hear him talk about his Serbian origins. In my opinion, that must be because of the general condemnation of Serbs, especially after the latest war in Bosnia. As the climate toward Serbs gradually started to change, the news about it started resurfacing. Today he lives in Drvengrad, a town in Serbia he built for his movie "Life Is A Miracle", southwest of Belgrade. He is a National Ambassador of Serbia for UNICEF.  He is another brilliant Serbian mind born on the territory of Bosnia.

Goran Bregovic

Although Goran diplomatically avoids declaring himself as Serbian, as he speaks "...the universal language of music..." his work after the initial collaboration with Emir Kusturica has done so much for Serbian and Balkan music, and is acclaimed one of the top World music artists in the world today. His use of traditional brass orchestra originating from Serbia has become a signature sound. He was born of a father Croatian, and mother Serbian. When his parents divorced  he lived with his mother in Sarajevo, Bosnia. He tours with his band "The Wedding and The Funeral Orchestra" comprised of mostly Serbian musicians from professional to gypsy musicians, and Serbian Orthodox Church choruses. He lives between Belgrade, Serbia, and Paris. You can here his music on my you tube channel from his first concert in Vancouver in 2011:

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video:

Novak Djokovic

Nole is probably at this moment the most well known figure coming from Serbia. Following religiously his rise in the tennis domain, through reactions of people in the tennis community, his admirers, and even more so his haters, I have come to realize a few truths about the image Serbs portray in the world. One of the main things is the self confidence and pride this young sportsman exudes. Long time ago, I've read somewhere that a study was conducted of what nation is the proudest in the world. Serbia was right there second I believe, or very close to the top. This was not a surprise. Moving to Canada, having to change my life from scratch, I have experienced the effect of this first hand, and trust me - there was a lot of misunderstanding from the opposite side that was making my life here way more difficult then it should have been. The prouder you appear, the more people around you want to put you down, break you, prove you wrong. Watching those games with Nole appearing almost arrogant in his self confidence, listening to the reactions of the audience, reading the articles and comments, I couldn't but to conclude this is one of the main reasons the world is not on our side. This is in my opinion a misconception coming also from human nature being faced with a strong presence, determined, focused and goal oriented figure, who speaks their mind, who does not put up with BS, and tells it as it is. Nole over time became more careful with what and how he says things, as the community was way too quick to put him in drawers he does not belong to. This brings me all the way back to the cause of World War I, which basically was caused by similar traits of a Serbian guy who didn't want to put up with Austro-Hungarian BS, who assassinated Mr. Ferdinand, and forever put the Serbs on a black list. Nole on the other hand is working very hard to change that. Is he going to succeed? I highly doubt, but I am sure that he will make a big dent in the wrongful perception of Serbs in the world's eyes in general.

Marina Abramovic

Marina is a Serbian performance artist born in Belgrade in 1946, then Yugoslavia. Her both parents were Yugoslav Army soldiers, of Serbian Orthodox origins. She has been a performance artist for almost 40 years untill 2010 she finally made a break through in the major art scene with her 3 month long performance at MOMA in New York. Her performance of sitting for 9 hours every day faced by people from the audience who would sit accross the table propelled her into the stardom, and brought the performance art to the pure art form acceptance it has always been lacking. The simple act of facing another person without words, only sharing the energy of her soul through her eyes was a transformational experiance shared with over 750,000 people in the three months period. She has brought the human connection back to the people while at the same time transforming it into an art form. She is presently working on creating Marina Abramovic Institute in collaboration with the OMA and Rem Koolhaas.
In 2012 "The Artist Is Present" movie was made following the success from MOMA. She is 64 years old and busier then ever.

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video:


Novak was born in Belgrade, but his father was born in Kosovo. When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Novak made an internet appearance before 150,000 people demonstrating against it in the centre of Belgrade. He got bashed for it by the world. I would like to remind the people that patriotism is not nationalism. If patriotism was nationalism, the United States of America would be the biggest nationalistic power in the world. Even more, nationalism is not necessarily fascism, as many try to identify it with. Calling a Serb a fascist, as some did call Nole after that appearance, is plain nonsense. Before proclaiming this, one should know that in the WWII Serbia lost over 1,500.000 people from the fascist occupiers, and was the first to stand against fascist Germany, remaining the fiercest German Nazi enemy on the Yugoslavian territory throughout the war. Also, over 500,000 Serbs were killed or gassed by fascist Croats from then fascist Independent State of Croatia. Google about Jasenovac, or here, and it will be clear to you. This can be found in Vatican archives, CIA archives, Jewish archives in Israel even! I would also like to remind people to go really deep in their research of this topic, and again, not to rely on Wikipedia as most of the time the articles are written by better organized and more unified units of intentionally biased, or plainly anti-Serb oriented writers. You can start on my Art Vrbaski page here if you wish: Art Vrbaski - Kosovo

One thing the Serbs are missing, admittedly, is unity, and organized, continuous marketing of their own history and values, and products, which every other Balkan - so called - "nation" today is better at, especially including some ultra nationalist Croats, and Muslim extremists from Kosovo and Albania. This is understood knowing how corrupted the Serbian government is focussing only on how to rob and suppress their own people, and when asked to sponsor a promotional movie about Belgrade for example by a Serbian director in Canada recently - they answered: "We do not support such projects!".  Or, you can't find a good Serbian beer in a beer worshiping country like Canada, not to mention other products, but you can of course find Croatian! That's because the corrupted Serbian government does not support civilized transactions with the rest of the world, unless the hefty percentage goes into the hidden deep pockets of individual directors - which for the most part is not how the rest of the world functions.

Another important thing about this very painful topic for every Serb I need to point out is: Yes, Kosovo is lost, and that is because Kosovo Albanians are the majority in this territory now. This is how the laws of freedoms today can bite a nation in the butt. But let's not forget that before 1948 Serbs and others were equally distributed in Kosovo with Kosovo Albanians. One important event changed the balance completely and that is when Tito allowed around 400,000 Albanians across the border fleeting from the Enver Hoxha's brutal Communist Dictatorship at the time in Albania. A curious omission in data available on line from the period between 1920's to before 1948 indicating that the population in 1921 was around 430,000, jumping to around 750,000 in 1948. This was intentionally done to weaken the Serbian power in Yugoslavia, and to destabilize the territory of Serbia. Even back then it was known what Muslim extremism in the area is planning to achieve, and as always, a system helps one evil to weaken the perceived other at the time, and then when it becomes too big, finds another evil to fight it with! We are seeing this all the time with the US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, and other areas in the world, including Al Qaeda who were financed and trained by the US Military at some point, and now is killing the US citizens all over the US and abroad, while the US is fighting against it.

This move of importing the number of Albanians into Kosovo as big as the half of the population at the time did do the trick. With this, the organized Albanian (Muslim) extremists started creating pressure on non Albanian population, together with their supporters, to move out of Kosovo. This was done systematically and persistently not only to Serbs, but to Albanians who in majority were supporting their neighbors and wanted to live in peace. Reports of pressure to Serbs and others to sell their properties under value were everyday occurrence, and if they fought against it, the murders, rapes, and tortures of the family members, including children of both sexes were common. Let's not forget, Serbs were in this area from the 7th century, officially reported. Before that there was a bunch of tribes including Illyrians that claim to be today's Albanians. By 1804 Serbs made about 80% of the population. It took about 50 years after WWII for one step of the Greater Albania Scheme to come to fruition with this subtle, majorly non-reported process to happen. The question is how far one has to go to prove that one territory has always belonged to certain people? It is true, the population changes, moves across the areas, settles, removes, outgrows, dies out. What happens when the change is done artificially, politically, intentionally, for ideas beyond natural progression? Then we have Kosovo - and we lose.

Vojvodina and the Surrey Fusion Festival

Vojvodina is the northern Autonomous Province of Serbia. It's a multicultural area which Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, and about 15 other different nationalities share. I always felt a special connection to this area as my last name comes from there, with the family ties from my father's side. Why is this related to the Fusion Festival here in Surrey, BC? Not long ago I decided to represent Serbia at the festival. This is an annual multicultural event where last year over 40 cultures living in Surrey were represented with music, dance and food. There is a series of concerts performed over the two day event, with booths set up in between the stages where every culture showcases it's food, folklore, music, and customs. It's quite a colorful event I was a fan of ever since the first one six years ago. This year I thought I had a clear vision of what Serbia is and what I would like to show at the festival, and that is - multicultural Serbia. I was quite exited about it until I got another punch of disappointment sometime in February this year when my friend coming from this area told me: "Vojvodina is not Serbia. I'm sorry, but it's just not!"

Several things were disappointing in this statement: First, that my close friends are actually in support of separatist movement apparently growing in Vojvodina. Second, that the image I thought I finally clarified about Serbia had just crumbled and i I have to start all over. Third, and most important is that Serbs are their own worst enemies, and that the troubles the nation is going through is in many ways fueled by the inside forces. 

Sure, Vojvodina throughout its history has gone from one kingdom to another, from Bulgarian, Roman, Hungarian, Romanian, and Serbian. But to state that Vojvodina is not Serbia is as absurd as claiming that Belgrade is Irish because the Celts settled there seven thousand years before Christ on their way to the north!

However, with this statement at that moment another statement cut through me razor sharp: In 2004 on my trip through Europe, when I visited my Croatian sister in Split, I will never forget the sarcastic lough my sister had joking about the Greater Serbia becoming Belgrade's backyard (beogradski pasaluk), commenting on the same separatist movement in Vojvodina. At the time again I didn't take it too seriously, but it did hurt. It hurt a lot. Not because I am in support of any stupid idea of The Greater Serbia. It's because I saw my Yugoslavia disintegrating, and then even main Serbia, chunk by chunk, starting to fade into non existence.

Alas, I gave up the idea of representing Serbia at the Fusion Festival until I regroup, and figure out, again, what the real Serbia is.

So, what is Serbia?

Serbia is a continental central European country, conveniently cut of from the Adriatic coast by some of the ridiculous treaties that supported Catholicism over Orthodox Christianity, political over natural and human conditions. A country that was put in prison for its pride. Perhaps, there is a conspiracy against this nation, perhaps not, we will never live to know. A friend of mine (who is from Vojvodina of Slovak heritage told me recently another sad fact: "Slovaks will disappear one day. Together with Serbs." 

Before that happens, maybe the best definition of Serbia comes from a Canadian friend of mine listening to me dissecting everything that might make this culture unique. And let me be clear: not for nationalistic reasons. Only, and I repeat, only for cultural reasons. I told him that nothing in Serbia is really, truly unique: the country is surrounded by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and indirectly Italy and Greece. I don't count Montenegro, as it once was Serbian, and for corrupted politicians ruling this country today this was proclaimed a nation, just so they can help smuggle cigarettes and humans to the West, and that way fatten their international bank accounts. I don't count Macedonia either, as they would love to be a part of Serbia, before they become a part of Greater Albania as one third of their population is Albanian. They are unfortunately the next step in the Balkan Muslim extremist Albanian expansion. And I don't count Bosnia and Herzegovina as the bordering areas of this so called nation today is Serbian anyways.

So you have food that is similar to all of them, yet is not quite theirs either. You have dances that are influenced by all of these areas, with the folk attire resembling the neighbor's - just not quite. You have music as colorful as any and all of the above. You have people speaking similar dialects from any of those countries, yet they are clearly Serbian. Being under the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) for over 300 years, the influence of this culture is quite strong as well, but still, it's just not Turkish. 

You have burek (a type of baked or fried pastries made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo) almost like Turkish, you have goulash almost like Hungarian, you have sarma almost like Russian cabbage roll, pasulj almost like Hungarian or Turkish pea soup, cevapi almost like Turkish barbequed meat, leskovacka pljeskavica almost like Greek and Turkish barbequed meat, srpska salata almost like Greek salad, francuski krompir even, almost like French Potato, and they can all be the neighbor's food - but they are not. They are Serbian! 

You have gajde (bagpipes) almost like Celtic's, accordions almost like Austrian (probably from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Goblet drum almost like Middle Eastern, gusle almost like Albanian, fiddle gingara almost like Irish with a gypsy twist, davul drum almost like Turkish, dangubica almost like bouzouki in Greece, frula almost like Hungarian or Greek flute, tamburica almost like Greek bouzouki, kaval almost like Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian or Macedonian flute - but it's not. It is Serbian. 

While I was beating my head over figuring out what it is that makes Serbia unique my Canadian friend simply said: "Don't you see? Serbia is all of that. Isn't that great? That is awesome!"

So why can't we Serbs be proud of that? Shouldn't we be? Well I am. The richness and subtleties of this rich culture is for people to discover, to study, and the deeper you go, I assure you, you will love it more and more. As for the "Beogradski Pasaluk (the Belgrade backyard)" I say, whoever want's to go - they can go - and they should go. Since the break up of Yugoslavia, my home town of Jagodina has seen a miraculous change - the business and political forces in power have brought this previously unknown town into the center of Serbian attention. It's an example of success, becoming a tourist and business centre that was never possible in the former country with the money going every which way but into the Serbian hands (with the exception of Belgrade as the former capital of Yugoslavia).

If only the political structure could become less corrupted, this country could very quickly develop to its full potential. I wait for it. I wait for the quality people in Serbia that DO EXIST to rise and bring the change one day. I know it will happen. And for anybody who is too quick to judge the nation, I plead please do your research thoroughly, objectively, take your time. I'm yet to hear that a Serbian decapitated a fellow passenger in a bus in front of 50 other passengers like it happened here in Canada some time ago. I haven't heard of Serbian kids going rampage through public schools killing tens of their fellow students and teachers like in the US. So which country or a nation is more developed, civilized, and progressive is a very relative matter. Every nation has its bad seed, and it's up to us to open our minds and figure out the real truth.

Now, I am again proud. Proud of being a Serbian-Canadian, and bringing a part of that richness to this multicultural country, as imperfect as it might be. And one day I just might represent Serbia at this Surrey Fusion Festival, unless someone gets inspired and does it before me...

Please pause the music at the right if you want to watch the following video: