Expressions of an Artistic Outcast
By Diara J. Townes. June 8, 2017
For Jacob Schaffer, making music with others is his dream. But first he had to escape his nightmare.
Raised in the suburbs of New Jersey, the 23-year-old indie artist recalled his demoralizing experience in school as a child.
“People were afraid of me because of my emotional response to school. I wasn’t disrespectful, and I wasn’t a troublemaker.”
Frequent panic and anxiety attacks impacted Schaffer’s ability to regularly attend grade school, resulting in feelings of exclusion and rejection at an early age.
The young musician walked into the worn entry way of a four-story brick building in Queens that sat in the shadows of newly constructed glass and steel high-rises. Raymond “Anakin Artz” Allende greeted him at the door.
He and Schaffer descended a set of concrete steps to a remodeled basement. The muffled sounds of subwoofers and electronic beats reverberated from the several closed doors they passed. They turned into Room 24 where a five-foot long panel of recording equipment awaited them.
The pair are members of a creative arts collective known as Reject Dreams. The brainchild of Artz, a 25-year-old Brooklyn-native whose own past is checkered with struggle and triumph, Schaffer is one of a dozen creatives who joined him and his collective on its journey to influence and inspire.
Musicians, visual artists and designers, ostracized by society, came together to share their visions and sounds of originality.
Collaborative music groups are not new in the city that never sleeps, but technology has changed the way it’s made.
Schaffer, empowered by the music he loved, constructed a collection of various electronic and audio recording equipment to create his own semi-portable audio mixing workstation. The unique combination of digital sounds and original songs coupled with his vocal stylings are an auditory journey into his creative world.
“Music is where I found myself.”
The Queens studio’s workstation is more contemporary, consisting of a 27-inch iMac, two studio speakers, a subwoofer, a musical instrument digital interface system (MIDI), a large mixing console and sampler, and a USB audio interface device. There is just enough room left on the panel for a keyboard, a mouse and their phones.
“I just loaded the track. This is gonna be fire!” Artz beamed with excitement as he picked up his phone. Schaffer, reserved but not hesitant, smiled as he took his seat in front of the panel. “I believe it, man.”
Artz patted him on the back before ducking out. A double-paned window built into the wall of the studio is suddenly illuminated to reveal a padded room. A large condenser microphone stands in the center of the isolated sound booth.
Studio sessions in New York City, even in Queens, are not cheap. The rate is $75 an hour at Audioland. While Artz prepared himself in the booth, Schaffer continued to recollect.
Although not truly accepted by his elementary school peers and teachers due to his intense panic attacks, in addition to being labeled as defiant and unstable, Schaffer survived the social jungle that is middle and high school by discovering this creative outlet.
And after venturing to the Costa Rican rainforest on the island of Montezuma for a month-long immersion as a yoga student in September of 2012, Schaffer found his balance and aligned with his artistic calling.
“Music is where I found myself. After years of dabbling, it was the electric guitar, songwriting and meditation that got me through it all.”
Shy yet verbally expressive, Schaffer continued to defy the expectation of his doctors and social workers. He moved from his comfort zone in the suburbs to the city of his childhood dreams.
“Moving to Brooklyn was healing for me. Music was a tool to escape and process the stuff from my childhood, and the city is where I could really express myself.”
Schaffer and Artz have collaborated on different pieces since meeting, combining Schaffer’s dreamy rock riffs and expressive vocal stylings with Artz’s grittier, message-driven raps and beats.
As Artz ran through the track in the recording booth, Schaffer clicked through LogicProX on the iMac. The program is a digital audio workstation that allows artists to create music with software instruments using a MIDI sequencer.
Schaffer adjusted the controls on the panel, ensuring the volumes were perfect to capture the right sound. The goal was to finish the track in this session so they could ready it for promotion and performance.
There aren’t many statistical figures available that can determine success for independent musicians; success is more subjective in the creative industry.
Like millions of other creatives, Schaffer and Artz are using digital media to share and sell their work. The website Band Camp allows fans to directly support their favorite artists. Creators can sell their artwork and original merchandise on their individual pages. They also maintain total control over how much they sell their products for; a freedom not always granted on independent sales sites.
“I really love Bandcamp. It’s a beautiful way to display your work,” Schaffer exclaimed. “There’s no pressure on how many plays and followers you have.” According to the latest fiscal report, fans gave their favorite artists over $200 million through the website’s platform.
By paying the artist directly, fans receive unlimited access to the content. Bandcamp also uses real-time statistics. Artists can track their performance on the site; an important factor for businesses and labels searching for the next artist to invest in.
“It’s a difficult thing, measuring my own success.”
SoundCloud is the world’s leading content-streaming platform. According to their statistical report in 2015, there are 175 million monthly users. The site enables artists to share their original music for others to stream. Artists can connect with each other for feedback and even for collaboration.
Each song has an individual URL, so creators like Schaffer can directly embed their music into their Twitter and Facebook profiles, allowing listeners to engage from outside the streaming application.
There aren’t many statistical figures available that can determine success for independent musicians; success is more subjective in the creative industry. For many, it could be a major label signing, going viral or a sudden rise in fortune.
“It’s a difficult thing, measuring my own success. I feel at this point in my career that my biggest successes are invisible,” explained Schaffer, admitting that he hadn’t seen a lot of financial return from the websites. But he didn’t let the numbers get to him.
“For now, its when I see the glow in someone’s eyes after a performance, especially the more intimate ones, that makes me feel successful.” Schaffer leaned back in the chair as he started the track again. Artz jumped right in.
“One of the biggest take aways is the idea of small, intimate shows, rather than a large venue.”
“Working with Anakin and the Reject Dreams project has given me a feeling of camaraderie. Before, I used to make music to heal myself. Now, I make music with the goal of living in this world being myself.”
When asked about performing in popular places like Bowery Ballroom or Washington Square Park, Schaffer shook his head, chuckling at the possibility. “One of the biggest take aways [from the Rejects] is the idea of small, intimate shows, rather than a large venue.”
The pair have performed on a rooftop in Astoria, Queens, and at a chicken and waffle restaurant in Brooklyn, (among other places), both with less than 30 people in attendance. “It gives a chance for the artist to really connect [to the audience], rather than just being in the spotlight.”
Researchers with the National Institute of Health discovered that “social bonding during group musical activities releases endorphins,” indicative of why Schaffer feels fulfilled when performing with Reject Dreams in smaller venues.
Admittedly sensitive to discussing his childhood issues, the young musician is now dedicating himself to his passion of creating music with and for others. His experiences as a Reject has empowered him to take on a temp job working part-time at the Lakehouse Music Academy.
The progressive music school in Ashbury Park, New Jersey is led by a staff of professional singers, guitarists and drummers. Children at all levels of education learn the best practices surrounding performance, composition and collaboration.
Schaffer’s time at the Academy has built the patience and skills he will need to expand his own musical passion, and to unpack the remaining mental trauma of his past.
Artz powered through the song for a second time. Good is great, but perfect is best. He gestured to Schaffer to cue up the track again.
The struggle of his childhood and the feelings of rejection have pushed this emerging artist in a direction his doctors couldn’t have predicted. Schaffer’s dream now?
“I want to spread the Good Chi; I want to create sparks of positivity in others. I want to share those sparks of joy with people so they can create and inspire sparks of their own.”
(Jan 3, 2017). Impose Magazine
Tarr, Launay, Dunbar. (Sept 10, 2014). Music and social bonding: “self-other merging and neurohormonal mechanisms.” Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience. Frontiers in Psychology.