TOM BRUSKY

News & Editorial Archives, 2020



Music Removed From iHeart Radio
December 5, 2020
 
I recently discovered that the iHeartRadio website was dispensing deceitfully inaccurate information and content to non-iHeart subscribers. Visitors to my artist pages on iHeart would find a typical landing page with my name, list of albums, and a big play button, just like you see in the screen shot below:
 

 
The problem, however, is that the big, blue play button did not not play my music. It would play someone else's. Notice above the play button, it says "Feat. Dave Evans & River Bend, Karen Jonas and more". I have no idea who those artists are. They have nothing to do with me or my song, Polka Band. But when you clicked the play button next to my Polka Band album, their music would play — not mine.

If you hovered your mouse over any of the album covers listed as my Top Songs, they would turn into play buttons, but the songs they played would not be my songs. They would, again, be songs by Dave Evans or other artists not associated with my music.

On the iHeartRadio page for my song Emergency (see image below) the play button did not play Emergency. And I have no idea who Rozzi Crane and those other artists are, but they most assuredly have nothing to do with Emergency.
 

 
I reached out to iHeartRadio, and they responded by explaining that songs do not play on demand for non-subscribers visitng the website, so the play buttons will play a "radio station" of other artists rather than the specific songs they're clicking on.

I can understand songs not being on-demand for non-subscribers, but if that's the case, then why put play buttons on my songs? And why are those unfamiliar artists listed to look as if they were featured on my songs? Why is the website so blatantly deceitful in this way?

iHeartRadio did not offer any response concerning that matter.

With apologies to subscribers who listen to my music on iHeartRadio, I had all of my content removed from the service. If iHeartRadio ever decides to nix all the inexplicable and unnecessary weirdness with their website, I will consider redistributing my music to them.







New Single is Released!
November 26, 2020
 

 





Upcoming Single Receives Clearance for Take-Off
November 6, 2020 [updated Nov. 22]
 
A blurb on the front page of my website mentioned I have a new single in the works. If everything goes according to plan, I expect to release it on my website on Thanksgiving, and have it available on all the major streaming and download services before Christmas.

The single is not an original song, but a parody of an iconic rock song from the 1970s. A parody is like a cover of a copyrighted song, but the lyrics have been rewritten in such a way that offers an alternate take on the original lyrics.

The service I use to digitally distribute my music requires a special type of license for a parody, called a derivative works license. Any significant change in a copyrighted song's lyrics, melody, or arrangement is called a derivation.

In the United States, musical parodies may be protected under Fair Use, which is a legal doctrine that supports and upholds freedom of expression. Parodies released without a derivative works license may be protected by Fair Use, but it's important to understand what that protection does: It does not protect the parodist from being sued for copyright infringement — it only protects the parodist from losing the lawsuit when certain criteria are met.

A derivative works license does two things. The first is that it opens up dialogue between the parodist and the copyright holder of the original song. In this dialogue, the copyright holder and/or songwriter expresses their approval or disapproval of the parody. If approved, the terms of a license are set or negotiated.

Let's say a parodist named Odd Hal wants to parodize a famous song by an artist named Ariella Gruende. In short, Ariella says, "Sure, if you give me 10% of your song's sales, 100% of the composition royalties, and 50% of the lyrics royalties." Everyone agrees, a license is secured, and everybody is happy.

If Ariella says no, Odd Hal could still release the parody under the protection of Fair Use, but at the risk of attracting the attention of Ariella and her lawyers. If they thought could prove Odd Hal's parody was not a true parody or in some other way infringing on Ariella's copyright, Odd Hal could end up in court.

In my personal opinion, regardless of Fair Use, if a parody is going to be commercially released, it should be licensed so that the copyright holder of the original composition gets their due royalties every time the song is played. After all, the parody wouldn't exist if it weren't for the original song. Back in the day before digital distribution, I mechanically licensed parodies as covers, which means I automatically took 0% credit for both the music and lyrics. This is technically not the proper way to license a parody, but it at least ensured no royalties were being unduly diverted from the original song's publisher or songwriter.

My parody was recently approved for release, so I'm pleased to announce it will be posted shortly.







The Glamorous Music Business
November 6, 2020
 
Woohoo! Only 5,499 more streams, and I'll be able to buy a first class postage stamp!

 







Why People Are Consumed by Politics More Now Than Ever
October 19, 2020
 


A few weeks ago while traveling through the other side of Wisconsin, I stopped at a small, rural truck stop. The bathroom stalls of its neglected restroom were etched with the usual amount of graffiti, but what struck me as odd was the subject matter.
Depictions of female anatomy and sexual innuendoes — staples of bathroom graffiti for generations — were nowhere to be found. All of the graffiti was political. Every message had something to say about Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

I used to have a modest interest in politics, but around a decade ago, I noticed a change in the political landscape that eventually pushed me away from politics altogether. Shortly after Barack Obama was elected to office, the armchair politician movement exploded. Political hobbyism ignited across the country, and politics soon infested and dominated message boards and social media all across the internet.

But what I'm referring to as politics is really not politics at all. It's a phenomenon whereby people are using political issues as excuses to impugn contrary thinkers, further aligning themselves with like thinkers, which acts as a coping mechanism for their doubts and fears.

Republican vs. Democrat discourse always existed, but about ten years ago, people who normally restrained their political views started finding their voice when they discovered veritable armies of like-minded thinkers via the burgeoning social media industry. This mammoth movement of banding together for validation and support is what's dramatically intensifiying the polarization of the two parties.

During the Obama administration, liberals stood their ground against conservative mudslinging. When Donald Trump was elected, the ground these liberals stood on was pulled out from beneath them. Their turn had now come to manifest their fears, and they came after Trump and the Republican Party firing on all cylinders.

The end result of all this fear building up on both sides is the politics we see today — protests, counter protests, rallies, internet memes, campaign poster vandalism, nervous breakdowns, flooded message boards, and now even bathroom graffiti. These fears are fueled by memes and fake news facilitated by the internet, and cemented by selective exposure and confirmation bias.

Politics in America has turned into the amateur hour where any desire to tackle and solve problems has been replaced by trash talking, blaming, and name calling. Yesterday's jerks and idiots are now being labeled as liberals and republicans with derogative connotation. It's seemingly become the latest hobby for millions of Americans. It's pushed me so far away from politics that I refuse to engage in political discussions with anyone.

You won't find me bitching about liberals or conservatives, attending rallies or protests, posting memes, or even so much as placing a campaign sign on my lawn. The only place my opinions will have any impact is at the voting booth, and that's where I'll be November 3rd.







Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Not Kind to Bandleaders
September 14, 2020
 
As someone who plays music for a living, I don't turn down work. It's the reason why I haven't taken a single vacation in the last eight years. [If you don't believe me, just ask any of my last eight ex-girlfriends.] But the pandemic has created a situation where a musician's honorable work ethic can actually result in a loss of income.

Wisconsin musicians receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) are receiving a nominal amount of  money each week — about the equivalent of one gig's pay. If a musician earns any money during any given week, they have to report it, and then a calculated amount will be deducted from their PUA.

That concept is fair from a practical standpoint, but the problem is that the income a musician is required to report to the State of Wisconsin is their gross income, which is what they are paid before expenses are deducted. As a bandleader, my biggest expense is obviously contract labor, which is the compensation I pay to my sidemen. Since I have to report the entire check I receive as my own gross income, the amount I report will be high enough to cancel 100% of my weekly PUA, guaranteed. And, after I pay my sidemen, depending on the event, my take-home pay could end up being even less than what my PUA would have been.

Let's say a bandleader is receiving $200/week PUA, and he books a gig for $490. He pays $300 to his two sidemen and keeps $190 for himself. Since he is required to report his gross income for the week, he has to report the full $490, which is an income high enough to cause him to lose 100% of his PUA. As a result of booking and playing the gig, the bandleader will sacrifice $200 in order to make $190.

If the bandleader only had to report the $190 he netted instead of the full $490, he'd still be able to collect about 50% of his PUA, which would be enough to cover a utility bill.


My band recently played at a local venue. Before I booked the gig, I calculated that as a bandleader, I wasn't even going to make a profit. I was simply going to break even. I took the gig anyway, because it's
important to me to continue providing musical services for those who request it, keep my musicians working as much as possible, and maintain strong business relationships.

If my playing schedule were normal, I obviously wouldn't need PUA. But when I can only scrape up two gigs in a month and each gig lands on a different weekend which causes me to lose two weeks of PUA, those losses are felt.

The next several months will be interesting. With PUA being so low and the live music scene still out of commission, living expenses are eating away at my savings. At the end of the year, PUA will come to an end. If Democrats and Republicans are unable to agree on a new stimulus package and gigs don't start coming back, 2021 will start with me living entirely off my savings just like I was earlier this spring. If that happens, 2021 will definitely be my year to retire as a musician and rejoin the workforce. I'll have played professionally for 40 years (35 in polka) which is a good career.







This is the Year to Hire a Polka Band for Oktoberfest
September 13, 2020
 
If you've ever tried to hire a polka band for a private party on a Saturday night in late September or early October, you probably ended up getting nowhere except stuck in an endless loop of recommendations. That's where the band you call is booked, so they recommend other bands, but those bands are also booked, so they recommend other bands, and pretty soon you're going around in circles.

Most bands have standing, annual bookings for public Oktoberfest events, often leaving private parties scrambling to find available entertainment. But this year is turning out to be like no other in recent history. The public event cancellations due to the coronavirus have led to a number of polka bands becoming available for private Oktoberfest events, even for key dates. M
y band, for instance, has nothing booked on the last Saturday in September — a date for which we normally receive at least a dozen inquiries. I'm pretty sure this is the first time in my entire professional musical career I'll have nothing scheduled for that date.

If you're having a backyard Oktoberfest party and want live music, your odds of finding and hiring a top polka band this year are significantly higher than normal. Take advantage of it. Next year, hopefully, things will be back to normal and the polka band circuit will return to being booked solid.







A little humor for my fellow musicians...

 







Fear of Offending Leads to Extreme Measures
July 8, 2020
 
By now you've all heard Aunt Jemima pancake syrup is going to be rebranded. You may have also heard about the name changes of various musical groups: The Dixie Chicks are now simply known as The Chicks, and Lady Antebellum is now known as Lady A. But the changes aren't ending there. Here are a few more you may not have heard about.
  • If your musical car horn plays "Dixie", you can be arrested for a hate crime.
  • The Dixie Cup Company is rebranding their product as "D-Cups".
  • Dixieland jazz will now be known as simply "land jazz".
  • Honky-tonk music will now be known simply as "tonk music".
  • The letter "X" is receiving an additional line "X" so that it no longer resembles a confederate flag.
  • All roundabouts, due to their resemblance to a noose, will undergo reconstruction to become square.
  • Slave computers, which operate off host computers, will now be known as "secondary service peripherals".
  • The White House going to be repainted in pastels and redesignated the "Rainbow Residence".
  • The verb "loot" has been replaced by the more politically correct acronym: "Sanctioned Theft Encouraged by Antifa Leaders".
  • Actress Rebel Wilson has changed her first name to Julie.
  • Police are no longer allowed to detain or arrest anyone who claims, "But I didn't do anything wrong!"
  • All sports team mascots must now be animals, inanimate objects, or fictional people of non-descript ethnicity, color, age, and gender.
  • Burlington Coat Factory issued a statement saying they will no longer be selling gray coats or blue coats.
  • The word "y'all" is being reclassified by the Oxford Dictionary as a derogatory slur with white supremist ties.
  • Jefferson Davis County in Mississippi is being redesignated the Sensitive Persons Autonomous Zone.
  • Buckwheat's dialog in all of the Little Rascals episodes has been rewritten in standard English and overdubbed by Morgan Freeman.
  • The "Too Fat Polka" will hereby be known as the "Metabolically-Challenged Polka".
  • The South — yes, the entire southern United States — will now be known as the "Lower North".
Now if you'll all excuse me, I need to write an email to my neices and nephews warning them they could receive a $500 disorderly conduct citation for calling me "Uncle Tom" in public.







COVID-19 in Visual Perspective
June 24, 2020
 
As of today, there have been about 121,000 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States. Below is the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium in Pyongyang, which is the world's largest stadium by capacity. It holds 114,000 people.

 








American Family Insurance to the Rescue
June 23, 2020
 
In an April 4 article, I wrote about how Spectrum raised my internet service fees by 20% right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when I, like so many millions of others, lost my income. Spectrum's rate increase, on which they refused to budge, really stands out as reprehensible because it goes against the grain of just about every other service industry in America who is offering some form of financial relief to their unemployed customers.

One such company, American Family Insurance, really outdid themselves when it comes to financial relief. In April they sent me a check in the form of a $50-per-vehicle credit. And just the other day, I received a letter from my agent informing me that American Family is providing me with a 10% premium relief credit.

These credits are not only appreciated by this unemployed musician for the financial relief they provide, but together, they'll completely offset the price increase imposed on me by Spectrum for a full year.

I don't know what, besides sheer greed, would possess a company like Spectrum to willingly impose financial hardships on their customers during a pandemic instead of doing the opposite like American Family Insurance. I am grateful to American Family Insurance and my agent, Don Patnode, for understanding the gravity of the COVID-19 situation and committing themselves to helping their customers and clients through this difficult time.







New Song of Hope and Faith Released
May 31, 2020
 
Although the release was delayed about one month, I think you'll find the wait was worth it. I'm proud to present my latest single, Light the Way.

When the fear of the coronavirus pandemic began gripping our country, I felt inspired to write this song which I produced in the contemporary Christian genre. The purpose of the song is to deliver a message that strengthens the faith of those who are struggling to cope with doubt and uncertainty the pandemic is causing.

The lead vocalist anonymously lending her pipes to the song is an exceptionally talented and renown pop/country artist. I can't thank her enough for the outstanding job she did.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is physically keeping people apart, it's bringing people together in other ways. Musicians are uniting in the spirit of collaboration like the world has never seen before, and this song is just such a collaborative effort. Twenty musicians and vocalists from North America, Europe, and Asia have donated their vocals to the song's "choir". They each recorded their vocals at home and sent me their tracks.

Singing along with me are Kevin Adams, David Cuny, Anja Dolinšek, Mark Dubravec, Jana Engel, Keith Gennerman, Lenny Gomulka, Toby Hanson, Carlos Herrera, Kathy Kozlowski, Lilian Naef, Nathan Neuman, Jim Pekol, Jordan Rody, Mike Schneider, Sebastian Stefański, Drew Wilson, Gabe Yurkovich, and Fred Ziwich.

I am grateful to each one of these outstanding musicians for answering the call and donating their time and talent. Selfless contributions like theirs are what give songs like Light the Way the power and ability to lift people's spirits.

The purpose and message of the song so important, I've made the song free to download from my website. In lieu of paying the typical 99¢ download fee, please put an extra dollar in your church's collection plate on Sunday.

Light the Way will roll out onto music streaming services and select radio stations over the next few weeks.






The Sound of Music – It's Definitely Not "Ka-Ching!"

May 25 2020 [Updated June 21, 2020]
 

 
As many of you know, I'm not one to shy away from tackling the tough questions. One line of questioning I'm commonly asked is how recording musicians sell their music in a post-compact disc industry.

Let's first look at how bands profited from album sales twenty years ago. If a band spent $3,500 producing a studio recording in 2000, they would have needed to sell 233 CDs at $15 each to break even. Twenty years ago, selling 233 CDs was not a problem.

If a band today spent $5,000 [$3,500 in 2000 dollars] producing a studio recording, they'd have to sell 333 CDs to break even. What makes this nearly impossible, though, is that CD sales are down 85% compared to twenty years ago. A band that used to sell 333 CDs in 2000 would only sell about 50 today, leaving them $4,250 in the hole.


The Changing Music Industry

A lot has changed in the last twenty years. In the early 2000s, digital downloads grew in popularity. In the late 2000s, streaming was introduced. In the 2010s, streaming surpassed every other format to become the primary means by which music is bought and sold today.

The two big reasons why streaming is now the standard format for music consumption are cost and convenience. Instead of paying $15 for one album that requires access to a CD player, subscribers can pay $10 a month to listen to an unlimited number of albums on their phone, anywhere, anytime. Even without a subscription, polka music fans can freely access thousands of YouTube videos and listen to radio programs that run 24 hours a day.

Without doing any math, you can guess that if consumers only paying $10 a month (or nothing at all) to access music that was once worth thousands of dollars in album sales, musicians' earnings must be pretty small. You'd be right. It may surprise you, however, to learn just how small those earnings are...

Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to hear all 18 songs on a band's album, they'd pay the band $15 for the CD. Today, if someone wants to hear all 18 songs a band's album, they'll stream it on their favorite subscription service and the band will earn about 5¢ in royalties. That's a profit reduction of approximately 99.6%.

At this rate, a band would need to achieve about 5,000 streams to equal the sale of just one $15 CD. To recover their recording expenses, they'd have to achieve anywhere from 350k to 1.5 million streams.


So how do bands today make a profit selling music?

For the vast majority of independent recording artists in every genre of music, the days of making a profit through music sales are over. They're simply done. Since streaming replaced direct sales, the only musicians profiting through streaming are the popular artists at the very top generating millions of streams.


Why are some polka bands still able to release their albums on CD?

Even though global CD sales are just a fraction of what they used to be, CDs are still the #1 selling format for polka albums. The key to making CDs a viable format on which a band releases a polka album depends on whether or not the band can sell enough of them to offset the cost of their manufacture. There are two ways a band can do this:

1. Popularity: If a polka band is particularly renown, travels throughout the country, and/or has a sizable, loyal following, they can still do quite well with CD sales — well enough to cover the entire production cost of their album and make a good profit.

2. Skimping on production costs: On the opposite end of the spectrum, some musicians are vastly reducing their production costs by recording, mixing, designing, printing, and duplicating their own CDs at home. Some of these musicians know what they're doing, but most don't, and the quality of these "bedroom productions" suffers.

And then there are bands who continue to record CDs mainly for fun and posterity. They're simply not concerned about how much money they'll lose.


Postitively Polka - My Personal Experience

When my Positively Polka CD came out in 2018, naturally I took copies to sell at all my live performances. Between all of the public dances, concerts, festivals, Oktoberfests, and private gigs I played in 2018 and 2019, the total number of CDs I sold off the stage were around 25-30. Twenty years ago, I would have sold 175-200.

The bulk of my album sales have always been wholesale, but so many of the retailers who bought my albums over the years are no longer in business, so wholesale orders are not what they used to be. By the time the last Positively Polka CD sold to a retailer in 2019, I had only been able to recover 85% of the album's production costs due to horrifically low sales from the stage.

Fortunately, a recent stroke-of-luck opportunity and renewed interest by a couple of retailers
prompted the reissue of Positively Polka on CD. These wholesale orders were just barely large enough to cover the remaining 15% of the album's production costs, so I'm happy to declare that I've now broken even.

Although I did break even, it still wouldn't be practical for the average polka band or musician of modest popularity to spend thousands of dollars producing a recording and expect to break even — not when their stage sales are down 85%. This is why many of them have either quit recording or have gone the do-it-yourself route to minimize production costs.


Keep the Support Going

In this post-CD world, there are things you can do to support the studio recording efforts of your favorite artists:


1. Buy their downloads if they are offering them. Whenever you purchase a download of their music, they will profit anywhere from about 65¢ to 95
¢ per song. (In comparison, when you stream their music, they will earn approximately ½¢ per song or less.)

2. If you belong to a subscription service, stream your favorite artist's music often. Let it play in the background while you're doing chores.

3. Promote your favorite bands' music on your social media pages. Help them get the word out.

4. Above all, never make an unauthorized copy of an artist's music by recording it to your computer while it is playing on the internet. When you do that, you are committing copyright infringement and circumventing the means by which the artist earns their due royalties.








Spectrum Raises Internet Service Rate During COVID-19 Pandemic
April 4 – May 2, 2020
 
If you want an example of a company that knows how to kick a customer when they're down, look no further than Charter Communications, parent company of Spectrum. I opened my March 22 bill to pay it, and couldn't believe what I saw: they had increased the cost of my internet service by 20%.
 
Spectrum Internet rate increase during coronavirus pandemic  Spectrum Internet rate increase during coronavirus pandemic
 
I'll concede Spectrum reserves the right to increase my bill whenever they want, but it's almost as if they're clueless as to what's happening in the world. I called their customer service to express how shocked I was that they had the audacity to raise my rates right in the middle of a pandemic that's causing millions of people, myself included, to suddenly lose their income. The customer service representative transferred me to a customer retention specialist.

The specialist offered to boost my 20 Mbit/s internet speed, but I told her wasn't concerned about speed. I was only concerned about the added cost since I lost all of my income due to COVID-19. She apologized for the timing of the rate increase but said there was nothing she could do about it. The increase would stand.

If losing my income meant I couldn't afford the 20% bump in price, my only option would be to cancel my services.

Wow.

I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau citing COVID-19-related price gouging, but they rejected it citing it falls outside of their "purview of disputes". With the BBB unwilling to mediate, my next step was writing and maining a letter to the president and CEO of Charter Communications, Thomas Rutledge.

I've always received positive results writing to company CEOs when something goes wrong. This time, however, I was not dealing with company that made a mistake, but a company that knowingly and willingly generated unnecessary financial hardships for unemployed Americans at the onset of a pandemic. Since it's impossible to reason with people who do unreasonable things, I wasn't too optimistic about the outcome.

I also filed a complaint with the FCC hoping it would help urge them to pressure Charter Communications into temporarity reversing and ceasing their service rate increases.

 
 
 Spectrum is apparently fully aware of the problems they're causing for so many people:
 
 Cord Cutters News: Spectrum Under Fire for Price Hikes During Coronavirus
 MSN: Brindisi: Feds should halt Spectrum internet price hikes during coronavirus pandemic
 Olean Times Herald: Spectrum Takes Heat for Service Rate Increases
 
 Reddit: Anyone else get a (Spectrum) rate increse during the pandemic? 
 Times Union: Spectrum Raising Cable Rates for "Legacy" Customers Who Had Time Warner
 WBNF News Radio: Brindisi Blasts Spectrum for Price Hikes During Pandemic
 
WHEC News 10: Spectrum Raising Rates During Pandemic for Some Legacy Customers
 
 
 
On April 21, I began receiving contact from Spectrum and the FCC.

The FCC complaint went nowhere. All they did was put me in touch with Spectrum's customer retention department who once again assured me the price increase was correct.

On May 2, Charter Communications corporate pretty much blew me off by passing me back down the line. The person who was assigned to look into my case told me to reach out to their billing department to help me with my "billing concerns." My pessimism regarding the outcome of this matter seems to be justified.

When it comes to hiking internet costs for customers who just lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spectrum's official answer, based on my experience, is the equivalent of "ain't our problem."

You may read headlines about how Spectrum gave their employees raises and is offering free internet to select groups during the COVID-19 outbreak, but if you've ever wondered how they're paying for that, now you know — they're sticking customers like me with the bill.

I've never witnessed a more reprehensible, appalling breach of business ethics in all my life. When so many Americans are hurting as their savings accounts are being depleted by bills, Spectrum's answer is to rub salt in their wounds by raising their rates. What a class act.







World's First Accordions with Integrated Air Filtration
April 1, 2020



Wisconsin governor Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" edict is affecting everyone differently. Some people are quietly biding their time, but Jimmy DeLocke of Appleton has made the best of the situation by turning it into a uniquely productive one.

"During the course of a three-hour performance, the average accordion player will move over 1,700 cubic feet of air," said DeLocke, 52, a home ventilation and air conditioning technician and amateur polka musician. "Why the heck are we not purifying that air?"

That's exactly what the inventive DeLocke, who's been out of work since early March, set out to do with his newly-found free time. After working in his basement workshop ten hours a day for the past two weeks, he now claims to have designed and built the world's first accordions with integrated air filtration systems.

DeLocke's accordions will be available in five different models:

-  CHARCOAL – Standard air filtration
-  CHARCOAL SC – Standard filtration with sound chamber
-  HEPA
® LOOSE – Super filtration with loose bellow action
-  HEPA
® TIGHT – Super filtration with tight bellow action
-  HEPA
® TIGHT SC – Super filtration with tight action and sound chamber

DeLocke revealed that he is currently in negotiations with Castiglione Accordion Company to market and distribute his products.

"I am working out a contract deal with Castiglione," DeLocke said, "but they aren't interested in all of the models I make. At the very least, I hope they contract my HEPA® TIGHT SC."







Just Published: New Book for People Under 30
April 1, 2020


Special thanks to Don Hunjadi and Steve Meisner for the concept of this article.

While witnessing twenty-somethings using a tack hammer to pound finishing nails into a slat of pine wood at an Oktoberfest party, author Craig Erickson could feel the time-honored traditions of Oktoberfest slipping away. The experience motivated him to write this definitive guide to Oktoberfest.

"Oktoberfest for Dummies" not only explains the traditions of Oktoberfest, but goes to great lengths to help millennials find socially-conscious ways to celebrate it. Erickson's book explores:
  • Which brewers support the organic barley industry
  • Where PETA-monitored wiener dog races are held
  • How to celebrate Oktoberfest without risking offending Germans by exploiting cultural stereotypes such as lederhosen, dirndls, beer, and oompah music
"Oktoberfest for Dummies" is now available at all Valdenbooks stores.







Memorabilia from Polka Hall of Fame to be Relocated to Attics
April 1, 2020



When the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame disbanded in 2019, a decision had to made as to where all of the polka memorabilia would be stored. Members of the now-defunct organization came together to vote on potential new locations, and it was decided all of the plaques, photos, sheet music, and musical instruments would be distributed among their own attics.

Anyone who wishes to view the former Hall of Fame's memorabilia is advised to keep an eye on Craigslist for upcoming garage sales.







Xbox® Walkthrough Guide for Polka PlayerzTM Video Game

April 1, 2020



By now, most of you have heard about the 2019 video game release by Quantum Entertainment called Polka Playerz
TM. The game is based on a four-piece polka band working in 1970s Waukegan, Illinois. There are a total of twelve missions, and the object of the game is to progress through all of the missions without any contract disputes, drunk driving charges, or divorces.

Quantum Entertainment contacted me and asked me to write an Xbox walkthrough guide for their website. Since many of you own the game, I'm sharing with you the quickest way to win the game's first mission without incurring any losses.
  • Booking the Gig
At the start of the game, your band will begin receiving phone calls for gigs. Decline the first three offers: a Knights of Columbus Dance, a 50th birthday party for Stippy Applebaum, and a booking agency wanting to hire you for a $400 gig. The agency is trying to book you for a wedding. Decline the offer because the next phone call you get will be the groom from that same wedding wanting to hire you directly. Charge $500 and take the gig.
  • Hiring Musicians
Press Y to bring up a directory of musicians. Use the left joystick to cycle through each one to read their strengths and weaknesses. You'll notice that for the most part, talent and dependability are inversely proportional. It will be tempting to pick the most talented musicians, but hiring the more dependable ones will pay off in the end. The musicians I'd suggest for the first mission are:

       Johnny Czerceczki - Guitar
             Talent: 5  |  Dependability: 6  |  Vocals: Yes  |  Drugs: Yes

       Frank Livsey - Bass
             Talent: 3  |  Dependability: 8  |  Vocals: Yes  |  Drugs: No

After you hire Johnny and Frank, do not hire any of the available drummers right away. They will back out of the gig at the last minute. Wait until two days before the wedding, and Doug Howerton will become available.

         Doug Howerton - Drums
               Talent: 6  |  Dependability: 7  |  Vocals: No  |  Drugs: No
  • Setting Up
When you arrive at the hotel where the wedding is taking place, choose the loading dock further away from the freight elevator. If you pick the closer one, the band showing up for the other wedding will pick a fight with you and cause you to start your gig ten minutes late.

Take the freight elevator one floor up to the kitchen. There will be four paths you can take through the kitchen to get to the service elevators. Take the path on the left that starts between the two linen bins. As you go around the first corner, look immediately to your right. You'll see a cart with three leftover pieces of cake on it. Take a piece for yourself and give the others to the guitar player and the drummer. Do not give one to the bass player. (I'll explain later.)

At the other end of the kitchen there will be two service elevators – one available and one currently in use. Do not take the available elevator. On the way up it gets intercepted by hotel staff taking dirty dish pans back down to the kitchen. They'll make you five minutes late for your gig. Wait for the other elevator and it will take you straight up to the ballroom floor.

When you get to the ballroom entrance, you'll notice all of the routes to the stage are blocked by guests sitting down for dinner. If you try to roll your equipment past any table, the guests will get angry and complain to the bride. You'll need to use a cheat code here. Walk up to the gray-haired gentleman eating the beef tips and press A + X + LB + RT on your controller. He will excuse himself to use the restroom giving you 90 seconds to move your equipment through ballroom.
  • Performing the Gig
After you get set up on stage, press Y to bring up songs you can add to your playlist. Do not choose all polkas and waltzes. You'll need to choose a variety of styles. Here's why:

When your band begins to play, you'll start with a crowded dance floor. Your objective is to keep as many people on the floor as possible by reading the crowd and calling the right songs. For every person who leaves the dance floor, the bride's drunk aunt will stagger three feet closer to the stage. If you lose too many dancers and she reaches the stage, she'll start demanding rock songs that are not on your playlist. You'll need to choose the best alternate songs from your playlist that you think will appease her. If you fail to make her happy, she will complain to the bride's mother who will then refuse to validate your hotel parking ticket.

Pressing LT will allow you to switch between piano accordion and button box. The button box can only be used once on a gig, and switching to it will temporarily disable all but two polkas from your playlist. Make sure you choose it at the right time or you'll risk losing dancers.

Keep an eye on your band members' health meters during the gig. Those three pieces of cake you found in the kitchen were energy boosters. The musicians who got one will have enough energy to get through the gig. Your bass player didn't get any cake, so toward the end of the night, he will begin to fade. This is OK, because no one will notice the bass dropping out.
  • Getting Home
As you exit the hotel parking garage, press RB to bring up the police scanner and A to turn it on. Listen to the volume of the broadcasts. If a broadcast gets louder, it means you're getting too close to a police car. Pick a different route. If the broadcast gets quieter, you're traveling in a safe direction. Keep the scanner on and weave your way through the city avoiding loud broadcasts until you're home.

TIP: Whatever streets you choose coming home from a gig, do not take West Street. There is a police precinct and a Dunkin Donuts on the same block. You will be spotted, a radio call will go out, and your DUI wanted level will increase by one star every 60 seconds until the entire police department is looking for you.

TIP: When police broadcasts are quiet enough, you can risk flooring your car and blowing through red lights to collect bonuses. When you get home and walk into your house, go over to the refrigerator and press X to open it. If you were successful in blowing three consecutive red lights without being spotted by the police, you'll be rewarded with three slices of leftover pizza.
Polka PlayerzTM for Xbox® and Playstation® is available at all GameStop outlets in Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and the Netherlands.


Polka PlayerzTM in-game screen shot courtesy of Quantum Entertainment




 
 

Tom Brusky Band Schedule
April 1, 2020

Are you in the mood for some lively polka music? We'd love for you to come out to see us! Here's a complete list of our upcoming performances:




 


The Impact of COVID-19 on Musicians
March 31, 2020



We are all feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the self-employed were more or less blindsided by it. Within a matter of days, musicians lost 100% of their gigs. As they scrambled to research what options were available to help them through their predicament, they discovered to their dismay that there were no options. Musicians and other contract workers had no safety net available to them. They had fallen through the cracks and were going to have to live off their personal savings for an undetermined length of time.

Self-employed workers cannot collect unemployment benefits since no portion of the taxes they pay goes toward the unemployment insurance fund. Although President Trump asked states to expand their unemployment eligibility requirements to include the self-employed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin was not among the states that complied.

Self-employed workers can purchase unemployment disability insurance to cover themselves when they are sick or injured, but loss of work due to pandemic quarantine does not qualify as being disabled. A worker would have to literally contract the virus and become sick to receive insurance benefits.

The president's recently-signed stimulus package is apparently going to offer Disaster Unemployment Assistance to self-employed workers, but as of yet, no key details of that program have been worked out. It's not yet clear if all self-employed workers will be eligible, nor whether the federal government or individual states will be controlling eligibility requirements.

Although the details of immediate relief (other than the $1,200 stimulus payment that everyone will receive) are still unknown, self-employed workers will eligible for a federal tax break in 2021 in the form of an exemption equal to ten days pay.

As for me personally, I'm doing OK. I live rather frugally and saved up an emergency fund that will get me through the coming weeks. The biggest threat to my situation, believe it or not, is my cat Snickers. A few times a year he gets sick and requires emergency care, which can be costly. Snickers needed emergency care just last weekend, but I had a hunch what the problem was and opted for the minimal care I believed he needed. Thankfully my diagnosis was right, and I saved hundreds of dollars in unnecessary x-rays and blood work.

I'm also fully stocked with food and supplies. When I first saw the news of the virus spreading in Washington and California, I was pretty sure it would only be a matter of time before the virus and the panic buying would spread to the Midwest and a quarantine could be ordered. While store shelves were still full and life was carrying on as usual, I inconspicuously bought several months worth of groceries and supplies. My reasoning was primarily safety. I figured it would be safer to shop now rather than later when the virus was more widely distributed.

Speaking of viral distribution, I hope you're all doing your part and staying home! The best way to slow the spread of the virus, obviously, is to be someone who neither gives nor receives it. We all have to take this measure because hospitals are not equipped to handle unprecedented spikes in admissions. By all of us staying at home and away from other people, the pace at which the virus spreads will slow down, giving hospitals a chance to care for and discharge patients at a more manageable rate. Most importantly, it may mean having enough ventilators available for those who need lifesaving treatment.

Another benefit to staying home is that you don't have to keep re-sanitizing everything. A simple trip to the grocery store means sanitizing every container of food you bring into your home, and then re-sanitizing your gloves, doorknobs, car keys, wallet, counter tops, refrigerator door handles, etc. It's a big job. The fewer times you go out, the fewer times you have to sanitize.

I've discovered a couple of benefits to being stuck at home. The biggest one is having an unprecedented amount of time. I've already completed a few cleaning jobs, and have a few more to go. My main goal, however, is to use the time to write and compose music. Another benefit is that my two cats have never gotten to see this much of their dad before. They're not taking the opportunity for granted, either. Most of the time, one is on my lap and the other is at my feet.

To help you enjoy your time at home, if you're not already aware of this, my four most recent albums/singles are posted online in their entirety for complimentary listening. They'll help you kill about two hours of time.

Music link: http://www.tombrusky.com/music.html

My hope for all of us is that the viral threat will abate by Memorial Day so that our summer festival season will not be affected.



One final thought: The people on the front lines of this war against the COVID-19 virus are healthcare workers. Our country's doctors, nurses, paramedics, and EMTs are putting their lives on the line every day. If you know someone who works in healthcare, reach out to them and offer words of encouragement.







Polkasound Productions Recording Studio is Now Closed
March 31, 2020



After 30 years in operation, my recording studio, Polkasound Productions, has officially closed. Sales of polka CDs are just a fraction of what they used to be, which has made the investment in studio recording economically unviable for most bands.

Although services to the public have ceased, I will continue upgrading and using the studio for my own private use. My future polka albums and singles will continue to be released on the Polkasound Productions recording label, whereas a new label will be created for my future music releases outside the polka genre.




 


Will the Coronavirus Affect My Livelihood as a Performing Musician?

March 13, 2020

  


After my gig on Tuesday, I stopped at Woodman's Market to do some shopping. It was a normal shopping day. Toilet paper was fully stocked, so I bought some with the rest of my groceries. The next day I took care of my mom's shopping at a local Pick N Save. It was another normal shopping day, so I casually bought some more toilet paper with her groceries.

The next day I was shopping at Target and again at Woodman's, and their toilet paper supplies were nearly depleted. Both stores were rationing what they had left. There was a checkout line at Woodmans over 50 feet long. One shopper was wearing a face mask. It was anything other than a normal shopping day; it was a reaction to the news of the Coronavirus becoming a pandemic.

This is when the reality of the situation sunk in as to how it might affect me as an entertainer.

There is no way to know exactly how much damage the pandemic will cause, so prevention is where most of the focus is right now. This means concerts and other public gatherings are being canceled and postponed in record numbers to minimize the spread of the virus. So far, none of my band's scheduled performances have been canceled, but we're only three days into the pandemic.

If this virus appears to start spreading exponentially, it will certainly mean polka dances throughout the state will be canceled. At many of the venues where I play, most dancers are over 70 years of age. I would not expect nor want them to venture out into the public while the virus is spreading. For this reason, I am mentally preparing to find myself out of work for weeks. Possibly up to two months or more.

Being a self-employed musician is very rewarding, but it's always had its downsides: you can't call in sick, you don't get vacation days, and you have to provide for your own health insurance. Being "laid off" due to a pandemic, however, never crossed my mind until this week. That's a new one.







My Response to January's Newspaper Article Discussing the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame
March 11, 2020



 
A
recent article in the Green Bay Press Gazette talked about the problems facing polka music in Wisconsin, culminating in the folding of the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame. Since the article was published, I've been asked for my opinion on the subject by enough people that I thought it might be worth sharing my views publicly.

My opinion doesn't sugar coat the truth, however, I don't believe the truth is something to fear. Yes, the fan base is dwindling and the dances are continually declining in numbers, but polka music itself is absolutely not going away.

Polka music is a traditional form of music, which means it intentionally does not change. The demand for this accordion and concertina folk-based music peaked well over 50 years ago. Through the decades since, rock and pop music emerged to capture the younger generations. Accordions gave way to guitars and synthesizers, and the demand for polka music naturally decreased. As the older polka fans passed away, there were less and less younger polka fans to take their places.

This phenomenon is still continuing, and it is why polka organizations are breaking up. It's why musicians are retiring and dances are folding. But these effects are only felt within the polka music circuit where the memories of packed dance halls still exist. Outside the polka circuit in the realm of the general public, polka music has retained a lot of its appeal. It doesn't have the large, devoted fan base to draw from anymore, so the overall demand isn't what it used to be, but there still is a demand for polka music because there are, and will always be, people of all ages who want and appreciate it.

In my time as a bandleader, I've seen a lot of Milwaukee-area polka dances fold — Bradley Road Inn, Country Keg, Hiawatha, Orchard Inn, Nick's Nicabob, Pulaski Inn, Richfield Chalet, Russ & Darlenes, Serb Hall, Sue's Bayview Bandwagon, and most recently the Thursday afternoon dances at the Moose Lodge. We've lost all these places in the past 20 years, and yet, my band business is going stronger than ever. How is this possible?

I owe a good portion of my band's current demand to the last bastions of the polka generation — the venues still hiring bands like mine and the dancers who follow us. This dedicated fan base, however, just doesn't have the numbers needed to maintain the status quo of decades past. It can't sustain a hall of fame. It's not going to form any new polka clubs. It's not large enough to warrant any new weekly dances. And the days of bands going into recording studios and dropping thousands of dollars to record albums are over. The existing polka circuit is simply too small for these things now.

The annual polka festivals and monthly/weekly dances that we have going on right now are all that we have left. We'll enjoy them for as long as we can, but in the coming years, we can expect most of them to dwindle in attendance and fold as well.

But there's life outside of this polka circuit. There are beer gardens, breweries, music festivals, Oktoberfests, and all kinds of other public, private, and corporate events in need of good, traditional polka music. Yes, polka music is still in demand. There is a universal appreciation for it that, from where I'm standing, has no end in sight.

Some of the dances where polka bands play today have been slowly and steadily infiltrated by non-polka dancers, evolving into ballroom dances where cha-chas and slow waltzes far outnumber the polkas. Still, there is plenty of polka music to be enjoyed throughout the year. You just might have to travel a little farther or plan a little further ahead to catch it, that's all.

Keep your eye on your favorite bands' schedules. Polka music is not going anywhere.








Massive Polka CD/DVD Charity Auction Raises $427 for Alzheimer's
Idea for Auction Instigated by Music Fan's Bizarre Behavior
January 23, 2020 [updated February 11]


A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article about a music fan who, instead of purchasing my latest music release for $3.49, copied the music for free off YouTube. I kindly advised him that what he did was a copyright violation. He seemed to understand and offered to buy me a beer at an upcoming polka festival. That sounded great to me, so I accepted.

I thought the matter was settled, but I was wrong. He wasn't able to let the issue go, and started peppering me with irrational reasoning.

He blamed me for the theft because my music was easy to steal, and suggested that since he owns my older recordings, he was entitled to the freely-obtained copy of my new recording. I explained to him that my albums cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to produce. By entitling himself to an illegally-obtained free copy, he's not helping me recover a dime of my production expenses through download sales or streaming royalties. Needless to say, what he did is not just a copyright violation, but it's an incredibly disrespectful thing to do to a musician.

I was still willing to put the matter to rest over a beer and not make a big deal out of it, but his behavior deteriorated to an even more disturbing level. He took all of my recordings from his personal music library and shipped them to me, but not before permanently damaging them. He cut the tape inside the cassette shells, gouged the surfaces of the CDs, and wrote "rendered uplayable" on all the album covers with a permanent marker.


 
He also included a note:


 
When I opened the box and saw my damaged recordings, the first thought that came to mind was... what a complete and utter waste! If he no longer wanted my albums in his library, why didn't he donate them to a nursing home or assisted living facility? Any such place would have been thrilled to receive a multi-volume polka music collection for their residents! I began thinking of ways I could compensate for this senseless loss, and that's when I came up with the idea to run a charity auction to which I'd donate a handful of my CDs.

But then I got another idea. A bigger, better idea. My CDs alone would have little impact on any charity, but I could organize a fundraiser on a much grander scale, for an even greater cause, by asking my fellow musicians to donate one of their CDs.

That's when I decided to create an eBay charity auction to benefit a Wisconsin-based non-profit organization
dedicated to improving the lives of persons affected by Alzheimer's disease and related dementia: The Alzheimer's & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin (ADAW). Most of us in polka music know someone who has been affected by this disease, whether they're a family member, friend, fellow musician, or dancer. I reached out to polka musicians all over the country and Canada to ask if they would like to donate a CD or DVD to this charity auction, and they responded. Collectively, 89 items were donated by 35 musicians:

David Austin Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr.
Brian Brueggen Gary Brueggen Tom Brusky
Denny Bucar Mollie Busta Carol & the Keynotes Rob DeBlander, Jr. Jon Dietz
Craig Ebel Joe Fojtik John Gostomski Toby Hanson A.J. Hite
Don Hunjadi Bob Klinger LynnMarie Steve Meisner Bryan O'Donnell
Walter Ostanek Eddie Rodick III
Mike Schneider
Brian Seehafer
Nancy Seibert
Ron Sluga
Hank Thunander
Vern Tretow
Ron VanDenboom
Kathy Zamejc Vogt
Jeff Winard
Dan Wojtila
Richie Yurkovich
Fred Ziwich
Neal Zunker

The winning bid was $427.22, of which 100% will go to ADAW. (In addition to the $427.22 raised for ADAW, this auction also generated about $26.00 in Pennsylvania state tax revenue, and no less than $100.00 in revenue for the U.S. Postal Service.)

My sincere thanks to everyone who donated, everyone who placed bids, and everyone who helped promote the auction!








Snickers the $17,000 Cat
January 24, 2020 (updated every now and then)



While organizing receipts the other day, I came across Snickers' medical bills going back to the year he was born:

2009: $128.00
2010: $430.56
2011: $0
2012: $77.77
2013: $0
2014: $903.15
2015: $123.22
2016: $0
2017: $4,320.94
2018: $0
2019: $4,934.91
2020: $4,888.26
2021: $1,136.41
Total as of June 15, 2021:
$16,942.52


The point of this article is to remind people that pets are not novelty items. They should never be given out as gifts or brought into a home without careful consideration. They become family members who entrust their owners with their health and happiness, and that means owners must be willing to provide their pets with whatever medical care they may need.







My Music is Free to Hear On the Internet; Not Free to Copy Off the Internet
January 10, 2020

  


I recently corresponded with a music fan who casually admitted putting all five songs from my Country Christmas Collection EP onto a CD for personal listening. I didn't see a record of a download sale to that person, so I asked him where he got the music. He said he got the music from YouTube.

What he did was violate a copyright by making an unauthorized copy of the music.

There are two basic ways people get music online: streaming and downloading. To download a song means you pay to receive a digital copy of it. You can then make additional copies of the song to play on your phone, MP3 player, computer, or wherever else you personally listen to music. You can also burn the song to a CD for your car. To stream a song means you can listen to the song online as much as you want, but you are not authorized to have a copy of it in your possession. The music stays on the streaming site.

YouTube is a streaming site. The music fan who copied my songs off YouTube assumed that since he was allowed to freely play the songs, he was allowed to freely copy the songs. No, it doesn't work that way. Even though there are a lot of ways to easily copy music from streaming sites like YouTube, with a few exceptions, doing so is a violation of copyright law. If you want to have a copy of a song in your possession, you must either pay to download it from a download site or get permission from the copyright holder.

An excerpt from YouTube's Terms of Service, with key points that I've highlighted in red, states:

 
You may view or listen to Content for your personal, non-commercial use. You may also show YouTube videos through the embeddable YouTube player.
 
The following restrictions apply to your use of the Service. You are not allowed to:
 
1. access, reproduce, download, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, alter, modify or otherwise use any part of the Service or any Content except: (a) as expressly authorized by the Service; or (b) with prior written permission from YouTube and, if applicable, the respective rights holders;
 
2. circumvent, disable, fraudulently engage with, or otherwise interfere with any part of the Service (or attempt to do any of these things), including security-related features or features that (a) prevent or restrict the copying or other use of Content or (b) limit the use of the Service or Content;
 
When you play a song on a streaming site like YouTube, you generate a royalty payment. Artists and recording owners rely on those royalties for income, especially now since physical sales (i.e. CDs) are obsolete. If you make an illegal copy of a song off a streaming site, you are denying the artist and copyright holder their due royalties. You're also saying to them, "I know it cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars to make this recording, but you're not going to recover a dime of it from me."

 Copyright 2005-2020, Tom Brusky LLC