My name is William Petruzzo
I am an artist and a creative explorer.
I began my journey as a child admiring my father’s photography. I took a liking to illustration and cinema, and later to graphic design. My medium has always been visual, until recently when I began experimenting with music.
In my view, art is uniquely human, and that is how I define it: as that which is created by a human with intention. I believe there is a great deal to learn about ourselves and those around us if we give ourselves to the discipline of bringing things to life every day. Even when it’s ugly, art is love and love brings life.
I believe a happy life is one with people you love, and passions you have the freedom to pursue. I create for myself, and for my livelihood. If you are interested in commissioning my services, you can do so through the Petruzzo Photography collective.
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When I was about 16 years old, I dropped out of high school. I’ve waffled on whether that was the right decision, but I’ve never really regretted it. The school system we had wasn’t right for me. I’ve never excelled under ‘authoritarian’ conditions and even in adolescence, it felt demeaning to have to ask for permission to use the bathroom, or worse, have to carry around one of those massive keychains that screams “I’m about to relieve myself”.
Of course, looking back, I can see why those things were necessary for the whole of the system to work, imperfectly as it may. Kids, as a general rule, can’t be trusted. This is not a discussion about how they could be trusted, or how your kids can be trusted—I believe in that, but it’s not the point right now.
I was a bright and mostly honest kid in a system that fell somewhere on what I’d call the prison spectrum. Highly ordered, mandated, little reward for creativity, and a lot of rules that seemed arbitrary when applied to a big diverse population. I didn’t rebel though, I just withdrew from learning. Stopped trying, stopped caring, focused on my social life and walked the line of respect and responsibility just well enough not to get in too much trouble. I was a C student most of the time and that seemed plenty good enough to me when considering the alternative.
When I dropped out in 10th grade, I spent about a year doing nothing, as you’d expect a dropout to do, before getting a job with a small local tech company. I found it interesting enough. I liked having a cubicle at the time—made me feel like a real adult. Making money was also pretty neat. But I wasn’t terribly motivated by what I was doing. I looked around and saw opportunities all over the place. I thought, “I could probably go to school and learn to do what that guy over there is doing…”
Fast foreword a few years, and I’d gotten a job at a religious bookstore. For the first time, my interest was piqued. I was heavily invested in a religious faith at the time and I started reading books thanks to the store’s generous lending policy. I studied a lot harder than I’d studied anything before, and getting quite good at it, I eventually ended up in admissions office of a local bible college. A life as a preacher seemed appealing.
But, I decided to put off school again when a friend from church presented an opportunity to work with a media watchdog company. It was real adult money, working alongside a friend, in an office environment, doing something that seemed fun and important to me at the time. Admittedly, I’m a bit embarrassed to have worked for their cause now, but I digress.
While at the watchdog company, I did some writing. I did some organizing, and I thought to myself, I could really do this if I went back to school for journalism and business.
Luckily, the friend who’d gotten me the job was also an aspiring photographer. With perhaps a tinge of competitiveness, I wanted to get into photography too. Hell, my dad was an amateur (in its original sense) and I really loved what he did. So I bought a camera, I bought some lenses, and me and my friend started shooting during lunch breaks, and on the weekends. I started thinking to myself, “I could go to school for photography and art, and I could do this for a living!”
Fast foreword through a sort of mini-emotional breakdown, a departure from my faith, and a falling out with my church confidantes, and I found myself working at a Thai restaurant serving tables and still taking pictures for fun on the weekends. One day, I got a call from an old family friend who needed a wedding photographer. I reluctantly agreed, but with dollar signs in my eyes (holy shit, money for pictures, really?).
When the wedding day came, It was crazy. It was a blowout for me. I mean, the wedding went fine, but the pictures look like a disaster from my current perspective. There were more than 700 guests attending, a giant church, a gymnasium reception and a huge family that needed wedding formals. I wasn’t ready for any of it, but I made it through and learned some of the most important lessons of the career I’d eventually choose.
Then someone else asked me to shoot their wedding. It went better than last time. Then someone else. And it kept going. I stopped thinking about going to school, except for the specific challenges I was facing. I was already moving foreword and making progress and school, as a means of ‘certification’, seemed irrelevant.
But it wasn’t, it really wasn’t. Even though I didn’t take advantage of the education opportunities around me, I was benefitting from just having them around.
At every opportunity causing me to pause and wonder if I’d enjoy doing this or that for a living, the door was always left open by this sense of confidence that I could just go to school and learn how to do it. I could go and be a phone tech making a little money, and flirt with the idea of becoming a field tech with an education. I could go and work in a bookstore and tease my interest in being a preacher or author. I could work for a watchdog company and consider whether I’d like being a political pundit or journalist. I could do all of that without any sense of defeat. Nothing ever felt like a dead-end because education was always an option.
It was the possibility of a formal education that allowed me to worm my way around in life until I found something I really enjoyed doing. And when I found it, it turned out I didn’t really have to get an education because I was making one myself. And even now, when the occasional feeling of “is this really what I want to be doing?” comes up, education is right there to say, “Sure, you can do something else if you really want”.
That’s been my path so far. But there are lots of paths.
I know people I went to school with who did very well in their academics, who went on to college and then on to well paying jobs. And some who didn’t go to college and still went on to well paying jobs. I also know people who saw no path to an education, and they did not do as well in school and are not doing as well today. Some of them have gone to jail, others are just working for beer money.
Hope is a powerful thing. Without an education or hope, you probably have a criminal on your hands. Without an education but an abundance of hope, you have topsoil for human excellence, even if education isn’t the path to get there.
Thanks to Bernie Sanders in this presidential election cycle, we’re hearing a lot more about education from the stump than we have in previous cycles. “Free education!” Some people say derisively, as if an education is akin to a 60″ TV or a luxury car. And no, college is not the right answer for everyone. Yes, we need plumbers and electricians, garbage men, HVAC technicians, construction workers and janitors, but we need them have other options too. For some people, they love those jobs, but for others, alternate options are the very reason they don’t mind doing those jobs.
Those positions are not the bottom rung of society, but they become the bottom rung when they are filled with people who feel they have no other choices; when people have to be there, or be desperately poor. It’s not a bad job, unless you hate it and feel trapped.
Public education is an important factor in hope. The feeling that we’re not necessarily trapped doing what we’re doing. But unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people feel. They work too many hours at a job they don’t like to get an education for a job they would like, and even if they do, they’re saddled with debt they’ll be hard pressed to repay before taking a year off for an internship or something. Whining slackers, I know. But the thing is, every single one of us benefits from public education, whether we personally get that education or not. Either way, we all get to enjoy a better, safer, more economically equitable society because other people are getting that education. It matters to all of us, whether it’s obvious or not.
You don’t have to like education yourself, but stand up for it. It’s important to all of us.
In the last 15 months, I’ve written and recorded 16 songs. I invested hundreds of hours into the project, learning a great deal about how and why music ‘works’. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, an expert or a professional, or even fairly considered a ‘musician’. I’m a musician the same way someone creating a digital collage is a photographer. That is to say, the end result matters, but the process to get there is how we categorize these sorts things.
The music I created is music I like. I can listen to it in the car and enjoy it–however egomaniacal that may appear to be. When I was younger, I’d really latch onto one or two songs at a time. Some little melodic trick, a combination of instruments, or a vocal rhythm, would stick with me and I’d get obsessed with it. Sometimes I’d listen to those tracks dozens of times in a row and eventually start skipping just to the parts I liked to sing along with.
At the time I started the project (and still today), I am surrounded by a lot of artists and musicians in my free time. They provided the motivation and encouragement to give it a try. Jef, Rivka, Nate, Erik, Felipe (who works with me at Petruzzo Photography) to name a few. I also found it motivating that this might provide an opportunity to peer into the processes and challenges of working musicians. If there’s one thing I love, it’s understanding the needs of a ‘market’. Frankly, I’m not so sure I got that out of the project, but those musicians were often on my mind while I was working.
Fundamentally though, this was a project about me, for me. At no point in the process, or today, have I dreamed about ‘making it as a musician’. I haven’t felt an urge to perform for audiences (even though I was invited to perform at a weird little indie festival down in Virginia Beach, I declined). And, as cool as it is to know someone else has listened to my music, I kind of don’t care. For nearly a decade now, to publish my art where someone might find it has been my way of saying “this thing is done”.
Personal art and photography has gone on this website, on SoundCloud, on 500px, Flickr, Instagram; social networking sites, known for their user generated content. “But why,” I can hear you objecting, “If you don’t care about other people hearing this music, would you put it on Spotify?” Well, not just on Spotify, actually. It’s on pretty much all the streaming sites, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and a bunch of others. But I digress.
The reason I chose to push my music onto all these services is twofold. First, after hundreds of hours of work, I thought it’d feel cool to be able to type “Petruzzo” into any of the major music services and see what I’d made right there. It does feel cool. But the second, and much more significant reason, is as a kind of challenge to those musicians around me. Let me unpack that.
I don’t listen to very much local music. Yes, even that of some of my closest friends. It’s not that I don’t like their music, most of the time I do. It’s because their music is not found in the places where I listen to music. I never just throw on SoundCloud and listen to tunes. I suspect almost no one, except those invested in the social network of SoundCloud, does. I open Apple Music or Spotify and press shuffle. A comparatively significant amount of energy must be invested in most local music to make sure it occasionally shows up in that list of stuff shuffling.
To me, I see this as frustrating nonsense.
Of all the kinds of popular artforms out there, the music industry makes, perhaps, the most egregious use of the ‘gatekeeper’. You can listen to SoundCloud, or Bandcamp, or ReverbNation… or you can listen to real music on Spotify or iTunes. I hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm. While music, like photos or videos, is digital and should be easy to publish wherever your want, it’s not. You can’t just log in at 3am and upload some song to iTunes and post it on Facebook. You have to jump through hoops to get the proverbial stamp of approval from Apple, or Spotify or whatever. Not even a stamp of quality-approval, it’s a stamp that just says you jumped through all the erroneous hoops.
Five years ago, that “stamp of approval” was hard to get. It meant spending hundreds of dollars on a distributor, or being signed to a record label who would pay hundreds of dollars to a distributor (and then take all the profits). That is not the case anymore. Let me say this again, in case you need to read it bolder. That is not the case anymore.
I paid $20 to Distrokid, a digital distributor, to upload as much or as little as I wanted for an entire year. $20, once a year. That was all. It took all of about 15 minutes to publish everything, and now it’s practically everywhere.
So, about that challenge. To other artists and musicians who are working their ass off and telling people to check out their BandCamp page: You’re putting too much time and energy into what you’re creating not to spend a few bucks, the price of a movie and popcorn, not to push your work into a place where ordinary music listeners can find it.
I know you hustle, you go out and play shows, and try to chip away at the task of building an audience. But what percentage of people at your show do you think can be fairly considered “indie music enthusiasts”; people who hear music for what it is, and invest themselves in enjoying it beyond the excitement of a Thursday evening at the bar? I’m betting it’s about 20%. The other 80% are most likely people who needed a place to drink and enjoy live music when they do.
Now imagine you’re finishing up your set and you say into the microphone, “If you liked our set, you can buy our CD’s at our merch table over there, or on our BandCamp page at www….!” How many people do you think will respond to that? It’s probably going to be some fraction of that 20% of genuine local music enthusiasts. But, imagine if you instead said, “If you liked our set, check out our album anywhere you like to stream music!” What percentage of people do you think will be listening on their drive home? More. It will be a larger fraction of the whole group, not a fraction of a fraction.
“But… But our profits!” You might say, spoken like a true artist. I jest, of course. You’re not getting them anyway. You can no longer sell an appreciation for the music you create. You have to use the music you create to sell something to be appreciated; a live performance experience, a t-shirt, or hoodie. You can use the music you create to build leverage and influence; booking larger shows for bigger audiences, creating royalties on para-music content like a YouTube channel or Periscope feed. The person who likes to own a record, will still purchase a record because they are enjoying something beyond the music itself. And the modern music listener, who doesn’t make music purchases anymore, will still be able to find your music and become part of your audience.
If I can spend a year making music and put it on all these streaming services, with hardly a second thought and next to no serious financial investment, you can and definitely should. And that is the reason you can find my music on those services. Stop thinking what you’re making isn’t good enough and start making sure that the people who think it is good enough can find it when they want to.
If you make music, do it now. Get it up there, and then get back to the hustle. You’ll have removed some significant friction between you and your goal.
2016 was an important year for me. I gained a lot of headspace by making some bad decisions with my business (don’t try and outsource your business’s attitude, it won’t work). But, thanks to that questionable headspace, I was able to meet a variety of personal goals which are less overtly, but no less importantly, woven into my efficacy in business. So, like usual, regret wouldn’t be the right response, but not exactly the wrong one either.
As I recently explained in a post on petruzzo.com, I have always had a tendency to fall for the allure of the sole-solution. Or the “magic bullet” as I call it. The idea that something, some one-thing, is somehow holding the keys to all the challenges or difficulties I face. “If I just lived in this city…”, “if I just posted on social media more…”, “If I just had a dedicated studio… “, “If I just…”. While it might be right very rarely, any rational adult can see how that kind of thinking doesn’t make sense in the long run. Every long term effort requires that we focus on a variety of different things over time. That sole-solution doesn’t exist, and I suspect it might be part of a bad habit left over from constantly searching for a finish line. You get tired, and start feeling desperate for something to end, and your mind latches onto the first good-ish idea it gets and starts thinking this is it! But it’s not, and things continue to ebb and flow the way they always do, meanwhile you’ve stopped paying attention to some other crucial activity.
So professionally, this sort of reflection has consumed much of my mind. It’s a regressive mental habit that makes it more difficult and emotionally tumultuous to run a business, and in 2015 I put a concerted effort into being more conscious of the magic bullet syndrome. And, while I was definitely more conscious of it and did not allow it to hinder me as severely has it has in the past, it’s fitting that the year should end with the revelation of another magic bullet I’ve been trying to use. Whose surprised by that though, really?
Personally, 2015 in art was almost all about music. Writing tunes that I would want to listen to has been a kind of pipe-dream of mine since I was a kid, and last year I finally did it. As someone with an aptitude for visual art, stuff with sound was intimidating. But as the year went on, I became a lot more comfortable in the medium. I started to hear sounds and wonder about their frequencies and notice repetitious noises in the environment. I began to hear the separate notes in chords, rather than just the chunk all together. I also took to recording interesting noises I came across, though haven’t come up with anything to use them for.
What was especially interesting was the rise and fall and rise again of the project process. This was the first time I’d set a firm goal around something I was still figuring out, and knew I’d be making public. That sort of thing usually makes my skin crawl. But not with this. Perhaps it was the total void of expectations and the fact that I’m not a musician, but somehow making an ass of myself with music just doesn’t seem as threatening as say, making an ass of myself with a camera. In that way, this was really quite therapeutic. Like a vacation from my ego or something.
I’d like to thank those of you who listened to this drivel all year and said nice things anyway. I appreciate your support, inspiration & motivation.
A project for 2016 is well in the works and you can look for that at the end of January!