5 Questions to Meerenai Shim (flutist, Aerocade Music founder)

Meerenai Shim takes on many roles in new music. As a flutist, she has release three solo albums: Sometimes the City is Silent, The Art of Noiseand PheromoneAs a chamber musician, she appears with groups including A/B Duo and Areon Flutes. Most recently, she has added record label entrepreneur to the list as the founder of Aerocade Music. I asked her a few questions about her varied musical life.

Your practice is very “DIY” – in a lot of your projects you’re involved with or directing the performance, production, and promotion. Can you talk about how this works for your career?

Doing almost everything myself helps me accomplish many of my artistic goals more quickly than if I had a large number of collaborators or an organization supporting me. As the supposed African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As an only child, it felt natural to work on projects by myself, but there were other factors that led me to go it alone. In 2005, my musical career consisted of being an independent private flute teacher. Being a musician in Silicon Valley meant that I was one of the very few artists living in the area and isolated from the community of gigging musicians in the greater Bay Area.

My first DIY project, other than self-producing a recital here and there, was self-publishing a scale book for my flute students because I couldn’t find a good set of studies to bridge the gap between the beginner and advanced scale books. I learned a lot about engraving, printing, copyright, publishing, and distribution by Googling and reading about it online. The book has sold almost 1,000 copies over the last 11 years. That’s been my process since the book: Google it first, read everything I can on the subject (on the Internet and in real books), then make it happen.

Producing most of my projects myself means that I can set very tight timelines and finish the projects without waiting for permission, funding, or collaborators. It also makes the budget very manageable since I can invest in software/tools once, and then learn to do it myself.

DIY isn’t really Do It ALL Yourself. Having supportive mentors, friends, and family makes DIY possible. DIY works for me because I have a very supportive spouse and a diverse background of interests and experience. Even though my two degrees are in flute performance, I held day jobs in Information Technology and Management Consulting. I also spent most of my undergraduate years preparing for an orchestral conducting career that never took off. Being an aspiring conductor meant that I spent 4 years of college hustling and continuously self-producing chamber orchestra concerts. 

I do wonder how different my career might be if I lived in an area where artistic inspiration and collaborators were a few blocks away, instead of 50+ miles away.

Meerenai Shim--Photo by Nikolay Maslov

Meerenai Shim–Photo by Nikolay Maslov

What made you decide to start Aerocade Music?

I self-released my first two albums, and decided that I should try to do it the “right” way for the third. I thought about asking different record labels if they’d release it, but it didn’t make much sense to me after I thought about the cost of self-releasing vs. paying a label more money to do the same thing I can do. (Of course, now I know that going with a label can be much more beneficial than self-releasing!) Honestly, I was simply afraid of being rejected by the labels. After DIY-ing for so long, and not worrying about gate-keepers and grant committees, I wasn’t going to let some guy at a label to tell me what to do! So my plan was to self-release under a fancy label name I made up instead of just using my name. A cynical person might describe it as a vanity label.

As soon as I posted something about starting a record label on Facebook, I was contacted by Lanier Sammons, who was producing the first Post-Haste Reed Duo album. They needed a label and trusted me to release their project. And that’s how Post-Haste Reed Duo and Lanier Sammons saved Aerocade Music from becoming a vanity label.

How does running a label inform your own practice and values?

In the beginning, I was just taking on projects that sounded interesting, but now I am making the changes that I want to see in the music world. Aerocade no longer releases projects that only have male contributors. Aerocade is also trying to support underserved artists by focusing our efforts on working with artists that live primarily in the Western part of the United States, and in some cases, other artists living and working outside of the NYC area.

Recently you’ve been composing works, including an interactive graphic score piece Seriously for A/B Duo and a chamber piece Blueprint for the Soundwave Biennial. How does being a composer fit into your other musical activities?

My first instinct was to say that I wouldn’t call myself a composer, for various reasons. But I’ve heard that women don’t self-identify as composers as readily as most men do so, sure, I will say that I’m a composer. Those two works are guided improvisation pieces for a couple of my groups, and I plan to continue creating those kinds of pieces to perform myself. Organizing sounds in more formal ways are just the next step in my evolution as a musician, but I don’t have any plans or ambitions to pursue a composition career.

It seems like you’re always trying and learning new things. What are some upcoming projects or skills you’re excited about?

I’ll be producing the next Post-Haste Reed Duo album this summer. This will be the first recording project that is not my own that I will be producing. It’s a great responsibility, so I am looking forward to the challenge. I also have plans to make a wearable instrument for myself using Arduino and low-tech electronics. It will be a more sophisticated version of what I made for Seriously. I am really excited about making more time in my schedule in order to become a better drummer for the punk duo Meg Wilhoite and I have been planning on forming. At the moment, we have one song titled “Fuck the Patriarchy!”