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The Best Keyword and Ranking Trackers for Checking Your Position on the SERPs

Some folks say keywords are dead, but boy are they wrong. Keywords are still as relevant as ever, playing a huge role in determining your business’ position on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
But ranking on Google or other popular search engines like Bing isn’t something that happens over night— it’s a long game. That’s why a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) experts consistently track their organic rankings, to measure their progress and make improvements to their content marketing strategy.
The problem is, many SEOs ask the question, “Is SERP tracking even worth it?” There’s not one “true” ranking anymore. You’d be fooling yourself if you said that “national” US data shows an accurate depiction of how you rank, overall.
Your rankings vary drastically based on the location of the searcher, and the type of device they are using to find you. Because of this, SEOs often turn to the help of multiple SERPs checkers to compile data and paint a big picture of their search engine visibility.
In this article, we’re going to look at some of the best SEO tools for monitoring your business’ keyword rankings, so that you can increase organic traffic and make actionable decisions for improving your SERP positioning.
Let’s dive in! Here are some of our favorite rank trackers:
1. SEMrush
With any search for kickass SEO ranking tools, you’re going to find that SEMrush makes #1 (or at least in the top five) of many SERP checker lists— and for good reason.
This optimization tool provides an in-depth report of your “Organic Search Positions,” showing the keywords your business currently ranks for as well as your SERP position: by one out of ten, on each page.
For instance, in these pictures you can see that our domain ranks in position number one for the listed keywords. You can sort by highest to lowest, or sort your data by any of the other metrics, such as traffic volume, keyword density and more.

The SEMRush dashboard also boasts a tab for “Position Changes,” so you can see when you claim new terms or when your previous ranking position increases, as well as if you decrease in position for a query. It will also show if a keyword was “lost” altogether, if a page is taken down or revised drastically.

You can even see which of your pages are ranking for the most keywords, and the exact phrases people are typing to find you, by clicking the “Keywords” tab from the “Organic Pages” screen.
The caveat: these metrics are based on your organic ranking across the entire United States, and do not reflect local search engine results. This data can differ based on the region someone is searching from, which device they’re using and how they have their browser search settings configured.
If, however, you are a local business who has competition directly in your neighborhood, these results may not accurately reflect what someone on their smartphone sees looking up, say, “coffee shops near me.” If local SEO is important to your business, you’ll want to check out BrightLocal.
2. BrightLocal
“Forty-six percent of searches now have a local intent,” according to an official Google presentation at the 2018 Secrets of Local Search conference at Google HQ.
With such a high number of searches aimed at finding products or services from brick and mortar businesses, it’s more important than ever to track your keywords in terms of their local ranking, beyond their national positioning. In step BrightLocal: a SEO tool designed specifically for local search engine tracking.
Check search rankings from your exact town, city or by postal code. You can set specific keywords you’d like to track (pull data you found using SEMrush or read our article on finding the right Google keywords for your business to discover what terms you should be monitoring).
What makes this platform different than other keyword rank checkers is its ability to pull in three columns: your local rankings on Google for desktop users, mobile users and even how you stack on Google Maps.
With Google’s mobile-first indexing update, the world’s largest search engine announced it prefers to serve mobile-friendly sites for those looking up answers on their smartphones or tablets. The fact that BrightLocal offers mobile SERP tracking is a huge win.
Tracking how you appear on the Google “map pack” is also a critical part of any local SEO strategy, as it’s in-and-of-itself a search feature; people looking for closeby locations often exclusively search in Google’s Maps tab vs. its traditional search bar.
As if that wasn’t enough, BrightLocal is far more than just a ranking tracker. Export a “Local Search Audit” report to analyze your local SEO cahonas in all aspects: from your number of and quality of links, to your local citations, reviews and level of Google My Business (GMB) optimization.
This keyword tracker also lets you square up against your competition, pulling data on their citations and comparing it directly against yours in an easy-to-understand table. So, you can get all the citations they have and ensure you’re listed on the same sites and beyond. You can even see what GMB categories they are sorted into, so you can consider how you can also categorize your industry for improved rankings.
BrightLocal comes with a dashboard for monitoring your local reviews, citation tracking to spot name, address and phone number (NAP) inconsistencies, and even offers an Aggregator Submission function to get your more citations from the big dogs (Infogroup, Neustar, Acxium, Factual). It’s a must-have local SEO tool!
For those of you that are new to tracking local rankings, we recommend downloading our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Local SEO, to learn more.
3. Ahrefs
Ahrefs is another kickass SEO tool with spectacular SERP checker features. A lot of SEOs use it either in tandem with, or instead of SEMrush for its comparable functionality.
Whereas SEMrush shows you which keywords you’re already ranking for, Ahrefs Rank Tracker is designed exclusively for those who know the search terms they want to monitor from the start.
Upload an Excel file of your targeted keywords or type up a group to add manually, separated by commas. Click the “+” to add words you’re already ranking for to your tracked group as well.
You can choose to track these terms by country, state-wide or by ZIP code, much like BrightLocal. Once on the Rank Tracker dashboard, you can toggle between desktop and mobile rankings, or even sort to choose keywords exclusively ranking on your blog, your homepage or landing pages.
It’s this refined filtering that makes Ahrefs so desirable, as you can note areas of your site which can use additional keyword implementation/optimization.
We love Ahref’s “SERP Features” filters, which can get pretty granular. For instance, if you are running a campaign to improve your featured snippets rankings, you can filter your keywords by snippets “you don’t rank” for, to see which domains are currently dominating the snippets— so you can beef up your content to try and seize position zero from them!
You can use their data on how people are finding you to understand where your keywords are packing the biggest punch too. In the example below, you can see that a few people are finding your ranked content using Google’s Knowledge Panel, so cleaning up your GMB might become a higher priority to improve your SEO strategy!
Just like SEMrush and BrightLocal, Ahrefs offer competitor analysis tools to help you learn from your rival’s victories and shortcomings on the SERPs. Ahrefs is unique in that you can filter by tags, to see topically, where your competitors are dominating.
What does that mean? Simply put, you can see which topics your competitors are talking about, instead of strictly keywords. Instead of zooming in and looking a micro view of just these terms— i.e. a very specific element of the SEO strategy— you can “zoom out” to see a holistic view of general topics they’re tackling.
With this data, you can check to see if you’re also covering those broader discussions and which, if any, areas need some attention. Read our article on the importance of creating topic clusters to improve your rankings here.
4. FATRANK.
FATRANK is a lesser known SERP tracking tool, in the form of a powerful Chrome extension: Keyword Rank Checker by FATJOE.
Simply install it in your browser and go to the URL you want to track. In the top right corner of your internet window, click on the yellow cat icon.
From there, you’ll do a manual search for a search query that’s important to you. If you’ve been optimizing your pillar page to rank for a certain term, you can see how you’re crushing it.
For instance, we went over to our Conversational Marketing pillar page URL and clicked the cat. We see we’re in position 10, on page two of Google search, or the query “conversational marketing.” We still need to do a little work on it to cross over to page one!
This is a handy SEO extension for creeping on competitor’s pages too, for quick inquiries of how they compare to your awesomeness.
Finding Value in Your Keyword Data
Collecting all of this keyword ranking data is wonderful— but only if you put it to good use. It can be easy to track the SERPs only to prove you’re “doing your job,” but if you’re not using that information to make improvements, why bother?
One way you can make a big difference is by using your keyword metrics to reoptimize old posts or pages that are performing well organically, but are capable or ranking even higher with a little love.
Just a few slight adjustments to your content may potentially shift you from page two of Google’s search engine results to page one, or from position four to three on the front page. Leaps like this might not seem grand, but they have the potential to drastically increase your site traffic— in some cases, doubling it!
If you really want to improve your local rankings in particular, check out our Google Ranking Casserole ebook, which outlines exactly what the world’s largest search engines likes, and what content it prefers to serve on the local SERPs.

How to Target Your Best Audience with Reddit Advertising

There’s a pretty simple reason why you’d want to advertise on Reddit: It’s one of the most visited websites in the world.
With that much traffic, you need to be able to target your ideal audience. Advertisers have a handful of ways to use the high-traffic platform to get in front of a target audience or focus on building their brand in a new way. While there may not be a ton of targeting options in Reddit, advertisers will find a mix of new and familiar options to create effective marketing campaigns. Let’s run through them.
Location targeting

Reddit’s main form of location targeting is by country. Advertisers in the United States can also narrow down the targeting to state and city level if need be. These same rules apply to the locations to exclude.
You should know that Reddit is like every other ad platform we are familiar with: If you do not select a location to target, your ads will be eligible to show worldwide, depending on what other targeting options you select.
Interest targeting

This one is pretty straightforward: Advertisers can target users who have recently interacted with certain categories of content. The important part of that last sentence is “recently interacted.” We’re not targeting users who are currently looking at these interests. This key phrase makes this targeting option pretty broad. Here is a list of the current Interests that Reddit advertisers can target:
Animals & Pets

Animals
Pets

Art & Design

Arts & Crafts
Design
Fine Art Photography
Interior & Landscape
Visuals

Automotive

Car Culture
Auto Type
Auto Repair

Business & Finance

Business
Personal Finance
Career Planning
Cryptocurrency

News & Education

College Education
National News
Science

Entertainment

Comics & Graphic Novels
Horror
Movies
Music & Audio
General Entertainment
Stories & Literature
Podcasts
Humor
Reddit Meta

Gaming

Video Gaming
eSports
PC Games
Tabletop Games

Style & Fashion

Fashion Trends
Beauty
Men’s Fashion
Women’s Fashion
Weddings

Food & Drink

Alcoholic Beverages
Cooking
Fast Food

Family & Relationships

Parenting
Dating
Marriage & Civil Unions
Life Advice

Healthy Living

Fitness & Exercise
Wellness
Outdoors

Sports

Baseball
Basketball
College Sports
Cycling
Track & Field
Soccer
Wrestling
Football
Hockey

Technology & Computing

Consumer Electronics
Computing
Virtual Reality
Programming

Television

Animation
Comedy
Drama
Reality
Science Fiction
Cordcutters

Travel

Travel Locations
Lifestyle

This is an exhaustive list, but just looking at it proves again how broad this targeting option is. Targeting “Travel Locations,” for instance, doesn’t let you to specify which travel locations—if you’re only after customers for your resort in Florida, you don’t want your ads to appear on pages about Mediterranean cruises or South American vacations. Interest targeting doesn’t allow advertisers to get that specific.
If you need to find a deeper level of targeting in Reddit, let’s move on to the next option.
Subreddit targeting
Subreddits are forum categories in the platform dedicated to specific topics or categories. Advertisers have the option to target users who either have recently interacted with certain subreddits or are currently subscribed to a subreddit. It’s pretty easy to search for subreddits related to your business to see if any options show up by searching under the “Target Specific Communities” option.

If you’re not finding your desired Subreddit populating in the campaign options, it means there isn’t enough volume for that Subreddit to be eligible for targeting.
Device targeting
By default, your Reddit ad groups are going to target all devices. Advertisers do, however, have the option to target either desktop only or mobile only if they choose.

This will give you the option to break out your campaigns or ad groups by device if you want to better control performance. If you are planning to run a campaign with the App Installs objective, however, you will only be able to target mobile users which should be any surprise to you.
Time of day targeting
Reddit advertisers can select which hours of the day within the days of the week their ads can be shown. All you have to do is click and drag to highlight a block of consistent hours, or you can click any square one-by-one to choose random sets of hours.

Google Ads’ ad scheduling has the time zone set to whatever you chose when creating your account. Reddit Advertising is different. The times you select will show your ads based on the ad viewer’s time zone. Keep that in mind when selecting your schedule.
Research for yourself
Reddit isn’t going to work for every brand out there. But with that much traffic, it’s worth trying. You’re going to have to dig into the targeting options yourself to see if your target audience could potentially be on the platform. The good news is that many of the targeting options are going to be familiar to an experienced PPC marketer. Just remember the subtle differences in how the targeting options work for Reddit so your campaigns can launch with the best foot forward.

Social Media Video Marketing Trends in 2019

Of all the huge changes the internet has brought over the past two decades, social media is one of the most profound.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have fundamentally changed the way we interact with information, and their effects can be felt everywhere. From the way we interact with one another, to the way significant events circulate through the collective awareness.
It is why, regardless of niche or scope, most areas of business have seen themselves transformed by social media, and marketing is no exception!
As technology improves and these platforms evolve to accommodate user preferences, we’ve seen a clear effort to address the rising demand for video content. With many businesses already capitalizing on it!
In a recent survey on video marketing trends conducted by Yum Yum Videos, an entire section was dedicated to exploring this interaction.
The survey queried 167 business owners across the U.S. and amounted to more than 20 different findings. In this piece, you’ll find a few of the most relevant results on the subject of social media.

Most Businesses Are Using Social Media for Video Marketing
Almost everyone in the game is probably very aware of how big of a deal social media is when it comes to marketing. And yet, the numbers that speak to its level of acceptance in regards to video content remain impressive:
83% of businesses use social media platforms to distribute video marketing content.
A number that’s only made more impressive if you account for other studies revealing that about 91% of businesses in the United States actively use social media for marketing.
Users today have grown to expect video content from the brands they interact with, and companies have been quick to abide. When the alternative is to risk being overshadowed by competitors who do address this demand, it’s easy to understand why.
When It Comes to Video Distribution, YouTube’s The Way to Go
When asked about the most effective medium to distribute video content on, the majority of queried business owners agreed loud and clear: YouTube.
57% of queried business owners chose YouTube as the most effective social media platform to distribute video content.
Again, not entirely surprising but very significant nonetheless. Especially when you factor in some of the other stats we’ll go over later in this piece.
In spite of the two other runner-up’s making great efforts to boost their platforms video content potential, it’s clear they still have a long way to go. At least in widespread perception and awareness. Facebook came out with 26% of the votes, and Instagram rounded up the top three with 15%.

As Far as Generating Interaction, Facebook’s in the Lead
So YouTube seems generally regarded as the go-to platform for video distribution. But how about when you go a bit more specific?
When asked about the best social media site to generate more interactions with video marketing content, the tables shifted.
39% of surveyed business owners agreed that Facebook led the pack in this regard. Instagram came second, with 32% of the answers, and YouTube got relegated to the third place with only 26% of the votes.
Meaning that even though YouTube is the undisputed platform for video content in general, video marketing campaigns whose goal is to get users participation might perform better on Zuckerberg’s playground.
In Terms of Investment, Instagram Seems the Way to Go
Some of you might be asking yourself, how about Instagram? Did it distinguish itself in any category? As a matter of fact, yes! And in a big one!
34% of queried business owners chose Instagram as the social media platform with better ROI. Facebook came in second place with 33% of the votes, and YouTube came in third, with 28%.
When it’s all said and done, and a business has to invest in promoting their video content, Instagram seems to provide an edge.
Granted, things seem pretty even with Facebook. So much so that depending on your circumstances, you might as well choose to remain in that ecosystem. However, when business performance is on the line, sometimes that small edge can be worth a lot.

Investing in Social Media Promotion: Yay or Nay?
Lastly, and probably two of the most actionable stats to come out of Yum Yum’s survey related precisely to investing in those platforms’ promotional services.
Deciding whether or not to invest in promoting your video content can be tricky. Especially if your company has never done it before and lacks a frame of reference. It might come as a surprise to some, but promoting your videos in social media seems to have become a fairly common practice. In fact, 84% of the business owners we surveyed had invested in a social media platform to do so – Which is really only half of the equation.
When asked how satisfied they were with their decision, 85% stated to be satisfied with the return of investment of their video marketing efforts in social media. Numbers that speak not only to the confidence placed but also the results obtained through the marriage of social media and video marketing.
Summing Up
With developments like Facebook stating its commitment to double down on video content, and Instagram supporting video content with platforms like IGTV, the growth of video marketing in social media is to be expected.
And yet, these statistics indicate a ratio of acceptance and effectiveness from this synergy that surpasses conservative expectations.
Moving forward, businesses should remain attentive to these developments, and explore the enormous potential that combining video content and social media is already having for many companies out there.

What is the Best Ecommerce Platform For Small Business?

Struggling to figure out the best Ecommerce platform for small business? Here’s a complete guide to discovering the best Ecommerce platforms!

E-commerce websites dominate the Internet in the United States. More than 110,000 individual eCommerce sites account for 12%+ of the 100,000 websites with the highest online traffic.
It may seem like there’s no more room until you consider that more than 1.65 billion people shop online. Researchers expect that number to grow to almost 2.15 billion by 2021.
You can still compete for a slice of that massive pie if you choose the right platform to build your business. Learn what is the best eCommerce platform for small business below.
What is the Best eCommerce Platform for Small Business?
If we go off popularity alone, WooCommerce takes the prize as the most used eCommerce platform. 22% of the top 1 million websites using an eCommerce tool use WooCommerce. That’s about 4,000 more than use Shopify, the second most popular.
Despite this popularity, it’s impossible to know for sure what platform would work best for your small business.
The best eCommerce platform is the one that you feel comfortable using and meets your preferred standards. Even though WordPress is so popular, there are definitely some great advantages to hosted eCommerce solutions like BigCommerce.
Check out the following breakdown of the 7 most popular eCommerce platforms to help you figure out what will work best for your business.
WooCommerce
Self-hosted price: Free
Since we already established WooCommerce is the most popular, we’ll look at their services first. The WooCommerce platform is standalone software that gets installed on a web server and fully integrates with an existing WordPress site.
WooCommerce comes with many useful features like:

Integrated order and product management
Customer management through third-party plugins
A variety of payment options
Thousands of paid and free themes online
Mobile-friendly (as long as the theme is mobile-friendly)
Decent reports on store activity and sales tracking
Bandwidth limited based on your host
The ability to offer coupon codes and discounts
Thousands of available sales extensions

It’s important to note that as an open-source eCommerce tool, the free, basic WooCommerce plugin does not come with dedicated customer support. Find answers to any questions in the official community forums and in WooCommerce Docs.
You can purchase a paid dedicated support extension through their website, but this means the service isn’t free.
Shopify
Standard price: Ranges from $9 up to $299 per month
Shopify comes in a close second to WooCommerce in terms of popularity. It’s a subscription-based service that includes hosting for your online shop as well. The service also includes a subdomain that you can connect to your main domain name.
Shopify comes with the following features:

Integrated order, product, and basic customer management
A multitude of payment gateways
100+ themes as well as more available through third-party websites
The ability to directly edit HTML and CSS
Mobile-friendly with thousands of apps
Unlimited bandwidth
Decent reports on sales tracking and store activity
The option to offer discounts, coupon codes, and gift cards
The ability to sell through multiple sales channels including Facebook, Point-of-Sale, and more.
24/7 dedicated customer support via email, phone, live chat, and even Twitter

Shopify’s ability to adapt to a variety of sales channels makes it the ideal choice for switching over from a traditional retail store. It also means you can easily go the opposite way and start with an online shop and expand to a brick-and-mortar store while still using Shopify.
Magneto
Self-hosted price: Free
Enterprise edition: Between $15,000 and $50,000 per year
Magneto is another subscription-based service that works similarly to Shopify. It also provides hosting space and a subdomain for your shop that you can link to your business’s domain.
Magneto includes these features:

Integrated order, product, and basic customer management
Multiple payment options
100+ themes
Mobile-friendly designs
Unlimited bandwidth
In-depth analytics with great reports and information on abandon carts, purchase funnels, etc.
The ability to provide coupon codes and discounts.
The option to sell on social media platforms and in online marketplaces as well as in-person using Square for credit cards

If you love data, then you should consider Magneto for its extensive analytics module.
It’s also advantageous that you can sell both in-store and online. This makes the transition from exclusively selling one way or the other easier.
BigCommerce
Standard price: Ranging from $29.95 to $249.95 per month
Enterprise edition: $900+ per month
BigCommerce offers both standalone software and a subscription-based service. It works similarly to Shopify and offers hosting services as well.
Expect the following features from Big Commerce:

Product and order management
Customer management via customer groups and other outside sources
40+ payment options with no transaction fees
Minimal themes
Mobile optimization
Unlimited bandwidth (when hosted through BigCommerce)
In-depth, advanced reporting on store activity and sales
A whopping 5,000+ available extensions
The ability to provide discounts and coupon codes
Flexible shipping options with instant rate calculations
Options for returns
Multi-lingual support options
The option to create newsletters
Multiple available APIs
Integration with social media networks, eBay, and Amazon

The large number of tools and extensions that work with BigCommerce make it easy to customize your experience. Check out their app store to see the many options for automation, product promotion, and email marketing.
Volusion
Standard price: Ranging from $26 to $269 per month
One of the oldest eCommerce platforms out there, Volusion is a drag-and-drop visual website builder first established in 1999.
It also offers hosting and comes with the following features:

Product, order, and customer management
The ability to sell from 100 to an unlimited number of products
Many payment options
1-35GB of bandwidth per month
Built-in tools for SEO
Detailed reports and analytics like abandoned cart stats
Integration with social media, Amazon, and eBay
Calculation of shipping rates
The option to take phone orders
The ability to sell through many channels including with Point-of-Sale systems
Access to multiple APIs and batch ordering
24/7 customer support through phone and online chat
A manager dedicated to your account

The bandwidth limit may pose issues if you don’t know how much traffic your site receives each month. You must pay an expensive price for the additional traffic over your plan’s allotted bandwidth.
Volusion also charges you for an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate that every online retail store needs to prove their reliability. Expect to pay at least $180 for one.
You also cannot create a blog directly through the platform. However, it does allow you to link to third-party blog sites through your site menu.
OpenCart
Self-hosted: Free
Cloud-hosted: $30 to $200 per month
OpenCart is the last open source eCommerce platform on this list. You must install OpenCart on your business’s server or find a third-party to host your site. However, they do have a cloud option that relies on Amazon Web Services if you do not feel comfortable hosting the site yourself.
OpenCart includes the following features:

14-day trial to test out services
Product and order support
An easy-to-use dashboard that lets you control multiple stores in one place
Unlimited products, categories, and orders
The ability to sell digital and physical products
Hundreds of payment options including PayPal
13,000+ themes and modules
Options for product reviews and ratings
SSL Certification included
Automatic backups with restore points
Thousands of available plugins and extensions
The ability to offer discounts, coupon codes, and specials
Recurring payments
Supports a variety of currencies
Decent sales reports

Be aware that OpenCart only offers dedicated customer support for cloud users only. Otherwise, you can find answers to your questions in their large community forum.
3dcart
Standard price: Ranging from $19 to $229 per month
Finally, 3dcart is another visual website editor without the drag-and-drop component. Its main dashboard reflects this visual focus by being clear and easy-to-navigate.
3dcart comes with the features that follow:

Product, order, and customizable customer support
The option to sell up to 100-unlimited products
The ability to sell digital products
Bulk exports and imports
100+ payment gateways with no transaction fees
Unlimited bandwidth, file storage, and orders
Mobile-friendly
Included SSL certificate
Great analytics and reports
Integration with Shopzilla, Facebook, Google Shopping, Amazon, and eBay
Automatic daily backups
FTP for file access
24/7 customer service via phone or live chat
The ability to include customer reviews
Options for waiting lists and to upsell or cross-sell to customers
Integrated marketing and SEO tools
Blogging capabilities

The best part about 3dCart is the support you get from start to finish. Just read through or watch the many tutorials and how-tos that breakdown things like picking your theme or linking to eBay. This makes 3dcart a great option for beginners.
Get More Great Advice for Small Business Owners and Freelancers
You can use an eCommerce platform to expand as a traditional retail business or to build your own online business from scratch. There’s no single answer to what is the best eCommerce platform for small business. That all depends on you, your particular business, and your customers.

The Growth of Esports in the United States

The esports industry is one of the world’s greatest economic success stories right now as global revenues are expected to surge past $1 billion this year. North America is the largest market, boasting annual revenue of $409.1 million, and the United States accounts for the vast majority of that. The world’s top five richest esports franchises […]
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The Power and Sensitivity of Pianist Dmitri Levkovich

NEW YORK—Between cups of coffee and a stroll in the park, Dmitri Levkovich practiced Chopin on his piano. Just playing a few phrases, he induced a quiver of delight that instantly filled his cozy apartment, nestled in Upper Manhattan. You could imagine how this emerging pianist could easily transport audiences in fully packed concert halls.
When he performed recently for Europe’s premier cultural TV channel, ARTE, he was introduced as “a thundering virtuoso” by the beloved tenor Rolando Villazón, no less. “Your whole soul sings when you play the piano. We are very grateful,” Villazón, the host of the program “Stars of Tomorrow,” told Levkovich.

To engender that kind of impact with such ease, however, requires unrelenting dedication. “There is no art without sacrifice,” Levkovich said, standing by his electronic baby grand piano.
“As a pianist, you have to put so many hours into preparing for a program. … I feel responsible for my audience, so when I perform I am in touch with my feelings as much as possible. I strive to be possessed by the music—in the sense that the music takes over my body and I am one with the whole experience. That’s how I invite my audience to share the experience,” Levkovich said.
Taking some respite after performing for ARTE TV in Germany, performing at the Ravinia Festival in Illinois, and winning the first prize in the NTD International Piano Competition in New York (his 19th competition win), Levkovich spoke candidly about his life, music, and the challenges he faces as a performing artist.

Given the abundance of talented pianists today compared to the number of classical music concertgoers, the competition is extraordinarily high. Levkovich can play equally well on the brighter New York Steinway or the warmer, more sensitive Hamburg Steinway. That has given him a slight advantage in winning piano competitions. Although he finds any competition to be very stressful, he almost feels obligated to participate because it gives him opportunities to perform and to become more known.
He has performed in Carnegie Hall, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and the Mariinsky Concert Hall, among other great halls. Yet no matter where he has performed so far, how sharp he looks in a tuxedo at the piano, or how much his biography impresses—for the time being, he can only afford an electronic piano for practicing between concerts.
Dmitri Levkovich performs with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall, in Cleveland, Ohio, in August 2009. (Roger Mastroianni)
“Most young pianists can’t afford their own pianos,” he said. “It’s a difficult profession and it’s quite incredible—it’s quite an achievement to even be able to survive solely on performing, which I still manage to do.”
Born for Music
Listening to Levkovich play in person, even for just a few phrases of Chopin, or listening to his “Rachmaninoff 24 Preludes” CD, you get a sense that he was born to play the piano. In fact, he was exposed to Brahms in the womb; his mother is a pianist, as is his father, who is also a renowned composer. His grandmother was a coloratura soprano.
Immersed in a musical family, he started playing the piano when he was 3 years old, and went through a pivotal shift by the time he was 8.
“I threw enough tantrums until my mother just gave up and told me I don’t have to practice anymore. Suddenly, for three or four hours I existed in a different dimension where I was a free human being. Those hours of my life were just wonderful! Then I realized I missed the piano, and from my own desire I started playing the instrument. After that, I never felt I needed to be told to practice. It was my own choice,” he said.
His family migrated from Ukraine to Israel around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, then later settled in Canada. Levkovich later moved to the United States to study composition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music with the critically acclaimed pianist Sergei Babayan for 11 years. Babayan instilled a strong sense of forbearance and reinforced Levkovich’s deep love for music.
Interpretations
Levkovich’s piano playing matches his demeanor—an amiable mix of humility and ambition. He plays every musical phrase, clearly with just the right degree of embellishment, rendered with a wonderfully calibrated mix of intense passion and lightness.
He pushes himself like an Olympic athlete, wanting to play pieces flawlessly even if he were woken up in the middle of the night and asked to perform a piece of music while half-asleep. “What you have to expect from yourself should be almost unrealistic, to get fine results,” he said.
When he prepares for a concert, he will practice the difficult parts of the repertoire twice as fast. That way, while performing, he does not feel like he’s playing at the limit of his dexterity and has more freedom to vary the tempo as he gives his interpretation.
Dmitri Levkovich at his home in Hudson Heights, New York, on Oct. 10, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)
“There are so many ways to shape a phrase. You can practice it 10 different ways and come up with a multitude of options. Then on stage, it’s a matter of picking the right option in the context of what is happening before and what is happening after each moment—also depending on the sophistication of your taste,” Levkovich said.
The conditions for each piece and each concert are always unique. “You are creating this piece from the first note to the last, and you don’t know where it’s going to take you. … Chopin used to call it ‘searching fingers,'” Levkovich said.
Dmitri Levkovich. (Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)
He has received consistent compliments for sounding unique and honing his interpretations quite differently for each composer in his repertoire: Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, Liszt, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, among others.
What you have to expect from yourself should be almost unrealistic, to get fine results.— Dmitri Levkovich

Levkovich periodically asks himself how he wants to develop his repertoire and how much time he wants to dedicate to each composer. “I always listen to my intuition,” he said. “When I love a certain piece of music, I have to at least learn the notes and try it at first. Then I know it will take years of me playing many more pieces of that same composer for me to get to where I want to be.”
While some pianists may hide their lack of talent, ironically, by playing obscure or complicated pieces, Levkovich finds Mozart most challenging. On the surface, it may be easier to show off, so to speak, with a complicated dissonant piece for example, than it would be to play a clear classical piece.
“One of the most difficult things to accomplish on the piano is to play a simple melody organically—so that it is fulfilling enough,” he said. “That’s why Mozart is so difficult to play, because he’ll often have two lines and that is all. You’ll have enough time to [make] every note [meaningful].
“It took me a while to start feeling comfortable playing Mozart’s sonatas. His concertos were easier. You feel like you’re on a cloud of orchestral sound and very often you have just one line happening with the right hand.”
The Russian pianist, composer, and conductor Anton Rubinstein once said, “The soul of the piano is in the pedal,” but with Mozart, there isn’t much opportunity to use the pedal—to open up all the richness of harmonics and overtones in the piano. “You have to find a way to play soulfully without the pedal,” Levkovich said. “It’s like mastering a different language, in which you have to find a different way to really speak from your heart.”
Pianist Dmitri Levkovich at Fort Tryon Park in New York on Oct. 10, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)
As a performer, Levkovich’s ultimate goal is to be fully present, without any worries or notions while playing something like a Mozart sonata, so that it doesn’t become predictable even if it has been played a million times before.
“I think there have been times when I knew I really got it. I cannot fool myself; I know when it’s happening and when it’s not,” he said.
“What inspires me is my love for music, which has been with me since I was a child. … There are obstacles, but what’s important in this profession is having the will and the perseverance—to dedicate as much time as needed—so that eventually the love for the music that you discovered as a kid eventually is heard in every note you play. No matter how long it takes,” Levkovich said.
“This Is New York” is a feature series that delves into the lives of inspiring individuals in New York City. See all our TINYs at epochtim.es/TINY, or follow@milenefernandezon Twitter.
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Classical Music Producer Leonid Fleishaker: The Classics Lead Us to See the Colors of Life

Accompanied by a pianist, 11 violinists in formal evening attire (only two of them men) stood across the stage and bodily engaged with the music as they played. The concert on Oct. 23 at Brooklyn’s Kingsborough Community College by the ensemble Siberian Virtuosi included repertoire from Johann Sebastian Bach to Astor Piazzolla, and so precise was the playing, it sounded at times like one stringed instrument.
According to Leonid Fleishaker, who as president of World Touring LLC manages the group, the ensemble’s performance nearly always brings the audience to its feet at concert’s end and then the musicians accommodate the enthusiastic response with an encore.
Fleishaker notes that the wide range of classical music is just one of the attributes that makes the ensemble from the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) unique. It’s not a chamber orchestra, which is typically smaller than a full orchestra but contains a variety of instruments—Siberian Virtuosi has only two. They don’t sit in front of sheet music—the repertoire is memorized. It’s not a contemporary ensemble—they play mostly traditional pieces, but the arrangements for violin and piano are original.
Founded in 1994, Siberian Virtuosi is led by directors Larisa Gabysheva and Stanislav Afanasenko. The ensemble has garnered many international awards, including an International Festival Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia; “Music Week of Tours” in France; the Grand Prix at a festival in Cremona, Italy, as well as at a festival in Miskolc, Hungary.
In addition to these countries, they have toured Italy, Israel, the United Kingdom, Austria, Portugal, the Ukraine, China, Germany, Croatia, and South Korea. In 2012 they presented 20 concerts in the United States for the first time, Fleishaker explained, before they journeyed to South America for a sold-out series of concerts there. Last December they played at Carnegie Hall, and they are currently in the middle of another North American tour.
Despite their successes, Fleishaker is concerned for the group—at least in the United States. As he explained on Oct. 24, he’s concerned for classical music as a whole.

Surviving Today
As a professional violinist turned manager, Fleishaker speaks from close vantage about the inner workings of the professional music world. In the last 5–10 years, he says, interest in classical music has declined in the United States.
One factor contributing to the decline is that the way venues operate has changed. Previously, executive directors of performing arts centers had control of decision making. If they liked a group, they simply would sign up that ensemble as the calendar allowed. These directors have retired or moved on.
Their replacements no longer control the roster of artists appearing in venues. The new directors must submit a proposal to a board, which ultimately makes the decision. Thus, the director’s enthusiasm must be able to sway a group who may not have expertise in the arts, who may only see the bottom dollar, or who may have their own artistic agendas.
And, if the board contains members of the younger generation, who, given changes in education over the years, have little exposure to the fine arts, classical groups may not be seen as a high priority, he said.
In any case, it’s no longer a simple process for classical performing artists to secure performance dates.
This new booking system is not to the advantage of the arts. For one thing, it forces artists to find ever-increasing ways to market themselves as unique entities. For another, if artists don’t find venues, they won’t be able to perform for the public, and if these traditional works are not presented, they will disappear.
Siberian Virtuosi performs at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 23, 2016. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Classics: Our Bridges to the Past
“If you don’t present classical ballet, if you don’t see ‘Swan Lake’ being performed, people will forget about it,” Fleishaker said. Once people forget the old works, museums, concerts halls, and venues for the classics will be replaced “by arenas for 50,000 people to see rock-and-roll stars or pop singers.”
This loss, the diminishing access to the classics, is happening very fast, he said. In very short order, we’ve moved, for example, in photography from film to digital photography and now to omnipresent iPhones and apps.
People who haven’t seen this transition, who have only known iPhones, lose perspective. In order to have perspective, you need at least two points of view. By seeing where we were in the past, and seeing the line from the past to the present, we can visualize a trajectory beyond to the future.
This is true of all the classics, he said. Without them, the young cannot compare then and now to gain perspective.
He’s particularly concerned about how growing up without access to the classics will impact the younger generations. For this reason, Fleishaker’s company uses some of the proceeds from paid concerts to support music outreach to elementary schools. He wants youngsters to regain the perspective that past generations always had of knowing their own culture’s past.
“The classics are bridges between the past and the present and should not be burned,” he said.

The Colors of Life
“Why is it important to remember the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky?” Fleishaker asked.
These are our cultural treasures. “Call me traditional or old-fashioned, but these works make people richer inside. You learn how to explain your thoughts; you can appreciate life.”
Consider that we use a lot of popular music—popular versus classical—as a background to life, he said. We call it elevator music, and we also jog or exercise to music that we don’t pay much attention to.
But classical music grips us, takes us away and engages us. “It lets you imagine; it can make you think, laugh, feel,” he said.
When he listens to Ravel, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” he experiences a scene that the composer intended.
Bach, for example, who composed for the church, has a certain intended effect. The “music of Bach always transferred me to a house of God,” Fleishaker said.
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The classic arts, he says, allow us to see life through different lenses for each of the artists we are exposed to. Listening to classical music by composers of varying eras and from different countries allows us to understand the way things once were, the way people from different countries see things: “This thought can relate to knowing different languages; the more languages you know, the more times you are a human being.”
In sum, the richness of these perspectives helps us see the colors of life. When you learn about the composers, when you experience in your imagination what they intend for you to experience, “you understand that things around you are not just black and white. Everything we look at has colors. We just need to learn how to interpret them and understand.”
Seeing colors is important for the soul, he said.
Samira Bouaou in New York contributed to this report.
In our series “The Classics: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” practitioners involved in the classical arts respond to why they think the texts, forms, and methods of the classics are worth keeping and why they continue to look to the past for that which inspires and speaks to us. For the full series, see ept.ms/LookingAtClassics

Mighty Little Underwater Camera Makes Debut

Ergonomic. The word derives from the Greek “ergo,” to work. The word has come to signify human engineering. I have big hands, not catcher’s mitts, but experience has taught there is an important feel to a camera. A camera works for the photographer instinctively.
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In terrestrial photography as well as underwater, a camera’s feel is just as important as its ability to produce good pictures. Heavy is good, comfortable grip is good, a tiny little box that cannot be conveniently held on land or underwater is bad. No matter the quality of the images, the convenience, or popularity something that cannot be held comfortably as an extension of a photographer’s arm will never be an effective photographic tool.
Digital cameras have revolutionized photographic equipment. Cameras are light weight and small. Telephones boast fine resolution cameras. Some inventors have even come up with waterproof bags or housings for cell phones. As often as phone configurations change that would seem to be a risky investment, same for camera housing makers. It seems new updates and innovations sweep the shelves clean of previous models quickly these days. The key is chip size and ability of micro-technology to miniaturize circuits. A camera can be the size of a sugar cube and some are. They can be worn on eyeglasses, dive masks, and mounted on the rear-view mirror of cars. Underwater small is not better.
A bat fish. The Micro 2.0 filter caused its red-maroon cast. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
To compensate for tiny squares plunked into plastic housings manufacturers have devised wands, pods, and grips. With all of that innovation I still see underwater photographers with their little plastic cameras attached to wrist lanyards. In one season, diving the Atlantic Ocean off Palm Beach County, Florida, divers lost one of these small cameras every week aboard just one dive boat. A wrist lanyard is no way to carry a camera underwater. It gets banged around on entries and exits and otherwise floats around during the dive if it is not held all the time.
The Calypso-Phot was invented by Jean de Wouters in 1961. De Wouters designed the vessel Calypso in 1957 and participated in many of its voyages. The camera was small, waterproof to 60 meters; a self-contained full frame underwater 35 mm camera. The Calypso-Phot evolved into the Nikonos. Nikon took over production in 1963 and de Wouters remained in Japan to help with its engineering.
An aged loggerhead turtle. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
Various models of the Nikonos were produced over the years by Nikon. Lenses could be interchanged and the Nikon 15 mm underwater lens for their cameras was a true jewel. Corrected images with an ability to stop the lens down to f 22 and shoot very close to the subject. Gone. I still have my fine collection of Nikonos cameras and lenses. They are beauties. I no longer use them since I get no commissions to shoot film underwater now. Only digital.
When the Nikonos was phased out nothing replaced it. There were housed cameras, a few shallow-water waterproof cameras made to take pictures in 10 feet of water, not more, and recently, a spate of other cameras rated for deeper depths. SeaLife Cameras with offices in Moorestown, New Jersey, produced many good underwater cameras. In essence they were small digital cameras housed in rugged rubberized cases. SeaLife’s newest entry on the market is their Micro 2.0 camera.
This shipwreck photo was taken using the Micro 2.0 underwater setting. It is a nice natural-light rendition. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
The SeaLife Micro 2.0 is small. It fits comfortably in the palm. The camera has an ergonomic grip that gives it the right feel on land and underwater. Like the Nikonos before it, the Micro 2.0 is waterproof rated to 200 feet depth. The camera is totally sealed. There are no user parts inside the camera and it is not to be opened. The camera controls consist of three piano keys on the back for the menu, video function and on-off. The shutter release is on top and convenient to use. An LCD screen on the back enables the photographer to see the images.
This self-contained Micro 2.0 is sold in two models one with 32 GB and 64 GB. There are no chips to put in to take out and no batteries to change. The camera is accessed by a waterproof port on its base. When the camera is in use, the port and its gold topped connectors are covered with a small rubber plug. To charge the camera’s internal battery or to download pictures a dry connector is used. This connector cannot get wet. SeaLife cautions that the waterproof port and its golden tips must be thoroughly dried before making a connection with the USB adapter.
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Now what about the images? The most important feature of any camera is the quality of its images. In taking pictures underwater a camera’s recycle time is critical so multiple images can be taken before a critter escapes. The Micro 2.0 uses a 16mp/1080p camera with a 130 degree fisheye lens. The angle can be changed if desired. Land pictures using the 130 degree lens have the fisheye effect. There is a free-download program to correct that if desired.
A threaded hole in the bottom of the camera enables it to be attached to a tray that can also hold lights. The Micro 2.0 does not have an electronic strobe. Illumination, if desired, comes from SeaLife Sea Dragon video lights that can be mounted on each side of a tray that supports the camera.
I never use filters. A wizened and well-published photographer once described how he sold to that photo-driven magazine Arizona Highways. “If you don’t use filters they don’t buy it. Look at the covers.” I do not use filters—qualify that: I use UV and skylight filters to protect my lenses and have used polarizing filters to enhance clouds. Underwater I do not want, do not need, and do not use filters.
The Micro 2.0 has a 130 degree fisheye lens. Here this Goliath grouper is just about sticking its face on the camera and it is in focus and detail. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
The Micro 2.0 has internal filters. If you do not sort the thing out initially what you get are red and maroon images. I took the camera on assignment in the Caribbean. I dove on a shipwreck. Nice images. I followed the instruction book and set the camera for underwater mode. I surfaced and took photos of the dive boat. All maroon. Underwater I took pictures of an amazing bat fish. Again all maroon.
My fault. I should have stripped the camera of its own intelligence, created by non-divers and non-underwater photographers somewhere in an Asian factory. I finally did what I always do and the camera is now mine. I do not let it rule me. I was testing the camera so my mistake can be excused. Trouble is I ruined good pictures. Underwater green and blue are normal. Use lights to enhance the images. Leave the camera on land mode. Forget internal filters, or just try it out and see what you like. Use an underwater slate to keep track of the settings you use. Me, I will now keep the Micro 2.0 on land mode and use SeaDragon video lights to bring out colors.
(L) This anchor is taken with the Micro 2.0 underwater setting. It is reddish and uses the camera’s internal filter system. (R) This same anchor is taken with the Micro 2.0 on the land setting using natural light. There is nothing wrong with blue or green for underwater photos. Use lights to enhance colors, not filters. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
I arranged the Micro 2.0 on a SeaLife tray with brackets for SeaDragon video lights. I weight the tray with fishing sinkers so that the unit is negative underwater. I use a strap that keeps the unit around my neck so my hands are free when I’m not using the camera. I use a lanyard as a safety precaution. I’ve threaded monofilament through a loop in the camera body and use a small plastic clip to a line attached to my buoyancy compensator.
I like this little camera. I’ve used various small cameras underwater. They amaze me by what they are capable of. What I do not like is their feel. Over time I’ve used everything from huge, heavy underwater motion picture cameras to housed still cameras. I teach diving and guide divers. I like to have a camera with me. It enables me to take photos of my students and divers and email them to them as souvenirs. It is also there when that amazing creature presents itself for a portrait. The SeaLife Micro 2.0 fits the purpose admirably. It is small, ergonomic, and comfortable and captures images with excellent resolution.
I forgot to take the Micro 2.0 off underwater mode when I shot this land picture. It was in this mode when I took the shipwreck photos. Of course it is reddish. (Copyright © 2016 John Christopher Fine)
A good way to insure salt crystals are removed from the Micro 2.0 after use in the ocean is to gently hose the camera off then soak it in a bucket of fresh water.
One day I might master all the things my digital cameras can do. Perhaps, like most, I’ll just remain satisfied to shoot good pictures and leave the high-tech stuff to computer gurus.
For more information about the SeaLife Micro 2.0 camera and accessories visit SeaLife-Cameras.com or call them toll-free at 1-800-257-7742.
John Christopher Fine has authored 25 books, including award-winning books dealing with ocean pollution. He also writes for major magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe. He is a master scuba instructor and instructor trainer and expert in maritime affairs.