Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Record Label Consolidation

Check out this short opinion piece in O'Reilly Digital Media regarding record label consolidation. In the immortal words of my friend Dr. Kwon: "this is what I'm saying!"
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Yet Another Hilarious Video!

This one featuring William Shatner is cringe-inducing, but keep watching it, because it gets funnier and funnier! I can't believe I never saw this before!
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Friday, January 26, 2007

New Free Soundhack Plugins!

Many of my friends and students have heard me rave about Soundhack for years. Well, they just released a free cross-platform bundle of 5 plugins, in VST/RTAS/AU formats. The plugins include a compressor/expander, several noise/distortion plugins, a mid-side encoder/decoder, and a "phasescope." Did I mention they are free? You can get them right here!

You can also download the Soundhack program for free, but it only runs on a Mac. If you are a Mac user, as well as an audio geek, you must download this app! The UI is text-based, and manipulating sounds is often a trial-and-error process, but it's well worth it. I created many of the sounds I used in my electronic project using Soundhack!

You might even want to check out their "Spectral Shapers" plugins. They cost money, but you can use it in demo mode for 14 days. I haven't tried it, but it looks like it does some of the things Soundhack does, but with an easier-to-use interface, and the ability to use it within your host DAW! There is an endorsement by Trent Reznor on the website, so that's good enough for me!
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Merlin is Already Flexing it's Muscles!

The brand-spanking-new coalition of independent record labels, "Merlin," has drawn a line in the sand. During the last week, they have been negotiating with YouTube to improve payments to indie labels. However, talks have reportedly broken down, and member labels are preparing to go to court!
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Starbucks Will Soon Offer mp3 Downloads

I knew it was only a matter of time before someone decided to do this. Sometime in 2007, Starbucks will offer the ability to purchase and download tracks to your mp3 player. One more toll of the death knell for the CD?
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Mythbusters Spoof - Time Travel

Great Scott! Darth Vader will come from the planet Vulcan and melt your brain if you don't watch this video!

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is "Smallville" Running Out Of Original Ideas?

If you saw tonight's episode, and were also familiar with "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Season 6, Episode 17, entitled "Normal Again," you might think so! Maybe it's just me, but the plots are strikingly similar!
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DAW Wars

Recently, I have heard quite a bit of debate and questions concerning DAW's (Digital Audio Workstations.) Of course, this debate has been going on for many years, as long as there have been DAW's. The most common question I have heard is: Which software/hardware combination should I buy? Of course, the contenders are Pro Tools, Cubase/Nuendo, Sonar, Logic Audio, and Digital Performer. Pro Tools has proprietary hardware, while the other platforms will work with a variety of hardware interfaces.

I'm going to weigh in on this, and I think I may end up surprising some people. I couldn't say this a few years ago, but today I can safely state that they are all the same! OK, so they aren't exactly the same, but each application has a similar set of features. Some are stronger in certain areas, of course. For instance, Cubase and Logic have superior MIDI features to Pro Tools, although Pro Tools has been catching up in recent years. In addition, each program has a slightly different user interface. However, by and large, all of these applications are strong contenders, capable of allowing the user to produce professional-quality recordings.

Here are a few things to think about when considering purchasing a DAW:
  1. Portability - i.e., will you be taking your projects to other studios at times? If so, you should use the most compatible DAW. According to the word on the street, most professional studios still use Pro Tools, but Sonar, Cubase and even Logic have a significant piece of the market.
  2. Operating System - If you use a Mac, you can't use Sonar, and Windows users can't use Logic or Digital Performer. I am also of the opinion that Pro Tools and Digital Performer will be more intuitive to longtime Mac users, whereas Cubase and Sonar might feel more comfortable to Windows users.
  3. What are you recording? If you are using mostly MIDI, you might prefer Cubase, Logic or Digital Performer. If you are recording live instruments and don't use MIDI, Pro Tools, Sonar or Nuendo might be more appealing.
  4. Budget - This is where I believe Pro Tools suffers. Their low-budget options are severely limited, in terms of track counts, features, and plug-ins, especially when compared to all of the other programs I've mentioned. There is also a significant price jump when migrating from the "consumer" Pro Tools platform to the "pro" versions. This is largely due to the proprietary hardware requirements.
  5. Stick with what you are used to - A friend was recently considering switching from Sonar on Windows to Pro Tools on the Mac, largely because a music store employee told him he needed to. After he described his system to me, it was clear to me that he could do everything he needed to do with his current system. He had never really used Pro Tools anyway, and he felt very comfortable with Sonar, so there was no need to switch.
I really believe item number 5 is probably the most important. I recently bought my own home DAW system, since I will be leaving my job soon and will no longer have access to the studio facilities. I briefly considered switching to Logic Audio, because I was impressed by the feature set, and felt like I would get a better "bang for my buck!" However, I have been using Pro Tools for more than 10 years, and it just doesn't make sense for me to switch at this time.

The first Pro Tools system I worked on was a TDM Mix system with a maximum track count of 24 mono tracks and only the basic Digidesign plug-ins, and I was still able to produce some great recordings. I can certainly make do with 48 stereo tracks, numerous plug-ins, and sample rates up to 96k!
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Indie Labels Strike Another Blow for Freedom!

OK, so the headline is a little over-the-top! At the 2007 MIDEM Conference in Europe, an exciting announcement was made this past weekend. A group of independent record labels are joining together to form a new coalition, which some have dubbed a "virtual fifth major" (as in "major label.")

The organization, called "Merlin," will give indies more clout in negotiating digital distribution deals. It is unclear what other tasks the organization will perform, or whether it will be open to all indie labels and artists. As yet, they have no staff, nor do they even have a website, and the details are a bit sketchy. However, I am optimistic that this is another step towards breaking the stranglehold the major labels have enjoyed on the music market all these years!
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Sunday, January 21, 2007


Apparently, Rage Against The Machine is reuniting for a single gig at the Coachella Festival in April! Has it really been 7 years since they broke up? That's one band I would love to see reunited permanently...Good enough reason to travel to California this spring!
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File Under: People Unclear On The Concept

So, I get this bulletin on MySpace from one of my "friends" who is involved with an organization that I have some ties to. In the past, I have been active in promoting the organization, and one of my best friends is in charge. This guy works with my friend, but I don't really know him very well.

Anyway, this myspace "friend" says in his bulletin that he is creating a new profile page for the organization. He says he wants to use it to "promote" the organization and promote all the individuals involved with said organization. It is important to know that he uses the word "promote" twice in the bulletin. My first thought is always to find ways to help these guys out, because of my friend. So, I'm thinking, "I'd better add them as a friend and put them on my top friends list. That should help 'promote' their organization."

I send an "add friend" request, and promptly forget about it. A short time later, I get this condescending little message from the guy:

"Thanks for requesting the add. Right now we want to keep this page all (members of the organization.) Glad to have you on my personal page, though."

Now, maybe I've got it all wrong, but I've always understood that the best way to "promote" something on MySpace is to get as many friends as possible. If you try to keep your page exclusive, it is going to be ineffective as a promotional tool. If you want to have your own little exclusive clique, create a myspace group, and make that exclusive.

This gentleman obviously doesn't really understand the true intent of myspace. I also wonder if he assumes that if he only allows organization members to do an "add" request first, they will appear first on the "friends" list. In other words, maybe he thinks people appear on the "friends" list in the order they are added. This is incorrect. In fact, myspace lists people in chronological order according to the date they first created their profile. So, keeping your profile exclusive for a while, then adding outside friends, is useless.

So, what can we learn from this about using myspace (or any social networking site) as a promotional tool?
  1. If you're trying to "promote" something, you cannot really restrict your friends list. If you want to have an exclusive, elite clique, creat a closed myspace group.
  2. If you decide not to honor an "add" request, don't send people a condescending note and make them feel bad, just deny their request. Chances are, they won't even notice anyway, especially if they have over 600 friends.
  3. If you send out a general bulletin, asking your friends to add the new profile you've created, you should probably be specific if you don't intend everyone on your friends list to do so.
  4. Do not, under any circumstances, include in your condescending note, a phrase like "Glad to have you on my personal page, though," as if they are lucky to have you as a friend. Chances are, they have plenty of friends already, and it's no skin off their nose!
OK, so those last three are really about MySpace etiquette in general. Here endeth the lesson!
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Oxymoron Of The Day

I saw this headline in a Craigslist musicians-wanted posting: "All Original Arena Rock 80s Band." Need I say more?
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Less that two hours after my last post on a similar subject, this article comes up on one of my news feeds: Indies aim to grab share of online sales. Read it and rejoice!
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Here I Go Again...

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I've got to talk about my favorite topic again! If I had a do-over, I would have been born 20 years later, so I could be coming out of college right now. The opportunities available to emerging artists right now are far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

When I was in original bands, and we were trying to make it, there was only one goal: getting signed to a major label. When that didn't happen, the band broke up and everyone went their separate ways.

Today, there is a much smaller chance that an artist will ever be signed to a major label. On the other hand, there is absolutely no need now to ever be signed to a major label. A band or artist can have an extremely rewarding career and make a good living without ever setting foot in the halls of Sony or Universal.

This is an exciting time to be a creative person! You no longer have to be preyed upon by record industry sharks, greedy entertainment lawyers, or big-money "managers." You can have more control over your own career, and make your own money, rather than make money for some giant multi-national conglomerate!

If you have the business chops, of course you can start your own record label, or you can sign with one of the many excellent indie labels out there. You have to be a bit careful, but there are indie labels out there who give their acts complete artistic freedom, and share profits in a much more equitable fashion. Sure, they don't have the huge marketing machines the majors have, but you can't really get that marketing machine unless you're a huge star anyway. That just means the artist has to work a little bit harder to promote themselves, which is the way the record industry used to work anyway!

Many indies have returned to some of the old ideas that drove the best record labels in the '60's and early '70's: Long-term artist development, the label as a "family" rather than just a big business, releasing a quality album rather than two hits and 8 filler songs, etc.

It's probably too late for me to take advantage of this emerging new system as an artist. However, I can help other young artists reach their full potential in this artist-friendly environment. In fact, that is exactly what I plan to devote the next phase of my life to! More on that later....
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Will Record Stores Live On?

I have been concerned about the fate of "mom & pop" record stores lately, especially since Tower Records, one of the few decent retail chains, closed down. However, the folks at Hypebot seem to have some evidence that there is hope! While sales in the overall industry were down 5% last year, some independent stores and even some smaller chains actually saw an increase in sales. This is great news for a music geek like me!

Ever since I began buying records in the 1970's, record stores have played a significant part in my musical education. I have often purchased some of the gems of my record collection after hearing them played by a savvy record store employee. Given the sorry state of commercial radio these days, a good record store is probably the best place outside of the internet to hear new music!

So, next time you wish to purchase a physical product such as a CD or DVD, don't just mindlessly head to Wal-mart, Best Buy, Borders or Barnes & Noble, and please don't order it online. Instead, patronize establishments such as Vintage Vinyl or Euclid Records in St. Louis, Newbury Comics in Massachusetts, or (my personal favorite) Waxtrax in downtown Denver. Listen to what the employees are playing in the store, and maybe even ask them what new releases they might recommend. Chances are, you'll discover something new every time!
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R.I.P. Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane, widow of jazz great John Coltrane and a fine musician in her own right, died Friday January 12 in Los Angeles. A pianist who later took up the harp as well, she played in her husband's band during his last several years of life. She then embarked on a solo career, often fusing jazz with elements of Eastern music. After recording and performing throughout most of the 1970's, she devoted herself largely to spiritual pursuits, and only produced one additional commercially-released album in 2004. She was 69.
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

R.I.P. Michael Brecker

Jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker died today in New York City, after a lengthy battle with MDS. For at least the last 8 months, he had been looking for bone marrow donors, and had undergone some experimental treatments, all to no avail. He was 57 years old. He will be missed.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Called It!

I can't believe it, but it looks like one of my predictions is already coming true (sort of.) Due to the new chart rules in the UK (see my earlier post about this,) an unsigned band is about to break into the top 40!

OK, so it's in the UK, but that sort of counts, doesn't it? My prediction said "Billboard Top 100," but the UK top 40 would be just as good, wouldn't it? Oh well, I still think it's exciting news!
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another exciting development for indies

The UK recently changed their rules regarding how downloads can be counted in the charts. It has already benefitted the indie band Snow Patrol! We're getting closer to freedom, folks!
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Thursday, January 04, 2007

My 2007 Predictions

I decided to jump on the bandwagon and offer my own predictions for the coming year. Some of these are probably more wishful thinking than predictions. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • We will see at least one more merger of two of the remaining four major record labels.
  • Several major artists will sue the RIAA for a cut of the action from all the lawsuits they have been engaging in.
  • Digidesign will finally realize that the track limits on LE systems are hurting their business, and they will remove them.
  • Digidesign will also finally add MIDI notation editing to Pro Tools, due to their recent aquisition of Sibelius.
  • Several unsigned artists will break into the Billboard Top 100 (I'm not even sure this is possible yet, but if it is, it will happen this year.)
  • Movies will be even worse than they were in 2006.
  • Reality TV shows will begin to decline in popularity, because they have run out of ideas.
  • The Police reunion tour will happen, but get cancelled halfway through when Sting and Stewart Copeland get in a huge fight and they both quit.
  • Millions (okay, maybe thousands) of Windows users will switch to the Mac.
  • The music industry will begin moving away from DRM, finally realizing that it doesn't really work. Amazon's upcoming DRM-free digital download service will be a big hit! However, iTunes either won't remove their DRM implementation, or they will do it too late, and they will lose a significant market share. iPod Sales will not suffer as a result, however.
  • Nine Inch Nails will release a new studio album, only two years after their last one, finally breaking their pattern of a new album every 5 years (ok, I actually know for a fact this will happen, so I suppose it's cheating.)
That's all I can think of for now. If you have any predictions, feel free to comment!
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Joan Jett (Short Film)

This is an interesting video. Joan Jett was DIY long before it was fashionable!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Let's hope that in 2007, we will continue to see artists and bands gaining control over their own careers. As the major record labels sales figures continue to shrink, and they continue to grasp at straws by suing children and the elderly, new distribution channels, what some are now calling Music 2.0, and the indie scene in general continue to grow. I think 2007 will be a stellar year!
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