Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I Listen For In Music

I am an educated musician, but I am also an avid listener and fan. Ever since I discovered pop music, one of my favorite pastimes has been buying a new album, taking it home and listening to it for the first time. Of course, what I look for in a record may be quite different from the average layperson. As is the case with many musicians, I am an active listener. There is no such thing as "background music" for me.
I also feel that actively listening to music can be almost as creative as the act of making music. Listening to a piece of music I love opens up new avenues of creativity. It challenges me to create something that will surpass it! For me, this is not competitive. It is an act of admiration for the artist and composer. When I hear a great piece of music by another composer, I want to understand how they felt when they created it!
Of course, there is also the possibility of seeing the seed of an idea in the work of another artist, and taking that idea further than they could have imagined. That technique reaches far beyond art, for it is the cornerstone of invention. Thus, active listening may at times fall under the category of "research."
Over the years, in my own acts of research as well as creativity, there are a number of things I have searched for. One of my goals, for instance, has been to push beyond the accepted boundaries of music. This is done in a variety of ways, but the following have been of most interest to me, both as a listener and a composer:
  • Fusion - Combining elements of different musical styles and traditions, as well as the use of nontraditional instrument combinations. This also extends to the fusion of artistic mediums.
  • Tonality - Modal, atonal, polytonal, microtonal music, or any other method of moving beyond the major and minor scales.
  • Challenging the traditional definition of Music - The genesis of this idea was in the work of the great John Cage, who was interested in stretching the boundaries of what can be considered music. The use of nonmusical sounds in composition has especially been of great interest to me.
  • Elements of Chance - This includes improvisation, as well as effects or overtones caused by note combinations (especially in drones.)
In other words, I am often most interested in music which thwarts convention in one or more ways, no matter how subtle.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still love a catchy melody, an interesting chord progression or riff, or a groove that makes you tap your feet. However, if you combine that with one of the elements in the list above, you have pure magic, as far as I'm concerned.
How about you? What do you listen for in music?
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

10 Years That Changed Everything

As we near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, we're seeing the typical year-end and decade-end lists that tend to make the rounds. As I think back on the last ten years, I see it as a time of major change for the music industry. Here is my list of some of the changes I have witnessed in the past ten years:
  • Digital downloads surpassed CD sales
  • Independent labels became major players
  • Established artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails successfully opted to release their music independently, rather than sign a new record contract
  • The ever-shrinking major labels lost their mojo, desperately clinging to outmoded ideas and suing children, the elderly, and dead people
  • Numerous distribution avenues emerged, allowing independent artists to get their music directly to fans
  • Social media emerged, allowing artists to interact directly with fans
  • A new generation of music consumers emerged, ingrained with the belief that music should be free
I'm sure I could come up with many more examples, but we'll stop there. Feel free to post your additions and thoughts in the comments.
All of these changes have left musicians and music industry types wondering where we will be when the dust clears. How do we make a living? How do we "monetize" our product if the conventional means no longer work? In fact, what is our "product," if not our songs? Many have come to believe that the way forward is to think of the artist as the product or "brand."
Meanwhile, the major labels are floundering. Frankly, they have lasted longer than I would have anticipated. One lifeline for them has been the popularity of reality television. If you doubt that, just look at all the buzz around Susan Boyle with her recent album release.
At this point, it's anyone's guess what the future will hold. Judging by what has happened in the last ten years, though, I'm convinced it will still manage to take most of us by surprise!

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Amanda Palmer is Not Afraid to Take Your Money

Please read her blog post on this, and there is a link below to discuss it. However, I would also like to relate what happened to me this week. I was moving to another house in the Boston area, and we hired a moving company to help us. 3 of the 4 guys who showed up were musicians. Two are in "indie" bands that are currently active and fairly well-known (one of them recently performed on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel) and the other was in a band that was, until recently, on a major label. I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that.

blog « amanda palmer

Discussion on the blog post

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lily Allen Speaks Out on File Sharing

Last week, British recording artist Lily Allen posted a blog entry on her MySpace page in reaction to a recent article about the Featured Artists Coalition, in the UK Times Online. I think this quote from Pink Floyd's Nick Mason offended her the most: "File sharing means a new generation of fans for us."

Allen's response to this is thought-provoking: "Last week in an article in the Times these guys from huge bands said file sharing music is fine. It probably is fine for them. They do sell-out arena tours and have the biggest Ferrari collections in the world. For new talent though, file sharing is a disaster as it's making it harder and harder for new acts to emerge." Later on comes my favorite quote: "the more difficult it is for new artists to make it, the less new artists you'll see and the more British music will be nothing but puppets paid for by Simon Cowell."

See the whole controversy unfold:
Lily Allen's Myspace blog post
Lily Allen's blog "It's Not Alright" created to discuss the issue further.
Radiohead's Ed O'Brien agrees with Lily Allen
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Thursday, September 03, 2009

More New Songs, and Another Option for Indies

In case you've been curious as to why I haven't blogged much lately, I've got a whole batch of new songs recorded. I am also trying out a new service called "Gimmesound" ( Fans can download songs for free, and artists share in ad revenue. It's an intriguing model, and I'm interested in seeing how it pans out. I will let my faithful readers know!

You can find my page at Take a listen, and download what you like!

There is a batch of new songs, as well as higher-bitrate versions of songs I did earlier in the year. The last seven songs on the player are a series of prepared guitar pieces I recorded. I am still mixing several more, and will probably have them posted by next week.

I have decided to collectively call this new batch of songs "Manifesto," after the "Artist 2.0 Manifesto" I posted several months ago. All the files are high quality VBR mp3's, which means a bit longer download times.

I've always been curious as to the effectiveness of an ad-supported model. We'll see.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Live on the Web: Matthew Ebel

My Twitter friend and fellow Massachusetts resident Matthew Ebel has been performing a weekly live web concert for some time now, and has been quite successful with it. As further proof of this success, NPR recently did a piece on him, which is a must-read: » News » Live From The Basement: Geek Rock!

Conventional wisdom might tell us that an unsigned artist couldn't possibly garner an audience this way, much less make any money. Kudos to Matthew for proving the conventional wisdom to be wrong!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Prevent Your Bands Gear from Being Stolen

This is a great blog post from yvynyl, for all my touring friends:

yvynyl - How to Prevent Your Band's Gear from Being Stolen

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Gerd Leonard: How Musicians can Thrive in the "Link Economy"

Berklee Today features an interesting interview with media futurist and Berklee grad Gerd Leonard. His comments are in line with what we have heard from several forward-thinking people, such as Trent Reznor (see his comments here.) I think his main point is that artists need to think in terms of their "brand" rather than their "product." Take, for instance, this quote:
"In the new music economy, you need to build an audience and energize them to act on your behalf and forward your music virally. Later, they can become paying customers. Don't ask them for their money first. Once fans are sold on you, you'll be able to 'upsell' them special shows, backstage passes, webcasts, a live concert download, a multimedia product, your iPhone application, a premium package for $75."

Read the full article here, and you might want to follow his blog as well.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mr. Cluck's - Hurley's New Chicken Shack!

Does this mean Faraday's plan worked?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don't Be A Diva!

Disclaimer: I hope this doesn't come off as a rant - there's nothing worse than someone who uses their blog as a platform for their personal rants! However, in my professional playing the past few years, I have come across a number of "teachable moments" (thanks for that phrase, Mr. President,) and I wish to share them.

The term "Diva" often refers to a female singer, but I have found that diva behavior applies to both genders, and it is not restricted to singers! So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here is my list of ways to avoid being thought of as a diva:

  1. Be on time early to rehearsals and gigs - Yes, I said it! It wouldn't hurt to show up 10 or 15 minutes before your call time. You don't understand how stressful being a bandleader or contractor is, and you should never underestimate how much this simple act can improve your chances of working with a band for many years!
  2. Know the difference between "rehearsal" and "practice" - In simple terms: You "practice" the songs on your own time, so that you show up completely prepared for the full band "rehearsal." In other words, have the song learned before you show up to rehearsal! I should also point out that since rehearsal is a collective experience, it is often wasted if one of the band members does not show up. Without the entire ensemble there, including the singers, rehearsal can often be a waste of time.
  3. Help setting up the gear - If you are not yet a star, you probably don't have "roadies." Usually, this means that the band shares responsibility for setting up gear. This does not mean that you work until everyone has helped you set up your gear, and then sit around "noodling" while the rest of the band finishes setting up the p.a.
  4. Realize you are not the most important person in the band - In other words, leave your ego at the door. This category encompasses many diva behaviors, but I'll just list a few, and they probably don't need more explanation: a) Watch your stage volume b) Don't step all over someone's solo c) If you wish to offer criticism, be prepared to accept criticism as well.
  5. Be professional - Don't forget that this is a business, and you have clients. Try to avoid things like temper tantrums onstage, getting drunk during the gig, heckling the bar patrons, etc. Also (personal pet peeve here) if you have professional sound staff working with you, please treat them as equals. They have also had training and practice in their craft, and they deserve your respect!

If you have witnessed any diva behavior that is not covered above, please comment!
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Mecca for Musicians

Over the years, I have heard many of my students ponder the age-old question: "Where should I move after I graduate?" Ten years ago, the answer was "Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville." I think most people agree that this is no longer the only answer, but are there still certain areas that are music "Meccas?"

A new study has come out that provides some interesting data. The original article is here, and Hypebot provides an analysis of it here.

While this may not provide definitive answers, I think the results are intriguing. I was happy to see that Boston was in the top ten of the "Bands With Fans" list! Don't forget to read the comments on both posts as well. I'd be interested to hear your comments here, if you have the time. 

Hypebot Analysis
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Thursday, July 09, 2009

More Words of Wisdom from Mr. Reznor

Several months ago, I posted a video where Trent Reznor gave some advice to new artists about how to "get heard." This morning, he posted his thoughts on the subject on the Nine Inch Nails forum. While he essentially says the same thing, he expands on it a bit, and it's worth reading. Watch the comments as well. I assume he will answer some of them as the day goes on.

my thoughts on what to do as a new / unknown artist

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Blast From the Past

One of my all-time favorite bands, Cheap Trick, is resurrecting the 8-track format for their new album "The Latest." Hmm, I wonder if my mom still has her old 8-track player.....

Cheap Trick brings back the 8-track - The Globe and Mail

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Loudness Wars: The Debate Continues

I have commented before on the modern propensity to over-compress recordings, something which I am guilty of as well. My friend @mattsearles posted this on Twitter yesterday. I haven't had a chance to listen to the podcast yet, but the written post summarizes a discussion with some notable producers and mixing engineers, in which they share their thoughts on this phenomenon.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Theories on the Lost Season Finale

*Spoiler Alert: If you haven't yet seen the season 5 finale of Lost, don't read any further!*

I personally enjoyed the season finale of Lost. I thought it answered quite a few questions, yet, in true Lost fashion, brought up just as many new questions.

One of the biggest questions, of course, is the identity of Jacob's enemy. I've seen a few theories on the internet, and one of the most prominent is that he is the Smoke Monster ("Smoky.") I think that is a credible one, and even if he isn't Smoky, it could be that Smoky is an ally. One thing that I think is pretty obvious is that he is the personage of Christian Shepherd seen on the island since the crash of 815, and he may well have been many of the other ghosts that have appeared to people throughout the show. Another theory floating around is that Jacob's enemy 
(some people are calling him Anti-Jacob, some Esau, from the Biblical story) can only appear as people who have died, and the corpse has to be on the island, which is why Locke died and his corpse was put on the plane.

Anti-Jacob obviously went through some elaborate measures to orchestrate this "loophole," and it's interesting to go back and look at some of the things that could possibly be attributed to him.

I have another theory that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else. It is evident that Jacob knew at some point that Anti-Jacob was orchestrating these things. Otherwise, I don't think he would have asked Ilana to help him. I originally assumed that when Bram and several other people kidnapped Miles and tried to persuade him not to go to the island, this was Ben's doing. However, seeing him with Ilana convinced me that this was Jacob's doing.

If Jacob knew anti-Jacob was orchestrating something and suspected the connection with Locke, it's possible that he sent some of the losties back to 1977 in hopes that they would, in fact, change history, so that Locke would never even go to the island in the first place. Of course, we won't know if it even worked until early 2010! Anyway, it seems logical that this could be Jacob's failsafe, in case Anti-Jacob moved against him. He would basically be able to get a "do-over."

I know some of my readers are also Lost fans, and I would love it if you would post some of your theories on the episode here.
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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New Song: The Tempest

I recorded a new instrumental rock song this week, called "The Tempest." It's a different style for me, but If you have read my "Manifesto," you know how I feel about that. This will soon be released as part of an "album" (if that term still has any relevance today,) but I was too excited about it to not get it out there now.

If you are a Mac user, you should either option-click the link to automatically download it or Control-click and follow the instructions on the popup menu. If you are a Windows user, I think you right-click the link.
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

How I Learned To Beat The Music Industry

Subtitle: The Method Behind the Manifesto

I want to briefly explain some of the reasoning behind my previous post, "The Artist 2.0 Manifesto" (here it is, in case you missed it.)

After years of trying to "get signed," I made the decision to concentrate on teaching, while still writing and performing on the side. However, I never let go of the "musical dogma" I had developed over those years. That is, the ideas pertaining to the commercial potential of a song, sticking to a certain musical genre, creating an "image" etc. Even though I no longer had a burning desire to get signed, these thoughts still colored my thinking and perception.

Over the past 3 or 4 years, I have spent quite a bit of time researching emerging methods unsigned artist can use to disseminate and promote their music. My initial motivation was that of convincing my students that they don't need to "get signed" in order to have a successful career. I've learned a lot, which is nothing new to readers of my blog, so I won't bore you with the details.

I have also developed a theory, for which I have little or no hard data, only my own observations. I believe that most people are much more eclectic in their musical tastes than the "Music Industry" would have you believe. For example, most of the people I know, whether they are musicians or non-musicians, have a wide variety of musical styles in their ipods and iTunes music libraries. I have also noticed a number of independent artists recently who are incorporating numerous genres into their music. This is most prevalent with artists in the Creative Commons movement (Jamendo,) but I'm even seeing it on MySpace. I've also met many people who are not musicians, but enjoy listening to more "challenging" music.

I also believe that the success of Susan Boyle calls into question nearly everything the industry has asked us to believe regarding "image" over the last 30 years. If you doubt this, go to and look at some of the artists who were successful before 1981 (the year MTV went on the air.) Some of those folks were not very pretty, but they were amazingly talented. In fact, many of them continually evolved as artists as well, and one album often sounded completely different from another. In fact, you might find a wide musical variety on one album. All of those things are "no-no's" by today's major-label standards. Here's a good example: Van Morrison would probably not get signed today.

I think we have quite a bit of ground to cover before we find a working business model for musical artists, but I do believe the old rules no longer apply. It's time to let go of old dogma!
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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Artist 2.0 Manifesto

Insofar as the nature of the transmission and dissemination of art and media has been irrevocably altered in the past 10+ years, it may also follow that the nature of the artist can and must evolve. Despite the best efforts of the Music Industry and the Entertainment Industry at large, the internet has uncorked the bottle, and the genie has been emancipated. The pigeons are no longer content to stay snug in their holes. We now live in a world where walls are being toppled, both physical and metaphysical. It is quite possible, in point of fact, that many of the aforementioned walls never even existed. Perhaps recent events have lifted the veil in front of our eyes, so that we may finally see that the walls were never there to begin with.

In our former life, the Music Industry would tell us what we liked, and we would dutifully hand over our shekels in exchange for their Product. When they sensed a disturbance in The Force, every so often they would allow an Alternative Product to emerge, only to quickly co-opt it for maximum profit.

The Artist, at the time, was a commodity, tightly controlled and groomed for maximum profitability. A Formula was instituted, and only occasionally tweaked until maximum profitability was summarily achieved. If maximum profitability was not quickly achieved after a few tweaks of the Formula, the Artist was quickly jettisoned, to be immediately replaced by a younger, fresher version. However, if the Formula proved successful, it would be milked for all it was worth over a period of many years, until the artist either self-destructed in a magical blaze of fire or was, once again, jettisoned.

If the Artist began to yearn for increased creativity or artistic evolution, he or she was quickly reigned in. Some Artists were eventually able to achieve a degree of manumission after a period of many years. Others were sometimes given their own "Boutique Label," or allowed to operate under a separate persona if they wished to create Product outside the bounds of the Formula. However, even these activities were tightly controlled, in order to achieve maximum profitability.

Despite all this, the patronage of the Music Industry, in the form of the Record Contract, was a gold ring sought after by almost every Artist. Yet, in exchange for this gold ring, the Artist usually gave up everything. The Music Industry owned the Artist, as well as the Product, with an ironclad contract. The Artist believed he or she was unable to function outside of the Industry, and this was often the case. The Industry controlled the distribution channels, as well as the flow of information and money.

Of course, the Music Industry relied heavily on the assumed naivete of the Consumer, who seemed willing to accept any Formula that was handed to them. Accordingly, they served as another wall, the wall between the Artist and the Consumer. They instituted the Filter, through which the Artist and Consumer would only see what the Music Industry allowed them to see.

Then came the internet, and we began to unplug from our matrix. The Consumer began to realize that it didn't necessarily like what it was being fed. Sure, maybe it liked Britney Spears, but it also wanted to listen to some country, and maybe some jazz. And, you know, this noise rock band it found on the internet was pretty cool. And hey, here's a really good ska band, and what about this salsa song and this rap artist? The artist, in turn, began to realize there was a way around the filter. A hole had been punched in the wall.

The Music Industry was flabbergasted. How were they going to control the Consumer and the Artist now? The internet didn't have nicely segregated bins like Sam Goode! Communication between the neatly defined segments of Consumer and Artist was now possible. Different Consumer segments could intercommunicate, and they could communicate with the Artist as well. The cat was out of the bag, and thus began the slow, steady, continuing decline of the powers-that-be.

It is a new order, a time for a new business artistic model. In a world without borders, we must assume that the Audience (formerly the Consumer) will be as sophisticated, and perhaps even as eclectic, as we are. In the early days of our movement, before we were all part of the collective hive mind, this was the case, and it seems to have returned to the spirit of those halcyon days.

In accordance, we the undersigned, artists, pledge the following:
  1. We will no longer create art solely for a specific audience or demographic.
  2. We do not need to create separate artistic personas for different aspects of our creativity.
  3. We will allow our creativity free reign.
  4. We will no longer refer to our art solely as a Product.
  5. We will not allow our art to be governed by a Formula.
  6. There is no longer a Consumer. There is only the Audience.
  7. It is perfectly acceptable for an artist to release a country song and a freeform jazz exploration on the same record.
  8. We will no longer use the phrases "is this accessible" or "could someone whistle this melody?"
  9. We will no longer use the terms "single edit," "radio mix," or "commercial," and we will no longer use the phrase "is this too long?"
  10. We do not necessarily want or need to "get signed" to a major record label.
  11. We will never again surrender our artistic control to any person or entity.
  12. As we are able to control our art, we are also able to control our commerce and our livelihood.
  13. We will control our own "brand" or "image." This includes the freedom to completely reject those concepts if we so desire.
  14. We summarily reject genre labels when possible, by labeling our music "other."
  15. We are free to use any and every artistic medium available.
  16. We will interact with the Audience without a middleman or filter. If we chose to allow the Audience to participate in the creation of our art, this is perfectly acceptable as well.
  17. We are free to use new and emerging distribution channels, or create our own if necessary.
  18. In short, none of the old rules apply. We are free to make our own rules, or declare that there are no rules if we wish. Furthermore, we are free to amend or emend this manifesto whenever we desire!

Creative Commons License
The Artist 2.0 Manifesto by Michael J Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
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Trent Reznor: Advice for Up and Coming Bands/Artists

If you ever get a chance, you should watch all 40 minutes of this interview. However, I feel this particular segment is very important to new and emerging artists!

Update: The video was supposed to stop when he began talking about his favorite gadgets, but apparently it does not. Feel free to watch the rest, but understand that there are 20 more minutes. Also, look for @recdmavn's name and (briefly) her face while Trent is talking about Topspin!
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 3

This is a continuation of my series on 20 life-changing albums. If you missed the first two, here they are:

Now, on to the good stuff:

5) Subliminal Plastic Motives - Self
I discovered this record literally by accident. There was one hit that was being played on the then-fledgling alternative rock stations, the song "So Low." At the time, I liked the song because it sounded a bit like Nine Inch Nails. I came to realize later that Self (which, like Nine Inch Nails, was actually one person, Matt Mahaffey) was actually poking fun at the morose and depressing lyrics that were dominating alt rock at the time.
When I finally found the record, it was so much more than I had bargained for. Here was a true original, an artist who was able to effortlessly and effectively blend elements from a wide variety of musical genres into his own unique, quirky style. There are elements of grunge, hip-hop, jazz, and more, with a healthy dose of weird noises and samples. Bridges tend to consist either of blasts of noise and samples over music or a foray into an entirely different musical style, and there is not a guitar solo to be found. Above it all, Mahaffey's voice weaves catchy pop melodies. It seems like it wouldn't work, but it does. Here are some of the highlights:
  • "Sophomore Jinx" - a humorous song about the curse of the sophomore album, blending hip-hop, grunge and powerpop, if you can believe that!
  • "So Low" - What begins with industrial mayhem suddenly breaks into a Beatle-esque bridge, and pulls it off nicely.
  • "Marathon Shirt" - What starts out sounding almost like a prog rock song with some Sting influences breaks suddenly into a cocktail lounge jazz bridge.
  • "Big Important Nothing" - A song about the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. The verses are sung over a Thelonious Monk-inspired piano loop with a loping shuffle beat, and the chorus is plucked right out of the vocal jazz stylebook. The song also has the trademark Mahaffey blast of noise in the instrumental bridge.
"Subliminal" sounds a bit dated now, mostly due to the guitar sounds as well as a few of the lyrical themes. Still, it's one of those rare records that I can listen to without skipping over songs. The next full-length Self album, "Breakfast With Girls," is arguably even better, taking the genre-bending even further with higher production values. The 3rd and final Self full-length was "Gizmodgery," made entirely with toy instruments.
It's obvious to me and most of his fans that Mahaffey is a musical genius, and it almost seems like his lack of commercial success is intentional. He enjoys subverting and/or overturning pop conventions, both lyrically and musically. He is still working actively as a producer, did a recent collaboration with Jeff Turzo of God Lives Underwater called "Wired All Wrong," and does a bit of soundtrack work as well. I don't think we have seen the last of him.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 2

Here is the next in my series of 20 life-changing albums. I have a lot to say about this one, so I'm limiting the post to one album:

4) The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
I could probably make a case for Trent Reznor's debut as Nine Inch Nails, "Pretty Hate Machine" (hereafter referred to as PHM.) To some extent, that was a life-changing one for me. However, in retrospect, I believe PHM and the followup EP "Broken" opened the doors for "The Downward Spiral."
I believe some context is in order. PHM came out in 1989, but I didn't become aware of it until a 1991 Spin magazine article about Trent Reznor, following his triumphant summer in the Lollapalooza tour. I wasn't the only one late to the game, either. The tour and the resulting press brought many new listeners to his debut album. This record was a revelation to me, a guitarist who loved the sound of a power chord, but also had a fascination with synthesizers that began with bands like Kraftwerk and Devo. Here was the best of both worlds for me. I'm not sure I even noticed at first that there were no guitar solos, which is surprising for me!
I was also struck by the dark tone of his lyrics. I had been criticized for many years for my dark, depressing lyrics, and I had finally found someone who was even more depressing!
When Broken came out in 1992, it was a completely different record. At first, I didn't like it, but it quickly grew on me. This was a guitar record, although there were still no guitar solos. The synths were there, but they were buried in a wall of distortion. I came to love this EP so much, I quit listening to PHM for a while. Lyrically, there was even more anger, spurred on by the problems he was experiencing with his record label.
After an agonizing two-year wait, "The Downward Spiral" arrived, and I probably purchased it on the very day it showed up in the stores. Here was the record I had been waiting for! I listened to the entire thing, from the brutal, sledgehammer opening of "Mr. Self Destruct" to the blast of distortion and feedback at the end of "Hurt." For the next several months, I listened over and over again, not just to individual songs, but the entire thing start to finish. This was that kind of record. You couldn't just listen to one song. I would hear "Closer" on the radio, and it just seemed weird that they didn't play "Ruiner," the next song on the album.
This was not just a collection of songs. It wasn't even a concept album or a rock opera, where the lyrics unified what was otherwise a collection of songs. This was almost like a symphony, which was probably why it appealed to me, an educated musician. Much like classical music, the album had extreme dynamic range. "March of the Pigs" is a great example of that, with a soft piano/vocal break in the middle, followed by silence, followed by a blast of noise. I know I was fooled by it the first time! There was also the recurring piano motive, heard most prominently at the end of "Closer," but heard several other times as well.
I was also struck by the production, and spent many hours listening with headphones, trying to pick out individual layers in the massive wall of sound that permeated the entire record. This album, more than any other, sparked a returned interest in the recording process for me. After being a recording major as an undergrad, I lost interest for a number of years. I had a home studio, but it was just there to facilitate the songwriting process for me. "Downward Spiral" reminded me that the studio is a musical instrument, capable of as much expression as any acoustic instrument! Here was a pop artist using the same "Musique Concrete" techniques I had learned when I studied electronic music in college.
As a Nine Inch Nails fan, this record combined the songcraft and production of PHM with the raw energy of Broken. To me, it was the perfect Nine Inch Nails record. There were synths and guitars aplenty, and he even brought Adrian Belew in to play a guitar solo! And the lyrics were more dark and depressing than ever.
"The Downward Spiral" was a turning point for me, both as a listener and as a musician. Of course, given the fact that Trent Reznor and I are close to the same age, and he was struggling with similar addiction issues as I was at the time, this is certainly no surprise. If I were to rank all my life-changing albums in order of importance, it would certainly be number one!
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Google Friend Connect

Google Friend Connect recently became available for Blogger blogs, so I just added it. I am interested to see how this service will enhance the blogging experience. If you are one of the 5 people who read my blog, please click the "follow" button in the sidebar to the right. Thanks in advance.

On a related note, I recently created a Facebook artist page. If you are on Facebook and you have a moment, please become a fan. (I promise I won't spam you - I don't even have any gigs lined up at the moment.) This is also a bit of an experiment. I am interested to see if this will be a viable platform for artists in the future. I think they still have a few bugs to work out, but it has potential. I think this will finally make Facebook a viable alternative to MySpace for musicians. We'll see!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

How Do You Use the Internet & Social Media To Promote Your Music?

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation I am doing, and I wanted to poll my musician friends on the following:

How are you using social media to promote your music or your band?
What additional internet tools are you using, including distribution methods?

Please post your answers in the comments. I may incorporate some of these in my presentation, but I won't use your specific sites unless you give me permission. I look forward to your responses!
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 1

One of my Facebook friends, who hosts a radio show here in Boston and is somewhat of a musicologist, tagged me recently with this note:
Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wazu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag 15 others, including moi. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it! >:) ha-ha-ha-haaaaa.....

Another Facebook/Twitter friend then inspired me to turn it into a blog post. So I took my original list, already posted on Facebook, added some commentary and 5 additional albums. I also decided to do a few at a time. Otherwise, this was never going to see the light of day! These were never in any order of importance, as I consider each of them equally important.

1) Revolver - The Beatles
This was the very first Beatles record I bought, as a teenager, and it did, indeed, change my life. Over the years, I have probably listened to "Sgt. Pepper" more often, but "Revolver" had a profound impact on my early development as a musician. I must single out "Love You To" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" for setting me on the road toward an appreciation for musical experimentation and non-western sounds.

2) Cheap Trick - Cheap Trick
My first Cheap Trick album was "In Color," their second album, which is much more polished and squarely in the power-pop vein. Of course, I then bought their eponymous debut thinking it would be more of the same. It was not, and in fact, it blew my mind! This record is equal parts punk, hard rock, and power-pop, and there is even a ballad! Even though the production is less refined, the Cheap Trick songcraft is already fully-formed, and the lyrics display Rick Nielsen at his sardonic best!

3) Now - The Tubes
This is another example of a band who drew me in through their more commercial work, in this case "Completion Backward Principle." Once I discovered "Now," which is probably their least accessible and most eclectic effort ever, it opened a door musically to avenues I have continued to explore to this day. From their collaborations with Captain Beefheart ("My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains") to the proto-New Wave of "Cathy's Clone" to their cover of band member Mingo Lewis' fusion classic "God-Bird-Change." This one has everything, which fits my weird eclectic musical tastes. However, the label suits probably had no idea what to do with it, and neither did radio!
At the time, the Tubes had 9 members, and almost all of them were contributing songwriters. Their more commercial efforts were helmed by producers who had a strong musical personality, specifically Al Kooper, David Foster, and Todd Rundgren. I think I love this album because it is an example of how the band sounded when they were given free rein!

More to come!
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Should You Give Away Your Music for Free?

TorrentFreak thinks so. I admit, they come from a position of bias, but you should read the article and make up your own mind:

BitTorrent Freed Music, and Now It’s Yours | TorrentFreak

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

New Video - Bay of Pigs

This is my video for my song "Bay of Pigs," which I finally finished recording this week. I shot and edited all the video, and even did a bit of animation. Bonus points for anyone who can make sense of the lyrics!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Science of Watchmen

I know, I'm YouTube crazy this week. It just happens that I found two geektabulous items on SlashFilm, and I just had to share them. This, the second one, concerns the comic book adaptation that I personally have been waiting for with great anticipation - "Watchmen." It's a great explanation of the science behind the graphic novel/film by the scientist who actually served as science advisor for the production.

On a related note, from everything I have read about the film, this is an extremely faithful adaptation. If you are planning to see it and haven't read the graphic novel, go pick up a copy and read it this weekend. You won't be sorry!

(via SlashFilm)

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Back to the Future Alternate Ending

This is what happens when "Doc Brown overshoots the future by a few years..."

(via SlashFilm)

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bjork TV

Bjork shows us how the TV works. Most importantly, she warns us not to let poets lie to us!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Only A Test

This is a video I put together for my song "Only A Test." I used Final Cut, and the footage is all public domain. Anyway, tell me what you think!

Update: I'm uploading it again, to see if I can improve the quality. Check back in a while!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Free Music!

Download my experimental electronic music CD "Odyssey," plus a bonus track for free:

Odyssey free download

It's a 70MB zip file. Hope you enjoy it.
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