Tuesday, December 14, 2010

3 Recent Books For Your Holiday Wish List

I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately. Here are three books that I highly recommend:

1. "Life" by Keith Richards and James Fox.
The autobiography of the Rolling Stones resident pirate and bad boy is indispensable reading for any rock and roll fan. He even answered my most burning question: "Did they really replace all of his blood?"

2. "Al Jaffee's Mad Life" by Mary-Lou Weisman and Al Jaffee.
I grew up reading Mad magazine, and always admired the work of Al Jaffee, especially "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" and the fold-ins. As it turns out, he has lived a very interesting life as well. The beauty of this book is the fact that he also illustrated it!

3. "The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop" by Dan Charnas.
I'm currently only halfway through this book, but it's a great read. A truly comprehensive history of hip-hop, and highly recommended.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

BGV Tips

(Note: I posted this answer to a question about rock BGV recording a few days ago on Quora.com, and I thought I should post it here as well. I added a few things for this post.)

I generally record my own backing vocals. I usually do either 3 part harmonies or 4 parts with the bottom note doubled up an octave. I overdub each part a minimum of 4 times, so there are at least 4 voices on each note. I then evenly distribute each part across the stereo field.

When I am recording other singers doing backgrounds, I typically have people switch back and forth, so one voice is not dominating any specific part. I usually ask for a very forward placement, with extremely bright vowels, especially for rock. Having a male sing high falsetto in unison with a female also produces a great effect.

I lightly compress each track, and I usually bus all the tracks to the same reverb I am applying to my instrumental tracks. As far as EQ, I usually apply a high pass filter, and boost some of the mids and some of the highs, but specific frequency choices depend on what else is going on in the track.

When you have that many tracks, things like ending consonants are not always together, so I often edit out any late endings, and use just a couple of tracks to establish the ending consonants.

One more note on track numbers: If you are limited on tracks, it's a good idea to record all 3 or 4 parts once, then bounce those down to 1 track, and so on. I've always felt like that fills the sound out more than bouncing all the takes of one part to one track.

(Originally posted at Quora)
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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Prince Vs. the Internet

I have always been a Prince fan, and I have often found his eccentricity almost as interesting as his music. However, his latest pronouncement that "the internet's completely over" even has a diehard fan like me scratching my head. In an interview with The Mirror, he compares the internet to MTV, claiming that the web will become outdated just as the music channel did.

Even more odd, he is releasing his new album as a free CD for subscribers of the print edition of The Mirror. That's it - no iTunes, no CD's available in stores, and he has even shut down his website. In other words, if you don't happen to live in the UK or subscribe to The Mirror, he doesn't really want you to hear his new CD.

You can read the full interview at The Mirror.
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Monday, June 14, 2010

On Musical Snobbery

For much of my life, I have been a music snob. I have often looked down my nose at "those people" who like "that style of music." This goes all the way back to my youth. In 9th grade, I was a huge fan of Cheap Trick until "Live at Budokan" came out. Suddenly, everybody liked them, so I could no longer be a fan. Later, in college, I was a jazz snob for a while. Believe it or not, I was even an opera snob for a short time.

In retrospect, I realize this is all about exclusivity and elitism. We all want to feel like we are better than the masses. The idea that we belong to a select group of people who are "in the know" gives us comfort. Artistic people are especially prone to this, because we often tend to be insecure.

Interestingly, you can see snobbery from many different camps. For instance, educated musicians often have a strong preference for more complex music. On the other hand, punk musicians (and many rock critics, for some reason) prefer less complexity. And they often hate each other, by the way.

This brings up an important question: Who is right, and who is wrong? Sure, I have a doctorate in music, but is my musical taste more important than the average layperson? Many of the artists I love have little more than a cult following. On the other hand, does popularity trump all? Should I like Justin Bieber just because he is so popular?

Of course, in the end, these are all just opinions, and I believe our discourse on all matters of taste could benefit from that realization. I will refer to one of my musical heroes, alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. In his explanation of the concept behind M-Base (Macro - Basic Array of Structured Extemporizations,) he says:
...the concept of which style is better than another style has no place here. Since the goal is the expression of culture and philosophy, there is no "better". There is only the perspective of the person experiencing the music and what this person hears is largely shaped by his/her own experience. In other words what the listener "hears" depends on who that listener is. The same music can be experienced many different ways by different people.
He is discussing this in the context of musical composition and improvisation, but I think it can apply to music listening in general. This is a model I hope to follow one day. I am not there yet. My first instinct at the mention of Justin Bieber is to turn up my nose. I am still overly annoyed at the amount of auto-tune in mainstream popular music and the TV show Glee. However, I am learning to respect the opinions of others, rather than judge them. Now, if we could all just apply the same attitude toward politics.....

(If you are a jazz aficionado, Steve Coleman has just released a new album, which can be found at: http://pirecordings.com/album/pi33. I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy free and avant-garde jazz.)
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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Off to La La Land

Of course, I'm speaking of Lala, the streaming music service which Apple acquired several months ago. As expected, beginning June 1st, a trip to lala.com results in the following message: "The Lala service has been discontinued as of May 31st, 2010.

Next week is the Apple WWDC conference. I'm betting that the Steve Jobs keynote will include a new cloud-based streaming music service. What do you think? Please comment!

(Source: Mashable)
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Final Thoughts on Lost

I was planning to post a long rant on why I didn't like the series finale of Lost. Truth is, I no longer care, and I've decided to move on with my life.

The day after the finale, I posted this on Facebook: "I think I would like to travel to a parallel universe and see a different #Lost ending." I've changed my mind. I would rather use a time machine, travel back in time, and tell myself not to start watching the show in the first place! Of course, I can't be sure if this will affect my timeline or create an alternate timeline in which I never watched Lost. Will I exist in the alternate timeline or the original one? Perhaps I will forego time travel and interdimensional travel, and instead have all memory of season 6 wiped from my mind.....

Several other interesting posts relating to the series finale, before I forget about it and move on:

I would like to make one comment on that last post, by "Someone from Bad Robot." He or she claims that the writers knew how the show was going to end all along. However, check out this quote from James Parriott, creator of the short-lived sci-fi series "Defying Gravity:"

“I love the show [Lost], and Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse]. I did a lot with Grey’s Anatomy during the first couple of years of Grey’s, and that first year of Grey’s was the first year of Lost, and I did a lot of dinners with ABC buyers with those two guys and Shonda Rhimes from Grey’s. Carlton is a really bright and funny guy, and he gets up, and the first question out of the foreign buyers’ mouths is ‘where’s it going to go? Do you know where it’s going to go?’, and he said ‘I haven’t a clue.’ And then he sits down across from me at the dinner table, and I remember saying ‘Damon, come on, that’s bullshit, right? I mean, you know where it’s going to go.’ And he says, ‘Jim, I haven’t a clue. I’m four episodes out; that’s all I know.’

'Nuff said!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

NPR on "Lost" and Alternate Universes

I am probably going to rant about this in the next couple of days, but I wanted to share this article that my friend Dexter Edge shared with me. It hits the nail on the head for me with regard to my biggest pet peeve about the series finale of "Lost." (Warning: Spoilers)

'Lost' And The Science of Alternate Universes : NPR
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Privacy 2.0

In the early days of social media, social networks were walled-in gardens where you could connect with a select group of friends, and share your thoughts, links, videos and photos. You had full control over who could view these things, so you could maintain a certain level of privacy. Let's face it, this is no longer true! The entire world has access to your online life. If you want something to be secret, you might as well keep it off of your computer!
In today's job market, this is especially important. Make no mistake, prospective employers will peruse your online footprint if they are considering you for a job. In fact, your current employer may be watching you online as well. Given the recent changes many of the networks have made, particularly Facebook, your privacy controls may not keep you as safe as you think.
Here are some steps I would recommend:
  1. Review your privacy settings - as I said, many of the networks have recently made major changes. However, you should also recognize that the garden wall is now very short, and even the things you think are safe may find their way over that wall.
  2. Stay away from "Hot Topics" - It might be a good time to start following the old saying: "Never discuss religion and politics." If your online rhetoric is not particularly civil when it comes to those who disagree with you, a potential employer will most likely pass.
  3. Keep your updates free of complaints - I see quite a few people complaining about their current job or boss, and even about their friends. The thinly-veiled complaint, where you make the complaint but don't name names, is really not much better. It all serves to paint you as a "complainer." A potential employer will be turned off by this, and you could even lose your current job if you're not careful!
  4. Remove the incriminating pictures - You know the ones I mean: At the party, holding a beer, with a lampshade on your head. I would suggest you delete them immediately. If your friends have posted them, ask them to delete them. If they won't, remove any tags identifying you.
  5. Above all, think before you type - The internet has given us a false sense of anonymity, where we feel like we can say anything without consequences. While this might have been true a few years ago, it is no longer the case. If you wouldn't say it in person, you probably shouldn't post it either.
In my opinion, there is no longer such a thing as privacy when it comes to life online. Assume that everything you say and do will be in the public record forever!
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Friday, April 30, 2010

What Does Apple's Shutdown of Lala Mean for Streaming Music?

It was announced today that Apple will be shutting down Lala.com by the end of May. When they purchased the music streaming service a few months ago, many speculated that they would use it to jump-start their own cloud-based music service. However, no such announcement has been made as of yet. This leaves us with even fewer streaming options here in the US. We still have Mog.com, Napster and Rhapsody, and Spotify has yet to grace our shores.

If this development means that Apple will soon be rolling the Lala technology into iTunes, this is great news! However, there is also a chance that the opposite is true, and we have just lost another option for free streaming of music. What do you think?

Related articles:
Wired - Apple Kills Lala Music Service
PC World - Apple's Shutdown of Lala Fuel Rumors of Web-based iTunes
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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Metal Machine Music Revisited

The Quietus has an extremely entertaining and informative interview with Lou Reed regarding his noise masterpiece "Metal Machine Music." It's a must-read! (via New Music Reblog.)

The Quietus.com: Lou Reed Interview: Metal Machine Music Revisited
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Monday, April 05, 2010

Is the iPad a New Musical Instrument?

Below are two videos for iPad drum machine apps. I see great potential for the iPad as a music device, especially for live performance, and here are just two early examples (via iPad Studio Blog.)

I have no doubt we will also soon see more apps for interactive, improvisatory, or algorithmic music-making, and it won't be long before we start to see laptop orchestras using the device with customized software! Say what you will about the closed nature of the device, etc., but I believe that Apple has just created a new musical instrument.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It's Time to Stage a Coup!

I don't know about you, but I'm growing tired of waiting for the old guard of the music industry to roll over and die. It's time we were a bit more proactive about this! Here's some things you and I can do to regain control of the music for artists and fans alike!

  1. Support Local Live Music - You don't really need to pay for another Lady GaGa concert, do you? Save some money by heading to the club around the corner and supporting a future Lady GaGa.
  2. Support Independent Music - Stop driving to Wal-Mart and buying the latest over-compressed and auto-tuned major label releases. Instead, stay right there in the comfort of your warm, safe home, point your browser to sites such as Bandcamp or ReverbNation, find some music you like, and buy it. While you're at it, become a fan on Facebook, and add your email to their mailing list so you can see them live. Your money will go to someone who really needs the money, the artist! The fat-cat major label execs have plenty of money!
  3. Support Mom & Pop Record Stores - If you must buy the latest Ke$ha (if the dollar sign in her name hasn't deterred you, I suppose it's hopeless) please buy it from a local CD retailer, rather than Wal-mart or Target. Look, I know it's probably a foregone conclusion that brick and mortar music retailers will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. However, mom & pop record stores have always supported local music, and I have a soft spot in my heart for them. Besides, there has recently been a resurgence of interest in vinyl, and artists have been releasing new material on vinyl in the last couple of years. Maybe it's time to invest in a new turntable, get that record collection out of storage, put on your ray-bans and dance around the living room in your underwear! Or not, it's up to you...
  4. Stop Watching the Music Award Shows - This is really just my personal pet-peeve, but after the most recent Grammy Awards show, come on! The industry uses these self-congratulatory spectacles to convince themselves they are still relevant. As long as you allow your children to continue their bad behavior, they will never learn! (While we're on the subject, I think we could hammer the final nail in the coffin if people would just quit watching Americal Idol. In my opinion, that is the last thing keeping the industry alive, but that's a post for another time.)

See, that's four simple things we can do to ensure a bright musical future for all of us. What have you got to lose? You might even discover some new music and help a young artist launch their career!
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Eyes on the Pad

As many of you know, I've been an avid Apple fanboy for about 20 years. So, as you can probably guess, I will visit my local Apple store sometime within the next year and walk out with a shiny new iPad. I'm disappointed about a few missing features, but just like the iPhone, I'm sure most will show up within the next couple of years. I hate the name just as much as the next guy, but in the grand scheme of things, I really think that's a minor gripe.

David Pogue has some great comments about the iPad on his NYTimes blog. It's especially illuminating when he compares it to the iPhone: "the bashers should be careful.....remember how silly you all looked when you all predicted the iPhone’s demise in that period before it went on sale." It's definitely worth a read:

The Apple iPad: First Impressions - Pogue’s Posts Blog - NYTimes.com
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Friday, January 22, 2010

"The Music Biz Could Cure Its Ills In One Week" According To Radiohead

Ed O'Brien of Radiohead had some amazing things to say at the Midem Conference. Check it out on the paidContent:UK website:

Radiohead: The Music Biz Could Cure Its Ills In One Week | paidContent:UK

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year 2010!

I don't know about you, but for me, 2009 was a pretty good year. For instance, I have always dreamed of teaching at Berklee, and now here I am, exactly 10 years after receiving my doctorate!

2009 was a banner year for indie music as well. Even though "indie music" has been co-opted by the mainstream to some extent, we are finally beginning to see the emergence of a "musical middle class." Artists are now able to reach an audience without the aid of a record label, and some are actually make a living without donning a paper hat!

I have recently seen several predictions stating that the major labels will finally "get it" in 2010. I don't agree. I think they have found their niche, and they will stick with it. As long as there are pre-teens consuming "High School Musical" sequels, and adults watching "American Idol," the labels will survive. They will have to learn to live with being smaller, and they will never again see the runaway profits of yore.

I predict that we will see the continued emergence of the musical middle class in 2010. I believe we will also continue to see new and innovative distribution channels for music, although we are probably several years away from seeing any of them achieve dominance.

It's an exciting time to be a musician, and I can't wait to see what the future brings. Happy New Year!
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