Monday, June 27, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Wishbone and Isle Dauphine

As I wait to see how the last song does on Song Fight!, I should take the time to get caught up on a post or two (and yes, get back to the next recording). I never did do a tools-of-the-trade for Wishbone, so I'll cover them both, which is probably best as I've covered a fair bit previously.


Rock Hard Funk drum loop collection from Beta Monkey
Fender Precision (on Variax Bass) directly into audio interface
Intro: Martin D28 (Variax) into tube pre-amp (HD500)
Main Guitar: Fender Stratocaster, bridge pickup (Variax) into Gibson EH-185 (HD500)
Chorus/solo guitar: 2004 Limited Edition Les Paul Standard into Dr. Z Route 66 w/ Tube Screamer and Tremolo (HD500)

Fender PrecisionMartin 1966 D-28 (2898-6)Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster - Front

I initially composed Wishbone on my acoustic guitar, which led me to include the acoustic intro (however, the Variax acoustic model was used for simplicity's sake).  This is also the first time I decided to break out one of the prizes in my meager guitar collection: my 2004 Limited Edition Les Paul Standard. It felt natural to use this for a ZZ Top-inspired tune, making sure to give its tone plenty of bite.

Isle Dauphine

Jazz Essentials I drum loop collection from Beta Monkey
Kay Maestro M-1 upright (on Variax Bass) directly into audio interface
Guitars (all Variax and HD500)
Acoustic: Martin 0-18 into tube preamp
Banjo: Gibson Mastertone banjo into tube preamp
Electric: Danelectro 3021, tuned to Open C, into a Fender Bassman

1964 Kay M-1 Upright BassMartin 1956 0-18 Shaded Top (3052-2)Gibson 1926 TB-3 Mastertone Plectrum (4094-5)

Again, I started composing this one acoustically. The deep, rumbling electric guitar tone was not at all what I initially had planned, but when I remembered I had a setting on my Variax in Open C tuning (the song is in C minor), I thought I'd give it a shot.

One of the members on the Song Fight! forums suggested that a "megaphone effect" for the vocals might have been neat, in the vein of Tom Waits. I wish now that I had taken a second to try that. I suspect it would have been a good addition.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Firefox fixed!

For anyone who noticed the last song wasn't showing up properly - along with everything on the Music page - when using Firefox, I believe I've fixed it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Song is In, And The Fight Is On

Well, this is it, the outcome of a week's effort (well, spare time that is) to take part in a Song Fight! battle.  I was planning to wait until the song showed up on their website, but I decided I might as well go ahead with the post. There was no point in doing it last night, either; everybody was watching the hockey game, and then any potential readers I might have in Vancouver were busy setting fires (what, too soon?).

Isle Dauphine

Creative Commons License

I think the reason I was drawn to the title for this SF! battle was because I remembered Dauphine Street from the French Quarter in New Orleans. The song was initially more uptempo when I first came up with the chords, but it settled into a darker, slower feel more along the lines of "St. James Infirmary Blues". If I end up deciding this song is worthwhile returning to in the future, I'd love to get horns and piano in there for a better dixieland jazz sound. At least I managed to work in some banjo.

Isle Dauphine is actually the name of a golf club on Dauphin Island, which is on the Alabama coast. When the island was discovered in the 17th century by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, he originally dubbed it "Isle Du Massacre" when he stumbled across a large pile of skeletons (it turned out later that it was just a burial ground broken open by a hurricane). Now, given those two pieces of information, which would you be more likely to draw material from?

I kind of feel like it unconsciously borrowed a bit from The Law Did Rise. The vocals are somewhat alike in their phrasing, and the song structure has some similarities. They're even thematically similar in their tales of caution. Don't get a zombie to fight your battles, they'll eat you afterwords. Don't overindulge on your host's hospitality, or they'll kill you in your sleep and steal your transportation. Perhaps I should take up writing jingles for PSA ads.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kicking Ass and Taking Names

Were it not for the use of parentheses in the titles of the previous two posts and the concern of overuse, I would have more appropriately titled this "Kicking (My Own) Ass and Taking (On) Names".

As to the first bit, a new song will be up next Tuesday night, Wednesday night at the latest. Why the deadline? Every once in a while, I pop over to Song Fight! to see what's up. Song Fight! is a weekly/bi-weekly songwriting competition, where the you must submit a song with a provided title. I listen to the entries for the week's competition, often take part in the vote, but I have yet to enter. When I saw this week's title, I quickly got an idea in my head, so I'm going to take the plunge and put in an entry which is due on Wednesday morning. I'll have only had a little over a week - the shortest I'll ever have gone from a blank page to finished product - but it's going alright so far.  The instrument tracks have all been worked out and most of the lyrics have been written, and the recording that I've done so far has gone well. We'll see whether it stays that way; I always find the last stretch to the finish line is the worst.

Entering a songwriting competition definitely feels weird to me. I've never viewed music as a competitive act as some musicians do; I've always felt that the only person I try to outdo is myself, and that one should always view others as peers and collaborators. But this project is about trying different things, and so I will. Truthfully, it does look like those who take part are a friendly, supportive bunch, so hopefully any criticism I get out of it will be constructive (though I can take some trash talk if it's dished out).

As to the second half of the post's title, I'm still trying to decide what to enter the competition as. My own name? The Uncomfortable Project? An alias/stage name? I wasn't expecting to encounter this question for a while yet. I'm still very much in the process of figuring out what to do with the music I'm creating. Does it all fit together? Are there distinct voices being encountered that would be better suited to being under separate umbrellas? Will it work with just me, or is it something that I'm going to need to collaborate with other musicians on to reach something of real substance, and should therefore present as if it were a band/group?

I know it may seem like I'm over-thinking this - and perhaps I am at this stage - but the reality is it can make a difference. Once a choice has been made about 'who' you present your work to the world as, it can be difficult to make changes without losing the history you've built up, and conversely it can also be difficult to shake your past if you want to switch gears a bit. That's not to say it can't be done; Colin James, for example, has no problem juggling his rock, blues, and swing ventures. But I'd say that's more the exception than the norm.

I think for now it'll probably end up just being submitted as 'The Uncomfortable Project' until I get a better handle on what I'm doing. In any case, I've got my work cut out for me. Time to get back to it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Future of Music (Biz), Part II

Okay, final set of 'mystery' questions (and answers); as I said before, I'll explain more where these came from soon.

From an economist’s perspective, is filesharing/piracy hurting artists, or just labels (or is it hurting anyone)?

Does it hurt artists? I'd say that the benefits likely outweigh the harm. Neil Gaiman has argued - as quite a number of artists have come to do - that obscurity is a far greater danger to artists than the piracy of their work, and I'm inclined to agree. An artist's greatest assets are the loyal fans, the ones that will buy your albums (even when they clearly don't have to), come to every show they can make, and try to tell as many people about you as possible. These are the people who will truly make it possible for an artist to make a comfortable living. If five pirated songs or albums gets you even one of these, it's a net win. I'm not saying it doesn't stink to lose sales of your music, but if it gets you someone who then buys every successive thing you put out and will be a guaranteed ticket every time you visit their town? Hard to argue with that.

Does it hurt labels? Yes and no. There are a number of reports and studies that more sales are being made as a result of artist discovery through filesharing, so if anything they are bringing in more money. This fits with what Gaiman describes. If this is resulting in adding loyal fans at the expense of 'casual' fans (I'll apply this label as someone who only buys a single track on iTunes that gets played on the radio, or doesn't get interested enough to warrant going to shows or buying merchandise), the label can also expect and look forward to follow-on sales and income from other revenue sources.

On the other hand, this won't continue if they insist on pushing back against piracy in a way that insults or harms the customer - or the artists, for that matter. Many of us remember Sony's rootkit debacle. Many of us have a good laugh at the "You wouldn't steal..." PSA ads before we see a movie in the theater... A MOVIE WE JUST PAID FOR! We're also seeing more artists - even highly successful ones like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead - proving that independence can actually work fairly well. If the customers become increasingly frustrated with the actions of the labels and want to engage with the artist they love directly, and the artist becomes increasingly frustrated by the restrictive, profit-hungry attitudes of the label and want to engage with the fans directly, labels are going to feel the sting as they get eliminated as a middleman.

What are the efficiency breakthroughs that we have yet to discover, who’s going to figure out how to profit from this shakeup?

This is a tough one; the Internet has already allowed huge advances in efficiency. The ability to distribute, find and purchase content on the web is lightening fasts and cost virtually nothing. Features like Eventual Demand now make it so that an artist can know exactly where it's worth going and what size of venue they will need; no more wasted trips and half-empty venues.  Sites like Kickstarter can take the risk out of capital-heavy investments like recording and touring.

The one place I think there might be a need is a way to pull in all the information in this new landscape. There's a lot going on that isn't being tracked, money that's not being counted. As a result it can be harder for new businesses to start up and take part in this climate when it's difficult to generate numbers for a business case.

Other than that, I can't think of anything specific; if I had, I'd probably be tearing around the house right now, attempting to find the quickest means to perform a brain dump of this fantastic, profitable idea.

How can we rethink antiquated intellectual property laws in a way that continues to “promote the progress of science and useful arts?

This is a question I often ponder. As much as I rail against what the current state of copyright and intellectual property protection has become, I can't deny that artists should be the ones who decide what rights they give and what rights they reserve, and that those rights for both parties need to be protected.

I think one real big problem in the current system is the all-or-nothing approach that the law and organizations around intellectual property are set upon. You either reserve all rights, or you give up all rights rights.  The some-rights-reserved model, such as the Creative Commons licenses, is something they don't want to touch; in fact, once you've released something under CC-license for non-commercial purposes, you'll often have a hard time finding a collection organization such as SOCAN or ACAP that would deal with you if you want to license it for commercial purposes. On a positive note, there has been some evidence that CC-licenses are at least being properly, legally recognized.

In the end, it ultimately comes down to protecting the value to the rights holder without that protection serving to eliminate any value it has to the public, which is what we're seeing now. If the true value in an information economy is familiarity and availability rather than scarcity, then perhaps the laws need to focus on how to make sure intellectual property is properly attributed rather than making sure it isn't distributed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Playing Mr. Dressup with the Blog

Just trying out a new look.  Feel free to post a comment letting me know whether you like it or hate it.