Monday, January 26, 2009

Out of boredom and unwarranted sense of obligation

So, Keith (and Sarah) have been sick all weekend; here's hoping they get to feeling better.

I installed an 18" stage in the studio to get Keith's drums off the ground.

My oldest brother turned me on to the Dilbert Blog ( ). Scott Adams has a unique way of looking at things (reminds me of Freakonomics). I've been reading it daily and it caused me to have a pretty long daydream about the direction of the entertainment industry, and in particular the way the music industry is changing.

Geoff Emerick (the guy who recorded the Beatles, whose book I recently finished) said a lot of interesting things about how music has changed since the dawn of digital technology. The one thing he said that stood out most was that basically, the music industry has become flooded with mediocre product. Because, for around $2500, anyone can get ahold of the equipment necessary to make a record, tons of people who otherwise would never have recorded music have been able to record and market their songs virtually the same way as anyone with a record deal. (Emerick's main complaint about this was that there will never be another Beatles because the record labels are forced to get immediate returns on their investments, which prevents them from developing promising acts over multiple albums. These days, if a band doesn't blow up on their first major release, they're tossed aside for the next big thing.)

Think about this: after I get off work today, I can go home, go into my studio, and record an acoustic song. Within a couple of hours, I can edit out the silences and mistakes, add various vocal effects and have a finished "product". It would take me about 30 seconds to compress that to an MP3 file and have it posted on the internet, where anyone in the world can access it instantly for free. This is great for mediocre choades like me, but bad for lower tier professionals and REALLY bad for the major labels.

Music is, at it's core, simple math. There are a finite combination of notes and tones that you can put together to make music. When you filter it down to the combination of notes and sounds that the average person would find appealling, you get down to a pretty limited set. When you filter that down to the very few instruments that people are used to hearing, and into the genre that the paying public wants to hear, and you're talking a VERY small package of ways you box up music and sell it.

If you had a giant database of every hit song ever written, and had them broken down into what chord progressions they were made up of, I bet you could take any new song that hits the radio, plug it into the database, and get multiple songs that have the exact same combination of basic melody and rhythm. What I'm getting at is that there are no new songs. Music, and rock music in particular, is a mature industry. You're not going to make improvements on the existing products. All you're going to do is re-package the stuff that's already out there and do a better job of selling it. (This is one reason I've always been so infatuated with vocal quality--the human voice is, imo, the only popular instrument in modern music that is incredibly unique to the person playing it.)

Anyway, these are mainly just a serious of fairly obvious and exhausted observations. But one thing I've taken from them is that I think that in the future, the demand dollars allocated to the music industry will continue to gravitate toward concerts and away from recordings. I think what you'll see because of this is an increase of middle-tier acts and a decrease in the number of bands doing world and national tours. It's just too expensive for the labels to promote these bands nationally to sell out medium sized venues like Stubb's, when a guy like Bob Schneider, with virtually no advertising expenses, can sell out that place once a month for eternity.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Various Topics

The Band: Kenny is gonna come over this Thursday and we're supposed to re-record the vocals for the 4 demo tracks.

The Studio: I put up the trim and some guitar wall mounts yesterday. Tomorrow I'm going to install a stage in the back of the room to get Keith's drumset off the ground so it's not so loud outside. I'm in the process of acquiring filing cabinets to store mics, cables, etc. and to make a desk for the recording console.

Miscellany: Every day I go to work, there's a bum on the corner of Braker and 35. Not the same one, but there's always one there. I made a vow after I got back from Iraq that I would give food or money to every homeless person I saw. Well, they finally broke me. I just can't do it anymore. I've always tried to sympathize with homeless people because I look back on my own life and think that there were a few crucial moments where if things had gone just a little differently, I'd be right where they are. I'm a very lazy person; quite possibly the laziest in Travis County, which puts me in the running for laziest worldwide. I often wonder what a bum's life is like. Sometimes I daydream about being a bum; wandering from town to town, getting in adventures, no responsibilities...the ultimate "living in the moment". I'm pretty sure that's not really how it is.

Somewhere I read that like 85% of bums are either severely mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or both. The remaining 15% are the folks who totally opted out of society. Those are the bums whose lives I romanticize. But this weekend, I think I lived just like they live, except I was inside instead of outside. I slept 15 hours on Saturday and another 13 on Sunday. Not only did I not leave my house, I wasn't even standing up for more than 2 hours between Saturday and Sunday. I would imagine bums lives are pretty routine. You sleep, eat, and find ways to entertain yourself. I would bet a typical Austin bum sleeps an average of 12 hours per day. For the 12 hours they're awake, their time is spent eating, begging, or entertaining themselves. Some might argue that bums spend a lot of time travelling, but those aren't bums; those are called hobos. I don't know what the point of this is. Maybe it's just to get it off my chest that I daydream about being a homeless person.

I'm reading a book I got for christmas about Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer for the Beatles. It's awesome. First of all, I love biographies. Second, I love music. Third, I'm starting to get really interested in the art of recording. I'm far from a voracious reader, so a book really has to be down my alley for me to finish it, much less devour 300 pages in less than 2 days.

I've read a biography of the Beatles before. I've sort of ignored the Beatles for a long time, for various reasons. First, they were way before my time. Second, my parents didn't listen to a lot of Beatles while I was growing up. They had the Imagine soundtrack, which features 20 excellent Beatles' selections, but other than that, they weren't big fans. Lastly, the Beatles were just too big for my tastes. I was always kind of scared I'd get into the Beatles really heavy and realize that most of my favorite bands are just copycats.

Anyway, this guy Geoff Emerick did a pretty good job of describing what it was like recording the Beatles. He also does a very good job explaining many of the common recording processes and terms so that anybody can understand them. Many of the methods he used are totally obsolete now due to digital technology, but the art of capturing and mixing sound hasn't changed. The book's not perfect; he is totally on his own and Paul McCartney's nuts, and really dogs pretty much everyone else. Personally, here are my thoughts on the Beatles: Paul McCartney was the true musical genius behind them, but Lennon was crucial because he provided balance. Harrison was a decent musician, but nowhere near the songwriter the other two were. That being said, "Here Comes the Sun" ranks in my top 10 Beatles songs. Ringo is a humongous douche and from all acounts was not as nice or easygoing as he fashioned his image to be. Generally, John Lennon, as much as I love him, was overrated and McCartney was underrated--at least in terms of contribution to the Beatles' quality of music. Yoko Ono did not break up the Beatles; being way too big for too long broke them up. It's only a matter of time before a machine running at that velocity breaks down. Now, that being said, I'm pretty sure Yoko Ono was a crazy voodoo style bitch. No one could survive being that famous for that long--shit, look at Michael Jackson, and divide that by 4, and that's what happened to the Beatles. The same things destroyed them that end many a good thing: drugs, women, and money (basically, greed).

Anyway, there are some things I've taken from this book that I plan to use once I start recording. First, I've decided that I only need one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, and one amp. Having a signature sound is not only cool, but cheap. Second, pretty much every song I record, I'd like to have some kind of vocal harmony. This is constantly mentioned in the book as one of the things that set the Beatles apart.

I had a laundry list of non-Stevenson Road related topics I was going to blog about today, but it looks like this post is already starting to drag on, so we'll save those for another time.

Thanks for reading, have a great week.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Same ol'


So, Keith and Kenny re-recorded the guitar and drums for the 4 songs we are going to have on the demo. This Thursday I'm going to do the vocals. The goal is to have a 4 song demo ready by the end of the month and start pounding the downtown Austin pavement trying to acquire gigs.

Also, the studio now has a mini-fridge, so we have cold beer on the ready at all times.

I'm essentially 3 items away from having the necessary gear to start recording myself: a Sennheiser 421 microphone ($379), a DigiDesign 003 recording interface with ProTools LE ($1300), and a mid-range desktop computer ($500). I can sell some of my extra gear to buy the mic and CPU, but the interface is gonna be a big expenditure. Once I have it, I'd like to add a feature to the weekly blog post where I put up audio of our practice or a song we wrote.

Hope all is well. See yens.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy 2009 everybody. With the holidays being so busy and not much going on with the band, I haven't posted in awhile. I should be back to posting every Monday now.

We got our unmastered 4 track demo back from the guy who recorded us last week. I think we recorded 6 songs total, and I can't remember which ones they were. The tracks we got back were Down Here Together, Waste My Time, Ten Feet Tall, and How Do You Like Me Now. I'll probably post one of the songs next Monday.

I'm not all that happy with how they turned out. On the one hand, I shouldn't expect much since we were getting this all for free, but on the other, I was really hoping for a demo that I felt comfortable giving out. This isn't that. Unless I win the lottery, I think the way for us to go is to record it ourselves.

Other than that, not much is going on. Keith and I practiced last week and tried out a couple of new songs that sound promising. Until we have a good demo, we're pretty much stuck in neutral.

Anyway, that's all I got for now. Thanks for reading. Take care.