Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Technology Makes Us Assholes but Love is the Solution so it might be ok…I think.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Technology Makes Us Assholes but Love is the Solution so it might be ok…I think.

Louis CK has it right in his assessment of the “meh” generation. We live in the most amazing, technologically advanced and privileged time in human history, but everyone is bored. We all know we are the benefactors of ages of human struggle and advancement. We all know how lucky we are to have been born in this time, over any other time. So what is with us?

Life is a gift and the real world, the one outside of our laptop’s, iphone’s, netflix, tablet, twitter feed blah blah blah is this amazing place full of beauty, knowledge, creativity, experiences. etc. Its relatively safe here. All of the essentials to our survival are in abundance. Nonessential things created by people to improve the quality of our time here, also in masses of abundance. How much more awesome do things need to get before people notice.

Technology brings positive things obviously, but the negative things are often invisible. The culture of “meh” is an effect of the media environment. With all of the amazing things that technology has given us (Euphonic Sound for one LOL) it has also changed us into creatures our grand parents would barely recognize as fellow humans (lucky for them they don’t have to see this).

In my life instead of worrying about being eaten by lizards or gathering food during regular outbreaks of starvation, I exist in a world that allowed me to play music, build audio gear and a recording studio, study music and production, etc. I’m able to dedicate my life to a non-essential thing. Don’t get me wrong music is extremely essential at making the world a better place to live, but its not a basic like food, shelter, air , water, fire. Most of human existence before us (and still the reality of billions today in other parts of the world) didn’t have the luxury to make such “frivolous’ life choices. So why are we such un-impressed narcissistic assholes? And what can be done about it?

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan said, to paraphrase; Study the media to gain an understanding of it’s effects. Once you do that, program a response or counter measure. In the current case we are not doing that (we’ve never done that in a meaningful way). Instead we just say “meh.” We are given “meh” and we feel “meh.”

But not artists and creative types right? I don’t know about that, as much as I love musicians (especially the ones in Toronto) I see a lot of bored looking cats going through the motions. I don’t think any of us are immune to the effects of the media environment. Its when I see “meh” culture invading the personalities of the people I’ve always loved most, musicians, that I feel the need to talk about this.

This notion of, everyones an asshole now, is best introduced through humour (from Louis CK, a comedian, who is an artist, who by definition is ahead of the curve). It is the purpose of art to guide human existence safely through its development. McLuhan said that art is like a Noah’s Arc and that artists were like the antennae of the human species. There is a message in Louis bit that we need to get.

With a new awareness we have to try to not let our gadgets and media access turn us into narcissists. At the heart of it love is the counter measure. And we all have to design our own unique application of the love solution. You will know you are onto something when you start becoming less narcissistic and more giving and involved with other people doing things you and they love. We can’t be assholes, the future of humanity is depending on us not to be now. If you are already not an asshole, still try to be even less of one, but pretty much continue on in your efforts :)

A true study of the world we live in involves things McLuhan discussed (Today known as Media Theory or Media Ecology. Or just, study of environment). Media literacy and awareness of its effects points out solutions fairly obviously. What is not obvious is what the real effects of the media environment are. This has had people misunderstanding the problem and chasing after the wrong solutions since McLuhan pointed it out in the 1950s. Go down a rabbit hole of amazing environmental knowledge and study some Media Ecology (start with Marshall McLuhan’s book, “Understanding Media”). Or if you don’t have time for that just know this,

It’s all love or we stop being human.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Musicians getting their asses kicked by fluffy kittens

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This is one way to describe the climate of todays media environment. Musicians used to compete with other musicians for attention, now musicians compete with every distraction, curiosity, time-waster, etc. that you can think. The cute fluffily kittens are winning. Second to the kittens is every other type of animal. Goats singing, cats auto-tuned, dogs with first person voice overs by their owners, farm animals playing on a bouncy slide thingy.

Musicians you are so screwed. Your thoughtful, introspective, tuneful craft of expressing those things that are so highly personal yet aim to connect with others will never be as interesting, palatable, brief, amusing, or fun as what is being circulated by the people formally known as music fans on Facebook, twitter and youtube.

Everyone is a media channel, a reporter, a real-time autobiographer, a social commentator (look at me), and everyone would rather get attention than give attention. There used to be people who didn’t want attention, they preferred to consume not participate. But social media made it possible to participate without actually taking any risks or putting yourself “out there.” Now people participate in their under-wear from the comfort of their homes (or some other place with their smart phone. Mostly with pants on). This has lead to a new phenomenon. The people who formerly avoided attention have gotten a taste of virtual attention and now they want more. How much? It appears their is no limit.

When you post songs, thoughts, pics, videos, it feels great when people like, comment and share. You definitely are getting some attention. But once the thread dries up its over. Its forgotten. The new attention people compete so vigorously for is pretty shallow (sometimes meaningless). But we don’t care we want more of it any way.

Back to musicians. What are you going to do to win back the attention you deserve? Being head explodingly awesome is one thing. Having a relentless promo grind is another. But probably the biggest factor is time. Michael League, band leader of grammy winners Snarky Puppy, made the point that “terrible bands succeed all the time.” The flip side of that is great bands/artists quit all the time too. It’s all about time. Your social media posts will have an extremely short shelf life, but your entire career (along with its momentum and trajectory) needs to be long term. How long? Just keep going. There is no stopping. Stopping is failure. Continuing is momentum. Add time to the commitment-to-continue (and all the effort that goes with that decision) and that’s all you need. According to Michael League (and confirmed by 95% of successful mainstream music) you don’t even need talent. Just the determination to continue working indefinitely.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truths – Kids

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This post is not about the mainstream music industries obsession with youth. I usually don’t write very much about the mainstream music industry because it isn’t interesting to me. This post is about recording artists/musicians who have kids of their own.

My entire life I kept hearing (and I still hear) that the best way a musician can end his/her career is to have a kid(s). Now that I have been a father for two years I feel its an appropriate time to call bullshit on that.

Having a kid has made me more focused than ever on my music career and development. I have all kinds of new and weird thoughts I never used too. Like I need to achieve more in this industry before my son grows up so I can be an example to him on how hard work can overcome near impossible odds. I want to tell my son he can do whatever he wants in life, but how can I tell him that if I’m unable to do that myself. The stakes are higher now.

People will tell you that kids will take all of your time and basically take over your life. Not entirely true. They do take up a lot of time and they do attempt to take over your life. But you are still in control. If something is important to you than you will always find the time, money and resources to make it happen.

The truth is kids are an excellent excuse for almost anything. I use my son to get me out of all kinds of things I don’t want to do (an unexpected benefit)…”no I really did have to babysit, that is why I couldn’t come to your live show” LOL. But some musicians use their kids as an excuse to give up on a music career. The real reason is not the kid but the musician. They just don’t want it bad enough anymore. And now things are more difficult with getting up in the middle of the night to feed the kid and change the diapers.

The quitting parent musician never believed in themselves to begin with and now they have an out that makes them look like an admirable parent looking after the best interests of their offspring, instead of the scared, un-confident, quitting liar that they really are. The unpopular truth hear is that kids don’t make you quit this industry, that is an excuse and a lie. Only you with your lack of faith in yourself can make that decision.

The problem is you don’t make much money in this business. So what! Survive with less. I don’t have a car, a television, a land line, designer clothes, brand name anything. Does not having these things make life harder? Yes. Is it still possible to raise a kid with such a lack of “necessities”? Yes. Is it worth it to not sell out to the man, and to continue blazing my own music industry trail? Hell yes!!!! And will it be worth it to be an example to my son and not be a scared cowering little company man in a cubicle? We’ll see about that…but I think yes!!!

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Sonic Rite of Passage

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There is one thing that all great, high achieving musicians have in common. They all, without exception, torture themselves a little about their tone. It doesn’t matter what instrument they play. They go through a highly personalized process to find their own unique sound. Not all of what is involved in this process has to do with the actual notes and rhythmic phrases they play. A lot of this tone development process comes from the musicians gear.

Brownman Ali has had his trumpet modified a few times and he has experimented for years with different mouthpieces. In the last year or so Brown phased in an extremely large mouthpiece into his regular setup. The large mouthpiece makes it very hard to play (you need to blow much more air through the instrument to make a sound, compared to the smaller mouthpieces that help focus your air flow through the trumpet). Brown had to build up to the mouthpiece switch. When he first started using it he could only play one to three tunes a night before needing to switch back to a smaller more conventional mouthpiece. Why would he make life so hard on himself? Because of the tone. Like all great artists Brownman is a little obsessive about his tone (listen to one of his records or live show to hear the magic of what I’m talking about). Once Brown heard the darkness and warmth of tone through the large mouthpiece it was a no-brainer.

A similar process continues with all of the other gear used to capture his trumpet (mics, press, eqs, comps, also Brown’s pedal board of effects etc.). He takes his time and moves around the mic during sound check finding the sweet spots. Once he is happy with the sound, we track. After tracking Brown likes to be involved with how his trumpet is processed. He tells the engineer how to eq his sound, how much verb and compression to add. His knowledge and decisiveness about his tone is pretty unprecedented. I think it is no coincidence that the musician who’s talents I admire most in this country (who I get to collaborate with regularly) also is the most knowledgeable and involved in the process of treating his sound. I mean how many musicians are hip enough to know how to eq their instrument? Most rely on sound engineers to do that.

There are many so called musicians who walk into Long & McQuade, buy an instrument(s), plug it in and accept that as their sound. Sorry man but that is not a real musician. A real musician is engaged in a perpetual search for the ultimate tone. They will never achieved it perfectly. That is not what is important. What is important is that there is an ongoing tone search/experimentation process in place at all times.

Guitarists and bassists swapping out pickups, upgrading pots, dressing frets, changing string gauges. Not to mention all the mods and reconfigurations of amps and effects pedals. Drummers experimenting with drums made of different woods with different varieties of drum heads. They will have precision wood workers re-cut the bearing edges of the drums to improve their tone. They mess around endlessly with their hardware, constantly add in new pieces (and subtract old pieces that no longer cut it) to their set-up.

Singers, even though they don’t use as much gear, still go through a process that has them experimenting with all of the different resonant areas where you can focus the voice (the head, chest, nose). With enough work in this area a singer like Nicole Faye can dial up a specific vocal tone almost as if they had an effects rack with presets. Keyboardists, at least the great ones, are insanely geeky about their setup, libraries of sounds, hardware and software accessories, memory in their computers, organizing banks of sounds and making adjustments so the levels are consistent when switching between them. I can go on and on, but I think by now you get the point. No matter what instrument you play, how you actually sound (not just how you play) is of extreme importance. In my ears having a great and personal sound is the difference between a real musician and a tourist.

I would love to hear about the process you go through to get your sound together. What crazy stuff do you do for tone?

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Most opinions don’t matter that much

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I’ve talked about this before. Music is a funny thing where very few people (considering how many people attempt it) are any good at it (I mean really good). But EVERYBODY, I mean freaking EVERYBODY is a critic who spews endless volumes of musical criticism on a daily basis. On the one hand its great to see people listening, talking about, generally being excited about music. On the other hand all of the observations and criticisms coming from the vast majority of the music consuming public are purely subjective, not rooted in anything that comes close to an understanding of how music works, and usually done with a reckless sort of off-handed cavalier attitude with very little thought as to what is being said about whatever music is being misunderstood.

When you are in a studio environment, rehearsal or live show its normal to ask the other people present what they think of your music. What isn’t normal is to give appropriate weight to the responses. If there are musical experts (professionals) present, their opinions weigh a lot more. You should listen to those opinions. If those opinions disagree with your own self assessment than you should seek second and third opinions from other professionals at the same, or higher, level than the first professional opinion giver. Don’t let buddy who picked up the saxophone yesterday over rule the badass pro who has been playing for 20 years. That is just dumb.

Its great to receive praise. Any praise is great really. If you made a connection with someone because of a song you wrote or a performance you gave than that is awesome. Good for you. However, too much parse from non-experts can mislead you into thinking you are badass when real musicians are rolling their eyes at you. This is an actual thing called Dunning–Kruger effect (where unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate).

One of my hero’s, trail blazing political dissident badass Noam Chomsky, has talked about a negative aspect of the internet. He is referring to its tendency to be an “echo chamber.” It’s like an unguided force of nature that brings like-minded people together through blogs and social media. Like minded people come together all the time for productive and positive results. But it works the other way to. Dumb-asses get connected and have their communications streamlined all the time (god help us). I see untalented cats in Toronto that by all appearances seem to have it going on. They have such big active followings on twitter and Facebook. They are popular and well liked. They are excellent at working the social media towards promotional and personal branding ends. The only thing is they suck awful. Real musicians roll their eyes almost to the point of convulsions when they hear the crap these faux artists are producing. A social media following can easily become an echo chamber of frivolous unqualified opinion givers with the potential to mislead you into thinking you are king shit, when really you are king suck.

Here is some scholarly stuff on the matter.

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