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Why I Still Buy Music

19 April 2014 in [blog]

Besides supporting the artists who make it:

“What does it mean if your own personal music is being stored in a platform that’s hard for you to access, hard for you to download, has source code you can’t tweak, you can’t port it to something else if it gets bought by Murdoch’s tentacles?” The word “cloud”… acts as a form of linguistic wallpaper masking the fact that digital copies of “your” music are in fact somewhere amidst vast server farms in places like Maiden, North Carolina; Ashburn, Virginia; Singapore; New South Wales, and Victoria, Australia; and Dublin, Ireland, subject to the terms of impossibly long end-user licensing agreements and to disappearance without notice.

From Station to Station: The Past, Present, and Future of Streaming Music by Eric Harvey. Opening quote from Jace Clayton (DJ/rupture)

I would be heartbroken to lose albums I love to a platform or ELA agreement; it’s not worth the risk of that, to me, to move to any kind of streaming service.  I continue to buy music (on CD, even, for albums I know I like and will want to hear in high fidelity).

In addition to these reasons, I have a lot of material that’s not available on streaming services.  That includes things I’ve recorded myself, files I’ve recorded from vinyl, and tons of local music.  Google Play would address this issue, but it’s the only service I know of that would, and the other issues remain.

(The quote above is just a small part of a fantastic article that covers many facets of the streaming phenomenon, both positive and negative.  Read it if you can!)

Have you tried, or switched to, a streaming service?  If so, how do you like it?  If not, why not?

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Need an amp tech near KC?

12 April 2014 in [blog]

If so, contact Will via Bentley Guitar Studios in Parkville.  Recently I gave him a bunch of trouble with my amp, and he provided good advice, fixed the problem, kept me posted throughout, and gave me a fair – actually, generous – shake on the price.

Plus, downtown Parkville is nice on a Saturday afternoon, with some restaurants and shops in a very walkable area.

It should go without saying, but doesn’t any more, that this recommendation is genuine and I am not being compensated in any way for it; I just had a great experience.

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Bear in Boots

28 March 2014 in [blog]

We took a lot of boots out of her apartment this week.  She liked boots.

I don’t remember if I cast her as Mae in …Boots (the album) before or after her diagnosis.  It was around that time, either way.  In the story Mae has died, offscreen, before the story really starts.  So it was a little weird to have Mary singing the part in the context of such sickening news.

Together at Depeche Mode in Chicago, August 2013

But it would have been weirder to change her part just because she had cancer.  It was the right part for her voice, we both knew it, and damn it we were going to make this record the way it wanted to be made.

That’s kind of how it’s been with the whole thing, near five years of watch and wait and drugs and doctors and travel and work and friends and family.  The odds were always long; long enough I knew she didn’t want me to look them up, and I never did.  They caught up with her last Thursday.

It would have been weirder, and worse, to change our relationship around the cancer than it was to mostly carry on.  She built a life she loved and needed to continue, and I embraced my role in making that happen.  We kept up the relationship we would have had without it, just keeping tabs on it occasionally.

When I hear her sing Mae as I am now I’ll think of her bravery, but without making a monument of it.  She, quite consciously, did not battle cancer; to fight would have been to fall to its level.  She brazenly asserted the reality of her experience – hardworking, fancy, full of friends, loving, rooted in Nebraska, transplanted and thriving in Chicago, maybe somewhat calculating or brusque to some (she had no patience for those who would waste her time),* sparkly, ethereal – over the terrible fact of some small gene gone rogue.

* As her brother, I can’t let you think she was perfect or anything,** and it’s certainly a pot / kettle / black situation

** But she was close

One of her medical staff told me that she’d had someone dear to her diagnosed with cancer, and she never saw them again, though they had lived for two more years.  They became their disease.  She said Bear had pulled off the reverse, in a way she’d never seen before; in her love, her friends, her work, she became more and more herself.

I’d have given her Mae on …Boots in any case.  But I might have mixed her voice a little higher than I otherwise would, knowing that one day – a day I hoped was farther in the future than today, but feel lucky didn’t come a year ago, or two, or three, as it could have – I’d be listening to it as I am.  With gratitude and heartbreak.  Loss, and good memories.

She’d hate that I’m writing anything about this.

I hate that I know that, and I’m writing anyway.  That she’s not here to not return my calls for a few weeks, while she deals with the embarrassment I’m causing.  To hear Ventura and the Mars Lights LP and tell me about Sarah and Al and Ben and projects in Africa and what she’s listening to and where she’s going next.  Words fail.

“Into the Fire” has come on.  I’m not ready to hear it.

I will always love you, kid.  -h

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We Finished Recording Ventura Yesterday

16 March 2014 in [blog]

Thanks to Cari Ann, Drew, Kate, Charlie, Matt, Jess, Jill, and Tim, who provided a combination of gang vocals and logistical support, we finished the final tracking for Ventura last night.  (And had a pretty good party, to boot.)

Mixing is well underway and sounding great, and it will be easy to slide these parts into the mixes along with the singing the Lincoln crew did a couple months ago.

Get ready!

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Get Off My Lawn!

8 March 2014 in [blog]

When you listen to as much music as I do, you acquire your preferences.  Preferences that, in turn, can become annoyances when they’re not met.

Here are two of mine.


1. Double albums that aren’t long enough to need the second disc

Example offenders:

Baroness, Yellow and Green (runtime: 74:59)

Arcade Fire, Reflektor (runtime: 75:12)

Hammers of Misfortune, Fields/Church of Broken Glass (runtime: 70:53)

HammersOfMisfortune-FieldsChurchI like all three of these albums.  But, why?  Why are these double-disc releases, when all of the music would obviously fit on one 80-minute CD?

Art, schmart; vinyl LPs were sequenced to sound good around the break required to flip the record over, and we do just fine when they’re on one disc.  (Hell, my copy of Exile on Main St. is a single disc for a double-LP! Four whole sides!!)  Your sequencing is not too good or too special or too important or a damn CD.

Baroness, you’re the worst of this bunch.  Not only is the second half of your project on a separate disc, it has a four-and-a-half minute introduction to boot!  If you’re going to do this, at least do us right, like Foo Fighters, who put more than 80 minutes of music on In Your Honor I & II.

DownloadedFileThere must be some industry rules or accounting that explain this.  I hope so; otherwise, the level of artistic pretentiousness required to put a completely unnecessary second disc in everyone’s copy of the record is just too irksome.

2. Songs that fade out

I know some of you love fade-outs.  One person told me that when a song fades out at the end, they feel like it “goes on forever.”

Not for me; it goes on my list of bands who were too unimaginative to come up with an ending that added something to the song.  There are so many options: have a tight ending, an outro with a new part, a solo, everybody back off playing and fade naturally, or fade just some instruments (the drums, or everything but lead guitar) and let that instrument end it.  Those are just off the top of my head.  Do something, don’t just give up 90% of the way through your song!

You want something that goes on forever?  Put a locking groove at the end of your side of vinyl.  (Expo 70′s done a great job on this.)  That is cool, and it does something interesting in that it makes you, the listener, actively stop the record instead of it coming to a stop on its own (cassette, digital, vinyl) or starting over at the beginning (CD).

What gets your goat musically?

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If You Had Just Three Mics

1 March 2014 in [blog]

The three I’ll talk about would be great for all kinds of recording.  I have plenty of experience getting the most out of a few affordable mics, and if I were starting over building a home recording rig, these would be my first three.  Let my experience save you some time, money, and headaches.

re320 Electro-Voice RE-320 – This go-to dynamic mic sets a solid baseline sound for almost any sound source – vocals, amps, acoustic instruments – and is my favorite kick drum mic (with the EQ switch engaged) to boot.




DV019_Jpg_Regular_276668_web_compSennheiser e 609 silver – Drew and I love this dynamic mic on guitar cabinets and snare drum.




DV016_Jpg_Large_583081_shockmountedMXL R144 – I confess; my experience with ribbon mics is limited.  However, it’s the bang-for-your-buck on the R144 that vaults it onto this list.  It provides a detailed, live, balanced sound, and the figure-8 pattern is handy in the studio.  There have been some concerns about quality control regarding the affordable, mostly Chinese-manufactured ribbon mics that have come onto the scene, so while my experience has been really good, be aware of that.

Here’s how I’d typically use these mics for all kinds of sounds:

Vocals – Set up the RE-320 and R144 side-by-side at the singer’s mouth level (standard positioning) with the diaphragm and ribbon in line (i.e. the mics in phase), with a pop filter and the singer 12-18 inches away.  In the mix I’d start with the levels about equal, though I’d experiment with bringing one or the other forward to see if that worked better.

Drums – RE-320 on the kick opposite where the beater strikes the batter head, 6-18 inches from the resonant head.  e 609 on the snare, however you like your snare close-mic’d.  R144 in a drummer’s shoulder, overhead, or front-of-kit position, whatever sounds best and gives you the level of ambience you want (shouder = least ambience, front-of-kit = most ambience).  You’ll be amazed at the full, detailed drum sound you can get with just these three mics; much better, I think, to spend your money on the EV and MXL mics than get one of those sets of six or more cheaper drum mics that let you close-mic everything, but with lower quality.

Electric guitars – e 609 close up on the speaker cabinet in your favorite position, R144 three to six feet back, centered on the speaker configuration.  This combination will give you a great guitar sound, and you can mix the R144 up or down to affect the presence and space of the guitar in the mix.

Acoustic guitars – Play with a combination of the RE-320 and R144 in different positions (watch phase!), though either one on its own will do a good job, too.  Emphasize one or the other in the mix.

Bass guitar – Put the RE-320 on the speaker cabinet, and also take a direct line in from the bass.  I use the 320 as my main sound in the mix, and bring in just enough of the direct line to support the mic sound.

“Wait, what about the Shure SM57?!!”

It’s a workhorse, I agree, but both Drew and I prefer the e 609 for the classic ’57 applications; snare and guitar cabinet.

“Not a single condenser mic?!?”

I love condensers.  My go-to is a Rode NT-1 that I’ve had for a long time and am happy with, so I’m not super up-to-speed on what’s out there now, and I might make a different choice today if I were buying a first condenser mic.  But for a small, affordable mic locker to do the best job possible on all the applications above, I’ve found the RE-320 + R144 combination to be superior to anything we can do similarly with our condenser mics from the same price range.

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Mixing Ventura

22 February 2014 in [blog]

Ventura is recorded, with the tiny exception of some gang vocals that I’ll be reaching out to KC folks to help with in a few weeks.  As I’ve been finishing up the guitar leads, I’ve been mixing one song, creating a template of sorts that I’ll use as a foundation for the other tunes.  That’s coming along nicely, too, so while there’s a lot of mixing to do, I expect it to go smoothly.  I just need to give it the time.

Jill’s been giving me hell about whether it will ever be finished, but I feel like we’re still on track for a summer release (which is perfect for the album).

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Free Music from Your Library

15 February 2014 in [blog]

Did you know that both of my library systems, the Kansas City Public LIbrary and the Mid-Continent Public LIbrary, provide access to a music streaming and download service called Freegal?  Your local library may, too, or subscribe to a similar service.

Freegal lets users download up to five DRM-free songs per week, so as a patron (and taxpayer) in both systems, I can just about get a free album every week.  Not bad.  It seems like the Freegal library focuses on more recent releases, and only from specific record labels, but I’ve found plenty of music I wanted: Nine Inch Nails, The Twilight Singers, Phoenix, High on Fire, and Baroness, just for a few examples.  All I need is my library card number and PIN.

I’m sure services like these came about in response to Napster and piracy in general.  Does anyone know if they have a measurable effect in reducing piracy?

Log in to Freegal with your KC Public Library card / Log in to Freegal with your Mid-Continent Public Library card

Check your library’s website for details.

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Fugazi Live Series Lincoln Arrives

8 February 2014 in [blog]

FLS0992_Gavin-JensenI saw Fugazi in Lincoln on April 17th, 2001 – great show! – so since the band announced the live series a little over two years ago, I’ve had a browser tab open on that show’s page, waiting for it to go live.  (I even scanned and submitted my ticket stub, which you can see if you click on the poster, then click “Next.”)  A couple of weeks ago, it finally did.

Was it worth the wait?  I knew it would be.  It didn’t bring back specific memories of particular moments, like some of my bootlegs do, but it’s a blast to listen to.  Listening reinforces the image in my mind of standing in the middle of the crowd, the band on stage in the wide room with the low-ceiling, Guy’s SG, the tendons in Ian’s neck, and how happy I was not to have to worry about any moshing.

I had only been checking the page every few months, and even had done so in early January, but checked back again the other week after a conversation with my colleague Julie.  She’d asked what Mars Lights sounded like and I cited Fugazi and the Stooges as major reference points.  She turned out to be a Fugazi fan who had seen several KC-area shows, so I told her about the Live Series, we looked up her shows (one of which is available), I checked back on mine, and – ! – there it was.

Did you see Fugazi?  Is your show up on the Live Series, and if so, have you checked it out?

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Tim’s Instrument-Making

1 February 2014 in [blog]

Tim‘s been making flutes for a couple of years.  This week he finished his first ukelele and put it up for sale in his Etsy shop, and it looks amazing.

Tim's uke

The body is a cigar box; how rad is that?!

I’m impressed by Tim’s attention to detail and the amount of time and energy he spends on his instruments.  Take a look at the flutes for sale; he’s spent hours and hours experimenting with how to size a piece of bamboo to play in a certain key, the size and spacing of the finger holes for precise tuning and playing comfort, and learning how to make them sturdy.

Whether you’re a potential buyer or just checking out the photos and details of how these instruments were made, spend a minute at his shop.  You’ll learn something cool.