Scales Out Of School

I got this from Scott Henderson, “Don’t use more than four consecutive notes from the same scale; you don’t wanna sound like you went to school.” He was talking about the diminished scale, but it’s true for all of them. It’s not a hard and fast rule, you could choose three or five, depending on the rhythm, but the key is the word ‘consecutive’ which means contiguous or adjacent. Say you’re ascending, when you you get to four, skip a note, slide into a note, go back downwards, repeat a note, bend it or wiggle it; better yet, throw in a rest, wait for the chord to change, maybe wait ’til after the downbeat to start the next phrase, cuz stepwise motion bores you and the audience, and don’t you tune out when someone talks in a monotone, without ever pausing for breath?

 

The late B.B. King got a lot of mileage out of this strategy, so much so, there’s a piece of the pentatonic minor scale named after him; the BB King Box. It starts three frets above the root note of the key on the high E string and includes the note two frets above it and the corresponding adjacent notes on the B string, a three fret span fingered with the index and middle finger of your fret hand. That’s it; just four notes with four corners, so we call it a box. It’s possible to solo over an entire blues progression using only these notes, plus some bends, vibrato and ingenuity. In fact, it’s a terrific exercise in phrasing and economy; you almost can’t help but come up with cool new phrases, just so as not to die from boredom, and it teaches us how limits can drive creativity.

 

Here’s the kicker; this isn’t just a soloing strategy; it’s also great for building riffs. The first seven notes in Derek & The Dominoes’ Layla is played in a similar ‘box’ on the A and D strings at the third and fifth frets. Note that after the fourth ascending stepwise note, the riff descends to the second note, turns again and nails the third note. The galloping riff for Whole Lotta Love adds a slide, but utilizes this same fretboard shape, as do many other classic riffs. Now you know how to box, go find the boxes that are three frets apart. Hint: Layla’s lead riff is one, and it’s on the B and high E strings.

Rocket Surgery

The amount of training, manual dexterity and left-right brain integration required to become a brain surgeon or a musician is actually very similar. The only major differences are that someone has to sign off on a brain surgeon’s qualifications and the brain surgeon needn’t own (nor purchase) his own tools. Well, that and if I inadvertently hit a Bb in the middle of a C major scale, nobody gets paralyzed. (also, you can be a perfectly average brain surgeon and still make really good money) I also take issue when people refer to the music biz as a lottery; the music industry has nothing in common with a lottery other than the occasional unexpectedly large payouts, because anyone with a dollar can be eligible for a lottery jackpot, while it takes years and years to grow a good musician, and even longer to grow a good songwriter. (see brain surgeon comments above)

The idea that making music is easy and fun is complete horsesh*t, but we sell it to the public because that’s what they’re buying. It’s actually as agonizing as giving birth, and then somebody comes along and steals your baby and claims it for their own OR they tell you it’s too ugly to feed and should be put out to sea on an ice floe. On some of my darker days, I begin to believe that there are people in this world that don’t deserve music, and that we should at the very least have a single day out of the year, International Music Day, when no music of any kind is allowed to be played anywhere on the planet, and all y’all can have a great time listening to nothing but the sound of the wind, some ducks and geese and a few million cheerful car horns. Of course music is a gift, but musicianship is not, it has to be earned.

The End Of Digital Music, Or Can We Save Spotify?

69f0bf9b-5ea4-4867-b7c9-234b0763360a

 

Recently I’ve seen posts decrying the end of the digital music era.  For evidence, they present basically the fact that digital downloads are toast and music streaming services are going bankrupt/losing money, some of them for years on end. Here’s my take: Amazon has had years of losses, as well. If Spotify wants to win this game, they should be hemorrhaging money even faster. Subscription rates are low because the price is too high.Think about how much a teen pays for a data plan, then your ask is ten bucks on top of that, when they can (for now) hear everything on Youtube for free?   I hear many artists screaming that their streaming royalties are too low, but I don’t hear record companies.

 

Some independents of my acquaintance are doing just dandy on their Spotify royalties, thankyouverymuch.  in my opinion, Spotify needs to take a page from the Republiicans and lower the tariff to let more goods flow, then a page from the Democrats to let the most successful artists subsidize the lesser ones so they can develop. That is essentially how the old industry worked, back when it did and wasn’t having it’s books buggered by either the Mob or Wall Street. But this can only happen with the utmost transparency, so that everybody knows that nobody is gaming the play counts; until we put a stop to that, artists will never get fairly paid.

Police Brutality, Police Stupidity And Police Murder

I hope that fans of my music posts will forgive this brief digression in the interest of healing our nation.

 

After watching yet another police representative spouting off on CNN about how blacks are, “…disproportionally [sic] represented in our prisons because they disproportionally commit crimes.”,  I’m feeling a deep need to speak out, because it’s abundantly clear to me that our current approach to reforming our criminal justice system does not work, and our broadcast news media are failing to address the real problems, in favor of fearmongering, drama and backbiting or in a word, ratings. What’s worse, they’re conflating a number of issues that have different causes and possibly very different solutions.

 

Police brutality is a concept comprised of many injustices small and large visited on poor communities, pretty much regardless of race, but it so happens most of the black and brown people live there. Redlining and unequal economic opportunity ensure that they’ll stay there and that is a matter of public policy. Police in these communities often operate outside the law, simply because they perceive that they can; if it comes to a jury, and it almost never does, who are they gonna believe, the officer or someone with a criminal history or a dodgy immigration status? The cops even have a word for what they do, “testi-lying”. Because they fear for their own lives and those of their fellow officers they cut corners, there’s a presumption of guilt, not only by white officers, and far too many in blue believe they’re above the law or even that they are the law, powers conveyed on them by no authority other than their own. As a result, people living in these communities fear and distrust the police and believe our justice system exists not to protect, but to punish them, and who can blame them? Turns out, it’s police officers, and it’s not, “just a few bad apples”, clearly this mindset is widespread in law enforcement.  Being fearful of police makes you look guilty to police; your presumed guilt on their part makes the police fearful of you. When a traffic stop spins out of control, it’s fear that’s in charge; when excessive force is applied, that’s anger. Nobody does their best thinking when they’re angry or afraid and that goes both ways.

 

These attitudes don’t happen by accident; most police departments historically preferentially hire military veterans, predominately southern and white, and currently that often means combat veterans, yet the mission of the police is very different from that of the military, and police training as it exists now does little to clear up any confusion about this in the minds of incoming officers.  If your talent pool is loaded with people from an authoritarian culture that discourages getting help for issues with anger, PTSD and mental illness, I predict trouble. Progress is being made in training officers in conflict resolution, but more needs to be done where it comes to not just minorities but the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and even dogs; yes the police also have a dog problem; they give shooting peoples’ pets even less thought than they give shooting people, and simply put, they draw their weapons way too often.

 

Police stupidity is the systemic failure of many if not most departments to acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place and when it becomes glaringly obvious, consistently choosing the most effective means of making the problem worse. Ferguson, MO has taught us what not to do; when you break out the riot shields, the helmets, the body armor, and especially the guns, you’re telling an already angry crowd that it’s time to riot; if you don’t show up in force, you don’t give them a target for rocks and bottles. Police in Minnesota felt the need for a dog and pony show of all the stuff that was tossed at them the night before, but guess what? Nobody local believes them, ’cause, where’s their videotape? They see some rocks, but they smell a rat. I would love to believe that all this unnecessary provocation of otherwise peaceful protesters was rooted in mere ignorance, but these departments know that if they can provoke a riot, they’ll get a budget increase, regardless of whether they’re in a red or blue state. Yeah, I’ve become that cynical.The Dallas PD has made tremendous strides in engagement and community policing, but there’s another problem:

 

Police murder. Nobody is talking about the young black man in Dallas whose civil rights were violated by  a black police chief, a man who apparently thought it was his job to murder an american citizen on american soil without benefit of an arrest, an arraignment, a trial or a sentence. I condemn this mentally ill young man’s actions, and I applaud the heroic performance of the Dallas PD, but they’re beside my point. How have we come to this, where no one even brings up the fact that Micah Johnson was effectively contained and the police could have simply waited him out, but instead blew him up with an IED? A black police representative, speaking on camera praised the tactic, opining that the operation was successful, because, “the right guy died.” I don’t believe he had to die and if he hadn’t, we’d have a lot more information to help us prevent further violence. If we are a nation of laws, why were they not followed? A suspect, subject, whatever you want to call him, has rights under the law and one of them is to not be gunned down or blown up by remote control; Micah Johnson may have been a terrorist, but he was also a citizen; he was  not an enemy combatant and Dallas is not Iraq; this is supposed to be the United States of America. The job of the police is to protect the people and apprehend the suspect, full stop. Deciding who lives and who dies is supposed to be above their pay grade.

The Music Business

25 cent brains

 

8c65e5de808ec301754508366480250c

There are only three legs to this steaming stool. Your consumer, your content providers, and your manufacturers/distributors/ISPs; a circle of life, if you like, where the content providers-composers, musicians, engineers, producers, editors and intellectual property speculators produce content, which is directed at consumers by channel owners, the consumers rain down the cash, and the pipeline proprietors keep it all, save for whatever negligible royalties the record companies can pry from them, leaving the writers/artists and their symbiotic parasites, performing rights organizations,the recording industry and their respective lawyers-to try to bridge the gap and close the circle, to mangle a metaphor. Overall, music revenues are on the rise, yet there are 60,ooo fewer working musicians today, than ten years ago. Clearly, something’s got to give.

At a point never before seen in history, where we have the tools to accurately, fairly and automatically compensate content providers in a transparent and friction-free fashion, why don’t we do that? The consumers can get everything for one low price, or enjoy a free tier of diminished capacity, and the manufacturers/distributors/ISPs can continue cutting backroom deals and bribing each other over shelf space and whatnot, but if they all pay a little, we all get a lot-a hopefully vibrant, lucrative and diverse music industry.  Artists need to be willing to share, too; if we don’t  subsidize our important cultural ghettoes, (jazz, classical, and I guess pretty soon, rock’n’roll, if the RRHoF is any indication) we’ll lose our soul as a nation, and that would be a shame, as we’re making some really good soul music, right about now. Maybe that’s because revenues are so low, everyone who was in it for the money has been driven out, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

We could do this, not just for the music business, but across the entire entertainment industry. Just think of all those lawyers and accountants out of work, able to enjoy free concerts in the parks.

Noises

Thus far, I’ve resisted using this blog to toot my own horn. I consciously chose to keep things educational, as opposed to personal, barring a few opinion pieces, but with the demise of Facebook, (they’re dead, they just don’t know it, yet) I’ve decided to make some changes to my online presence to make for a hopefully more well-rounded user experience on each of my sites, so here’s a little taste of what it is I do.

Mixing With A Plan

I’m often asked,”But how do you mix, exactly?” I do it exactly by ear, but I also know a couple of shortcuts. I start by getting a balance of instruments where everything in the mix can be clearly heard. If I’ve done a very good job of capturing the sounds at the source, this static, mono mix should come together very quickly; good musicians mix themselves, so the faders should be at or close to nominal, leaving headroom for any fader moves that might later be necessary. If that sounds too much like work, you could try this:

Note that I have not as yet done any surgery on individual channels other than mutes, edits and general cleanup, and maybe a digital gain adjustment, in case I  screwed up somewhere and need more of the afore-mentioned mix/fader headroom. At this point, I’ll  apply bus processing as follows:

Eight times out of ten, the above accounts for 90% of the work; the rest is level and pan automation, if necessary, and effects/adjustment thereof; again, if necessary. It’s really easy to chase yourself down a rabbit hole listening to individual channels in SOLO, so don’t do it unless you have to; the point is  to get it all sounding great together.

To The 13-Year Old Girl From Oklahoma Who Wants To Pursue A Singing Career:

Comments are closed, so in response to this:  http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2013/20130719oklahoma and some of the very bad advice that followed it…

To the 13-year old girl from Oklahoma who wants to pursue a singing career:

If you’d like to become a country music megastar, you should firstly be from Oklahoma (it’s where we got Garth and Reba) and be a girl*;  it looks like you’ve got those covered, so I’ll try to boil down what I’ve learned in my thirty-plus years as a professional musician and sometime singer. Here are my Ten Suggestions:

1.) Don’t expect it to be easy. If music comes easy to you, respect the gift by working hard at the stuff that comes harder, like business; y’know, booking, promoting, licensing; all the non-musical stuff that makes it possible to make money making music. (also, see Suggestion Eight, re spotting the signs)

2.) Take lessons; as much as you can. It takes a long, long time to grow a musician, and nobody is really ‘born this way’, no matter how many fairy tales, Hollywood movies or pop divas say otherwise.

3.) Perform, as much as you can, and especially in ensembles; music is a team sport, though you’ll never learn that from watching American Idol. Ten minutes on stage teaches you more than ten hours of rehearsal, which is better than a hundred hours of practice. And yes, you’ll still need to practice, even when you’re performing every day.

4.) Don’t expect it to pay well. In fact, you should probably go to college, just so you can learn how to survive on ramen noodles like a penniless grad student. If you become a world-class musician AND you’re well-compensated, that’s just gravy, ’cause the real rewards are in the healing power of musical communication; for some folks, applause can be an addictive drug, and you’ll be competing with these addicts, in terms of pay.

5.) Do expect that for the first third of your career, (and maybe all of it) you’ll be changing into your stage clothes in public restrooms and parking lots or in your particular case, behind the cattle barn at a 4-H fair, so invest in a good pair of boots. *By the way, this is the only reason it helps to be a girl; ninety percent of your direct competition will refuse to put up with this, let alone peeing in a bottle or beside a freeway.

6.) Understand that fame is a double-edged sword; it allows you to make exponentially better money, but it exacts a toll on your family, your privacy and your sanity. You may have few secrets at 13, but that will not always be the case.

7.) Learn an instrument; no exceptions. If you’ve learned to play an instrument at a professional level, you can never be accused of having LSD. (that stands for Lead Singer’s Disease; you can google it, it’s a thing)  Learn to harmonize, ’cause it’s most likely you’ll sing backup before you sing lead. Playing a wind instrument teaches you breath control, which is essential for good singing technique; if you can double on a rhythm section instrument like bass or drums, it increases your value in any gigging situation, resulting in more and better opportunities. You want that, right?

8.)  Learn to tell the wheat from the chaff. Sooner or later, everybody in this business gets chaff-ted; if you’re fooled the same way twice, shame on you, but you will, as The Who wrote, ‘get fooled again’, so learn to spot the signs and limit the damage.

9.) If you have a deep-seated need to be the center of attention, try to leave it on the stage. Being a diva should never mean that people have to make excuses for your offstage behavior.

10.) When soliciting career advice from strangers on the internet, always consider the source. Your parents and your teachers care about you; they have a vested interest in your potential, and they want you to be happy and safe. (so they’d rather you end up in Branson than say, Las Vegas, even though to a musician, there’s virtually no difference; when you work in nightclubs, every city is sin city) You should always listen to them and consider what they’re saying, then do what’s right for you. People in your peer group, as soon as they see you having a little success, will turn out to be a bunch of haters and naysayers whom you should mostly not listen to, like critics. Generally, you shouldn’t pay for career advice, but when you do, it’s plenty okay to ask for references, testimonials and a track record. Check your ego, follow your heart and you’ll probably come out okay.

Bob On Content Creators

Bob Lefsetz

Bob Lefsetz

Bob Lefsetz is of the opinion that, “Creation used to be expensive and we felt anybody who’d made a record deserved attention. Now anyone can record, even on their iPad, and we need a reason to pay attention.”

If you have a really great song, it’s theoretically possible to hum a lil’ ditty into your Dictafone and have a number one record,  but that’s not really how records get made. (neither then nor now) Small wonder Larry Crane dissed Bob in  TapeOp:  http://tapeop.com/blog/2013/07/19/you-dont-have-clue-how-records-are-made-do-you/
There has in fact, been at least one top-charting track recorded entirely on iphone, but the trouble has never been about the technology; it’s in having a great piece of music, recorded well enough to move people. In a biz that no longer rewards mid-level songwriters and studio musicians, that spells doom. We need to better reward content creators, imho. I’m not trying to stick my finger in the dike of music history, I agree streaming will one day be king, and I appreciate the great democratization of all these wonderful modern recording tools that are more affordable than ever, but what’s being lost is the expertise that music-biz revenues once supported; if it’s never coming back, I guarantee the music will suffer, and we’ll all be the poorer for it. We have seized the means of production, but the results thus far might have confounded Marx.

 

How MIDI Changed Music

DSCF6057_0092

BBC: How MIDI Changed The World Of Music

The article linked above is more than slightly inaccurate and the author’s modern perspective misses the point; prior to MIDI, the only available method for layering synthesizers was multitrack analog tape, an extremely expensive process requiring a professional studio with massive and expensive multiple head tape decks, analog mixing desks and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of outboard hardware. Professional musicians did not use general-purpose home computers like the Atari ST and Commodore 64 with MIDI instruments in the beginning; we used hardware sequencers, the first of which were hardly more sophisticated than drum machines, but they could be used to keep a beat and a bassline going while a keyboardist played other parts; this effectively reduced the necessary number of musicians to tour a complete show to Howard Jones and possibly his roadie. These simple early step-sequencers like the Roland TR 808  didn’t even have MIDI, at first, but later ones  used MIDI to trigger note and chord sequences, patterns and arpeggios, feats formerly done using less flexible analog control voltages, back in modular times.

Roland TB 303

The first MIDI killer app was simple layering of keyboard sounds; analog synthesizers of the day were heavy, bulky , and just coming out of the modular era, they were lacking in polyphony, so if you needed more than one timbre at a time, or more than a few simultaneous notes of the same timbre, you needed more than one keyboard synth. The proliferation of keyboards led to a need for a way to stack them together, either for more polyphony or a fatter, more layered sound achieved by mixing/combining notes from different synths. Of course we could already do this mixing/layering in the analog realm, but in those days, the cheapest available mixing desk cost $5k, was made by Soundcraft in the UK and featured  if I recall correctly, 12 channels, making effective keyboard synthesis a very expensive proposition, the realm of a a few rich rock stars. With MIDI, layering two or more synthesizers in realtime became as simple as hooking up so many cables, daisy-chaining as you went. While personal computers in those early days were nowhere near robust enough for use on stages, the MIDI system most definitely was, and the ability to control racks of sound modules from a single controller keyboard or two upped the ante, in terms of how many sounds a gigging keyboardist could travel with, allowing them to blend multiple types of synthesis in a more compact rig and reducing setup time and stage clutter.

MIDI’s second major breakthrough was in the storing and editing of patch data through MIDI System Exclusive, a means for instrument manufacturers to, among other things, share patch data among instruments of the same type. With the advent of digital synthesizers like Yamaha’s flagship DX7, onboard storage of synthesizer control settings, called “patches”, became possible, though the instruments often had limited memory capacity. The digitally controlled nature of this new breed of music machine essentially allowed the player to defeat these limitations, at first by use of a (usually proprietary and expensive) EPROM chip, and later through the use of personal computer software sequencers and patch editor/librarians (through use of an appropriate MIDI interface) and more sophisticated MIDI  hardware sequencers, like the Roland MC 500   , which could save and restore the entire complement of onboard patches from dozens of keyboards, as well sequenced notes. In addition to these digital snapshots of all available control settings, a vast array of control changes could be sent from one instrument to another, further expanding the range of available controllers and data that could be sent and received, beginning with the expression control that began as the Hammond organ‘s “gas pedal”, and adding pitch bend, modulation, aftertouch or key pressure, filter cutoff, and dozens more controls, including performance  gestures on track pads and ribbon controllers.

Sequencing, the real MIDI breakthrough technology, paralleled the development of velocity-sensing keyboards; since MIDI is a serial digital interface, it gradually became possible to “record” a deeply textured physical music performance on one keyboard and play it back on another, independently of the sound of either instrument. THIS, coupled with MIDI synchronization, the ability to use multichannel, multitimbral MIDI sequences alongside of  multitrtrack analog and digital audio  is what opened the floodgates.

A couple of other not so minor points: EDM existed prior to MIDI, though it wasn’t called that, as did several other music genres that rely heavily on MIDI sequencing today. Also, the BBC article linked above gives sole credit for the massive MIDI spec to synthesis pioneer Dave Smith, but Bob Moog is generally credited with floating the idea for what became MIDI in an off-the cuff remark at an AES convention, and Tom Oberheim’s contributions to the vision for what MIDI could become should not be overlooked, nor should the work of hundreds of engineers at Roland, Korg and Yamaha.