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.

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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?

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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

 

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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.