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:
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


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.

Giving It Up

I can’t tell you how you can or should do it, and can maybe jes’ barely describe how I do it. It really is acting, which is ‘acting as if’; you have to understand the song’s situation and the emotion you are to portray, and it helps a great deal if you’ve felt that particular emotion a lot, or at least once, though very intensely. One of the reasons we performers are such flakes is that we tend to feel things very intensely; it’s makes us good at this job, and sometimes very bad at relationships. If you’ve ever wondered why some of the best of us die so young, it’s because a severe case of arrested development, depression or bipolar disorder can actually be considered an asset, in this crazy business.

You don’t necessarily have to have been in the specific situation you’re singing about; a similar emotion will do very nicely, thanks, but you have to get all the physical and rote memory stuff out of the way, before you can really begin to emote. If you’re thinking about remembering the bridge lyric or where to take a breath, you can’t be ‘in the moment’ which is where you need to be, along with your memory of what that emotion feels like in your body, in order for you to do the thing. And the thing itself is really multitasking, which doesn’t come naturally to anybody, no matter how many teens tell you they’re “studying” with headphones on, in front of the TV, while texting and chewing gum, even if they also have a book open. This is because a small part of your brain needs to regulate your endocrine system, so that you don’t over-emote; if you actually break down and cry, your resonant cavity fills up with phlegm, your mascara will run, and if you’re sobbing, it’s hard to get a breath for that next chorus.

The other thing is that you have to be utterly fearless to put your real emotions on display for others to hear in public; you have to open yourself up and be nakedly vulnerable in a way that most mundanes, straights, civilians, muggles (pick your term) will never understand.

So in summation, you have to have the song cold, you must feel the appropriate emotion in your body, (but not too much) and most importantly, allow others to hear and touch the deepest part of your soul. In Broadway terms, this is known as ‘giving it up.’

Effing Amanda Palmer And The Five Reasons

Amandas Palmer

I was gonna blog at greater length about this, but someone already said most of what I have to say, at least as well as I could:

Here’s what I have to add to what Justin Colletti said:

There are solid reasons for musicians to consider playing for free, starting with a good cause, and I can’t recall a year where I didn’t play at least a couple of charity gigs, with six being about an average  year; I know I’ll be asked, and I’m happy to be of service, but for non-charitable causes, like Amanda Palmer‘s for-profit tour,  there’s a formula for determining when a gig  is worthwhile. In order of importance to the professional musician, the formula goes a little something like this:

Five Reasons To Take A Gig

1) The Money
Self explanatory for the most part; money buys strings and picks, pays rent, utilities, insurance and puts gas in the car, if you’re lucky, but if money is the only reason to take a gig, I usually won’t take the gig. Reread that last part. I might take a gig for money alone, if circumstance dictates, but I won’t do it for long, because a straight money gig will eventually kill your soul, and ultimately kill the music inside you. This is why great musicians leave successful bands, in case you were wondering.

2) The Music
Every musician needs to play, and great music feeds our souls in a way most civilians will never understand. I’ll take a gig where the money’s crap, or even nonexistent, if I’m treated well and the music gets me off. Playing with U. P. Wilson paid me nothing, and I leaped at the chance; any musician worth his salt would sit in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Emmylou Harris or nearly any living legend who asks, but if I’m asking, I’m paying something, even if it’s a token, because I’m not a legend, just yet.

3) The Hang
The hang is about who I’ll be playing with and where; I’m always willing to take less money or play less-fulfilling music, if I’m doing it with great musicians, in a great atmosphere or venue, or for a really appreciative audience. And to be honest, great free food and beer don’t hurt a bit, but I’m a professional and I expect to be paid something, especially if the sponsors are paying the caterer.

4) The Education
This can be a little bit about the music, too, but if it’s a style I’m unfamiliar with, or a kind of gig I need to learn to navigate, such as weddings or casuals, I’m willing to put up with less than stellar company, money and perks, because the real value is in the on -the-job training, while I’m learning the ropes. If the money’s also okay, I may even put up with a PITA conductor/leader.

5) The Rep
The last thing I ask of a gig is, “Will it raise my profile?” Does it enhance my resume, or get me noticed in a way I can’t do on my own? If it’s a feather in my cap or a stepping stone to a better gig, I can do with less or maybe none of items one through four, but I’d think real hard about that. I wouldn’t want to have a rep as the kind of gig whore who’ll do almost anything for nearly nothing, because that hurts all of us, and not just the musicians.

A savvy musician will note that items 2-4 are interrelated, and that items one and five tend to have an inverse relationship in any gig you’re likely to be offered.

See also:

It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Streaming or Can Digital Streaming Win?

I think a lot of folks have misidentified the problem with digital music distribution; it’s not the music that has become virtually worthless in the new ‘attention economy’, but the distribution of digital music. After all, it’s the distribution of works that has become essentially free, not the production, and not the licensing.

Radio is not going away, but downloading likely will, because collectors tend to want a physical thing, a tangible representation of the music they love, to interact with and display as a status symbol. (or, at least in Bruce Willis’ case, bequeath to their children) It won’t be long before the tour T-shirt you buy at the gig can play back the concert as well as show your musical allegiance to friends and strangers, so physical distribution will likely remain viable and valuable.

Folks who aren’t so invested and listen only to environmental or ‘wallpaper’ music will be perfectly happy with ambient and streamed content, so long as it’s curated in some way, either by their social groups or by major media.

On-demand streaming serves the needs of the more adventurous ears as it’s a vastly more efficient means of music discovery than radio. I feel confident it can earn its place in the new media paradigm.

Crumbs For Creators

I get this from commentators on copyright-related sites from time to time, “Have you personally been ripped off? Which songs, how many times and by how much?”, etc. There’s no way of knowing exactly how much revenue is being sucked out of the music industry by these tech-sector bad guys, because there are far too many income streams affected. I don’t have to have my songs ripped off to be denied an opportunity to produce a record, to engineer or be paid to record vocals or guitars, because of the drastic drop in recording budgets, or the perception on the part of potential clients that the money to recoup recording costs is never gonna be there. Neither is it simple to parse how many illicit downloads represent lost sales and how many would never have been downloaded at any price, but solely by casual users who only snagged it, cuz it was free.
Freetards love to point out that the most-downloaded artists are also the ones making the most from legal sales/touring, which is factually correct, but correlation does not equal causation; freeloading is an indication of popularity, which drives both illicit and legal acquisition. I think it’s fair to say that music ‘consumers’ who are happy enough with an illegal MP3 rip are not gonna buy a CD, nor even a FLAC file, so protestations that file-sharing on a large scale is actually beneficial to artists, and by extension, the music business are completely bogus. I don’t believe copyright is in its death throes; I believe that sound and limited copyright is the foundation of our industry, and that the tech sector that greases the rails with such unprecedented access between music artists and audiences deserves a share of the digital claimstake in this modern gold rush. The rub is that prior to digital, distribution was king; now that distribution has become essentially worthless, how is it that the distributors are keeping the pie and leaving crumbs for creators?

Death Or Liberty

A lot of what we call justice or morality is based on the notion that death is the worst thing that can happen. You deprive another person of life, that’s pretty much the worst thing you can do, right? To quote Clint Eastwood‘s character in Unforgiven, “…you take away everything a man has, and everything he’s gonna have.” It’s a common concept, but it’s wrong, at least from a spiritual perspective, by which I mean that if you believe in an afterlife of pretty much any kind, death is merely a transition. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, death is an end; certainly an end to all of life’s potential suffering, as well as to its potential pleasures. The spiritual dimension to this philosophical conundrum has implications in nearly every facet of life and the law. The law, the courts and juries are often charged with deciding who deserves to die, and yet we all die, so it should hardly surprise us if some people don’t consider death a deterrent; certain death didn’t deter Jesus, nor Joan of Arc, and I could cite further examples all afternoon. The enduring power of the above-referenced movie lies in a quote that appears later in the film, when the would-be gunslinger asks, “I guess he had it comin’, huh?” and Clint’s character says, “We’ve all got it comin’, kid.”  This is all preamble to why I think most folks misplace their anger and outrage, and why I think Trayvon Martin’s death, while not unimportant, is not national news, but a distraction. More to come.