bucking and sucking down trends

and confusing the hell out of porn-bots everywhere, to be sure, with a title like that. shortish entry about my current doings, which are actually getting pretty interesting, at least for me. that’s the ‘bucking’ part, where I surprise you all by switching off the automatic Tweet updates and instead throw a real live post exceeding 160 characters.

the ‘sucking down’ trends part comes in two parts, really. one is trivial – i joined the google wave thing on a whim. we’ll see where that goes. i have nothing to say about it. the other is that i have embraced thrift in recent weeks, always a year behind the trends. but being years behind mainstream trends is always already the new early adopter, the new avant garde. it took me ten years to listen to any nirvana songs (i will always fondly associate their music with the attacks on the world trade center).

what’s so interesting about any of that? nothing. what’s interesting are the inches of progress i’m starting to make on my PhD. i’m writing my first exam in two weeks’ timein February 2010 actually (logistics weren’t in place for a Nov-Dec write), and i think i feel somewhat prepared (as prepared as any PhD student ever is for their comps, I mean, which given the vicissitudes of living life as a grad student, is not at all. so i guess i’m feeling better prepared than most).

but something in this has clicked, in the sense that it has subsided to become a sort of routine, mindless, administerial form of work, this sorting and sifting of theories and methodologies, and busting them up against each other. you can only spend so long in university without this sort of administrivial subsidence.

but this is good, as it means that my mental energies can be focused on higher callings. i’m not at all disdainful of my work, but it is work first and foremost. let’s face it – it’s a gig. it’s taken a long time to admit as much. but doing so has converted it into a day job – of sorts, in the sense that any 21st century space-of-flows info economy laptop-job (hello again porn bots!) can ever be thus.

but the combination of thrift and work subsidence means that the ASIHE record will be pressed, and soon, ‘cos I can afford it in terms of both money and mental effort. so that’s interesting too. yum, artefacts.


Making Money in Music: a Poll and a Crowdstorm

I’ve created a twitter poll (something I should be doing more regularly) asking a question of central importance to this blog, to my life, my creative pursuits, and something that’s been on everybody’s mind since the dawn of music (when wazzat?): how should musicians get paid? If I haven’t given all the possible discrete answers, then please tweet me (@jeanh) or comment here if you have other ideas that don’t fit the framework imposed by my limited imagination on such matters.

I’m hoping to use this small gesture as a way to springboard into a wider and more comprehensive crowdstorm (cloudstorm? tweetup? weathercamp? huh?) about music and money. To come, to come, but here’s what I’m thinking. I’d like to hear practical ideas for musicians of all styles and instruments (or vocalists) to earn money so that you can continue making music, and possibly even make a sustainable living wage from it. This includes old (e.g., session work) and new (e.g., ad revenue sharing sites) methods.

Keep in mind that I am totally uninterested in hearing about fake Youtube (or whatever “viral” nonsense) campaigns (which I’ve denounced more than once on this blog) for mediocre bands that want to be successful in very limited, old-fashioned ways.  Cokeheads dreaming of a “Pitchfork 10” or a short-lived career in “reality programming” needn’t apply. Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.

Last.fm and misinformation

I need to retract a decision I made based on seemingly false news.

Just over a month ago I posted an announcement that Simulacre Media would be removing its entire catalog from the Last.fm service due to the imposition of user fees in countries other than the US, UK, and Germany. I read a misleading Canwest story (and others) that missed the memo about how the new user fees would apply to Last.fm Radio only. Seemingly, I missed this memo too. More correctly, the memo was never explicit about what the changes would actually mean.

Before I posted my original decision, I consulted the original source (Last.fm’s Blog) to clarify what the changes actually meant, and for whom. The responses, as well as the original announcement on March 24 (to be fair to the many naïve journalists who rode the wave of hype) were actually never explicit about how this affected the availability of free music on the site. The Last.fm announcement reads that “scrobbling, recommendations, charts, biographies, events, videos etc. will remain free in all countries”. There is no explicit mention of free music, downloads, or streaming (as distinct from “radio”, if it were to be a distinct thing) in this announcement. So I made and posted my decision anyway, decoding this as surreptitious PR jostling – after all, it is still CBS at the end of the day, right?

Even after a wave of international user feedback expressing much confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal) over the impending changes, the Last.fm team followed up with another announcement on March 30 about the change that still did not clarify what would happen to free music hosted on the site. There was no clear indication at the time, either, about (1)  how a “subscription” would be distinct from a “user account” on Last.fm, nor about (2) whether individuals providing music for the service would be exempt from the fees, which only compounded everyone’s confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal). It felt like we were losing control over the right to manage our relationships with fans in the ways that are consistent with our business model/ethos/philosophy (as the case may be). User fees would end our ability to share music for free, wouldn’t they?

I decided to wait and see what would happen before removing the music. April 1 came and went, and the Simulacre catalogue was still all available, all free, for download or streaming. I checked a few weeks later – the streaming links were gone, but the “free download” links were still functional.

I checked again today, and now I see some links to a subscription page on some sort of radio widget that I’ve never seen there before. Still, our catalogue is available for free downloading. Streaming is gone, which hurts Last.fm’s extensibility in the social media world immensely, but it’s not really a deal-breaker from an artist’s or label’s point of view, to my mind (it is still a free service for us). Overall, the changes are not as drastic as at first they seemed, according to the vague Last.fm announcements, and the wave of media hype that followed them.

I cannot presume that this story is over (we’ve seen mammoths in this space rise and fall spectacularly before, haven’t we?… transforming eventually into things that barely resemble their original selves). However, for the time being, it seems we’re still able to give our music away on Last.fm. So long as a platform permits users to download our music for free and interact with our artists in meaningful ways, then we will continue to share our catalogue and support said platform.

It’s simply weird to charge user fees in a music economy that is increasingly devaluing its former prime currency (the recorded artifact) in favour of new sources of revenue, and doing so likely marks the beginning of the end for Last.fm (no more sharing and capturing friends’ streams or playlists, kids!), not to mention how Last.fm radio (with its widgets, extensibility into desktop apps, other social media sites, etc.) will likely become a crippled version of what it could be if free.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

The end of free music?

lastfm_redLast.fm (aka CBS) has finally thrown in the towel on free music. Well, I’m not going with them. It’s not that Last.fm sucks; they still offer a great service, one that *might* be worth the subscription fee, even. But for those of us who are trying to give music away for free, there’s simply no place for us on their platform.

It seems that ever since the CBS acquisition in twenty-ought-seven (and likely before that event), Last.fm has been stepping back from its potential to act as a listener and creator driven platform for sharing music. Call me old fashioned, but the listeners and musicians ought to be able to set the terms for their exchanges.

For those who forget, over the past few years, Last.fm (like many successful B2C web enterprises) tested out various revenue strategies on their audiences, in small increments – by introducing a (scandalous) royalty sharing agreement, by increasing the amount of advertising on artists’ pages, and even introducing ad revenue sharing for artists. I suppose none of these efforts eventually generated sufficient revenue to sustain it as a viable division within CBS.

Whatever. Not my problem anymore. Everything in the Simulacre catalogue (A Spectre Is Haunting Europe, Dupobs, and a few new as-yet-unannounced projects) will still be available on other free music-capable platforms (including the mighty Reverbnation, but I’ll go scoping out more of them). And of course, up until March 30 (when Last.fm formally implements its subscription fees in most countries), you’re still free to download any of our music for free there, chat about it, and suchlike. After that, those conversations contained on last.fm (really the glue that binds its circulation structure together) will necessarily have to migrate with us.

Indeed, it seems it does matter who owns what in Music 2.0.

At least CBS doesn’t own me (a government and a few banks do, but that’s another story).

Oh The Flowers

Swinging the pendulum from the ridiculous to the merely trite, the archiving project rears its desperate head this week with a glimpse at Verona, the predecessor band to Decora/A Spectre Is Haunting Europe. This recording comes from my days recording demos in the basement of The Abbey, the shared house up by the PNE. Actually quite post- Verona’s live gigging days (1996-1998), this song, “Oh The Flowers” (trite due to obvious Britpop lifts), was recorded on 4 track cassette (I believe a Tascam Porta 03) in 1999, and I seem to remember playing everything myself. The cassette it’s on is one among many in the box that are labelled generically -this one being Verona – 4 Track Stuff. A few more tracks might surface from this one later, too. But as this is a collection of songs not recorded as a unified LP/CD/etc., I’ll set aside any complete track listing for now. It’s in the jpeg.

This audio snapshot was taken right around the time I entered law school. Had I spent more time studying and less time recording stuff like this in the basement you would not be reading this at present – in its place, perhaps, could have been a cranky treatise about the rigors of conveyancing. Imagine that.

Oh what the hell. Here’s another track from the tape, “Hey Hey“, another Verona track that didn’t make it to cable access. This one was recorded in late 1998. Quinn (currently a co-conspirator in ASIHE) sang vox, and I played the drunken master guitar ‘solo’.

Slide It Up

Bucket of Slugs - Pacifism (1987)OK – daughter’s asleep…continuing on with recordings of similar vintage (1987 and pre-), to ensure the oldest tapes I have are salvaged first.

More Bucket of Slugs, of course. Unlike yesterday’s monochromatically raucous Carnival EP, the follow up LP, entitled Pacifism, oscillates between whispered and barked songs. It appears that parents were at home while this was recorded, as there is evidence of periodic interruptions, attempts to make quiet music for various spells, and even, in the opening “Kill, Kill, Kill”, open violent threats against them. Some holdover from prior exercises, too – an ‘unplugged’ reworking of “Different Flavours of Birthday Cake” (featured in my last entry). There are also many in-jokes that I barely understand anymore, reiterations of themes worked over and over again until they were no longer funny. “Old McDonald’s Farm” seems to be a response to a parental request to “play something we all know”. “Don’t Box Me In” is an impotent Stan Ridgeway cover, and it appears that three of the four musicians either forget how it goes or have never heard it [maybe I’ll remix and post that one later for some ha ha]. Much of the second half is attempts at random note spatters just to fill up space, but in retrospect, that material is far more listenable than our attempts at songs with narratives and stuff.

I’ve featured two of the most interesting tracks here for your curious ears. First, “Slide It Up“, a “let’s switch instruments” foray that IMHO really works. Second, “That’s What You Get For Loving Me” – an irritatingly silly 60s pop venture.

Happily, this one imported from-cassdeck-to-arrange-window with no issues.

This LP includes eleven songs:

  1. Kill, Kill, Kill
  2. I’m So Jaded
  3. Our Bass Player…
  4. You Broke My Heart
  5. Don’t Box Me In (a cover of an original Stan Ridgeway/Stewart Copeland song)
  6. Slide It Up
  7. Different Flavours…
  8. Old McDonald’s Farm
  9. Italian Dad/Mexican Son
  10. Igor
  11. That’s What You Get For Loving Me

And yes, it appears that Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81 82 83 84) is still intact on Side B of this world-weary UX-90. And it still rocks.

You Should Do What Your Daddy Says

Bucket of Slugs - Carnival (1987)Bucket of Slugs – Different Flavours of Birthday Cake [Sept 1987, 3min 0sec]

OK, the archive project has officially begun, with a warble. Apologies at the outset for the pisspoor quality of this one (the others are in much better shape). I’ve tried every DIY method I know, and I cannot fix this cassette. If there’s a local cassette expert who knows how to repack an old reel so that it plays back at a constant speed, please contact me ASAP to help me save this one. (I’ve also looked for digital plugins that might correct the variable speed algorithmically, to no avail). In the end I decided to post it anyway, not being one to enjoy being held up by such irritants. It’s not the oldest, nor the best, nor funniest nor most offensive recording in the collection. But I guarantee that this is the tape that is in the worst condition out of the bunch.

The artist is Bucket of Slugs, and the song is called “Different Flavours of Birthday Cake”, from the 1987 EP cassette entitled Carnival. As indicated by the warbliness, the tape has barely survived the nearly 21 years since its recording. It was, like most of these early tapes, live to two-track cassette, and in this case, no overdubs.

The song is about making a mess in a supermarket, specifically in its baked goods section. The chorus enumerates various flavours of cakes that are available for the speaker to toss about. There’s a disturbing yet rather funny bridge near the end (starting at about 2:10) from which this post receives its title – “you should do what your daddy says/your daddy tell you to go to the store/you go to the store”.

The EP includes eight songs as follows:

    Side One

  1. ICBM (1987)
  2. Different Flavours of Birthday Cake
  3. Carnival
  4. I Shot The Sherrif [sic; a cover of the Bob Marley song]
  5. Side Two

  6. Riot in Cell No. 9 [a cover of the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song “Riot in Cell Block No. 9”]
  7. Let Me Be
  8. We Have Been Here A Long Time
  9. I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow

One last note. As pictured below, this was taped onto a commercially bought cassette by putting electrician’s tape over the security tabs. In this case I taped over an album by Frank Zappa that I found particularly disappointing: Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (1985).

The Zappa beneath the Bucket of Slugs

Watch for another update on this project before this weekend.

I Have Been Here A Long Time

I had another dream about my lost cassettes from 20 years ago (remember? I dreamed about this previously). This time, I was not in a pawn shop. This time, beleaguered campus radio station CiTR (which in this world has had to resort to fundraising in the face of UBC budget reallocations and spiraling costs) was caught up in the mix. In the dream I happened by the station only to encounter a number of harried young volunteers pushing piles of boxes out of the station, and awkwardly tumbling down the stairs with them, piling them on the grass outside the SUB. Breathless half-reports was I able to glean from these frantic vollies, about the station closing down, could I help please? I decided that the decent thing to do would be to roll up my sleeves and help salvage the music library.

Upon entering the station I looked around for where help was needed most. It seems nobody was saving the cassette room, which had long been considered an eyesore at the station anyway. A half dozen volunteers desperately crammed collectable (though well-worn) rare vinyl into crates, along with CDs and oddball PSA carts, but none got their hands dirty with the tapes. Alarmed, I dove straight into the tape room, remembering too well (& far better than this group of apparently vintage-vinyl-obsessed 20-somethings) the time when a homemade cassette was the only affordable way to disseminate yr basement squawks.

Lo & behold, after about 10 minutes of packing, sorting through cassettes that were long out of their cases, barely identified, garnished with hopelessly faded scrawl over top of Maxell, TDK, Sony HR-90, and the like sticky label branding, there it was, on a bottom shelf, buried under a pile of Dayglo Abortions mixtapes – a small 3 by 8 by 12 brown suitcase, packed to overfull with home recorded cassettes, emblazoned with, in mine own hand, obscure titles that could only trigger distant, uncertain memories in two or three heads in the entire universe, mine being one of them. My lost tapes.

I’ve been neglecting the archiving project I committed myself to back in December. I suppose time is really of the essence here, and somehow those half-sorted piles of semiconductive 1/8 inch tape reels fashioned decades ago are sending me their last psychic plea, o’er piles of baby toys and documentation about the MIDI specification, which for some reason, I’ve never spent any time figuring out systematically until now…

Chill out

Bitnotic created this program called Chill that generates ambient music ‘randomly’ (that would be impossible). It’s not bad – but if I could port this to whatever soft synths I wanted it’d be ideal (e.g., the voicing built in to the app appears to be merely Quicktime Instruments). At any rate, I’ll try and export what it generates to MIDI files and drop those into Reason, on some voices I’ve designed.

Via Podcasting News.