December 3, 2007

New Interesting Sounds

If you don't know what circuit bending is... you need to see this

Here's my favorite video from the circuit bending contest


November 14, 2007

It's Diversity Day!

Corporations learned this early on: Always Diversify. In the era of multi-national conglomerates, can you really afford not to?

As a musician, I understand the allure of taking all kinds of (ultimately self-serving) solos, and creating long, 'artsy' songs, but really guys... there's more to life. The quest for greatness as an instrumentalist and performer is well and good, but save it for guitar hero, and other like mediums, it's time for pop to reclaim your soul! *melodrama*



You're far better off learning to play several instruments than acquiring ungodly skill at just one. Plus, it'll greatly enhance your persuit of postmodernism.

Instead of becoming a guitar hero...
  1. Learn about music itself, and the basic concepts apply to all music (so you can write better songs).
  2. Get to know your audience (so you can connect with them)
  3. Go to concerts (learn from the pros)
  4. Meet the other musicians in your local music scene, and get to know them (you'll get lots of ideas from talking to other musicians)
  5. Write songs (and don't forget to get feedback from your musician friends in step 4)
Note: Pop music is a shortened version of Popular music. You don't have to love the music of the masses, but people like it for a reason. Don't lose touch with the reason we make music, for people to enjoy.

If you want to make music just for yourself, that's fine. Just don't make us listen to it ;)


Steampunk Rock (and roll)

I'm not really much of a punk guy, though I do enjoy the occasional thrash. However, I think we all could learn something from the creative masterminds of steampunk. Weburbanist posted a compilation of some of their most amazing achievements in recent time.



As you may know, I'm a big fan of the post modern. That said, we've all got a lot to learn from those before us, but with things moving so quickly over the interblag and all, it's easy to get caught up in just stealing ideas from the most recent crop of artists.

Well I say that's no way to start a movement! Steal ideas people have long since forgotten about and remind them how cool history really is (when you apply modern sensibility to it). Here's to Steampunk Rock.


Hack by day... Rock by night

I have become inspired by the recent adventures of a certain heroine, Elaine, Daughter of Mrs. Roberts (<-- notice the 's', hence we are not related) If you are unfamiliar with this mysterious woman of the night, allow me to jog your memory:


xkcd - 1337 part 3
see also: Part 1, Part 2

I can not tell you what a great idea it is to become Elaine. I'll buy you flowers ;)
Also, you can join a sweet band like broken social scene

In other news, Last.fm is going to be doing Audio fingerprinting to identify songs more acurately. Should be good, but kind of scary on the copyright infringement side of things.


November 3, 2007

Blog Costume

Here's my halloween costume... I was a blog:



October 30, 2007

Does your band measure up?

Have you ever wondered if your band is 'good' or not? How do you measure this, and if you do measure it, via downloads, myspace hits, or plays, how do you draw meaningful conclusions? Let's keep it simple, and try to judge by something easy to measure, and easy to draw conclusions from (even if it's not scientific). You can even try this at home!

Recently, while reading an SEOmoz article on what I'm going to call, 'friendly spamming,' I had a bit of a realization. Rebecca was complaining (politely) about how people expect her to digg up their articles because they're friends.
I don't want to sound like a jerk, but if you're requesting votes from people you need to understand that these people are doing you a favor by awarding your content with a vote. If you keep bugging them and badgering them and incessantly hounding them to vote up your content, they're not going to want to award you with a vote any more.

Sound Familiar? Maybe you do this when you're trying to promote a show? well the same concept applies. If you hound your friends to constantly be doing things to 'support' your band, pretty soon they won't want to do anything for you. They might even start trying to avoid your phone calls. But let's assume for a moment you don't incessantly pester your friends with upcoming shows, myspace spam, new merch they have to buy, etc. Rebecca also said this:
If someone does not vote for your content, don't hold it against him or try to guilt him into voting ("Come on, we're friends!"). If even your friend doesn't think the content is worth his time, what chance does your piece have of being interesting to the mainstream?

This (perhaps unintentionally) hits on an important point. If your friends don't think your band, or something your band is doing, is worth his time, what chance does it have of being interesting to someone who doesn't even know you? Probably none.

Unfortunately you can't just ask your friends if your band is good; social rules, and mushy crap like feelings get in the way of honesty. So here's what you can do to find out if your band (or just something your band is doing) is good enough to really be worth it:

For this example, I'm going to use a song as an example, because it's the simplest thing a band can produce, and if you repeat the process with each song you make, it'll help you improve much more quickly than just guessing as you go.
  1. Keep track of all the people you tell about the song. If they've already heard it when you tell them, ask how.

    This is your first indication of how interesting and desirable the song is to hear (and how good it is). If they heard it from someone else, we know that person probably likes it, or at the very least, thought it was worthy of talking about. A really good song, will be introduced to people primarily though other people who already like it.

  2. Keep track of how many times you generally have to remind your friends to come to your shows.

    This is a relative measure. Some people are just forgetful but be honest with yourself. If it was something else (that you aren't involved with), and the person in question was interested in attending, how many times would you have to remind them?

    If you find yourself telling your friends about shows, and reminding them to come, and they still don't show up... you might have a problem. Again you have to compare this to how they act in other circumstances, but if you can't get your friends to come to shows, maybe you should think of ways you can make your shows more interesting/appealing/etc.

  3. Ask people what they don't like about your band, and don't just ask friends. Ask people who dislike your band - They'll be the most honest.

    This is where you get feedback on what you can do to improve. Be careful though, don't change to fit the genre preference of the people you ask. Try to weed out the comments that pertain to genre preference to get at the things you can do, without abandoning what the band actually is.

    Garageband.com is a really good place to get a feel for how non-friends react to your songs, the $15/song listing fee is absolutely worth it (you can list free by doing reviews though). However I need to let you in on something first... not all the reviews are actually worth a damn.

Lastly, I just want to say, 'Don't Give up!' It takes time to develop something that people really like, and get excited about. Keep making music and developing your style, and try to think of ways to be different, interesting, and appealing.


October 29, 2007

Your Name is Everywhere

Your name is everywhere you go, on everything you do. So don't steal, don't murder, and for god's sake, don't release bad recordings!

I understand the temptation to just get those quick and dirty demos out, you just want to have something, anything to show people. Don't do it. Really. Don't. Your name is on everything you do, and if you do something low quality, even if it's meant to just be quick and dirty, people listen to it and make judgments. Once you release something, it's near impossible to get it back out of circulation, and first impressions are very hard to change.

Here's an example: I'm a recording engineer and I occasionally agree to give bands a rough mix so they can listen to what's done so far, and thing of things they want to change. I know I should follow my own advice, but... well I have nothing to say for myself. Some band members who weren't privy to the fact that these mixes were (very) rough were very upset about the quality and insisted on recording the remainder of the project elsewhere.

Disclaimer: If I worked on a demo/CD/anything for you and you think this story is about you... don't worry I'm not upset about it, this is how you learn. hopefully I'm not getting myself in trouble.

The moral of the story is, don't release anything that isn't complete, and always spend the time/money necessary to produce a high quality product (whether it be a recording, stickers, t-shirts, album art, etc), or else you run the risk of being judged against the completed works of everyone else, instead of just the context which you intended.

Inspired by Mike's blog posting which, according to the blurb at the end was inspired by somebody else,
This all stemmed from Mr. Jay Briody’s away message: “Your name is on everything you do.” I was going to tell him I was having a problem similar to Ted’s in Panel 1 regarding a pseudonym, and then thought Jay may appreciate this retort as a comic rather than a random message.
If you've already learned your lesson, comment. If you think I'm wrong, comment. If you want some candy, comment. Happy halloween!


What's up with first albums

I've heard a lot of talk about first albums - that first albums are better, and why this is. The thing is... I think people take this out of context and sort of miss some important things. Here are the reasons I've heard:

On their first album, bands...
  • have more time to spend on their first album (since they're not yet in high demand for tours, appearances etc), so they really get to make it exactly how they want.
  • are younger when they make their first albums, and because they're less developed as musicians, they don't have subconscious tendencies toward doing the same things over again (which certainly puts a damper on new, creative ideas)
  • sometimes only really have one thing going for them, and so when their first album comes out it's new (to people who havn't heard them yet) but on release of subsequent albums, it becomes clear that they don't have any other ideas.

These ideas seem logical but after endless nights of pondering I had a breakthrough. Here's what I think:

When a band stumbles on a really good idea, they quickly become popular and are 'discovered' (signed). They go on to produce an album based on this good idea. The album is good as it's the embodiment of the very idea which brought them their initial success.

At this point, the band has to try to do something new in order to keep the interest of the their fans and the media. This is where many (even most) get caught up. At this point it's sort of a numbers game - what are the chances the same handful of people will have two great ideas in a row? I say it's pretty low. Following this logic, most of the time they release something that is less desirable, and people start drawing conclusions (see above).

When you look at it this way it's pretty clear how to explain the circumstances that lead us to the conclusions at the beginning of this entry.

Bonus features:

Mike Sudhalter mentioned in a related blog post that often times fame creates a disconnect between the artist and their fans, making it difficult to continue writing songs the masses can relate to:
Take Gretchen Wilson. On her "Here for the Party" debut, she had a megahit with "Redneck Woman", a song that millions could relate to. The reason they could understand? Listeners realized that Wilson lived every word of that song and was proud of who she was.

Now, she's a multi-millionaire in Nashville, not the small town girl bartending in a rowdy Illinois tavern. She's tried to duplicate the success of "Redneck Woman", but it's tough to be the same person when you're now a superstar. It's tough road for Wilson. Because if she goes for a different image, some fans will say she sold out. But it's pretty clear, by listening to her songs, that she's not living them like she once did.

I believe this is probably a valid concern, but it doesn't seem to bother too many people if you embrace your fame. Sure some will say you sold out, but lets take a look at a few artists who still sell lots of records despite a change in song writing (due to fame).
  • Nickelback - "Rockstar"
  • Britney Spears - "Lucky"
  • Kanye West - "Gold digger"

There's a huge base of songs I could list but I think one generic artist from each of the 3 biggest genres will do. Now it's your turn... find all the exceptions and prove me wrong!


October 15, 2007

In (Top 10) Rainbows - not so good after all?

Ok, I love Radiohead. Last.fm loves Radiohead. So everything is good right? Well, maybe not: Just because Radiohead can let their fans pay whatever they want doesn't mean it'll work for everyone else.

Radiohead's recent album, "In Rainbows," has enjoyed the limelight the past few weeks, especially on social media sites. The success of the album has people talking about a possible new model for the music industry, and the amount of money some people have paid for the album has been sort of a, "Told you so," directed at the RIAA and Label execs.

Before we all hop on the band wagon, we should take a few things into consideration:
  1. Radiohead fans are notoriously loyal (madison square garden)
  2. They've already had several very successful albums
  3. They don't need the money
The problem: they're already so popular they can release a 10 track album, and secure all 10 of Last.fm's top 10 songs, the week the album is realeased:
Screenshot of Last.fm
Do you really think this is a good model for new music? It seems to me, well established bands will be able to keep on making it, while it will just get harder for lesser known artists to compete; especially as the expectation shifts toward cheaper/free distribution of music. Steve O'Hear did a nice writeup on alternative business models suggesting that the music would be a loss leader designed to get fans out to shows.

Seems hard:
  1. Try to give away your music in an environment of nearly infinate competition (which will cost money)
  2. Then try to get people to come to your shows (which will have to cost more to support the artists)
What do you think? Leave a comment!

PS - If you like this blog please subscribe. If you're my friend and you don't like my blog, you have to subscribe too.


October 9, 2007

Radiohead vs. NineInchNails

Who would win in a fight? Radiohead or Nineinchnails?

I encourage you to be funny with your answers. but here's my NONFUNNY answer.

Radiohead, because they're giving away free downloads of their new album.

However, now that NIN has been booted from their record label for encouraging fans to download pirated copies of their albums... it's not like you're going to get in trouble for that either.

Horray for the end of music as big business.


September 28, 2007

How to sell a million records

You may think that selling a million records is difficult, or requires a bunch of advertising, and promotion. It's much easier than that. Here's what you need to do (in order):
  1. Be (or become) Black
  2. Produce a Rap Album
  3. Challenge another rapper (must also be black) to a feud
Ok... it's not quite surefire, but it worked for Kanye (and 50 cent). Kanye told reporters that,

"They want the black guys to be up against each other, about to shoot each other. And that's not what they got. What they got is two black guys sellin' a lot of records."


Clearly the whole thing was set up in advance in order to sell records. This has been an open secret since the beginning of the 'feud', but it still worked.

Not a rapper? Don't be discouraged! It worked for Brand New and Taking Back Sunday as well.

So let's all learn our lesson, and pick a select group of other musicians (or bands) to team up with in order to generate publicity for all of us. Work for the greater good!

By the way, for some humorous commentary on Pop culture (including Kanye/50 Cent) check out TV Without Pictures!


September 6, 2007

5 Steps to a Better Sounding Mix

Proper Low end theory goes a long way, during mix-down, but just because your mix has tight low end doesn't make it a good mix; that's only one of several things you need to worry about. These tips aren't secrets - more like a checklist of tasks for every song you mix. They apply to all genres.

The 5 steps to a Better Sounding Mix:
  1. Determine Your Goal
  2. Get a Second Opinion
  3. Add Ear Candy
  4. Cut Tracks That Don't Add
  5. Test Your Mix

1. Determine Your Goal

Having a goal to aim for will serve several purposes. Perhaps the most important of which, is that you'll know when you're done. Anyone who's every recorded a song of themselves knows - that mix is never finished. Which causes projects to go over time, leading to exhaustion and frustration.

It also helps you create something that feels homogeneous; by knowing what you're trying to achieve ahead of time, you record each track to fulfill it's purpose in the song. A track that is already recorded is difficult to manipulate artificially (via effects/filters/plug-ins). Adapting tracks to a new feel rarely produces as good a result.

Which brings me to a side-note: The importance of good takes

Getting good takes from the start is extremely important. Aside from the problems inherent in digital editing, bad takes also put you in a bad spot. You have to either...
  • Leave the bad takes, and deal with being unhappy with your recording. With the added bonus of other musicians/listeners/record labels noticing these problems and discounting your work because of it. Or...
  • Re-record the takes later. This wastes your time (and money) on reproducing the set-up you originally had. And even after all this, it's hard to reproduce everything exactly. You usually have to record that entire track again for the whole song, in order to get a consistent sound, which wastes more time and money.

2. Get a Second Opinion


Actually get a third and fourth opinion too. This applies globally. When you're deciding the direction of the song (before you start recording... remember?) get other's opinions about it. When you're in the studio tracking, have a few people around to listen to the takes as you go and help catch mistakes and make suggestions.

Try to have at least one other person at every step of the process. And this needs to be valuable input, don't gather up your neighbors kids to come sit in on the recording session - you need musicians and, if possible, someone else with experience recording.


3. Add Ear Candy


Once you're finished tracking the major parts of a song it's time to add that studio touch. Even in cases when it's a very minimalist recording (think "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley) effects or extra tracks can add a lot to the song.

To continue the Jeff Buckley example, the song wouldn't have been complete without that big cathedral reverb. Which brings us back to the "Determine your goal ahead of time" idea. The religious content of the song is served very well, whether it be subconscious of not, by using a Cathedral sounding reverb. See how you can achieve similar results.

Ear candy can also come in the form of more noticeable effects, like modulation effects, delays, and reamping, or simply adding more tracks to the song. What's your favorite kind of ear candy?


4. Cut tracks that don't add


At this point, depending how crazy you got with adding "studio only" tracks to your song, some sections may sound a little cluttered or muddy. You might even have large sections where tracks have been reduced to nearly inaudible levels just to hear the melody.

This is when you take a long hard look at your song and decided which tracks actually add to the song. Here is your task:
  1. Listen to the Song
  2. Mute the track in question
  3. Listen to the song again
  4. Does the track bring you closer to your end goal for the song?
  5. If not disable the track (or the parts of the track deemed unnecessary)
  6. Repeat for the next track
Don't forget to get a second opinion.


5. Test your mix


Make sure your mix will sound good in the most common listening environments. However, it's not enough to just pop in your most recent mix and listen on each of these systems. Our ears adapt very rapidly to the way things sound, so here's how to test effectively:

Listen to artists similar to the music you've just finished mixing (that you think sound good of course) for at least 10 minutes. Then Switch to your mix and write down what changes are necessary in order to compare favorably to the music you've just heard.

If your mix doesn't sound good in (at least) the following mediums you have a big problem:
  • Car Stereo
  • Home Stereo
  • iPod with earbuds
  • Laptop & Computer Speakers
  • (optionally) On Myspace
Repeat for each medium and don't forget to get a 2nd opinion while you're listening! In fact, your best bet is to enslave a few professional audio engineers and force them to follow you around throughout the entire process.


August 21, 2007

Low End Theory

The use of low end has been crucial to the success of several genres in recent music history, including:

  • Rap/Hip-hop
  • Techno/Dance
  • New Rock (think 808's and breakdowns)
  • Electronic
I'm not going to argue the difference between techno and electronic in this entry, but I'm considering techno to be rhythm and loop oriented and created for dancing. Whereas electronic is more of a subdivision of indie rock where the musicians have decided to use a notable amount of synths.

Unfortunately, there is a growing trend of low end abomination within certain sects of the music industry. Especially the metal/hardcore and other similar genres (-core or -metal). I recently stumbled on a list of 101 rules of black metal on Digg and found the follow depressing example of this mantra:

36. To producers of black metal albums: remember...no low end! If it doesn't hurt to listen to, it can't be "true".

While the list was written as a sort of parody of black metal, the fact of the matter is that this point happens to ring true. I'll also agree that such techniques can be a powerful way of helping the music support the theme of the band and lyrics, but take a listen to Every Time I Die's "Hot Damn" and tell me they havn't gone too far.


August 17, 2007

The Reason

The primary reason for this blog is to talk about pro audio.

That said, I do not like protools (though admittedly, I do use it relatively often out of necessity).

The first series of posts will be overviews of certain tools. These include:
  • EQ
  • Compression (for musical purposes: mixing)
  • Compression (on the output bus: mastering)
  • Limiting
  • Antares Autotune
  • Delay/Reverb
  • Amp Simulation
  • Harmonizers
  • Exciters
There will likely be more, but this is a start


© 2008 Jim Robert