2011 Discoveries

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Opinions, Personal 1 Comment

I’ve mentioned this a few times before:

[quote]I’ve all but abandoned listening to traditional radio stations and, up until a few years ago, discovering new music was difficult.

No… wait… let me rephrase that:

Finding GOOD new music was difficult.[/quote]

 

These days, I’m finding it easier and easier to find, acquire and share my thoughts on new good (a personal measure of course) music. I started a similar list last year and thought I’d do it again – share some of my “hidden gem” discoveries. These albums aren’t necessarily new or recent releases – I just personally discovered them this past year.

“Gem-ness” Criteria

What qualifies as a “hidden gem” in my eyes? I consume a LOT of music: at least 3-4 new full-length albums a week.

  • If I download an album, then something on it caught my ear and caused me to commit.
  • If I listen to one of those albums more than a couple of times in a week, then it’s probably “decent“.
  • If I’m still listening to something 2-3 weeks after I got it, then it’s “good“.
  • If I’m still listening to something after a period of a couple of months and/or I find myself actively looking for that artist/album, then it’s a “hidden gem“.

The Gems

So without further stalling, here’s zee list:

  • Jets OverheadNo Nations
    Songwriting isn’t anything complex on this album – from a theoretical standpoint, it’s quite simple. The arrangements are basic and stripped down and as with Civil Twilight, Jets Overhead aren’t really one of those bands that’ll get you itching to start a mosh-pit at the front of the stage. Mix-wise, it’s a very present (somewhat compressed/limited) album, but they’ve created a lot of “space” and “air” in their sound. There are co-lead singers (male and female) and they work well together.
  • Biffy ClyroOnly Revolutions
    This was one of the first albums that really gave me one of those “What the…? Where did THIS come from?”. Biffy Clyro is a band that’s been around in the U.K. for a few years and has been topping out in the “Brit Awards”, but only recently gaining traction in North America. This album pushes all the right buttons for me – it’s got a LOT of variety. They go through a lot of styles and genres and bring you on a musical journey – all in one package. There’s something for everyone here – catchy riff-based songs, thought-provoking ballads and prog-inspired hard rockers. Puts a smile on my face for sure.
  • Lykke LiWounded Rhymes
    I like variety when listening to an artist – I like to hear good songwriting that takes me down familiar AND unfamiliar musical roads at the same time. There are a LOT of different sounds on this album, but the songs also have memorable and accessible elements as well. The mixes are in-your-face and on the louder end of the scale, but if you get past that, there is a lot of ear-candy in there. It’s not a rocker-album by any means, but there are indie, pop and electronic elements that keep my ears perked up.
  • FlobotsSurvival Story
    Ever since I heard Ugly Duckling’s “Taste the Secret” album, I’ve been on the lookout for hip-hop”ish” artists who explore new, non-stereotypical avenues. Ugly Duckling created a concept album centered around two warring fast-food chains which incoporated a lot of tongue-in-cheek-with-a message humour. Flobots don’t exactly do that, but they infuse song-writing, arrangement and production elements in their tracks that kept my interest. It’s refreshing to hear so much ear-candy behind rhymes – sure there are loops in there, but there are live drums, guitars, strings, melodic choruses… You don’t hear THAT from your stereo-typical low-riding pimp-mobile do you?
  • ThornleyCome Again
    Crunchy guitars, soulful-Chris-Cornell-inspired voices and straight-ahead RAWK … with a bit of prog-inspired variety. There are some catchy melodic lines that you can picture driving a crowd to the standard call-and-response fare at a concert, and they’re backed by some great sounding rock tracks. The cool thing about this album for me is that there are curve-balls thrown into songs – arrangement decisions that keep my ears perked up. It’s a great album to get lost in.
  • Foo FightersWasting Light
    The Foo Fighters have been around for more than a decade now. Shouldn’t they be fading into oldies-inspired obscurity? Pretty well all the “established” bands that released something this year offered up well … meh. Thankfully, Dave Grohl seems to still cling onto elements of his personality that keep him grounded to what makes the band’s repertoire great – catchy rock-based music that doesn’t disappoint. I’d love to find out how he gets inspired for all his ideas – there’s so much that’s fresh in the bands’ music. Foo Fighters seem to be one of those solid acts that consistently produce good, decent stuff.
  • The SoundsCrossing the Rubicon
    The Sounds have a new album entitled “Something to Die For“, but I find myself gravitating to pressing play on this one – which is their previous album (rel. 2009). I have a soft spot for female-led bands for some reason. I’m by no means a push-over for any act that has a woman singing, but my wife did point that “trend in the data” (Garbage, Metric, Lacuna Coil…). I like this album as it has some singable and memorable songs on it – kind of a Killers sound (their first album – when they were still good)… but with a girl. There’s also some welcome dynamics in the mix and a “raw” edge to the recording – no autotuning nor apparent editing. Very refreshing.
  • The Fratellis Costello Music
    Like the Sounds above, this is not the Fratellis latest album (which is “Here We Stand” rel. 2009), but I seem to be playing this one more often than the other … and not just because of the cover … ahem. If there’s one thing that I can say about the Fratellis music it’s: Fun. These guys would be so fun to see in a club – a small one preferably, but the Commodore in Vancouver would be fantastic too. None of the songs goes over 4:00 and the sound is not something that you can easily pin down, but it’s all “expected” instrumentation – guitars, keys, bass, drums… There’s a variety and humour sprinkled throughout, but what seems to really set this apart for me is that the band really sounds like they’re really enjoying themselves.
  • Various ArtistsSucker Punch Soundtrack
    Again, I do not gravitate to this album because of the album cover. I don’t usually enjoy film soundtracks that are made of a compilation of individual songs. Those kinds of soundtracks usually sound like badly formulated mix tapes. This album, however, had some cohessiveness to it – the musical director and director seemed to have actually thought the music through. The songs are not just your run-of-the mill “hits” – there actually seems to been effort put forward to include matching-picture film scoring in them. It’s not going to win any Oscars (at least I seriously doubt it), but there is an edge that speaks well to the steam-punk / comic book aesthetic of the film.
  • LudoPrepare The Preparations
    If there’s one album “discovery” that blew my socks off this past year, this is the one. There’s something for everyone on this album. For anyone who loves variety and musicality in an album (i.e. me), this is a dream come. There’s elements of rock, metal, singer-songwriter, showtunes… They seem to pull it off without sounding like they’re showing off. Rather, the band seems to just riffing on whichever way the muse took them when they were writing the songs – and having fun doing it. If you crossed Muse and They Might Be Giants – I think this is what you’d get.
  • Hard-FiKiller Sounds
    Simple, straight-ahead pop-rock sounds with hints of synths sprinkled in. This is a highly-polished album with some great songs that’ll keep you moving. The songwriting isn’t breaking any new ground, but there are elements that pop out that take you by surprise. The music is tight and definitely suggests “dance to this”, but there’s also an edge to the tracks that keeps you reminded that this is a real band playing.
  • Pony Pony Run RunPony Pony Run Run
    Synth Pop. Remember that from the ’80’s? Okay, if you can’t, then that’s probably a good thing. If you can remember ’80’s synth pop, try to imagine it as actually being good. That’s what I think of when listening to Pony Pony Run Run. Yeah, my wife gave me a “they-couldn’t-think-of-a-better-name” look too when I mentioned them. The tracks are actually quite well written and although the sounds are “retro” and processed, there’s “real band” life in the album.
  • JusticeAudio, Video, Disco
    I have no idea why these guys use a cross as their “logo” (thought that was copyrighted by some other organization), but regardless of any religious affiliation or inference, their music has created an ear-worm with me. They’re classified as “Electronic”, but this with this album, they seem to be wanting to blur the line. Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers and Crystal Method come to my mind with that genre and I guess they’d fit there, but at times, they almost sound as though they’re a rock, and sometimes, prog-rock band. It’s synths and samplers that are playing but there’s a “looseness” that suggests that it’s a rock band with more than two people.
  • Chemical BrothersHanna
    For my last repeat-listen album, I thought I’d end off with another soundtrack. All the hulla-bulloo around our house (with the kids… really) is Daft Punk‘s Tron Legacy soundtrack which is quite good, but for me, got bumped out of my “heavy-rotation playlist” (a relative term of course) because of this one. The Chemical Brothers seemed to have abandoned the “radio friendly” approach that Daft Punk took with their project and opted for music that ebbed and flowed – serving the picture. There were more subtle uses of themes throughout the score and I felt that there was a welcome emotional depth and edge to this “electronic” score.

Stop Hiding Under Covers!

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

Alright, what is going on?

I’ve been noticing an annoying “trend” happening the past few months. Artists and labels are starting to re-hash old material and releasing albums of cover songs more and more frequently.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a great cover song at all. An artist who records a cover of a well known song has skipped over the majority of the work – they’ve got a tune that’s already proven to be popular. It’s probably one of the oldest ways an artist or band can get listened to.

I don’t know whether it’s all these “reality” shows (American Idol, The Voice, Rock Star…) or even Glee, but to me, there seems to have been an increasing amount of artists turning to releasing old material rather than writing and producing new stuff!

Covers, Covers Everywhere…

I started becoming more and more aware of cover songs after I introduced the topic of arrangement to my theory classes at the Art Institute a couple of years ago. I took eight versions of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” that included styles such as big band, jazz, industrial synth-pop and prog-metal.

A good cover version of a song, in my opinion, takes the song in a new direction from the original and at the same time keeps some element of the known recording to keep the listener tethered to the familiar.

That’s all well and good, but it’s getting a bit much when every other album being released is a warmed-over walk down memory lane.

Peter Gabriel is one of the icons of my musical influences. I grew up with Sledgehammer and Big Time videos being trumpetted as “breakthroughs in music video-ness”. However, the last two (and supposedly a third coming) albums have been cover albums. Scratch My Back was an album of other artists’ songs that Peter performed and recorded while New Blood is an album of his own music recorded with a symphony orchestra. Supposedly, he’s got third album project in the works entitled I’ll Scratch Yours that will be a collection of Peter Gabriel songs recorded by other musicians.

A fairly popular Canadian group named “Tokyo Police Club” released their latest album 10 Days, 10 Covers, 10 Years which is … well, 10 cover songs from the past 10 years recorded over 10 days.

U2 just released an album entitled “AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered” – the entire Achtung Baby album covered by different artists.

Even the Muppets got on the band-wagon with a compilation album entitled “Muppets: The Green Album” where various aritsts cover popularized-by-the-Muppets classics such as Mahna Mahna (The Fray), Rainbow Connection (Weezer/Paramore) and Muppet Show Theme Song (OK Go).

And if you don’t get enough of your fill of covers, and are reluctant to delve into the Kidz Bop franchise (and I can’t blame you at all if you are), there’s a more “serious” franchise that I got introduced to by a couple of my students named “Punk Goes” where “punk” artists (some well known and some you’ll probably never want to know) cover songs from pretty well every genre and decade on appropriately themed albums. They’re quite generous on which artists / bands qualify as “punk”.

Is it laziness? Is it a trend? Is it a conspiracy cover-up to hide a void of creativity?

I don’t know, but I sure hope it’s not something that catches on and we all can get back to looking forward to creativity in music…

Where’d the Morning Go???!!!

Dave Adventures, Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio, Personal 2 Comments

Note to self:

[quote]Designing new studio is way too much freakin’ fun! Ensure to remember design euphoria when building and finishing in physical space.[/quote]

 

A few posts back, I wrote about some awesome-sauce news I got from my wife – taking over the “shed” for a studio. Well, that’s still on, and we’re in the beginning stages of logistics of shuffling items around.  I tried to describe the “shed” in the post, but I’m sure it wasn’t enough to get a mental picture out there.

Actually, I think I might as well use a more “appropriate” moniker for the studio. How ’bout the “INCUBATOR

Ha! I can’t tell you how much fun it is to have a last name like mine and be able to not take it too seriously. 😉

I’ve taken a few photos of what I’m starting with:

Outside of the “Incubator”

Inside the “Incubator”

 

Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that has to come out, and there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be brought in.

I’m going to be leaving a lot of the “finish” (or lack of it) that’s there, but I’ll be hanging some absorption and diffusion in the space as well as some choice posters and pictures… and toys of course!

There’s a lot of things on the “to-do” list to make this space studio-worthy, but I’ll save all of that for another post. I don’t want to put a bummer spin on my mood quite yet…

The Virtual “Incubator”

As I believe most geeks would do, I started to dream of all the possibilities of this room. It’s a fantastic space for what I do in my studio – it’s 12′ x 20′ inside with a peaked roof running along the length (you can see this in the pictures above). The roof meets the walls at about 7′ 2″ while the peak is 10′ off the floor.

I started taking measurements to get dimensions and start the shopping list for sound absorption and sound diffusion things and then I got an idea!

[quote]I’ve got all the crucial measurements.  It’d be cool to be able to “imagineer” the space on the computer …

I wonder if there’s something out there that I can twiddle with and quickly see what it might look like with all these ideas I’ve got in my head.[/quote]

The Search for CAD

I started looking around for CAD, design, architecture, etc. tools using Google – coming up with a lot of solutions that were pricey and/or complicated to learn, but then I came across a link to an app that Google had developed called “SketchUp“. I’d never heard about it before, but it looks as though it’s been around for a few years.

I downloaded the app and started playing around with it … eventually convincing myself that I needed to watch a few of the instructional videos online.

Within a half-hour, I had the basics and was off and running: putting up walls, cutting out doors, placing beams  … got the structure down pat.

Next I had to fill the room – and this is where it got WAY too much fun.

Share, Share, Share

There’s a button on the toolbar labeled “Get Models”. Clicking on this brings you to a library of structures and items that folks have drawn using SketchUp … to scale.

I started looking for desks … and came up with a list of thousands.

I then typed in “Ikea Desk” and holy cheese-doodles, there was my Ikea Jerker Computer Desk – modeled out to scale! Click “Download Model” and badda-bing, it’s in the space, ready to be positioned.

Well, you can imagine what happened next:

  • Double 24″ widescreen monitors – check!
  • Adam A7 monitors – check!
  • Event 20/20 monitors – check!
  • M-Audio Keystation Pro 88 – check!
  • Sound absorption pannels – check!
  • Snazy rug – check!
  • Cameo appearance of Lara Croft in studio – check!

There’s a lot more that I want to put in there – guitars, racks, other furniture, mic stands, and more absorption / diffusion, but I realized that I’d already spent way too much time on the design for one day.

So, this is what I have so far …

 

This is going to be fun…

Get Rid of Pesky Static Cling

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Engineering, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal Leave a Comment

I’ll freely admit that I’m the type of person who can NOT live without variety when it comes to music.

If you know me, you’d definitely put me in the “Type B” slot. It’s not that I’m restless, impatient or anything like that. There are some things that I don’t mind being routine but there are others that, in my mind, must keep my interest with changes.

Music is one of those things – I absolutely LOVE ear candy. You might say that I’ve got a “sweet tooth” for stuff that keeps my ears perked up.

I like to create music that has a lot of things going on – not to detract from the main harmonic, rhythmic or melodic content, but little sonic goodies that’ll keep a listeners’ interest and give them a reason to listen to the track a few more times. I approach my mixing with the same philosophy.

Creating Movement

Even if the instrumentation and arrangement are sparse and simple, there are ways that one can do things in a mix that create movement and avoid a mix that ends up being a static non-event.

Forget Set-and-Forget.

Getting a proper balance with panning, levels, space (reverb and delay) and EQ are the main “bones” of a mix – having everything fit in it’s place and getting things sounding … right. Once that’s done, the fun part starts – how are you going to keep things interesting? Automation goes a long way in keeping things spicy. Making use of automation to affect the three dimensions of your mix as the song progresses through the sections is a big contributor. I see the three dimensions equating to real-world spaces:

  • Width – this is as simple as panning – placing/moving sound from left and right
  • Vertical – I see this as frequency-dependent material – pitch and EQ-related material. Lower pitches/frequencies are … down/lower while higher pitches/frequencies are up/higher.
  • Depth – this is a bit more subjective and has to do with the listener’s perception of how far away the sound seems to be from his or her listening perspective. Adding reverb or delay to a sound can give the perception that the sound is further away than it’s original dry, recorded signal.

Taking the time to perform the fader and controller moves to automate changes in one or more of these “dimensions” will definitely give your mix a sense of ebb and flow. Differentiating sections by making the stereo image, the frequency spectrum and sound stage bigger and smaller as the song progresses will give the listener auditory cues that keep things interesting.

Going Beyond the Tried-and-True

I alluded to “ear-candy” up above. Part of what satisfies my auditory sweet-tooth is applying some sort of modulation or change to a sound.

This is where the fun and “science experiments” happen. As with the above, this can be subtle or it can be whack-you-over-the head overt.

When I launch my default mix template, I typically have 10-12 aux busses ready to go with some usual suspects such as reverb, delay, exciter, harmonizer (doubler) and mid-side(or “stereo widener”) processing ready, but I also have other effect staples like phaser, flanger, tremelo/panner and chorus at the ready. When I want to add something a bit more exciting to a sound these last three are just the tip of where I begin concocting some scrumptious treats for the ears!

What I like doing with these effects is adding some movement to the sound. Unlike reverbs and delays, these effects modulate delay and phase to create a sense of movement in the sonic characteristic of a sound. These can be full-on “wet” effects, or they can be applied subtly in a send or high dry:wet ratio. Combined with automation, these can provide that almost-perceptable twist to an entire mix or even a single element that’ll keep a listener’s ears perked up.

Trailblazin’

The real fun begins when I start exploring on some lesser-traveled paths.

Logic has some fun plugs bundled with it. Things with names like:

  • Autofilter
  • Filterbank
  • Spectral Gate
  • FuzzWah
  • Ringshifter
  • Microphaser and
  • Grooveshifter

Again, these kinds of effects can be applied as in-your-face track-mangling elements or just subtle “something’s different” touches to a sound.

The coolest (and the worst) thing about the plug-ins though is the fact that there are SO MANY out there. Besides the obvious “me-too” 1176 or LA2A clones you can find, there are manufacturers putting out some quite ingenius and fun sound-warping toys.  A couple of manufacturers / plugs that I’ve had some great fun playing with recently are:

  • Waves – Enigma and MondoMod – both of these effects employ multiple modulation elements to panning, volume and phase with some fantastic results
  • Audio Damage – PanMan and Dr. Device – PanMan goes way beyond your typical tennis-match auto-panner and Dr. Device takes things over the top with a Kaoss-pad-like interface that allows you to modulate multiple filters in many different ways.
  • Soundtoys – besides some great “destruction” (distortion and bit-crushing) effects, I’ve had fun with Crystallizer – some great fun with pitch and delay – and FilterFreak – multiple filter modulation with analog twists.
  • Izotope’s Spectron is a plug that you can get lost in entirely – it employs the multi-paned interface we’ve come to expect from the likes of Ozone and Trash with the ability to manipulate delay, filter, pan and pitch in weird ways all at once.

Stop … Stop the Spinning!

Of course all of this is to taste, and I’m not advocating that every track get affected by some odd panning and filtering movement – resulting in sound flying all over the soundstage.

Not at all.

What I AM championing here is looking for ways to take a mix from a great sounding static mix to something that holds some interest to the listener and has enough layers to keep the listener discovering new things on each listen.

Applying an odd-metered panning effect on a TR909 loop, or putting something like a slight flange on a doubled vocal are things that add some spice to a mix … some movement beyond the recorded pitch and rhythm of a recording.

As I said before, it’ll be subjective, but try out different things, see what happens – it is quite fun.

The Black Sheep of the Orchestra?

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal, Teaching Leave a Comment

My son came home with a question the other day:

[quote]Into which orchestral instrument family does the piano fit?[/quote]

Traditionally, we’re taught that there are four instrument families in the orchestra:

  1. Strings
  2. Woodwinds
  3. Brass and
  4. Percussion

Of the four, where does the piano fit? (What about the Harp, Celeste, Harpsichord and Pipe Organ for that matter?)

We had our own little debate (I was playing devils’ advocate) about it and there was definite see-sawing between it belonging in the Strings and Percussion sections. Traditionally, it’s placed in the percussion section – on the score, usually below or above the timp/perc groupings. It’s also viewed as such because it’s a defined tone instrument which relies on the strings being struck by a mallet to produce sound.

The main reasoning that it’s not considered a “stringed instrument” (besides it being struck by a mallet) is the fact that the tones that it emits are fixed like a percussion instrument – there is no easy way for the performer to alter the frequency of a specific note being struck. I believe the main reasoning is the striking action required to produce a tone and fixed tonality.

Am I a Family Wrecker?

Piano and a lot of other instruments became standard parts of the orchestra in the late romantic period. People tend to think that the piano, when played with an orchestra, is just a solo instrument in a concerto setting. This has changed over the last couple of centuries and the piano has become a more integrated part of the orchestral soundscape. Wikipedia has a good entry on the changes that have happened over the years: Orchestra – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Now, I’ve kind of moved to a more “deviant” position since my days at music school and believe that there should be a fifth family (at least more than a rigid four) introduced into the orchestra: namely “Keyboards” or just plain “Other”. Especially in more modern scores, synths are being called for more often. On film scores, they may not be on the scoring stage with the rest of the orchestra, but synthesizers and samplers are there in the sonic soundscape and they definitely don’t fit within the definitions of the “traditional” orchestral families.

Food for thought…

To be Young Again…

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Ramblings, Teaching 1 Comment

No… I’m not talking about revisitng my youth and chasing after nubile young ladies … sorry to disappoint if that’s what led you to click your way over here.

Rather, I’m going to ramble on about topics more closely related to the subject matter that is the undercurrent of this blog.

Over the last couple of days, I started getting all nostalgic and weepy-eyed thinking about all I’ve learned in this field we call … “Audio Production”.

The Beginning of the End for Me

I can’t really recall if anything specific “bit” me, nor can I pin-point a time when I was turned on to multi-track recording and mixing. I know it was a couple of years or so after I graduated from McMaster and had moved to Vancouver with my new bride.

I took an audio engineering night course through BCIT and during/after that, I think I was pretty well hooked. I don’t recall many of the details of the course, but I got introduced to some mic techniques, basic audio routing / mixing board theory and all of that kind of 101 stuff.

A couple of years later, in Seattle, I took another, more indepth, continuing education program through the University of Washington (U-Dub) that ran in the evenings. This course included a lot more detailed, hands-on studio work than the previous course. Lookigng back, it was pretty darn cool – working in studios that had recorded acts like the Violent Femmes, Pearl Jam and R.E.M.

My head was swimming with a whole bunch of information and I didn’t really appreciate it back then, but we were working with Neve Consoles and Studer 24-track machines. The thought of it all – makes me mist up at my ignorance back then.

It wasn’t all THAT bad…

That was all pre-Internet boom / pre-(affordable) DAW days. I still had a “real job” back then and was learning a lot of this stuff on my own through magazines and anything that I could glean from books (yes, real, paper-and-glue things) like “Modern Recording Techniques” by David Miles Huber – who was an instructor of mine at U-Dub.

I was thankful that, at least I had those resources to learn from … even if it did take me years to get to where I am now.

Back to My Point

What prompted all this nostalgia? We need to jump ahead to the present where we have a whole legion of blogs, podcasts, forums, videos as well as magazines and books on pretty well every minute topic connected with “Audio Production”.

I’m as happy as a pig in poop “curating” the re-vamped Inside Home Recording site every day – reading all the feeds from blogs that I find indispensible on recording, mixing, mastering, songwriting and composing (to name a few disciplines).

What really did me in this past week was stumbling across Mike Senior’s site “Cambridge Music Technology“. You may have come across Mike if you read SoundOnSound‘s “Mix Rescue” and “Studio Rescue” columns.

At first glance, his site looks as though it is just another resource and angle on breaking down the essential aspects of running recording and mixing sessions. It’s actually more than that – he shines a flashlight on some details that you may or may not have thought about or been aware of too.

But There’s More!

What REALLY blew me away with Mike’s site is that he’s posted a freakin’ truck load of

MULTITRACK PROJECTS FOR MIXING PRACTICE!!!
here’s the link by the way… 😉

I found myself scrolling through the list lamenting to myself:

[quote]Why, oh why couldn’t I have had this kind of resource when I was starting out?

WHY??!!!![/quote]

The multitrack files are sourced from some of the songs he uses in his Mix Rescue column and, according to his site, he’s cleared them for educational / practice use. I haven’t counted how many full mixes there are, but it looks to be at least over 50 different songs spanning a very wide variety of genres: pop, rock, metal, jazz, singer/songwriter, folk.

It also seems as though there is also a wide variety of performance and quality differences as well – not just tracks that’ll mix themselves. I’ve downloaded a few to try out when I get some downtime … you can never stop learning.

It’s just a fantastic time to be learning about all this stuff … if only I was younger and starting out now.

Saying Those Sweet Nothings

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Ramblings 1 Comment

My wife came home on Friday evening after work, walked through the door and we had the following conversation:

Me: “So… how was it today?”

Her: “Nothing spectacular … You know what I was just thinking?”

Me

Her: “What would you think if we reno’d the ‘shed’ for your studio?”

Me:

Needless to say, I’ve been in a fantastic mood for the past few days!

The Tall and Skinny of it All

I’ll have to bring you up to speed about this thing we’ve monikered  “The Shed”.

Not "The Shed"

It’s a structure nestled at the back corner of our lot. We initially thought that it was going to be suitable as a garage when we bought place, but it turned out that the opening out to the alley gave our cars about an inch of clearance on each side… so it became “The Shed”.

The space itself is going to be superb for a studio space as it’s about twelve feet wide, twenty feet long and the roof peeks at 10 feet sloping down to meet the walls at 7.5 feet. The previous owner used it as his wood work shop and way-over-engineered the structure:

It’s built like a Shick Brithouse – huge lumber supports, massive, thick doors and, I’ll have to do some exploring but I believe there’s a ton of insulation already in the walls. There’s plenty of power out there and with a little clean-up and minor renos, it’ll be fantastic!

I’ll probably be putting up some insulation in the beams along the roof and building some broad-band absorbers to place throughout the space, and replacing the plywood on the walls with something more appropriate. It all depends on what the space sounds like when everything that’s in there is moved out…

Busy Boy

A total win-win situation if I may say so myself.

Instead of defering and spending an arm and a leg on a basement renovation that would yield a smaller and perhaps, inferior result, I’ll be getting Hatched Productions into a great little room…

Needless to say, I’ll be a busy, busy dude over the next few months… which brings me to the duality of the “win-win” comment…

I’ll be crossing off honey-do list items with a big grin on my face.

Lessons from Groupon

Dave Business, Cracked Up (Blog), Opinions Leave a Comment

I know what you’re thinking: “Groupon??!! What does this have to do with your subject matter?”

Well, our family has been known to make use of services like Groupon and Living Social on occassion. If you’re unaware of these sites, in the most simple terms, they’re a new class of business leveraging the Internet to facilitate a service called “collective buying” (CB).

Usually, companies who use collective buying services to attract new customers by offering goods or services at deep discounts. The catch is that the consumer needs to pre-pay for the good or service to “opt in” to the deal.

It seems as though it’d be a win-win for a local vendor: they get a whole bunch of new customers and still get a “cut” of the revenue… if they set it up properly and then follow-through.

Customers are a Nuissance

My impression is that these organizations don’t have any problem in the “attracting new customers” department. But they DO seem to have a problem with the implied second part of the transaction: convincing that new customer to return.

It’s not indicative of ALL businesses we’ve visited as a result of purchasing these deals, but, once we present the printout of the deal, the level of customer service seems to decline dramatically. Any friendliness disappears, speed of service declines and any question or request seem to be viewed as an annoyance.

I’d have thought that a business would want to use this opportunity to pull out a welcome mat and acquaint a new customer to the store, the staff and the goods & services. The business has someone who probably would have never been at their establishement in the first place and has no idea whether there’s any value to be had besides the deal in their hand. A perfect opportunity to pull out some stops and impress!

Sadly no… Perhaps there’s a consulting opportunity here. But I digress

Back to Some Sort of Point

I’m in the midst of launching a local campaign that includes a “deal” for my rates – all intended to attract new customers.

Yes, I’m quite aware the I’ll most likely be making very slim margins on my work, but the purpose of such a campaign is not to make money, but expand the rolodex. I fully intend to do as I would do with existing clients … and then some. Compared to getting new customers, convincing one who’s happy to return is easy.

You’d think this kind of stuff would be “101” or common sense when running a business, but seems as though common  sense is not really that common…

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Dave Cracked Up (Blog) Leave a Comment

Oh, puh-lease, don’t think I’m a crass, uncaring dad…

I loved the summer with the kids – we had a fantastic time. Vancouver is such an awesome place to be in the summer – it’s sunny and warm and rarely does it get sweltering hot or rainy (well, except for ALL of July this year…)

Days riding bikes, playing at the beach, hiking, walking, parks, swimming pools…

Woo Hoo!

The Inevitable Day

But, it all had to come to an end – come September 7th (the 6th didn’t count as it wasn’t a full day of school), the kids went:

As I said, it was a complete blast just having fun with the family, but the itch to get back to a routine and crank up the “machine” again was starting to present itself. The kids were not entirely thrilled and pleased to get back to a routine.

Making a List…

The To-Do list was growing. Unfortunately one of the main items was the cause of this sites redesign. A couple of weeks ago, I started getting the dreaded “404-Page Not Found” error on this site – even when I logged in to edit the site.

Going through the FTP site, I found that the directory had been deleted!

Yes, a big was appropriately uttered.

After wrangling with 1and1 to get the backup of the site restored – they didn’t know what happened to the directory – I went about rebuilding the site and thought:

[testimonial company=”Multi-hatted Maestro of Hatched Productions” author=”Dave Chick” image=”http://www.gethatched.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/20110811-Head.jpg”]

This would be a fine time to re-jig and re-design the site…

All the data is there in the database, how hard would it be to slap on a new theme and go?[/testimonial]

The work on the site took a lot longer as the theme I chose took a bit more massaging in terms of content structure – getting all the main pages working on the feature slider, mini previews, etc. I also started to look at the verbiage and decided to re-write most of the pages.

Back to the story

So, that first day, I had things already lined up, planned out and ready to go…

I had an interview with Brandon Drury of Recording Review for my podcast: Inside Home Recording. I also had an appointment to meet some dude who was taking my X-Tempo POK off my hands thru Craigslist. And, I started into some heavy writing for the site.

The next day was a lot of the same. And finally on Friday, I got the site completed and launched.

One of the killer things that I started to focus on was Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short)- something I’d casually glanced at, but didn’t really think much of for some reason.

One of the pushes for me was a recent “coupon” I got from Google – a $100 certificate for Adwords – yes “Hatched Productions” has probably popped up on some of those context-sensitive ads on sites around the world.

What was cool, was that, as part of the process, Google combs through your site and comes up with a whole poop-load of suggested search-terms to try and attach your ads to.

The lightbulb went off…

Why not just take that list and bolster the somewhat dismal population of terms I have in my SEO plug-in? That was most of Friday as Google isn’t really into making it easy to cut and paste the list. It was a manual typing effort… {sigh}

Next week – well, there’s the editing of my IHR show, some pavement pounding some errands and of course … some more work on my sites…

What Music Industry “Crisis”???

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal 3 Comments

You’ll see, at the top of the site, a bunch of graphics that will link you to four different things: my Facebook profile, my Twitter profile, the RSS feed of this site and, my LinkedIn profile. A while ago, LinkedIn started offering members the opportunity to be a part of “groups”. I looked through them and found a few – one of which was entitled “Music and Entertainment Professionals“. I signed up, apparently passed the vetting process and started to get daily email digests of the activity on the group “bulletin board”.

Crisis!

I haven’t really gotten too involved in the discussions, but one recently caught my attention entitled: “The Music Industry Crisis Document – 8th Edition. Done?”. It linked to a site entitled “Think Music – Our Plan to Restore the Music Industry“. The Music Industry Crisis Document is the cornerstone of the site and for some reason, got my write-my-opinion juices flowing on the LinkedIn board.

So, enough with the pre-amble. What’s my opinion you ask?

Well, I’ve sort of cheated and taken some of my text and re-formated it all for this post:

I’ve already emailed Chris about some technicalities in the document – most notably, the goals need to be focused better by being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-targeted. I personally found it difficult to clearly understand what the foundation wanted to achieve.

All the “problems” that are stated in the document stem from the fact that technology has taken the control the old music industry once enjoyed weilding and exploiting (for lack of a better word).

Perhaps I’m a bit cynical or am trying to play a bit of devil’s advocate here, but I tend to think that regardless of how much the industry tries to “educate” the end consumer on the problems it faces, the fact remains that the playing field has changed and old business models and structures are obsolete.

Technology enables a marketplace for artists and consumers that is different and seperate from the one in the “traditional” music industry business model. The conduit between artist and consumer is now shorter, truly global and much more interactive. The middle-men and middle-management of the old model are becoming more irrelevant and unnecessary to small and medium-sized acts.

Yes, I can sympathize that music is no longer “the product” and realizing revenue streams from selling music is becoming harder and harder, but instead of demanding that the consumer see the “err in their ways”, artists need to find the opportunities to generate revenue with their fan-base. The music is still central, but the revenue streams are going to be more about the experience between artist and consumer.

To me, legislation, unionization or other methods of control seem to be (desperate) attempts to regain control of models that are now being rendered obsolete (and will undoubtedly be circumvented). I’d suggest that instead of spending efforts on changing attitudes of the consumer, we look to change how artists can see opportunities to leverage the emerging environment that technology is facilitating.

With technology facilitating so many different aspects of marketing, distribution, commerce, etc., an artist would be naive to rely on old IP-based revenue streams as the “meat” of their bottom line anymore.

Samples, choice free downloads, discounts, coupons, etc… all those kinds of things are tools that an artist must consider in order to market themselves in the new model. It’s the LEAST they need to do in order to be “in the game”. To excel, they will need to actively engage and foster a relationship with their consumers in order to create a revenue-generating base.

I’m of the opinion that artists can no longer afford to make a living in this (new) industry unless they are willing to fully and intimately engage their client/consumer-base. The music is still central to the equation, but it’s going to be more about the artist creating and fostering value to a perhaps smaller, but more dedicated client/fan-base rather than appealing to a larger, more fickle mass audience.

The music is no longer THE product. There’s so much of it out there, and to the consumers’ eyes, with that much to choose from – as I stated above – the value of music, by itself, is no greater than that produced by the next artist.

Artists need to find a way to provide value to a consumer / fan over and above the music. The music can still be an end in itself, but it can not be assumed to be the ONLY end (revenue stream). An artist needs to give a consumer a reason to want to give him or her money and with music unfortunately being devalued by the glut of supply, the artist needs to sell the whole package … including music.

There are fantastic artists out there like Jon Coulton and Imogen Heap who are fully engaged with their audience and making a very decent living at it. Jon’s music isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t very complicated, but it’s good and catchy. You can probably find a lot of music that is very similar to his, but he differentiates his by supporting it with the experience of engaging with him through technology. It’s the same with Imogen – there are a lot of female “quirky” artists out there like her, but she actively solicits interaction with herself and her creative endevours with her fans.

They both provide a value proposition to their fan-base that differentiates their work from others. There’s interest and engagement which can be turned into alternative, more valuable, revenue streams for the artist.

Yes, the “industry”, as it once was, is in a steep decline – I don’t really think it’s a negative, but more of a course correction. We’re in the wild-west again where the artist needs to be thinking with more of a customer-service attitude (how can I provide better value to my customers) rather than one that is centered around selling a product.