Do the Work

“With the democratization of music performance, we are all music inventors now. Anybody with a laptop and the ability to whistle a tune may invent the next musical genre without ever finding her way to a rehearsal room.”

That’s Bill Bruford. Former drummer for King Crimson, Yes and an array of his own combinations, Bruford got off the stage in 2009 and went on to acquire a Ph.D from the University of Surrey.

“We are all music inventors now.” That’s the definition of irony.

In an essay appearing in The Absolute Sound, Bruford makes many salient points about how many people want to be musicians without putting in the effort that it takes to be a musician that can actually move the art to where it hasn’t been.

Among them:

• “Before the digital world arrived, you were Liszt or Liberace, Satriani or Santana, Hendrix or Holiday, Marley or Madonna, violinist, bassist, or saxophonist, or you aspired to being one of those, or assisted one of them in your role as a skilled support instrumentalist. Now that facsimiles of all these people are in our laptops, are we still making fresh ones?”

• “To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long.”

And because he is a drummer:

• “Drummers are well placed to resuscitate, to breathe life, to bring life to collective performance, but they remain too ready to abandon training, instinct and intuition at a moment’s notice, to accommodate another’s worldview. They tinker away in the engine room of the music to little effect—an abandonment of their traditional area of influence that borders upon a dereliction of duty. Such dereliction cedes power to others (client/producer/programmer) and eliminates the participatory discrepancies that make a performance unique. . . . To follow that road for a few more years will rightly consign the drummer to oblivion and do a calamitous disservice to popular music.”

But the only drummers who are likely to take stands, to create something that they are confident of, are those who have honed their capabilities. And that takes time. Sure, there is talent, but talent not tested through time is ephemeral.

While it might be thought that Bruford is just a crabby old man bitching about digital technology, yes, he is an old man, 72 years old, but it is hard to imagine that a guy who goes from being a performer on some of the biggest stages to the world to a classroom to get a degree in Music is in some way mentally ossified. Odds are he used a keyboard not a quill to write his essay.

Continue reading Do the Work

In My Room: On the Sound of Music

Anyone can record a song from their living room and put it out. That over-saturation of music, it’s a good thing.—Zak Bia, Cool Hunting

Forget the big budget records, more and more music is being made by individuals in bedrooms, home studios, on a budget.—Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

The first quote is from a guy who has started his own recording company, Field Trip Records. The context isn’t so much about recording per se as it is about breaking artists. Obviously, last year was pretty much a wash in terms of what he calls one of “the best ways to break artists”: “through live shows and showcases.” So it was a matter of recording (“I signed this kid when he was 15, and he was doing all this on his own from his bedroom”) and getting the music out into the environment at large.

Presumably that is now much easier, although it is probable that given the number of people who were recording in their homes because there was little else to do after March 2020 there is going to be a tremendous glut of music to choose from. Which will either lead to people (1) accepting things that are less than first-rate because they are interested in anything new and different or (2) ignoring much of the available output, wanting only the best audio fidelity.

Which leads me to the point being made by Lefsetz. In his case he was writing about Spatial Audio on Apple Music. His beef is that existing recordings are being remixed via Dolby Atmos. According to the Dolby website, Atmos “It starts with the artist. Dolby Atmos technology lets them place each voice, instrument, or sound in its own space. Wherever you hear it, you’re in the center.”

The question at hand is whether the “artist” is involved—or even the engineer—in reformatting the music from its original format—probably stereo—to Atmos.

And these audio changes are something that Lefsetz decidedly does not like: “Actually, the more I listen to these Spatial Audio cuts, the more offensive they become. . . . . These are not the original records, they’ve been messed with, they’re not even facsimiles, they’re bastardizations.”

Continue reading In My Room: On the Sound of Music

New Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen: Like I Used To

Video: Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”

Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen - Like I Used To (Official Video)

Directed by Kimberly Stuckwisch. Single out now on Jagjaguwar.

Phil Spector is dead. Long live the Wall of Sound.

Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen are no strangers to large-scale, cinematic soundscapes that connect emotionally. It makes sense that they would collaborate. And the results do not disappoint.

Sleepin’ in late like I used to
Crossing my fingers like I used to
Waiting inside like I used to
Avoiding big crowds like I used to.

It’s easy to read everything these days in light of quarantines and pandemics, or maybe — just maybe — isolation and fear and longing have always ripe subjects for lyrics. Anyway, hopefully someday sooner than later we’ll all be getting back to doing things a little more like we used to.

Sharon Van Etten: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Dee Snider: I Gotta Rock (Again)

Video: Dee Snider – “I Gotta Rock (Again)”

DEE SNIDER - I Gotta Rock (Again) (Official Video) | Napalm Records

Directed by Paul McGuire. From Leave A Scar, due July 30 on Napalm.

I am a little hesitant to post this because I add every song I put up on GLONO to a playlist that I listen to fairly regularly, and well…I’m not convinced that I’m ever going to want to listen to this again. I wish it was good. I really wanted it to be good. But man, it’s just not.

I like Dee Snider. He seems like a great guy. I saw him at Riot Fest a few years ago and it was a really fun set in the middle of a hot, sunny day.

I’ve sort of felt bad ever since I tweeted a nasty comment about his cover of “Cabaret” and he actually RT-ed it. “You can’t please everyone! lol!” Made me question the whole practice of tagging celebrities. Like, do you really want them to see this? Why are you posting mean stuff at all? Choose the targets of your vitriol carefully. Don’t be a dick.

Because Twisted Sister changed my life. I’ve told this story before, but one day when I was 12 or 13 my mom asked me to make my bed or do my homework or something like that, and I started thrashing around my room screaming “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” My mom had earlier seen me watching that video on MTV and did not approve. At all. Convinced that my defiance was a direct result of my access to deviance like that (garbage in, garbage out), she called up the cable company and told them she no longer wanted MTV in her house. Much to my horror, the cable company disconnected that one channel. It wasn’t even just scrambled, like HBO. Nope channel “I (22)” was blacked out. All the way. I wanted my MTV but it was gone.

Thirty years later, I experienced one of the greatest parenting moments of my life when I introduced my 9 year old son to the “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” videos. They’re still great and I’m happy to report they still have the same effect on kids today as they did back then. Pure, unadulterated joy.

I wanted this new song to provide even a fraction of that joy. But it doesn’t.

Print Publishing & BTS

It seemed rather strange to me. Yes, I have written before about Rolling Stone offering me a tote bag were I to subscribe, as though the publication founded in 1967 was now taking the route of my local PBS station during a fund drive. What, exactly, would someone carry in their official Rolling Stone tote? Presumably not “Downton Abbey” swag. But maybe that is, indeed, what is carried.

There was a clue, however, in the email solicitation recently sent by RS. It indicated that were I to subscribe before the time was up, I would “Get the BTS Issue guaranteed.” There was a photo of the cover of that issue with the seven Korean boys on the cover with a headline above the logo reading “THE FUTURE of MUSIC ISSUE.” Which seemed to be something of a disconnection: wouldn’t the future provide something like a fan with a USB plug on the end that would allow someone to catch a breeze while getting “Instant Access” to:

–Exclusive interviews
–Award-winning features
–Trusted music, TV, and movie reviews
–In-depth political commentary

A tote bag?

As the pandemic is fading, there are an increasing number of people who are out in the market buying things, which is leading to some rather startling numbers. For example, take the Honda HR-V, a small utility vehicle. In May its sales were up 115.8% percent compared with May 2020. Sure, May 2020 was when many people were inside, calculating how to use the available toilet paper to make it last (this is something that deserves deep economic and sociological analyses: how did an allegedly advanced, 21st-century country like the U.S. suddenly have shelves bereft of Charmin and even off-label bog rolls?).

A stat that is perhaps more remarkable than that is the according to Nikkei Asia, in Q4 2020 Big Hit Entertainment had an increase of 122% year-over-year, as the firm made 52.5 billion won. Big Hit is a Korean company. That number in U.S. dollars is $47 million.

And the biggest contributor to that was BTS. That’s right, the band of the future is making big money for Big Hit, accounting for 87.7% of Big Hit’s revenue for the first half of 2020.

Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are crushing it.

Continue reading Print Publishing & BTS

New Lucy Dacus: VBS

Video: Lucy Dacus – “VBS”

Lucy Dacus - "VBS" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Marin Leong. From Home Video, out June 25 on Matador.

In the summer of ’07 Lucy Dacus was twelve years old. “VBS” tells the story of going to a sleepover church camp where she meets and ultimately falls for another camper. This other camper is one of those beautifully damaged, tragic characters that that seem so attractive when we are young.

I’m more than twenty years older than Lucy Dacus so maybe things have changed but when I attended vacation bible school it was just a drop-off thing for elementary school-aged kids where we painted little clay signs that said “Joy!” on them. One year I made a needlepoint thing that said “JESUS” but inverted so you had to “find Jesus” in it. It lived on a wall in our kitchen for decades. I did a little googling and found one just like it.

Happy to see that people are still out there helping people find Jesus via cross-stitched optical illusions.

Anyway, there was no snorting nutmeg or blasting Slayer at VBS back in my day!

New Lou Barlow video: In My Arms

Video: Lou Barlow – “In My Arms”

Lou Barlow - In My Arms (Official Video)

From Reason to Live, out now on Joyful Noise.

How great is Lou Barlow? The four-track maestro has apparently kept everything he’s ever recorded, because this song features a sample of a tape he made almost 40 years ago.

Barlow says, “This song is about writing songs and how I’ve, admittedly, lost my way many times. But, in the depths of the quarantine, I came to realize, again, that entertaining myself with sound is my greatest defense against the non-stop chatter in my brain. The guitar that begins the song is a recording from 1982 and one of the first melodies that I captured on a portable cassette recorder. I’ve never forgotten it and took the opportunity of a lengthy stay at home, among my stuff, to exhume and expand it. The video documents how and where I augmented it: two drums on the floor of my attic and the room I record in.”

Very cool. It’s fun to see where the magic happens. And the song is great, proving at least some good has come out of this pandemic.

The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

Of course it is like this. The Save Our Stages Act, S.4258, which allows the Small Business Administration “to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues”—and we’re talking real money, an initial grant up to $12-million that can be supplemented by one equal to 50% of the initial grant—has been passed. Months ago.

But according to recent reporting in Variety, there is one non-trivial snag: the venues haven’t gotten any money.

The problem? Oh, probably the website.

A representative of the Small Business Administration is quoted by Variety saying, “the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”

Possibly by the time you read this some of the $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be making its way to a venue near you.

But think about that for a minute: a given operation has experienced a 90% revenue loss? This isn’t a short, one-time event, like having a lemonade stand: one day it is hot and the sales are brisk; the next day there are torrential storms and the stand gets no customers; the following day it is back to sweltering and the thirsty return. That middle day there is a 100% loss. But the pandemic has lasted for more than a day. Obviously.

Certainly things are opening with a feeling of freshness, like throwing open the windows after a long winter of dealing with steam heat.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too many small businesses—such as bars and clubs—the winter has been too long, and what seemed as though it would be at least a way to recover somewhat so far isn’t helping. One wonders whether it will be able to help at all for some of these venues or the life preserver will be thrown in the water after the third time the operation has gone down.

Continue reading The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

New Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha

Video: Faye Webster – “I Know I’m Funny haha”

Faye Webster - I Know I'm Funny haha (Official Video)

From I Know I’m Funny haha, out June 25 on Secretly Canadian.

Faye Webster is from Georgia but this video reminds me of being on the lake in Michigan. Summer is right around the corner and I can’t wait.

Webster says, “This song feels all over the place but at the same time, it tells a story so simple and understandable. Me not getting my security deposit back from my landlord, my partner’s family forgetting who I am because they were drunk, wanting to be in a rock band with Booth…. It almost sounds like a mad lib at first sight, but it just works.”

It does. The steel guitar pulls it all together.

Faye Webster: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Sondre Lerche video: King of Letting Go

Video: Sondre Lerche – “King of Letting Go”

Sondre Lerche – King of Letting Go (Official Video)

Directed by Jon Danovic. Single out now.

Sounds like our favorite Norwegian heartthrob has been hitting the disco! And why not? He moved back home to Norway at the start of the pandemic, and Norway has had some of Europe’s lowest rates of infections and deaths.

About one in three Norwegian adults have received a first dose of a vaccine and roughly 15% of adults are fully vaccinated, so hopefully Lerche is among them. I think I heard that the new CDC guidelines suggest that fully vaccinated people are allowed to shake their booty, but I don’t know if that applies in Norway…

Sondre Lerche: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Rock and roll can change your life.