Monday, December 28, 2009

More DIY vengeance

Earlier this year, Dave Carroll wrote a song about how United Airlines broke his Taylor guitar, then made a video of it with his band, Sons of Maxwell.

Now the sequel is up on YouTube: United Breaks Guitars 2

You know what blows my mind? The part at the end where they thank the volunteers who helped make the video.

If you decided not to watch, suffice it to say that this is a professional video, with lots of sets and lots of performers. The band didn't simply have someone point a camera at them while they played the song.

Nicely done, Sons of Maxwell. You are an inspiration to musicians and do-it-yourself geeks everywhere.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Conversion

Yes! I have acquired software that will convert video clips to MP3 (thank you, DeppityBob). That means I'm one step closer to being able to post stuff from our Single Payer Band Jam gig.

Now I just need to figure out how to post MP3s on this blog. For some reason, Blogger has buttons for uploading video, but not audio.

I could just upload the two clips we have so far as video. Problem is, during the first 17 minutes of our set, the camera was pointed at the spot right between Ron the Drummer and me. For the aforementioned clips, you can see Ron's hi hat and my right arm, and nothing else.

Audio will be less dorky. But I'm a little technically challenged and a lot busy, so this could take a while.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Twas the day after Christmas

'specially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
With a big grin, I remove my finger from my car radio's search button. I like this song. Even better, it's being broadcast from 94.9 Mix FM, which has played nothing but Christmas tunes for the past few weeks. Today is December 26. I officially don't have to deal with holiday music until next year.
Easy to say no
Much too easy to say nooooooo
I sigh contentedly as the last organ chord draws to a close. Yeah. I really like that—
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
(Click)

Oh well. I guess it's too much to expect Mix FM to go cold turkey.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The perils of work for hire

Like most of you, I don't generally keep up with news involving Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana. However, a bit of drama around one of the songs she sings unfolded recently, and you might find it interesting. I did. (Hat tip: Songwriting Scene.)

Seems that "The Climb," from the Hannah Montana movie soundtrack, had been nominated for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. One day later the nomination got pulled because, strictly speaking, the song hadn't actually been written for the movie.

The sequence of events makes the decision seem pretty straightforward. Jessi Alexander and John Mabe cowrote the song. Alexander, who's under contract for Disney, submitted it to Disney for general consideration. The director of Hannah Montana: The Movie wanted to use it.

Here, in the words of Alexander, is where it gets fuzzy.
We started a song. It was actually called “It’s the Climb,” and it was a more spiritual song, sung in third person. And it was really about my woes, and Jon’s woes in the music business ... [Peter Chelsom] called back within weeks and said the song was gonna be an integral part of the movie, and the only thing he needed was for me to change what I would consider to be a substantial amount of the song.
Full interview at Entertainment Weekly

They made their substantial revisions, changing third-person perspective to first-person and downplaying the spiritual elements. If they didn't write the song with Hannah Montana in mind, they certainly rewrote it with Hannah Montana in mind.

The interesting takeaway question for those who care deeply about the Grammies is, where should these guys draw the line when vetting music for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture? Does every aspect of creation have to occur with the knowledge that it will be used for the film, or can, say, the melody come beforehand?

The interesting question for me is, how do songwriters do this kind of work without going insane?

I can handle criticism. I can handle hearing that this line or that break isn't good enough. But rewriting autobiographical lyrics so they're perfect for somebody who isn't old enough to drink?

Let's just say I'm not sure I would cope with as much grace as Alexander and Mabe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cherry-picking

At some point in my teens, I decided to stay away from "greatest hits" and "best of" albums.

Doing so, I reckoned, would enhance my enjoyment of the music and honor the artists' visions. Records weren't just a random collection of tunes, after all. The good ones hung together as a coherent whole. Every song enhanced every other song.

I pondered that long-ago decision while reading an article on listening trends by Andrew Dansby.
[Eric] Garland's research suggests that people who like five or six songs from an album will ultimately acquire the whole thing, even with legal -- and illegal -- options for digital music. Short of that, they're inclined to make a $1 purchase instead of a $10 purchase.

Weak albums are pecked apart, with the carcasses of unwanted music left behind, an option that was largely unavailable on 45 rpm vinyl.

This isn't a new idea, of course. A subsequent search for "death of the album" brought me to this Christian Science Monitor article, written in 2003, the year iTunes launched. Here's the paragraph that landed the piece in my search results:

Some bands - such as Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers - have said they won't participate in the online services because they don't want their albums sold as individual songs. It takes away creative control and could bring the death of the album format, they argue.

I can sympathize. When we put out Highways and Hiking Shoes, Ron the Drummer and I (and our producer) took the album concept very seriously. We spent a great deal of time thinking about which of our songs played well together, and where each one should go. We endeavored to create the best possible listening experience—to control it.

Does it annoy me that some listeners will download our songs as singles, bypassing our carefully planned collection? A little.

Are we opposed to letting them do it? No way.

After declaring my commitment to real albums back in high school, I discovered what everybody learns eventually: most albums suck. When I bought a record (or, later, a CD) because I liked a song, I'd be lucky if even one of the other tracks was any good.

I'd like to think our own album is better than that. We worked hard to make it better than that. But the fact is, some people are only going to want one or two tracks anyway. Now that the technology is available for them to buy only what they like, who are we to tell them they shouldn't?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today's Last Chances

Every day, Sonicbids sends me e-mail with the subject heading "Today's New Gigs." We pay Sonicbids to host Cinder Bridge's electronic press kit, and said purchase entitles us to their gig alerts—opportunities to submit our work, audition, etc.

Every day I give each alert a cursory glance, then delete the message.

* * *

Back when I was attempting to enter the nonacademic workforce for the first time, I picked up a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute. There were all kinds of exercises and worksheets designed to help you figure out what to do with your life. Alas, none of them provided any clues—at least none that I could decipher.

If the book couldn't tell me what career I should pursue, however, it contained great advice about how to get a job. The nugget of wisdom that stuck with me: Classified ads are a sucker's game. Everybody uses the classifieds. Apply for a position that's posted there, and you're competing with hundreds of other desperate seekers for the same slot.

The alternative? Cold-calling. Grab your phone book (this was when people still used phone books), contact every single company that you might want to work for, and ask if there are any positions available.

It sounded crazy. After all, if a company wanted to hire someone, wouldn't they be advertising?

Not necessarily, said Parachute. Many employers intend to create a position one of these days, but they're busy and don't make it a priority ... until an interested potential employee falls into their lap. Creating the position for real becomes a much more attractive prospect if they can bypass the whole advertising/interviewing/weeding-out process.

Most companies that aren't advertising really aren't hiring. But the strategy works. I've gotten one or two jobs that way.

* * *

Every day, Sonicbids sends me a second e-mail with the subject heading "Today's Last Chances." As you might guess, these are notices for previous alerts whose deadlines are fast approaching.

Every day I think, There can't be anything too exciting here. If there were, I would have set it aside the first time around. Then again, I know I didn't look that closely ...

After a brief moment of discomfort, I delete the message.

* * *

I don't know how many musicians get these alerts. My guess is, too many. It's the classifieds all over again. Better to create our own opportunities than to spend a lot of time competing with every other Sonicbids member in our genre.

So why do I bother with these at all? Why don't I simply unsubscribe?

I haven't had the guts.

Maybe someday they'll send something that's perfect for us. What if we miss our biggest, best opportunity because I shut the door on the classifieds option forever?

At some point I will either actually submit for one of these gigs or I will gather my courage and opt out. Until then, approximately 15 seconds of every day will be wasted in the service of not burning our bridges.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lessons from Mr. Splashy Pants

Not long after reading the news item about the guys who plan to fight whalers with music, I ran across this Ted talk, in which Alexis Ohanian of Reddit describes another anti-whaling campaign.

If you don't have time for the highly entertaining video (only four minutes and change), here's the summary. The Japanese Fisheries Agency planned to kill a bunch of humpback whales in 2007. To raise awareness about this, Greenpeace put a tracking chip in one of the whales-in-peril so they could apprise people of its status.

The whale needed a name. Greenpeace submitted a list and put it up on Reddit.com so people could vote. Choices included ...

Ahani
Kaimana
Aiko
Libertad
Mira
Mr. Splashy Pants

Guess which name won by a landslide.

Greenpeace, not thrilled about the prospect of calling the mascot for this very serious issue "Mr. Splashy Pants," extended the voting period by another week. Mr. Splashy Pants still won by a landslide. The people had spoken.

Did the silly name trivialize the campaign? Not at all. The enthusiasm over voting for it garnered more awareness than Greenpeace could have dreamed of. Oh, and perhaps due to the added pressure, the Japanese government decided not to kill humpback whales in the Southern Ocean that season.

Alexis Ohanian's conclusion: It's OK to give up control sometimes. It's OK not to take yourself so seriously, to have a little fun with your cause.

* * *

I spend a lot of blogspace trying to raise awareness about a disease that causes chronic pain, crushing exhaustion not relieved by rest, cognitive impairment, and a host of other nasty symptoms. Lately I've been hanging out on a message board with other people who want to put together an awareness/fundraising campaign for said disease. The problem: the disease is called by many names, and figuring out which one to use is not a trivial matter.

These are the main contenders:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The name given to the illness in 1934, after the first documented outbreak. Very few people have heard of this.

Chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). Stresses abnormalities in patients' immune responses. Even fewer people have heard of this, as the term isn't used outside the United States.

XMRV-associated neuroimmune disorder (XAND). The latest entry, put forth by the Whittemore Peterson Institute right after discovering a link between the disease and a retrovirus called XMRV. This name has serious potential, in my opinion, but because it's only existed since mid-October, almost no one has heard of it.

Chronic fatigue syndrome. Invented in 1988, CFS is the term most people are familiar with. Unfortunately, it also trivializes the illness by implying that sufferers experience nothing worse than greater-than-average tiredness.

So the little talk about Mr. Splashy Pants got me thinking. Maybe we should do our own Reddit vote—explain our dilemma to the masses whose awareness we're trying to raise, and let them decide.

I bounced the idea off of the guy who inspired Everybody Knows About Me, my song about living with the disease. The following (highly paraphrased) discussion ensued:

Him: "It could work. We could list all the good names, with an explanation of why 'chronic fatigue syndrome' was an epic fail."

Me: "Yeah! Of course, if we do that, we're likely to end up with 'epic fail syndrome.'"

[pause]

Me: "Which would still be less stupid than 'chronic fatigue syndrome.'"

* * *

Say we do this for real. Should we even include "chronic fatigue syndrome" as one of the possibilities?

Greenpeace's campaign survived "Splashy the Whale" because most people already believe whaling is A Bad Thing and A Serious Issue. If ME/CFS/CFIDS/XAND had that sort of sentiment behind it, we wouldn't need to worry over its name in the first place. And the label "chronic fatigue syndrome" has already hurt people who have it.

But some activists would reluctantly argue that like it or not, this is the term everyone knows. Better to change people's perceptions of it than start from scratch.

What do you think? Should we give up control, and put the question to the people we're trying to reach?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Music vs. Ahab

Sea Shepherd Conversation Society is a nonprofit organization that works to protect marine species and ecosystems. Among its many activities, it sends crews out on high-tech boats to save whales from poaching.

Last year, according to Ecorazzi, the Japanese whaling fleet fought back with a long-range acoustic device that blasted a shrill, high-pitched sound at the Sea Shepherd crew harassing it.
While annoying, it definitely did not keep Paul Watson and Co. from continuing to be a nuisance — and it appears to have inspired them to bring their own “music” [on this year's intervention].

Pete Bethune, captain of the new Sea Shepherd stealth boat “Ady Gil,” has revealed that he’ll be blaring the song “Tangaroa” from NZ musician Tiki Taan. “It’s a pretty spooky dark song and it’s got this sort of ethereal Maori chant going on it and I don’t think they’ll like it at all,” he told a NZ Radio station.
Funny thing is, I liked the song a lot when I heard it on YouTube. In fact, I think it would make great workalong music. Then again, I listened voluntarily on earbuds at a reasonable volume. It will be interesting to find out what happens when it's blasted during an epic confrontation on the high seas.

Have a listen. What do you think? Will "Tangaroa" work as intended? Would it stop you from doing nefarious deeds?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New home for Everybody Knows About Me

A while back, Cinder Bridge recorded a song called "Everybody Knows About Me," about someone living with ME/CFS. We wanted to use the song to promote awareness about the disease, but didn't know where to begin.

A web search led me to Tom Hennessey, the activist who founded ME Awareness Day. I contacted him and asked for advice. Upon hearing the song, he offered to host it on his own site, RESCINDinc.org, and take donations for downloads.

Sadly, the site's been down for a few months now, probably because Tom isn't doing well. He's actually been very sick for a long time, so "not doing well" is a relative thing—he's doing even worse. I've resisted finding a new home for "Everybody Knows About Me," hoping the site would come back. There are other places I can put it, but none that will take donations.

Tonight I wanted to give someone a link to the song and decided, enough waiting. I just made the fully arranged and produced version of "Everybody Knows About Me" available for download on Myspace. It replaces the demo version that was up there before.

If RESCIND makes a dramatic reappearance, or if we hook up with another ME organization that would like to use the song for donations, maybe I'll take it off Myspace. In the meantime, anyone looking for "Everybody Knows About Me" can find it here:

myspace.com/cinderbridge

Friday, December 11, 2009

Woofers, tweeters, hooters

This just landed in my e-mail inbox, courtesy of my dad:
Apple announced today that it has developed a breast implant that can store and play music. The iTit will cost from $499 to $699, depending on cup and speaker size.

This is a major breakthrough, as women are always complaining about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them.
Yeah, you laugh, but this could be a real thing someday.
BT Laboratories analyst Ian Pearson believes breast implants may as well serve a purpose rather than.....well, lets just say "eye candy". Pearson states, "if a woman has something implanted permanently, it might as well do something useful ..."

Pearson's idea involves inserting an MP3 player in one breast and a storage chip in the other. The implants would transmit sound and be controlled with Bluetooth technology.
According to the mini-article, this technology could be available within the next 15 years. The article was written in 2005, so just 11 years to go!

I'll keep you abreast of any updates.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Mozart effect

Why is it always Mozart?

Seems like any time scientists discover a link between music and some measurable form of well-being, the music is his. Mozart makes you smarter. Mozart improves your memory. Mozart promotes good health.

According to the latest such report, Mozart's music may help slow the metabolism of babies born prematurely. This could mean they'd gain needed weight more quickly.

Cool. But why Mozart and not, say, Brahms? Why not Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, or Debussy?

The researchers themselves say it's not yet clear whether the benefits come from Mozart specifically, or music in general. But ...
They do, however, point to a previous study of adults with seizures that found that compositions by Mozart, more so than other classical composers, appeared to lower seizure frequency. It's possible, according to Lubetzky's team, that the proposed Mozart effect on the brain is related to the structure of his compositions.

Compared with other famous composers, they explain, Mozart's music tends to repeat the melodic line more frequently. Other researchers have speculated that this more-organized musical structure may have greater resonance for the brain.
If the speculation proves correct, it has interesting implications. Find out what about Mozart's music produces the Mozart effect, and composers can incorporate it into some of their own works, on purpose.

It'd be fun to hear what today's aspiring Mozarts think up.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tempo inflation

Listening to the recording of our last gig, I noticed that we played some of our slow songs a little fast. This is a common performance issue. When you're in front of an audience, the extra adrenaline makes you want to speed up, and also makes it harder to realize you're doing it.

We decided at yesterday's rehearsal to work on those slow songs and get them up to speed. Or down, as the case may be.

As we practiced, I realized I couldn't blame my fast count-offs on the thrill of playing live. Here we were, in Ron's living room, no one to hear us (except Ron's wife, who's allowed to witness our mistakes), and the songs at the correct tempo sounded like freaking dirges.

Why is it that music seems slower when we play it than when we listen to recordings of ourselves playing it?

Is there a neuroscientist in the house?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Invisible illnesses and media bias: Comment advocacy

A little while ago, I ran into fibroPR101 on Twitter. As her handle suggests, she does public relations for organizations that support people with fibromyalgia and other chronic diseases. I asked her (in 140 characters or less) for advice on how to get the media to dig deeper when psychiatrists make claims about ME/CFS or fibro being psychosomatic.

Here's her response, in more than 140 characters.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rudolph and Jack

Hunting for green things in the produce aisle at Whole Foods, I hear the opening strains of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Ugh. I liked this when I was nine. Like most secular Christmas songs aimed primarily at kids, it hasn't aged well.

I grumble to myself for a bit, then realize it isn't quite as annoying as I'd anticipated. The arrangement is one I haven't heard before.

And yet, there's something familiar ...

My god. It's Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson is making "Rudolph" ... not entirely suck.

See, there's a reason I buy every album this man puts out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

#60

I'm in a good mood. You know that song-in-progress I've been talking about? I finished it tonight. Actually, Tuesday night—it's well past midnight as I type this.

It's taken months to complete. Despite the advice of many experts who tell you to write at least one song a week, I tend to go slow.

And yet ... this is my 60th song. I have now written 60 songs.

Is that a lot? Or are there actually people out there who write 52 songs a year?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In praise of my inner critic

Last week I wrote a line for a song I'm working on. Honed it a bit. My inner editor said, It's OK. Could lead to something good if we add supporting lyrics elsewhere. Otherwise it doesn't quite connect.

Tonight I swapped out one word in that line for another one. Something that tied in more strongly with the surrounding words.

Yes, said my critic. Yes. That's it.

Some people say you shouldn't censor yourself when you create a first draft. Just go with the flow, edit later. The implication, I think, is that editing inhibits creativity. That you do yourself harm by badmouthing your creation while it's in progress.

Maybe they're right. Still, I'm loathe to silence my editor at any stage of the process. Yes, it slows me down. Yes, it tells me what I've done isn't good enough. But mostly it tells me I can do better.

And when I listen to it, I do better.

Works for me.