A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Two brains trump one every time.

Ultimo, Leonardo!   Grazi!

Brother Leo is not mentioned AT ALL on this particular website. I just thought his picture MAY get me a higher Google listing.

Collaboration … root word, labor. So, labor together. Work together! There is something to be said about thing #A inspiring thing #B, together now OR separately.Together, as in John and Paul. An instance of inspiring separately, whether through time or distance, may be David Bowie and Marilyn Manson, separated by YEARS!

A buddy and I were always tech-ing on studio anomalies, some of which were simple and obvious, others that were horribly complex. But when we would get together to help each other solve a problem, we didn’t call it collaborating … we used the acronym THABTO … “Two Heads Are Better Than One.”  Simple, right? Well, that’s not just my acronym … Patrick and I both came up with THABTO. We collaborated on the acronym, in fact!. I ALWAYS like my work more when its mixed with something more than just me solo. It seems my productions are ALWAYS at least 10 to 50% more “entertaining” when I collaborate with the band. And entertaining is 150% of what music wants to be  anyway. Right?

I LIKE to be entertained …

No two people think EXACTLY alike. As a tech, I may lean a bit toward the physical or scientific side of “stuff” where a good collaborator would be the one adding him/herself, say more lucid in the range of creative and, with common sense! Alone, I couldn’t get it – nor could he. But together, we could look at many more possibilities because the person #1 may not let person #2 wander aimlessly, knowing that in the end, it isn’t helping get to the “goal”. On something that takes long term planning … say, writing a book … I may write until I’m just running out of creativity, then give it to Mr. THABTO for a few weeks. Gone from me, its time I use as “RELOAD TIME”  so that when he/she begins to add their “slant”, the entire direction of mine would suddenly spark my creative “stuff” again; it would be less stale and go for a few weeks on a new, way more inspired course. Then back to him/her. Over and over this scene repeats until we have a work of substance on our hands, when actually neither one of us individually was even a near here!

Think back: Leiber and Stoller. Karen and Richard Carpenter. Jesse and Robin (Gin Blossoms) or back to:

John and Paul,  The Coen Brothers. Sid and Nancy (Sid and Nancy??)

You must admit that by himself, John Lennon had an edge. And good reason to have him that edge. But to many it was just a bit too much reality for my pea-sized ears. Too acetic. Enter Paul McCartney. Just the opposite, he, when left alone, he was just a bit too “sweet”, if I may. (Too much honey gluts the stomach) Too much acid BURNS the stomach. BUT … together, for many years, each man tempered the other, and the result was exactly what the mainstream music listeners wanted. And neither man, as many solo artists are prone to do after awhile, strayed much from this obviously profit oriented machine they had come up with. Capitalism at it’s finest! And though Doug Hopkins from Gin Blossoms had already removed his own head via a weapon, Jesse Valenzuela and Robin Wilson had now become very much like John and Paul. Kurt Cobain gave rise to Dave Grohl and I’m sure they had to have done quite a bit of THABTO. Now, that zany Beck is a definite exception. I THINK he may just be brilliant. But many times, the BEST music comes from collaboration. Just like “O’ Brother Where art Thou?” is a mind-melding from the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. (PS … Bear in mind they dug up the creepy “friend – o” dude Anton played by the also brilliant Javier Bardem.)

And you know what? Since everyone gets a recording studio in their laptop or whatever, collaboration has gone down the tubes. Not only that, but the “Musical Masturbation” that goes on in these self-imposed music prisons has given us nothing but SHIT! (But there are always exceptions)

John and Yoko, Bogie and Bacall
Hanna- Barbera, Simon and Garfunkel, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Missy Elliott and Timbaland… the list is MILES long.

And, as I ask for opinions, I leave you with this: One person is one highly entertaining, and his/her life improving entry into the journal of human experience can be a real PLUS. One = one. Two is the result of one plus one. So far, many of us haven’t exactly moved mountains single handedly, OR changed the course of mighty rivers! In fact, we may have overall actually left less than if we had never been there. No biggie. BUT two together makes a third thing: when number one and two and combine, a synergy is formed by the bond that, given it’s just a big more inspiration, that synergy actually becomes someone new and different … number 3! Now there is more there than what was ever there to begin with. Just like Spinal Tap Nigel’s “It’s one better!” was, now YOUR amp goes to eleven!

Next question, Geronimo …HereComeThePlanes

How’s that new technology workin’ for you?

Why is it … that every single time a new technology (iPhone, iPad, iBulb, iWish) is introduced, we, “John Q. Public and Co., LTD. LLC”, welcome it with almost frenzied anticipation. We never think about even thinking about the repercussions it could wreak on society … or if it’s REALLY going to make life easier and/or better. Here’s a story from the London Telegraph dated June, 2011, that states that the new, hotter than sunburn “green” CFL light bulbs, the ones that are going to replace the lame, 1000-year-old, stupid, (-but-proven) bulbs … can release cancer causing … stuff. Now THAT’s progress; a giant leap toward technical excellence; a nightmarish technical PICNIC!!! Real, live, no-joke scientists, after a wagonload of studying the curly little rat inside and out, say the bulbs should never be near your head or left on!! I have one in my shower that’s been on 24/7 for over a year as my night light. But our prez sez, energy costs are going to “necessarily skyrocket”, so the CFL looks like the perfect answer! Right? Sure…. IF YOU DON’T MIND KIDS WITH 3 OR 4 EYES, OR ELEVEN THUMBS! We truly are The Apex of Thought if we move forward with this one.

See for yourself, if it’s still in the archives…..


But any new technology is going to have some “bugs” to work out before it’s really consumer-ready. I got a new MacBook recently and once I was over how really cool it looked, I noticed a not so funny anomaly …  if I touched it anywhere on it’s chassis while my other hand was operating the trackpad, out of nowhere …BOOM! I’m in a chat-room for one legged Tango dancers!

The 1995 Chevy Blazer had over 500 “Engineering Change Orders” (fixes) between 1985 and 1986.

Now the younger crowd is making a run on turntables. And USB turntables. I understood the whole turntable run when CDs first appeared AND players were finally under $200. It was then that many college radio stations had so much money tied up in vinyl, they bought one or two more lest the things “disappear” overnight. And they simply couldn’t afford a new CD to replace every vinyl LP, not to mention that at the time, every record ever made was NOT on CD also.

Case 1:Now here’s the odd part-and the crux of this second piece concerning vinyl records: We are still going through a run on turntables. Today! But now, EVERYTHING IS available in the digital format; whether a CD or a download that, to many ears, is the same “fidelity” as a CD. So why all the turntables? Well, I’ll tell you why, sonny. The average record buyer has lived with the (sub-standard) sound quality of a CD long enough to notice a difference between the CD and vinyl! Many of you have never heard a vinyl record! “But Hampton, I think CDs sound great!” And then they “prove” it by playing a great recording of a great song written by a great artist! LOUDLY! A record made by great musical minds will sound good on a laptop with toilet paper in your ears!! And/or LOUD!

An audiologist (one that studies sound) will tell you that you can “hear” from 20Hz (Hz = Hertz, the number of vibrations per second something makes, to about 20,000Hz. 20 Hz is low, low bass, like the sound of fireworks when they launch. Or when the ones with no color sparkle … just flash, then 4 or 5 seconds later …. BOOM! 20Hz! That low sound that literally moves you;  it moves your butt out of your chair when you’re in a good theater playing “Avatar”, and that first shuttle is landing. Or the volcano erupts from the La Brea Tarpits in downtown L.A. 20,000Hz is the high, high stuff like metal on metal; a cymbal crash or breaking glass contain 20,000Hz. Anything above that is what makes your dog’s head tilt to one side. Yes, there ARE vibrations up there, but our cilia in our ears are too coarse to wobble that fast. So, CD regulators made a specification that if sound higher than 22,050Hz gets recorded, an electronic circuit enters the picture and acts like a sound-cop. “STOP! If you are higher than 22,050 vibrations per second, you will NOT be included on this CD. So just go back to your cars before I turn you into distortion!” But this isn’t a bad circuit. It CAN’T be. Because it’s … a newer, better technology. Better than vinyl anyway. Right?

Well, maybe not. Scientists in Japan are now discovering that the brain reacts to sounds well above that 22,050 Hz, where whales communicate and Cicada carry on primal conversation. Even dogs hear things that we “can’t”. Or can we? Neve asks, “How do these ultra-high frequencies get inyo our nervous system? We are beginning to think it could be through the skin. Perhaps even through the etes.

Case 2: Geoff Emerick, Rupert Neve and a dodgy anecdote re module #12

Nece designs the best audio consoles around. Well, he and Peter Gabriel, the owner of Solid State Logic, another fine British console, or “desk” as the Brits call them. Rupert would drop in on Geoff every now and then just to chat it up a bit, as well as ask him how his Neve desk was behaving. Rupert noticed once that the console went from 1 to 11, then 32, then 13-31. And the module #12 was all the way at the end. When grilled about it, Emerick’s reply was simply ” I can’t really say, Rupert. I just don’t like the way that module sounds”. When Mr. Neve asked if he could take #12 to his shop and look it over, Geoff was fine with it. “I won’t be using it”.

So at the plant, Rupert had his tech team run distortion tests, intermodulation tests, frequency response test (Hz) from 20 to 25, 000 Hz. and they found absolutely nothing amiss. On a whim, Rupert got them to run a frequency response test all the way to 100,000Hz! And to their amazement, they noticed it had a rise in volume around 56,000Hz! Meaning it was adding it’s own color to the sound. But wait … if we can’t hear past 21,000Hz, what difference would a rise at 56,000 make? Neve asked his guys to find out why the rise, and they found a transformer with a 100 ohm* termination instead of 1000 ohms*. They corrected the problem, and ran the test again. Perfect. Coloration gone. He had returned the module to a state of high fidelity, or “Hi-Fi” (highly faithful reproduction of the original sound), which was always the goal. Rupert had one of the guys return the now faithful module back to Emerick.

When he dropped in on Geoff after that, the console was numbered “10,11,12,13,” ad numerum. When Geoff took a break, Rupert asked him if the module sounded better to him now. Geoff responded by asking,”You saw it’s back where it belongs, didn’t you?” ‘Nuff said. But then again, it opens an entirely new door in the study of audiology.

This story is one that Rupert Neve related at a SPARS** luncheon meet-and-greet a few years ago in New York at an AES*** convention. So what does it all mean? It means that a CD or a digital download do NOT contain all of the sound that the music is putting out there. There are frequencies well above that 22,050Hz “brick-wall” in every CD player on the planet that removes a part of the musical experience. But vinyl records can get a lot closer to “Perf-Fi” (Perfect Fidelity) if you are listening through great speakers, with a good stylus on the “tone arm”. Did you know there are styli that can reproduce up to 60,000Hz? And speakers that will reproduce well into the 30,000Hz range. Well, guess what else? ANALOG TAPE will record and reproduce up toward 50,000Hz. So…

If analog tape can record it, and vinyl can reproduce it, why in the world are we giving in to the sub-par CD, that abruptly cuts off audio that is very much a part of our everyday, especially our music? If you are one that believes music is a spiritual entity, would YOU like to see God as you understand him (or don’t) walking around on crutches?


Whew! Now THAT got deep. ………. Next question

*- An ohm is a measure of resistance to electronic current flow.
**-The Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios
***-Audio Engineering Society

ProTools 9 … One step closer to Photoshop for music.

Is our planet getting to be a wacky, whirlwind of a world that we wander in, or WHAT? I mean, everyone is afraid to do anything because no one knows if prices are going up more, or if they are going to come back to Earth. We just can’t get off the breast of Middle-East oil because environmentalists just won’t let us drill anywhere, for fear of wiping out the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot … though right beneath our feet there’s enough oil to keep the Sheiks from our doorstep for generations! Amidst all this,  technology allows almost anyone to make a record with a couple instruments and a laptop! Like I said, it’s a wacky world we’re wandering.

So it’s all in a big, weird state of flux, or rather flux NOT. But some things are moving forward; DAMN the torpedos. Like music technology, computer technology, ANY technology. And like I’ve said, it’s not a nice, straight line of advancement like it has been since the dawn of time. Instead of people designing “stuff”, people are designing computers that design “stuff”. Some computers are designing other computers that design “stuff” to make computers that design “stuff” better. What used to be a linear progress is becoming asymptotic, or exponential progress. ( Hint: These are words that are getting more and more airplay as time moves on.)

As technology marches blindly on, music technology marches with it. Save for one tiny difference. It seems as if the sonic part of music technology is going backwards as it marches … forward? Honestly! Imagine this: From the 1940s until the late eighties, recording to analog, magnetic tape was … well, it’s how it was done. The most popular means of recording music now is almost like it’s always been, except the advancement of the technology allows for cheaper microphones, less than high-fidelity processing, you know. . . junk. But it is by no means ALL junk. Some things cut through the sea of junk and make it to shore, and we find that it’s a really fantastic breakthrough. Let’s look at the most cutting edge breakthrough of them all: the recording medium. By today’s standards, the first digital (not analog) recording medium  was crap when compared to analog tape pressed onto good, virgin vinyl … at least to my two earholes. Call me nuts. But if I’m nuts, you’ve got to tell Jack White he’s nuts, too … (all if his THIRD MAN Records releases are vinyl.) And Ozzie (?), The Black Keys, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes … about 99% of “ear-havers” on the planet. But not many will argue against the latest version of ProTools, easily the most used recording platform in the world. And now, you may, if you wish, mimic the sound of analog tape on each and every ProTools track!

But why in the world would the most popular digital recording medium in the world go to these kind of lengths to NOT SOUND DIGITAL? WHY? Thirty years of developing digital just to end up where we started? I don’t get it. Unless …

Unless it’s an admission that the pro-vinyl folks are right, and analog tape sounds better than digital no matter how much technology you put behind it. I say … not exactly. At least that’s not the whole story.

If you are a bad musician, and I include a voice as an instrument, you will NEVER be good. Never. Go back to school. But if you are a fair musician, ProTools can make you a better musician. But, go back to school anyway. We are already awash in mediocrity without your adding to the party! But if you are a pretty good musician, hang on to that tuition cash for a minute. Because ProTools MIGHT help you be good. And from good, it’s possible (possible) that you can get to great. Save for one caveat. There could be one teeny-weeny . problem with using it a lot. Live performance. Because ProTools 9 is out, and it’s one step closer to Photoshop for music.

There’s a feature in there (in ProTools) that can make your drummer steadier than he really is. DRAG. CLICK.  The world famous “Auto-Tune®” (now it’s “Melodyne®”) will make your out of tune singing on key. SHIFT DOUBLE-CLICK. Having a bit of trouble deciding when your equametric-paralyzer (tone) is helping,  or your compressor (dynamic range) is hurting? No worries, mate!. It can make those decisions for you.There are lots of presets that were dialed up by the smart guys who know all about it, because most read the old manuals! And lose that cheap guitar sound in a flash because there are plenty of pre-set amplifiers in there, too. From settings The Beatles dialed up, to Carlos Santana, and everything in between! If you keep running out of air because the key of the song never got a second thought, just sing one good chorus, and paste it in to all of the chori! If your drummer can’t get off work, Apple will give you some great drum parts, thanks to Apple Loops®! Yes, it’s a wanna-be’s dream come true. Now you can make a record all by your little lonesome, in your bedroom, after work (when you’re half beat and your girlfriend is getting real bored watching you indulge yourself.)  And when (if) that little jewel is all done,  just show it off on MySpace®, and maybe you can even get iTunes® or  uTones© to sell it. I can see the headlines now: AVERAGE LOCAL MUSICIAN DOES FAIR; SELLS MANY RECORDS ON WEBSITE! Mirabili dictu! Will miracles never cease? (This is one miracle that I often pray … will.)

I mean, why take all the time needed to deliver a touching, inspired, bring-’em-to-the-edge-of-tears-type vocal performance that has the power to change lives, … when you can just slack your way through one half-fast performance, then use the recorder like the coolest video game ever made … for a week? And speaking of inspired, I can tell you for sure that inspiration is hard to pull off even in the best of recording studios, if you have no feedback. How do you do it in your room, at night, after work, with your bored girlfriend trying to watch “Jersey Girls”? Or say that you are Mr. Virtuoso … don’t you need some kind of feedback? The word we are missing here is collaboration. Don’t you need someone to bounce ideas off of, like a band mate, or a producer, or even the engineer … (if you’re wise enough to hire a professional to help) Some sort of collaboration? Remember John and Paul, and then John or Paul? Was each alone really as good as both of them, together, swapping ideas?

Finally, notice that as technology shares in it’s breakthroughs, it begins to grow beyond our wildest dreams. And as the artist isolates more, adrift in that technology, music that warms the soul seems to become quieter, harder to hear.

Maybe it’s disappearing … just as fast as the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot.

Geoff Emerick and the Legend of Strawberry Fields

Did you know that Julian Lennon’s dad used to have a band with that guy in Wings? I have a vague remembrance as a boy (it was February 1964) of watching “Ladies and gentlemen, The BEATLES!” on  TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time. It was a stunning moment for me and millions of others. That cleverly planned moment (I mean come on … 20 days after the record release … how DID they get that gig?) was that moment that  I fell in love with music. But por mois, it was even more than that, resonating with the spiritual side of me. Have you ever reacted to music like that, or am I the only one? My brother Randy and I went to our room when the show was over and, with a broom and a bed … part, we stood in front of the ceiling lamp watching our shadows on the wall morph into John and George. (I was John and Paul was a leftie) That night defined the beginning of my life in music, as it did many others, I’m sure.

I kept up with the band through every part of their meteoric careers, buying everything they released in America. And then later, and into my twenties, I discovered the stores in New York where you could buy British releases of stuff never released state-side. I found a way to keep up with them after they had disbanded. But when I began the recording studio part of my life, I noticed from reading the inside of Anthology 1 that their “team” wasn’t even mentioned on the records; the team of people putting that music together. I mean surely the band didn’t just walk ino any recording studio in the world, running around plugging in microphones, bringing orchestras in and telling them what to do! And SURELY they weren’t the only ones who, after making these gems, sat behind the recording equipment and put the final balance on all of these guitars and French Horns and vocals and miscellaneous cacophony. Nope, it wasn’t them. But it was a team … that was dedicated to seeing that their artistic vision made it safely into my hands, as un-altered as possible. There was George Martin, their “producer”, whatever that meant. And at first,  the “engineer” was Norman Smith. But toward the end of recording their ear-turning Revolver record,  Norman moved on to produce Pink Floyd, and Geoff Emerick, became the guy sitting alongside Martin in the control room. My older sister was staying in tune with The Beach Boys, who were going through their own metamorphasis with their acclaimed Pet Sounds record as both bands went through the white-hot phases of their careers. It was kind of like Pet Sounds vs. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And because of the subtle rivalry for the ultimate recording, records became so … so really interesting. I preferred the British slant, like I Am the WalrusStrawberry Fields ForeverLucy In the Sky with Diamonds … what exactly WAS this new sonic safari all about? cTomorrow Never Knows was the first song by The Beatles where I  heard a distinct difference between the happy, shiny Beatles, and the new, cerebrally cool Beatles. Radically different. But what was making it so different out of the clear blue?

I believe that answer to be two-fold.

#1 drugsLucy inthe Sky w/Diamonds

And #2… Geoff Emerick

Every other part of the team was the same. Geoff was the force that fulfilled John Lennon’s request of matching up one version of Strawberry Fields with another. The two versions had been recorded weeks apart at two different tempos , and in two different keys! It seems Lennon loved the end product after weeks of working out every nuance he wanted … but he still loved the beginning of the very first “potential” keeper. So Geoff, in a single, magical, musical moment, refusing to say it couldn’t be done, found a way to turn the edit between the two versions into a legendary artistic moment. A moment most engineers wouldn’t have even thought of. Geoff was brilliant. He made it work. (The edit occurs at exactly 1:00, on the word “going” in the phrase “’cause I’m going to … Strawberry Fields”) Click the title Strawberry Fields Forever

I had the pleasure (along with about twenty others) of having dinner one night with Geoff and his co-writer Howard Massey when they were in town promoting Geoff’s book,  Here, There, and Everywhere-My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. (whew!) Rather than hit him with questions he heard all the time and probably hated down inside by now, I just sat there soaking up his presence and listening to his stories that were not in the book. He was brought to town for a presentation of the book, and some previously unheard music, by the Memphis NARAS chapter… the Grammy folks. I had become so infatuated with the man and his outlook on the subject of records and music and the Beatles, that now the book is in my stable of “READ OFTEN”, alongside Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Plato’s Republic (which shold be re-titled “Plato’s and Socrates’ Feudalism”), MAD Magazines (about a hundred) and the original screenplay for Hampton Fancher’s “Bladerunner“. Now Geoff’s book. And every day, I discover ways that he and I have many similar viewpoints; he captures the ARTIST’s vision, by finding new and interesting ways to do whatever it takes to bring that vision to fruition. And he sees a clear cut line between engineering and producing, where most (myself included, at first) engineers see a blur and try to get into production eventually, if they can handle that hot seat.
Geoff, if you read this, I am only one of millions of fans who truly appreciate your views since I, too, have been there. Oh, and Geoff …  I regret Yoko’s ubiquitousness as much as you. As do many. But then again, you were sooo lucky to get that gig. Swine …

Next Question …

Do Some “Rock Band©”

Oil Spills! Nuclear weapons! A falling economy! Congressmen assaulting the free press! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO????
I’ve got it. Let’s go do some Rock Band© and forget about all this.
The REAL problem here is … I’m not kidding.
I vaguely remember a time where, if I were feeling a bit overwhelmed by current events, I would walk over to the turntable, pick out THE record that felt like I was feeling, and I would play it, sometimes VERY loudly, and go sit in the chair by the aquarium, and just listen to the music, absorb, sometimes sub-consciously, the situation of the artist, and I would slowly resolve my own conflict of the moment. Those were truly spiritual moments. They grew me, and as the artist grew, I would grow. He got a little of MY money, along with the hundreds of thousands or even MILLIONS of others, and in return he/she could give us, rather let us into his/her world again …. usually about 18 months to two years later.
Of course, Rock Band© can be an extremely powerful tool, too … if you got into actually learning the music and eventually grew as artist yourself. That is a huge thing. And I know MANY younger than I folks who are doing just that. In fact, 3 of my 4 boys LOVE Rock Band©. The other loves animals. But being of the same genetic pile, it seems normal.
Then there are those who want to be a “Rock Star”,  and have developed some really great air guitar moves. Or singing poses. And my favorites are the air drummers. But I am forced to wonder how many of this second type are there out there. And I wonder how many of my own will stick with it for band after band, and grow that way?
One of the hardest parts of being a music nut AND a music producer AND a music recording engineer is that for me, being raised on the Beatles and Bowie and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, … surviving DISCO … then Nirvana, STP …and still loving all of it right up to this moment: for me, it was more fun, more cerebral, more of what my soul needed, before now and as I grew into my thirties and even forties. Hearing U2 tell the world about the problems in Ireland, and hearing about Peter Gabriel’s spooky past, and being able to actually forge a bond with DEVO and The Cars has to have been more rewarding than playing air guitar in my bedroom with a thing that wanted to be my guitar, and hearing songs that wanted to be my songs … it seems like it would all push a little too hard into that world that I wanted no part of: The “Wanna bes”.
But again I am torn by watching my own become enlightened by these forces. What’s a dad to do?
Here’s my perfect scenario:
August, 1981 … I just got my license to do open water S.C.U.B.A. style diving. Shipwrecks! Coral reefs! GREAT
WHITE WHAT?? I’ll settle for Moby Grape. The entire process was a two day, three part checkout by a professional, licensed instructor. 8AM Saturday. Two huge things are happening. The first is my basic diver part. Piece of cake. Toughest thing is the guy rips your face mask off at about 30 feet, and steps away. And the “Emergency Ascent” … A.D.D. moment … did you know that if you exhale all of your air at 30 feet, then swim to the surface holding your breath, when you get to the surface your lungs are again full of air? In fact, if you DO hold your breath, your lungs could explode. YUK! Anyway, the basic dive portion is first . My wife and young, thirteen year old cousin stay at the “Road Apple Inn”  while I go do it. The young girl is GLUED to the television. I move on. Upon my return, they are both glued to the T.V! I look and there on the tube is the second huge thing that is happening today: the very first day of MTV. And over an hour, they keep repeating about seven videos. These were the pioneers who actually spent a LOT of money to make a video for this first day. I guess everyone else thought it would fail. Well, it did not fail.
Present day. An unknown band has written what many believe is a SMASH music hit. Now for the big roll of the dice; what if Rock Band© catches the world on fire for real bands? It’s already happening and the “entertainment dollar” as we call it, is heading very slightly away from CDs and mp3 players along with their associated music downloads, and toward Rock Band©. Green Day MAY be the guys who take it over the top. They, Miley Cyrus, and a handful of others have released their next record as a CD, iTunes© (CD Baby©, Real Music©, etc.) download, AND in Rock Band© format. Could it possibly be August, 1981 all over again? Not many are doing it … YET.
But there is a chance that in the very near future, music lovers will be able to hear AND learn the songs in one system. That could really happen! I personally think it would solve all world problems. Oil spills would dry up. Senators would stop assaulting the free press. a penny would be solid copper and a quarter solid silver. AND … there would be a permanent ban on every nuclear weapon on the planet.
Two MIT grads started Harmonix©, the still privately held company that has brought us Rock Band©.‘The company was built on the premise that the experience of performing music could become accessible to those who would otherwise have trouble learning a traditional instrument.’ *   Music Television is the company that brought us M
Humans are the biology that made them both iconic. Ya think?
I could live with my boys playing it all day if it gave them real music.
Next Question …
* “How’horrendous failure’ led to Rock Band©”.  CNNMoney. Retreived 9/3/2009

The Model

It was probably fifteen (really?) years ago when I first encountered the concept of SOUND MODELING. A little thing called POD, weird looking little kidney bean shaped thing. You just plug your guitar into it and what came out the other end was … well, it was up to you. A clean, country music kinda sound, a giant, Jimi Hendryx kinda sound … even the forever HUGE Angus Young AC/DC metal music kinda sound. One small exception. KINDA. That was the rub.

But it was a breakthrough; For the first time ever, someone like me, who barely knew how to get even a good guitar sound could, within a minute, have a good enough guitar sound. Coupled with my “chord only” approach to the guitar, I was NIKKI dang SIXX ! And I used it a lot, when I HAD to have a power chord guitar part. but the band was in Moscow. As bad as I was, I could play on records!  And I DID!

That was a long time ago. In technologicalistic terms, it was an era ago.

Since then, I have seen a little of where it this … science … is today. And, as technology gets sooner or later, it has become relevant. Probably a little TOO relevant. Now I find myself, to my horror, guessing … is it REAL, or is it Photoshop. Or Melodyne, or ProTools, PitchAgent,  … there are literally hundreds of modeling programs out there now. And my head hurts.

But it makes sense, in an odd way. Think RockBand. Now you can be a Beatle. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a Beatle. But I can’t sing as good as Paul, or John, and I don’t have the charisma that only that particular foursome had. But I bet it won’t be long before there’s a John or a Paul model program.

But what about those magical mystery songs? No WAY I could write a song like “Yesterday”, or conjure up an “Imagine”, or George’s “Something” … even Ringo had a one of a kind way of drumming that no one can reproduce. But …

But nothing. That is my war, and I declare it again every single day.

Take a little program called “Beat Detector“. Sounds fairly innocuous. And I firmly believe these programs have a good use. The ABuse is my problem with them. Beat Detector has the ability to take offbeat, lousy drum playing and put it ON THE BEAT! Whoa. But to this day I insist that if a person was to take John Bonham, the most bestest drummer in … forever, and run the “Beat Detector” over his performance, you no longer have John Bonham playing. Congratulations, Mr. I love to abuse Beat Detective. You just gave rise to any-drummer-USA. HUrah!

I say give it up. We have to stop this tomfoolery of making bad into good and good into great. If that is the final frontier, it’s mediocre to start with. We are casting pearls. And meanwhile, the REAL music and the REAL performance is falling to the rear, trying to catch back up, but refusing to give in to The Model. The tuner. The on the beat-er. That is not what music is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a living, breathing spirit that is intangible and divine. Anyone can put paint on a wrecked car and try to sell it as more than it is, but it is still crap. Now and forever … crap. There is no model on earth that can keep you safe if you are unknowingly driving crap.

Next question …

The “W C” Modification

What better place than the ol’ porcelain throne to peruse the pages of the latest “Recording Today ” magazine, and read the latest. in-depth, nitty-gritty  articles on the workings of a modern recording session and the technical prowess involved in bringing these creative endeavors to the modern marketplace, where the second it comes out of the gate, it hits the world wide web.

And by mid afternoon, EVERYONE has heard it. AND HAS IT.

Now that’s progress. Oh, by the way, the check from iTunes for that one copy is in the mail.

What are we doing? And why are we doing it?

No wonder the modern recording studio comes fully eguipped for the cost of a good laptop and two wanna-be microphones. And a few hundred bucks in software and CDs. I mean, what else do you need?

How about, for one, an artist? Better yet, an artist that is talented. What the heck. An artist that is talented enough to draw a crowd and sell a record or two. It’s happened before, you know.

I was reading in an apparently revered mag about the intense session that went down for the latest Joe Beets record. They had to be en garde because the prima donna artist, who I promise you have NEVER heard of, is a really demanding dude, and you must have his favorite U-47 wanna be mic ($499 retail) and a  candle burning … for the mood.

Yeah. You just never know day to day where Joe’s whimsy is going to take you. So they were prepared. They had 2 (TWO!) … RED®  brand mics running to matched Babylon E535 mic preamps with the Billy Harrington “W C” modification. 5 weeks ago, Billy was moonlighting after his Circuit City job, ripping off old Neve mic pre-amp schematics, and if he couldn’t find the St. Ives Windings transformers,The old old St. Ives he took parts out of old, busted Shure 57s. They sounded fine. And that very first amp stage that Rupert Neve would have a table of old British ladies analyze on a curve tracer for noise and gain? And then they would put that tiny little dot of red fingernail polish on it as a mark of excellence? Well, Radio Shack has something similar, so Billy was using those. A real piece of work, that “W C” mod.

Billy's fab WC modIt’s absolutely amazing the depths that audio technology has sunk to to accommodate todays recording session.

“By the way, we have to break so I can get Spider from Day Care. 20 minutes MAX!” Just keep rehearsing that part.”

Most artists that I deal with come to me and our fine studio because they know they will get the highest level of co-operation in the pursuit of their sound. If it’s Jimmie Vaughan, I know what he expects and I provide it. Jack White and his lo-tech hi-tech vibe is catered to at the same time. We have learned to be chameleons and fit seamlessly into almost any situation you can dish up. Country music to the Cramps, Audio A to Z Z Top, Allman Brothers to the latest Euro-pop …I  / we have been there and forgotten NOTHING. Our Fairchild limiters have input transformers the size of a Babylon E535. And our Neumann mics are NOT the kind that have a single integrated circuit in them. These are tried and true tools of the trade still going strong fifty plus years after they were made.

And I’m sorry, but I STILL haven’t been impressed by that “WC” modification.

Next question …

Jack’s Record Store

I started this all off verbalizing about the Hell Days of Disco music that society barfed up in the late ’70’s and how the advent of a drum machine altered our pop culture almost as much as Sgt. Pepper (well …  a different altered).

In both applications, pop culture made a HARD turn.

But in the bigger picture, you can see that the longer line of pop culture over the last 50 years or so also has a soft bent toward the left. And, as always, the bent is due to technology. The Internet,  the personal computer, iPhone, uPhone, wePhone,  Vodafone, global communications … all of these are bending not just pop culture but Culture culture in a really profound way. Go to any “Made in China” wholesale site and take a look at what’s heading our way. TV watches with TWO cell phones built in, one for home, one for business.!  I remember hearing Ray Kurzweil, one of our most brilliant inventor/philosophers, tell it all once. In Ray’s words, ‘Society has become accustomed to a linear rate of technological change. That has been the norm. BUT technology doesn’t play by the rules. In the world today, where we used to have a man designing a computer or software … just about everything, we instead have computers and robotics doing the designing and the manufacturing. And when number crunching systems are designing and making more number crunching systems, suddenly we have a technological growth that has taken on a more exponential rate of change. In other words, we are no longer changing along a straight line. The line is changing faster every day, taking it from a line to a curve that is going up.’

And he points his finger away from the host and points it up more and more until he is pointing at the ceiling!

WOW! Technology is growing faster than man can keep up with it! One day, 8 bit is the thing. A year later it’s 16 bit. the next MONTH its 32 bit and now, a WEEK later, its headed toward 64 bit! How do we slow this thing down? Or do we?

We can’t. We either hang on for the wild ride or drop off where the landscape looks friendly. I’m getting off, and I notice I have LOTS of company. One person who got off one stop before me is that wacky Jack White. I think Jack, like me, has an almost romantic vision of the whole music buying experience. What fun is a download? CD Artwork … why is that so NOT stimulating? You used to go to a store that sold records, and just hang out, look at a 12 inch by 12 inch cover of a record and by just looking up close at the artwork and the artist, and maybe even reading a few of her/his words, you might walk out with a record you never even meant to buy; the artist sold her/himself with just the cover. You could cruise aisles and rows of bins and bins of various genres and stop, pick one up, look it over, and walk off to look at another one. The record store enabled the buyer to become more intimate with the artist. A truly unique experience that I want to continue, and I think Jack does, too.

At his recent Dead Weather performance, I found him and the totally understated Jack Lawrence (see Raconteurs) out in the hall with Dean (Fertita  … The sexy singer Alison Mosshart was in the dressing room … RATS!) At their show the band was so exciting to watch as well as hear.

But as I meandered the venue, I saw the merchandising “event” from a hundred feet! A beautiful yet tough looking wall of tees and caps and buckles, yada yada, and an extraordinarily fabulous looking table of Jack’s Third Man Records. It was all vinyl, BIG records including White Stripes records and Karen’s records (his wife) and Dead Weather coming soon posters, and then his “Blue Series” records. These looked like the exploratory side of the label, all an identical muted blue cover, with one exception, a green one for BP Fallon. It was a record store on the road!

For myself, and many others, Third Man has re-invented the record store at a fun, in-depth level that is the closest thing I’ve found yet to an actual store. As they build their artist roster, and I’m sure that they’ll start taking other product and bringing it on-board, It will catch on in a big way. And I must also say that working with Jack and his bands has been a reviving high point in my life and I just can’t wait for the call to do another Third Man Record. Jack’s a gas. And his label/store are just what we need.

Next Question ….. ?