RANDOM RAMBLINGS OF THE MUSICAL MIND

A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Insomnia 2014; a very short observation of the times

As programs like Photoshop® for visual, and like ProTools® for audio, become more and more mainstream in society over the years, I feel a strange and foreboding movement of the masses toward a general distrust of these arts. With millions of  iPads and laptops going faster, and memory capacity getting larger, these types programs are finally dominating our arts and they are getting into every home. And it’s all, in a way, eroding the arts at the same time. (maybe?)

If I see an absolutely stunning photograph of a life situ that could be real, I soon realize that what I’m seeing may or may not be simply a concoction that a person only envisioned but never actually encountered, creating a morsel of doubt! Soon, I am a bit less stunned. I am referring to pictures that could, of course, be received as reality.There is a fine line between artistically “lying”, and using the tools to truly enhance one’s vision. In those scenarios, I believe it becomes a win-win for visioneer and receptor.

win-win

But the erosion slithers in to the vision that was fine to begin with, but through manipulation it is made to represent a “better than” true to life vision.

Lying

 

I think we all run the real life risk of stifling true artistry by enstilling an exasperation in the artist who believes that society will only see his or her art as only a digital concoction by a “not so artistic” third party. Of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions to every rule. I think Tiffany here is beautiful in ANY picture!

And then, of course, there’s the out and out lie.

Lie

If we can do THIS, think how much artistic lying is going on in the world? Why should I pay money to have music and singing by someone who can’t sing as good as they project?

I need a bit of help here. Anyone?

A Creative Oasis

If you think about it (not too hard, I hope!), there are two types of  “brain-flow” in the world:

The first would be the analytical brain-flow. It exists in those who can look into a situation, analyze all potential elements of the event, and  from those observations deduce a probable outcome. This type of person is usually good at managing people, running large corporations, directing traffic, etc. They bring you things like Kraft Foods, war, even some ugly cars,  to name a few.

The second would be the creative brain-flow. Those that can completely fabricate a situation within (and outside) the bounds of his/her own mind, and then find a way to bring this fabricated vision to others… through the senses. Within this group you get painters, musicians, authors and screenplay-writers, etc. They bring you things like The Firebird Suite, Whistlers Mother and humor, to name a few.

And it seems everyone possesses varying degrees of both of these “brain-flows”.  Albert Einstein probably had equal talent in both arenas. He analyzed properties of physics and then created the less obvious (i.e E=mC squared) from these observations. He also said that he thought God had a sense of humor.

Architects appear to have equal amounts of both as well. They can design a building that is a true  masterpiece (or horror show!), then relate how to put it together to others more analytical.

But to be able to let the mind free up and do what it does best, it seems a special environment is needed; a place to let the mind go and not have to think  about much else for periods of time, allowing a creative thought time to gain a life of it’s own. In this environment one could be surrounded by trusted people to bounce ideas off of.

And finally the artist will commit the creative thought to some form of “hard copy”. This environment can give the artist a situation that usually produces results with more sustenance; results hard to find when the thought process gets interrupted again and again for one reason or another. Many times, this “art-sandbox” will determine the creative quality of the end result.

Poor creative habit leads to poor artwork, including music. The listener rarely gets interested in a not-so-creative performance of the arts, a lot of which is brought on by not-so-perfect creative habits. A creative oasis is hardly sustainable in a place where interruption and/or lack of collaboration is the order of the day. Nor is it sustainable in an environment that lacks the best tools with which to capture the creation. I mean, imagine doing a valve replacement on your car in a place where only a pair of pliers and a screwdriver is available. Or having your spleen transplanted in your “well stocked” kitchen. Creative genius needs a creative oasis.

Too many times I’ve been called in to fix a record that the artist (bless his pointed little head) was left alone with, and the only person happy with the end result was … THE ARTIST! When the artist hears his creation, he usually LOVES it. He usually hears something that an objective, casual ear just simply does not hear! They will sit with me as we “remix” the work, everyones hopes riding on the nonsense that my ear will fix the problem. Artists say things like “Man Hampton, don’t you just LLLOVE that augmented 9 chord resolving into the root?  I LOVE that!” Well, first off, what the hell is an augmented 9 chord, and a root is like a carrot or something, right? THEN, when I can finally “touch” the spot referred to, it is so incredibly complex that I need a slide rule to make sense of ANY of it! That type of creativity just doesn’t tug at my heartstrings … and it turns out the listener feels the same.

So what makes a “recording studio” better than Bill’s spare upstairs bedroom? I personally believe it starts with dedicated people who were built from the ground up to make records, driven mostly by their love of the creative process.  And the gear that studios use. Most of today’s plug-ins and physical equipment are simply an attempt to make the user think that he/she is using that same gear. But even an average ear could hear the differences between the original gear and the gear made for the “home studio” market. For me it’s best to never draw that kind of comparison. I just try to look at a Fairchild 670 plug-in or a “Blue”microphone as a new piece with it’s own sonic properties.

Other than that, I still believe that what studios have to offer is superior to a ProTools set up in a spare bedroom. Great for demos, but I think records will be better if they are put together by the folks built from the ground up to do it. They LOVE doing it!

Next question?

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


Plug in that old thinking cap … here we go!

HEY MIKEY! LOOK!! IT’S RUPERT NEVE!

I’ve got a couple of writings (blogs,globs… yeah, globs!) a coming right behind this, where we’ll have a chat about why CDs really DO suck and why herds of people going back to vinyl are NOT just taking part in this week’s flavor… this ain’t no Hula-Hoop, gents and ladies. This is a perceptible reality that makes your listening experience with vinyl records (let’s just call ’em records) a more rewarding event than the same occurrence with CDs. But do you know why you are noticing it NOW for the first time? It’s simple: we have finally become so used to CDs as the norm that a more true to life sonic event is really obvious. So I guess you are wondering how I came to this,. right?  It all started with a chat from a Mr. Rupert Neve, the most well known name in audio science, at a speech he gave at a SPARS luncheon several years ago. It so enrapt me that I believe I still remember every word. And if you don’t know whop Rupert Neve is, you are either very young or very uneducated. He lives in Wimberly. Texas.

Wimberly Texas. Why, there’s Wimberly now!!

I just can NOT think of a better place to invent audio gear.

Mr Neve is a British chap who knows his circuitry, and has an uncanny way of bringing that circuitry to the sound of the music that he loves.R’s (I call him R) life’s goal has been to get the sound of music (yes, he’s bringing Mary Poppins) that you hear from electronics as close to the sound you hear in those two ear holes on either side of your head as he possibly can. Oh, It’s a breeze. Couple of tubes, a bias oscillation transistor, throw in a couple of variable capacitors … you’re DONE!  The stuff he designs and bnuilds is in such high demand, and was constructed so well (until a BIG MEAN GERMAN company bought him out), that audio people have seareched high and low for his older equipment, but the new is just as good. And he seems to be taking his newer gear more toward that “live in the audience” sound. Portico, for example. And Rupert loves analog(ue) and vinyl, and hates CDs. Why? Read on.

Now if doing a bit of comprehensive reading isn’t exactly your thing, as mine is not, we can always start with Dr. Seuss…Hampton style.

If a train is moving toward you, the sound of the horn is slightly higher in pitch  to you than it is to the engineer. That’s called a “Doppler pitch shif”t. And as it passes, then moves away from you, there’s a split second that the same two pitches are the same pitch., then you hear it bend down to become LOWER in pitch as it moves away from you. This doppler pitch shift is also observed when one looks at a star. Ifit looks bluish, it is higher than normal becauseit is moving toward you. Same with a pinkish or reddish color. Those stars are lower in pitch and are moving away from you. THAT … is why I say Dr. Suess, Hampton style. I wrote a book once called”One Fish, Two Fish …Red Shift Blue Shift”, a book for four year olds to start to understand how we can actually, by plotting the direction of all of the stars in the universe, eventually arrive at the precise point of the “Big Bang”. It’s in the children’s book section at Barnes and Noble, and if they’ve run out at Amazon, they’ll restock soon. Get one and read it to your 4-year old. Next … Why vinyl … AGAIN?

Yes, you in the red rubber suit …

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.

Accidents WILL Happen … (hopefully)

The session was called for 1PM. Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan were going to start their first and only album together.

Nile Rodgers was producing and I was all set up. Stevie and Rene Martinez (his guitar Tech and an excellent flamenco style player himself) were first, coming around a stylish 1:30. Jimmie was right behind them. Larry Aberman and Al Berry, drums and bass respectively, were setting up along with Rich Hilton, Nile’s “Do Anything” man.

Nile’s super-stylin’ 5:30 arrival could have been even later, had he not promised some magazine writer a “quickie” phone interview. And being the official recording engineer for these now infamous sessions, that meant phone interviews, too. As Nile talked record production with the interviewer,  he said something I didn’t understand … yet. This was 1990. And it took about ten years for it to soak in, but I eventually got it.
He said, “A producer’s job, really, is organizing the mistakes.”

Now it’s some time in 2003. And Jimmie is making his first solo record for CBS. It was during the first few days of his record that I discovered that Jimmie Vaughan is probably the hardest person on the planet to satisfy when it comes to getting “his” sound. And being the “NEVER give up” producer that I have become, I just won’t bail on pursuing that sound. We’ve talked about it in a language that only he and I understand. And we’ve driven around Austin for HOURS listening to this artist and that artist, from Johnny Guitar Watson to Blind Lemon Pledge, from noon to midnight …

But once you’re in the studio with a million ideas, it’s time to put the concepts to the test. And I’m coming up short on the intangible sound. But what is slowly coming into view as a bigger picture is that Jimmie Vaughan on his records is not a man singing and playing a guitar, Jimmie Vaughan is a really a conversation between a man and his guitar. When I finally saw that “big picture”, it was time to figure out how capture it.

I had two microphones I had planned on using. One on the amp, one for Jimmie to sing in. (Keep it stupid, simple.) First he wanted to re-do some guitar on the tracks we had finished the day before, so I got up a guitar sound and, as I expected, he didn’t like it. But as he played, I accidentally shoved up the volume on his vocal mike, which was across the room. Oh, if you could have seen our faces! His guitar through that amp IN THAT ROOM sounded like a million bucks. And as luck(?) would have it, adding that vocal mike meant all we needed … was a vocalist! These 2 microphones could now record the “conversation”.

This type of situation comes up in recording studios all the time. A guitar player gets lost reading a chord chart and plays a wrong chord at the chorus. The resulting chord could never have been calculated, even by Einstein, but it’s a magical chord that the song has been calling for.

A girl leading the other background singers brings them in 8 beats early. That little “mistake” fits so well that it becomes  the “hook” of the song.

An accidentally erased guitar part calls for a re-do. The new solo becomes the central theme of the song, which becomes a huge hit, and a theme for an insurance company’s ad that’s all over television. What would have happened to that band if the original guitar solo hadn’t been accidentally erased?

You know? Just writing this little blurb has made me want to go and tell four musicians to play four separate pieces of music at the same tempo and see what we come up with. Now the big question … should they all play in the same key?

Toots in Memphis is a record I had the honor of working on with Jim Dickinson that reeks of “Ja” … the idol of the Rasta way. Toots Hibbert and “the Maytalls” (what the heck is a Maytall?) were part of a huge onslaught of Reggae music that included Marley, Yellowman, … you know … REGGAE MUSIC! Sly Dunbar tells the tale of the birth of the art-form. The popular reggae feel apparently was the result of poor radio reception of Miami pop music radio. Over distance, the lower part of the bandwidth, THE BASS, is the first to go away in that poor reception. Which translates to the snare drum, or “back beat” is the main rhythmic component that comes across. I know this may be a little hard to follow, but in the simplest terms, any music that has equal force 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 …. comes through as _-2-_-4_-2-_-4. It’s the main rhythm of reggae music. Now that may not be accidental, but it certainly was influential.

The spirit of music has always been a little magical to me, and the “accidents” are actually not accidents at all. They are simply a spirit that some hear, and others don’t. And to me, that is the difference between the artist and the non-artist. It weaves itself around the senses that make a painter, an architect, or a musician able to see what others want to experience.

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
TV©.
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

Introducing … The Single

It looks like the up and coming generation has finally redeemed itself with the grandest of grand concepts. Leave it to kids today to just reach down deep into that creative grab bag of life and bring the novelest of novel ideas to fruition. It’s called … (drumroll) a SINGLE. It started a while back, actually, when iTunes geniuses decided that if you wanted, you could just buy one song off of an ALBUM of songs by a recording artist. Wow. There’s a novel concept.

Although we really know it wasn’t a recent development at all, it really, REALLY IS a lot different from the single our moms and dads started up way back in the olden days. In those days, pop music was just that. POPular music. An artist would think up a song, write it, record it, and put it out for us to buy. If we liked it, it became popular, and sold a bajillion zillion copies. Then, the popular artist would write another song, and put it out. If it also became popular, the men in the big cities would come around, snatch up the artist for their company’s big roster of popular artists, figuring they have a golden goose here. So THEY would release an ALBUM of his/her popular music, plus a few more that the listener could … enjoy. That was great! Except, I don’t know about you, but I could hardly ever afford a $12 album, and many times, the stuff I liked wasn’t available as a single. So … what’s a kid to do?

I could not get immediate satisfaction, unlike these kids today. Noooooo! I had to wait (WAIT?!?!) …wait until I had saved up enough ca$h to finally go get the album. But crap! I didn’t like every song, just two or maybe three tops. In fact, I got pretty good at playing D.J. because when my friends came over, I would only play those two or three songs, and that’s it! Een if my pals wanted to hear others, I RULED my musical domain with an iron fist.

Enter …. the new media.

Digital everything. Digital recording, digital CD, digital this, digital … heck, I bet they are thinking up digital shoe polish as we speak! A digital download, though, is how we get our music now, right? (I personally like the CD, and REALLY the 12″ vinyl) … But by and large, we get our music online. So doesn’t that mean we don’t have to buy an album ever again? I do believe it does mean that. AND that is precisely what the bulk of the world is doing. They hear a song or two, like them a lot, and download them from iTunes or CD Baby or Bob’s Record and Bait … in the end, they don’t buy a whole album. Period.

Enter the artist. He/she’s not stupid, (is he/she?) Why bother recording ten or twelve songs if, for the most part, only one or two will bring in some NLM dough? (No Laughing Matter) So, a lot of my work now is recording 2 or 3 songs on a weekend or weekend +, and in four to five days, we have product. Ready to upload and hit the globs.

But you know, as I grew older I really got into those ten or eleven songs. The artist could take me on a sonic safari for an hour almost, and I always came out on the other side a better, more edified listener. And many, many times, I ended up looking forward to the artist’s next record.

Is the entire experience slowly, or not slowly, going away? I will really be saddened if that experience goes away. I THINK I would end up in a much lessier place if that were the case. (Thanks to the Hatter for that line). And this one:

I don’t want to end up in a much lessier place. The Hatter knows there’s a lot to say about the much muchier place. We must hang onto the concept of the album of songs. If for no other reason, just so that “these kids today” can develop into better, more edified listeners. They may just wake up someday and be a little less into that instant gratification thing. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing.

Next question…

“Ear Haver”

When I was born, everyone remarked about the size of my ears. But on the Auditory Vigilance part of my A.D.H.D. Test, I flat out FAILED! Go figure.

Out there somewhere is a rockband (I call it Powerpunk) named ALL or Descendents; they are actually two bands, depending on who is headlining. If Descendents are more popular in a certain town, ALL will open for them. And vice versa. The only difference is, “Who is singing”? I’ll explain.

In the 1980’s there was Black Flag, a PowerPunk band that enjoyed large success … underground. These guys could easily play 200 packed halls, clubs, auditoriums, etc. a year and all the promotion needed was one announcement. From that one date announcement, word would spread, literally, like a wildfire in the hills over Malibu, and the gig would sell out fast. Part of this success was that their singer (singer?) was Henry Rollins; actor, poet extraordinaire, cultist, and an overall good guy. His bandmates, Bill Stevenson, Karl Alvarez (and Claire!), and Stephen Egerton were the core of it all, and when Henry moved on, they grabbed nuclear biologist/rocket scientist Milo Aukerman, and they became Descendents. If Milo had a rocket to work on, they grabbed Scott Reynolds or Chad (is right) Price, or C.H.U.D., and became ALL.  These guys are among of the most brilliant minds in music. I have worked with both bands and I am sure they can go on like this forever. In fact they are now ALL/Descendents.

So in the day of Mozart, Bach, and even todays classical musicians, there has always existed a language which modern music rarely (never) uses. Portamento, staccato, largo, legato, stromboli, JohnGotti,  … you get it. When I’ve been lucky enough to work with ALL/Descendents, an amazing part of our relationship is that we have developed our own language. And we use it seriously and often. We talk in terms that we all understand, but no one else can unless they learn the language. So one day Bill introduced me to one of the best adjectives ever. Ear haver. When we first started working together, I once heard something with my A.D.D. / hyperactive sense of hearing that the guys didn’t notice, until I pointed it out. (This can be a detriment if it gets taken too far, as you lose sight of the forest, or the song in this case, because all you see is trees). (Sorry, A.D.D. moment)  When I heard these tiny little sound “particles”, Bill and Stephen would finally notice what I was hearing and were, at first, stupefied that I had heard what I heard. “Cool ear haver“. That’s what they called me. Ear haver.  It simply means one with a keen listening prowess. More specifically it means one whose hearing is more trained or developed than average. It’s learned from being a recording engineer. “Cool ear haver”. It became another term in our language, alongside skink, krah, woob, pre-fire, and bizh.

There are many ear havers out there. At times when I’ve been affronted with statements like ‘Can we record to this instead of that?’, I have been known to (A) stop and ask them right then and there if they will go along with a little experiment. If they said ‘sure’, then I would (B) conduct a blindfold, A/B listening test on the spot. This is a test where I would sort of challenge this person, in a benign way, of course, to prove that they really heard a difference between that which they wanted to record to versus what I had chosen to record to. Please understand that I would never do this unless I knew the person well and I felt they really wanted to know for themselves. And if they chose the sound that they said they liked more …  as I switched back and forth between the two … more than 75% of the time, I would pronounce them ear haver. In my mind, 50% is a coin toss and tells me they could be making a blind stab at it. But 75% leans too far in their favor, in which case I would / will always oblige them. “Cool Ear Haver”.

Many engineers and producers out there today are up and running so fast that they haven’t had time to evolve this type of trained hearing. And I know from my own experience, that many of these “overnight” professionals will simply baffle their prospective providers of income, with pure, unadulterated crap. Once when I was looking for a place to record in another city when it was impossible to get the artist to come to me in Memphis, I was given a tour of a potential studio by the owner/engineer. And man, he could talk the talk. From bias oscillation transistors to the problems of certain classic microphones that he had modified. Talk TAlk TALk TALK TALK! This guy knew, literally, EVERYTHING about making a record. When I finally asked him to play something impressive that would suade me to bring him this hundred thousand plus dollar record, he went to a $4000 dollar turntable (‘better than digital’ … good), carefully pulled a record from it’s wrapper, gave it a quick static wipe, checked his stylus drag counterweight, and played me, at a very loud volume, THE MOST UNBELIEVEABLY HORRIFIC SOUNDING … MUSIC? … SOUND I HAD EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE on SPEAKERS that were very obviously WIRED BACKWARDS, and then he turned to me with a cocky, assured smile, scanning my face for expected amazement. And I must admit … I was amazed.

The thought of modifying a truly classic microphone, coupled with that terrifying speaker system, … and what in the Sam Hill are “bias oscillation transistors”? Here was a true EAR HAVER NOT. He has declared all out war on anything that sounds like … sound! I have no idea how these people make their way into ANY slot in professional audio. His sonic sensibilities transcend reality. And what is truly a nightmare is that the number of these sound pseudo-professionals is growing in our society at an exponential rate. Why? Because the technology that the pros use is now affordable to almost anyone. And the people buying into it are, in too many instances, people who think

that if you buy the stuff, the career will come with it automatically. And at the same time, in many instances, the naive, creative artist doesn’t know if it’s good or bad. Nor should he or she have to worry about the technical side of it. That’s the engineer’s and/or the producer’s job. The artist need only be concerned with what he or she or they  does best. So PLEASE, …  leave the technical part to the real “ear havers”.

Next question …

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 …