25 August 2008

Still out fighting the good fight

I'm still doing the volunteer work, and so I have no time to listen to music or write about it. Yes, this is the sacrifice I am making—doing work that keeps me from finding new music.

I have been sneaking in some classic stuff at work, though. Here is a sample of what I've been listening to.

22 August 2008

Talk amongst yourselves

I am very busy at working doing what-they-pay-me-for during the day. I am busy every night doing volunteer work on a phone bank. I am not busy writing for all of you. Please don't hate me. I will try to simulate content by sharing some of the music I've been listening to, from Stax / Volt.

Carla Thomas, "Gee Whiz"

Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, "Knock on Wood"

19 August 2008

Does the music wonder what's become of me?

As those who have been reading from the beginning on MySpace will probably have long forgotten, the Amber blog was born out of the ashes of my faithful old CD player. I got a new iPod, and when I started ripping my CDs and looking for new music to fill it up, I got carried away.

This week, I have had a chance to reflect on how the iPod has gotten embedded in my life. The short answer is "pretty damned thoroughly". I thread the earbud cord up under the back of my shirt everday so it won't get tangled up in stuff and since the player is on my belt pretty much all the time I'm not showering or going through a metal detector. I never thought about it much, though.

I carried my CD player every day and listened to it a lot, but having the music available all the time means I am listening to it all the time. Lately, I've been working on some soundtracks, so I've been listening even more densely, eking out every moment. I have started chatting with some other music enthusiasts online and we play music for each other. Music wall to wall in my life, 6 or more hours a day of active listening.

This week I've been doing volunteer work. I am a big geek and introverted, so usually I volunteer to do things like clean up databases or do data entry. This week, however, I got drafted to do work that requires actual contact with the public. Passing a petition and working on a phone bank means no music playing. No way, no how. No singing, no humming, no dancing my feet around in rhythm. I can't even sing to myself in my head because I have to pay attention to the calls.

Tonight, we were signing up for volunteer stints over the next week and I was actually thinking about how the shifts would take up music and blogging time. That's when I realized that I had been passing up opportunites to skate because I was afraid of damaging the iPod and the music won.

Is this a bad thing? I have to think about it. Not skating means not enough exercise, and I know I am spending more money on music than I should. Those are both negatives. I'm making new acquaintances to talk about music with and music actually got me to go out to a concert. Those are positives. I'm writing this blog, which is a big positive. Am I paying less attention to the people around me in actual FTF than I used to? I think I am probably just distracted differently, to be honest.

I think I do need to be mindful—once this volunteer project is done so I have a chance to ignore people again, that is.

18 August 2008

Beautiful Pain

I have a stabbing, slashing, blinding headache. That means more YouTube for you! This is a nice unofficial video of one of my favorite sad songs, "I'm Not Supposed to Care" by Gordon Lightfoot.

17 August 2008

I protest the lack of protest songs!

What ever happened to protest songs?

I was doing some community activist work today, standing on the street getting people to sign a petition. In between people, I was singing "Bread and Roses" to myself to keep motivated to stand on a sunny street bothering nice people who would rather have not been bothered.

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day, A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray, Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses, For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"

That is a song left over from the early labor movement. There were a lot of those songs and also spirituals revived for the big civil rights actions in the 60s. But are there any protest songs today? I can think of outrage songs, and pissed off songs, and social conscience songs like Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?". But are there any new-ish songs suitable for people to sing while marching for a cause?

If there aren't any, why? Have our demonstrations been ruined for singing by bullhorns? I have to investigate this. Meanwhile, for your viewing and listening pleasure, I give you Pete Seeger singing a Woody Guthrie classic. Sing along.

13 August 2008

Plug of the Week: Tom Milsom

Tom Milsom. Classic brilliant British eccentric who proves that the tradition is not dying. Here are two samples of his YouTube videos that will give you an idea what he is about.

Now I order you to go straight over to YouTube and watch the rest of his videos. Be sure to read all the descriptions. I mean it. Stop messing around here and go. Shoo!

Tom Milsom (Hexachordal) on YouTube
Tom Milsom on eMusic
Tom Milsom on his own site, which includes cartoons.

12 August 2008

Show report: 8/11/2008 at the Ottobar in Baltimore

Racing Kites, Lannen Fall, Go Crash Radio, Mercy Mercedes, and The Hint at the Ottobar in Baltimore

I made it to the show way early (under 3 hours door to door when I had allowed more for a transit delay), so I sat on bit of hill next to the area where the bands were unloading their gear and worked on Shelter From The Storm. I made some good progress on that and walked away with a solid draft, so that was the productive part of the night. I got some mildly puzzled looks from the people around, but no one said anything.

The band members all seemed very nice. They hugged people a lot, which is sweet. I made a few observations on band fashion. The headbands? No, please, just don't. Not working on any combination of head and hair. Lowslung pants? Just about at their limit of lowness unless they go to hanging them from suspenders or Prince Albert rings.

I bought T-shirts for the junior dudes. I got to transact with the lead singers of Mercy Mercedes and The Hint, and they were both very nice. (Nice was the theme of the evening.) I spent out my pocket on those, so I didn't get any CDs. The shirts were gelt for leaving the dudes out of the adventure, so that was the priority.

To me, the bands were in two tiers. This is not me saying anything bad about any of them--if I had just seen the Racing Kites, Lannen Fail, and Go Crash Radio, I would have walked away satisfied. They had a lot of energy and got a good response from the people who were there when they were on.

Mercy Mercedes and The Hint were a cut above, though. They had a much more pulled-together sound and more polished stage presentation. I have never heard MM before, so I don't know their songs. I am interested and will probably be getting their CDs when I can. The Hint did the songs I would have expected. I would be a crap reviewer, bcause all I can think to add is that they played well and gave a good show. They did some fun covers. The crowd was really up for them, so that helped.

And there was a lot of nice hugging when the band members were wandering around the club when they weren't playing.

I thought it was very interesting to see a show where everything was so unstructured and informal. There wasn't really any backstage or crews or security. (I felt like I ought to lend a hand unloading eqipment.) The bands were hanging around together all around the club. It made me think of how hard these guys are trying to go from the kind of band life with all the friends and wandering around and hugging to the kind of life that seems to eat people up.

I was also thinking about what made Mercy Mercedes and The Hint better than the others. It was an accumulation of things. My father used to say that good songs plus good playing plus good energy is like 2+2+2=6, but good arranging makes it into 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. That's part of it. I also think that the better bands had more variety from song to song and more complexity within songs, plus they could move the focus of the song around among the band members better. And a more solid rhythmic center and catchy hooks. Never underestimate the power of the hook!

After the show, I just walked back down to Penn Station and waited for the trains to start up again in the morning. That was a long night. Total time door-to-door: 8 hours.

Racing Kites on MySpace Lannen Fall on MySpace Go Crash Radio on MySpace Mercy Mercedes on MySpace The Hint on MySpace

11 August 2008

Doing My Homework

Deadlines looming, I have let myself get immersed in the two programs I'm working on this weekend instead of posting here. Bad me, but good me, too. I am pleased to say that the Smoochies playlist is pretty much done except for a final trimdown. A solid week of forcefeeding myself sweet love songs has left me yearning to climb a tower with a rifle. The work on Shelter From The Storm, which is nicely gloomy, should put me back to my usual self soon enough. That one is harder, because it has to tell a story and not just sound good, but I have a fine list of tracks to start the process with and a good sense of how I want to handle the story strands. I'm putting all that down tonight, though. Within a half-hour, I am on my way out the door for a transit odyssey on my way to The Hint's show in Baltimore tonight. The gap between the end of the show and the opening of the train station in the morning is still a bit hazy, but I will think of it as an adventure. I hope that the concert runs very late, though. Do you think it will help if I keep shouting "Free Bird!"? Tomorrow: concert report!

09 August 2008

You can't tell me what to do

A couple of days ago I wrote about my toedip into BitTorrent. There was one part of it that seemed minor or incidental to me until I thought about it more.

And then I wanted one single track from an album that is not available for download, from an album that is sold at a premium above the usual prices, from an artist I don't want except for that one track anyway. I was working against a deadline and I was irritated and a clicked up a "Take That Bwahaha" torrent download. ... (The greedy asshat who wanted to force me to pay double for his crappy album is still stiffed, though. Bwahaha.)

I think this might be very important. We used to have to swallow whatever we were fed by the music industry. Now we don't. We have more power and we like it. It's such a short and simple thing to say, and yet I think it has a big big impact on the way music distribution is changing. "You can't tell me what to do! You are not the boss of me! Bwahahaha!"

In practice, of course, it's not so clearcut. The functions of the music business machinery don't go away. They just get done in other ways. The freedom that we get with our Bwahaha is the freedom to choose who recommends or finds our music for us, because most people are just not going to sit for hours a day surveying what's out there and deciding what to buy based on that. We can buy and play music a track at a time, but someone has to decide what each track goes well with and how to program it when you play it.

The key is that given the chance to DIY or at least have your friends do it, people take it. They would rather go to the trouble to manage their music purchases themselves than to pay to have someone tell them what to listen to. At least for a while, until the balance starts shifting toward having someone else package music again because DIY is so much work. The puzzle is what form that will take.

This is going to bear some more thought.

07 August 2008

Taking over the world, one uke at a time

There is a whole crazy world of ukulele-crazy people out there. I keep running into them on YouTube. Since today's blog has to be a drive-by, I'll share a couple of interesting examples with you. (I will do a real write-up on it Real Soon Now.)

05 August 2008

BitTorrent Blues

I could compose a big song and dance about all the good reasons I got sucked into BitTorrent, but the truth is I was curious and impatient and frustrated and spiteful. I did it because I could scratch itches with it, even though I am concerned about how it affects artists, and that troubles me.

The first torrent was a long out of print and completely unavailable album, that the artist had told me to grab where I could get it. I managed to get a client and find a thing to click on and after a while I had the album.

Because I am me, I wanted to understand the mechanics of the filesharing system better, so I read a bit and poked around in my client to see what the settings did. And then, because night will follow day, I downloaded another torrent so I could watch the pieces assemble and all.

And then I wanted one single track from an album that is not available for download, from an album that is sold at a premium above the usual prices, from an artist I don't want except for that one track anyway. I was working against a deadline and I was irritated and a clicked up a "Take That Bwahaha" torrent download.

And then I wanted to get two albums right away before I got paid again. By then it was easy to do it, technically and morally, so I just did.

Of course, because I am still me, I was stewing about this all the time and knew I was falling below the standards I set for myself for reasons that were not worth the hit points. I bought proper copies of the three albums I had downloaded through P2P because it was cheap and easy. (The greedy asshat who wanted to force me to pay double for his crappy album is still stiffed, though. Bwahaha.)

There is a lesson in there about the market and the future of music, but that's another day's rant.

What pains me now is seeding. After the first download and my tardy homework on the torrent system, I realized that it is a pay-it-forward system. You get a torrent and then you serve as a new source for it, for the benefit of the others down the line who want the download. That's the deal. Plenty of people stiff this system, too, but I knew going in what the devil's deal is.

Now my client is sitting here night and day happily sending off bits and pieces of these albums. I could just cut it off. I've probably sent off enough to balance out what I got. Having it sitting here, though, reminds me to think about filesharing, which is the center of the questions that started me writing this blog in the first place.

How do people find new music now? How do they get it? How do the artists get it out to people? Who is paying for production and distribution now? What has gotten better with the changes and what has gotten worse? Better and worse for who? How is the new system going get the artists paid? What is a fair price for music now?

I still can't answer those questions well enough to satsify me, but I think I have some ideas on "Why do we see so many EPs these days?" The slightly harder question that I am still thinking about is "What is the optimal length of an EP so that it will satsify that requirement?" Stay tuned.

03 August 2008

My Day Of Music

I finally got my Enemymine The Ice In Me album. I had a horrible time finding a copy that was actually in stock. I'm glad that I really love it. I know I've mentioned them before, but for those who come in late, Enemymine is a trio with two basses and drums. Often one of the basses is tuned way up, but it never sounds like a guitar to me. Circa 2000. Hang on, there must be a clip somewhere ...

Discover EnemyMine!

Last night I logged on to the The Hint after-concert party. They set up a webcam and chat. It was a blast to chat up a running commentary on the party that we could see. They were playing some hip-hop that didn't suck, too. This was, of course, right after I posted the blog about not liking hip-hop. I didn't mind listening to it, but I wasn't moved to write down any of the artists to track down later either. I finally got to hear a bit of "I Kissed a Girl" which I have only heard about before. I suppose the follow-up could be a cover of Big Star's "I'm in Love with a Girl". A female singer would put a whole world of interesting into that one.

Wait, I need to write that one down for the Smoochies playlist of happy love songs. [ ... tick tock music ... ] Okay, got it.

There was one artist from the party music that I wanted to remember, but it slipped away before thought of writing it down. It was something like "binky spiral", but I couldn't pin it down. I ended up searching Amazon.com for every "B ... y" artist until I hit on Biffy Clyro. Definitely going on my list for next month's music budget. I haven't yet figured out which one I heard last night (this morning? It's a bit blurry.) Here is a sample:

Discover Biffy Clyro!
I love the mix of ravey stuff and smashing guitar. Time to get out the combat boots and lightsticks.

This afternoon, I've been watching Words and Music on Netflix. That is an excellent place to explore older music, by the way. They have a lot of concerts and documentaries there. Anyway, this is a fictionalized biography of Rodgers and Hart, done shortly after Hart died. I have to say that generally, if I want clever lyrics I go with Cole Porter and if I want to sing along I go with Oscar Hammerstein. I also observe again that a lot of stuff that was considered wonderful at the time it first appeared on Broadway sounds massively stinky now. But then they hit one of the good ones, and it's magic.

Discover Robbie Williams!

I am frustrated that a disk I ordered from the UK (from one of the Callums) seems to be trapped downstairs in our rental office. I have the slip from the postman, but the office is closed today. I would stamp my foot, but they wouldn't care. I ordered another UK EP (from a completely Callum-free band), because I am such a sucker for the big brown puppy eyes "We are in the studio far from home and it would help if you could buy an album" appeal. That only works if it is on my list anyway, though, so don't you all go crazy with the brown eyes unless you have the tunes to back them up. And in the ROTFLMAO department, Amazon suggests I buy an iPod.

The commission I'm doing now is for an hour of sweet and a few bittersweet love songs, mostly modern rock, new to the client, and no Latin. I realize that I don't buy a lot of happy songs. I could do an hour of "you broke me and I'm trying to live with the damage" songs. I could do an hour of "you left me and now you are having your turn to suffer" songs. I could do an hour of "I'm still thinking about you" songs. I could even do an hour of "I'm well shut of you" or of "you're well shut of me" songs. But sweet, hopeful, or happy? Not so much. It's kind of depressing to realize that my favorite albums in English are mostly breakup albums. I'll take this playlist as a stretching exercise.

And so off to work on that.

NOTE ADDED 13 SEPT 2011: I have no idea what happened with the Deezer links. Now they tell me that they don't cover my country. This is what I was ranting about!

02 August 2008

It it all right for me not to like hip-hop?

Is it all right for me not to like hip-hop? In theory, anyone can like or dislike any kind of music. There's no law about it. But there is a lot of social weight on music. What music you listen to, what music your social groups listens to, what music you mock, all that is usually based on a lot more than just what the music sounds like. And people who don't really know you will associate you with particular groups of people because of what you listen to or don't. I can intellectually know that people divide themselves up into groups and put a lot of effort into keeping straight what is In and what is Out, and yet still have the gut feeling that group divisions based on race are worse than any of the other possiblities. That leaves me trying to decide if I don't like hiphop because of what it sounds like, I don't like hiphop because I haven't listened to enough of it to get it, or because I am a bigot of some sort, or what. It's a liberal knee-jerk, I know. It's not as if I like everything. I don't like the Miles Davis style of modern jazz at all, but I listened to a lot of it before I ruled it out as a category. (It makes my brain want to run away from my body and hide--I think the tonal stuff clashes with some of my wiring in a fundamental way.) I listened to enough hardcore that it didn't all sound the same to me, found some that I liked, and let myself avoid the rest of it without any guilt. There are some artists I avoid because they are (as far as I can tell) loathsome or their lyrics are. I have no problem with that. Some music is inaccessible because you don't have the musical basis for it, like gamelan or Yoko Ono or something. I don't run into that much anymore because I have built up a big basis of personal musical experience. When I do, I try to listen with open ears and then follow up by listening to more of it or related music, until I can parse it better. So what about me and hip-hop? It can't be because it is musically foreign to me. I grew up on Motown and Memphis and Philadelphia. I have heard enough of urban music in general to know what's what. I don't think it is because the artists are mostly black. I listen stuff that is mostly associated with black artists, like old Stax/Volt stuff, reggaeton and zouk. It can't be because I worry about getting a bad reaction from people I know. I listen to enough different stuff and am so out about it that I am pretty sure I must already be bothering the people who police the Them and Us of music. Seeing the other iTunes libraries on our intranet at work keeps this question fresh for me. A lot of people have hiphop and similar urban stuff up there, people who are sensible adults that I know. I have listened to enough of it that I can tell the difference between Akon and Chris Brown. I still find myself clicking away to something else after a track or two. There is always something else I would rather be listening to, and it seems as stupid to me to contemplate taking up hip-hop to make a social statement as to avoid it for the same reason. Can I just admit that I like other stuff a lot better and leave it at that? Would that make me a bad person?