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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why I Use A PC & Some Random Thoughts on "Making It In Music"

My main reason for using a PC is simple. It's Apple's poor job porting their software to PC's. iTunes for the PC is the most frustrating software I use. Rarely does it connect to an iPhone via WiFi. The settings are not in one place. It fails to load at times and I have to reboot. It gets a 10 out of 10 on the "Cussable Scale."

I have felt the same way about a lot of music and musical device software that was designed for an Apple and then poorly ported to Windows.

I am a music anarchist, and Apple's "ownership" of their software nauseates me, too.

You do not have to have the "best" machine, the "best" software, etc. to make music. You do have to write, write, write. Just the other day I read a list of songs Willie Nelson wrote. There were a whole bunch of them that I had never heard of. Let's say that 5% of what he wrote has "stuck." That's a phenomenal percentage! I bet the songs he wrote that didn't please him could fill up several filing cabinets, too.

If you wanna make it in the music business, you have to realize that it is mostly business that gets you to the goal of "making it." Probably 99.99999% of musicians hate business (except when it's time to get paid). We'd rather be playing. For this reason, you've got to find someone who loves marketing/business as much as you love music. If you do come into some good money, put a huge part of it on a publicist and a business manager. Make sure that they love what they do and would do it for free (but like to get paid just like you with your music :-)

I know plenty of musicians who are KILLER, but they did not have the heart for the business/marketing end of things. They play a lot locally, but never did get discovered.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Who Makes a Song More Than the Sum of Its Parts?

Before answering the question, if you're interested in composing music for film, here's a very interesting article entitled:

Crowded Out of Eden: Composers and the Hollywood Dream BY JONATHAN RHODES LEE

As a provider of music for film, gaming, whatever, you have to thank your lucky stars to come upon a producer/director that lets you do what you feel is right for a project. I have been on both sides of the coin, but, thankfully, mostly on the side where the final decision was to go with what I thought was best from the start.

The best situation is where you are given ideas of where the producer/director would like to see things go -- without specifying how to get there. I'm lucky enough at the present time to be working with these kind of  people.

And now, for my answer to the question posed in the title of this blog entry: Arrangers and Orchestrators. These are far and above the most screwed musicians in the history of the industry. As you see from Mr. Lee's article, they have been left out of credits since the beginning. Yet they can take a mediocre song and turn it into a hit.

What pushed me to write about this (I've thought it for decades) was listening to music of the 50's and 60's that bridged the gap between the rock/blues and and 40's pop music.

It's only fairly recently that we are finding out who the arrangers/orchestrators were for much of this music. It's about time!

For an example of a songwriter who also was an arranger, listen to Morning Girl by Neon Philharmonic. It was written and arranged by Tupper Saussy (his true name). Notice that early stereo mix! Harpsichord Rock on one side, lush orchestration on the other side. Make sure to listen through to the end -- the strings go where rock and roll instrumentation just wouldn't cut it.

How many songs are there that were made by a musician's invention of a musical hook? The instrumental  riffs that bring a whole song to mind, like the riff in My Girl. The guitarist is Robert White.

By the way, you did notice the orchestral arrangement in the song, didn't you? That's the Detroit Symphony Orchestra -- they were involved in many Motown recordings.

These days, there is no excuse to leave out credit for any of the people who bring a song to life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Backup Solution

In a previous post, I talked about online backup. Since that time, I have been trying a new method of backing up -- this one local. After researching tape based backup and realizing that it is very expensive and still not that trustworthy, I came upon external devices that allow you to plug in a standard SATA hard drive. These devices can be connected via USB, SATA and/or eSATA (maybe Firewire, too). I went with a Thermaltake BlacX eSATA USB Docking Station, a SATA to eSATA bracket with cable to extend one of the motherboard SATA connections to the rear of the computer, and a couple of 2TB drives. The docking station came with a short eSATA cable that connects it to the bracket at the rear of the computer.

Now I have an external SATA drive bay and can can alternate backing up critical data to two different external drives. Thankfully, I haven't needed the backups, but it's good to know they're there.

The docking station was around $35. The bracket was around $5. The two drives were a bit over $200. All of this was a lot less expensive than any other solution I could find.

Software for this solution is another story. I've tried a several programs and none of them feel trustworthy to me. Storing data with a non-standard software protocol leaves me at the mercy of a software vendor that may not be there tomorrow. I'll post what I decide upon here. Until then, it's once a week zip files of each directory.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The VERY BEST To Greg Hendershott

Greg is retiring from Cakewalk, effective July 1, 2012, after 25 years!

There is a warm place in my heart for Twelve Tones Software and Cakewalk in general and Greg Hendershott in particular. Greg's Cakewalk software was on the forefront of bringing music creation into the hands of many people who wanted to create music but didn't have access to professional equipment. That original MIDI sequencing software has grown to a product that boggles one's mind. Who would have believed in 1987 that you'd be able to write, perform, record, mix, sweeten, master and output a final recording on a single computer?

THANK YOU, Greg for believing in your idea and bringing it to reality! It has certainly changed my life greatly. Here's to many more years of creativity from you. I wish you health, happiness and fun!

I've told Greg this before in person, but I cannot say it enough.

Here's Greg's Farewell Letter: http://www.cakewalk.com/page.aspx/Farewell-Letter-from-Greg-Hendershott

Monday, May 28, 2012


For the past year or so I've been working with an independent game developer, Brad Carney, on a game called Wrack. I love working with indie developers. The music and sfx have been fun to work on, but they're not through. The game has been released with just three levels completed at this time. Those who support it now will get to watch it grow to 30 levels and will have input into further development. Brad included a user friendly map editor, and less than 12 hours after the game was released there were already some player made mods and maps.
 You can read/see/hear more about it at WrackGame.com.

Plugins Galore!

When the software I have works, I usually stick with it and don't take the time to look for something else. Lately, though, I've been trying out lots of new things just to see if I'm missing something, especially in regard to plugins.

Brain overload is what I got. That and a dislike for recommendations based upon some band/singer/musician/songwriter/composer using the product. That's not enough for me to jump on something unless the project it's used in is similar to what I am doing at the time.

One has to realize, too, that most recommendations are bought in one form or another. Either outright payment in money or payment in product. Back in the days that some of my projects were hot, I received a lot of software and some hardware with a request that I comment on it. I returned some of it because it was nothing to write home about. Of course I didn't let that fact be known because it was just my opinion.

There were also times that I was asked to look at a potential product and give my thoughts. One that stood out was a sound card with a truly wonderful synth on it. The problem was that it was very complicated to understand how to get usable sounds out of it. I think the eventual plan was to have people like me come up with sound banks to ship with the board (and maybe it was going to be a keyboard product too. I think the manufacturer was not very happy with my recommendation that they take the time to include a program that would create the MIDI data necessary to tweak the sounds. As I recall, they expected users to read a MIDI implementation chart and enter the MIDI data stream to make tweaks to the sounds. I told them I would not be one to take the time to do that, and I expected software to come with a product and not depend upon third parties to eventually come up with something that makes the product more user friendly. Suffice it to say, that manufacturer never again asked me to review another potential product.

So, I'm downloading demos of plugins, and I realized there are more than a few that are either poorly documented or not documented at all. This is when I am thankful for those users who have figured things out and taken the time to bring some light into the matter by posting on a forum or YouTube.

One such plugin that was intended for ProTools but was also released as a VST failed to ever mention that it should be installed as an instrument and not an effect. Exacting  documentation was included for ProTools. The docs for other DAW's was completely confusing to even long time "other" DAW users. I read lots of "WTF" posts before finding one that cleared the mud.

My advice to plugin developers is to include documentation that makes no assumptions as to the experience of the user. The docs can also have a quick setup section for experienced users.

So, what did I end up deciding to use? Well, I won't say until I get my free plugins :-) Just joking. I won't say though because what I find usable you may not. I would say to search for reviews of plugins. There are some good reviews out there. I would recommend kvraudio.com as an excellent starting point (and I have no relationship whatsoever with that site).

And, if you ever want to know how I got a particular sound, email me and I'll tell you personally if you promise not to quote me.

Finally, I do understand the stated need of software developers to copy protect products. But, I do not agree with it. It often gets in the way of my using the product. And often the explanation of how to install the software takes up more pages than the actual product use  documentation. Besides, the code crackers are geniuses at what they do.

The big question is how many "illegal" users of plugins would actually use the plugin in  a "for profit" product. I'd bet less than 1%. So for 1% greater sales, purchasers of the product have to jump through rings. It just doesn't make sense to me.