Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 26 Mar 12 16:47
An open discussion of making (and acquiring) music in the 21st century among WELL musicians David Gans, Rik Elswit, Adam Powell, Eric Rawlins, and friends.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 26 Mar 12 17:07
Here's an article in The New Yorker that might be a good place to begin this discussion: <http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/03/26/120326fa_fact_seabrook>
David Gans (tnf) Mon 26 Mar 12 17:26
I'm David Gans, a working musician and radio producer. I may be one ofthe happiest people in either of those industries, because aside from a year of corporate syndication more than 20 years ago I have been independent for my entire career. I produce and distribute The Grateful Dead Hour <http://www.gdhour.com> and host a two-hour show on KPFA in Berkeley <http://dttw.gdhour.com> called Dead to the World, Wednesdays at 8pm. I also host a call-in show on SiriusXM's Grateful Dead Channel. I tour nationally as a "solo eiectric" performer, doing music festivals, club gigs, and house concerts. Here at home (and on the road soon, I hope), I also play with an acoustic quartet, The Sycamore Slough String Band <http://s3b.us>. I am delighted with the variety of gigs available to me, and I make the most of my opportunities, both creatively and commercially. An increasing share of my income comes from my performances. I have released three sets of recordings in the last couple of months, all of them in the online marketplace (with a CD-on-demand option). There isn't much money to be made from recordings these days, but they do serve a function - and that is one of the things I'd like to talk about here. My three recent releases: Sycamore Slough String Band, "First Rehearsals": <http://flink.livedownloads.com/show.asp?show=7293> David Gans and Eric Rawlins, "Desert Wind, Rollin' River": <http://flink.livedownloads.com/show.asp?show=7136> David Gans 3/26/11 Rollinsville CO: <http://flink.livedownloads.com/show.asp?show=6977> "Desert Wind, Rollin' River" is also available in 96/24 from HDTracks: <https://www.hdtracks.com/index.php?file=catalogdetail&valbum_code=HD0639444120 94>
David Gans (tnf) Mon 26 Mar 12 17:27
P.S. I have appeared twice before in the Inkwell: <inkwell.vue.107> David Gans - Solo Acoustic <inkwell.vue.275> The Life and Times of David Gans
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Mon 26 Mar 12 20:14
I'm Eric Rawlins. I've been an amateur musician most of my life. I've performed off and on with David for the last 15-20 years, and we've recorded 2 CDs together.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 27 Mar 12 08:58
More grist for the discussion: How ASCAP Takes Money From Successful Indie Artists And Gives It To Giant Rock Stars <http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120323/18055718229/how-ascap-takes-money- successful-indie-artists-gives-it-to-giant-rock-stars.shtml> <http://tinyurl.com/blb43ea> The short version of the story is basically that, to make its own life easier, ASCAP just pays those performance royalties to the top 200 grossing tours in the US, and every other touring musician is more or less screwed -- unless you can convince ASCAP that you play "serious music." Zoe Keating's blog post is cited in the above. Here's a link to her post: <http://zoekeating.tumblr.com/post/19796519069/another-post-where-i-attempt- to-understand-the>
David Gans (tnf) Tue 27 Mar 12 10:17
Carole King tells how she broke into the songwriting biz in 1957. THings sure are different today! <http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/carole-king-2012-3/>
Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 27 Mar 12 13:46
Hi, I'm Scott Underwood. I play bass and guitar with a few different people for love and small amounts of money -- why, last weekend I made $100 and a couple bottles of red for playing at a winery! Like many here, I listen to a wide variety of music, and I'm old enough to have bought music on vinyl (33 RPM LPs and 45 RPM singles), eight-track and cassette tapes, and now digital files of varying quality. I have a Victrola and a few dozen 78s, and accounts on Pandora and Last.fm. (My son is trying to get me on Spotify, but I'm resisting.) Finally, I enjoy reading about music. In the last couple of years, I've read four books by two authors that I highly recommend for helping understand the music we listen to ever more deeply: "Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues" and "How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music," both by Elijah Wald <http://www.elijahwald.com/>. Both of these books overturned some received wisdom I've been carrying around about the origins of popular music; essentially, how did we get here from there? "This Is Your Brain on Music" and "The World in Six Songs," both by Daniel Levitin <http://daniellevitin.com/>, a musician/engineer/producer turned neuroscientist who summarizes the emergent research into how we perceive music and why it is such a central part of human history.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 27 Mar 12 15:22
I'm Rik Elswit. Addicted to music from age 9, when the uncle who raised me built a Heathkit stereo and bought a stack of jazz and classical LPs with which to show it off. He was also the one who was watching the Dorsey show on TV when Elvis Presley made his video debut, and yelled, "Ricky, come down here! You HAVE to see this." So my progression of musical interests began with Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. I was blown out of the water by Presley, charmed by the Kingston Trio, which led me to the Weavers and Pete Seeger, who taught me the joys of home-made music, and led me to take up guitar. Then the Beatles came along, and I immediately plugged in. Spent just enough time in college to learn how to play well enough to get paid for it, worked the bars and clubs in LA and San Francisco, and wound up on the ground floor of Dr. Hook and the Medicine show. 15 years, and 7 gold singles later, when we folded up the band, we found that, not only were we broke, but we owed the management money. My career as a second-tier rock star wound up as a cautionary tale. I sell guitars, I teach people how to play them, and have rediscovered how to make music for the fun of it. Currently, I'm lead guitar with Gayle Lynn and the Hired Hands, a six-piece band working the Americana scene in Northern California. And I get together fairly regularly to play with Eric, David, and Scott, for the sheer joy of it.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Tue 27 Mar 12 16:30
Let me add that I found the New Yorker article that David pointered well worth your time, and a great way to get into this discussion.
Eric Rawlins (woodman) Wed 28 Mar 12 10:37
My musical interests have been swinging back and forth, on about a 20-year pendulum, between classical and pop all my life. I started at about 5 when I discovered my parents' collection of 78s: "Sheherezade" (that one took about 10 discs, which I would put on in random order) and lots of singles by the likes of Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday and Satch. Then classical piano lessons at 11; then switched to guitar in high school when the Great Folk Scare came in; which led in a natural way to bluegrass, and pop via the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers. Then back to piano after college. Then back to guitar when my marriage broke up and I didn't have the emotional energy to play a classical instrument. Finally, a year or two ago, back to piano. I like to think of each of these shifts as an enrichment and gain, not as a trading one for another. I still play all those styles (well, maybe not the Kingston Trio) at times.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 28 Mar 12 11:09
> 10 discs, which I would put on in random order John Cage would approve!
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Wed 28 Mar 12 14:12
Hi, I'm Adam Powell. I've been playing music since I was a toddler. Formally trained in piano, I became more and more interested in percussion, string instruments, and finally the recording studio as a kind of musical instrument. I bought a Tascam 4-Track with paper route money and never looked back. I played in countless bands and at one point tried to figure out how many records I've played on -- it turned out to be about 50, and that was many years ago. Predictably, none of the bands ever blew up big, but I never lost the taste for composing and recording. When the Web hit, I began writing articles for HotWired, where I worked, on how to post snippets of audio using RealAudio 1.0, Shockwave, and eventually mp3s. In this fashion I became a frequent panelist at SXSW and a known industry pundit, specializing in the intersection between audio and the Web. In 2000, I co-founded Angry Coffee LLC. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angry_Coffee ---- Angry Coffee, led by Adam Vincent Powell, Todd Tate and CTO Jeff Burchell, deployed the first publicly available web interface to P2P networks when they launched Percolator in June of 2000. When Napster denied Angry Coffee users access to their database, the story appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. On June 27, 2000 Angry Coffee made this statement: "Napster has shut us out of their network. We think it's lame that a company that built its business through unauthorized distribution would consider Percolator to be an unauthorized use of their resources, but they're entitled to their opinion." Soon after this event Angry Coffee went on to assist EMI and Capitol Records with the marketing and promotion of internationally famed band Radiohead, with the release of Kid A in 2000. ---- Today I continue to release at least one full-length album each year, mostly because I enjoy it. I put out =Hatchet for a Heart & Wild Panther Blood= on February 29 2012, and I'm busy working on a new project centering around a single 55-minute song. I'm looking forward to the conversation!
David Gans (tnf) Wed 28 Mar 12 14:26
> Tascam 4-Track Oh man, I remember when the Portastudio came out in the early '80s. It was a dream for guys like me.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 28 Mar 12 14:49
Amazing, isn't it? I've got more recording firepower in the laptop I'm typing on than the entire studio we were using at CBS recorders in the 70s to make our 2nd and 3rd albums. And CBS was charging us the equivalent of $850 an hour, in today's dollars.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 28 Mar 12 15:13
Yes, the label was charging the band. That's one thing about the present-day recording world that I prefer: I may have to pay for my own recording, but I also get to keep every single dollar there is to be realized from my CD sales. At least in the ones I sell at gigs, which is probably more than 80% of what I sell. The music industry set it up so they advanced the costs of recording and then recoupled all of that - and marketing costs, and all sorts of other stuff - FROM THE ARTIST'S SHARE of sales. Nowadays a label expects you to deliver a finished master and the will distribute it and market it for you. Except there aren't many retail outlets any more, and nobody buys music anyway.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 28 Mar 12 16:21
Recouped, not recoupled.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Thu 29 Mar 12 06:56
Yes, it was the Portastudio! A dream indeed. It was using low-fi cassettes, but I learned how multi-tracking, busses, and collapsing tracks worked. A very useful device. I think I paid about $500 for it, which seemed like a fortune to me. As far as the labels charging recording fees back to the artist, there's a great story where the Beastie Boys, smart kids but unschooled in the deviousness of the record industry, start to realize while making PAUL'S BOUTIQUE that they are paying $700 an hour to play ping-pong, and maybe moving that ping-pong table into the studio wasn't such a hot idea after all. The labels weren't exactly forthright with that information, as I understand it.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 29 Mar 12 09:05
This sure is a big topic and can go in many different directions. Since you kicked off the discussion by suggesting John Seabrook's New Yorker article, I'd like to ask about music and technology. Most of us first come to music through the aural side of things. We hear the music, get entranced by some of it, and then want to make some of it ourselves. Seabrook shows us how much pop music production today is like the assembly line in factories. Carol King was sitting in the Brill Building roughly doing the same thing in the late 50s and early 60s. She had more "toys" than George and Ira Gershwin had, and the top line producers have even more "toys" than she did. So, could you talk about the interface of artistic work and commercial product and how it has shaped how we think about music?
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Thu 29 Mar 12 10:10
For me, the key moment of that piece is technological. The team is cutting up all the elements and re-assembling them using a digital audio waveform editor, while the state-of-the-art mixing board gathers dust. What this means from a composition standpoint is that top 40 pop songs today are not written in the conventional sense (there are exceptions in country and hip-hop if you consider that pop). Instead, you mess around with a beat or a groove, get the singer to spew a bunch of ideas, and then pick the stuff that works and loop it. This is a very efficient approach. But it's far from sitting down at a piano with pen and paper, which is much more challenging and produces (I think) more rewarding music.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 29 Mar 12 10:28
I exist in an entirely different universe. I am a skilled digital audio editor ( see <http://www.dgans.com/mutilaudio/> ), but that to me is a separate world from my composing and performance. I record in a studio with live musicians. The engineer I work with is great with Pro Tools, and we have worked all sorts of magic to fix things, but it is fundamentally an ensemble performance without much overdubbing. <rocket>, why don't you post a link to your recent release? It's a whole nother animal from what I do.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Thu 29 Mar 12 10:37
But remember that Goffin and King weren't trying to create art. They were making a living coming up with earworm hooks with the best technology available at the moment. A piano and manuscript paper. I think that it was Bob Dylan who changed the way we saw pop music by making it self-consciously artistic. The Beatles bought into that and added mastery of the recording process to the mix. And slowly, the rest of the music world began to see the pop of the day pop as something more valuable, rather than something as disposable as a chewing gum wrapper. It was in the late 60s-earl 70s that the singer-songwriter moved into the top 40 in force, and it was James Taylor who resurrected Carole King's career by getting her a ticket on the singer-songwriter train. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" is an entirely different thing sung as a ballad over solo piano. As I was saying to David in email earlier, I think we're seeing the end of the singer songwriter era in top 40, Lady Gaga notwithstanding. It's back to the Brill Building with the various aspects of songwriting and record production being parcelled out to specialists.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Thu 29 Mar 12 10:38
David slipped in while I was writing that.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Thu 29 Mar 12 10:47
Sure, thanks David. Hatchet for a Heart & Wild Panther Blood http://www.well.com/~rocket/hatchet/ This is a minor effort, but there are some interesting things here that relate to our topic. "Sauce!" is made of loops. Some are record fragments, some are synths, some are drums. At some level I played or programmed or manipulated all the pieces. "Hey Julia" is a more conventional song. I wrote it on a guitar and multi-tracked everything over an original, live performance of vocals/acoustic guitar. "Voltage Control Oscillations" was made entirely inside an iPad and never touched anything analog. On the preceding record, "A Story of Decipherment," I managed a 30-minute song suite that was to my ears a more impressive work than anything on the new record (that happens, and it's OK. Just keep working.) Check into "Tokyo/Oslo/Paris/Teenage Dream/Silverlake" for a kind of summary of my home studio's possibilities. Turntables, sampler, waveform editors -- yes. But also a real acoustic piano, guitars, and Fender P-Bass. I like putting those worlds together. http://www.well.com/~rocket/
David Gans (tnf) Thu 29 Mar 12 11:39
See, I would need a whole nother lifetime to get up to speed on all these tools.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Thu 29 Mar 12 11:49
And I would need another lifetime to match your guitar + guitar tech skills -- beyond the playing, you are also looping and overdubbing in real time. Let's talk about distribution. How are folks getting their music to the masses these days?
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