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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Follow up on the future (I call shenanigans)

I'm going to address now the massive logical fallacy put forth by the music (and movie) industry. Illegal downloads are taking money away from them and out of the pockets of the creators. They want the public to think that if everyone who downloaded an album or a movie didn't do that, they would buy it instead. I can only speak for myself, but that's bullshit. I reserve my movie dollars for very few things I really like. I go to the big screen for something like Star Trek. I'll buy something I really love, like The Shawshank Redemption. If I download, the most I'm doing is taking a dollar away from Redbox. And I use Redbox, too (see below to see what the MPAA thinks of Redbox). Or I go to the library. At least half of my cd collection is either copied from friends or bought used. No money to the RIAA there. Of the music I've acquired from friends, the library, or otherwise not paid full price for, I'd say most I would have never purchased at all. These days I'm doing a lot of online radio listening. I hear tons of music I like but I'll never buy. I throw a little money in every now and then to help my favorite independent stations, but that's it. Let me see if I can summarize my point:

It's not a matter of buying vs stealing. It is a matter of experiencing vs not experiencing. 

I'd also like to take a moment to give a shout out the the original, old school, grandaddy of us all "analog" Torrent site, the Library. (with special nods to public, college and high school libraries)

Just a few more tidbits for thought on my posts about the state of the music industry. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has been raving, like the RIAA, about how illegal movie downloads are killing the movie business. The MPAA has even opposed cheap services like Redbox despite the evidence showing just the opposite. So how can the MPAA say downloads are hurting when, yet again, 2009 was a record year for box office profits. This during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

If movies and music are analogous, why hasn't the music industry seen increases in the same way? Several likely reasons:

Many studies including this one have shown that illegal downloaders spend more money on music than those who don't download. Other studies show that digital sales are increasing. So why is the RIAA in a twist? Music is too expensive. $12-15 for a cd and $1 or more per song download are just too much. And studies are backing this up. For some reason, rather than charging what the market will bear, the music industry has picked artificially high prices. The consumer is finally catching on and deciding they don't want to pay that much for a cd. If you want people to pay that much, you have to give more than a little plastic disk.

The way we deliver music is outdated and being replaced by a system we don't fully understand yet. Brian Eno made the fine comparison of records to whale blubber. Oil replaced whale blubber as fuel. Cars replaced the horse and buggy. Transistors replaced vacuum tubes. We make ice in our own freezers rather than having it delivered. Technology moves on. In some cases the old ways die out, in others they adapt to new niches. My desktop computer would fill the room if it still had tubes, but many a guitar player would be lost without a tube amp. You can still ride a horse and buggy, but you do so for fun, not because it's the best way to get around.

People just don't like music that much anymore. It's a hard pill to swallow but I think it's true. I'm forgetting where I read or heard this, but it's related to the Brian Eno remarks. In the history of music, the multi-million album sales and heaps of money thrown around in the 80s and 90s are an anomaly, not the norm. Operating an industry on that scale wasn't sustainable. Video game sales have outpaced music for a few years now, and have passed home dvd sales. Internet, cable, satellite. There are so many sources for entertainment and information. Music is going to have to accept that it isn't on top of the heap anymore.

So, back to the artist. What do I think? I think I make art and that's a lot better than not making it. I'd feel sympathetic towards those who can't make a living anymore in music, but so far I haven't found any examples. I'm not entitled to make a living at music and neither is anyone else. I'm not entitled to anything but the right to make art. Hell, even Ray Alder of Fates Warning had a day job during their heyday. I have a job so I can make art. On one level, only making a small part of my income from my art makes me an amateur and not a professional. On the other hand, being free to make whatever art I want, when I want, to make myself happy, means that I am successful. And being successful in my art makes me happy with what I have to be happy with.

(is it perhaps ironic that these people are watching television and not listening to music?)
(slightly related, I link to Techdirt a lot. A great read for tech/copyright/what's next/that's a dumb law info)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

About Tastes, Arguments and Judging - grrroOOOOOoowwwwl it OUT!!!

"And you should get more into growlers... just ignore the growling if you want, there's usually lots of dynamics in their music!"

This is a posting by "Blueprint", and has been agreed by "Ayreonaut" on the forum of Progpower Europe as a final comment to my ppe reviews. I want to memorize Lamneth's article Tribalism in Progressive Circles.

What I can say about the growling is that it is not my favorite art of expression. I am listening to growlers since a couple of years, and it will never be my preferred vocal technique. There are some I can enjoy pretty much, and some I cannot stand at all. I divide them in four categories:

1) The expressive ones - Used to create a sonic vision of something evil in a story to be told, such as Amaseffer use in their outstanding prog metal bible soundtrack epic trilogy. I love them one hundred percent.

2) The atmospheric ones - used alternatively to clean vocals for creating a dark or evil atmosphere in genres where guitar alone (or even with keyboards) cannot achieve it. Why not? If it turns out any good...

3) The "for-the-sake-of-it" growlings - In the beginning there was the growling, the came the lyrics. All music gets written around it so the growling has a base to float over. I dont' have any sense for it, there is no beauty in the music for my music analyzing neuronal patterns.

4) The production enhancing growls - Now we have produced a very strong album, but what can we do to improve sales results? We should bring some growling in, that will attract the other half of the metal fans as well. I call them - like they are meant to be - evil. Evil commerce.

So, what happens if those cookies come along when I'm tuned in to progulus radio? I get tears in my eyes (1), just let the music play and wonder if and how it will please me (2), press the mute button because the music bothers me (3) or consider the band being lost to the deeps of capitalism (4).
If it fills the air at such a genious festival like Progpower Europe, I have a great option: I walk through the door and do the second thing I came for: talking to some of the great people I have the opportunity to meet.
Concernig to Blueprint's idea of just ignoring the cookies, well, I can't. At least unless one offers a growling filter implant.
But all in all, Blueprint is right, many bands really do great music, and the fact that I can't stand the growling and therefore will not listen to them is a tragedy.

So much for my statement about cookiemonster vocals. I will not say silly things like "I hate people shouting at me this way" or something like that. There is this one thing in man that has no reason: taste. It is the way it is, and one cannot say why. In this human here, a strong growling intolerance is given. but hey, it is my taste! I don't actually am against it on purpose! I just don't like to hear it. I would never say it is a bad thing because of reason xy. Bad for me in person only because I miss some great instrumental work, but I will never tell anybody to not growl unless he/she were in a band I've founded.
Lamneth complained about one who said that Opeth are killing the death metal genre by bringing in some clean vocals. Well, I bet it was a young one who's overly supportive to that genre so he doesn't want to go beyond it one little step. It was an opinion, nothing more. A person with a rather narrow range of taste. That won't make this person a bad guy at all. I bet if I meet that one, we could have a great time together.
We here are proggers. We love this kind of music and support it in all ways we can. In common we share tastes. Even if we have sort of tribalism, which I tend to call differences in taste. Is that bad?
If I made friendship only with proggers here in Munich, where I live, I would be a rather lonely person.
Imagine a person that is highly intelligent and smart, has a high class job that makes him a 1st class income, but is straight to the ground and simply a great friend. And then you find out he's a country fan. Would you turn your back on him and call him a moron? I don't think so.
In the nineties there was a great guy being sound engineer at the studio where I worked. We were hanging out in bars and street cafes pretty often, simply having a great time. one day we began a discussion about how a good radio show would have to be made, how much variety it should have, and all that kind of ideas. It took some two hours and we agreed in simply every aspect, until we came to the point where we started to name bands to be played. We've found out that I was the metal guy and he was a straight to the heart hip hopper. Man, that was a laugh!! But we've remained good friends and spent plenty of great time together until life tore us apart 10 years ago. I still think of him often.

All we people on this planet have different tastes and should respect each other's. Some 25 years ago, when I was into jazz (among other genres), I turned and walked away because of the elitism of the jazzers. In the here and now I experience the same elitism in prog fans and gotta shake my head.
Intelligent music - being open minded - convert the sheep to prog - no hope for the morons ... I hear and read terms like these way too often in the progressive corner. Are we really that better than the rest of the world?
The doctor who saves your live loves classical
The bakerman who produces your bread loves marching music
The farmer who grows your vegetables loves country
The constructor who built your house loves trip hop
---> All morons? Not worthy?

Stop the elitism! Stop evangelizing! Or you are the moron...
Yes, play your preferred music to people you like. But when they ask you to stop, then stop. Respect their tastes.
Taste cannot be controlled, neither can it be manipulated. Gladly! If that were possible all our governments would do it. A horrible scenario.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 5th Season - a diary, Day 3

My friends must have felt my suffering and saved me some hot water for the shower on this Sunday morning. What a difference, brain starts working, body is ok, the day will be a good one. Except, again I got up too late for breakfast in the progpower breakfast room. Bummer. In the years before I've always been the first one getting up. That role belongs to the Brits this year. But I can rely on Dario. He's still asleep, though he was the first one in bed. Hope he'll be doing better today. Out in the courtyard, the circle's up. Aaah, I'm at home. Jeroen comes along and joins, he's managed to get some food, by simply asking the staff if there's something left. Guess they were unable to leave a young guy hanging out hungry. But there was no coffee left. I offer some espresso and his eyes start glowing. " Isn't it spoiled, having your own espresso maker in a hotel?" he asks. I agree, but it's convenient too. And then he says it's quite strong. Oh my. Would somebody complain about a Porsche being a fast car? Gary says to someone "We're not Brittish! We're English." Oh yes, I've heard Simon talking about having been in Europe last year. Separatists they are. What? someone needs coffee? Ok, I'm back into our room. Too much action for Dario to keep sleeping.
I gotta care for the beerbox and the bottles, so I'm heading towards the party room. 2 closed bottles are standing there on the floor, right at the wall. Oh my, those poor devils were unable to open them? I had no idea that is seems almost impossible to the rest of the world to open a German beerbottle.
Whoa, the room still is a total mess! I guess staff really are waiting until we're gone before cleaning up. And quite some Oktoberfest beer left! Are they as picky concerning beer as we Germans are? Or are they kind enough to not drink all my beer? I decide for the second option. Although... really...? Nah, they're a nice bunch of guys.
I placed the beer in the middle of us and hand out some. I say something about being old. "No you're not old, you're retro" says Jeroen. Shall I feel flattered? I guess so. He tells us that his Finnish roommates locked the door last night,
and he had to find a free room for sleeping (without finnish snoring...) Next time I'm gonna put up a big sign: spare beds at room number xxx.
"Who was the headliner today?" "Evergrey". "Evergay" shouts a Swede. "Nevergay" says Dario. Kalle has an Oktoberfeest beer, looks at the label and says "wow, half a liter of beer with 5,9 % alcohol on my way to the venue. This may become a hard day!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Classical Fusion?

If you've never heard of him before, I would like to introduce you to the music of Bear McCreary. You might better know him for his writing of the score of four seasons worth of the 2000's remake of Battlestar Galactica and the upcoming 2010 Caprica series. I loved the series and part of what I loved about it was the excellent score.

According to wiki, Bear McCreary worked under Richard Gibbs to make the score of the original 3-hour Battlestar Galactica mini-series. Gibbs' played keyboards in Oingo Boingo in the 80's along with Danny Elfman. Gibbs opted out of writing music for the regular Battlestar Galactica series, so the duties fell to Bear to write the music who did so all the way though the end of Season 4. He also wrote the score for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I'll try and explain what the music sounds like. Imagine tribal drums pounding to a beat along with acoustic guitar and middle-eastern sounding melody, at first with a gritty saxophone and then joined in by a bagpipe. Or imagine a minimalistic Philip Glass sting ensemble meets up with a celtic flute. Or a full orchestra joined by bass guitar and dramatic percussion. Some of the arrangements he uses sounds crazy but it works for me at a very emotional level. Some songs are sad, some dreamy, some are hauntingly beautiful, others dramatic and powerful. The reason one could label this fusion is because of the conglomeration of many different musical styles all colliding together into one body of work, though the technical term music like this is post-modern. One of the tracks that drew me into his music in the first place was a song called "Something Dark Is Coming" which could best be described as Porcupine Tree-ish. Season Three even has a interesting rock track that is a deconstructed version of Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower." Is it progressive? You bet.

According to Bear's website: "His Galactica score has been described as "sharp and sensitive" (The Wall Street Journal) , "a key element in establishing the show's dark, complex tone," (The Hollywood Reporter) and "rich, raw, oddly stirring... kick-ass and powerful as hell," (E! Online). It "fits the action so perfectly, it's almost devastating: a sci-fi score like no other," (NPR) . Seasons One, Two, Three and Four of his best-selling Battlestar soundtrack albums have rocketed up the Top Music Sales Charts, reaching the #1 sales spot in both television and movie soundtrack lists, many weeks prior to their releases. The most recent album, Season 4, cracked into's Top 5 Music Sales and charted in the Billboard Top 150."

I don't know exactly where one should start with all of his CDs because the are all excellent. They are all great but Season Four gives you the most bang for the buck because it contains two full CDs of music.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Future You Were Waiting For (part 2)

"Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."

Thomas Jefferson had a lot to say about copyrights and intellectual property.  In fact, Jefferson and James Madison laid the groundwork for our copyright laws. There is a good snapshot of what they did and what the result was here. They were clearly concerned that the flow of ideas should always remain free. Even the compromise they agreed on to allow exclusive ownership of an idea or invention clearly states that it has to have a benefit to the society. Otherwise it should not be protected. Should an inventor make money from his invention? Sure. Should a giant company take an invention away from an employee and give that person no credit while they make money and keep innovation away from everyone else? Hell no.

So what does this have to do with music? Music is ideas is the form of audio art. For centuries musicians made a living at it by being orchestra players, teachers, and composers. J.S. Bach, essentially the foundation of western music, would have been unemployed if not for the church and rich patrons. Like today, a lot of performers and composers struggled to make ends meet and had jobs other than music. Technology has changed but it is still a struggle for the people making music. What has changed is technology. With the advent of the piano roll people didn't have to see live music or play it themselves to hear it. And, pretty much from the beginning there were people who took advantage of the artists to make money (not always, some composers like Scott Joplin were very successful). You, the industry, waived just enough money under our noses to make us think we needed you. And not much changed until the internet. The long, tall wall the music industry built had finally been cracked. For real, and they weren't going to be able to hold back the flood this time. We didn't need the gatekeepers anymore. Actually, we never did. We, the musicians, could go right to the fans.

I go back and forth about how I feel about illegal downloads. I hate the industry, but I still feel it's wrong on some level. Superstars are so big they aren't hurt by downloads. Small guys like me benefit greatly from the exposure. As long as no one takes credit for the writing or the recording, fine. I can see the mid-level getting squeezed hard, as seen by Lion Music's recent news post. I can see how someone who just barely made a living at it could be hurt. I've never actually made a living at it. But I'm not opposed to new business models, including free. The business model we have now sure isn't working.

In the argument against illegal downloading the loudest point against it that the industry shouts about is that downloads hurt artists. This may sound bold to some, but I am telling you that is a bald-faced lie. Don Passman wrote a great book on the music industry. His section on a standard deal (with LA recording studio, well known producer, lots of bells and whistles) can be summarized thusly: Band A sells 500,000 cassettes (my copy of the book is from 1997) at 10.98 retail price. Woohoo, lots o' cash... right? Well, after the bands pays for all the bells and whistles the label insisted on, they go home with $58,000 at the end of the year. That's before taxes and before it's split between all the members of the band. The record industry had NEVER been about the artist. So all the labels and men in suits and all the big stars who toe the company line can go the the kitchen, open the fridge, and grab a bottle of STFU. You never spoke for me.

Where does this leave me now? Pretty much where I've always been. Relatively unknown, plowing ahead because writing and recording music is like breathing to me. I can't not do it. All of my solo music going forward will be available for free download. My electric instrumental cd already is. Donate if you feel like it, if not, enjoy the music anyway. I'm working on another acoustic cd. It will be free. If I have a physical product to sell in addition to downloads, I will offer you something way cooler than just a shiny plastic disk. You don't owe me anything. I owe you for being open to listening to me.

 I haven't yet spoken to Chad and Brad of Strange Land to see what they think the band's future approach should be, so I can't speak for them. We've always been independent though and will continue to be so. (An important note: distribution is an entirely different animal than a record deal). But for me, sharing my ideas with you is far more important than any monetary gain someone else can make off me. Ars gratia artis.

Tribalism in Progressive Circles

"As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent." - Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I've often wondered about why there are subgroups within the prog movement who endlessly complain and berate other people within other prog subgroups. There are some in the progmetal group who don't like classic progrock. There's some in the progrock group who don't like anything classified as metal. There's those from both groups who dislike fusion, and undoubetly fusion lovers who dislike prog, people who don't like instrumental music, neo-classical, female-fronted bands, zeuhl, deathy growls, avant garde prog, shredders, and the list goes on and on. If there's any truth today in prog it's that it's hard for all of these subgoups to get along and accept one another, and I think I know part of the reason why.

The progressive rock movement was born out of rebellion. In the late 1960's the baby boomer generation rejected the ideals of their parents and formed their own unique 'hippie' culture, set of radical beliefs, mannerisms, way of dressing, and most notably for us their own form of music. We can listen to their music today and is still very much relevant but I don't think we can still share that feeling they had of all belonging together in a way that gave them their sense of purpose. On a related note to my discussion in Colorado and regions of the Soutwest US today there is a subset of the population who live what is called the "Western" lifestyle. They are pretty easy to spot. They predominantly buy their clothes at Western clothing shops, wear cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans, leather boots, listen to country music, drive pickup trucks, eat their own kind of foods, and attend rodeos. I'm generalizing of course. But acceptance to this group of people is fairly straightforward. One simply has to adopt their principles and mannerisms in order to belong.

For whatever reason these subgroups are formed, whether through a desire to rebel, sharing in a common cause, or a need to fit in there is tribalism at play here. This being the unique set of norms each of carries with us to in order to belong to whatever subgoups we feel connected to. In the past I've included myself in many of these different groups with friends, musicians, photographers, schools, and professional organizations. Today there are endless clicks within the prog genre who have each created their own set of norms, what is acceptable within the group and what isn't. Those who do not adopt the same musical preferences as the group are viewed as outsiders to that group. Undoubetly within these groups there have always been the code-enforcers who are quick to point out others within the group and are all to happy to ridicule or berate them if they violate the accepted norm.

Let me throw out a few specific examples to drive home my point. My first example is probably one of the most divisive today in prog circles, and it has to do with the use of death metal or "cookie monster"-style vocals. I was reticent the first time I heard them and probably would have rejected them had it not been for the constant prodding of a friend of mine to listen to Opeth and the fact that I had read somewhere that Mike Portnoy loved Opeth's Blackwater Park album. It's ironic that the push that was needed for me to get over accepting the vocals for what they were had practically the opposite reaction among Opeth fans when the Morningrise CD first came out. Fans of the band at the time were upset at the band for "ruining" their death metal by including clean vocals in the music. In both cases the listener was forced to make choices that affected their own set of beliefs on what music should or shouldn't sound like. Some countries like Holland and Sweden seem to more readily accept this vocal style than other countries, so culture may play a role.

My second example relates to a few years ago when I made the decision to remove 5-10% of the music from the Progulus Radio library. I removed many power metal, classic rock, AOR, and heavy metal albums that I felt did not contribute to my vision of what a progressive radio station should be. After protests from a few of the listeners I did end up adding back some of the music that I had originally taken off. I did this because I realized that I had been following my own set of tribal norms and predjudices. Right or wrong this tribalism is is an unavoidable part of life. Even though I felt it was the right thing to do, I acknowledged the fact that my own views differed from that of other listeners. That is not to say that I'm ready to start adding back non-progressive albums like was done before, because tribalism does have its place and the line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere.

Progulus Radio today has a very wide range of prog subgenres, perhaps more than many listeners are accustomed to. I think this variety is one of the reasons that Progulus Radio has such a hard time attracting new listeners. The radio station that a listener is seeking must fit within their own predetermined set of ideals or else they are quick to lose interest. The now defunct UK70's radio station is a case in point. As their name implied, they played all old 70's UK progrock bands and they had a huge following. Likewise other internet radio stations today with a more focused playlist have many more listeners than Progulus Radio does. That's not a good thing or bad, but it does show how certain stations resonate to a greater or lesser degree with certain groups of listeners.

I would like to point out here that even with all the bickering and lack of acceptance within the subgroups in the prog genre, the listeners at Progulus Radio are some of the most open-minded people that I know. There will always be disagreement, but the jovial nature and willingness for people to get past their differences makes the radio station something special. We do get the 'tagboard police' on occasion who are quick to point out what they feel does or doesn't belong on the radio station, and that is fine because now we know the reason for it. Personal taste in music is affected by many factors, and tribalism and acceptance by peers is probably only one facet of it. Just like Data from Star Trek said: "your neural pathways have not yet become accustomed to our sensory input patterns".