Archive for the 'Music/Audio/Production' Category

Out of Time

timehasrunout

This is it.

As promised over a year ago, this will be the final post for this blog. The reasons for this are primarily:

  1. I think it has reached a point where I am saying many of the same things over and over, only differently. Not useless, but less than ground breaking.
  2. It is time for ME to move on, which has been one of the underlying themes as well.

I figured the last day of the year would be a good time to make the change, but one thing led to another, and I couldn’t get it done. So here we are. It is not easy. I like doing this, but, in addition to the reasons above, I don’t really have time for it anymore.

My plan a year ago was to work through all of the posts I had in a draft state to get them online before signing off. I failed. Just like what happens in life, time caught up and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do. There are dozens still sitting incomplete. I have decided to let them go. I’m not a big fan of symbolic actions because I think they ultimately don’t work. We know we’re doing it symbolically, which belies our sincerity and speaks as much to a need for drama. Show business can be powerful, but the power is often fleeting. All of that is true in this case as well. So…I’m not suggesting I will not write again. Only that it’s time for this blog to rest in peace.

On the occasion that I go back and read previous posts I am at once astounded and proud of how good and insightful some of them are, and also disappointed at how incomplete or lacking in any innovative thinking others are. To the astute reader, I have revealed a lot here, about myself, and human nature in general.

It was never for anyone but me. I never promoted it or cared how many people looked on. It’s simply my art, and started as a way to get some basic thoughts down. Something about writing things down codifies them, forcing the writer to think rationally in complete sentences and to ground statements and feelings. A worthy exercise, and one I think I got better at over the seven years of posts.

It evolved, as I knew it would, though I found myself surprised at how it evolved. I don’t know how obvious it is, but there was actually a turning point in the nature and presentation of the subject matter. It would be interesting to bring someone in to read through it all to see if that stands out. It’s blatantly obvious to me when I read many of the posts before and after that time. It happened over a number of months, but began here (not coincidentally, that post is the most linked to throughout the rest of the blog, barely beating this one.), and began to get momentum here. Life changes, sometimes in ways that there is no undo button for.

As a sort of farewell gift, I offer up my top 50 favorite posts (not already linked elsewhere in this one), which was an agonizing process that probably wasn’t worth the time it took, especially since the list would likely be different if I did it again next week. I hope that for those who come along later, this might get you started with what’s behind the scenes here. In chronological order…

  1. Common Sense
  2. If the Voltage Gets High Enough…
  3. Boundaries
  4. Start by Doing a Good Job
  5. Religion and Politics
  6. Hierarchy of Money
  7. Science Has a PR Problem Too
  8. Policies
  9. Brass Tacks
  10. Battle of the Unknown
  11. Compromise
  12. Love Will Find a Way
  13. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  14. The Curse of Perseverance
  15. Love and Trust
  16. I See Dead People
  17. Serendipity
  18. Dedication
  19. The Drain of Friction
  20. The Value of Images
  21. What Life Really Is
  22. Ideal World
  23. The Chosen Ones
  24. Forgive
  25. A Metaphor for Life
  26. The Result of Answers
  27. Creativity
  28. In the Flesh
  29. Move Past Go
  30. The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed
  31. A Beautiful Story
  32. Hope is Not a Strategy
  33. Morality
  34. Caged
  35. Free Will is Fake
  36. Burning Ships
  37. Blind Spot
  38. Delusions
  39. Why Love Wins
  40. Strength
  41. One Step
  42. Trust, the Hidden Part
  43. Probability: Facts, Statistics, and Reality
  44. Changes
  45. Pride and Face
  46. Comfort
  47. Atheism: Instrumental versus intrinsic
  48. Reasons or Excuses
  49. New Information
  50. The Opposite of Success
  51. Bonus: the whole Happiness series

 

And here are a few random facts.

  • The most visitors to the blog in one day was on 1/6/2015, after this post.
  • 2015 was the busiest year for visitors, with 2011 close behind.
  • 2015 also has the most published posts, at 81.
  • Nearly 2,000 unique people visited the blog throughout 2015.
  • After the United States, Germany had the most visitors.
  • The most viewed page, by far, was the home page.
  • The most looked at post was this one, followed by this. It appears traffic to the site was more influenced by my use of a couple of popular terms people search for than the actual content of the blog. Humbling, though not surprising.
  • The longest time gap between when an entry was started and when it was actually completed and posted was 56 months.
  • There are almost 1,000 comments posted across the 493 blog entries.
  • There are over 22,000 comments not posted, as they marked as spam. Unfortunately some of those are/were legitimate comments. I never got to sorting them all out. Sorry about that.
  • There were 520 images posted over the course of the blog. The images are very important, and often contained additional information/meaning.

To quote a friend, “It’s time.” I could drone on about all that I’m thinking as the final letters get typed, and the unused material gets trashed, but it’s a frivolous delay of what I have decided.

It’s a lot like life. Time runs out while we still have things on our to do list.

I do have another potential endeavor in the works. If anything gets going on that I may return here to leave a trail of bread crumbs to it.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

All the best,

David Stewart

 

 

 

 

Projects

girlflowerswallframeprojects

Projects can become quite a burden, even the ones you think you want to do. Something happens when we start one. Often we become invested in the principle of finishing, even though we question whether it’s worthwhile.

When applied to art, it invariably corrupts. Once the scales tip in that direction, it’s virtually impossible to reel it back in without starting over, or taking a different direction.

Lucky or Good

Wrong question.

It’s almost always both.

The first question is, how much good is really needed?

Second is, how do you get started? Nobody ever won a game he wasn’t in.

Third is, will you persist long enough to eventually get lucky?

hspics

 

Writing on the Wall

BeatlesPhoto

So much is contained in a picture – a thousand words, as said by acclaimed newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane.

Look at these guys. At the peak of success, among the most successful entertainers/artists in the history of mankind. Yet they were troubled. They had troubled lives that were not rescued by their success. Arguably the success was part of the problem. Even their feelings toward each other were in disrepair. They had been through so much together. The wonder of their youths replaced by cynicism and distrust. Here they are going through the motions, possibly hoping for better times ahead, possibly scheming for the same. Their great partnership, the one that took them so far, was at this point a farce. Purely a business relationship, and no more. Nothing like how it started out.

It’s not so hard to look back at this picture and see it in their eyes. To their credit, they didn’t push on too far after it was over. They might have left a lot of great work out of their (and our) lives. They might have even worked it all out. Who knows? But there’s a good chance it would have only gotten worse. This way, they left a real legacy they can be proud of, and though the intimacy of the relationships were severed, they managed to retain a civility and respect for each other that more genuinely spoke to the underlying care they felt, and that respected the history of what they accomplished as a team.

Class

I remember once when I was a young musician in a young and inexperienced band playing one of a number of gigs that were over our heads at the time. This one was at a nightclub called Heartwood Tavern (long since gone — a parking lot now). None of us were old enough to be in there, even as performers. There was some stipulation that 18 year olds could be in the club so long as they were only on stage or in a dressing room away from other people. We weren’t 18 yet so it was really illegal for us to be there…but apparently someone thought we were good enough to risk it. We were opening for another band. A really good one. Seasoned players, etc. I knew a few of them distantly.

In situations like this (especially back then) it was common for the warm up band to get seriously short changed on things like access to production gear, time to properly sound check, etc. Just part of paying your dues I guess. We sat in the club that afternoon for what seemed like hours while the headlining band went through an exhaustive sound check. We became impatient and started making comments about everything from the songs they did to how they sounded, to pleas to hurry up.

Thankfully my good friend and mentor, Scott (R.I.P.), who happened to also be our sound guy, pulled me aside and schooled me on how inappropriate and uncool we were being before it got out of hand. In our defense, we were kids. We didn’t know. We felt entitled to fair treatment. That’s just not how it works.

The guitarist for that band ended up sitting down with me a little later while some technical concerns were being worked out. He asked me questions about our band, goals, dreams, etc. He was very cool, and had some good suggestions for some of the business side of things. He had to have heard some of the comments we had made earlier, but he didn’t mention it. He took an interest in us, if just for the moment. He was a kind, sweet guy.

As things played out over the years I ended up working with him quite a bit in some different bands, and even in a day job at a music store for a few years. We became pretty good friends. He was a great guitarist, and a better human being. He demonstrated to me that day what class is. I took the lesson and I’ll never forget it.

Another great one bites the dust. Rest in Peace, Rob.

RobJohnson

 

Not Gettin’ Rich

JonathaCheckMy friend Jonatha is a pretty well known artist with around 10 albums released on major labels over the years. I have lots of other friends in the music business. Their stories are pretty consistent.

No money.

The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now, nobody is making any money.

Spotify, and [fill in the blank with your music delivery service of choice] have utterly commoditized it all. The commoditization would be one thing if they paid a serviceable amount for the work they use to drive their business, but…they don’t, in part because there isn’t much to go around. Every artist I know tells the same story. I have sat through endless debates about why this happens. Much of it is warranted. The undeniable reality of the marketplace is that people don’t value music enough to pay for it anymore. Still a shame to see talented people go unrewarded. Teachers, artists, therapists, and others who help us in more abstract yet profound ways seem to get the shaft a lot. Good for us they love what they do. God help us if they ever wise up.

Defending and the Narrative

Needle on LP If it makes you happy, but don't fool yourself

This photo is a close up view of how a vinyl record provides for the reproduction of sound waves. They are retrieved by the process of dragging a hard rock across the molded vinyl and then amplifying the electromechanical result. If we were to try to invent a way to store and retrieve sound today, this technique would not merit serious consideration. It’s riddled with problems, not the least of which is the severe and rapid degradation of the media holding the information.

Yet there’s a constituency of people who hold that this is still the best sounding music playback mechanism we have. Nobody seriously tries to argue it’s the most accurate, although there is often a subtext that modern digital formats have severe flaws of their own. It’s the subjective joy these listeners seem to find in the sound of their records that’s hard to refute. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they hold that well made records on good equipment can sound better than the best of other formats.

Thus is the power of nostalgia. The vast majority of these enthusiasts are older. People who grew up listening to this format and are comfortable with it. The differences are quantifiable, so it’s pretty easy to prove the accuracy isn’t there. Maybe there is something about the monophonic low frequency reproduction that appeals to them, or any of the varied types of distortion that are introduced. It’s interesting how they will fool themselves and tell stories to validate what is otherwise a nearly indefensible technical position. It mirrors many religious arguments both in its methods and voracity.

There is a significant component of nostalgia, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to give it the legs to carry itself for all these years. No, many of these folks actually convince themselves it’s better and are ready to argue accordingly, sometimes with all sorts of kooky technical mumbo-jumbo. The second largest group of vinyl aficionados are too young to have memories of listening to them in days gone by. They have found appeal in the nostalgia of it (sort of like the recent explosion in the sales of old concert t-shirts), but again seem adept at convincing themselves it’s better sonically. There is also the cool factor – like cigarettes I guess – but I think it’s the narrative behind it that makes one want to be part of the group of people who thinks this is the best format for listening.

All of this is harmless, of course. If these folks find happiness in believing this outdated technique for audio reproduction is better, and are willing to spend the sums of money required to maintain that satisfaction, then who are any of us to try to convince them they are wrong?

Convinced myself, I seek not to convince — Edgar Allan Poe

Are they even wrong? While I can lay down an irrefutable technical case for why properly executed digital schemes are better in every way, I can’t tell someone that what he or she experiences isn’t perfectly valid. And I certainly don’t want to disrupt someone’s ability to find joy in something just because it’s not factually sustainable.

On the other hand, if this force became powerful enough to pose a threat to MY listening preferences I would feel compelled to take actions to expose it for what it is. It is this perception (threat) that makes atheists as hard to get along with as they are. Just like people of religion, they have their own narratives (some of which are very valid) about why religion is often a bad thing for society.

When humans perceive a threat, whether of the more frivolous kind like audio formats, or of the more substantial kind like religion and/or way of life…well…we all see every day what happens. It’s so common we accept the battle as an everyday part of our culture. Differences like these are unlikely to ever be settled. Some may fade in importance, but once people have chosen, they are not likely to be proven wrong, even when the evidence may be overwhelming. Accepting that people will defend their beliefs can inform us of the best ways to engage with them. You can chip away at someone’s perceptions slowly, from the edges, but if you attack head-on you will meet significant resistance.

A force manifests when it meets a resistance. Attacks provoke defense. Bend, without fear of breaking. Listen first with intent to understand. Whisper and you’ll be heard.

Small, Powerful, Dumb Computer

GiantPhoneJust ordered the brand new iPhone 6 (the smaller sized one). Of course I have to have the latest and greatest thing, and in my opinion the industrial design and overall integration of Apple’s products are leaps and bounds above other systems out there, even though some of them may have one or two things they appear to do better on the surface.

The iPhone 6 is more powerful than the desktop computer I was using to create audio and video productions 10 years ago. It IS a great computer. Connect a nice keyboard and monitor and you have all you need.

But people don’t do that.

We fool ourselves into believing the marketing and technology promise. And thus people want to buy a phone that’s really a computer in tablet form. They don’t even care much about the phone. They want the power, but they don’t show signs of wanting to interface with it in a substantial way. It is very seductive: a magic device we can use to navigate our worlds with our fingers. But what can it really do in its form?

Sure…you can write a book or term paper on it…if you’re determined enough. You can code on it…if you’re willing to let the project take four times as long. Spread sheets, music projects, rocket trajectories, chemical compounds. It’s all possible, but the really great work isn’t going to be done that way. An Instagram photo is rarely going to be enough to change minds, or pave a new way. The great work requires more. We need to recognize what things are, and what their inherent utility truly is. We need to think about what we want to accomplish with the work we do, before we consider how. Be careful not to let the lack of capability and the seduction of convenience turn into a barrier to the nascent creativity within.

And it is the same with people. Better to understand who and what they really are before we bounce off the walls trying to shoehorn them into being what we need or wish they would be.

(Typed on a MacBook Pro)

Creativity

CreativeFunnelWhat actually is creativity? Most of us think we have some, but how do we identify with it, and why do so many of us struggle to put it to practical use?

Many think creativity is the ability to come up with good ideas. That is part of it. Some are very good at the thinking required to generate ideas. They seem less inhibited by fear, and generally more wondrous and open to possibilities. This is the divergent thinking part of creativity. The ability to author ideas, no matter how wild, relating to a single subject. Kids are inherently great divergent thinkers…until the world beats it out of them in favor of conformity under the guise of obedience.

Great, so you have all these ideas around. What do you do with them? Many a songwriter has languished in the inability to pull it all together and finish.

We also need convergent thinking, which is the process of developing rules and applying judgement to enable the arrival at a single solution to a problem. This doesn’t feel like creativity to some, but it actually is a vital part of it.

Creativity isn’t just an ability to come up with ideas. That’s way underselling it, and spins it as too much of a gift only select few are born with. Creativity is actually the process of coming up with good ideas. That process includes all of the brainstorming, culling, problem solving, testing, vetting and reworking required to actually manifest the complete idea. Not to be confused with the actual implementation of the idea (like the painter who actually executes the paining), creativity can stop at the idea being compelling in some way, even if not feasible.

These skills can be developed through discipline and practice. For a writer, it takes writing and reading and experiencing and seeing in a way that others might not intuitively see. It often takes years of shitty or incomplete work to finally begin to be able to put the skills together. And in some cases one skill or the other never quite develops. That’s where partnerships work wonders.

4 Parameters for Communication

Conductor

Few know, and fewer care about the complexities and challenges of your job or cause. From afar nobody inherently cares much about what you have to say about anything. If you want or need them to, then the burden is on you to find a way to communicate effectively. To inspire. And that is arguably one of the more error riddled and problematic aspects of modern society, which belies how important it is.

At its core the basics aren’t that complicated. Have a look at the four basic elements.

Amplitude — What you say must be spoken loud enough to be heard, but it goes far beyond that. We want to use our amplitude to be noticed. Maybe you need to speak louder, but maybe you could whisper. Of course we often communicate best with our actions.

Medium — The conduit through which you choose to reach out makes a difference in how it is perceived. For a dramatic example, consider the power of merely the words “I love you” compared to combining them with a sensitive touch. This area gets a lot of play today with new platforms for communicating emerging regularly. The number of options is large, and therefore offers us many opportunities – from whatever role and to whatever audience we are communicating. Open yourself to them and the applicability of any particular one or two in some context will become more clear to you.

Frequency — For a communication to be heard and remembered, you will likely have to say it more than once. Why? There is lots of noise and distractions in our lives. There is lots of competition for our ideas. And, as you’ve probably heard before, “repetition is the mother of learning.” If you want to be an effective communicator, you must be willing to share your points over and over. BUT, you can’t continually just parrot yourself. If the repetition is too apparent or frequent to your intended audience you move your cause backwards. You instead have to find different ways to move your message forward. Different contexts where it applies and looks different. But one way or the other some repetition is generally necessary. (By the way, that last sentence was repetition!)

Message — Want your message to be heard and remembered? Then make the message memorable. Think slogans (Just Do It) and alliteration (“Perfect practice makes perfect.”). Think metaphor and analogy (how is your point or situation like something else that is unrelated?). Think acronym or acrostic (where the first letters of the message spell out a real word). Stories are great at cementing a point. Graphics, videos, pretty much anything that effectively appeals to emotions works. These devices provide a shorthand for and a touchstone to your message. And they work because they take into account how our brains work.

Another, more powerful way, is if the message is personal to the recipient. If it strikes some nerve, or appeals to something we perceive as important. You usually have to know your audience to do that, but if you do it’s very effective.

Saying isn’t enough; you must be heard. Rather than lamenting the lack of listening by others, remarkable leaders take responsibility for communicating more powerfully and more effectively.


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