Here's another of my Wikiloops adventures. I found this very inspired and well executed Deep Purple-ish song, and I hardly made the choice to join in; my lips automatically started to sing stuff on top of it.
I first got the chorus and verse parts; I like the chorus a lot and I would have liked to do it one or two times more, but you have to play with the structure you're given. So, for the second half of the song, I just thought "when I get there I'll do whatever". And accordingly to the title, I jammed my heart out in three takes.
And funny how that "whatever" turned out to reveal my influences so much. With one or two exceptions, while I was singing there wasn't a conscious intention of imitating my teachers, I was just "being myself", and to my amusement, later I found very clear tracks of this or that singer everywhere. So as a kind of a sonic "Where is Waldo", in this track you can find, some more obvious than others, assorted tips of the hat to:
Ian Gillan (of course)
Freddie Mercury (at least 3 times)
And others that I forget. I guess that's the way culture works; the roots end up showing in the fruits...
I was so happy with the definition I came up with of a thing called "The triangle" (=Rock-Punk-Metal)... It has given me kind of a comprehensive "zone" where I can put everything that I gravitate to musically, from Credence Clearwater to Asesino, from Ozzy Osbourne to Derek and the Dominoes, and everything in between. (My knowledge of the roots of rock is sketchy; as far as I know, it had something to do with the brokenhearted African slaves bringing their rhythm patterns to the pentatonic scale brought by the brokenhearted Chinese quasi-slaves, plus some kind of contribution (melodies, instrumentation, chord progressions?) from the Irish immigrants, who didn't lead very happy lives in those days either).
So far my "triangle" scope has served me well (I also listen to stuff outside the triangle, for example Igor Stravinski, Earl Hines, and a lot of local heroes you wouldn't recognize but I love, in the end it is all music, it is either alive for you or made of cardboard, but I find useful to have some kind of framework, always with the caution of not taking the map for the territory). But the other day I stumbled upon an item of curiosity that got me thinking for a while; the indie genre called "Lo-Fi", does it belong in the triangle? And if so, where we put it?
Not being big on labels, my homemade definition of "Lo-Fi" is: those recordings made by bands who intentionally use low fidelity recording technology as an artistic, expressive device. My all time heroes in this area (and perhaps also one of the bands I love the most in general) are Sebadoh. At a very distant second, I also enjoy Guided by Voices, and not so much (although perhaps they are the most mainstream band in this genre, and people love them), Pavement.
So I'll speak of Sebadoh mostly. Do they belong inside the triangle? Absolutely. Especially in their first records ("Bubble & Scrape", "III"), they have that kind of crude, insane, anarchic energy that makes you jump like an ape, and glorious amounts of distortion and dissonance. Plus III, for example, is one of those records with like a million songs of a minute each. Chaotic, luscious, and full of rage; just the way I like it. As their other colleagues, they have an intense folk side, but far from the mellow vibe you usually associate to that genre, you have to listen to it to believe that someone can rock so hard with a ukelele! It could only get more aggressive if they'd hit you in the head with it...
They also have powerful, intimate melodic ballads (like "Think (let tomorrow bee)", for example), with nothing to do with the polished and generally sterile sound we associate to pop music. In fact, I'd say, along time, the "product mix" of Sebadoh has moved more towards this kind of melodic stuff rather than the noisy one, with divided opinions (I love that stuff too because Lou Barlow's melodies are crazy good, and what ambiences he creates, and besides the latest Sebadoh album, "Defend yourself" has also its share of rude blasts, too).
So where in the triangle does Lo-Fi live? My vote goes to punk. Their attitude is punk, direct, in-yer-face. Their "break the rules" stance soundwise, their continuous experimentation, is punk (for example, destroying toys or little objects to create particular sounds, or this song by Guided by Voices where you hear in the background someone leaving through a poorly oiled door... first time I listened to it I thought "you have to be kidding me"...) Their DIY, make do with what you've got attitude is punk, too...
In the end all of this are just labels, that do not add or take anything away from the musical experience. I guess I was just looking for an excuse to introduce these bands to the rest of "the gang", and this post was the mean. Now I'm feeling an irresistible desire of listening to "Defend yourself" again. See ya...
(A few notes on the current state of my music making, mostly to put my thoughts in order but of course you're invited to read in case there's someone out there.)
Sometimes I feel like I'm a tool, a "transmitter" for all those songs who want to be born into the world. This would explain how a rare delicate creature like me, against all odds, has made it to his forties in the middle of this ugly rotten dumpster called human kind. I'm somehow kept around because "I'm useful" (from my human point of view it is called "motivation"). The day all of the songs have been put out there, are living their own life, I will be discarded like an empty pod.
If such poetic premises happen to be true, I have to hurry a bit more or I'm going to live 1,000 years or so... But I prefer to think about all the advance I've already made, something that we often tend to forget, always on to the next thing, the next moving goal.
My previous main hurdle was that I couldn't mix my songs, for not having the minimum equipment necessary to do it reliably, and incapable of providing myself it because I was living in the middle of nowhere, with tremendous material difficulties (think limited food and water supplies).
Now I'm in a new location where those problems are solved; I've already got myself the minimum reliable headphones I needed for mixing (yeah, I know what all those excellent luminaries that flood the internet say about mixing with headphones, but I don't have a stable place to put my stuff in, you see, so everything I have must be ultra-portable). Two songs are right now in the pipeline for mixing, and will be published at some point not very far in time (as long as I remember not to go too Frusciante on things). Circumstances are far from ideal, and as I discussed before my mixing fuse is short, but not a single day goes by without having some kind of advance, so I'm happy.
However, it seems that the amount of bullshit in the universe is constant, so solving the mixing problems has now been replaced by a different kind of challenge...
(OK, scrap that, let's put it in a different way: maybe the shitstorm I'm going through with my gear is layer after layer of karma accumulated during my first 20 years of life, when I didn't give a damn about gear. Solved that previous layer of karma with the headphones, now it's time to dissolve this one, and I'll reach a new level of stability -hopefully karma events are one-offs-, on to my True North goal of "launching one song a day, with punk-rock album quality".)
Here's the new hurdle: besides those two songs in mixing stage, there are other two where I have to record again one voice and one guitar track respectively. After that, they go to mixing, mastering, and the album is done.
But I've found that this new location where I'm now is like the Mecca of electromagnetic vibration. My two audio cards are USB powered, and I get whining USB vibration sounds in all tracks. I've tried a different laptop, and the result is the same.
I've researched devices that cancel USB vibration, and found two kinds: a) the cheap model, whose manufacturers warn that does not work in audio interfaces with preamps that take energy supply solely from the USB (my case exactly). b) the expensive ones, silly solution because they would cost more than my audio interfaces themselves, plus with ground loops it is always a shot in the dark; maybe I go through the whole irritating process of purchase and delivery only to find that nothing changes (and then I would have to go through the irritating process of refund, etc...)
Add to that that my laptop does not have Firewire ports (and it remains to be seen that Firewire would cancel the noises better), so the perspective of manning up and getting a better audio interface isn't viable, either; what's the point of higher audio quality if at the end of the road nothing assures me that I'm going to get rid of that damn USB buzzing that sends all takes to waste?
So I'm studying options, there are still a few more things I can try, although all are remedial solutions by now, and it depresses me not being able to reach the minimum stability I need to just go to what is the actual value creation part for me: singing my heart out, more expressive, more content, more and better energy. Anyways, I remember that saying of "act in every situation as if you had actually chosen it", and for example, this irritating phenomenon has taken me to the gates of my first, rudimentary knowledge of electronics, something that I've always wanted to know more about. The album will go out at some point, one way or another, and in the end once they are out not even you the author remember all the effort behind those dreamy snippets of 2-5 minutes. Sigh.
Here is one of the songs I've been making with the excellent Wikiloops community. In case you don't know how that site works, goes like this: someone posts a track, and then you put something on top of it and post it, then someone else adds something more...
In this case I added vocals + a guitar solo to an already very mature and well crafted song. Everything in this site has to be done on the go; as with speed dating, that's all the fun of it; things must run snappy... and that's one of the things I like best about it. It takes a lot of effort out of the process, it reminds you that it's gotta be FUN!, and gives you the constant reinforcement of stuff getting through the door every other day.
This one is perhaps the most elaborated of my collaborations there up to date, and took me ~7 days in total. To provide a contrast, some of my solo stuff can take me easily x50 times that! (Fortunately, things are changing on that regard, I think.)
Other thing that I enjoy about this site is that it forces you to "go places", to try things you wouldn't on your own; I would never have thought I would sing a song in the style of this one in a million years. I have other, for example, in which I found myself trying to emulate AC/DC's Brian Johnson style (although a few octaves below)...
Whenever I stumble upon an article or video on "how to market your music", "how to monetize your music" or the like, I listen attentively, but get very little in return. These are only my thoughts on the subject, and bear in mind that I'm mainly a musician (composer, performer); a guild not very famous for being coherent or well grounded (perhaps because, in a way, we are in the business of "having weird thoughts").
When speaking of "marketing music", the first thing we'd have to determine is if there's an actual "market" out there. From what I know, since we were convinced, at the final decade of the 20th century and first of the 21st, that everything had to be miniaturized and pass through the computer, music goods have become not only more "virtual", and cheaper if they are to be purchased (with no portion of that drop in expenses passed as profit to the musician, btw), but we've also moved to a culture where people has come to expect to get the music for free.
There are exceptions, of course; music still moves some money. You can always resort to sieg heil Google or sieg heil Apple and put your music in their "services", but that's a bit as if I cultivate pumpkins and specialize in selling them to Mormons or Amish, because I've found they are faithful consumers; I draw a line and make my distribution specialized; each of those services are like their own "cult", there is no longer the single, equalizing, big thing that you had with vinyl, CD or cassette, where you could manufacture, buy, and play your "music token" universally.
(And of course, none of those new services pay you more than peanuts.)
Then there's the streaming services like Spotify, which according to musicians whom I trust, pay fees beyond the insulting. The great "alibi" here is that they are great for "promotion", but I'm yet to hear of any band that has gone one step upper in the notoriety ladder because they became "a Spotify sensation". Additionally, besides the lack of monetary appeal, as a musician I have to refuse to join a service like that from an ethical point of view too, for the same reason I would refuse to buy say oranges from a producer whose practices I know ruin the soils and will leave us without oranges in a few years; musical services that do not support musicians look like a suicide to me, but I guess the problem has to do with the fact that they are 100% run by IT people, with no music people, and IT people deal in megas, to them a mega is just the same if it contains Led Zeppelin or Leonard Cohen or just some generic interchangeable crap; a mega is just a mega and it shows just the same in their statistics, costs analysis, etc.
Until here my 50,000ft, non expert overview on the state of affairs on music distribution, given only to illustrate that the notion of a "market" itself is quite shaky when we speak of "marketing your music". But my original motivation to write this post was discussing something else.
A usual recommendation that is given often to "marketing shy" people is: "imagine you had discovered a vaccine for back pain; wouldn't you want to benefit as many people with back pain as possible, by spreading the news on a huge scale and letting them know the vaccine exists? By not doing so, you're condemning them to their pain..."
This is a great motivator (think value), and very certain for a huge range of products (car solves mobility, a good chair solves fatigue, a plumber solves water flow...); however, when you try to translate the analogy to the world of music, you find it only works within limits.
Music is way more subjective than any of those other products. Some of the music I listen to sounds like a trash grinder for other people. Some of the music other people listen to sounds to me like an impossible to swallow 3 cubic kilometers of cotton candy. Even within the confinement of particular genres, which should be "secure", everybody has their pet peeves, go-to albums that nobody likes that much, or on the contrary, bands that everybody consider great but you just don't "get".
There's simply no "one size fits all" when it comes to music. I remember vividly the aftermath of the concerts I used to play with my band, where the feedback with the attendants was so direct. Some people came spontaneously to congratulate us for the concert, and you could see in their bright eyes they had had a fricking blast and were going to be turned on for hours, and they said things like "this is dynamite!", absolutely blown away. On the other extreme of the spectrum, I remember a couple of cases where I prudently had to skip the question "did you like the show"; to such extent their faces showed awkwardness, I would say even repugnance towards what they had just listened to and watched.
So this is not as simple as going to the middle of the "market" and shouting "Hey everybody! I'm extremely confident of what I do, so I'm here to tell you that this is the be-all-end-all of great music, it's gonna improve your mood, it's gonna reduce your blood pressure, it's gonna take your sex life to new heights and will also give you x-ray vision powers...!" (Marketing speech tends to be a bit hyperbolic).
This would be analogous to saying "¡Hey! ¡Apples are good for you! ¡Like the apples! ¡You hadn't realized the apples, you fool, but check them out, they're perfect!¡You need them!".
If a guy enjoys apples, no doubt, it will be a good thing to tell him. But he needs little convincing; he tends naturally to eat apples. On the other hand, if apples make him sick, there's little convincing you can do, no matter how much strain you put into the thing. And if, yet another option, you are trying to target people who is confused or dimwitted to the extent that you can convince them that they "like" or "dislike" something only through colors and verbal juggling, then your business model is based on taking advantage of other people's weakness, rather than on providing value; this is not only an immoral stance, but a very bad business strategy, as the ties you will create with those customers won't be too intense, especially considering that the parlor tricks you use will also be available for competitors who decide to play the same game.
So where does this leave us, what's the best thing to do? Not really sure. The only thing I'm positive about is that my relation with the people who like my music must be a direct one. No middleman. A guy sings and the other says "hey, I like this". In my case it has always been this way. In fact in a lot of cases that I know, that's how it works. Lots of bands whose names for sure you would recognize, suffered outrageous attacks in their beginnings from all kind of "experts". Those bands didn't care, they kept doing their thing, and more and more people said "I like this", and that's why we now have their music (and the experts now consider them "classics"). One guy plays and another one says "hey, I like this". The rest is background noise.
Perhaps the problem with all those "market your music" articles is that 1) they take for granted we live in a (social, economic) system that works. I disagree. We're living in swindleland, and sinking fast. And 2) they follow the very extended practice of "blaming the victim": to put the focus away from the fact that musicians have been robbed (great loss for musicians, but also for a society that needs them), the narrative gets changed to "You're not being smart enough, you have to make more efforts, etc..."; regarding this last point, of course it is true that musicians can and must learn about more areas and own more of their chain; the Leonardo Da Vinci model is always a good one to follow. But please don't tell me that the dices are not loaded. Please.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it