Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives

From Saint Ian’s website – caught this on the Tweet Machine this morning:

Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives – Production Advice

In related news I was dropped this the other day. The takeaway quote:

The least predictable (but not entirely surprising) resistance to externally mandated loudness controls seems to come from new, emerging “producers” and “mastering engineers.” In this new production paradigm/workflow—one mostly lacking a traditional professional infrastructure of managers or “gatekeepers”—these new “mastering” practitioners interact only with their respective artists. Many decisions in these relationships are invariably one-sided.

And that’s the disconnect: It’s not an overreach to say that artists are preternaturally insecure. After all, their job, if you will, is to absorb the heartbeat of the current culture … to translate this matrix of influences, not limited to affairs of the heart and politics, and blend in ideas, often abstract and ephemeral, then render it all musically. Does “accountability” have a place in the artistic zeitgeist? Does actual technical competence? What about an artist doing technical advocacy?

Loudness Normalization is the new Normal, so not making your mixes conform will only work against you and your art in the long run.

Learn, practice, and understand your craft if you want to have lasting appeal and longevity in the game.

Or just go for the Brass Ring, turn everything up to 11, diversify into anything and everything, and bitch about why you’re broke and unsuccessful after a year or so. The choice is yours.

Welcome to the Crossroads

Woke up this morning, ordered the last bit for the Modular system because of a nice sale over at Perfect Circuit Audio, made some coffee, and found this waiting in my Tube of Yous feed…

And it makes for a perfect addendum to Dynamic Range Day yesterday. 🙂

Rick Beato is another Saint here in the APITE Pavilion of Greatness. My Saints are those who give up a lot of their time and experience for free to pass on the baton of enlightenment to those that want to stop by and listen. He’s worth watching and following if you’ve even remotely interested in making or listening to music.

One of these days I’ll do entire post on Saints.

But for now go watch the video. I’ll wait – it’s less than 10 minutes.

Did you catch the ‘Junk Food’ analogy? Kinda fitting, isn’t it?

I tell my students over at EduCorp® that you have two choices in today’s musical landscape: you can play the Pop game by its rules and its changing goalposts and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it up the foodchain to ’stardom’ and ‘fame’. 

Or you can strike out on your own and donor art the way you want to.

Because there’s never been a better time to do just that. From creation to distribution to promotion, you have access to it all for next to nothing thanks to the power of technology and The Interwebz®. Just add your ideas.

But just like the proverbial Crossroads, you better make that choice wisely – AI is already figuring out how to duplicate what the ‘roomful of scientists’ are doing in Popland (and other Genres was well), and soon they’ll be able to flood the airwaves with sugar-coated addictive earworms targeted directly at the psychometrics of any given demographic market. This will be here sooner that you think, so if you want to ride out the rest of this train and try to collect some sweet, sweet cash before it comes to an abrupt stop, then you had better start yesterday. And good luck – you’ll need plenty of it.

Oh, and one more thing: don’t think you can play ‘both sides’ of the game. The chances of putting something out yourself and getting picked up by the machine for big dollas are ancient history. And even if you do manage that one-in-a-billion chance, you’re going to have to play by their rules anyway, so you might as well just play their game from the get-go.

Ian Shepherd started Dynamic Range Day to get the word out that even though digital recording and the the underlying technology behind it is a boon for musicians and engineers (higher quality recording, much less noise and artifacts, and can be easily mass-produced making it more affordable to the masses) it caused us to push the limits to the point where we were sacrificing dynamics for sheer loudness to be heard over the rest of the herd.

As humans, we like dynamics in our audio. And an ever-growing cadre or musicians and engineers is fighting to get that back.

Rick Beato is essentially saying the same thing with this video. It sounds great. It’s been recorded and produced to perfection using the same digital technology stated above. It’s catchy and addictive. It even has dynamics…

But it’s still Junk Food…

And just as the experts are telling us that too much of it is not good for our health, Rick cautiously warns that too much ‘overproduced’ pop can be hazardous to your creativity as well. Like Rick, I admire the production. The perfection. The absolute attention to detail. But ultimately it rings hollow to my ears – I know it’s going to be replaced by something else coming down the production line very soon. 

As humans, we like imperfections in our audio. And there are artists out there fighting to get that back too.

Surprisingly, Mabel McVey has an acoustic version of ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ that features just her voice and acoustic guitar. But unfortunately it’s not a demo or a live version performed in a small venue. It’s a textbook confection of Pro Tools and Melodyne and Autotune – professionally corrected and perfected to the Nth degree.

Same potato chips, slightly different flavor.

I loves me some technology, but I’m also playing for Team Human  and I know good and well that the tech is simply tools for people to use – for good or bad.

So we can either race towards perfection until the machinery does it for us better and cheaper and easier, or we can run in the other direction with all of its uncertainty and messiness and frailties and childishness.

Welcome to the Crossroads.

Such a Shame…

Earlier this year I posted ‘Life’s What You Make It’ as a bit of inspiration for 2019.

Yesterday (although I did everything I could to not believe it) we found out that the composer of that song, Mark Hollis, had died.

Such a Shame.

Although it’s hard to bid farewell to those that have influenced and enlightened us, it’s worth remembering that it’s been over 20 years since he graced us with his music.

Mark lived pretty much by his own rules, and after his solo release in 1998 perhaps he was tired of the chaos and uncertainty of our Industry.

Or he just wanted to spend his time with family and friends.

Maybe he had said all he wanted to say.

Honestly we will never know, and that’s okay. 

Because his legacy lives on through the art he produced, and will continue to influence those still with us and countless more yet to come.

We should all strive to have this as a part of our Curriculum Vitae.

Thank you Mr. Hollis.

Permission to Play

I’ve been digging through the gadgets and gizmos show at the Winter NAMM Show (or as I usually call it HotNAMM) trying to show all of you some cool new toys that were announced, and came up with a whole bunch of nothing. 

The was nothing really new. I didn’t find anything moving the needle forward. 

It’s honestly been like this for years.

The MIDI 2 Spec (if it takes hold) might push makers and manufacturers to change things, but that could be many years down the road.

It seems the idea well has run dry, and we might as well just pack it up and become Accountants or something, right?

Wrong.

Nobody knows what’s going on right now.

Styles and Genres are Decadal Influences are being rapidly sucked up in a vain attempt to create something that resonates with listeners. Spotify and Apple Music have opened up the entire catalog of recorded music for the kids to explore and plunder.

Gear I lusted over 35 years ago is being rehashed as the panacea for all our musical woes. Nostalgia is winning over futurism.

To that above statement let’s not forget about the return to vinyl and various tape formats…

And anything popular might as well be created by AI, because certainly sounds like it is.

The great ‘powers that be’ in our Industry have recovered from their digital desert and returned to actually profitability.

Are they investing in new talent?

Hell no.

They have no idea what’s going on right now either.

So we have a couple of ways of looking at this:

1) Everything stinks and we should just become Accountants or something.

2) This is a golden opportunity.

(Spoiler: it’s number two.)

Why?

Because when everything sounds the same, or looks the same, or just seems the same, doing something – anything –  off the beaten track perks up our eyes and ears.

And our imaginations.

Do something bizarre. Make something you know isn’t even close to popular. Run in the other direction.

You have Permission to Play – because nobody really knows what’s going on anyway. 🙂

 

Life’s What You Make It

A long time ago I read a quote on the Talk Talk song Life’s What You Make It. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like ‘I love a song that makes me feel invincible

I had always adored the song (and it’s still one of my all-time favorites), but after reading that line I appreciated it even more.

So here we are at the daybreak of a brand new year. You may have already broken a good portion of your New Year’s Resolutions. You might be filled with the relief of purging a bad 2018, hoping for the best but expecting the worst (another song lyric) that 2019 will not be as bad. You might not really have any feelings except remembering to put ‘2019’ instead of ‘2018’ after any date for the next few weeks until it’s committed to memory.

But while I was perusing the Tweet Machine this morning I was struck with just how many are glad to see the past 365 days done and dusted.

I’m not.

I’m very proud of what I accomplished last year.

And I will do more and better this annum.

—–

Want to change the world?

Make every year, month, day, hour, and second count for yourself and those around you.

Because Life’s What You Make It.

Roland Boutique TR-08: The Missing Manual

Having owned four of the original TR-808’s, I can tell you that the original manual was packed with information and explanation. Today’s trend of poster-sized, multi-fold, multi-lingual instruction sheets pales by comparison. Even a downloadable PDF from the website is better than what comes in the box (usually…) 🙂

Sure, you can head over to the Tube of You’s and dig for some visual info and tips and tricks (and twelve gazillion unboxing videos), but having a well-crafted quick and handy guide to look if you get stuck or don’t understand something is an absolute necessity with a lot of music (and tech) gear.

I love my little TR-08, and although it operates very much like it’s older brother it does have some new tricks up its sleeve so I have to dig out that poster to remember what they do and how to get them to function. This will become my new go-to for that – thanks Sunshine Jones!

Go here for the manual, and you can also click the ‘non-fiction’ tab in his Nav Bar to find more Missing Manuals and other goodies. What great gifts to the community.

Kudos to Matrixsynth for the find.

The Secretive Genius (Redux)

In honor of the Scottworks Festival starting today in Los Angeles, I’m reposting this from my old Squarespace site. As a great admirer of Raymond Scott I really wish I could be out there for this, but just couldn’t find the time to break away. Hopefully can make the next one… 🙂

The Secretive Genius

Around 30 years ago, we did not have the Alexandrian Library that we call the Intertubes. Back then (aka The Stone Ages) we had to rely on face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and Trade Mags to collect and share information. As a young programmer and engineer I would spend pretty much all my downtime pouring through Mix, EQ, Electronic Musician, and Keyboard Magazine checking out the latest gear, deciphering DIY projects, and hyperexamining studio and stage setups for any tidbits I could apply to my work. Like Scotty reading technical manuals for relaxtion in the original Star Trek series, this was my decompression, my centering, my moments to breathe. I still do this today. 🙂

But I digress… One of the more interesting things to be found was Keyboard Mag’s Soundpages. These were Flexi-Disc records attached to the middle of the rag with excerpts of artists’ work or some product or effect processor demo tracks (nice listing here, and Peter Kirn talks about the Flexi-Discs here). They were a nice accompaniment to a featured article or a product review, and at least from me garnered a quick listen before being tossed into the dustbin. But one month changed my musical life significantly.

I knew about all of the big players in the Electronic Music Industry – Moog, Buchla, Oberheim, Smith, Linn, Palm, Rossum and Wedge, and a good bit about the musicians themselves – Walter/Wendy Carlos, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Stockhausen, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, as well as the modern wave of Rhodes, Clarke, Gore/Wilder, et. al., so I figured I had a pretty good handle on the ‘Scene’ so to speak. But with this particular Soundpage I was introduced to someone I had never heard of before. And I wasn’t alone.

Raymond Scott was a composer and bandleader who had quite a bit of success from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, and most likely would have been relegated to subchapters of the history books for just that if it weren’t for one tiny little other thing: he was creating and implementing electronics for music creation as far back as the mid 1940’s. I can’t even begin to dig into Raymond’s incredible life in this Post, so go check the official source and poke around if you want a lot more information. There is a lot of it.
This particular Keyboard Soundpage was showing off one of Scott’s most impressive creations, The Electronium (that’s it in the picture at the top – gorgeous, isn’t it?) The Electronium was not just some ‘bloop and bleep’ noisemaker as was common for electronic instruments at the time – it was an automated composition station as well. Take a moment and think about that for a bit. Scott had dreamed up and was developing – in 1959 – what our Industry took for granted just 30 years later with our MIDI modules and sequencers and still utilize with computers and DAW’s today. This alone is just completely mind-blowing, and when the article went on to talk about the many, many other inventions he had developed, I was hooked. Who was this guy and why am I finding out about this now? It wasn’t just the sounds that came off that Soundpage that beguiled me, but his musical style did too. I had to know more, but back then there wasn’t much to find.

Thanks to Jeff, Irwin, and Gert-Jan over at the Raymond Scott Archives, his music and history have become much more known to the masses thanks to their website and tireless devotion to all things Raymond Scott (thanks for all you do kids), but with all of the information and recordings and patents and writings that they have uncovered throughout these many years, there is still one big unanswered question to me: Why there was someone actively forging the future of music, and yet it took until after his death for any of this to come to light? Why was Raymond Scott such the Secretive Genius?

Although Scott himself expressed regret about this in his writings (he admitted that he was probably ‘too secretive’ and ‘worried about people stealing his ideas’), I personally believe that he was so enamored by the technology of it all – the ‘what-if’s’, the tinkering, the endless possibilities, that the very idea of finishing something and getting it out there just wasn’t as exciting to him. 

I think a lot of Artists have the same issues.

Just imagine what might have been if Scott had put The Electronuim on the market. Or the Clavivox (which he advertised for sale, but I don’t think any were actually sold), Or the Fascination Series (2018 Update: Rebel Technologies is making one! Give to Daddy!). Or his Circle Machine Sequencer. Would Electronic Music have been as commonplace in the 1960’s as it is today? What would his ideas have spawned in the minds of creators like Dave Smith or Ikutaro Kakehashi? (Raymond worked with Bob Moog, so we can safely assume that some of his ideas found their way there, however miniscule they might have been.) What we create and listen to today might be radically different, yet surprisingly familiar.

Nice thought experiment, and well worth thinking about this regarding your own work. Are you a Secretive Genius too? Are you too worried about others ‘stealing your ideas’ or too caught up in the tinkering that getting things out is the last thing in your mind? I know I’m guilty…

Yes, there’s always the possibility that after you slip off This Mortal Coil that your archives will be heralded as the work of ‘forward-thinking brilliance’ just as much as it could be panned as ‘run-of-the-mill insipidness’. Neither of which would matter, as you are neither there to bask in the adulation nor defend your body of work. 
As I’ve said before, you are currently in the perfect time to be an Artist. Stop being so clever and just get it out there – your audience is waiting. Would Raymond Scott agree? From the regret he expressed in his later years, I believe he would.

This Post was inspired by the release of Raymond Scott’s Three Willow Park on June 30th (2017) on CD, Vinyl (!?!) and most Streaming Services. 3WP (like its predecessor Manhattan Research, Inc.) is absolute joy to listen to not only for the achievements of Raymond’s engineering and musical prowess, but for how much he predicted the electronic music that would follow. Again, keep in mind that it’s very likely that nobody heard what Scott was doing (other than a few 50s/60s era commercials or Warner Brothers cartoon adaptations by Carl Stalling), so if you hear a bit of Devo, or Metamatic-era John Foxx, or early Techno, then just smile and think of what could have been… 🙂