Everything’s Been Done Already – Time to Look for Something New…

Image Credit Lovingly put into the CC Zero/Public Domain Space and retrofitted by Yours Truly. 🙂

Sorry for the Clickbaity Title, but we need to talk. First though, a bit of housekeeping:

I posted the Featured Image over at the APITE Tumblr Spot. I pretty much have given up on the Tweet Machine® since the Current Incarnate of P.T. Barnum got involved. I do miss some of the people and info there, but after a few months I’d rather seek out their diatribes on better places with longer reads. I think all my Twaddle does these days in announce any postings from here.

Tumblr also allows me to put up ‘Random Nonsense’ quicker than one of the Screeds here, and I’ve found the community to be on the whole a lot nicer than other Social Medias. You can find us on The Tumble Machine® here.

In ‘The New Shiny-Shiny’ Land, Edsel and Josephine are still the workhorses as normal, except I am finding a few slowdowns in my DAW’s (and one of the reasons for this rant coming up) which I am hoping will be fixed with the latest MacOS coming up in the fall… The next post is a TNSS on this subject which I’m sure will be out by the time the new OS is out (I’m done giving excuses for lateness here – I’m just posting here when I feel it’s needed. Head to Tumblr for more habitual postings.)

Okay, about that Title.

For my Daily Hellscape over at EduCorp® I have to be fluent in like five Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s):

I’ve been using Logic Pro since the late 90’s and am a Certified Pro, so I know it like the back of my hand.

I’ve poked around with Ableton Live since Version 3 so I know my way around, but would not call myself an ‘Expert’ by any means.

Slo Tools (sorry, Pro Tools) is an evil that thankfully the Company pays for, The latest version is the most stable I’ve use in a while, but it is *still* not Apple Silicon Native and has a tendency to show it. I’m not a fan of the Subscription Model they use, and I know there is much better value for your money in the market. Unfortunately way too many Very Important Companies have decided this is the standard so we have to teach it. I avoid it like the Current Heath Crisis if I can.

I’ve dabbled with Cubase over the years and admit that it’s a powerful program, but I find its interface and methodology overly complicated and tends to fill the screen with lots and lots of windows. I know a lot of Postproduction Kids use Nuendo (also by Steinberg) and rave about its capabilities. I’ll trust them with that since I can’t afford to even think about purchasing it… Also on the Steinberg Front I have used WaveLab a few times and it almost became by Grading DAW. It’s a highly regarded Mastering DAW, but I found it suffers from the same quirks that Cubase does, and is way overpriced for what it actually does in comparison to what I decided on using.

(For clarity, I also have UA’s Luna DAW, but it’s MIDI editing is worse than Slo Tools. Which is something I never thought I would say in my lifetime. I gave up on Digital Performer almost two decades ago since Logic did more and better IMO. I’ve used Reason off and on since its inception, but it’s always playing ‘catchup’ with the other Players in the space and just doesn’t fit in with my workflow).

I use Reaper as my Grading DAW. I’ve raved about it before and will here again in a future post, but I honestly think that it’s the best thing out there for a Digital Audio Workstation in today’s market. Stay tuned for more info here.

So – I have all of these on Josephine and save for one (Spoiler Alert – Reaper) I’ve noticed a few things:

1) They all copy the same features. This may take a Version or two between them to parity, but they pretty much all do the same things.

2) They fill your Hard Drive with crap you will probably never need or use – Samples, Loops, MIDI Files, etc.

3) ‘Style Over Substance’ – slick interfaces with skeuomorphic designs that harken back to an era of recording that only geezers like me remember (and really don’t want to see again) and younguns think are ‘legit’.

4) Silly expensive on their own and (for the most part) require additional Plugins to do modern audio production. 

5) They haven’t really innovated in years.

All of the above is easy to understand for people in the Music Creation Space and most current users stick with what they have been using forever because they know how to make it work for them. It takes a lot of time and effort into understanding your tools and how they work, and switching to a different system can be an uphill climb of trial and error to get them to do what you need them to do.

I’m not here to criticize your choice of technology, but I want to concentrate on #5 though – and how it might be holding you back from Moving Forward.

Essentially, all DAW’s do the same thing: record and edit (MIDI and Audio). They can cut/copy/paste bits around. They host Virtual Instruments and Audio Gizmos. They can stretch and mangle audio. They have basic video-syncing capabilities. They allow you to build music or audio structures and then render those to a deliverable format. That’s about it if you really think about it.

But what was the last truly amazing inclusion that supercharged your workflow, or sparked your creative abilities?

For me, Logic’s revamping of the venerable EXS24 into the Sampler and Simple Sampler instruments – but’s that’s not really ‘game changing’ is it? Before that was FlexTime and FlexPitch, or the ability to change tempo and pitch of an audio file to match the current Session. I don’t use they feature a lot these days, since I have Plugins that do it better. Before that (way back in 2003 as I recall) was the elimination of having to use the Environment to set everything before you could record anything. I love working with Logic, but looking back at the timeline I see a lot of change, but not a lot that shows me they are moving the ball forward in recent years. Logic is a very powerful DAW with a lot of included doodads that cover just about any type of of musical style or genre and I still use it quite a bit – but again those 3rd Party additions are what make it usable for me. Pro Tools, Cubase, and perhaps even Live do not include nearly as much relying on you to fill the void with additional expenditures on top of their already steep price tags. (I will say that Live did shift the paradigm for music creation, but it seems to be falling in line with everyone else since then – see Bitwig’s ’splintering’ off as an example here). 

With that in mind, let’s talk about those 3rd Party Plugins since they suffer from a lot of the same stagnation as the DAW’s do… I cut my teeth making music in the 80’s, so I loves me some analog goodness, but honestly how many Minimoog VST’s do we need in the space? How many Wavetable synths, FM synths, Samplers, and ‘Retro’ Drum Machines? How many 1176 Compressor clones or LA2A emulations, or Ancient Console-based Channel Strips? It’s staggering to me how many Devs are just factories for making digital copies of gear 99.9% of modern musicians have never seen, much less used. I have used quite a few of these toys in my day, and the software counterparts do sound identical, if not better that their hardware cousins. They are cheaper, recallable, portable (just bits and bytes and not massive metal contraptions), and you can probably add hundreds of them to every single session.

But I’ll tell you a secret – no one is going to give a shit about what you used on a recording. And no one can tell the difference between an EQ or a compressor that’s built-in to your DAW and the one you paid hundreds of dollars for. No one cares if the bass line was created on a real Oberheim or a software recreation. 

All they care about is do they like the song and does it bring out some emotion in them. Period. All this smoke and mirrors about this is best for that and that is best for this is a distraction from those two points. A song made with great players will need very little in the way of processing (if at all!) – but no amount of hardware or software can fix a lackluster song or a mediocre performance. 

Oh, and don’t get me started on Loops and Sample Packs of all the crusty old genres that are a part of the upcycling of today’s music because no one wants to admit that everything has been done already and it’s time to move on to something new. Yes, there are companies making great experimental sounds and effects – but they are the exception, not the norm, and they are sadly ignored by the masses in a vain attempt to ‘follow the leaders’ in whatever sound is the flavor of the day, week, or month. We have got to get away from this insanity…

(Yes, I understand that Libraries are a boon to creators who have to do a lot of ‘turnaround’ work for video and other media, but when this has become an excuse for ‘cheat coding’ songs across genres you know we’re doing something wrong here.)

Music Technology drives Musical Innovation. Hitting log drums with bones millennia ago, blowing into reed tubes, or mimicking bird and animal calls evolved with technology into the instruments and styles we have today. Next time you get a chance, take a good long look at a piano or a saxophone or even a guitar. Wonder at the technology that went into perfecting that instrument and how many countless hours and incredible failures went into making it. Think about at what point did that technology become ‘The Standard’ and was widely used and just stopped innovating any more. Why did that happen? Did it reach ‘perfection’? Or was it just a usable tool for a particular style that languished into commonality?

The ‘Electronics Boom’ of the early 20th Century developed into the microphones, amplification, multi-track recorders, and electronic instruments we all take for granted today. The ‘Computer Revolution’ of the 1970’s onward accelerated this into what we have today. Digital Synthesizers, Samplers, Virtual Instrument, Effects, and DAW’s are the fruits of that revolution and drove the musical styles of the 80’s, 90’s, and early Aughts.

And that’s where we got stuck – endlessly reiterating the ‘Classics’ instead of pushing the proverbial envelopes. Anyone remember Roland’s tagline from the 80’s and 90’s? It was ‘We Design The Future’. That has now been coded into ’The Future-Redefined’ (which in my opinion is a lame, lazy, and just outright abomination of the original). For the past several Decades they have been churning out Behringer-esque copies of their Greatest Hits of the past with minimal effort put into new techniques and new processes. You can look at Korg, Yamaha, or pretty much any other Electronic Music Manufacturer and see the same trend. It’s really quite sad, and maddening to me since they could be making trends instead of chasing them.

Want to make your mark out there? Stop buying the retreads. Stop giving into the Marketing Machinery that’s taken over the Design Labs and Record Labels and Media. Seek out the new, the weird, the different, the ones trying to push things in another direction. These were the things that made music so interesting in my day (insert Old Man voice here, but I’ll bet you think the same thing when music and pop culture started becoming relevant in your life) was the fact that it felt, looked, and sounded different from the typical guitars and drums and voicing and style that were so prevalent in Popular Music at the time. It was new, exciting, and unexpected. It was that unique mythical creature that not everyone else was hip to… It demanded that I explore and create – not rehash and recycle.

The picture at the top of this post is true – that computer you have right this very moment is the best thing you own creatively. Someone out there has made some really interesting ways (Apps, Scripts, whatever) to make it do things you both want it to do and have never imagined, and if you really want to you can create (code) whatever you want – and there are a lot of people like you out there who can help. But you will not find this from the Major Players in the market – all they care about is Line Goes Up and they will cobble together anything lying around to make that happen. Ignore them.

And this is one of the beautiful things about Pop Culture – it’s always driven by the innovators until it becomes commonplace and a commodity and is then replaced by another iteration or mutation by a new batch of innovators. Be one of those innovators, because it’s the only way to Move Forward. 

Until next time!

TNSS: It’s Your Funeral

Banner Picture from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jambalaya_1969_Jazz_Funeral_2.jpg

Yargh. Ran into this over coffee this morning…

If you’ve lighted over here from over there I welcome you to APITE. I posted the comment on Gearnews before writing this (and besides it’s about time for a new TNSS anyway, right?) so I’m expanding my diatribe from there along with a few updates.

(UPDATE – I posted my comment on Gearnews over 4 hours ago and I just checked – it’s not there. Will erase this update when (and if) it is but you can still read the post in the meantime.)

(UPDATE 2 – It’s 24 hours later and there are new posts there but my comment is still absent. Perhaps it’s my mistake, but pretty positive I hit the submit comment button. Perhaps I’ve struck a nerve?)

Let’s start with (as usual around here) it’s been a while since a TNSS post, because I really haven’t had any issues to report on since the last one. It’s that simple. I’ve had a few snags with various Plugins (and a particularly nasty one from Surreal Machines) – but those were fixed within days and are Plugin issues that we have all had regardless of Platform or Operating System or Processor Type. Bugs happen. Bugs get fixed.

Reaper is out of Beta (Universal App) and still working beautifully. Logic Pro is chugging along swimmingly. Ableton Live? Yep – no issues. Avid is always late to every party, and I don’t really care for Pro Tools (reasons below) so maybe that’s what people are harping on here. But if you are a PT user you have been dealing with this for decades now and it should be no surprise at all so you have nothing to complain about. Maybe Cubase is still a mess (I had endless problems with it on Intel machines – the iOS version is surprisingly rock-solid however).

The only Plugins I’m having issues with are the d16 Group ‘Classic Boxes Collection’ which they acknowledged over a year ago would need major updates, and I’ve found workarounds for those in the meantime if I need those types of sounds. I do believe I’ve talked about this before.

Another reason for my slowness around here is aligned to everything about the linked article at the top – I’m only going to post when I think it’s relevant or useful to the conversation. 

And that’s why I’m posting this and why I commented on that article. Go ahead – read it if you haven’t already. I’ll wait…

Notice anything unusual? Were you able to glean any references to the issues noted? I couldn’t! And this is the problem I have with the post – it’s word jambalaya with no references, links, or real usefulness. It’s typical of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) School of Modern Reporting (not even going to refer to this as Journalism) and MUST GET EYES ON PAGE Webposting. It’s not marked as opinion, it’s not tagged as anything other than just another article.

And it stinks.

I check a lot of Music Pages over java in the morning: KVR, Sonicstate, Matrixsynth, SynthAnatomy, MacOS Audio, and even Gearnews, just to name a few. I used to like Synthtopia years back (not linking it), but I had had enough of their wretched moderation of the Commentariat (not to mention the wretched Commentariat in general) and the propensity for doing the same nonsensical posts like this one above. Bookmark delete – never checked again.

I understand some people do this for a living. You need audience engagement. You need to pay the bills. But at what cost are you making that happen? I’ve seen this kind of ‘reporting’ popping up a lot in the Music Trades as of late (or maybe I’m just now noticing it), but it makes my ‘Betteridge’s Law’ hackles go up and then it just makes me angry because I. Did. Not. Come. To. Your. Site. For. This. Assault. On. Intelligence. I came here for actual information.

If I see it once then I let it slide because maybe it was a slow news day for you. If I see it there again I am never going back to your site because you have accepted this as normal.

APITE is my baby. It’s my opinions and my experiences and I know that yours may be completely different! It’s not perfect and it’s not something I think anyone would want to read on a daily basis, but I do the best I can to present the most accurate info I find. If I mess up I will correct it. All I want to do is present what I encounter so that it might help someone else along the way. That shared knowledge is what makes us all greater in the long run, and is the true intent of ‘The Power of the Interwebz’.

And I want to keep that going. We should all strive to keep that going no matter the genre or interest. Just give us the truth and don’t be afraid to say when you’ve gotten something wrong. Drop these basic tenets and you’ve lost me as a reader. Betting I’m not alone here either…

So Gearnews, I plead with you – keep reporting on the new and cool in the Music Sphere. Show me the ‘Leaks’ that are intriguing, but I know (and you allude) are likely BS. Do in-depth reviews of tools and toys. But please stop doing these inane posts unless you are committed to doing the deep dive into why.

Because there’s just too much crap out there already.

My opinion of Apple’s M-series (Apple Silicon) hardware still stands: it’s the future of the Platform and just run rings around Intel’s processors as of this writing. They are solid computers with absolute minimal issues for all of the Musicware (and software in general) I have installed on both Edsel (Mac mini) and Josephine (MacBook Air). I also test a lot of Beta software, and have yet to see an issue from any of those I’ve tested other than bugs within those programs. My two M1’s are not ‘locked down’ either – I check for updates at least once a week, so they are running current software. As I’ve said many times before, do your research well and  always check on a machine that isn’t Mission Critical for your work.

/end Rant.

Let me leave you with a some goodness before I go. If you haven’t caught it already, both Audio Damage and ToneBoosters have set some of their ‘legacy’ Plugins free (click the links above for the downloads). AD is Mac-only, but ToneBoosters are cross-platform. For the TB Plugins, click the link above and scroll down to the bottom to the ‘Where can I find older (legacy v3) plugins?’ Text is and click that to access the downloaders. About 70% of the Audio Damage stuff will still run on Apple Silicon mostly Rosetta2) but all of the Tone Boosters Plugins work fine as of MacOS 12.2.1. Nice trend happening here.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about building a ‘Retrotech’ music computer and might make it a companion to the TNSS series (I’ve even got a silly name for it obvs.). As much as I’d love to go back in time to the heady days of MacOS 8 or 9 and the joys of Opcode’s StudioVision Pro (man, I miss that program), I think it’s going to be more cost-effective to go with something from the last decade or so (mostly for Plugins). For now it’s just a thought, but I like the idea and am actively looking for the hardware. Let me know if it’s something you might be interested in or if I’m just getting Hipsterish in my old age. 🙂

Until next time…

What I Did Over My ‘Summer Vacation’

(This Episode’s Banner Photo “Thinker thinks about how to take sun burst shot” by davidyuweb is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, and can he found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/55514420@N00/4446734924)

So it’s not really Summer yet, but in The Sunburn State® it certainly feels like it. Hopefully your corner of the world is a tad cooler.

I decided to put a ‘Secret Experiment’ into effect over my April Break. 

This idea has been in the back of my head for a while – get some ideas out of my head, record them, and then post them online to a public-facing music site with no publicity, fanfare, or anyone else knowing about this. The plan is to see whether or not any of these can find some kind of audience and if they can, how long it might take – if ever.

My aim here is to fill up the ‘free’ amount of space allotted with the ’non-paying’ tier and then stop. After that I might do this again with another musical iteration if I feel it’s gaining any traction (or if I’m still full of weirdness I need to get out….) The idea is to see if they can get some kind of attention naturally – by pure discovery – so when I decide to ‘spill the beans’ on all of it is unknown as of this point. I will do on update on this in the future though just to let you know how things are progressing, if at all.

Yes, I understand that I have ‘beans all over the floor’ at this point by putting this here, but you don’t know all of the details – and I’m not divulging anything that will help you out just yet. There’s an ocean of music out there, so finding my droplets is going to be very difficult and incredibly time-consuming. I used the ‘Login with Apple’ service to keep things more anonymous, and although there are tiny giveaways planted here and there on the actual page, it should not trackback to me directly. Good luck if you feel like pursuing this, and with that said remember that I’m not asking anyone even try. This is an experiment in listenership, not in hacking. 🙂

These ideas are far, far off the beaten track. I like a good melody, so there is always going to be that element in whatever I do, but all of these tracks are pure childish playtime – tinkering with toys I haven’t played with (or played with enough) mixed with the usual oddities and sounds I have always loved. I don’t even know if anyone would consider this listenable except myself, so let’s find out. 🙂

In the meantime, some of the takeaways on the sorry state of affairs of Online Music Self-Publishing as I see it, with a actual high spot or two as the capper:

Within 30 seconds of creating my account (with nothing actually uploaded yet) I had my first follower – pr0n spam. Five minutes later I had my first offer for guaranteed followers (for a price, obvs.) Both were expedited to the Trash Bin and reported as Spam. I would like to again point out that nothing had actually been uploaded to the site at this point – just the account created. Insanity.

I checked the next day to see if magically anyone had found it. I actually got a like from someone who also wanted me to know they could guarantee followers in exchange for my cash. Several more of these popped up about every other day for the first week, so the Bots are omnipresent to fulfill their creators need of being a Middleman in return for doing absolutely nothing. Ignore them all, even if you are being serious about doing this.

Surprisingly after a few days I got an actual play by someone halfway across the globe, so there is life out there and a brave few are still actively searching for something new. This is welcoming news, but the big questions are will they come back? Will they spread the word? All delicious unknowns…

Over the next few weeks I uploaded a few more tracks (five total as of this writing) and three have received four total ‘likes’ (one of them has even gotten two!) but other than the one lone seeker, the rest are Repost Accounts and Botniks. 

So I’m in early days here (letting this run through at least the remainder of the year), but in the flooded backyard of ‘DIY Publicity’ it feels like some pushing of the brand is still a necessity for engagement, although I’m not sure what I would do that isn’t already being beaten to death out there already. I would be interested to hear Michael’s thoughts about this, although I’m sure there’s a bunch already on his Blog I’ve forgotten about. 

There is just so much available out there with everyone scrambling for the brass ring of notoriety that it almost seems futile to try anything – hence this experiment. Yeah, maybe with ‘poppier’ tracks I might have more success, but there’s a lot of that out there too waiting to be unearthed – and it’s really tough to find the rubies in the dust.

Again, I’ll do an update at some point on this. In the meantime, keep doing what you do best and just get it out there for others to find. That might be the best solution to an overcrowded market.

Until next time…

The Soul Sounds of Ma Bell: An Interview with Evan Doorbell

(Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Telephone_Booth_Klamath_California.jpg. Ellin Beltz / Public domain)

Hello everyone and my apologies for being absent for a while – told you after the Holidaze® were the busiest time of the year… 🙂

I have an awesome make-up gift though! Through a chance meeting on the Tweet Machine I have been granted an interview with Evan Doorbell.

‘Evan Who?’ you might be saying right now…

Okay, let me back up a bit. Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a passion for all types of technology and especially those who use and understand it to true Mastery. I will happily babble on about Audiocasters and YouTubers who keep it personal, approachable, educational, and entertaining. I’ll watch my pal Brent work in his garage even though I have no interest in cars. Andrew Camarata’s skills will leave me daydreaming of driving skid steers and wanting to build things out of shipping containers – even though it’s miles away from my audio wheelhouse. Over the years I have found so many people creating content that delight and inspire (including many that I’ve linked to on this Blog). But Evan is pretty much where I began this particular journey.

About a decade or so ago I was looking for some telephone sounds to use in a production. While digging in the crates of the Interwebz® I found Evan’s tapes. I listened to a couple and was so floored by his content (the sounds and descriptions of the old phone system were haunting and just silly fun to explore) that I downloaded about half a dozen and listened to them when I got home. I’ve been hooked ever since, and find myself regularly floating back to his pages to grab anything new to enjoy on my limited downtime.

Fast-Forward to late last year when Evan Tweeted he was having an audio issue, and I was happy to step in to see if I could assist. In return he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, which I’m very excited to share with all of you. His commitment to The Phone Tapes is something that will inspire and fascinate you in this era where artists and creators jump from project to project, hotbed to hotbed to try and remain relevant. Oh, and he’s never charged a single dime for any of his content. It’s an absolute definition of a Labor of Love and something (IMO) this world needs more of.

With that in mind, enjoy some digging into Evan’s history and currency.

A Poke In The Ear: In your ‘How to Be a Phone Phreak’ series, you describe how you used a piano to match the tones for various telephone company functions. Later on, you used bells and/or whistles for the various tones (and then the ARP Odyssey, but we’ll get more into that in a bit…) I’m assuming you had formal music training in your early days, correct?

Evan Doorbell: Well yes, I took piano lessons for a few years. Also my mom taught me to identify intervals by ear. That started something which just snowballed by itself. Had I had YouTube back then I would’ve learned a hell of a lot more.

APITE: Agreed! Listening to the tapes I’m pretty sure that you have Perfect Pitch (or really good Relative Pitch) – am I correct in thinking this? If you do, it’s a rare and wonderful gift and would explain how you could figure out the TelCo sounds as well as pick out various background sounds later in compiling the various tapes…

Evan: I don’t have perfect pitch except for the sound of a modern dial tone, and that comes from my working with the tapes for the last 20 years.

Whenever I recall a song from the past, it plays in my head almost always one to one and a half whole steps flat.

APITE: When did you start recording phone sounds?

Evan: I started recording on the phone in 1970. The first tape was just a collection of recordings, mostly from tandems, recorded with a microphone held up to the earpiece.

APITE: You mentioned there was a reel-to-reel recorder in your house, and you used cassettes as well. Although I do remember them from the early 70’s, I recall them being a bit of a luxury item (quite expensive for both recorder and tapes). Did you have a job or use allowance money to ‘feed your habit’ so to say?

Evan: Money for cassettes was a problem until I became employed. I don’t recall thinking that because cassettes were expensive.

APITE: When did you get the ARP Odyssey synthesizer? Was it new or second-hand?

Evan: I got the Odyssey new in August 1972. That happened shortly before I went to the Commune, where numerous musical collaborations occurred starting in September 1972 all the way through the Spring of 1976.

APITE: Was the ARP purely for ‘Phone Phreak’ sounds or did you play with bands too?

Evan: I was never in a band but I often acted as the recording engineer and synthesizer programmer for someone’s music project at the Commune.

APITE: How long did it take to understand the ARP’s functions? Was it natural to you or did it take a lot of effort to get what you wanted?

Evan: I used the making of Group Bell jingles as a means to learn about the ARP Odyssey. It was a natural explorative process.

APITE: For the Group Bell jingles and other recordings (like the ‘Dom Tuffy’ vignettes) – how were they recorded? Did you have access to multitrack recording or were you using Sound on Sound techniques (or something else entirely)? Also, did you do any tape editing (splicing) or just fly things in in real-time?

Evan: The Dom Tuffy tapes were produced on an open-reel machine using material mostly sourced from cassettes. Pausing the tape, Sound on Sound, and splicing were all used in the production of those.

APITE: What was your studio like at the time?

Evan: My ‘studio’ for many years consisted of just the Odyssey and a Sony tape deck with its (built-in) microphones. The Sony could do Sound on Sound recording.

APITE: Some of the jingles sound like they have ‘sequenced’ elements in them. Did you have a sequencer or was that just clever use of the Odyssey’s Repeat function (or just damned tight playing)?

Evan: I never had a sequencer during the years I was making Jingles. Sometimes I recorded notes at half or quarter speed on an open-reel tape recorder and speeded them up. That might sound like a sequencer…

APITE: Where did you learn the techniques for recording? Trial and error? Magazines or books? Friends or other people?

Evan: I learned my recording techniques by hands-on experience. Analog tape was remarkably forgiving when it comes to recording. It had a way of smoothing things out that digital doesn’t do.

APITE: In the Atlanta Centrex tapes you mention that you upgraded to a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. Did you find the transition from analog (with the Odyssey) to digital (with the DX) confusing? I personally *hated* programming the DX series back then although I find it surprisingly fun today…

Evan: Learning to program the DX-7 was just super cool to me. I jumped in with both feet, having not yet realized that by 1986, over 70% of the sounds it was capable of made it making had pretty much all been discovered.

My best patch for the DX is one that I have sadly lost. It was unique: a bell sound based upon my harmonic analysis of the Big Ben chimes. It was quite beautiful and I’m really sorry I lost it.

APITE: Do you still have (and use) any of the old synths today? Have you bought anything new(er) recently?

Evan: Nowadays I’m not doing anything with music, there’s just no pleasure in it for me including listening these days. I hope that changes.

APITE: It’s also obvious you have a bit of Electronics knowledge (wiring amplifiers to the phone network to make your voice louder early on certainly stands out). Like the question above, how did you acquire this knowledge?

Evan: I was always interested in electronics as a young child. Once when I was four years old I went into a TV repair store where there was an obvious electrolytic capacitor hanging over the desk. The guy at the repair shop was surprised to hear a four-year-old boy say “that’s an electrolytic capacitor.“

APITE: I should also get into your computer programming skills (modding the Apple II to understand voices is absolutely brilliant) with ‘demon dialing’ and analyzing phone calls. How did you find your way into it?

Evan: My learning to program in Apple machine code began while I was waiting for the manager of a Disco to show up with whom I was going to ask for a job. I brought my 6502 (Apple’s Machine Code (or ‘Assembly Language’) protocol from the early 1980’s) book and waited him out. I got the job and was also on my way to programming in Apple II’s Machine Code.

The AutoJan program is what led to the other telephone inventions with the Apple II. George followed pretty quickly it was only a natural progression for me. (Check out his Early 80’s’ Programs1 through 3 for more info on these systems)

Eva, an invention which I haven’t made the program to explain yet, Was a device that made a super high-capacity talk line using the Bell Systems’ new transfer feature. That turned into a small business which ran from 1984 through 2004. What ended that business was changes in the industry enabling competitors to compete with us for no charge to the users. You can’t compete with free except by doing it free, which we couldn’t do because our business had a completely different model.

APITE: I may have missed this in the tapes (I’ve listened to a lot, but there is just so much I haven’t heard!) but did you ever actually work for a TelCo? Seems like you would have been an amazing technician/engineer for one of them…

Evan: Never worked for any telcos.

APITE: Is there anything about your early recording/editing that has influenced what you have done career-wise since then?

Evan: I’ve never had a career involving editing sound or producing audio. I can say that once you start working with sound, that awareness and skill just snowballs. I don’t think I would want a career producing audio, because currently I have a volunteer project (the Phone Tapes series) which pretty much uses up my entire capacity for audio production.

Voiceover work is completely unpleasant and very difficult. I’m constantly dealing with phlegm, hoarseness, mouth clicks, And a general inability to control my voice. I’m constantly having to spit into a rag and edit every two or three words together. It sucks.

Being a Club DJ was the best career I ever had. The only reason I left business is because the music started sucking. There is absolutely nothing like it. I was a natural for mixing, and about a year into my career, Steve (DJ Friend and Mentor) and I worked out a system for programming music that has never been surpassed.

I was the first DJ in Atlanta to use a computer in the DJ booth. But the computer was just a library system containing all the records, their tempos, musical keys, and transitions that had previously been identified. It doesn’t really help in the science of music programming – that’s more a matter of being very sensitive and analytical about the music and I have really high standards.

APITE: Can you estimate how many tapes you have recorded (or acquired) over the years?

Evan: There are about 53 open-reel tapes on 7 inch reels. Most are recorded at 3-3/4 IPS, 1800 feet, Four tracks per tape.

There are approximately 1415 cassettes, most of which are C-60’s, many are C-90’s. (60 and 90 minutes total run time, respectively.)

APITE: How many of the tapes have survived quality-wise over the years? We’ve always heard about tape deteriorating over time and I’m curious if you’ve had to resort to anything like creative editing, or even having to bake a tape to get it to unstick…

Evan: Only one of the tapes was noticeably damaged and that was because it was one that was stored in an un-airconditioned room in New York for many years. Other than that one, there were no noticeable degradation of the tapes.

There were some tapes that I had to bake, but those were defective from the start and baking really did help.

As we all suspected would be the case, the cassette tapes made by TDK show no deterioration of any kind whatsoever. The Maxell cassettes also fared well, however they tended to print-through loud dial tones rings and busy signals right from the get go.

The Scotch brand tapes were flawless, but only the actual tape itself. The pressure pads (which keep the tape pressed against the playback head on the cassette player) all deteriorated requiring me to break open the shells, which were not secured with screws. (some cassette shells can be opened by removing 4 or 5 screws, while some are physically glued together.) There are still little blue shards of Scotch cassette shells hidden in various corners of this room…

ED Tape Xfers

APITE: Are the tapes pretty well cataloged or do you have to listen through and take notes to find out what’s on them?

Evan: The thorough cataloging won’t be done until long after I’m gone. However since most of the tapes were a single subject, I do know what each of those are. There are probably less than 20 cassettes recorded by Ben (Decibel) that have multiple subjects and would need to be gone through for me to know exactly everything that’s on them, but I don’t expect to find any big surprises. Or I should say I don’t expect that any big surprises will be found in this tape collection.

APITE: Do you digitize tapes first before listening/cataloging or do you just take them one at time?

Evan: The digitization process started in 1999 and ended in 2017. The cassettes were all digitized using a freestanding CD burner made by Tascam. Various methods were used to make sure everything was done right. At the very least, I’ve looked at every waveform display to make sure there were no abnormalities. Most of the tapes were manually set to the correct speed when digitized. I’m talking about minor speed variations which would make dial tones, etc. off pitch. Some of the cassettes were recorded by more than one cassette machine and have speed variations within the tape. Those will have to be speed corrected later. I have a whole set of reference tones that I use to get the speed exactly right.

APITE: How long does it take to make an episode, from subject(s), research, scripting, editing, etc.?

Evan: It takes longer than you would ever imagine to produce a narrated tape. The fastest ones to produce are the short phone trip stops, each of which takes about a week of full-time work. The ones that take the longest are the ‘How I Became a Phreak’ series, the first of which took me four years to complete. Actually, it didn’t take four years of full-time work, it just took me four years to get through my cognitive difficulties involved in making it happen. That began in 1998 and it wasn’t until 2002 that I figured out how to end it.

Generally, these take about three months of full-time work. Episode 10 was the most efficient. I think I got that done in less than a month – it was a miracle.

APITE: Let’s talk about how you edit the tapes. You’ve talked about computers (and computer issues – like all of us!) so it’s clear you’re compiling and editing there. Which software are you you using? Have you switched programs over the years?

Evan: I got locked into Adobe Audition when Cool Edit Pro was bought up by Adobe unfortunately. That company (Adobe) shows a contempt for their users in the way they design things but I don’t feel like bitching about that right now. I have to stay with Audition because over the past 20 years I’ve learned to remove extraneous hum from the tapes using its algorithms. Removing hum from the phone tapes is totally an art, and anyone who tries to do it is going to screw things up royally and it would be better to not even try.

Hopefully I’ll have time to put out some how to videos before I die. I don’t expect to die anytime soon but you never know… Any processing of these tapes that produces a result that could not have been recorded in the 1970s is a no-no as far as I’m concerned. I mean if it’s full of digital artifacts, what the hell have you got when you have one of these recordings? You don’t have anything. Better to leave the hum in then fuck it up into some sort of abomination that doesn’t represent anything that ever happened anyway.

I highly recommend Evan’s ‘How I Became a Phone Phreak’ series if you want a great starting point into his Phone Tapes. He goes into exquisite detail of how he got started doing these recordings and it’s just a great tour of telephone history and and enjoyable listening experience as well.

If you liked what you read here, please click the links I’ve highlighted above and spread the word to anyone you think might find these interesting You can find much, much more over at his Soundcloud page. Consider it his ‘Audiobiography’. 🙂

Thanks again to Evan for his time and patience with my queries, and until next time…

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.