Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gazing into the abyss, or "The Digital Music Diaspora"

My friend Nick Sincaglia recently wrote a great blog entry about his company's acquisition and how it made him look back on the last few years.

At one point, he notes that 6 years ago, we were all punks trying to break into the music business and now, we are the music business. At least the exciting future part, or the place where some innovation happens and lots of media attention is focused. It seems like every week there's some sort of story about the music business - a level of attention and press "the biz" would have killed for pre-Napster. Odd they can't seem to take advantage of it. But I digress.

My point is that my friends and I kicked in a basement window and sneaked into the music business' house. From the start-up and later,, my colleagues are now highly placed at companies including Liquid Digital Media/Wal-Mart, Real Networks, Sony/BMG, Time Warner, and Apple. There's probably more.

I have known Nick for almost 10 years. Another colleague of mine, Tim Bratton, recently left Real Networks. I've been working with Tim since 1993. A compelling argument could be made that I owe my entire professional career to Tim. He provided me tremendous opportunities. He taught many things. How to create a costed bill of materials, how to write good specifications, how to be graceful under pressure. How to persist and never give up.

I am sad to see Tim go, though I completely understand his reasons. Were I in his shoes, those shoes would probably have walked out the door a long time ago. I will miss his optimism, patience, and perspective, and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.

In 1999, I taught my first class at Duke University's Talent Identification Program. I remember quite dramatically holding up a Diamond Rio PMP 300 and telling the kids that it would "change the world", and that in a few years, they'd all have something like that. It has come to pass.

Why all this reminiscing? I refer back to Nick's statement: "Now we are the music business".

I think of Nietzche - "Battle with monsters and beware, lest you become a monster. And as you gaze into the abyss, so the abyss gazes into you."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The High End

I've been working on a screenplay for the last several years about audiophiles. It's called "The High End", and it's a comedy.

People ask me "what's funny about audiophiles?"

Here's the answer.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Big Red

Melinda Moore, also known as Big Red, was one of the first people I met when I moved to San Francisco.

She's gone now and I find it hard to stop thinking about it. It appears to be suicide. While I've had several friends and acquaintances come close to this in the past, this is the first time it's touched me directly.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A new job

Today I start work at Real Networks as Senior Product Manager. This has been in the works for a long time (2-3 months).

I am very excited about working on Rhapsody (again).

I could write a book about the reasons why I left Liquid Digital Media and Wal-Mart (indeed, I started one about a year ago and had to stop). There are lots of talented people at both companies, and I wish them all the best. The team at Liquid, in particular, was the finest group of individuals I have ever had the good fortune to call colleagues.

Busy as a B student

I know I've been kinda quiet lately. In fact, I started a draft of this post almost a month ago and just haven't found the time to finish.

Most of my musical energy has been going into, uh, ghostwriting for a failed 80s pop star.

I have rediscovered the joys of pop songwriting and have been banging out tunes as fast as I can think of them, on the order of 1 every 2 weeks. The wonders and joys of home studio technology. My only limitations are time and creativity.

The best part of being in a rock band lately has been getting to know all the players better. Each of the guys in the current project is a quality human being. Where were they all 10 years ago?

Steve, for example, is someone I'd only known electronically for about 7 years. But now I consider him a close friend. He's made my life much richer than he knows (he's probably embarassed now. Ha!) He's also a sickeningly talented musician. Check out his latest album. The dude has got no mercy.

Naturally, I have a big itch to get back to doing more "challenging" or interesting work that isn't some variation of "intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/chorus". I still haven't figured out how exactly I'm going to find time or creative energy for this yet, but I am getting a little bit anxious to do something more modern than 80s-influenced pop songs for a 6-piece band.

Steve actually helped me re-discover David Sylvian, who's been doing some very interesting things with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz (who are also working together!), among others. I just read an interesting interview with him in "Guitar Player".

Being married is still the best thing in the world.

The long and expensive process of renovating the front of the house is all but finished. Paint is up. We're just waiting for final inspection and some finishing touches.

I bought myself a new motorcycle (Ducati Multistrada 620) for my 36th birthday. Perhaps a bit extravagant, but business has been good. And it gets 50 miles per gallon of gas.

I wish Chill would do a full-on disc release.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The "best" choices for encoding your music

[UPDATED: After 10 years, storage, science, and codecs have changed conclusions here. See strikethroughs...]

I have been working in the digital music business for a long time. As a result, people ask me certain questions all the time. One that I get a lot these days is
"What bit rate and format should I use for encoding my music?"
Most of these folks are using iTunes. I think iTunes is good, but far from perfect. The best technical solution is probably the latest version of Rhapsody, which supports tons of devices (including the iPod) and every format (including AAC), but right now it's not as simple or easy to use for many people as iTunes.

So here's what I usually tell people...

The Short Answer:
  • If you have an iPod and plan on sticking with the iPod family, use AAC at 320 kbps either 192 kbps or 160 kbps. Use 192 kbps if you value quality over number of tracks, and vice versa.
  • If you don't have an iPod (or may consider switching away from one in the future), use MP3 or AAC at 320 kbps. If you use MP3, make sure "high quality" options are turned on, "True Stereo" (rather than "Joint Stereo") is active. VBR is optional. at 192 kbps with "high quality" selected.
  • If you only listen on your PC/Mac and want the absolute best sound quality, use Apple Lossless Encoding or FLAC.
  • Rhapsody and iTunes both encode in MP3 and AAC. If you have an iPod, use iTunes. If you don't have an iPod, use Rhapsody or whatever came with your portable player.
The Long Answer:
There are two ways to describe "best" audio quality:
  • What's "absolutely" the best ("objective best")
  • What's best for you ("subjective best")
For absolute audio quality, there are 2 approaches to take: mathematically lossless and perceptually lossless.

"Mathematically lossless" means the bits stored on your computer are numerically identical to the bits on your CD when played back. You could do this by ripping directly to WAV file - this effectively copies the audio data from the CD to your hard drive without changing anything. The main drawback to doing this file size - 10 MB per minute of CD-quality stereo, equivalent to 1411 kbps.

However, Apple includes an "Apple Lossless Encoding" option which is like a Stuffit or ZIP for audio files. This will produce files that are around half the size of WAV files (5 MB per minute or about 705 kbps), but when played back, the bits output are absolutely identical to the original CD data.

If you want the absolute best quality audio, this is the format in which you should rip. Note that the iPod Shuffle cannot play back these kinds of files, nor can any other portable devices other than the iPod. It's best as an archival format. Apple does include a way to "convert" (transcode) these files during transfer, but currently limits it to 128 kbps, and only for the Shuffle.

"Perceptually lossless" means that you can't hear the difference between the original CD audio and the audio that is reproduced. MP3, AAC, and WMA are all examples of "perceptual" coding systems. If you crank either of them up to a high enough bit rate, you should not be able to hear a difference (in theory, more on this in a bit).

In my experience, WMA doesn't get truly perceptually lossless on most material even if you crank it way up - it's best for low bit rates. Doesn't matter, because iTunes won't encode in WMA and the iPod won't play it back natively.

MP3 is an older codec, but if you crank it up to 256 kbps and use "high quality" options, most people can't tell the difference. However, at that point, you're creating files that are "only" 1/5 the size of the originals - I would say you might as well go to lossless at that point. 192 kbps is a good trade-off. AAC and MP3 are now supported by almost every single portable player and computer-based player.

AAC is a newer, better codec. For most people, AAC is "transparent" (another way of saying perceptually lossless) at 192 kbps, and does well on a lot of material down at 160 kbps.

Both AAC and MP3 use something called "joint stereo" at bit rates below 192 kbps. For best stereo reproduction, you want to stay at 192 kbps or higher.

320 kbps is indistinguishable from original source material. Use that.

So all that is the "objective best".

The "subjective best" really depends on what you want to do with these files and what your personal requirements may be.

Remember when I mentioned that AAC, MP3, and WMA are perceptually lossless "in theory"? This has to do with the nature of perceptual coding. Aside from bit rate, there are 2 other factors: the material being encoded, and your particular set of ears.

Due to the way all these encoding systems work, the material being encoded affects how well it is encoded. Hypothetically, some content will sound better (at the same bit rate) as MP3, some better as AAC, and some better as WMA. They each compress audio in different fashions, and work better on different types of things. The clearest example I've encountered is that WMA is not particularly good for music with lots of transients (percussive sounds) but works very nicely on things with long, sustained sounds (like string quartets).

The other aspect is your ears. These encoding systems are all based on generalized models of how people hear. But like "one size fits all" clothing, you are unlikely to match this generalized model perfectly. This means that some content and encoding systems are going to sound better and worse to you relative to other people.

Subjective recommendations:
  • Listening only on your PC and need the best audio quality? Use Apple Lossless, but make sure you have good speakers or headphones, or it's a waste of space. Those Labtecs won't cut it.
  • Use an iPod and plan on using iPods forever? Use AAC. Choose your bit rate based on how much music you want to put on your device. I'd recommend 320 192. 160 is also fine if you value track quantity over track quality.
  • Use some other MP3 player, or considering switching from iPod in the future? Use MP3 at 320 192 kbps with HQ option turned on. This is the "safest" choice and what most people should be doing. Right now, there are very few portable players that support AAC, but everyone supports MP3. If you rip everything at 192 kbps/MP3, you will have decent sound quality, reasonable file size, and the ability to put your collection on any device.
Since you're listening to the music, trust your own ears. The best thing you can do is run some tests yourself - take 1 or 2 tracks and encode them at different bit rates and using the different codecs. Play them back in random order without looking at them and see if you can hear a difference. Throw in a lossless file or a WAV as well. Choose the lowest bit rate you can stand.

Me? I have most of my collection at 320 160 kbps AAC, though newer things or things I really like I am encoding at 192 kbps AAC. I've re-encoded my entire collection more than once, and probably will have to do so again.

Bonus for Audio Nerds:
Yeah, there's OGG. Not enough portable players support it, so it's not worth using for the average consumer.

Yeah, there's other lossless codecs like FLAC. Again, not enough PC/Mac players support it, and no portable devices that I'm aware of. Even if there's one that does, it's still not worth using for the average customer.

I will post about "which portable device should I use?" at a later date.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

About Me

Anu Kirk cannot escape music, no matter how hard he tries.

Starting in 4th grade as a (bad) drummer, he became a (slightly less awful) classical oboe player in junior high school before he succumbed to the siren song of rock n'roll and synthesizers during his teenage years.

He attended Dartmouth College, studying music under Jon Appleton and Christian Wolff. Naturally, he graduated with a degree in economics.

Nearly a decade in Los Angeles came next: performing in bands, producing/engineering/recording, dabbling in film and TV scoring, and designing professional audio products. One (Spatializer Retro) was awarded Musician Magazine's "Editor's Pick" and another (Spatializer PT3D) was nominated for Mix Magazine's TEC award.

Anu has been involved with the Internet music business since its inception. He was one of the primary architects of Rhapsody, the world's first music subscription service, and the driving force behind its iOS app. He also designed and built music services at Liquid Digital Media (formerly Liquid Audio) for Wal-Mart.

He was responsible for the development of MOG's award-winning mobile apps, and contributed significantly to the product design and strategy that led to a successful acquisition by Beats and subsequently, Apple.

As Director of Music Services for Sony PlayStation, he was the business owner for PlayStation Music Unlimited before helping the company pivot to a Spotify-based music platform.

Most recently, he served as Director and General Manager for Virtual Reality Platforms at PlayStation, helping to launch PlayStation VR, the world's most successful virtual reality headset.

He has also designed marketplaces for virtual goods, worked on several video games, and integrated digital media platforms into virtual worlds.

One of the first to participate in the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP) when it launched in the early 1980s, Anu returned as an instructor in the early 2000s. His popular class “A History of 20th Century Music” (now known as "Bach to Rock") was later adapted to an educational CD-ROM, "Switched-On Sound".

A member of noted Internet music collective Chill since 1998, Anu also held the number one position in experimental music on for 6 months.

Anu continues to write, record, perform and release music.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Old Game

Recently, a few people I knew at Dartmouth got back in touch with me. I haven't really heard from them in 10-15 years. I find myself summing up the last decade of my life in an e-mail message. It's odd that it is so easy to do.

An even more humbling experience? Going back through all the music I've worked on during that time period. I compiled two data CDs - one of stuff I've "worked on" as a producer, engineer, or sideman; the other is stuff I wrote or co-wrote. About 100 tracks between the two of them. And that's not everything, just the tracks I felt merited some notice.

Think you're good at what you do? An "OK" artist? Go back and look at your old stuff. Things you did a even a few years ago. Ouch.

It's not all crap. There are a few things that surprised me with their quality. Then again, "even a broken clock is right twice a day". There's a good 10-15 tracks on each disc which aren't too embarassing.

Ultimately, I end up reflecting on what I've done with my life so far.

Last night I watched "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", the film adaptation of Chuck Barris' unauthorized biography. A moody, slightly disturbing film. On the DVD, Barris talks about how he was going to create one last game show, called "The Old Game". In the game, 3 old men would sit onstage, each with a loaded gun. They'd all look back on their lives, at what they'd done, who they had been. In Barris' words, "the winner would be the guy that didn't blow his brains out."

Many famous composers are known for a single work - Ravel's "Bolero", Pachelbel's "Canon in D", Satie's '1st Gymnopedie". Of course, there's much more to these guys than a single work. But for one reason or another, that's what people focus on. Their one big hit.

I wonder what mine is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Warren Zevon, teenage serialist

My friend Rich Trott recently posted something about Warren Zevon's perspective on serialism/12-tone composition, which got my 20th-Century-Music brain workin' overtime. My response:

I love Warren Zevon. But I have to disagree with his perspective here.

Zevon is stating a variation on a familiar theme, and also being tautological: Serialism plays by different rules tonal music, so it's hard to tell whether it's good or bad (in this case, Zevon is specifically saying "it's easier to hide bad composition in serialism").

The first part is obvious. Yeah, serial music is fundamentally different than tonal music. That was the whole point!

And the second part? Good or bad depends on your perspective and criteria for evaluation. Because serialism doesn't sound like tonal music, it is difficult to define how one should critique it.

One can evaluate the piece within the context of serialism and ask "Does it follow the rules? Is it clever and inventive?" But to properly do so, you have to know music, have a score, and really analyze the piece in order to make an informed judgment about "good or bad". You can't/shouldn't just listen to it without considering its serialist qualities.

I think it's fundamentally misguided to try to evaluate a serialist piece solely using tonal criteria. But it is very difficult for listeners and critics to separate the serialist criteria from tonal criteria, and further, from our own direct, emotional criteria: "Is it pretty? Does it make me feel something? Is it memorable", etc.

Zevon, like many other critics of serialism, seems to be saying "well, you can do some clever stuff, but it's not really going to move people like, you know, REAL (i.e. tonal) music could. And who can tell, anyhow?"

This is akin to saying "minimalism is a way for people who can't draw to hide their lack of skill". A more enlightened view says "the goals are different."

Serialism is a way to compose (and to think about music and composition) that is supposed to be fundamentally different than tonal music. It is entirely possible for a composer to be lousy at tonal composition but excellent at serial composition and vice versa. Not every painter does photo-realistic portraiture, do they? And the ones who are great at that don't necessarily make the best Expressionists, right?

And I am not saying serialist music can't make you feel something (Berg's "Wozzeck") or be pretty (Webern!). But I think hard-core serialists would argue that whether or not what you produce is "pretty" or "catchy" or "lyrical" is irrelevant, and that anyone who tries to make "tonal"-sounding serial music isn't really being serialist at all. They're hedging, or worse, missing the entire point of writing serial music.

Serialism produces music that's so seriously alien to most people's ears that pieces which succeed as serialist AND as "conventional" tonal works are the exception rather than the rule.

And most people have so little exposure to serialism that they are simply not qualified to say whether or not something is good - they're comparing the dozen serialist pieces they've heard to the thousands of tonal pieces, and applying tonal criteria to them.

That is really no different than picking a tonal piece and talking about what a bad serialist piece it is because it doesn't maintain its tone row. It's just as silly.

I recognize the sheer strangeness of 12-tone is a turn-off for most people. I like to think of myself as a relatively sophisticated listener, and I CANNOT approach music I hear with any perspective other than that of tonal music. But at least I recognize that about myself before I yell "Turn off that PIERRE FUCKIN' LUNAIRE racket RIGHT NOW!"

Now, if Zevon had said "I, Warren Zevon, don't like 12-tone music", that'd be fine. But to simply reduce all of 12-tone music to "a way to cloak an uninspired composition"? That's ludicrous.

It's interesting that Zevon started with this stuff at age 12. As a teacher, I found serialism to be much less intimidating than tonal composition to the gifted students I taught. Unlike tonality's demand for "pretty tune", Serialism is like "number games". It doesn't matter if what you're producing "sounds bad", as long as it follows serialist rules.

That's very liberating, and it changes the rules for judging what makes a piece "good" from relatively squishy/subjective things like "it makes me feel something" or "it's pretty" to "that's a neat use of the retrograde inversion" or "That's a cool tone row".

Students liked the fact they were manipulating notes in a more abstract fashion. Rather than be judged on their compositional ability in terms of making a melody or motif that "worked", they were judged on their compositional ability to do interesting things with a tone row. This, in turn, got them thinking in many more compositional dimensions quickly (every year, at least one kid "rediscovered" TOTAL serialism), rather than just getting hung up on counterpoint and harmonization.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Moog Movie

I went to see "Moog", a documentary about synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog. The film had been widely hyped in the film and synthesizer community. I found it strangely lacking for a number of reasons. 

One is that the film never really explains why people consider Moog's synthesizers to be "better" than any of the others. Even if you just focus on "classic analog synthesizers", the competition is pretty stiff - the Arp 2600, Yamaha CS-80, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, for example. If they'd even had a few musicians talking about "that Moog sound" or the panel layout or something it might have been enough. 

The film doesn't explain why Moog's designs beat out other, more radical/interesting concepts by contemporaries like Don Buchla. It doesn't explain why Moog's instruments have endured to be classics like Fender guitars. (In fact, a lot of those vintage instruments' value comes from the "Moog" name alone.) 

Another is the general shapelessness of the film. Bob Moog's life story so far has a very powerful dramatic arc: Young genius starts making Theremins, wows music world with breakthrough synthesizer "modules", rockets to success, is bad at business, makes some mediocre/bad/disappointing products, loses control of company and name, lies low, starts new company, re-buys rights to name and makes "triumphant return" making basically the same instrument he succeeded with decades ago. 

Instead, we get a bunch of rambling interviews with a few folks, many of whom are far from key players in the Moog story. For example, the inane commentary of Money Mark, who doesn't even pronounce "Moog" correctly (in case you're wondering, it rhymes with "ROGUE"). 

In particular, the lack of inclusion of Wendy Carlos (who would be a good documentary subject as well!) is absolutely unforgivable. Other noteworthy folks such as Tomita and Jean-Michel Jarre are conspicuously absent. 

Moog himself has frequently said he wants to make instruments that are warm and expressive. Yet most of the music heard in the film is exactly the sort of "blippity-bloop" cliché that turns most people off to synthesizer music in the first place. None of it approaches the power of Clara Rockmore's Theremin performance in the "Theremin" movie. 

So what does it do right? Well, it tells you that Bob Moog is a really nice guy - the sort of person you wish you were related to so you could see him at family gatherings. And it had one or two very entertaining Moog-related stories. That's about it. I am willing to cut the filmmakers a bit of slack for some things - it was a "low-budget" independent film, after all. 

But the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. This is inevitably going to be considered the "definitive" Moog movie, and that's a shame. My advice would be to go and rent "Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey" instead. It's much better all around.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Re-issue Issues

Or "How the Remaster is my Master".

Apparently, I am a sucker for re-issued/remastered CDs. I have been buying music in compact disc format since 1986, when I got my first CD player. Back in the early days, you were just happy that anything you wanted came out on CD, regardless of what it sounded like.

But many early CDs sounded terrible. They were sloppily mastered for CD, if at all. Analog-to-Digital converter technology was relatively primitive back then.

Now, over 20 years after the CD was introduced, people are done "converting" all their vinyl records and cassettes to CDs. What can the industry do to keep the cash flowing?

New format? Well, SACD and DSD and DVD-Audio aren't taking off for all kinds of reasons, the least of which is no one has the players for them in their car, computer, and everywhere else people want their music. So that's out.

But what about selling us CDs all over again? Digital technology has improved quite a bit, and people actually know how to make digital sound good. So they're reissuing CDs.

And they sound great. Seriously. I didn't want them to. But almost every one I've heard does, and it's killing me, or at least my wallet.

It started when I heard a promo copy of Peter Gabriel's 2-disc "Hit" set. I had owned his "Security" album on cassette, vinyl, and CD. And it never had the detail and high end presence I felt it should, especially given that it was one of the first all-digital recordings. The liner notes said it was the first in re-issuing his entire catalog remastered.

I found Peter Gabriel III/"Melting Face" and "Security" used at Amoeba. I couldn't believe how good they sounded. Warm and detailed. Fortunately, those are the only Peter Gabriel albums I think I want.

I thought it was over at that point. Sure, Astralwerks reissued some early Brian Eno albums, but I had a bunch of the ambient tracks on the Sony 20-bit "Eno Box". The difference was striking, but I figured I was OK for now.

Then I found out that David Sylvian had remastered Japan's entire catalog, included bonus tracks and nicer packaging. And he'd done his whole solo catalog, including a full "Gone To Earth" that restored the tracks removed from the double LP to fit it on a single, crappy-sounding CD.

Sylvian's "Gone To Earth" CD in particular was a good example. The original CD sounded so inferior to the vinyl that I hated playing it. I had destroyed my first copy of this out-of-print vinyl record through a combination of playing it and having it warp from sunlight. I had bought my vinyl copy used, and as luck would have it, I was able to find another one used. The CD just couldn't compare to the power, warmth, and depth of the vinyl LP.

But a remastered CD? Well, OK. Why not? So I bought that one new. It was expensive. But as soon as I started listening I knew I had made the right choice. It sounded better than my worn vinyl had ever sounded.

I just bought 6 of the new Eno reissues from Astralwerks. I can't wait for them to get here. I am trying to tell myself that I really don't need to re-buy Japan's "Tin Drum" and "Gentlemen Take Polaroids". But I think I might.

Worse, there's The Cure. They've started remastering their back catalog. I have their first 4 albums in my Amazon shopping cart. Over $80 to buy "better versions" of CDs I already own. Yeah, yeah, they have a bonus disc of crap I'll never listen to. Thing is, the original CDs sound bad. Really bad. I know these new ones will sound better. But $80 better? I must be a sucker.

I also read that Kraftwerk is remastering their entire catalog. I listened to Cleopatra's appalling US release of "The Man Machine" today.


Just tell me where to send my money, Florian. And get it right this time!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Bad attitudes

Yesterday, Victim Nation played at a "music festival" out in Tracy, California at the famous Altamont. We almost cancelled due to the weather - better than 50% chance of rain, and the show was outdoor.

Still, the band decided to go do it. So we loaded up and out to Tracy we went. The skies were gray and threatened rain until we crossed the pass into Tracy, at which point it started to rain. We arrived a few minutes later to find out that when the venue said we were scheduled to go on at 5 pm, they meant 6:45 pm. And of course, there was nobody there, despite promised hundreds of attendees.

The band playing as we arrived busted out a harmonica solo during each one of their ZZ Top-meets-Foghat sound. A good lead-in for a punk band. We looked uncomfortably at the old, wet, moldering hay bales provided for seats and waited for the next band.

Now, so far, none of this was unusual. I've been playing music for 20 years, and this is pretty much the way these things go. I stood around wishing I was at home and tried not to be too catty about the ZZ Top band (who were actually pretty good sounding, if you like that sort of Homer Simpson/Kings Of Leon blues-rock).

The next band started setting up and I started wincing. They looked painfully hip, all skinny, tight jeans, funny haircuts. The singer was even wearing an "Aquaman" t-shirt. Looked like indie rock. From looking at them, these guys were going to suck. This day was pretty much shot.

The band got "onstage". The singer, in accented English, said they were called "Last Amanda" and they were from Sweden. I figured this was a joke.

Then they started playing. As the rain started coming down.

The guitar players were digging into their guitars as though there were thousands of people in front of them, instead of 5. The bass player leaned back and pointed his bass to the sky. The drummer pounded away. The frontman started to howl.

For a second, I thought these guys were too over-the-top, too cheesy, what with the rock moves and giving their all to no one.

Then I realized they were really, really good. Perhaps a bit derivative of U2, but their songs were big without being overblown, and catchy without being insipid.

I was ashamed of my bad attitude. These guys were making the best of a poor situation and playing the way real musicians - professionals - should.

Lesson learned. When it was our turn, I played as hard as I ever had. And I bought a CD. Thanks, Last Amanda. I owe you one.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Things to remember

Playing in a punk rock band is fun, but challenging. I have been the designated bass player in bands before, but most of the time it was music that was much slower. I just don't have the hand dexterity and strength to pick at those big, heavy strings as fast and precisely as I'd like. I am trying, though.

"Simple" does not mean "easy". And "easy" does not mean "simple".

Victim Nation will be playing at the Cherry Bar this Friday (April 22) at 9 pm. If you like your punk in classic SoCal style, come on by.

Monday, April 18, 2005

P2P vs. "iPod Piracy"

Which is worse:
  • Illegally downloading a some tracks of dubious quality from the Internet via one of the various P2P-type systems out there
  • Copying one or more of your friends' entire music libraries
The record industry is focusing like crazy on the former. But I believe the latter is far more dangerous and devastating to their business model. iTunes (and other applications) frequently provide the ability for users to make "data CDs" of their music files. It's quick and simple for anyone to take all the non-DRMed files they want out of anyone else's library. And if they burn a CD, they have a back-up copy, which can itself be duplicated.

As of a few days ago, Apple has sold 350 million tracks and about 15 million iPods (each of which can hold hundreds or thousands of tracks). It is obvious that most of those tracks are not purchased from the iTunes Music Store (which is the only place to buy tracks for the iPod).

The real question is how many tracks users actually "own" and how many they don't own.

Really, the argument could be made that iPods are doing far more damage to the record industry than anything else. But you don't hear anybody saying that.

Friday, April 15, 2005

If everyone has a soapbox...

...who is left to listen? I don't really know. However it is time I stand up on mine and opine when I feel the need. So here we go.