Earning money from music online

This will not be a post about how hard it is to be a musician in the digital age. We all know it isn’t a cakewalk. That said, I would rather be doing what I’m doing than work for someone else in a cubical somewhere making shareholders rich. I may not be a millionaire (or even a hundred-thousandaire… or even half that… I’ll stop now before I get depressed) but I am happy with my work.

But it bears repeating as often as possible that when it comes to online streaming, which unfortunately appears to be the new form of distribution replacing physical sales, musicians are getting completely screwed.

Just how screwed? Back in 2010 the site Information Is Beautiful created a stunning infographic displaying how many streams an artist would need per month to generate enough income to be on par with a minimum wage job. And the results were horrifying.

spotify

Yes, dear struggling independent musician operating in either a niche genre with less worldwide fans than your average hockey stadium capacity (ie, jazz) or (worse) in a popular field with millions of other competitors (ie rap, rock, pop): You are screwed. You need over 4 million streams per month to make a measly $1,160 which is probably not even enough to pay your rent and car insurance.

Now Information is Beautiful has updated the stats for 2015 and the good news is that the rates have increased due to public and political pressure. It now takes about 1 million plays on Spotify to reach minimum wage. So that’s an improvement, right? Sure, but let’s be honest here: If you’re getting 1 million plays a month on Spotify you’re probably already a big name in the business.

This begs the question: What artists are getting around 1 million streams per month? Thankfully this is answered very easily via Spotify’s own charts. As of this post, here are the artists that are getting about 1 million streams per month. Please note that many of these artists also appear higher in the chart for different songs.

spotify_chart

 

What’s the point of all this? Well, nothing you haven’t heard before. Streaming services are not direct income generators for most artists. This goes for Pandora, LastFM, Youtube, etc. But they are good means of distributing your product as a relative unknown. I have reached a lot of people via my YouTube channel and I make a few hundred bucks a month from it, which is nothing to sneeze at. And I’ve certainly gained new fans from Pandora and other services. I’m confident that some of those fans actually do buy physical product or at the least some downloads from iTunes and the like. But as streaming becomes even more pervasive and convenience continues to trump all else, I’m sure those sales will drop as well.

So what’s the solution? I don’t really have one except to keep making music and perhaps put the focus on formats that are not yet streamable, like 5.1 surround. I’ve discovered a vital community of surround enthusiasts since releasing THEO. And they are hungry for more content which is why my next two releases (organissimo and another electronica / ambient project) will also have 5.1 versions. Vinyl is another viable option to spur actual physical sales.

One day maybe I’ll be well-known enough that I can pull my catalog from Spotify ala Taylor Swift. But until that day, it’s best to focus on the strengths of the format rather than the pitiful payments.

Modern music production and the fear of dynamics

“The Loudness Wars” is a phrase coined in the 1990s to describe the growing demand by labels for increasingly louder mastering. As the Compact Disc format gained prominence, engineers began pushing the limits of it’s upper dynamic range, squeezing every last bit out of it before hitting digital zero (and thus distorting). A loud master translated to a louder sounding song on the radio compared to the competition. And since our ears perceive louder as better (in general), the louder sounding your song was, the more people would buy it, right?

The problem with this concept is that as soon as one label did it, all the labels began doing it, trying to outdo each other and things quickly got out of hand. Wikipedia has a wonderful article on The Loudness Wars complete with the following graphic example:

Different releases of Michael Jackson’s song “Black or White” show increasing loudness over time: 1991–1995–2008.

Thankfully after the 2008 fiasco involving Metallica’s Death Magnetic album, where the mastering was so loud as to actually digitally clip in most CD players, mastering engineers began fighting back. But considering the massive amounts of dynamic range available in modern digital systems, engineers still seem afraid of allowing music to breathe. Recording at 24bit yields a theoretical dynamic range of 144db, more than enough for any real-world application. An orchestra has a dynamic range of 70db, which is an incredible swing. I’m not advocating that kind of variation in other forms of music, but I’d wager that most pop right now has less than 3db of range across the entire album.

I bet this sounds great! A screen capture from an album by a band named Hypocrisy, courtesy of tvtropes.com

Overall, it seems the most extreme examples of the Loudness War are in the past. That said, there are still records being released that seem afraid of the possibility that a listener out there might have to actually adjust his/her volume now and again. Why is this?

Why is modern music production so scared of dynamics? I was listening to a new release on k-scope via progstreaming.com and while the music was very interesting, blending electronica and progressive music in a novel way, the lack of dynamics ruined the experience for me. Progressive music should have a lot of dynamics! That’s one of the things that makes such music interesting beyond the odd time signatures and long song forms.

The beginning of one song was especially egregious; it was obviously intended as a quieter part in the music, consisting of a lovely high falsetto lead vocal, piano, some atmospherics, and a bit of processed electronic drums. That all sounded great. Then the full band came in, acoustic drums channeling Bonzo, on a section that is (again obviously) supposed to be very powerful and the overall volume didn’t change at all! It stayed the same volume, sounding weak and neutered.

We have more clean dynamic range than ever before. Even the best analog master tape only had a 14bit depth (in digital terms) and at best 80db of useable dynamic range and yet those old Yes, Genesis, and ELP albums have far more contrast between the soft and loud passages than their modern counterparts.

Courtesy of zeitgestmastering.com

Let’s not be afraid of dynamics. There’s nothing more powerful and simple than a rousing crescendo or a gentle decrescendo.  Music without dynamics is like painting without texture. Or food that is decadently over sweetened. Sure, it tastes good for a little while but you quickly become fatigued and long for something with substance.

Genesis – Watcher of the Skies intro

Back in October of 2013 I posted a video in which I played along with a MIDI version of the Genesis classic “In The Cage”. The original post is here. I wrote about my love of the band and some personal history, so I won’t clutter this post with a rehash.

Tonight I was playing around with Cubase 7.5 and started diving into the new HALiotron engine in the HALion Sonic 2 VST virtual instrument. The presets leave a lot to be desired, which is often the case, but editing is very straightforward and the plug includes fairly standard Mellotron sounds including flutes, brass, bass clarinet, clarinet, strings, 8 voice choir, and bassoon. I hope they release an expansion pack with more sounds like the bass accordion, cello, violin, and viola samples. But the included samples are a good and popular starting point.

I began with a blank program and loaded the string and brass samples into slots A and B respectively in the Tape Track selector switch. Like the original Mellotron Mk II you can position the switch in between selections and combine the sounds. This is how Tony Banks achieved the iconic timbre of his intro to “Watcher Of The Skies” with Genesis. He also used the bass accordion sound on the other keyboard (the Mellotron Mk II had two keyboards side by side).

Mellotron Mk II

Mellotron Mk II

I added just a hint of reverb and then played the sound from my Minimoog Voyager acting as a MIDI controller. It makes a rather nice controller for such purposes due to the limited number of keys. The Mk II had two 35 note manuals. The Voyager has 44 keys.

I was lazy and just recorded the sound coming from my speakers so what you’re hearing is from the iPhone’s internal microphone. But it still sounds pretty good. The HALiotron has some nice tonal shaping options including attack, decay, velocity as well as control over the filter. You can choose to loop the samples or play with the same 8 second limitation as the real thing. Overall, it’s a nice addition to the HALion VST and I’ve used it a few times already on my upcoming progressive rock album.

Enjoy and please subscribe to my Youtube channel.

Vintage Hammond Factory Footage

I really enjoy old corporate technological films and thankfully so do a lot of other people on YouTube. I’m not ashamed to admit I spent a day watching old Fairchild Seminconductor films recently. And I enjoyed every minute of them.

I found this video a few years ago and it’s incredible. A tour of the Hammond factory probably circa the late 1950’s. It describes the concept of tonewheels and their manufacture, as well as the voicing of each instrument.

The most surprising piece of information to me was the statement about “five Hammond organ plants”. I had no idea the company was that large at one time.

I also love the part about the trained technician checking each tonewheel by ear to make sure it sounds correct. This is why the tonewheel organ is, in many ways, like an acoustic instrument. The organ is ‘voiced’ by a technician, just like an acoustic piano. Technicians would hand-pick each filter capacitor in the generator in order to mold the overall tone to their liking. They even signed the tone generator with their initials.

My late father referred to the Hammond organ as a prime example of what he called “post-WWII over-engineering”. They really are amazing products from the golden age of American manufacturing and engineering.

I hope you enjoy the video.

A quick rant on digital pianos…

… and a plea from a fellow musician.

I love technology. Though I sometimes feel musically anachronistic since I tend to favor styles from the past like 60s soul-jazz, 70s progressive rock, and 80s new-wave, I am absolutely enamored with modern music tech.  I am thankful to be alive right now when you have access to an incredibly powerful recording studio in the palm of your hand on your tablet or on a desk via a laptop. It is truly amazing.

Like all technology, however, modern digital musical instruments / software exhibit pros and cons. The pros include obvious benefits like affordability, usability, flexibility, and high-fidelity. Ease of access is another biggie. I have sounds that emulate every classic keyboard instrument you can imagine, literally at my fingertips.

Steinberg Cubase 7.5

Steinberg Cubase 7.5 – My DAW of choice. If the engineers at Abbey Road had this back in the 60s…

The cons are a little less evident. The enormous wealth of options available can be paralyzing. What sound should I use for this particular section? Well, I could use a nice synth pad. Okay. A synth pad from what software synthesizer? And hours go by while I decide and scroll through endless presets.

I try to keep my collection of softsynths relatively small and yet I still routinely choose between PadShop, HALion Sonic (which contains numerous synth engines), Diva, Alchemy, Korg Monopoly, Zebra, FM8, Massive, or Dark Planet for that perfect pad sound. Oh yeah, I almost forgot; I also have the CS80V, Prophet V, and Oberheim SEM V available. And each of those synths has hundreds of different sounds to audition, not to mention the temptation to spend even more time making your own. And let’s not even mention my hardware synths. It can be truly overwhelming.

Another con is that despite some real stand-outs in the field (like Alchemy, Zebra, and PadShop), a lot of softsynths tend to sound mostly the same and feature the same categories and re-creations of sounds.

Beyond that is the nature of digital sound itself. What do I mean?

First a little backstory: When my father passed in 2008 I had been studying with him for about a year to learn the art of piano tuning. My dad raised his seven children with piano tuning, repair, and restoration. It’s a satisfying job and I always feel close to his memory when I tune especially since he bequeathed his tools to me. When I am home from touring, I sincerely enjoy tuning pianos, even the awful ones. Why? Because every single piano is different. Every one is a challenge. Every one requires special attention to bring out the best the instrument can offer. And each one sounds unique.

The tools of the trade.

The tools of the trade.

Which finally brings me to digital pianos. No one can dismiss the convenience of digital pianos. I’m utterly amazed and delighted that Casio makes something as great as the Privia PX-5s, which weighs a mere 23lbs, plays and sounds beautiful. How far the technology has come! Digital pianos are wonderful especially on the road. I certainly do not long for the old days of the CP70, RMI Electra-Piano, and Kurzweil K250. Modern digital pianos are also indispensable in the studio for songwriting and production.

So what’s my beef? My beef is the sound of pianos on modern recordings and how they all sound the same. I love the pianos on older recordings because they are real pianos and as I mentioned above, each one is different and has its own character. And every engineer miked and EQ’d them differently. I am especially sensitive to this on my prog rock project. I love the piano on Firth of Fifth by Genesis (and the iconic intro by Tony Banks). It sounds different than any other piano because it was a unique instrument, the tuning wasn’t always perfect on every note, and it had its own idiosyncrasies. In the age of digital, it is too easy to be perfect. This is true for singing (pitch correction software), drums (samples + beat detection / grid locking), bass (samples, amp sims, micro-editing), guitar (amp simulators and micro-editing), and everything else. But it especially bothers me when it comes to pianos, probably due to an increased sensitivity from years of tuning.

It seems like everyone tends to load up their favorite piano sample library and that’s that. For awhile the sample library Ivory was ubiquitous. I could tell when they (the engineer and artist) used it. And there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But the sample libraries, as good as they are, still miss that realness and individuality. They are too perfect and they are always the same, every time you load it; like little clones of each other on every recording. Or like everyone is recording the same piano on the same day with the same mics, pitch-corrected, gated, and mathematically perfect.

Zora, age five, at the 1913 AB Chase baby grand. Photo taken in 2009.

My daughter Zora, age five, at the 1913 AB Chase baby grand. Photo taken in 2009.

All this is to say (and perhaps justify to myself) that on my upcoming prog album, I will be recording a real piano. And if I can swing it, not just any piano but a beautiful 1913 AB Chase baby grand that I found and brought home in 2009. It’s small, yes. And it needs some work. But I fell in love with the tone when I first played it even though it was horribly out of tune. It is rich and full and beautiful. And most important, it is unique.

To get it ready, I am going to replace all 46 bass strings, most of the middle strings, the hammers, the dampers, and all the key punchings. I will also refurbish the smaller action parts and regulate everything. Once ready, I will move some furniture in our living room and place the piano in the middle. I will mic it with some high-quality mics (not sure which ones yet) and record all the piano parts that I already played and edited via MIDI. I’ve been using Pianoteq for the demos and it sounds great, but I want character, the kind of character only a real piano can give due to it’s individuality.

Pianoteq.

Pianoteq from Moddart. Pianoteq is a virtually modeled piano utilizing no sampling.

The AB Chase has been recorded before, on Greg Nagy’s last CD Fell Towards None. The part was very sparse and I purposely avoided the deadest of the 100+ year-old dead bass strings to make it work. It is one of my favorite tracks on the disc (the title track) because of the dark atmosphere the AB Chase created. But for the prog project, the piano needs to be in tip-top shape. It’s going to be played hard!

If I cannot get the AB Chase ready in time, I will rent a piano from a local dealer who specializes in restoring vintage Steinways, Mason & Hamlins, Chickerings, etc. I will find one that speaks to me in it’s own voice. It doesn’t even have to be a grand piano. Just the other day I tuned an old upright from the 1920s for a client (I forget the brand name but the company is long gone). While checking the tuning afterward I marveled at the gorgeous, warm tone from that old beauty, even with old dead bass strings and the original hammers. The old wood and steel and cast iron resonated in the room and spoke to me.

To my fellow musicians; use a real piano for recording whenever you can, even if it’s a little console, upright, or spinet (I used a Wurlitzer spinet on Root Doctor’s cover of I Wish It Would Rain and it was just perfect in that instance). Yes, that newly released sample library might sound amazing, but does it sound like you? Does it speak to you? Or does it make you sound like everyone else?

A 1903 A.B. Chase upright that I restored and sold in January 2014. My father's piano tuning tool kit (the wooden box) is in the right corner. This piano had a gorgeous sound as well especially after I installed new hammers.

A 1903 A.B. Chase upright that I restored and sold in January 2014. My father’s piano tuning tool kit (the wooden box) is in the right corner. This piano had a gorgeous sound as well especially after I installed new hammers.

These Are The Simple Days – Excerpt

For the last three years or so I’ve been working steadily on a collection of songs that can best be described as progressive rock. As touched upon in an earlier post, I grew up listening to bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and others. When I was 16, I recorded an “album” of my own songs on a four-track reel-to-reel, with myself singing and doing all the parts on my trusty Yamaha SY77 (with a bit of acoustic piano thrown in). It was called Satori and included a 30 minute suite dedicated to the poet John Keats.

John Keats

John Keats

Yeah, I was that kid.

The only people that ever heard that “album” were very close friends, my siblings, and my mom and dad. And that’s probably the way it will always be. I don’t know if I can ever release what I’m sure are some real cringe-worthy moments.

I got into jazz a few years after that and spent the next 14 years or so honing my jazz chops with organissimo and others. I focused entirely on Hammond organ and left my synths in the corner, for the most part. When my father passed away in 2008, I was suddenly inspired to dust off the synths (including that same trusty Yamaha SY77!) and start making ambient / electronica music, which is a genre he loved. He made a lot of that kind of music himself. The result was my album ‘In Memorandom‘, which was dedicated to my late parents and random memories from childhood.

Diving back into synths inspired me to eventually re-visit progressive rock. I still love those classic Genesis and Yes albums. But I was disappointed with a lot of modern prog, which seemed to be almost all guitar driven and metal-based. I have nothing against metal and a lot of that stuff is really cool. But where are the keyboard players who can stand with the gods of yore? Who is the new Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman?

Actually, there are a handful of modern guys that could possibly fill those roles. My favorite prog keyboardist, however, is much more underrated and subtle: Tony Banks. His compositions, melodic sense, lyrics, textures, and orchestrations, are all beyond compare. His approach to keyboards has always been a huge influence on me.

Tony Banks of Genesis

Tony Banks of Genesis

So I decided to start writing some material inspired by such an approach; not so much about technicality and flashiness, but melody, textures, and atmospheres. Sure, I play with some fun time signatures, but I try to avoid making them sound trite and instead feel natural. I also focused heavily on melody, both for my vocals and for the supporting parts.

The album is coming along nicely. I hope to release it by the end of the year. Right now, two other fantastic musicians are involved; drummer Kevin DePree and bassist Gary Davenport. Kevin played with my good friend Greg Nagy for several years and is on Greg’s Fell Towards None record. He’s got chops galore but is tasteful and sensitive as well. Gary is the bassist in Janiva Magness’ band, the group I’ve been touring with for the last four years. Gary is a monster player, educated at Berkeley. His first band out of college was a prog band that covered Genesis extensively. In the clip below, listen to his beautiful fretless bass work.

The following clip is just an excerpt from one of the songs. It is called “These Are The Simple Days“. This is just half the solo section. This is the first through-composed solo I’ve ever written. I usually just improvise and that’s that. But I wanted to approach this like Tony Banks, who admitted repeatedly in interviews that he was not an improvisor, and actually compose a solo part.

The song itself is about childhood, specifically about my young daughters’ childhood. It is a plea to enjoy this innocence, which is gone too fast. The section in the clip is in 5/8, though the main tune itself is essentially in 11/8 (and a completely different key center). I’ll post more of the song later. I hope to make an actual music video for this song, as the lyrics are very narrative.

I’m very excited about this project. It is a wide departure for what I’m known for, but it’s just another natural side of me. It’s really a return to my roots in some sense.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll re-release that 30 minute epic ode to Keats. I’ve still got the 1/4″ masters.

Satori - on tape. State of the art, yo!

Satori – on tape. State of the art, yo!

 

UPDATE (March 16, 2015):
THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros was officially released on January 27, 2015 and I posted the finished mastered version of These Are The Simple Days on YouTube. Enjoy!

This album is available from iTunes, Amazon, the Big O Store, and Generation Prog Records.

Why Crowd-Funding is essential in the Internet Age

NOTE: I originally published this on my Facebook page on May 11, 2013 while in the middle of my second Kickstarter campaign for Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute To Big John Patton. It was looking quite bleak for that campaign but thankfully, with the support of music-lovers and jazz fans, we pulled through. I wrote this piece in response to many private messages and emails I received from musicians, fans, and friends. The theme running through all the messages was some variant of “Why are you resorting to crowd-funding? Isn’t that begging?”

I thought I would post this piece here to hopefully gain more exposure to the thoughts within and begin a dialogue.

NOTE 2: I’m currently running my fourth crowdfunding campaign for the latest organissimo album entitled “B3tles – A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four”. It is happening here.

—————————————————————————————————————–

As of this writing, my second Kickstarter project is about halfway to the finish line. Unfortunately it is also behind in terms of reaching my funding goals. I realize my last project was only six months ago (the very successful CD “Dedicated” by organissimo) and I also realize that, like last time, I’m asking for quite a tidy sum of money. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I’m asking for that amount but more importantly why crowd-funding is so important to independent, niche musicians like myself, using my last successful project as an example.

Word Cloud "Crowd Funding"

The Kickstarter for organissimo’s “Dedicated” reached it’s funding goal of $12,000 on October 15th, a full two days ahead of schedule. It finished slightly above the goal at $12,275.  Kickstarter and Amazon (who processed the payments) each took 5% right off the top.  So that left us with $11,047. I tracked and mixed the album myself, spending $274.50 on a suite of plug-ins for my DAW. That is the only money that I personally received from the campaign for my role in the production of the CD. Not only did I perform on the disc, write songs for the disc, engineer the disc in my home studio (with gear that I purchased myself), and spend countless hours fixing and mixing the audio, but I also did all the promotion for the crowdfunding campaign, handled the management of the Kickstarter, updated the websites, contacted the photographer, graphic designer, radio promoter, and mastering engineer, scheduled all those folks to do their thing, processed the payment for all those folks, contacted press people, and generally oversaw every little aspect of making the campaign and then the CD a reality. And I did not pay myself one cent for any of this except for buying those plug-ins in order to be able to mix the audio. I literally spent hours and hours and hours putting this CD together and I did not receive any money except to buy those plug-ins.

Drummer Randy Marsh did not receive any money either. Guitarist Ralph Tope was paid a small severance package when he left the band in order to protect the group’s rights to the music (which ate up the “extra” money I had calculated into the budget).

Indeed, I actually spent hundreds of dollars of my own money on postage, after the post office either lost or delivered half-empty packages to over half the people who purchased the “organissimo box set” as part of the Kickstarter. The budget was so tight that by the time the packages were lost, there was no more money to mail new ones and so I picked up the cost myself. The post office also raised prices on international shipments by 200% and I had to eat those costs as well.

Which brings me to my next crux of the biscuit: Why is crowd-funding so important?

Within one week of organissimo’s Dedicated being released it was available on blogs and torrent sites on the internet for free.

organissimo - Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

organissimo – Dedicated (BIG O 2418)

You can go find it right now with a simple Google search. In fact, you can find every single organissimo album for free with a simple Google search. I hope you don’t, but if you want to, you can.

This is not by choice.

In the digital age, musicians no longer have any control over how their product is distributed. This is why we must receive money up front to record the music.  Waiting until after it is released is foolish and financially ruinous for independent artists like us. And that means we need you, the fans, to step up and help us make it happen. You are vitally important to the process. You are essentially our label. Without you, we have no viable way to record and release music.

The last four organissimo CDs cost about the same to produce as the goal of the Kickstarter: between $10,000 and $12,000.  I was able to curb a lot of that by tracking and mixing Dedicated myself and so we spent the money not used on studio time for promotion. One thing I’ve learned as an independent musician is the importance of promotion. Most musicians don’t like to talk about themselves and their art, but the truth is if you’re not going to promote yourself, who is?  But merely talking about yourself can only take you so far.

The great thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. The horrible thing about the modern age of digital technology is that anyone can make an album. Radio stations (especially college stations and those that play Americana, jazz, blues, etc.) are absolutely inundated with hundreds upon hundreds of CDs every month. They simply cannot take the time to listen to them all. The same is true of music writers. You must have a gatekeeper, someone they trust, who they know will only send good stuff, in order for them to take the time to check out your project. You need a trusted radio promoter and a trusted publicist.

Without promotion, Dedicated would’ve done nothing. With radio promotion it was able to hit #5 on the national jazz charts, #2 on the college jazz charts, and has lead to more sales and more opportunities for the band. Promotion is immensely important and that’s why over 30% of the Kickstarter budget for Dedicated was for promotion.

But that promotion doesn’t come cheap.

Before crowdfunding, we would personally go into debt every time we recorded an album. It would literally take years to pay that off. As file sharing becomes easier and more prevalent, it takes longer and longer to pay off that debt. Our first disc took 2 years to pay off. The second 3 years. The third 4 years. The pattern is clear.

THEO - The Game Of Ouroboros

THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros – Successfully crowdfunded in 2015.

And so, to answer the question “Why is crowd-funding so important?” It is important because it is no longer financially feasible to go into debt to produce an album. And that is because of file-sharing. The only way to guarantee that I’ll be able to make an album is to secure financing up front. And that’s where you, the fans, come into play.  If you want the music to be made, you have to support it on the front end. Give me your pledge of support up front and I will produce the music for you to enjoy. That’s my promise to you.

I hope I can count on your support in my musical endeavours. I hope my music and my gear reviews and my advice and expertise when it comes to all things Hammond is valuable to you. Beyond the current crowdfunding campaign (http://bit.ly/2elcnGU) I am currently working on a progressive rock project of all original material (with me singing!) that is reminscent of the 70’s keyboard-centered prog, but not derivative thereof. (UPDATE: This project has been successfully crowdfunded and released as THEO- The Game of Ouroboros.) I also have several project by good friends that I am producing / engineering / consulting on and many many more ideas up in this crazy head of mine. If you know me, you know the music is going to be great regardless. Thank you for reading and thank you for caring about independent artists like myself.

—-Jim Alfredson

Genesis – In The Cage (solo section)

I first heard The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway towards the tail end of my sophomore year in high school.  This would’ve been 1993 or so.  My eldest sister got me hooked on Genesis and Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins and it was her collection of tapes and CDs that I listened to.  I also dubbed them rabidly, so I could block out the world during the excruciating 40+ minute bus rides to and from middle and high school with my headphones and my WalkMan.  I started listening to Gabriel, thanks to her, in third grade. By high school I had heard almost every Genesis album except The Lamb.

She held The Lamb back from me due to its more pronounced adult themes, ie Counting Out Time.  I remember her handing it over to me like it was some sort of Rite of Passage. Maybe it was.  I listened to it almost daily for two years, attempting to decode the various mythological references and figure out the meaning of the story.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

I became obsessed.  I probably scared numerous people away; certainly plenty of girls. But I didn’t care.  The music was captivating and atmospheric.  Tony Banks’ keyboards sounded other-worldly and Gabriel’s lyrics labyrinthine.  Phil Collins’ drums parts were perfectly played, Mike Rutherford’s bass and pedals and guitar serpentine, and Steve Hackett’s solos just soared.  But as any Genesis fan will agree, one solo stood out among them all:  The keyboard solo from “In The Cage”.

It encapsulates the sound of 1970s progressive rock in so many ways.  The Hammond organ, the analog synth lead sound courtesy of an Arp ProSoloist, the rhythmic and harmonic compositional qualities inspired by classical music… it’s all there.  Genesis immediately recognized how iconic it was.  They kept it in their live set, usually as part of a medley, up through the very last tour in 2008.

I’ve always wanted to learn that solo and I’ve been playing around with it for a few months. So tonight I decided to give it a go.

I played a couple little flubs, but not so bad.  It was immensely fun to take everything apart and figure out how it all goes together.  The chord sequence is classic Banks.  I used my Hammond SK2 as both an organ and a MIDI controller.  The lower manual is for the organ chords, played with my left hand.  The upper manual is MIDI’d to my Moog Voyager for the monophonic lead synth part.  The backing track is a MIDI file I found on the internet.

Banks once commented that he wasn’t much of an improviser. I consider myself a good improviser due to years of playing jazz but a challenge for me is to sit down and compose a solo like Banks. I’m currently working on a progressive rock album that features some through-composed solos alongside improvised solos. I plan to finish that project in early 2014.

I hope you enjoy the video!

The trials and tribulations of the modern music biz

Just received this notice in my email:

Thank you again for your generous contribution to Pilgrimage Recording. Without you, we would not have been able to release such a magnificent recording as Dr. Lonnie Smith’s In the Beginning.  Because of your contribution, Pilgrimage was able to produce In the Beginning as a double-CD, a soon to be realized vinyl LP, posters, and live appearances with the Octet. We are ever grateful, and write to extend our deepest thanks for your patience and support.

Unfortunately, there have been significant challenges in producing the In the Beginning DVD, and we are substituting that portion of your Kickstarter package with an equally exciting and valuable reward.  Each of you will receive two (2) tickets to one of Doc’s upcoming shows so that he can meet you and personally thank you for your participation in this project. All that is required is that you inform us at pilgrimagerecording@gmail.com of the show date, place, and time that you will be attending, and the rest will be taken care of. You can check the tour dates here:

http://drlonniesmith.com/tour/

Come back and check often as these are updated regularly.
We hope you are enjoying the music. You had a big part in making it all happen!

I still have yet to receive anything beyond a poster (a rather nice one at that, signed and all).  They did post access to some mp3s to download but I must have missed the notification email as I didn’t realize that until checking the Kickstarter page just now and the download window has passed.  Oh well.  I don’t really want downloads, I want what I paid for, ie a vinyl copy of the album and the DVD (on vinyl… just kidding).  But now the DVD isn’t happening.

In The Beginning - Dr Lonnie Smith

In The Beginning – Dr. Lonnie Smith

I feel sympathy for the good Doctor because I doubt much of this is in his control. Whatever team he put together to manage this thing has done a poor job.  In the 18 months since his Kickstarter began and ended, I’ve produced, by myself, one CD with bonus materials (the organissimo Kickstarter) and I’m about to put the finished touches on another CD and DVD project (the Big John Patton tribute) which will go to the duplicators by the end of next week at the latest.  It should be noted that the Smith project raised as much money as both of my projects put together.

In regards to the DVD, perhaps the producers bit off more than they could chew.  Two nights to record an album’s worth of material and produce a high-quality DVD with a large band in front of an audience?  That’s ambitious, to say the least.  I wonder if they did multiple takes of anything, which is always odd to do in front of an audience, but sometimes undeniably necessary.  The only way I captured the wealth of material I did over our three days of recording the Patton tribute was by multiple takes of almost every song.  But we didn’t have to worry about a studio audience growing bored out of their minds (“This song AGAIN?”) or witnessing our turpid failings as musicians (which is fully documented in the complete sessionography).

What I would do as the producer(s) of this project is level with the backers and explain why it has taken so extraordinarily long to fulfill their obligations, what unforeseen hardships and obstacles they’ve run into in the process, and exactly why the DVD isn’t happening.  This would serve two purposes:  It would save face and hopefully generate a bit of sympathy towards the people involved instead of simply leaving us hanging with confusion and indignation.  And it would also serve as a valuable learning tool for other people considering doing something similar.  Crowdfunding and self-producing multimedia products seems to be, for better or worse, the Brave New World of the music business and those of us out here attempting to do the same thing can use all the advice we can get.

I love you, Dr. Lonnie!

I love you, Dr. Lonnie!

That said, none of this diminishes in the least my respect and love for Dr. Lonnie Smith. He’s one of the masters.  I’ll support him again in a heartbeat.  And he even listed me as A Friend Indeed on his website and possibly in the CD, so I feel a bit awkward posting this. But it is my hope that this experience can serve as a learning tool for other musicians out there on the trials and tribulations of self-producing your own material.  I know I learned a lot from my first Kickstarter (we shipped three months late after all), knowledge that I applied to my second (and we should be shipping on schedule this time!).  Here’s hoping the Doctor’s team will let us in on the backstory so we can all learn and hopefully laugh at the absurd but unfortunately necessary situation of producing your own content.