Category Archives: Music

Brad Sucks: Curator

If you ever needed to manufacture an excuse to get on Brad’s good side, here comes Brad’s new podcast called Sellout Central. Genre is a funny thing. While I like good music across any boundary my tolerance for mediocre music in some genres is much lower than others so I need some one like Brad to pick through the mess and just pull out the best. In other words I would never dream of digging up the kind of music Brad has in the first podcast episode but through his curating I’m able to save myself a few 100 whinces to get to the good stuff.

I’ve been making a lot of noise about curating as the next step both privately and publicly possibly with a patron/sponsor angle. I certainly appreciate a CC by a huge artist getting all the attention that NIN is getting but I don’t think open music has a shot at making an impact until some unknown artist actually breaks and curating/podcasting has still not fulfilled all of it’s promises.

Brad’s nerd explanation seems a whole lot simpler than John’s Magnatune version. Maybe someone can apply that MC Jack’s amazing Cool Radio show?

ztutz is Blogging (!)

My buddy and hyper-talented musician ztutz (aka David Stutz) has joined the current millennium and started blogging. David was (is?) with the Seattle Opera but you’ve heard his voice on everything from the “Titanic” soundtrack to the game “Myst” to open music remixes everywhere. His current bent is toward music based on mathematics and while in most hands that would be a frighteningly stale proposal I’ve heard a preview of his upcoming album and it’s one of the most soulful, original expressions I’ve heard in a long time. In fact, while in Seattle last week I got to sit in on a mastering session for one of the tracks and it was nothing short of mesmerizing; challenging both heart and mind at once. The music for this upcoming album was done for the audio book of Neil Stephenson‘s latest book — yes the “Cryptonomicon” guy who is known for merging writing with (surprise!) higher math.

While I was in Seattle, David also happened to be participating as principle vocalist along with “water percussionist” James Whetzel in a project called “Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas” which is a cycle of 64 (!) pieces of music by Byron Au Yong. The day I tagged along David, James, Byron and crew were racing around the larger Seattle area to 8 different locations to have David and James stand in various bodies of water, including Puget Sound, performing some of the pieces while video rolled. The results will be part of an installation at Jack Straw at UW. (Of all the projects I’ve known David to have participated in, including mammoth puppet opera, I have to say this standing in the water thing was one of the more bat-shit crazier things he’s done.)

As if being a monster of an opera singer, cutting edge avant garde performer and composer of breathtaking music isn’t enough, David partners with artist Perri Lynch to perform as a laptop duo RADIUS (guess which one named the band). Their rig is really fun with Perri mounting gobs of iPods filled with ambient field recordings and selecting snippets to throw out into the ether via her laptop. David then “captures” the samples in real time in Ableton, loops them, mangles them and together they make beautiful (really beautiful) 40-60 minutes sets of cool, evocative head space. Look for them at a gallery opening or ancient church near you.

I was really psyched when David fell for my passive aggressive attempts to needle my way into their world and let me jam with them for an afternoon. We did 2 sets. One worked (!). The other didn’t.

This is my mashup of ztutz and Magnatune’s Paul Avgerinos from the ever unpopular Chronic Dreams 2:

New c. layne Album “VI”

Coming just three weeks after the release of “Shark Week” comes what I would call an essential Open Music album that demonstrates why I think c. is one the most important songwriters I have encountered. My opinions are, of course, just those and they are 100% tainted by the fact that he consistently puts melody, poetry and voice to the thoughts that are already rattling around in my head.

VI” lays bare, without any musical adornment save acoustic guitar and the occasional shaker and mono synth line, his extremely personal approach to songwriting and performance. First, I’ll let the music speak for itself:

VI by C. Layne

…then , I ask you, show some love.

Total Cost of Album: $9.99

As I write this the #1 Amazon download is by a brooding, enigmatic rock star named Paul Westerberg who used to be the lead singer/songwriter for the not-so-brooding, enigmatic rock band The Replacements. (You know he’s brooding and enigmatic now because he never takes his shades off, especially when he sings songs with names like “Unsatisfied” whereas all the band photos from the 80’s have him bare-eyed.)

TuneCore is a digital distribution service that will, for a small fee, post your music to all the big “retail” music sites like iTunes, Amazon, eMusic. etc. For example, for a flat fee of $9.99 per year they will post a single song to all those stores.

Being a broody, enigmatic shmarty pants, 48 year old Westerberg smashed together more than 22 songs he one-man-band recorded in his basement into one honking 70 MB MP3 that careens from song to song, some overlapping, some cut off after six seconds and posted it using this special deal. Not that TuneCore is upset or anything, they devoted a special section of the site just for the Westerberg release called “49“. The name “49” btw comes from the sale price of the album which is $0.49 USD, supposedly 1 cent per minute. Unfortunately at 43 minutes 55 seconds it actually comes out to way more, more like 1.1157495256166982922201138519924 cents per minute. Bummer.

Yesterday, Westerberg’s manager earned his cut by calling Billboard magazine (who can’t afford to test their website on Firefox) to let them know that the album was out and that the only online retail music store that would “play along” with the $0.49 price is Amazon. Now that the song is the #1 paid download at Amazon, I’m sure iTunes and eMusic are more than relieved they took a pass on it.

Westerberg is not any Townes Van Zandt (he’s not god either so I guess that may be unfair) but on first listen the album is a great piece of music. I’m going to have to listen more to dig out what he was trying for lyrically and there could be a boatload of references to things like The Replacements that I’m missing. But musically it’s obvious that there’s decades of gigging at work here. He pulls off a lot of stuff that shows off that experience. The sound and fury of last few minutes is, I think, supposed to be ironic with it’s snippets of him covering the Beatles, Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf and the Partridge family. But fans of Strictly Kev and Plunderphonics will be less impressed by that particular passage because the bar is set so high by folks that have been doing cut-ups for decades. The whole thing works best for me when he isn’t trying to be “indie” and “edgy” and just sings his songs, which again, will take me a few listens before I’m ready to pass judgment.

If only he would have taken that $100,000 record company advance to record some real music and released with some real label and some real publicity firm and some real money. As it is, how will he ever, god help him, make his $9.99 back???

A Last Look Back: Pre-fourstones

I’m in the middle of yet another move. (Five cities, eight major moves in 20 years.) My desktop DAW is packed away in storage until we sell this house and buy a new one which could be months. I don’t feel too put out by that considering that leaves with me a laptop, M-Audio FW interface, two external disks and a pair of studio headphones. Yea, times are tough ;)

At every move I get very cruel about throwing away personal junk that’s accumulated over the years. The last time I did a preening of 100s of cassette tapes. Some of these tapes were random records I recorded to play in my car 25 years ago, some were ‘rare’ recordings taped of the radio and TV (John Lennon presenting at the Grammies, Allman Bros. bootlegs). A huge amount of them were recordings made in my garage with friends and solo. They were pretty crappy, really, so cutting back to a few dozen “essential” four-track cassettes and my orchestral projects from school seemed like a reasonable place to draw the line.

That was the last move.

This time I got seriously vicious. All cassettes are gone. They’re at the Berkeley Muni Dump for anybody that cares. No? That’s my point exactly.

What that leaves me with is my digital catalog which starts sometime in the early 90’s. The earliest are Cakewalk projects of original guitar instrumentals. While I doubt I well ever open an instance of Cakewalk/Sonar ever again (and it would be a biblical size miracle if my Cakewalk 2 projects open in a version of the software since revised 18 times!) I do have the projects and audio versions backed up and packed away in a few hundred CDs.

One of the first of these was a compilation (“album” if you will) that I dubbed “Trouble With Friends.” The title is a reference to the Berenstein Bears children’s books that were permeating my life at the time. I took a break from packing last night when I ran across that disc and couldn’t resist popping it into the PC. It’s not genius but it does represent the best “touch” I’ve had for the guitar before or since.

At once I noticed that these were done long before I had the WAVES mastering tools and I figured one last project before I pack the DAW would be to ‘remaster’ the final WAVs and post a few. Here they are with one of the new snazzy Y! players:

fourstones: 2 Bombs in a Row

I’m not sure why (and I’m hard pressed to think about it too much) but my last two Magnatune project, “Riding the Faders 2” and “Chronic Dreams 2” have flatlined in sales – and at a very low place at that. Chronic 1 and La Vie Chill still pop a sale occasionally and along with RTF 1 I can’t complain, which is to say I’m really grateful that plenty of people think they are worth paying for.

I seriously doubt this is a reflection on Magnatune or even tip-jar-fatigue because the music on the follow-ups is different than the first editions and it might just be that the newer ones don’t connect with people like the first ones did. There is the possibility that Magnatune’s new subscription mode which debuted a week after CD 2 went on sale has absorbed my album sales. (Album sales are posted nightly to Magnatune artists, but the accumulation of royalties from subscription streaming is only calculated a few times a year so it’s possible I’ll see big numbers for my music then – but I’m assuming not.)

Whatever the reason, I’m using the dead sales figures as a rationale for seriously focusing my music on a relatively narrow target. I recently compiled a playlist on ccMixter of the “Undiscovered fourstones” and especially when held up against artists who have actually mastered many genres (I’m thinking now of Loveshadow) I couldn’t help noticing that my attempts at the various styles seem less convincing than ever, even to me. I can only imagine what potential customers might be hearing. I’m definitely over that.

So while it may all sound very contrived from an artistic perspective, the fact is I’ve been leaning toward this kind of thing anyway (note the drastic and consistent increase in ccMixter uploads using my Cry Baby wha-wha pedal).

For better or worse, this is all you’re going to get out of me a while. Maybe, you know, forever.

My (Throwing) Muse: Kristin

I’ve lost count of how many singers I’ve remixed from raw a cappellas, the number is probably in the dozens. There are some, like Frank Carter (who I recently interviewed for ccMixter) that are obviously brilliant singers but for some reason I can’t remix. Frank could be particularly frustrating because I claim to have some cred in R&B and funk, yet, I have never remixed him to my (or anyone else’s) satisfaction. I have no idea what’s going on there. If I were touchy it about I’d be freaked that as a musician I should be able do a competent production on any singer, especially as good as Frank, in any genre. In school we used to call that ‘8 bars of anything’, as in: “play me 8 bars of anything and I’ll be able to re-create it and make it my own.” But as I get older and (god help me) mellower about these things I’m starting to feel totally comfortable being the loungy-elector-70s-porno-soundtrack-chill guy. So in that sense, I am not flogging myself over a case like Frank because, I guess, there’s just something in the harmonics and timing (for you kids: “flow”) that isn’t lining up to the type of mixes I’m doing nowadays.

On the other hand, it feels like I have an affinity for other singers like c. layne or Colin Mutchler. Those mixes “just work.” I hear the pell, I get it, the options are endless.

But nothing in my music experience can match what I feel when I get my hands on a pell by Kristin Hersh who started uploading pells to ccMixter a few months ago. Basically, if I could sing I would want to sound 100% like her. She cuts me deep.

Kristin is the lead singer of Throwing Muses a band I was aware of as I was bar hopping around Los Angeles in the record biz in the 80’s but never latched on to. In those days I was seeing between 5-10 bands a week so it’s more than possible that I saw them perform but I never owned one of their records.

All I know is that now, with the separated pells I’ve lost my mind with pleasure. Do my mixes of Kristin connect with anybody else? (or even her?) I don’t really know. They tend to be warmly, received by the other mixers at ccM but really, I know what’s there and I’ve said everything I need about it here and in the music. Here’s the latest:

Josh Woodward

When I was an active fan of the Beatles I liked all their music. Not just the cool, heavy stuff. And I’ll admit it right now: I was huge Wings fan – er, kill me know but I was a member of the fan club. So you can assume I carry some serious cred on the corny tip.

So it should come as no surprise that I bought and love the new album “The Simple Life” by Josh Woodward. Sure he’s sings about fluttering butterflies and “little birds” but if it’s done well then I eat it up. The album is produced really well (DIY I think) and sounds great as I drive around town. Just for the guys he throws in a fantastic guitar rock instrumental (stream “Flypaper”)

It helps that Josh has some cool things to say about licensing as open as possible.

Maybe with some arm twisting we can lobby him to post some pells to ccMixter ;)

Make RTF2 Top 10 (!)

First off, special thanks to narva9 for this very furry and cool alternative cover to Ridin the Faders 2.

Speaking of which: The album is doing well at #16 on the Magnatune charts (not that I notice, er more often than every 8 minutes anyway) — c’mon buds! It’s GOT to crack the Top 10 and make the front page. Won’t you help a few dozen starving musicians get their 15 seconds of faux glory??

[UPDATE 1/18] OH MAN, we’re at #11 — just a couple more sales will do it… do it… lol

[UPDATE (2) 1/19] Bingo — outrageous, thanks everyone… now, we start the climb to #1 ;)

Magnatune Remixed – Ridin the Faders 2

I’m not a particularly energetic digger. I’ve been playing acoustic instruments and analog electric instruments from when the instruments were bigger than I was (parents: don’t let your 2nd grader talk you into dragging a cello around school) and at a certain point I stop scraping my sampling resources and pick up the bass or guitar and just play the damn part as I hear it in my head. Such was the process three years ago when I put together Magnatune Remixed: Riding the Faders (1) mainly because, while deep, the Magnatune catalog was a fraction of what it is today.

Flash forward to last summer: while starting to work on RTF 2 I got so overwhelmed with digging and cutting samples and a cappellas I had to accept that I wasn’t going to get to the whole catalog. It was hard. The samples were so cool I just knew an even better one was sitting around the corner… a few clicks away… but I finally jumped in and started mixing, and the first cut I made was a statement about one the self-imposed imperatives of the album called “There is No Brad Sucks.”

The other embarrassment of riches were the list of potential collaborators. I don’t want to over hype this, let me just say it was exactly as cool as you can imagine to work with Pat Chilla, lo tag blanco and Clarance Boddyker. We had a couple of logistical bumps (NEVER about the music) but I want to publicly thank these guys for hanging in there with me while I go through my various flip outs.

So under the cover of darkness, late last night Magnatune Remixed: Ridin the Faders 2 went online for download, streaming, purchase or license. About %5 of the proceeds for RTF2 album will go to me, the rest goes to Magnatune, the artists I sampled and my collaborators. This is how I want it and why I’m involved in the Magnatune Remixed project: to help support the business folks and artists who have acknowledged the new fundamental truth of the music industry that “giving away your music is good for your career.” That’s my agenda and I’m sticking to it.