Category Archives: Recommends

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???

CDM on Vista for DAWs

Peter Kim over at Create Digital Music has a long, if mostly anecdotal, report on the current status of Vista’s usability for DAWs.

In short, if you held off on upgrading to Vista, it’s paid off.

If you’re happy on XP, there’s really no pressure to leave.

That’s about where I’d put it. I’m still cross-grading over to Mac whenever my current XP setup falls over (it’s doing fine tho’)

There’s a set of links at the end of the article for those that have already made the Vista plunge. I can’t speak for their reliability and if you’re on Vista you’ve probably already chased down a lot of that info but it seems like a handy bookmark.

Fake Steve Jobs on the Music Biz

By far one of the funniest books I’ve read in many years is “oPtion$ – the secret life of steve jobs” by fake steve jobs. This Jobs reminds me a lot of a less literary version of Joseph Heller’s King David in “God Knows.” But it is not a “joke” book. Well, OK, it is a parody but it is as well written as most of the “serious” books I’ve read in a long time. And there’s an out-loud-laugh per page. The book is fantastic: get it, steal it, mooch it, whatever, just read it.

As all good parody goes, the brilliance lies in how close it cuts to the bone. On the record industry (this isn’t the funny part):

“Fact is, the music companies are in a dying business, and they know it. Sure, they act all cool because they hang around with rocks stars. but beneath all the glamour these guys are actually operating two very low-tech businesses. One is a form of banking, though it’s really more like loan-sharking: They put up money to make records, and then they force recording artists to pay the money back, plus loads of interest. The other business is distribution. They’ve got big warehouses and they control the shipment of little plastic boxes that happen to have music in them. We’ve seen what the Internet has done to music retailers. Next to go are the big stupid warehouses. The label guys know it, which is why these bastards are fighting like cornered rats.”

I mean, that’s it, no?


bookmooch is John Buckman’s other site where people trade books for the cost of shipping. I’ve found a small paperback costs about $2 to ship in the US and have started posting my library for moochers. A really interesting side project is called BM Journals which is essentially a ccMixter for the analog world. That is, people pass around a blank book and add a page of goo to it until it fills up. John blogs about here.

For recording topics it’s a little difficult to go too broad because searching for “studio” gets you movie stuff, “audio” gets you every book ever committed to books-on-tape and CD, “music” is useless, etc. But if you get more specific like “Ableton” the results are a little promising. (Looks like somebody was trying to mooch a copy of FL Studio, the software, not a book)

Ableton Live 7: A Late Review

The Live 7 upgrade has been out since last November but due to a serious falling out with the 6 upgrade I had not bothered to check it out. This was a heartbreak because I loved to be in the application but I found it unusable for one simple reason: its render to wav file (which was always a bitch) had degraded to a shocking degree. In other words, I would work hours and days on a remix and the file that got rendered sounded nothing like it did when I played it in the application. Now I know that every DAW software has some issue here but I felt, with 6, they were out of control.

Then about a month ago I hit upon this white paper (PDF) from Ableton in which they claim to have “implemented a number of low-level improvements to the audio engine” specifically during the render to file function. The paper focuses on what they call “neutral operations” which is a fancy way of saying “not fucking with the sound.” Not every operation in Live is “neutral” (like applying effects) but they do spell out which are and when you stick to those operations “you can be sure that using these functions will never cause any signal degradation. Applying neutral operations to audio that was recorded into Live ensures that the audio will be unchanged from the point of analog-to-digital conversion… Applying neutral operations to files being exported from Live ensures that the quality of your output file will be at least as high as what you heard during playback.”

I stopped reading about half way through of the rest of paper, got out my credit card and downloaded the upgrade.

For my purposes there were several areas that I changed in the way I would normally work: 1) lining up the project, hardware and samples I use to the same bit rate (44k), turning off all dithering during rendering and 3) taking mastering completely out of Live.

I’ve been using this method for my last few remixes at ccMixter. Here’s one of the more successful mixes (this is playing through Flash but you get the idea):

They weren’t lying, if I pay attention to what is and what isn’t a “neutral” operation the render is worlds better. I still don’t get the pristine sheen on the mixes I’ve gotten out of FL Studio where I don’t have to pay any mind to ‘neutral’ vs. not but I’m encouraged enough to (finally) throw away FL after a love/mainly-hate relationship. I don’t know how they get such a great sound off their engine or how they can do $0 upgrades (“forever”) but I’ve been looking to dump their awful, incoherent user interface and terrible wav clip handling for years.

The fact is, I have fun in Live while FL always, always felt like work.

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 ;)

Here Comes FL 7

Image Line Software has announced the imminent release of FL Studio 7. In version 7, particular emphasis has been given to improved workflow through enhanced interface design, so that ideas can be crystallized and creativity captured.

[ via KVR ]

I chuckled when I saw the term ‘improved workflow.’ It’s the kind of thing I hope for every release and without fail they always go the other way by introducing completely new and baffling user interfacing with every new feature. Just to be clear: it’s still the best sounding mixer, most flexible and solid plug-in architecture, best bargain in the DAW software universe and (I’m guessing) still the worst and hardest user interface design out there even with ‘improved workflow’. And I will download it the millisecond it becomes available.

iPod? Zune? Bah! Cell Phone!

I don’t see myself as a gadget guy. People confuse me for one because I work on software but that’s like saying people who grow tomatoes automatically make great chefs. I’m also far beyond needing to be up on the latest thingamabob in order to attract partners for mating or other evolutionary needs. Just because everyone else on the BART car looks like they have dental floss sticking out of each ear does not automatically mean I have to run out and get the latest Apple branded device.

But I am, to my own shock and amazement, totally in love with my new cell phone because for an extra $20 (roughly) it came equipped with about 1G of hard disk space for playing music. The image on the right is actual size of the adapter which is postage stamp size and fits into a slot on my desktop and looks like just like any other disk drive. The small nub at the bottom is where the storage actually is and goes into the phone and is literally smaller than my finger nail. With the adapter loaded into my PC, all I have to do is drop music (er, .wma format only as far as I can tell — I don’t even want to know why) into the MY_MUSIC folder and my phone is a perfectly good music player.

The biggest drag so far is that because it is a cell phone I can’t use during flights — at least I think so. On a flight two days ago the flight attendant said something about putting your phone into ‘flight safe’ mode. Don’t have a clue what that is but I’ll investigate before I fly again just to make sure.

Still the phone seems to work fantastic. I downloaded the entire CDK catalog the other day and listened gleefully during the several hours of delays at airports. Worked flawlessly. (I’m not going to mention the brand name of the phone because I do not want the Google traffic. Follow the link above for the brand.)

I used to be very curmudgeonly when they put cameras into cell phones. But all of a sudden, with a digital camera, video camera, music player, gps (well, sort of), messaging and email (well, kinda) it’s obvious the camera bit was just a first step into a progression to make these “phones” into truly useful all-in-one consumer devices. (Salesman demonstrated how you could display the photos in my phone simply by walking next to a digital picture frame.) I suspect that just like we still use the verb “dial” to punch in phone numbers we will continue to use the noun “cell phone” long after a huge range of features will become ubiquitous in these thingamabobs.

Spectrum Analysis Podcast

Episode 5 of Ben Shewmaker’s ongoing investigation of digital music in the new open age Spectrum Analysis Podcast is up.

interview with Andrew Malott, a recent graduate from Ball State University, and currently an intern at Echo Park Studios. We discuss being an intern, and audio engineer, and the music industry in general.

A perfect antitode for a ride on Bart on a gloomy, rainy, cold day.